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Interview with Paul LaLonde

Join me as I speak with Paul LaLonde, producer and writer of the 2014 release “Left Behind”.

About Paul

Paul Lalonde is a pioneering producer and writer of movies in the apocalyptic-thriller genre. In 2012 Paul formed Stoney Lake Entertainment (SLE) in order to fulfill his dream of creating a production company that focuses on producing big budget faith-themed films for a wider audience.

“Left Behind” will be SLE’s first feature film and stars Nicolas Cage, Cassi Thomson, Chad Michael Murray and Nicky Whelan. It has an estimated budget of $16 million and will be released nationwide in theaters in 2014.

Starting out in TV in 1989, Paul went on to co-found Cloud Ten Pictures in 1995. To date Cloud Ten has produced nine feature-length films and 15 documentaries. Most notable is the original “Left Behind” trilogy of films (2000-2005), which Paul is credited with co-writing all three screenplays. The films have gone on to sell more than 10 million copies. The movies are based on the “New York Times Best Seller” book series of the same name.

As a producer, Paul’s success with Cloud Ten Pictures has been chronicled in a wide range of media, including the “Los Angeles Times”, “The Wall Street Journal”, “GQ”, “The New Yorker” “Forbes Magazine” and “CNN”, to name a few. It has also brought the company nominations for the prestigious “Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award”, “Canada’s 50 Best Managed Companies” and “Canada’s Outstanding CEO of the Year” awards.

Paul’s talents have filled an enormous niche for faith-themed entertainment in the marketplace, prompting the title ‘Genre Kings’ from “Hollywood Reporter”. His business savvy is demonstrated by the incredible sales and consistent chart-topping results of his award-winning films like “Apocalypse: Caught in the Eye of the Storm” (1998), “Revelation”1999), “Tribulation” (2000), “Deceived” (2002), and “Judgment” (2001), which made waves in Hollywood when it flew to #7 on the Billboard sales charts right behind the Oscar-winning film “Gladiator”.

Paul’s biggest screenwriting success to date is “Left Behind” (2000) and its sequels, “Left Behind II: Tribulation Force” (2002) and “Left Behind: World at War” (2005). The films feature “Growing Pains” and “Fireproof” star Kirk Cameron, and their video releases have topped studio releases such as “Toy Story 2″, “The Green Mile” and “Erin Brockovich”. The first two films have hit #1 on Amazon.com. “Left Behind” was the number one movie in the nation when it released. “Tribulation Force” was #2 only to “Spider-Man”, which released the same week. The film garnered several honors in 2000 and 2001, including a family-friendly “Four Dove Rating” from “The Dove Foundation”, “Best Feature Film” at Chicago’s “WYSIWIG Film Festival”, and “Best Action-Long” at the “Thunderbird International Film Festival”. “Left Behind II: Tribulation Force” was nominated for “Best Live Action DVD Premiere Movie” at the 2002 “DVD Premiere Awards”.

Paul lives with his wife of 27 years and two children in southern Ontario.

Click to read Transcript

INTRODUCTION: This is Michael Easley inContext. Here’s a peek at what Michael will be talking about today.

For more information go to MichaelinContext.com. Now your host Dr. Michael Easley.

EASLEY: December 1503, a man named Michel de Nostredame is born. He becomes known as a prophet of a sort. He wrote what became known as Quatrains, if I’m pronouncing that correctly, where he made a number of predictions, that well, let’s just say people have followed with intrigue ever since. It’s interesting when something happens in time and we say, “Oh Nostradame was made a prophecy about that.” You can study endlessly what he did and did not prophesy or predictions that he made, but what’s striking to me is when you come to the Bible, let’s say conservatively there are six hundred plus prophecies that have come true in some form of fashion, let’s even be more conservative and say three hundred. So if there were three hundred Old Testament prophecies that have come true in the Person and work of Jesus Christ, some of them are even so called extra Biblically proven meaning there’s events that happen outside the Bible that we could point to that parallel the time of the Bible. When sceptics maybe where you are in your own personal journey, when you hear about Biblical prophecy, you might get defensive or say, ‘It’s nonsense,” or look at it pejoratively and not believe it.

Scriptures’ complete with prophecies that did come true. Let’s just talk about the birth and the person of Jesus Christ. Jerry Jenkins and Tim Lahaye have written The Left Behind series published in thirty-two languages and more than sixty five million copies have been sold and it is considered the best selling fiction series of all time.

It’s been my privilege to know Jerry as a friend, so when Paul Lalonde and others wanted to remake the movie Left Behind we were privileged to talk to Paul. Before we look at some of the details of your production and filming, when you take a book like this from the way Jerry writes to screen play, what is it about you think Paul, that makes it such a compelling story?

