Patrick Doughtie Discussing the Film, Letters to God

Letters to God is a film that everybody will be talking about this Spring as it is a film inspired by a true story about hope and faith among so many other things. Story Writer and Co-Director, Patrick Doughtie sat down for Hollywood the Write Way to discuss how Letters to God came to be and more.

Whose idea was it to start blogging about Tyler’s journey?
While we were at St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN, a friend back home told me to make sure I journal, write everything down every day. While there, through other parents, I also discovered this great new (to me) online way to communicate with loved ones back home, Little did we know that it would turn into a worldwide stage for anyone and everyone to follow children with cancer. The site allows anyone with an illness to journal for their friends and family back home.

You kept blogging years after Tyler became cancer free, what has kept you blogging and can we expect more blogging after the film & DVD has released?
I did, I kept writing after he passed away. Mainly for my own sanity, but it allowed me to continue writing about him, my thoughts, memories and the pain. It was my release. Then I was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) 9 months after he passed away and I began not only writing about Ty, but people were asking constantly about my health, so it turned into a multi-purpose blog, if you will. I wish I could keep up with it better these days but do plan to continue. I’m putting together my own web site where I’ll link it to and will also blog there.

Note: Cancer parents use the term “cancer free” when referring to their child passing.

Letters To God is inspired by your son, Tyler but can you tell us what the similarities and differences are in the film and real life?
I intentionally wrote the script using his cancer story and mixing it in with fiction for several reasons. I came up with the title of the film first while sitting around his hospital room. And because I always believed he would be okay, I was going to write it about a boy with Leukemia living in a Boston suburb. With the title, I thought you obviously need a postman, which I created Brady, giving him his own troubles. The letters that Tyler writes in the film initially were part of the fiction. I thought of Tyler as my letter “from” God and I’m the messenger and that the way he lived his life and shined for Christ was a letter in itself. But a year after completing the script, while going through his room, which I had left the same but occasionally would go in and pack a box and put it away, I came across a tiny notepad and began to flip through reading some of his words. Several pages into it, I found one that said, “Dear God,” and a message. And then a second. I teared up, yelling for my wife, Heather, (his step-mom). I intentionally wrote myself out of it as the father but Maddy, his mother in the film, is basically me. The struggles she goes through as a Christian dealing with her dying son and questioning her faith was me. I went through that. Many things Tyler says in the film were actual words from his mouth and heart. Like the final line in the movie, “I just want everyone to believe.” But the postman, grandma, Ben and a few others are all fictional characters. Sam, his best friend in the film, I initially wrote her based on a friend we met at St Jude that passed away a year after Tyler. I’ve basically described it as Tyler’s cancer story wrapped in fiction.

As this seems to be your directorial debut, what did you learn about the process that you never knew about directing and what did you find to be challenging?
The directing aspect was fun and exciting, definitely one of the best parts about making the movie. I’ve been on several movie and television sets and read books on directing, so I wasn’t really surprised about much. In fact, because of a constant team of prayer warriors that were always on set praying over the production, cast and crew, things were surprisingly smoother than what I had witnessed previously and read about. I really expected more difficulties, especially with so many people on set and opinions which I would have to say was the most challenging. Additionally, for me, there were some very difficult scenes because it was so close to home. But that more had to do with the emotion of some scenes. It was like reliving the experience all over again.

How has the experience of being so closely involved in the film (both as the father of the son this story is inspired by and as a writer and director) affected you as opposed to simply writing it and putting faith in others’ hands?
My passion for the movie and the story made it difficult to let it go and just trust that someone else would do it justice. Honestly, I had another deal with a different production company first. Once they began bringing in “Hollywood” types and changing the script beyond recognition and making it more secular, I knew I had to pull the plug and find another company. I still didn’t get my way on many things having to do with the script and production, which isn’t always a bad thing, but overall, I knew I couldn’t trust anyone to just turn this over and not be involved. If it were another story, like one of my fictional stories that wasn’t so close to my heart, I would have handed the script over and been done with it. But God put this on my heart and I felt that I had to see it through from start to finish.

