by Edwin L. Carpenter, Editor – The Dove Foundation
Johnny Remo, the producer and director of the Dove family-approved film, “A Letter to Dad,” gave The Dove Foundation an exclusive interview and told us about his background, and the patience he needed to complete this film. He is receiving a lot of comments about it, a film which many people relate to. The plot involves a father who cares about his son, but doesn’t know how to open up and show emotion. When the father and wife split up, the dad picks up his son on weekends but often leaves him in motels while he goes to the local bar to get smashed.
Johnny started in the business behind the camera. “I was an actor and I moved to New York after graduating,” he said. “I went to a lot of Broadway shows and was excited about the business. I always wanted to be in the business.”
“I worked on a couple of the soaps. I worked on One Life to Live for about two and a half years. I worked on All My Children for a little while. I learned a lot about camera technique. I was one of those actors who instead of going into my dressing room in between scenes or takes I would stay on stage and ask a lot of technical questions of the technical director, the lighting guy and the director of photography.
Johnny said by asking questions and hands-on experience he learned the art of directing. He stated he did a lot of theater which was a great background for his eventual director’s duties. He moved to California, saying, “It’s time for the big boys!” He soon learned it was more difficult than he had imagined, but he did get a stint on General Hospital.
In addition, Johnny wrote a few plays which were produced and he acted in. One of the plays, titled Just Roommates, won a couple of awards. The play had a six-week run on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. He eventually did some stills for a few films, including a job on the Sean Connery film The Name of the Rose.
Eventually Johnny met Dan Donovan, and Dan told him about a letter he had written which he would like to convert into a movie and he wanted Johnny to direct it. He told Dan he had never directed before but Dan’s mother had conducted business with Johnny’s mother for many years, and Dan knew Johnny was a man he could trust. So he entrusted Johnny with a thirty-eight page letter he had written to his dad.
Johnny and Dan knocked out a script from the letter in about six weeks. The year was 1993. They next cast the movie, and Johnny said, “That went really well. We got some great actors as you know.” We at Dove concurred with this as the movie does boast some very good performances.
Initially Johnny sent the script to John Ashton, who turned down the role. “I was kind of bummed about that,” Johnny said. He contacted John’s agent to see if John could explain why he turned down the role, if it had anything to do with the way the character was written, or what exactly the reason was. A week later John called Johnny and said he wanted to meet with him in person. Johnny was surprised to hear John explain, with tears in his eyes, “I can’t play this role, because if I play this role, I’ll be playing my father.”
“I teared up with him,” said Johnny. “It was a very cathartic session,” he said. “We come from the same background,” said Johnny, “and Dan had known that and that’s why he also wanted me to direct this because he knew I would be able to relate to the situation. I said, ‘John, who better than you would understand the complexity of this character.’ He thought about it and he said, ‘You know what? Based on your passion I’m going to do this movie.’ And you know—you saw, He’s brilliant in it.”
The film was made and then sold in the foreign markets. It did well and was not immediately released domestically. “Shortly after that, Dan committed suicide,” Johnny said, “in 1994. When he made the movie he sent it to his father and never got a response from his father,” said Johnny.
It was Johnny who found Dan, and it affected his life traumatically for a year. Johnny put the movie on the shelf. Afterwards, for a time, he believed too much time had passed. He went on and worked for Disney and did a few other jobs. In 2006 a friend named Phil Botana asked him if he had ever done anything with ‘A Letter to Dad’. He said no and his friend suggested he send the movie to us at The Dove Foundation. Aaron and Chuck Norris (yes, THE Chuck Norris) saw it and Aaron’s wife loved the movie. The snowball began to roll and gain momentum.
Johnny added a new ending to the film, filming some fifteen years later with John Ashton, Thom Matthews and Megan Gallivan. The cast was glad to comply. Johnny mentioned that when he was a kid, and something wouldn’t go well or something bad happened, his mother would say, ‘Don’t worry about it. The Lord moves in mysterious ways’. The movie was made and it wasn’t the right time for it to come out. Now is the right time.” In addition to his fine cast, Johnny credits his co-producer and editor, Lance Bachelder, with helping to make the dream become a reality.
Lance also edited down a few party scenes of the teenagers who were struggling with their feelings of neglect from their fathers. It is handled realistically in the film but with good taste.
An Australian distributor, Heritage, just came on board for the DVD and they helped distribute the movie Bella as well as some other well known titles, including The Chronicles of Narnia.
It looks as if the DVD will hit some of the Christian bookstores within a period of three or four months. In the meantime, the DVD has been slashed in price from $19.95 to $14.95, and currently if one is purchased for $14.95, the customer will receive an additional copy free to pass along to someone.
To order the DVD, you can go to their website at: www.alettertodad.com
“I’m extremely happy because of the full circle,” said Johnny, referring to the beginnings of this movie in 1993 and it’s reaching many homes now in 2008 and 2009. “It came when the Lord wanted it to come,” he said. “Everybody always wants everything now. If we got some stuff now, it really wouldn’t work the way it’s supposed to work.”
In addition to receiving the Dove “Family-Approved” Seal, Johnny’s film “A Letter to Dad” has been endorsed by David Delk, President of the National Coalition of Men’s Ministries who said “Truly, this is an inspirational movie that demonstrates God’s desire for healthy relationships between a father and his son. It is both Gripping and Relevant” and Al Lenio Director of Man in the Mirror Ministries said” A Letter to Dad provides today’s man with keen insights on how God can heal broken relationships between a father and his son”.
Read Dove’s Review of “A Letter to Dad“