LALONDE: The most compelling thing about it to me is that it’s a true story that hasn’t happened yet, and I think that’s what makes it so compelling is being able to sit down and read this incredible almost like a twilight zone story, knowing that it’s actually going to happen and I think that’s what sets this apart from anything else. In and of itself even if that weren’t the case, it would still be a compelling story even if it were pure fiction and not based on the Bible and not based on prophecy. Even in that situation it would still be a fantastic story, but when you add in the fact that this is really going to happen I think that’s what makes it so compelling.

E: So why do a remake?

L: Well the main reason to do a remake is to get it out to a broader audience and I think the faith based film world has been guilty, myself included of preaching to the choir forever and ever in the entire history of faith based movie making, very few have ever actually crossed over into a mainstream audience. So while you’re always hoping as a filmmaker and this is my ninth movie, you’re always hoping it’s going to cross over and lots of people are going to watch this and get to know the truth or start asking questions. The bottom line is there aren’t very many people watching who aren’t already saved so that was the vision for this movie was we wanted to tell the story to people who need to hear it not just people who want to hear it and the only way to do that was to make it bigger, make it better, put some real name actors into it, and try and create a story that is story first and message second and not the other way around.

E: So, you filmed most of this in Baton Rouge?

L: Yup. All of it.

E: The whole film? Wow! What was the attraction to working there?

L: Well, it just economically made the most sense because of the state tax incentives and Louisiana at the time had the best tax incentives, in fact we were there shooting at the same time as some huge movies like Battleship and Twilight. They were all shooting down there at the same time as us.

E: You open our program saying, “It was a true story” and that was the compelling part of it so we’ve got folks that are going to be listening; they are going to watch the trailer; they maybe see the opening weekend promotions for it and they’re going to say, “Wait a minute, this isn’t a true story; this is just a Christian contrived view of the end times.” How would you respond to them?

L: I would say excellent! You don’t have to believe it’s a true story in order to enjoy the story. Go watch it and then go home and pick up your Bible and you’ll see that it is prophesied in the Bible and then you have to make your own decisions from there. There’s no altar call in this movie. Nobody turns to the camera and starts talking about Jesus like what happened in most faith based movies. This is more just about creating interest and getting people to ask questions and that’s really all there is to it, but the great thing about this Left Behind, is you don’t have to believe it in order to enjoy it.

E: So obviously, Nicholas Cage is a world renowned name. Working with these kind of actors, was it what you thought it was going to be?

L: No to be honest, with Nicholas Cage specifically, I didn’t know the guy. I expected him to be a little more eccentric and a little bit more of a weirdo, just based on the nonsense you read on the internet and that kind of thing. He’s absolutely a super guy; great guy to work with, extremely professional, cooperative, friendly, just an absolutely normal family man. He had his family with him there with him on the set and just really a super guy, and an unbelievable professional. I was just in awe not only of his performances but just how he’s able to turn it on and off and you think, “Well, that’s why he’s Nicolas Cage.” But it was a treat just to get to work with this guy.

E: He’s got a face, doesn’t he? I mean…

L: (laughter) That he does.

E: It’s an amazing face. Yeah.

L: He’s wonderful. Great guy. I would happily work with him on any movie again.

E: So, on set when you’re shooting some of the scenes obviously, as an actor or actress whether they believe it or not, they’re playing a part and that’s what they do, but were there any conversations that came up with folks along the way about, “Do people really believe this?” or did you have those kind of opportunities?

L: Not really, I think people are a little… I mean at the beginning people tiptoed around a little bit because, I mean you’re coming on; you’re doing this Christian movie; everybody had obviously googled The Left Behind and seen what it was. So I think there was a little bit of a feeling out process at the beginning where somebody might stub their toe and cuss and all of a sudden say, “Oh, I’m sorry, sorry, sorry,” you know as if I’m the pope. So it took a little while for people to loosen up, but once they did there were great conversations about prophecy, not you know, sitting down trying to witness to people or making altar call speeches at the dinner table, but lots of great conversations and exactly the kind of questions and conversations that I’m counting on to come from the people in the audience who get to see this. In fact, people who aren’t Christian or at least who aren’t evangelical Christians or schooled in Bible prophecy, a lot of this was a complete surprise to them. I mean there’s lots of people who have gone to church their whole life and never even heard about any of this stuff, and most churches don’t teach the rapture or teach any end times in the church, so you could go to a lot of churches for your entire life and never hear about any Bible prophecies.

