EXCLUSIVE: Sony Pictures has acquired screen rights to the book Heaven Is For Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip To Heaven And Back, written by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent. Joe Roth will produce with T.D. Jakes.
Burpo is a small town Nebraska pastor whose four-year old son, Colton, nearly died during an emergency appendectomy operation. As he recovered, Colton began telling his family that he went to Heaven, actually looking down at the doctors operating on him and his family praying in the waiting room. And he slowly began telling them details about his miscarried sister, and his long-dead grandfather, none of which he should have known about. He then revealed to his family what it was like during his visit in Heaven, before he was sent back to his family. He’s now 11.
Roth produced Alice in Wonderland and has the Sam Raimi-directed Oz: The Great and Powerful and Snow White and the Huntsman on the launch pad. While some might look at the contents of this book and think Roth has another fairy tale on his hands, Heaven Is For Real has caught on as affirming story with a faith-based crowd. Movie interest was high before the Burpo family entrusted the tale to producers and an exec with a track record of devotion to the Man Upstairs. Jakes is himself a Texas-based pastor, who produced and played a pastor in Jumping the Broom, which Sony Pictures opened to strong numbers this weekend through its TriStar label. Heaven Is For Real was brought in by Sony Pictures’ exec DeVon Franklin, a Christian minister who just published and has been promoting his inspirational book, Produced By Faith: Navigating the Road to Success Without Compromising Your True Self.
Roth tells me he became curious after seeing the book on The New York Times Bestseller Lists about six weeks ago. It reminded him of The Sixth Sense, which he made while running Disney, and he was surprised that nobody in Hollywood had called before he did. This was when the book was moving from a religious imprint to mainstream, and Roth really got in on the ground floor. The book has sold about 4.5 million copies, Roth said, and could do 10 million before the year is out. He’ll meet soon with the Burpo family, and doesn’t really see the movie as something that is limited to a faith-based audience.
“There isn’t anyone in the world who wouldn’t like to know what is waiting for them,” Roth told me. “When you consider this little boy came back and knew 9 or 10 things he shouldn’t have, to me, this is about hope. From that standpoint, it’s non-secular.”