After watching the movie The Ultimate Gift, I couldn’t help but go in search of everything and everyone involved in the making of this wonderful movie. And, so, that’s how I found Cheryl. After some emails, Cheryl graciously agreed to an interview on TBAP. Please, get to know this wonderful writer as we chat below. And, if you didn’t know, I posted a review of her recent book, Song of Springhill two days ago (you can read it here).
Me: Hello Cheryl! Honored to have you visit To Be A Person today! Could you please tell us a bit about yourself?
Cheryl: I love scrapbooking. I am sentimental about life and good memories. I am a Christmas fanatic and chocoholic. I never want to do anything else except write and minister to people through written words or speaking, and I truly enjoy married life. I waited forever to get married and am so grateful for the gift God has given to me. I have a passion for singles who are aching in their wait to find love and want to also minister to married couples who don’t realize how wonderful marriage can be.
Me: Cheryl, could you tell us how you came to make Jesus your personal Lord and Savior? What led you to decide to write and dedicate your career to Him afterwards—as an author and a screenwriter?
Cheryl: I have been a Christian since before I can remember because I grew up in a Christian home. But it became a very deliberate decision when I was 19, becoming more to me than just what my family believed.
I became a writer because I knew I wanted to change the world. I knew Hollywood and stories had a great influence on people. I wanted to be able to leave behind a legacy of messages that people could learn from, grow from, heal from long after I leave this earth. That’s what I hope for out of every book or movie or episode of a show I work on. I hope they help people.
Me: How different is the Christian film industry from the secular? What are the advantages and disadvantages on both sides?
Cheryl: The Christian film industry has grown a lot over the past few years. Even more so than when my film came out in 2007. It’s been nice to see the quality of films getting better. One challenge is that it’s hard to get a general audience to show up for a movie that is obviously Christian. So if you hope to reach people outside of that “bubble,” you can’t really write for a strictly Christian audience. Hopefully, we can write good movies with crossover appeal that have some sort of redemptive storyline. That may help get a broader audience than a strictly Christian marketed film will get.
Me: Where do you see the Christian film industry in the next five to ten years? In what way do you believe it needs to further develop?
Cheryl: That’s a wonderful question. So many people—including a lot of non-believers—want in on this side of the industry because they see it makes money. My hope is that more funding will be available to great stories written by Christians and that we won’t settle for mediocre storytelling like we have seen out of a lot of our niche movies thus far. I hope the fact that the movies have started to make real money, especially this year with God’s Not Dead, Son of God and Heaven is For Real, that people will start investing in real budgets and not force the Christian films to live on a $300,000 budget that can’t compete with regular, professional or studio films.
Me: The Christian publishing industry is much more developed than the film. In what way do you believe both can work hand-in-hand in one not only advancing the other, but also in the furthering the gospel?
Cheryl: What Rene Gutteridge and I have tried to do I think helps bridge a certain gap, by adapting my scripts into novels first, with hopes we can go back to the script and get it made. It’s not the standard “Movie based on a book” style but rather a book that’s based on a movie script.
(We wrote Novelizations: How to Adapt Scripts Into Novels to share how to do this specialized writing method.) The hope is that if you can gain an interest in a project through its novel, that you can then get more attention in the competitive world of Hollywood to try to get that same story made into a film. Before 2007, the Christian publishing industry hadn’t thought much about doing these reverse adaptations. When we did Never the Bride, the publisher didn’t even really understand my role in it. And now Christian publishers are picking up these types of projects much more often. Some movies have already been made.
Me: When you write—books and screenplay—what message do you hope to pass across to your readers and viewers?
Cheryl: I have what I consider to be two benchmark messages in my life: One is that God works through trials (Rom. 8:28) and the other is that God still speaks today. I think you will find either one of these messages in just about every story I write, or sometimes both. The Ultimate Gift is most obviously Rom. 8:28 as the trials help Jason become a better person. And Never the Bride is most obviously championing that God still speaks today.
