By Daniele Foti-Cuzzola
Back in 2007, author William P Young released his debut faith-based novel, The Shack which for over a year after its release went largely unnoticed. But by June 2008, The Shack’s popularity grew through strong word of mouth and went on to top The New York Times paperback best-selling list.
Ten years later and The Shack has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide and has catapulted author William P Young’s career, who has since written a string of successful faith-based novels.
Now his much-beloved story about a grieving father’s encounter with the Holy Trinity is set to catapult the career of another relatively unknown creative, director Stuart Hazeldine who helmed the highly anticipated film adaptation.
The film, which has already been released in the US and Europe, has exceeded box office expectations and Hazeldine credits the relatable source material for its success.
The film explores grief and forgiveness as family man Mackenzie ‘Mack’ (Sam Worthington) struggles to come to terms with the death of his youngest daughter.
Withdrawing from his family and his faith, Mackenzie’s life reaches a crossroads until he returns to the shack where his daughter was killed and has a chance encounter with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, who help him come to terms with his loss.
“It’s very easy for someone to see something of their own experience of life and how they process it with their relationship with God,” Hazeldine says of the film.
“Not everyone has lost a child or experienced the tragedy that Mack has but many of us have had pain and loss in some way and we question, ‘Does God really love me?’
“To see a movie where God is going, ‘I love you and I’m here for you and I’m coming to help you’, is a powerful message. It’s a challenge but also an inspiration,” he said.
The Shack is only Hazeldine’s second feature film and adapting such a beloved book to the screen was no small task.
“A novel that has sold that many copies, makes you very aware of the responsibility and the popularity of it,” he says.
“It’s important to guard the spirit of it and not make it something that it isn’t and for this book many people didn’t just like the book, they loved the book. It was a way of healing their beliefs and their relationship with God in a different way.”
To bring the beloved book to the screen, Hazeldine collaborated with a number of Hollywood heavyweights including The Blind Side, producer Gil Netter, Oscar-winning actress, Octavia Spencer (The Help), country singer, Tim McGraw and Western Australia’s own, Sam Worthington (Avatar).
Gathering such big names for the modest project required no miracles with Hazeldine pointing out that both Spencer and Worthington were eager to be part of the film.
“Octavia was the first person to get cast and she had read the book and the book had helped her during a difficult time in her life.
“Sam felt he could identify with Mack and his journey and the pain and where it came from… he wanted to throw his teeth into that and we wanted everyone to have a personal reaction to the script,” he said.
Rockingham raised Worthington was not the only Australian actor on the project. Melbourne-born-actress Radha Mitchell (Finding Neverland) played Mack’s devoted wife Nana, who has an unshakable faith in God.
“Radha was a great actress who worked with Sam before and they could bring a shared history.
She brought a great professionalism when the camera was rolling and when it wasn’t, she was a huge joy to be around,” Hazeldine said.
While The Shack’s international success and the recent success of other faith-based films might lead one to believe there is a renewed interest in the genre, Hazeldine is sceptical believing success has more to do with a film’s subject matter and its ability to resonate with audiences.
“I’m a little sceptical about the idea that there is an interest in faith-based films and there is a time where there isn’t an interest. The interest is always there but you need particular kinds of stories to energise the demographic and some stories are more powerful than others.
“Certain stories come in and get a real strong reaction like The Passion of the Christ which came out of nowhere…The Shack is a powerful story.
“Whether it came out now or two years later. Has the political climate affected it? I don’t know. We got it made when we felt it was ready to get made,” he concluded.
The Shack is in Cinemas now. Thanks to Anarchy PR we are giving away double in-season passes to see The Shack. For your chance to win email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us in 25 words or less what is the most inspiring film you have ever seen?