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An Interview with Larry Thompson, producer of 'Amish Grace'

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Telling the story of foregiveness as a Catholic producer

"Amish Grace," now available on DVD, tells the story of the true life tragedy in October 6, 2006 when a gunman killed five Amish children and injured five others in a Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania schoolhouse shooting. Viewed through the eyes of a grieving mother, Ida Graber, and other impacted families, the movie explores the extraordinary expressions of forgiveness by the Amish community.


By Leticia Velasquez
Catholic Media Review (
9/28/2010 (1 decade ago)

Published in Movies

Keywords: Amish Grace, Larry Thompson, foregiveness, Lifetime, movie

DALLAS, TX (Catholic Media Review) - Catholic Online Editor's Note: Larry A. Thompson is the executive producer of "Amish Grace," which tells the story of the true life tragedy in October 6, 2006 when a gunman killed five Amish children and injured five others in a Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania schoolhouse shooting. Viewed through the eyes of a grieving mother, Ida Graber and other impacted families, the movie explores the extraordinary expressions of forgiveness by the Amish community.

More than 4 million viewers tuned in to the made-for-TV movie starring Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Tammy Blanchard, and Matt Letscher. The movie broke all Network records, becoming the highest-rated and most-watched original movie in the history of Lifetime Movie Network.

Thompson is an acclaimed Hollywood film producer, personal manager, attorney, book packager, author, and motivational speaker.

He has managed the careers of over 200 Stars and produced 19 Movies for Television, including the highly acclaimed ABC World Premiere "And The Beat Goes On: The Sonny and Cher Story," CBS's "Lucy and Desi: Before The Laughter," and "The Woman He Loved" (The historical Royal romance of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor), 5 Motion Pictures, 2 Television Series, 9 Television Specials, and various Series Pilots.

Thompson was voted "Showman Of The Year" in 1998 by the U.S. Television Fan Association. He has received the Industry's prestigious Vision Award and his productions have won 2 Accolade Awards for both Merit and Excellence and have received Nominations for 8 Emmys, 6 Imagen Awards, 2 Prism Awards, the Humanitas Prize, and a Golden Globe.

He is currently working on a new project focusing on the life of Oprah Winfrey.

Leticia Velasquez, from Catholic Media Review, recently had the opportunity to interview Thompson, particularly with regard to the movie "Amish Grace." - RWS

Leticia: I am very excited to talk to you about "Amish Grace"; I was very impressed by it.

Larry: Why, thank you very much.

Leticia: What appealed to you about that story?

Larry: Well, you know, I was so touched by this community, and the ability to offer absolute and immediate forgiveness in light of the tragedy that they suffered. It was almost inconceivable to me. And it was in the learning of the story and knowing more about it that I thought, this is just a fabulous potential movie because of the message that it has.

As a Catholic boy, I have been praying "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." I realized that I've been talking the talk, but I didn't even know what it meant, these people actually walked the walk and really evidenced their deep spiritual understanding of what the Lord's Prayer is, and what's required of us.

The movie's not set out to tell everybody what they should do with their life, that if your child is killed  you should immediately forgive the killer, we're not preaching that's what you should do, but we are showing you that these people did do it, and maybe offer some inspiration and hope to where it gets people to think.

Leticia: There's nothing like the power of a true witness. Steve Greydanus, the film critic at National Catholic Register took the message very much to heart, and did apply it to his life.

Larry: That's wonderful!

Leticia: Did you know that 40% of your audience of "Amish Grace" was Catholic?

Larry: No, I did not know that! I do know that it was the highest rated, most watched movie in the history of the network.

Leticia: I hope that you are going to build on your success by producing similar faith based films.

Larry: You know it's interesting that you should mention that, I had lunch yesterday with Sr Rose Pacette (Daughters of St Paul who have an apostolate in the media) at their convent. She's just absolutely wonderful, and she invited me to lunch over at their convent. And the network was so pleased by the results of this particular movie, they said, "OK Larry, next Palm Sunday is yours".

Do you know I've been looking and looking and I can't find a movie. I thought I had found it with the movie based on the book called "The Shack" and actually,  I tried to get the rights to it, but it's mired in a lot of legal problems, and I wasn't able to do it. But I'm looking for the next movie that's faith based. I'm looking everyday for stories for this.

Leticia: I think we all learned a lesson from the meteoric success of "The Passion" about the size of the Christian audience.

Larry: Well, you know, Leticia, I haven't been one who's been interested in making faith-based movies, I've been a very commercial producer and representative of talent my whole career, this is just a story that I saw and loved, and it was very difficult to sell it, it was very difficult to write, it was 13 drafts, it was difficult once it was finished being written, to convince the network they should air it because they were concerned that it was too sad, it was too depressing. I kept saying, "it's not about the tragedy, it's about the aftermath," and that's esoteric terms in Hollywood.

It's not like if you go to church on Sunday, in Chicago or New Orleans, but it is when you are pitching to Hollywood, because they don't get it. Once they saw the film, oh, it was their idea, and even when it was about to air, they wouldn't air it on Lifetime, they aired it on Lifetime Movie Network, and they didn't want to give us a full budget, they gave us a smaller budget, because they just didn't know. They just didn't know, it wasn't like their normal fare.

Of course, what happens? We get the word out, through groups like you and the Catholics who see it, and understand it, and spread the word, and then the movie has a life of its own on the air, most watched, highest rated original movie in the history of the Network.

Leticia: You mentioned "rage" in your book Shine, which gives advice on achieving your professional goals, you say it takes "talent, team, luck and rage." Tell me more about channeling rage and who does it well.

