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Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Robertson Factor: Pat Robertson extends his influence beyond Washington to Hollywood
Graduate from Robertson’s Regent University makes inroads into Hollywood moviemaking

By Michael Ireland
Chief Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA (ANS) -- Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson launched Regent University in 1977 with a mission of "preparing leaders who would not only succeed in their professions, but also advance as Christians equipped to effectively impact their world."

Pat Robertson has influence on both East and West coasts -- in Wasington and Hollywood.

Robertson has long been a fixture in the corridors of power in Washington DC, but lately he's once again begun to have an impact in the nation's entertainment capitol, this time through students who have graduated from Regent.

In the mid 1990's, Robertson made his first major foray into Hollywood when he acquired the MTM catalogue and launched the Family Channel, but both were subsequently sold to Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation in 1996. Since then Robertson has kept a low profile in 'Tinseltown' until now.

The Ultimate Gift, a film whose screenplay was written by Cheryl McKay and staring Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) and James Garner (Maverick) is scheduled to be released on DVD on August 21st. The film is based on the best selling novel by the same name, written by Jim Stovall and has won several prestigious awards including the Crystal Heart Award at the Heartland Film Festival.

McKay, who is a Regent graduate, is one of the university's first major success stories in Hollywood. She graduated with an M.A. from the University’s School of Communication & the Arts.

McKay’s “The Ultimate Gift” opened in more than 800 movie theatres on Friday, March 9, taking 1.2 million in box office, for a healthy $1,520 per screen average. After two weeks, "The Ultimate Gift" has earned $2.5 million in box office.

Ms. McKay is part of a new generation of talented and devout filmmakers who have begun to have a significant impact in Hollywood, but the association with the famed TV preacher can also lead to misunderstandings. The Ultimate Gift was released theatrically in March of this year and was criticized in some quarters for allegedly harboring anti-abortion and pro-poverty messages, something McKay laughs off.

'Cheryl McKay (right), who wrote the script for The UltimateGift, with Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine.

"We were all baffled when those accusations came from some film critics," noted McKay. "I have done faith-based projects before, but this was a completely mainstream movie with major talent attached and to have those accusations come at the film were surprising. I'm proud of the school I attended, but filmmaking isn't about advancing an agenda -- it's about telling great stories."

Starring Hollywood heavyweights James Garner, Abigail Breslin, Brian Dennehy and Drew Fuller and directed by Michael O. Sajbel, the film follows the story of Red Stevens (Garner) who passes away and leaves a video will behind for his friends and relatives in the hope that they will learn the true meaning of wealth.

McKay’s script is based on the Jim Stovall’s best-selling novel of the same name and features acting legends James Garner and Brian Dennehy, as well as the 2007 Academy Award’s youngest nominee, Abigail Breslin, for “Little Miss Sunshine.”

“The Ultimate Gift” is the story of self-obsessed Drew Fuller who, after his grandfather’s death, must simplify his life and work on a farm to gain his inheritance. While making good on his grandfather’s wishes, Fuller finds something more valuable than money.

According to McKay, the whole process of making the film was amazing but, she says, one of the highlights was shooting the film in Charlotte where her parents live. "One of the key themes in the film is the gift of family," she explained, "and I was able to share the whole experience with my family."

For the first time, FoxFilms gave viewers opportunities to put their movie tickets where their hearts are. One dollar of every movie ticket purchased through www.foxfilmfund.com with the accompanying charity code, was donated to that charity. Regent University’s School of Communication & the Arts is one of hundreds of charities nationwide that benefited from the success of “The Ultimate Gift.” That opportunity was for the opening weekend only.

McKay, who has been writing professionally since 1997, received her M.A. in Film Aesthetics and Production from Regent’s School of Communication & the Arts in 1995.

"The film seems to hit people on many different levels -- everyone who sees it takes something different away," McKay said.

"Because I wrote the screenplay I was on set a lot," she recalled, adding "and a lot of people there -- from reporters to production assistants -- wanted to talk to me about the challenges they were facing in their own lives. They wanted to talk about how the stories hit them personally. My hope is that people who see it will be encouraged to develop better relationships with their families and to appreciate them while they’re still alive. I hope they will have a heart toward giving."

Regent University was founded in 1978 and was soon recognized as the nation’s premier Christian graduate university. Today, Regent has grown to encompass campuses in Virginia Beach and Washington, D.C., as well as having a strong presence online around the world. Students earn bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in the fields of business, communication, divinity, education, government, law, leadership studies, and psychology and counseling.


** Michael Ireland is an international British freelance journalist. A former reporter with a London newspaper, Michael is the Chief Correspondent for ASSIST News Service of Lake Forest, California. Michael immigrated to the United States in 1982 and became a US citizen in September, 1995. He is married with two children. Michael has also been a frequent contributor to UCB Europe, a British Christian radio station.

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