by Dick Rolfe, CEO – The Dove Foundation
Rick Eldridge is a talented and experienced film and television producer with many projects to his credit. He also serves as a valued member of The Dove Foundation’s Advisory Board. Unlike many of his peers who live in Hollywood, Rick is happy living and working in Charlotte, NC, although he has acquired a boat load of frequent flyer miles going back and forth. Rick is best known for producing “The Ultimate Gift” starring James Garner and “Running the Sahara” a feature length documentary narrated by actor, Matt Damon.
The following interview with Rick focuses on an animated DVD series his company has been producing that began with “Hermie, the Common Caterpillar,” a best selling children’s book by Christian author, Max Lucado.
Editor’s note: “Hermie and Friends; a Fruitcake Christmas” mentioned in this story is currently showing in select theaters on…
December 5th and 6th
December 12th and 13th
December 19th and 20th
How did you get involved in animated series after a long line of live action movies?
R: In my early years, I worked on 120 episodes of the Disney television series, “Adventures in Wonderland.” There, we worked with all types of media; claymation, live action, animation, and puppets. The first animated series we did was “Story Keepers” which we distributed through Zondervan. [The “Story Keepers” series was awarded the Dove Family Approved Seal for all ages.]
Next, I began working with Thomas Nelson and produced several one-off [single story] properties based on books by Max Lucado. Almost eight years ago we were approached with this little kids’ book about a caterpillar that becomes a butterfly. The two main characters were Hermie and Wormie. They asked if I thought we could do something with this story. I came back with a couple of ideas, suggesting that we release the DVD on the same day as the book. I also suggested that we think out of the box and ask someone like Tim Conway and Don Knotts to play the roles of Hermie and Wormie.
The first episode was intended to be a one-off. But there was such high demand; we decided to do more of them. We’ve just completed episode number 14.
We love the Hermie series here at Dove. All of the episodes we’ve seen have received the Dove Family Approved Seal for all ages. Tell me more about Don Knotts’ involvement.
R: The Hermie series was the last thing Don and Tim did together. In fact, “Hermie and Friends; a Fruitcake Christmas,” the episode now showing in theaters, was the last episode Don did for us before he passed away. That was episode number 7. Ever since then, we’ve been using a sound-alike vocal talent in honor of Don and his role as Wormie.
What was the relationship between Tim and Don like before and during the making of Hermie?
R: There are behind-the-scenes tapings included with each show. During one such taping after Don passed away, Tim remarked, “Don is the reason I’m in this business.” Tim continued to say that Don was a great influence in his life as a comedic actor.
Anything in particular that Tim mentioned about Don’s influence?
R: Just the way he made people laugh. I asked Don one time during one of those behind-the-scenes interviews, what he would like his legacy to be. He answered, “One word – Laughter.” He loved making people laugh and enjoy life. He certainly did that through his career. Certainly Tim would also concur with that. They had many wonderful opportunities to work together.
What did Max Lucado have in mind when he wrote the Hermie series?
R: It was a coming of age story about a little caterpillar that struggles with life and makes mistakes that any kid would identify with. We made the character of God as an approachable, friendly, loving guy who encourages Hermie when he comes to God with his troubles. At the end of the original episode, Hermie turns into a butterfly and flies away. When the DVD began to sell so well, we wondered how we could keep the series going since Hermie already turned into a butterfly and butterflies only live for two weeks! That’s when we decided to create the “Hermie and Friends” series, with every episode as a “prequel.”
Our goal is to create characters (there are 36 distinct characters now) that experience real life issues and deal with traits like fear, anger, love, and obedience. They learn that there is a God who loves them and shows them how to resolve these issues. The series is geared toward pre-schoolers through the lower elementary grades. Hopefully kids watching are learning ways to deal with these issues in their lives. We’ve had thousands of letters from parents and kids that have encouraged us. Probably my favorite is from a parent that said her little boy was looking up in the sky out the window of their mini-van. She asked him what he was doing, and he said, “I’m praying to God, just like Hermie does.”
“Hermie and Friends; A Fruitcake Christmas” is the first episode you’ve released in theaters. Tell me about your plans for future releases.
R: We partnered with Digital Attractions out of Hollywood. They work in specialized markets across the nation. They provide entertainment opportunities for families to come to the theaters on Saturdays and Sundays; times that are usually slow for the exhibitors. Hermie is ideally suited for children and their families to attend during these timeslots. “A Fruitcake Christmas” is the first episode being released in theaters like this. We plan on another special release during Easter and perhaps a third sometime next summer.
The goal is to build a network of churches and families who will want to see more of these movies. This will continue building toward a full length feature theatrical release we are developing called, “Hermie, the 3D Movie” which will come out around the forth quarter of 2010. Thomas Nelson and Twentieth Century Fox are involved with us on this project.
I know you are one to keep busy. What other projects are you currently working on?
R: In addition to “Hermie, the 3D Movie,” we have several live action projects in development. The one that is getting the most attention is “The Ultimate Life” which is a sequel to “The Ultimate Gift.” The book is out now and doing very well. We’re in the scripting stage for the movie. We hope to shoot it in 2010 and release it in 2011. This is a courtroom drama where Jason, the main character in “The Ultimate Gift” is sued by his family for his great grandfather’s fortune. Jason has to relive the challenges he faced and their respective gifts that qualified him for the inheritance. We’re excited about it because it has more teeth than the original because of all the twists and turns and courtroom battles.
Thanks to Rick Eldridge for taking time from his busy schedule to update us on his latest projects; especially one of our favorite characters; Hermie the caterpillar.