THE ULTIMATE LIFE
About the Production
The Ultimate Life marks the reunion of author Jim Stovall and Reelworks' producer Rick Eldridge who were previously paired in the 2006 drama, The Ultimate Gift. "This film is unique," says Eldridge, "because it starts as a sequel, picking up a few years later, after Jason Stevens has taken over his grandfather's foundation. Through the course of things that happen to him, he becomes distraught. He is on the verge of losing his girl, the foundation, and the challenges that are facing him seem insurmountable. With the introduction of Red Stevens' journal, the film becomes a prequel and we learn about Red and his journey.
"The idea of Red's journal and the prequel came from a book by Jim Stovall called The Ultimate Journey, which is the third book in his The Ultimate series," explains Eldridge. "As we looked at The Ultimate Life, we saw that Jason was in a courtroom battle with his greedy family, and he's going to have to relive all the things that he learned in The Ultimate Gift. I thought it would be a great idea to tell that story a bit differently and see how Red learned the gifts. And as I read The Ultimate Journey, which centers around Red's journal, director Michael Landon, Jr. and I both liked the idea of using the journal to tell the history of who Red Stevens was and how he became what he was. As he writes in the journal throughout his life, we hear his thoughts. We hear his evaluation of life and where he's coming from. The journal is such a part of the story that it acts as another character in the movie.
"The journal begins in the '40s when a young Red Stevens is 16 years old. It traces his life, his journey, where he came from and many of the gifts that he learned through his mentors and the people who came his way as he grew and made his fortune."
"What they have done," says Stovall, "is taken two of my books, The Ultimate Life and The Ultimate Journey and put them together into one movie. Actually, after I wrote The Ultimate Gift, I didn't think there would be another book. The story ended and they lived happily ever after. It was done. But then I started realizing how much I loved these characters and missed having them around, so I started playing with it, and lo and behold, there are other books -- and now other movies."
When Stovall decided to write The Ultimate Journey, he realized that he felt a deep need to know where his characters came from. "Where did Red Stevens, Gus Caldwell and Hamilton -- all characters in the first two books -- come from," he asked himself. "I had to go back and find a historical back story that fit the characters I'd built in the books and the movies," he explains, "and we were able to do that. Some of the stories came out of my own family history and old diaries.
"When I invented the characters of Jason Stevens and Red Stevens," he continues, "I wanted to deal with problems that everybody in the world deals with, and the only reason I made Red Stevens a billionaire was to dispel the big lie we have in our society which tells us if we just had enough money, all our problems would go away. And that is not the case. Obviously, the more money you have, you take care of some problems, but you create new ones and those are the things that Jason and Red have to deal with.
"Red Stevens was a great man and through the Great Depression and World War II, and all the business and finance, he became a great human being, a great role model and example, but like anyone else, the lessons he taught Jason were black and white and very simple, but you go back and realize Red Stevens learned his lessons the hard way, through the school of hard knocks. Red had to go out and learn those lessons that he passed on to Jason in a few words, but in The Ultimate Life Jason has to live them himself."
"We always talked about The Ultimate Life being a sequel," says Eldridge. "We felt like The Ultimate Gift was really special, and I think that proved to be true as millions of people have been touched and inspired and motivated by the book and the movie. So when it came down to The Ultimate Life, it was just a matter of when and a matter of getting all the pieces into place. Jim's been a great friend and a great partner, and I loved the opportunity to work with him again."
"All I can say about a sequel," says Stovall, "is the fact that the fourth book in the series, called The Gift of the Legacy, will be coming out soon and every time I think I'm done with these characters, more facets of them seem to pop up, so I hope to have Jason, Red Stevens and Alexia around for a long time."
And as long as they are around, Stovall will be involved with the movies. "I had a lot of access to the scriptwriting as it was going on," he continues. "I don't know that there's ever been an author out there that had more access to the producer, director and scriptwriter than I've had. They've been very careful with my characters and very respectful and for that I am eternally grateful."
Finding the perfect director for The Ultimate Life was the easy part for Eldridge. "Michael Landon actually met with me before The Ultimate Gift," he says, "but it turned out that he was already scheduled so was not able to direct it. He expressed to me at that point that when we got ready to do The Ultimate Life that he would certainly like to be considered, so he was always in my mind.
"I've had a chance to work with Michael on a couple of other films," continues Eldridge, "and see his work in those films, so it was a natural thing for us to be able to talk about it and I'm glad we did. I think he's done a great job and am very pleased with how he's been able to grasp the story and bring it to life."
"I am so grateful to have Michael Landon, Jr. take on this project," adds Stovall, "and steer it further. I think it's probably harder to make a sequel than to start out with a fresh movie because the canvas you have to paint on is already filled in. Michael Landon, Jr. has tremendous talent, tremendous energy and just a real feel for this project. And his name as well as his body of work, and certainly that of his father, speak for themselves. It's just a privilege to have him see what we see in The Ultimate Life."
"The thing I like about how Michael works," explains Eldridge, "is he's not overspoken, he doesn't get very emotional. I think he's very driven to make the story and there's certainly no lack of energy there. But when he needs to talk to an actor about a part, or deal with an issue that's happening on set, he's very calm and very direct.
"I've talked to quite a few of the actors that have been on set," he continues. "Just yesterday, one of our principal actors said, 'You know, Michael just came up and touched me on the shoulder and whispered in my ear that little something that would give my part the direction it needed to take. Nobody's ever done that to me before and I knew right away that this guy's an actor's director.' The actors love him, and they love working with him, because of those things."
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