Me: You’ve probably received letters/emails of testimonies from people whom your work has blessed in one way or the other. Which testimony resonated/struck you the most?
Cheryl: One set of girls emailed me a picture of a text convo they were having with each other about how I had changed their lives through both Finally the Bride and Finally Fearless. Apparently they related to both books. And I appreciated one of them sharing with me that special screen shot. Also, the purple-feathered pen was a huge symbol in Never the Bride. And a woman who read my books (Never the Bride and Finally the Bride) shared them with her mother. Her mom ordered a special Christmas present for her this year, a feathered pen to match the book. Sadly, her mother passed away shortly before Thanksgiving, but it was after she ordered that gift. So this young woman’s father gave her the present her mom ordered for her before she died. (I also have a very similar pen we ordered for the guest book for the wedding.)
Me: As an author/screenwriter, in what way do you believe books/movies can change the world and affect people’s lives for the better? Why should a Christian [who has the talent] write?
Cheryl: I just finished teaching a whole university class in this topic. Sharing that writing can impact the world is a deep passion of mine. I believe stories change hearts. That’s why Jesus opted to use them in His parables instead of only preaching. I believe God inspires the stories He wants people to hear, if we’re willing to be that vessel for Him. We can reach so many more people through film and television than those who are willing to step foot into a church. Though we can’t approach it like the pulpit. It’s still supposed to be entertaining and we have to use good storytelling. I especially think we can have the greatest impact when we’re willing to put ourselves into our stories, put our emotions and lives on the line, even at the expense of sharing deeply personal things. We can help others if we are vulnerable and real. So if someone has the talent and a story or two or ten to tell, they should put that pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard.)
Me: What do you look out for before accepting a screenwriting project? What are your personal guiding principles?
Cheryl: I definitely make sure I can believe in what I’m writing. I know not all Christians feel they have to do that in this industry and they sometimes will work on something just for the sake of being a light “in the room” (aka the writer’s room.) And I completely understand that. It’s just not how I’ve run my career. I especially try to make sure I’m not writing something that will cause others to stumble, or that will glorify sin without showing there are consequences. I don’t want to show sin looking appealing. I don’t want actors to have to sin to play roles in my projects, either. (I’m not talking about “depicting” sin which may be part of most stories, but I don’t want the actor to have to sin on camera like taking God’s name in vain or doing nudity for sex scenes, that sort of thing, because I wrote it.) If I couldn’t—in good conscience—ask an actor friend to do something, I don’t want it in my scripts.
Me: What is the single most inspiring moment in your life? How did it change you forever?
Cheryl: This is going to sound funny. It was not a good moment. But I did not get accepted into a BFA acting program when I had my heart set on becoming an actress. All my teachers told me I belonged behind the camera and saw something in me that I hadn’t yet seen. That decision on their behalf to basically “kick me out” of the acting program changed the course of my life. I left that University and went to another, where I ended up with a screenwriting teacher from LA who literally wrote special classes just for me so I could learn from him how to write scripts. I’ll never forget him. (And he literally had to drive 2 hours to see my film, The Ultimate Gift, when it came out about 16 years after he’d been my teacher.) After that I went to grad school, since my undergrad was in theater and then made useless to me. I studied screenwriting at Regent University and life changed from there. It may not have been a fun, inspiring moment, but God helped redirect me so specifically to the right calling. I wouldn’t want to do anything else.
Me: What was the most despairing moment in your life? How did you rise above it, and how did it strengthen your faith in God? Was any particular Scripture helpful?
Cheryl: Probably a pivotal moment in my young life was being abused as a young child. I share that story in full in Finally Fearless, about how God took me by the hand and led me on a 20-year journey of healing. (Yes, I was little slow. But God is also thorough in His healing power.) I have a list of verses about peace, fear, anxiety, and trust in the appendix of the workbook that were pivotal to my healing. I especially love Psalm 94:19, “When anxiety was great within me your consolation brought joy to my soul.” I’ve experienced that first hand.
Me: What are you most grateful for—generally and right now?
