Interview With Micahel Landon Jr: “The Last Sin Eater” (Jan-Feb 2007)

By Matt Dabbs

by Greg Taylor
January – February, 2007

New Wineskins spoke to Michael Landon, Jr. about The Last Sin Eater, a movie he directed that’s based on an award-winning novel by Francine Rivers.

The Last Sin Eater explores a community in the Appalachians that practice the belief that a human “sin eater” can discharge the dead of their sins and a young girl preoccupied by her own sense of guilt and mortality, driven to uncover the truth behind the long held tradition.

The Last Sin Eater opens in theaters February 9, 2007.

NW: I’ve seen The Last Sin Eater, Love Comes Softly . . . and I think they were well-produced. Though not high budget, star-studded blockbuster type films, they work. What makes them work?

ML: It starts with the story. Francine Rivers takes a fascinating historical ritual and then builds a fictional story around it. So the story was very compelling, and she created great characters. So the blueprint was just fantastic. You got that – so hopefully you take that novel and you find the heart and soul of it when you adapt it for the screen. Because obviously a lot can be lost in translation when you’ve got a 300-400 page book and you have to narrow it down to a 100-page screenplay. So then hopefully we succeeded in that and your next big hurdle is casting.

The Last Sin EaterNW: Tell us about casting for The Last Sin Eater.

ML: You’re hoping to bring these characters to life and make them real. We were very fortunate to work with Scot Boland and Victoria Burrows who are amazing cast directors who have done great films like the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and they do all of Peter Jackson’s films. So they brought us some amazing talent, and that talent that was cast, they were passionate about the material. It’s very rare these days for talent to get a screenplay like this. When you look at television there’s a certain genre that’s prevalent, and in the feature world most of the immediate roles go to the big names, so this was a big opportunity for them as well, and they embraced, and you hope through good work and planning that you can make your dollars stretch as far as you possibly can to bring a strong crew together, locations, production designers and things like that.

Exiles - The Church Has Left the BuildingNW: Who are your movies for? Is there a certain audience that is not going to movies that you want to bring out? Are they for Christians, or for anyone?

ML: There are obviously Christian themes involved here, but we’re hoping we’re not just preaching to the choir here. Because we also feel like there are universal themes embodied in the film. For example, forgiveness and redemption, and the innate sense that we’re burdened by things that we do, which can also be known as sins: these are universal elements that we believe speak to everybody’s heart.

NW:I was struck by your depiction of preparing the old woman for burial. Talk about how you came to see that as important part of film that was more graphic—and I think more meaningful . . .

ML: Another great question. A couple things. One is that we in America have done a lot to dress up death. That to me is just as fascinating as the opposite side of the coin, which you’re seeing in this film. I’m always fascinated about how cultures deal with death because it tells a lot about how they deal with life. So it felt like an important element in the story, and again the certain rituals that these Welsh people brought with them to the Americas, I felt it was a strong and important story point.

NW: Are there legacies you are living out that your father wanted to see happen? Certain films he wanted to make?

ML: I think probably there could potentially be a combination of both of those. He obviously had an impact on me. Years I personally cherished were during Little House on the Prairie. We had tough stuff happen to our family, with divorce. I was able to see both sides of the equation. I lived many years with a family that was living together, functioning together, loving each other. Then I saw the opposite side with the pain and destruction of divorce. So I embrace all the goodness my father brought to our family. . . He was not a Christian. But, during my earlier years, he was living out that kind of existence, so in that sense it did affect me.

NW: How did you come to faith in Christ?

ML: I don’t have a unique story. If they’re not raised a Christian, people really don’t seek out God until their worlds fall apart. That was me. My world was falling apart around me and I couldn’t make sense of it. Then through a series of events, I came to Christ, and turned my life over.

NW: In a diverse culture, is Christianity left out of positive treatment from standard Hollywood movies?

ML: I think a fair assumption would be yes, because I think it’s propagated by the fact that for some reason Christianity stands out as the only religion where it feels its truth is superior to other truth, and I don’t believe that to be the case . . . truth by definition is based upon exclusion of another truth. If you study, all religions have that, whether Buddha, Hindu, Islam, they all boast that they basically have the truth. Even Ba’hai faith embraces everything, so what they end up doing by embracing everything is that they exclude exclusivists. That’s part of what that’s about. Then you have the atheist, which to me, takes more faith to be an atheist. I believe philosophically, science makes it difficult for them to hold on to their argument, and existentially it’s very hard to hold onto their argument.

NW: Is there something special about these period pieces or is it the story for you?

ML: For me it was the story. It could have been set in another time period, and I would have been captivated.

NW: What’s next?

ML: Just finished filming The Redemption of Sarah Cain, which is based on a Beverly Lewis novel. That comes out in August 2007.

Release Date for The Last Sin Eater: February 9, 2007

Rating: PG-13

Directed by Michael Landon Jr. and starring Academy Award Winner and Emmy Nominee Louise Fletcher and two-time Golden Globe Nominee Henry Thomas, The Last Sin Eater is based on the award winning novel by Francine Rivers. The Last Sin Eater, marketed by Fox Faith and distributed by The Bigger Picture, can be seen in theaters in more than 128 U.S. and Canadian cities, showing on over 500 screens. Additional information about specific titles and programs can be found at www.foxfaith.com and www.foxfaithmovies.com. New Wineskins

Greg TaylorGreg Taylor is managing editor of New Wineskins. He is also associate minister for the Garnett Church of Christ in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His newest book, co-authored with Anne-Geri Fann, How to Get Ready for Short-Term Missions, was released by Thomas Nelson in May 2006. His novel is titled High Places (Leafwood, 2004). He co-authored with John Mark Hicks, Down in the River to Pray: Revisioning Baptism as God’s Transforming Work. Greg and his wife, Jill, have three children: Ashley, Anna, and Jacob. Before moving to Tulsa in 2005, the Taylors lived in Nashville, Tennessee four years, and they lived in Uganda seven years, where they worked with a church planting team. His blog is http://gregtaylor.cc.

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1583 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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