John shares an exciting- yet wildly unexpected- update.
As a little boy, my dream was to fit in and be ordinary. Not to stand out, not to shine. I just wanted my scars to fade, fingers to grow back and normal life back. Which makes what I’m about to share even more stunning.
If you would have asked 10-year-old John if he’d ever stand at the front of the room and talk about the most tender parts of his past in front of strangers, you would have gotten a hard no. Why would anyone want to hear it?
If you’d asked if he would write a book about the hardest times in his life and the lessons learned? Again, no. Who would read it?
What about turning his story into a movie? Nope. How would that even happen?
And yet, my friends, the story of a little boy who should have died after being burned and then hid from those scars for decades has been shared thousands of times from the stage. It has inspired two best-selling books. And (are you sitting down?) is about to begin filming a full-length feature movie in my beloved hometown.
Go ahead and read that again. Yes, you read that right! ON FIRE is about to be made into a full-length feature movie and it’s being filmed in St. Louis!
How’s that possible?
My friends, I’ve been fortunate to share my story at corporate events in large auditoriums and school presentations in small gymnasiums. At burn centers in El Salvador and palatial ballrooms in Dubai. Regardless of where the events occur, individuals always come up after and share their struggle, their heroes, their story.
These one-to-one conversations ground me in the universality of the human struggle and remain my favorite aspect of the work we do.
It was after delivering a speech six years ago that an attendee named Linda Huntington hugged me, thanked me, and asked if I’d ever considered turning my story into a movie. Replying, “Not really,” she asked for permission to start a conversation. We exchanged information, met for coffee the following day, and agreed to stay in touch.
I assumed that was the end of my Hollywood career.
Several months later she asked if I’d join a phone call with a few of her friends. This small group of experienced movie producers suggested the next step would be to reach out to a few script writers. Finding just the right person with the creative intuition to beautifully tell this story and attract a broader team would be time consuming and challenging.
Months after that conversation, not having heard anything, I assumed again that was the end of my Hollywood career.
Thanks to the efforts of our producers, a screenwriter named Gregory Poirier heard about the project. He was seasoned and had already contributed to numerous wildly successful movies. In our story he saw an opportunity to share a tale of resiliency and the power of togetherness with an audience desperately needing the reminder.
Now, I have shared my story thousands of times and am more acquainted with my personal history than any individual probably should be. Yet, reading Greg’s first draft of the script repeatedly moved me to tears.
And not just me. The poignant retelling also moved a director with a desire to share the stories of individuals and families who face struggle, embrace it, and rise from the ashes of it. That’s why Sean McNamara, the Hollywood director who brought to life the movie “Soul Surfer” and hundreds of other credits, asked for the right to direct the film.
My friends, despite having a gifted team on board, raising the funds to independently create the film was exceedingly difficult. Working through global pandemics, keeping people engaged while the project took shape and even waiting out both a writers’ and an actors’ strike occasionally felt like the certain end of my Hollywood career.
Until family, friends, clients, and cheerleaders from near and far came out of the woodwork to help make it happen. Legislation was passed. Additional funds raised. Mountains were moved. A community who fought and hoped and prayed and loved a little boy when he needed it most showed up again and fought to see the project come to life.
My friends, as a little boy my dream was to fit in and be ordinary. Not to stand out, not to shine. I just wanted my scars to fade, fingers to grow back and normal life to return.
Yet through grace, encouragement from others and a lot of love, a story I spent decades trying to hide continues to inspire.
“Have you thought about turning your story into a movie?”
No. But standing here today, in front of the production trailer that Sean drove cross-country, with a goofy grin on my face, it’s beginning to set in that this is exactly what we’re doing. And I cannot wait to bring you along for the ride.
“On Fire” counters the belief that we are defined by our mistakes or the difficulties we endure. It instead celebrates the parts of my story that are most enduring and most universal—that when community comes together, when personal imperfections are embraced and when we allow who we wish we were to finally give way to the gift we already are, amazing things happen.
I love that within the film there is a tragic story, a redemptive story, a baseball story, a family story, a faith story, and a love story that all come together into one powerful story of life. Broken, but beautiful.
And I love that On Fire the movie is happening because of …and for you!
Today is your day. Live inspired.