"The Ultimate Gift"

CENTURY CITY, Calif. – At his grandfather’s death, a young man is presented with an unlikely inheritance taking him on a journey that will change him forever in The Ultimate Gift releasing to theaters March 9, 2007.

(photo left) Jason Stevens, played by Drew Fuller, realizes how much he needs Emily, played by Abigail Breslin. 2006 TCFHE. All Rights Reserved.

Winner of the Heartland Film Festival’s Crystal Heart Award, The Ultimate Gift sends trust fund baby Jason Stevens (Drew Fuller) on an improbable journey of discovery, to answer the ultimate spiritual question: "What is the relationship between wealth and happiness?"

Featuring an all-star cast including Golden Globe winner and six-time Emmy nominee Brian Dennehy, Academy Award and Golden Globe nominee James Garner, and Academy Award nominee Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine, Signs), The Ultimate Gift is the “uplifting” (MovieReporter.com) story based on Jim Stovall’s best-selling novel which has sold more than 3 million copies.

Marketed by Fox Faith and distributed by The Bigger Picture, The Ultimate Gift can be seen in theaters in more than 128 U.S. and Canadian cities, showing on over 500 screens. Locations and theater information are available at FoxFaithMovies.com.

Synopsis

When his wealthy grandfather dies, trust fund baby Jason Stevens anticipates a big inheritance.  Instead, his grandfather has devised a crash course on life:  twelve gifts designed to challenge Jason in improbable ways, sending him on a journey of self-discovery and forcing him to determine what is most important in life:  money or happiness.

Jason thought his inheritance was the gift of money and lots of it . . . but Jason thought wrong. He had a very simple relationship with his impossibly wealthy Grandfather, Howard “Red” Stevens. He hated him. No heart-to-heart talks, no warm fuzzies, just cold hard cash.

So of course he figured that when Red died, the whole “reading of the will” thing would be another simple cash transaction. He figured that his Grandfather’s money would allow him to continue living in the lifestyle to which he had become accustomed. But what Red left him was anything but . . .  simple.

Red instead devised a plan for Jason to experience a crash course on life. Twelve tasks, which Red calls “gifts”, each challenging Jason in improbable ways, the accumulation of which would change him forever.

About the Book 

Jim Stovall’s book, The Ultimate Gift, is rare in its success. Without a major publisher, any retail presence or proactive marketing campaign, The Ultimate Gift has sold more than three million copies and has been translated into more than 15 languages throughout the world.

A compelling story that has captivated the hearts of young and old alike, Stovall, blind since age 29, transcribed the book in five short days. As The Ultimate Gift challenges readers to look inside themselves and honestly evaluate their lives in order to discover the “bigger picture” outside of themselves and their lives, readers have found common ground: humanity.

Regardless of age, race, religion, status or gender, The Ultimate Gift readers have a deepened or renewed understanding of the fact that their lives are truly their most precious asset and are compelled to “Share the Gift. Change the World."

About the Production

The Ultimate Gift is an independent production from The Ultimate Gift, LLC, in association with Dean River Productions. It has a screenplay by Cheryl McKay and Michael O. Sajbel. It is produced by Rick Eldridge, John Shepherd and Cleve Landsberg with executive producers Rick Eldridge and Dave Ross. The cinematographer is Brian Baugh; the production designer is Stephen Storer; and the costume designer is Jane Anders.

The Ultimate Gift is set in Charlotte, Texas and the jungles of Ecuador, but the entire film was shot in the Charlotte area. Filming began on October 14, 2005 at the Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens where a dense kudzu covered forest had been transformed with tropical plants, thatched roof huts, goats, chickens and a World War II era U.S. Army Jeep. The Ultimate Gift is scheduled for release in theaters March 9, 2007.

The Ultimate Gift is a legacy story,” says Eldridge. “It’s a story that people relate to and from which they can learn valuable lessons. While the book focuses largely on Red Stevens, the movie will focus more on Jason and how the quest transforms him. Jason’s is a compelling story.”

Drew Fuller plays Jason, a 24-year old “trust fund baby” who has never worked a day in his life; veteran actor James Garner portrays billionaire Red Stevens who has bankrolled the lives of everyone in his dysfunctional family; Bill Cobbs plays Red’s best friend and lawyer, Ted Hamilton; Abigail Breslin is the spirited but gravely ill nine year old Emily; Ali Hillis portrays Alexia, Emily’s mother, a beautiful, single mom who is a nurse’s assistant; Lee Meriwether plays Miss Hastings, Hamilton’s long-time assistant; Brian Dennehy portrays Gus, Red’s long-time Texas friend; and Mircea Monroe plays Caitlin, Jason’s incredibly beautiful, gold digging girlfriend.

Bringing The Ultimate Gift to the Big Screen

Jim Stovall, the author of The Ultimate Gift, played a big role in getting the screenplay written. “Books can change ideas, but films can change cultures,” continues Stovall. “The current generation receives their information, training, wisdom, from movies. They are affected by what’s on the screen, so it was very important to me, as we go about getting the message of The Ultimate Gift out, that we make sure that we have it in a movie form.”

Within ten days of letting an option lapse, Stovall received a call from Rick Eldridge, executive producer of Bobby Jones – Stroke of Genius. He had been given a copy of The Ultimate Gift by his son and thought it would make a great movie. Eldridge asked Stovall what he was looking for. “I told him,” remembers Stovall, “that I was looking for a film that, when someone walks up the aisle after having seen the movie, they have the exact same experience that someone had when they turned that last page of the book.”

