|Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures|
Now, TriStar Pictures' new drama “Heaven Is For Real” brings to the screen the true story that has inspired millions across the globe – that of a little boy’s extraordinary, life-changing experience, and his father’s search for the courage and conviction to share his son’s discovery with the world.
The soaring journey of the book began with a parent’s worst nightmare: a sick little boy doctors said was unlikely to pull through. But little Colton did pull through and that was just the beginning of his surprises. After he recovered, the 4 year-old began to tell an incredible story: that during his touch-and-go surgery he had gone to heaven and been shown a realm of indescribable beauty and supreme peace, even meeting deceased relatives he had never known personally.
At first, the Burpos were unsure what to make of their son’s revelations. He had such a childlike innocence when talking about it, they were 100% convinced he wasn’t making it up. But even though they were already people of faith – indeed, Todd served as a pastor in their small Nebraska town – they were suddenly confronted with questions they had never really considered. Sure, they had talked and thought plenty about heaven in the abstract; but was it possible their son had experienced it for real? And if he had unlocked one of life’s greatest mysteries . . . should they, and how could they, share this bewildering event with a world prone to disbelief and skepticism?
It was this part of Todd Burpo’s journey – through a storm of doubt and into standing up for his son and his own hard-won convictions – that intrigued the filmmakers behind the book’s screen adaptation. They saw a story that nearly anyone who has wondered about life, death and the meaning of it all, or ever took a risk for their deepest beliefs, could relate to on a personal level.
Veteran Hollywood producer Joe Roth initially read about the Burpos in a two-paragraph item about the book even before it was published. Having produced dozens of hit films since the 1970s, Roth’s instincts were instantly set in motion.
“I’ve had a habit these past 40 years of reading the New York Times book section in the hope that I’ll come across something that nobody else has thought of – and up until now it’s never worked because by the time it makes the Times someone’s already bought it,” Roth recounts. “But when I read about this book, it seemed like such a terrific idea for a movie. It poses a question everybody asks: what happens when you die? It doesn’t matter what religion or background you come from, or whether you lived 2000 years ago or in 2014, it’s a question that intrigues everyone. “
The nature of the Burpo family, pillars of the community in a small heartland town, made it even more relatable and inherently dramatic, Roth felt. “Here you have a pastor who when confronted with his son’s story, wasn’t really quite sure he if believed it himself and was in conflict about whether he should stir up the townspeople, or simply put it aside,” Roth explains. “And he did the unsafe thing, which was appealing to me -- he backed his son’s vision even though it could have potentially lost him his job and made him quite unpopular in the town.”
Roth was thrilled to find he was the first major producer to approach the Burpos – and just four weeks after he made a deal with them, his instincts were rewarded, when the book hit #1 on the bestseller list, demonstrating its broad cultural appeal.
“Heaven is for Real” is distributed by Columbia Pictures, local office of Sony Pictures Releasing International.