Note: Want to find out what Sully’s fortune cookie said? Check out the fourth question in this interview. After reading this article, Kevin invites you to learn more about “Shadowlands and Songs of Light: An Epic Journey into Joy and Healing,” a new book that compares the writings of C. S. Lewis with the music of U2 in a life-changing journey through grief, joy, and longing for God. Available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.
Todd Komarnicki, the screenwriter for the superb new Clint Eastwood-directed film “Sully,” is as tired of the incessant bad news in the media as I am. When he and I spoke on the phone recently, he described “Sully” as a B12 shot for America to help us pull away from our media’s addiction to misery.
I wholeheartedly agree.
In his filmmaking career, Komarnicki, who is a devout Christian, has already done a nice job of lifting America’s spirits. In 2003, he helped produce the Will Ferrill movie “Elf,” a film that is now one of America’s all-time favorites to watch during the holidays. It’s certainly one of my all-time favorites. It has great personal significance. (Just before my mother passed away in December 2010, she had planned to watch “Elf” with me, one of her favorites at the time.) Komarnicki has written some notable films as well: “Perfect Stranger,” starring Halle Berry and Bruce Willis, and “Resistance,” starring Julia Ormond and Bill Paxton.
His latest film “Sully,” starring Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, and Laura Linney, is getting great reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (82%, currently), and after seeing an advanced screening, I walked out of the theater with a smile on my face and a prayer in my heart thanking God for the simple joy of being alive. “Sully” does that to you. It’s a breath of fresh air during what has been one of the most tumultuous years for the nation in recent memory.
The film tells the true story of Capt. Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger (Hanks), who, with his co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Eckhart) and crew, landed an airliner on the Hudson River on January 15, 2009 when the engines failed and saved everyone on board. “Sully” provides an insider’s look of “The Miracle on the Hudson” from many different vantage points, and it’s destined to become another classic in the Tom Hanks filmography, right up there with “Castaway,” “Forrest Gump,” and “Apollo 13”; and it’s another impressive notch in Clint Eastwood’s directing belt.
In my interview with Komarnicki, we covered a range of interesting topics: how his faith in Christ fits into his Hollywood career, how the “Sully” story has inspired him, why the film is timely for our culture, and what it was like working with Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks. Todd even shared the inside story behind the little piece of paper that Capt. Sully unrolls at a key moment in the film–one of my favorite moments. If you’d rather listen to the interview, it is also being featured in my newest podcast episode:
I really loved “Sully” and the way it shows the hero working through his self-doubt especially, I thought that was powerful, just a really uplifting movie. How has the Sully story inspired you or encouraged you since you began working on the project?
It’s inspired me because you see the rewards that come with diligence and discipline and grit and determination that is the man Sully. And then you look at how Skiles conducts himself, and you meet the first responders and you see how the city of New York came together to rescue everybody. You just want to aim higher when you’re surrounded by people that are so exquisitely doing their jobs.
I thought that was interesting that it wasn’t a hero-worship thing, just focusing on one guy the whole time, but looking at the whole “village.” It was comforting somehow just to know that there are people like that out there everywhere.
What’s nice is that everyone’s been on a plane. Everyone can immediately relate to the notion, “Gee, I hope it doesn’t go down.” It’s also so disconcerting to be on a plane like that. And there’s that one moment where the actress Valerie Mahaffey is there [playing the character Diane Higgins, a passenger on the plane], she’s with her elderly mother–the snow globe mother and daughter [who are seen purchasing a snow globe earlier in the film]–and she hears “Brace for impact,” and she just says, “What?!” And it’s so simple, but that’s what it would be like. Like, “Wha–What??!!” And “brace for impact” is essentially, “I’m gonna die? I have to text, ‘I love you’ to my husband? What?” So I think Clint did an extraordinary job of making it really personal no matter who the camera was pointing at.
It really did. I felt like I had survived a plane crash walking out of the theater–I mean, I just had this feeling of overwhelming gratitude when you survive something crazy, so it was very personal.