What would you say is your favorite moment in the film?
Wow! Hard question because there were so many. Probably my favorite moment, without ruining it for your readers, would have to be a fun little scene, a light moment, when Tyler plays a prank on his Granna. Tyler was a fun kid that liked pranks and joking around, and though that particular moment in the film didn’t happen exactly like that, it’s totally Ty.

What are some of your favorite memories that you would have liked to have seen in the film but didn’t make the cut?
Another tough one because there were so many things that were cut from the original script that never even made it to the camera and then some scenes that were filmed that didn’t make the final cut. But, I would have to say, from the perspective of the church relationship with the family and the importance I feel the church plays in families dealing with cancer, I don’t feel that fully come across, in my opinion. Another was a scene that was written but taken out that took place in the hospital after a major seizure toward the end that put him in a coma the doctors said he wouldn’t wake from. It was four days before Christmas. I prayed harder than I ever had ever prayed before, begging God to give me one more Christmas with him, it was his favorite time of year. On Christmas eve, Tyler woke up, though not entirely himself, he remained “awake” for another two and a half months until he passed away. It was a beautiful moment and great testament to the power of prayer. I would have liked to have seen that in the movie.

How did one of the producers of Fireproof & Facing the Giants, David Nixon come into the project as directing the film?
I had been called in last minute as a volunteer van driver for a film festival here in Nashville. While driving a couple back to their hotel we were talking about screenplays. I had mentioned I was writing Letters to God and explained about my son. When I arrived at the hotel I turned to say goodnight and the couple were teary-eyed reaching for business cards, offering to help me get it made when I was finished. The gentleman was Art D’Alessandro, who lives in Orlando. After the plug was pulled on the first production company, I contacted Art to see if he would take a look at my script and possibly be interested in “polishing” it. He did and mentioned this guy he had recently met at a film conference in Orlando, David, and asked when he was finished would I like him to put it in his hands. I’m one that does his due diligence, researching, gathering facts and so forth. After all of the interviews with the Kendrick brothers over Facing the Giants, they touted how it was an all volunteer crew except “five professionals from Florida.” I had already done my research and found that David was the one responsible for making that movie look the way it did, one of “the five,” and of course Bob Scott, a wonderful DP, but David was already on my radar. It was just another of dozens of moments I can account that I knew God was involved in opening the doors for me to get to David and get the film made.

What was the process like casting Tanner Maguire as Tyler?
The casting director had already “prescreened” him, if you will, but we flew to L.A. to look at the final 3-5 or so of each main character. We had already decided on Bailee Madison who was already friends with Tanner and had worked with him on Saving Sarah Cain, so she pushed a little. But I already knew he was the one. My then 5 year old son, Brendan, told me so. While viewing an earlier screening from Tanner that was sent to me by the casting director, Brendan hopped up in my lap at my computer. When the different faces popped up on the screen, he pointed to Tanner and said, “He looks like Bubba.” I wasn’t so sure from just that photo, but while watching the audition, he said, “I want him to be Bubba.” I showed my wife and daughter and they all agreed. It was uncanny how much Tanner’s mannerisms from the audition were freakishly like like Tyler’s. So, in L.A. I wanted to see more. From the time he walked through the door I felt it was him. His smile was totally Ty, but his personality and when he delivered the lines, I knew for sure. The others were as sold on him at first, they liked him but when it came down to choosing they wanted another kid which I reluctantly agreed and my reasons were that I thought Tanner may be too old and too tall to play the part. But another God thing happened. The initial kid that was selected to play Tyler, wouldn’t shave his head. Then it came to Tanner and one other kid we looked at again. The only hesitation with Tanner was whether the same as before, but we all agreed in the long run. The first time he came in wearing a bandanna, he looked very much like Tyler.