Eldridge felt certain that he and his team could produce a script that would please the author. “From the very beginning,” continues Eldridge, “we involved Jim in the process, making him part of the writing team with our script writer. He maintained creative ownership of the whole process. The beauty of the book is that it leaves room to go deeper inside each character as well as a lot of room to go wider with some of the illustrations that revolve around the gifts. It’s like an outline just waiting to become a screenplay.

“Cheryl McKay was brought on board and she gave the story ‘heart’ with compelling emotion . . . Michael Sajbel deepened the development of the main characters and put ‘flesh on the bones’ so to speak. Both were very important in the transition from a rather episodic book to a strong dramatic three act script. The secret to our approvals with Jim was simply involving him in the creative process with discussions and notes on the various drafts of the script.”

On the heels of a good working relationship on Bobby Jones – Stroke of Genius, Eldridge and The Film Foundry approached Dean River Productions to produce The Ultimate Gift. “Some of the same team was going to be reassembled, which was fantastic,” says producer John Shepherd. “We loved the fact that the story was filled with great characters and the challenge of creating Ecuador and Texas in the Carolinas was something we’d never experienced. But what really drew us in was the message of the film – ‘what are you going to leave behind? Is it going to be a big pile of money or is it going to be a legacy?’ Dean River Productions has a simple formula,” continues Shepherd. “To inspire and entertain.

We look at this as the opportunity to influence others to make a positive change in society and personally in the way they live and how they value what’s important which, I think, is relationships. Film media is the church of the masses. It has the opportunity to influence generations to come, and it’s got a pretty long shelf life.”

Bringing the book to life on the screen fell to Michael O. Sajbel, who had known and worked with Shepherd for ten years. “Michael Sajbel is the consummate storyteller,” says Shepherd. The Ultimate Gift had to be adapted to the screen and after we got the first draft, Michael said, ‘We needed to get closer to what Jim Stovall started with. Let’s find a way to make the story accessible instead of just a 12 step program of great lessons.’ His vision to make it dramatic, compelling and a visual feast, with drama and conflict is what really got Michael the job.” Sajbel had read the book and knew that he wanted to direct the film before the producers interviewed him for the job. “I wanted to direct The Ultimate Gift because it seemed like a heart warming story of a very spoiled young man, coming of age and learning what’s really valuable in life. I liked the idea of shooting what you might call a serious film with comedic elements or a comic film with serious elements. I like that blend.

“The biggest challenge that I faced in bringing The Ultimate Gift to the screen was translating the book from 12 gifts in 12 chapters into a traditional motion picture. Books explain a lot of things for you and your imagination takes over,” he continues. “In a movie, you have to put it into a three act structure and show the audience the story. I was inspired by Cheryl McKay’s intuitive work as well as returning to the book to conform the screenplay to my vision for the film in subsequent rewrites.”

Actor Drew Fuller finds Jason Stevens a complex character. “At the beginning, he’s so difficult,” he explains. “He’s so self-centered that he doesn’t care what he gives to life. It’s about what life can give to him. He’s always been given all the money he wanted and was expected to solve all of his problems with it. When he’s put into a situation where he has to prove his worth, he decides to accept the challenge to see what’s at the end of the journey and, in the process he finds himself and comes out on the other end – a better person…just as his grandfather had hoped he would. Drew is captivated with the role of Jason. “There’s so much change that enables me to start at one place and end up on the other side of the world, with a beautiful journey throughout.”

About Fox Faith and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment

Fox Faith is the newly created faith-based label from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment LLC.  Fox Faith was created to provide compelling entertainment to the Christian audience as well as those seeking quality, inspirational and spiritual entertainment.  Additional information about specific titles and programs can be found at www.foxfaith.com and www.foxfaithmovies.com.

A recognized global industry leader, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment LLC is the worldwide marketing, sales and distribution company for all Fox film and television programming on VHS and DVD as well as video acquisitions and original productions.  Each year the Company introduces hundreds of new and newly enhanced products, which it services to retail outlets – from mass merchants and warehouse clubs to specialty stores and e-commerce – throughout the world.  Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment LLC is a subsidiary of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, a News Corporation company.

About The Film Foundry

The Film Foundry is a multi-faceted film and video post-production company in Charlotte, North Carolina, with a national client base from network television to corporate communications and advertising to theatrical features.  The facility houses full service studios with multiple companies working under a single umbrella, with the capability of moving a project from concept, through to production and finishing, on to marketing, sales, and distribution.  Housed in a specially outfitted 24,000 square foot space in Charlotte’s trendy Historic Southend district, The Film Foundry has film finishing capability, digital audio and video production facilities, and award-winning 3-D animation, with the vision to create, produce and deliver just about any media idea conceivable. URL: www.thefilmfoundry.com

About The Independent Producers Alliance ("IPA")

IPA champions the work of award-winning independent producers who make films that inspire people to good things. IPA is based in Charlotte, North Carolina, where it operates a state-of-the-art production and post-production facility, as well as its administration and distribution service units. Other IPA projects scheduled for release in the coming year include Running the Sahara, a documentary feature film narrated and Executive Produced by Matt Damon and directed by Oscar-winner James Moll.

"The Ultimate Gift" Index

Heartland Film Festival | Film Home Page
Entertainment Magazine

2007 Film Entertainment Magazine / EMOL.org. All rights reserved.

Film Entertainment Magazine

The Ultimate Gift
Author: Jim Stovall

Hardcover: 156 pages. Publisher: RiverOak Publishing (September 2001). Language: English

Click here