E: You know it’s striking you said that. I remember the seventies vividly when prophecy conferences were the big deal. I mean you brought all these speakers in; you filled conference centers to hear different people talk about end times schemes, premil, postmill, amil, different end time schemes, and they’ve kind of fallen off interest. You’re right about local churches. What’s your gut on why there is little interest in end times and prophecy in general?

L: I don’t really know specifically why it’s fallen off. I do know that the conferences were lead by the same group of guys, all those conferences. It was the same ten guys at every conference in the eighties at least. It all sort of grew out of the Hal Lindsey thing and Late Great Planet Earth. You had all your same guys who were at all of them and even back then and that’s thirty some years ago. Most of them were old guys. Some of them are still doing it and now they’re just really old guys.

E: (Laughter)

L: It just never seemed to really get passed on to a younger generation of speakers and I think a lot of what was necessary back then which were the prophecy conferences, the TV programs, lots of audio tapes and video tapes and all that stuff, that was your only option back then. Now instead of having your eight speakers that hold prophecy conferences, now you’ve got nine hundred guys with blogs called Jesus is Coming Soon. So, I think the interest is still there; I think the people are still there; but I think the need for the big events has waned somewhat because everybody has a platform now and you don’t have to leave it just to these elite few who can teach prophecy.

E: That’s a great observation. Let’s go back to the movie sets where some of the scenes you’re filming and you’re doing takes and retakes, were there any that were exquisite for you? Like you “Got that one in the can,” or the way you may be envisioned it when you and Vic and Michael were working on it? You said, “That was it?”

L: Well fortunately, there were a whole lot of those experiences and I know, John Patus and I,  he’s the guy I wrote the screenplay with, we were there obviously for every single scene and every single minute and you know we’ve been living and breathing this script for two years, so every scene was exciting watching it come to life and to be honest there were just so many wonderful moments. I mean there’s some that really stand out “the moment of the rapture,” I’m not going to give away any spoilers, but that came out really, really well and it just worked. I was so excited about that because that’s a tough thing to portray and in the past it’s always been cheated by just a flash of flight and suddenly somebodies gone or a car crashes or whatever but it really works out nicely and really worked well. There’s also a scene where Nick Cage is talking to his daughter and it’s a very emotional scene and he’s breaking down thinking that he’s never going to see her again. He had the entire set was in tears watching this guy perform. It was just unbelievable and that was very moving to me too because that’s when I knew, we’ve really hit it with this movie. We’ve really gotten great performances that usually in this faith based world, and specifically the low budget world, you don’t always get to see great performances all the way down the line. You might have the one actor you’ve spent eighty percent of your budget on, but very quickly you’re down to people who are just, you know, the coat check lady from your church. That’s what happened in so many faith based movies and so it’s just wonderful to have such depth of talent.

E: You’ve got Chad Michael Murray, Nicolas Cage of course, Nicky Whelan, Lea Thompson, phenomenal long time actor, a new actor Cassi Thomson, Jordin Sparks, on and on it goes. Quite a line up!

L: It really was and it was exciting to meet these people, much less work with them. It was a great cast; Cassi Thomson, she was probably my biggest treat of the whole thing because she was a relative unknown. She had been on a TV series as a series regular, unswitched at birth along with Lea Thompson. She really hadn’t done movies and she was nineteen, in fact she turned twenty on the set. She was one real roll of the dice. We had a lot of options; we had over one hundred girls read for the part, many of them reading many times. Some of them were well known people who everybody would recognize but nobody delivered a better performance in the auditions than Cassi did. That was a tough decision as a producer is do you go for another name? do you add another name to the marquee or do you go for what was the best performance? Fortunately, I believe we went for the best performance and she is going to amaze a lot of people; she is going to be a big star and I’m going to be a happy man to have played a role in that.

E: Well watching the trailer she does a great job with Nick Cage, just with the few moments you’ve got up on your trailer; it’s a very well done piece.

L: That scene that’s in the trailer of her talking to Nick Cage, that was her first day on the set.

E: Get out!

L: You know I haven’t really been on a big movie set before, I’m going to walk right in and I just arrived last night and I just got the part three days ago and here I am sitting with Nicholas Cage. You have every right to be extremely intimidated and she was not, she was just absolutely superb and there was a lot of celebrating going on.

E: How important are opening weekends for any film, but a faith based film in particular?