Larry: I use "rage" meaning it's beyond that you hope something happens, or that you wish something to happen, or even if you have a passion for it to happen, if you really want to succeed, you really have, in your mind, have a maniacal tunnel vision, buy a one way ticket to where you're going. You can't have options.

Leticia: You're talking about drive?

Larry: Yes, and Mel Gibson, in the making of "The Passion of the Christ." He had that level of rage.

Leticia: Oh, he had that, but he's having a difficult time channeling that rage lately.

Larry: You know, isn't that true, but, you also have to separate the man from the talent, and the talent from the passion, just because he's flawed, as we all are, doesn't mean his intent and his passion for his message wasn't pure.

I made "Amish Grace" and I think it's a wonderful message for the world to enjoy, but I certainly don't claim to be perfect, by any means,  I'm learning myself from my own movies.

Leticia: I'm sure that passionate, talented people are very difficult to live with.

Larry: Right now, in the management division of my company, I represent stars from Joan Rivers to David Hasselhof and William Shatner. I say to my wife some mornings, I say, "It's only 9 o'clock, heck, I've already talked with William Shatner, Joan Rivers, and David Hasselhof." I mean that's not a day at the beach.

Leticia: No I'm sure it's not.

Larry: But these are driven, talented, gifted people, who have their own charms, talents, toils, and demons and everything else, but to reach a level of success or to penetrate the consciousness, you have to have a level of commitment, everybody wants it but few people are willing to pay the price.

Leticia: That's right.

Larry: And that's what "rage" is about, somebody who doesn't have a choice and doesn't see it as rage actually it's just who they are and what they do.

Leticia: Or an inner passion for what they do.

Larry: Exactly.

Leticia: Who do you think is the funniest person on TV?

Larry: You know the young kid who is on "The Big Bang Theory?" Jim Parsons, is that his name? He's very funny. My humor is a little edgier than prime time television, I just finished doing a Comedy Central roast of David Hasselhof. This fall you're going to be seeing William Shatner on a new series called. "Bleep, My Dad Said." I think it's very funny.

Leticia: Tell us bout your TV biopic of Oprah.

Larry: Actually I just got off the phone on that, that's what I'm into as we speak. I think Oprah is probably one of the most fascinating people on planet earth and being from Mississippi myself which is where she's from. I find it remarkable to go from a African American little girl in a rural Delta to the world stage as Oprah, that's a fascinating journey.

Leticia: It sure is, why do you think she's so popular with American women?

Larry: I think that she speaks a lot of truth to them and I think she's gained their confidence and it's interesting that 25 years later she's coming to the end of her show as we know it, and I thought that this movie would be a three dimensional telling of her story and celebration of her life and something I think a lot of people would be interested in. Again she's not a perfect person either.

Leticia: Yes, I believe she had suffered abuse in her family and she overcame that and I think that's one of the reasons women love her.

Larry: Oh I think so too, I think they see her as an early victim who overcame many challenges.

Leticia: Can you hint at who's playing Oprah?

Larry: No, I don't know that myself yet. I'm open not only to recognizable stars, but I'm also thinking in terms of an unknown.

Leticia: Your book division is an interesting, how did you get involved in that?

Larry: Well, you know when you have an idea and sometimes you think it's a movie and you find out it's not, maybe it's TV movie maybe it's a feature film maybe it's a book or an album, you never know. The ideas we have and the projects that interest us sort of take a life of their own and we follow that to where you can get it distributed, it's all about distribution. If you have a great idea and no one to finance or to buy it you don't have anything.

Leticia: And that's where you come in.

Larry: Yeah that's what I do. We're sorta like water, when you turn over a bucket of water, and  it just go wherever it'll go, and we have to follow it sometimes.

Leticia: That's right, you follow it to see what's ahead, and you have such a good reputation I'm sure if you back something it would sell.

Larry: Well we try; I mean you do this long enough that you start to sense a pattern of what you think people will buy. I've done 23 movies and every time I sell or pitch the next idea, on one hand they are counting on me to pitch up something that's going to get a high rating or have a big box office, however, it's a very fickle public, and  it's very difficult.  There are so many factors that none of us control. But you know what? The truth of the matter is that if it's a great story the water will find an outlet, and it'll reach the public.

Leticia: What do you think are the elements of a great story?

Larry: I think it's a story in which the viewer can relate to in some way to their own life. The telling of a story has to be historically from people sitting around a campfire and telling a story to going to see movies like Avatar, it's all about storytelling it's all about people listening to other people's adventures or experiences and being able to extract from the story the emotional journey the characters went through and apply it to their own life.

We will never as an individual, experience all the things that all the characters went through in all the stories we've ever seen, but by absorbing and witnessing their story and adventure and emotional life we are enriched, we are prepared, and it enlightens us to who we are as people and who we are as a civilization and as human beings. I think a good story does that. If the story doesn't allow the viewer to be entertained, to  learn and get lost within the characters it's not doing its job.

Leticia: Well you know who else was a good story teller? Jesus.

Larry: He was the best.

Leticia:  He recognized the power of a good story.

Larry: It's interesting that you say that because He used a parable to tell His story, and a movie is a parable.

Leticia: And I think Catholics are essentially gifted at that because we acknowledge that the faith is shown not explained.  Some of the Protestant movies are a little bit talky; movies made by Catholics are more symbolic like The Passion.

Larry: Exactly right. My gosh, you are quite a student of this!

Leticia: I have been working on a script of my own and trying to understand what makes a good story. You show your point, if you can't make your point through characters and storyline forget it!

Larry: Exactly.

Leticia: I'm used to a tough audience as a classroom teacher, if you don't reach your audience in the first five minutes, you're dead!

Larry: (laughs) it's truly a pleasure, I mean it!

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