What have you learned about cancer over the past few years that you didn’t know before and many people don’t know but should?
Being so busy and focused on getting the film made over the past two years, I’ve removed myself from the whole cancer world, if you will, but recently have been putting myself out there to get back into the fight. That brief time I spent away from it and now coming back, I think more now than ever before, I’m noticing how many kids there are that suffer from this horrific disease and just how passionate the parents are, especially if they’ve lost a child, in fighting the fight to bring more awareness to childhood cancer and finding cures. But the biggest thing for me of late, is noticing how many small organizations there are, thousands, some larger than others, but I recently told my wife that if I, or someone, could manage bringing all of them together to create one loud voice instead of thousands of tiny voices, we could make a larger impact on bringing the awareness that we need to the government and world for that matter, for more research funding to find cures for childhood cancers quicker. If we could elevate the awareness of childhood cancer to where breast cancer is, I think we could make a huge impact. You see where research funding has made a difference in breast cancer, they’re detecting it earlier and curing more cases than ever before. If there was one thing I’d want every person to know, it’s that childhood cancer isn’t going away.

How much input did you put into choosing the music for the film? Did you leave it entirely up to Michael Gleason?
I had very little input on music, but Colin O’Malley did a wonderful job with the score, I’m really happy with that. My only input was that I wanted something “magical.” I think he nailed it. David McKenna, the music supervisor, did a great job pulling music together that wasn’t scored by Colin. Artists like, Between the Trees and legendary songwriters, Brad and Brett Warren (the Warren Brothers) who are originally from Florida but now Tennessee can claim as their own. They write for Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Martina McBride and many others.

There is a lot of footage on the official website (on set devotionals) and an incredibly well organized resources page, how did both of these come together?
We had a “Behind the Scenes” crew that also did a wonderful job in capturing a lot of footage and interviews with everyone that came on-set to lead our daily devotionals prior to starting the day, or night. They also captured a lot of footage of Bailee Madison doing entertaining things, which she’s a very talented and entertaining young lady anyway. The resources, I believe, were a collaboration of information gathering from various sources to create and pull together as much information for cancer patients and parents as possible. One thing that I had brought up in the beginning was the fact of how hard it was for me to find information on organizations when Tyler was diagnosed. Which, things have changed a lot over the past seven years because now there are many information sites available, but we wanted to really try hard to gather as much helpful information as possible and place it in one location for the simplicity of the one’s needing the information. I think that through all of this, everyone on the team really listened to every word I said initially about the difficulties of what it’s like going through cancer with a child and acted on it attempting to make things like the resource page happen.

What are your upcoming projects?
I have a children’s book with the same title, Letters to God, which I’m very excited about along with the novel to the film. I have several other children’s books I’m currently working on with no publisher at the moment and other book ideas.

For upcoming film projects, there’s several in development. I’m working with a producing partner, Cris Cunningham, on an adapted stage play by playwright, Gillette Elvgrin titled “Paper Wings,” written by Gillette and Cris, which I’ll be directing. And another project titled, “Duct Tape,” written solely by Cris. We’re focusing more on good solid entertaining films for the faith-based market that also has greater cross-over appeal, something that once movie-goers leave the theater, they think about the film and what the message was and not so much that they just watched a Christian film, but that they watched a quality entertaining film by Christian filmmakers.

Additionally, I also have written a script for an animated children’s movie that I’m really excited about and a suspense-thriller I’ll eventually do. I don’t think I’ll have a shortage of material. Besides my own scripts and idea’s, Cris is full of them and I’m receiving scripts and synopsis’ on a frequent, almost weekly basis, from aspiring writers.

At the moment, I’m really wanting to work closely with cancer organizations and focus on speaking and whatever I can do to help raise research funds and awareness for childhood cancers, with a strong emphasis on pediatric brain tumors. I’ve already been asked to speak at several different conferences and events and plan to speak at churches as well.

Letters to God releases in theaters April 9, 2010.

Follow Letters to God on Twitter.


  1. It would be difficult to believe that something so sad,could also contain within it, so much inspiration and love.
    the brightest candles do indeed burn out quicker, but they dazzle us with their brilliance,- and even after they stop shining we are aware of just how far they pushed back the darkness.
    thank you for sharing all of this. peace and hope to you, Patrick Doughtie