Oh good, good–it’s working, it’s working! [laughs]
[laughs] Yeah, it’s working! Good job with that. And I loved–this is kind of random–but I loved the fortune cookie paper that Sully unrolls that says “delay is better than disaster.” Did Sully really have a paper like that or is that something that came to you while you were writing or was it kind of improvised?
He carried that fortune cookie thing for years, and it was always in his wallet. And he did. In the hotel room after that [after landing on the Hudson], he took it out and looked at it. That’s 100% true.
Wow! That’s awesome. That little moment really stuck with me for some reason. (And that makes it even better knowing that it was 100% true.) This is a broad question, but there is a lot of darkness and scary news headlines in our world these days. What do you hope “Sully” will say to our culture during these frightening times? Is that something you’ve thought about?
I’ve thought about it quite a bit. I think the headline should be, “Good news wins.” We’re obsessed with bad news. Of course things are terrible, there’ve been wars since the beginning of time, but there’s not been 24-hour news. But these channels only make money by keeping the public terrified. So we’re guaranteed to have an endless supply of bad news. That’s why I’m only watching ESPN. The relentless breaking news, “this just in”: we’re being coached on how to feel poorly, and we need to look at the light. There’s a lot of beautiful things out there in the world, and heroism and kindness and goodness and grace, and this movie is a reminder of that, and we shouldn’t be cynical about it. We should embrace it because boy do we need some vitamins. This movie is a high octane, juggernaut piece of entertainment that delivers a beautiful B12 shot of hope to the butt of the world. [laughs]
[laughs] That’s awesome. That’s so awesome. It’s very true. I think it was the cab driver [in the film] who shares that sentiment, and it really is the feeling through the movie where, “Wow, something actually went right?” [laughs]
And it’s my understanding, forgive me if I’m wrong, that you’re a person of faith, is that true?
That is 100% true.
How has that influenced your life as a screenwriter and writing movies like this–I mean, I’m sure it encourages you and helps you–but what is it like being a Christian in Hollywood?
Well, it’s funny, I get asked that a lot, and I have the same answer, which is I don’t know what it’s like to not be a Christian in Hollywood. All I know is how to be me, and since my identity is tied to my relationship with Christ, I sort of see all of the world through that, so Hollywood doesn’t feel any different from any other part of my life, and writing is just what I do for a job, but I feel it’s a calling, so I do it very humbly and prayerfully and lean on God every step of the way.
It must be an exciting thing to have a platform to kind of speak into culture when you feel a prompting of the Holy Spirit.
It’s very humbling. That’s what I say. The fact that anything comes from it–that starts with a blank page and me with my pen and my right hand, before I write “fade in”–the fact that anything comes of it is a very humbling experience.
What was it like working on a big movie like this with Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks. Did you have any interaction with those people as a writer or was it more isolated?
No, no, they were great. They were completely inclusive and kind and funny. They’re both really really funny. And Aaron Eckhart was amazing. Just being around, and it was not heavy lifting for me because Clint shoots the script, so the script was locked. So when I was on set it was to hear Tom Hanks tell amazing dinner party story after dinner party story and have everyone in stitches, and I ate my body’s weight in free M&Ms. [laughs] That was my on-set experience.
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When life’s sorrows bring us into shadowlands, we need the joy of Christ to restore our strength. We tap into this joy by nurturing a deeper longing for God. Shadowlands and Songs of Light: An Epic Journey into Joy and Healing takes you on a quest for joy and a life-changing longing for God.
Written by a C. S. Lewis expert and a skilled composer, the book explores 18 beloved C. S. Lewis classics, from Narnia to Mere Christianity, and 13 spiritual principles behind the art of songwriting, as seen in 13 studio albums by U2–all to answer one question: how do we experience deeper joy in our relationship with Christ during times of sorrow and trial?
Shadowlands is available to pre-order at Amazon or ChristianBooks.com. If you pre-order a copy, the author will personally email you with a thank-you note and a copy of his upcoming e-book devotional “Devotions with Tolkien,” which uses J. R. R. Tolkien’s epic “The Lord of the Rings” and Scripture. (This is all on the honor system: simply pre-order Shadowlands, and then send an email to shadowlands2016 (at) gmail (dot) com letting the author (Kevin Ott) know you’ve ordered it, and he will contact you.)
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