Cheryl: That God did such a wonderful job writing my love story when he gave me Chris Price to be my husband. I had to wait a very long time. Never the Bride, after all, is my life story as written as a comedy. But for a long time it wasn’t so funny waiting so long to get married. But God’s choice was so perfect for me. Not a day has gone by in the three and a half years we’ve been married where I haven’t felt compelled to thank God for His wonderful choice for me. Chris is a gem.
Me: Aside from writing, what are your other passions? What thrills you the most about life?
Cheryl: Traveling to new and fun places with my husband. Our favorite thing to do is find fun little towns, take goofy pictures of us posing with random things. (Chris is such a good sport, but also a great photographer. It’s like the world is our playground.) And also seeing family. It’s very hard living so far from them. I live for days when we can go see them.
Me: What advice would you give to a young author/screenwriter who’s just starting out?
Cheryl: Take classes, of course. Learn the craft. Get in a writers group where you can trade critiquing each other’s work. And only do this if you truly feel called to it. It’s a very tough life and you want to make sure you’re called. Even just because you’re called doesn’t mean it will always go well, so expect to need a lot of perseverance. Take real world classes and not just college. Like get out to Los Angeles and work with people who are truly doing these jobs in the industry. (Personally, I loved going through Act One’s program.)
Me: Is there any word of wisdom you’d like to offer—anything at all!—that wasn’t covered by your answers above?
Cheryl: My latest novel is Song of Springhill. It’s a love story set against true life disasters of Springhill, Nova Scotia in the 1950s. My grandfather survived one of the biggest disasters in coal mining history. I used that story in the novel (and screenplay). It came out this year. I also did the companion non-fiction version of the story of all the people I interviewed, in Spirit of Springhill. It was so amazing to dig into family history and find a story worth telling. That town went through so much, but also kept their faith in God. For me, it became a story about seeing God in the little things. That sometimes, we can get frustrated over what He isn’t doing. But if that’s all our eyes are set on, we can miss the good He is doing.
THIS OR THAT (The Fun Questions!)
Music or Magazines? Music
Flats or Heels? Flats and at that, usually New Balance sneakers.
Summer or Winter? Summer
Spring or Fall? Fall
Coffee or Tea? Neither
Salad or Ice cream? Salad (I make mine festive!)
Vanilla or Chocolate? Chocolate
Dress or Pants? Pants, especially jeans.
Breakfast or Dinner? Breakfast
Gym or Outdoor? Outdoor
Lemonade or Orange juice? Neither.
Thank you, Cheryl, for stopping by today!
Cheryl has offered to give away a free copy of her latest book, Song of Springhill. For a chance to win, leave a comment. The winner must be able to receive a gifted ecopy from Amazon.com.
Read this post on facebook.
About Cheryl McKay
Cheryl McKay has been professionally writing since 1997. Cheryl wrote the screenplay for The Ultimate Gift, based on Jim Stovall’s novel. The award-winning film stars James Garner, Brian Dennehy, and Abigail Breslin and was released in theaters by Fox in 2007. The Ultimate Gift won a Crystal Heart Award at the Heartland Film Festival, received three Movieguide Nominations, winning one of the Ten Best Family Films of 2007, and won a CAMIE Award, for one of the Top Ten Films of the year. Cheryl also wrote the DVD for Gigi: God’s Little Princess, another book adaptation based on the book by Sheila Walsh, as well as the Wild and Wacky, Totally True Bible Stories audio series and books with Frank Peretti. She wrote a half-hour drama for teenagers about high school violence, called Taylor’s Wall. It was produced in Los Angeles by Family Theater Productions. She wrote a script called Killing Hope, commissioned by Art Within, after winning a year-long fellowship. Her screenplay, Never the Bride, has been adapted into a novel for Random House Publishers and was released in June 2009. She wrote A Friend for Maddie for Handmaiden Entertainment and recently released Finally Fearless: Journey from Panic to Peace. Cheryl lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Chris, who is a photographer and a musician.