Director Devine Targets Kids & Families in His Work

By Edwin L. Carpenter – Associate Editor, The Dove Foundation

Director and Producer David Devine established his own company, Devine Videoworks, in 1982. He has worked in collaboration with his business partner Richard Mozer, also a director and producer. Devine has directed eleven of the company’s twenty one films and his creativity has resulted in 110 international awards including five Emmys and five Gemini Awards. Devine’s commitment to family-oriented entertainment began in 1985 with “A Young Children’s Concert with Raffi,” which he directed and produced. Video sales skyrocketed and went multi-platinum in both the U.S. and Canada. Devine is originally from Toronto.

In 1989 Devine enjoyed even greater success as he directed and produced “Raffi in Concert with the Rise and Shine Band.” Devine won a Gemini Award and received Grammy and CableACE nominations in the United States. He next directed and produced his first dramatic effort, “Beethoven Lives Upstairs.” This HBO special won the 1993 Primetime Emmy Award for Best Children’s Program. The prestige grew as it was selected for the Permanent Collection of the Museum of Radio and Television in New York, in addition to winning in various film festivals in its category. Among several other awards, he has won three Alliance for Children’s Television Awards of Excellence. It is obvious that Devine has a talent and a desire to enrich the entertainment world with his family-oriented projects, including the recent DVD release of “Bailey’s Billion$,” which stars Dean Cain.

Devine spoke recently with Dove about his commitment to directing and producing quality and wholesome family films, such as “Bailey’s Billion$.” “I had finished nineteen HBO original films, which took me eleven years to make. I wanted to try something a little bit different that wasn’t a period film, because all of the HBO original films were period films. Someone brought me an idea—it was just the kernel of an idea, about a dog inheriting a fortune.” (Devine laughed heartily at this point as he acknowledged the wild premise of the story). And I just thought kids would really like that. I don’t want to run on but I am upset at the content that is being produced these days by most networks on television and also most studio feature films. So I thought if I could raise the money, which I did—I raised eleven million dollars through a British tax fund through Canadian investors, and it involved the Canadian government, that I would make a film that had no gratuitous violence, no bad language, no sexual innuendo, and try to make something work for kids that was entertaining. Usually I try to have an ethical and moral value instilled in the film which isn’t so much to teach children—it’s really a way to have children think, and to think independently. The words I like to use are: ‘I like to try to educate the imagination of children.’ So in other words I’m not trying to give them a lesson, and I’m not trying to teach them anything, but I’m trying to educate their imagination. And in this case, it’s simple. It’s to take care of animals and to treat animals equally. It’s a very simple moral and ethical tale on how to treat animals. It’s the same as treating others. You treat them well. You don’t take advantage of people. It’s the little moral and ethical lesson instilled in really just a simple entertaining film for kids—to avoid violence, etc.”

“I’ve really been lucky with these awards,” Devine continued when asked about “Beethoven Lives Upstairs.” “I think ‘Beethoven Lives Upstairs’ won The Dove Foundation’s Family-Approved Seal.” [Indeed, it was awarded our Dove Seal]

Devine added, “Rather than take a particular religious tone, what I try to do is bring it all down to morals and ethics and there’s a right and there’s a wrong in the background– I don’t mean I use this in scripts or on screen, but what I use is Biblical imagery. I use the idea of what is taught in the Bible although I don’t press that into my films– I don’t show that off, I don’t press that because my films are on air in Israel, and also on air in Asia and they’re also on air in the media–Arabic speaking territories so because I use a moral and ethical base, I reach all the people I can.”

“Bailey’s Billions” was an opportunity for Devine to entertain and educate at the same time. “I think it’s the idea of entertaining a child for a couple of hours. They laugh and they have a good time. They leave the theater with a smile on their face and they learn that little lesson–they’re educated about how to treat other people and how to treat animals. Just that little smile on their faces is all I need. That’s what drives me to do these things. I like to use the term— it’s a bit flamboyant perhaps—but I like to use the term ‘I like to freeze innocence for just a moment.’ I like the child to have a real moment of happiness, where they’re not surrounded by on-air broadcast television, or video games, or sports. I like them to just sit down and relax and have a few laughs and have a moment as a child.”

