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The Power of Storytelling

by Alan Peterson


In the fall of 1989, two months before the Berlin Wall came down, I was in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport surrounded by five Soviet soldiers pointing AK-47s at me. I spoke no Russian. They spoke no English. I was headed to Siberia to give a series of lectures/classes on America (how that came about is another story). I had the notion that I could best illustrate my lectures through movies, TV shows, and homemade videos.   So, I carried a duffle bag packed with close to 100 full run feature films, popular TV shows, and material I’d shot myself; all on VHS (yes, I’m that old). Back then, Soviet law allowed an individual to transport ten VHS tapes into the USSR—ten BLANK tapes. Of this fact, I was blissfully unaware. 


As the stone-faced customs official searched that duffle bag, I became more nervous. Among the various titles was Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo III where he battles the Russians in Afghanistan. My intent was to show the students how American media portrayed the Soviet system.  I held my breath as the guards got to Rambo. “So, this is how I end up in the Gulag,” I thought fearfully. One of them quickly reached for the movie, and a grin spread across his face. He flexed his muscles and in his heavy Russian accent exclaimed, “Rahm-bo! Rocky!! Eez beeg, no? Rahm-bo!” Rather than shooting me on the spot, he laughed!  Then, he grabbed True Grit; a stoic John Wayne on the box art. “Jon Vayne! Jon Vayne eez cowboyee! Jon Vayne!” A moment earlier, I honestly feared for my life. Now, we were all just movies fans (albeit some of whom were pointing AKs at me). There in the heart of the “Evil Empire,” I saw, up close and personal, how movies created a bridge between the world’s two feuding superpowers at a time when the Cold War was in full swing. That power of shared storytelling—to bring people together in a shared experience—that was why I dove headfirst into making movies. 


Since that time, I’ve had the privilege of working in every department on a film set. From concept inception to delivery of final product, my career has allowed me to participate in the entire process of bringing a story to life; on the big screen, the small screen, and streaming. I’ve written, directed, produced, edited, driven trucks, managed locations, done make-up, calmed actors, even wrangled salamanders. I love it all and have learned a lot.  One of those lessons is that just about everybody I meet has an idea for a movie.  


When a friend of mine suggested I talk to “a guy who’s trying to do a Christmas musical,” I figured he was just one more well-intentioned, clueless, moviemaker wannabe. Now, I love Christmas movies. It’s a Wonderful Life and Scrooge (the Albert Finney musical), are two of my favorite movies of all time. My Christmas is filled with movies: Elf, The Nativity, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Scrooged, Christmas Story, Rudolph, White Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Merry Christmas Mister Lawrence, The Juggler of Notre Dame…I try to fit them all in during the Holidays. Heck, I even made a Christmas movie; Christmas Dress. If I could do nothing but make Christmas movies, I’d be a very happy writer/director.  But I also know that most people who talk about wanting to make a movie don’t have a clue about what it takes. As soon as they do find out, they disappear. So, it was with trepidation (and a slight glimmer of hope) that I agreed to talk to this musician from Tennessee named Derek Hinckley about his Christmas movie.  It was clear from the get-go that Derek was different. 


Derek has a level of passion and drive that is unique. Here’s a guy who knew nothing about musicals and wrote a musical. He knew nothing about producing a musical and he produced a musical. If you spend a little time with Derek, you see how persistent his drive and energy are—and it rubs off. So, when I watched the stage production of The Best Thing About Christmas, I instantly understood where the show’s heart and soul came from.  And I instantly saw what a great movie it will make. The characters, the music, and the redemption story of a struggling artist immediately drew me in. Plus, it was all wrapped up in a Christmas movie! The biggest attraction, however, was that this story appeals to anyone who has ever had a dream, ever experienced heartache, ever wondered if God was there, and anyone who ever hoped-against-hope that there could be a happy ending. In short, The Best Thing About Christmas is about everyone.  


From that day in the Moscow airport, I wanted to create opportunities where complete strangers could go somewhere, share an experience, and feel inspired (if not, just entertained) when they left the theater. Sadly, those inspiring movie experiences seem to be disappearing. TBTAC is a wonderful, heart-warming antidote to the negative, dark entertainment options out there. I promise, you’ll find yourself thinking about Dylan, Kara, Molly, and Sadie long after the movie is over. Derek’s simple, honest songs like Matter to Someone, Good Things, Daddy’s Eyes, and That Could Be Me will play on an endless loop in your head (and for all the right reasons). Sadie’s rendition of The Best Thing About Christmas will become one of the best things about Christmas year after year. I hope you’ll join us and follow our journey as we take this soon-to-be Holiday Classic from stage to screen.

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