L: I think it’s important for any movie. I think you need the opening weekend in order to get the word of mouth spreading and so that’s the big thing is you want to get on the radar. You want to hit it with a splash. The thing I always enjoy is that every time there’s a successful Christian movie, the trade publications variety and Hollywood reporter, they always say the same thing which was “This is a surprise out of no where.” I don’t know how many times they have to be surprised before it stops being a surprise. They do it every time. I remember when Courageous came out and they were saying, “Courageous came out. It’s was a big surprise.” Well it wasn’t a big surprise to me. It wasn’t a big surprise to anybody who knew about the faith based market. But we’re just always ignored and so any success you can have on opening weekend at least it gets people to announce the surprise. Left Behind will be a successful movie, I know that. Left Behind will have a successful opening weekend and it will be a surprise to everyone in the movie press.

E: All those people will be surprised one more time, huh?

L: Yeah, that’s right.

E: Well we know the textbook answer to this and as any believer, Christian and even if we just broaden it to faith based individual, when you’re up against Hollywood and filmmaking, why the challenge? Why is it so difficult? Because obviously the company that gets behind this,  they’re going to make a decent profit. So why the resistance?

L: Well I think there’s less certainly resistance now than there was in the past because there has been successes. I mean, Left Behind, the first Left Behind was extremely successful on video. It was the number one selling independent video of the year, the year it came out. So it did very well. Obviously, Mel Gibson’s Passion came out and that was one everybody said “No” to. He finally had to finance it himself just to get it made. That was successful. People got all excited. The studios built their little faith based divisions and those all quickly disappeared because they didn’t really understand the market. After what we saw with Noah this year, we see that they still don’t. They left a lot of money on the table by being arrogant and being ignorant of the audience and so it’s a learning curve. It’s going to take a little while. Hollywoods going to have to make some movies like they did with Noah and make stuff up and change the principals of the Bible. They’re going to get backlash; they’re going to think they’re going to get the Passion numbers; then they’re not going to get the Passion numbers because they’ve made bad decisions and it’s going to be an adjustment process. In the meantime there’s an opportunity for the Independence to come in and make the good movies that Christians actually want to see and have them be more successful than some of the two hundred million dollar movies that are coming out of Hollywood. I think ultimately down the road we’re going to see some decent Christian movies coming out of Hollywood, believe it or not. It’s going to take a while for them to realize that they should have them written by Christians; they should have them directed by Christians and actually produce movies that are Biblically sound. They don’t’ have to preachy, but they need to be sound and I think that’ll happen over time. They just need to lose a few hundred million more dollars in order to come to that conclusion. I think that Noah was a great start in that direction. I think they left a hundred million dollars sitting on the table. They could have had by making some minor changes which would not have impacted the quality of the movie in a negative way at all, in fact it would have made it better. They could have had a lot more revenue than they did and hopefully they’ll learn from that.

E: Paul someone’s been listening to you and me on this broadcast and they’re on the fence and they don’t’ know what the rapture is; they don’t’ know what left behind is about; they don’t’ know where they are in their spiritual journey. What would you tell them?

L: I would tell them go see the movie. That’s the best way to start on something as difficult as Bible Prophecy. I recommend Tim and Jerry’s books as well because that is a non threatening in a non cerebral way to approach Bible Prophecy and to start to understand Bible Prophecy, rather than immediately saying, “Ok, this Bible Prophecy sounds fascinating. I’m immediately going to sit down and start reading a seven hundred page book about heads, and horns, and  beasts and try and make sense of it.” It can be an intimidating topic to walk into and that’s why I think the Left Behind book series was as successful as it was. It made Bible Prophecy approachable for the lay person whether they’re a believer or not. Prophecy has always been a fantastic door opener for new Christians and for Christians that were not or for non Christians who were not necessarily spiritually hungry. So people who are looking for something who feel the need for a spiritual element in their life, those are the low hanging fruit, the people you can reach by standing on the corner with a megaphone, and yelling “You’re going to hell.” You can get to those people and maybe even think you’re being successful even though you’ve scared away ninety-eight per cent of the people who’ve heard you. But I think prophecy is a great way to reach out to people who have no interest in this stuff whatsoever and to start to get them to ask questions. The big one being is that really in the Bible? and unlike with Noah, the answer is yes.

E:  We have been talking to Paul Lalonde, producer and writer of Left Behind, October 3, 2014 in theaters and the DVD will be released in January of 2015. Paul, thanks so much for your time, my friend. Blessings!

L: Thank you sir. I appreciate it.

E: Ok Bye Bye

L: Alright, bye bye

E: As Paul has encouraged I hope you will see the movie or rent it, or maybe better yet buy the DVD. Most importantly where do you stand in your knowledge, in your relationship with Jesus Christ? I think He’s the King and I hope you’ll come to that conclusion. This is Michael Easley inContext.  

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