“Bailey’s Billion$” was a limited release to theaters last fall because it’s an independent film. It was a Canada/UK co-production. “I felt the right way to go was with a small distribution company and we went with Echo Bridge, which is a company in Boston. Echo Bridge believes the DVD is going to do very well,” said Devine. The DVD was just released on March 21.

When asked about working with the cast of the film, Devine replied, “First of all, I liked them all. I was very pleased to get them. I have hired a hundred and thirty lead actors in like twenty two films and I would say that Dean Cain was not only one of the top three most prepared but he was probably, without question, the greatest gentleman I’ve ever worked with. He was the most mannerly, always on time, always cheerful. I can’t think of anything but nice things to say about him. He’s really the nicest guy I’ve ever worked with. He was very well prepared…his father was a director. He knows everything about the business and about acting, where the camera is, and lighting. He was so easy to work with. Tim Curry of course is originally from the British stage so he’s a theatrical actor. He also was delightful and the term ‘low maintenance’ comes to mind. He was always ready and prepared. Jennifer Tilly and Laurie Holden are Canadians so that helps me very much with the way we do things with Canadian tax credits—it’s a business thing. Dean was, for me, the big name because around the world his “Superman” show [Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman] is in 124 countries so he’s extraordinarily well known, probably better known than most people would think. They know him in France and Japan and Sweden, etc.”

When asked about challenges in directing “Bailey’s Billion$” Devine laughed and said, “The challenge is directing a dog! Basically you could only do the particular type of animation to make the dog talk when the dog is perfectly still. It makes it far more expensive to animate the dog when both the camera is moving slightly and the dog is running—about ten times more expensive! The idea is pretty much to freeze the dog’s movements for at least four or five seconds. So that usually took a number of takes. It’s kind of ironical to have a crew of about sixty around and a cast of maybe ten in a boardroom, and you’re spending all of your time shooting a dog on a chair.”

Devine said he was happy with the results. “It was almost identical to what I had envisioned. You know ‘silly’ doesn’t have to be a bad word. A silly, funny movie for children is what I tried to make and I occasionally try to put in a few jokes for the adults who take their children to watch the film or at home now on the DVD, so the parents aren’t watching a ‘kiddie film,’ — it becomes a family film and that’s very important to me. If you don’t mind me saying, I hearken back to the era where family night used to be Disney. The early fifties up to the mid 60’s when Sunday night was family night, and the entire family would watch television together which has become more and more rare. So I’m pretty much fixed with that idea even today in this new century. I’d like to keep making films for that market.”

His concern is that some family programming produced by other studios air as late as 9pm and he said his children are in bed by that time. In fact, when asked about his most rewarding experience in making “Bailey’s Billion$,” he said, “It’s a little selfish. The most rewarding thing is that my five year old daughter has watched it five times and I find it incredible that a five year old could sit through a feature film five times. The best thing is to see her smiling and laughing and enjoying it and she doesn’t even know that Daddy made it.”

Devine is eyeing future plans and commented, “I just got back from Romania. I’m setting up a new series called ‘The Writer’s Specials.’ There are going to be six new films that try to get children, and particularly my major market in the United States, to read classical literature again. What we’re hearing in U.S. school systems is that the sciences are slowly eroding and so is reading, and classical literature, so we’re going to make six new films [on famous authors] such as Mark Twain and the period he spent writing ‘Huckleberry Finn.’ Then I’m going to do a film on Alexander Dumas, writing ‘The Three Musketeers.’ The other ones are on Edgar Allan Poe and Lewis Carroll. I just found some castles that were fairly inexpensive to rent in Transylvania of all places. They were built by the French back in the fourteenth century and they’re still in near perfect condition. They’re extremely affordable right now, at least for another year or two and then the Euro is going to take over and they’ll become part of the European Union but right now they’re not part of the Union so I can afford to rent castles there!”

In the future watch out for David Devine’s productions and no doubt you will find him working on projects which “freeze innocence for just a moment.”

Read Dove’s review of “Bailey’s Billion$”