Michael Landon Jr., 49, is the son of the late television legend Michael Landon. Working in the entertainment business for more than 25 years, he has developed and/or produced, directed and written screenplays for Fox, CBS, NBC, Disney, Sony, Lifetime and Hallmark Channel. He recently wrapped up work on the Hallmark series titled When Calls the Heart.
Q: When and how did you commit your life to Christ?
A: My family and my father were everything to me. I had put him on a pedestal. So when my parents separated and divorced when I was 15 years old, the world I knew and believed in completely fell apart.
Four years later in 1983, as a student in the film school at the University of Southern California, I became reckless and rebellious. I drove too fast and had several car accidents. I drank and did drugs. And I got kicked out of USC.
When my mother was going through the divorce, her manicurist, Lois, started speaking truth into my mom’s heart. Mom wanted to know the source of that truth, and Lois said it was Jesus Christ and could be found in the Bible.
So my mom started attending church and gave her life to Christ. She tried to convince me to come, but I had absolutely no interest. I had some sort of belief in God, but the only time I went to church was with my grandparents and that wasn’t very often. My mom kept inviting me, though, and finally, to appease her, I went. I can’t remember what the pastor said that day, but he spoke to my heart. I continued to go, and after several months, I was completely broken, and when there was an altar call to receive Christ, I responded and turned my life over to Him.
Q: What kinds of changes did you experience?
A: After I accepted Christ, He took away the desire for drinking and drugs. I didn’t want them to be a part of my life and who I wanted to become. Now, there were also all sorts of issues of anger and forgiveness, and those didn’t change overnight. But throughout my journey, Christ has revealed those and has helped me to deal with them—and still is, for which I’m thankful.
Q: How did your father’s work influence you to follow a similar path?
A: From the time I was 13 years old—when I got my first super-8 camera—I knew I wanted to direct. Being on the set of my father’s TV series Little House on the Prairie fueled that passion.
As an adult, after my conversion I entered the American Film Institute and studied there as a directing fellow. I began writing and sold my first script to CBS when the network was making after-school specials. I continued to learn and I pursued directing.
My dad’s work definitely influenced me. It showed me that quality storytelling impacts culture. I can’t count the number of people who have come up to me and expressed their thankfulness for that programming. In fact, just the other day, a woman approached me and said, “I lived in the inner city and had a very dysfunctional family, but your father provided me hope. I wanted him to be my father.” This type of outpouring even shocked my father, and he was at times overwhelmed by the impact of his work.
Q: In 2005, you and Brian Bird formed Believe Pictures. What is your goal as a Christian filmmaker?
A: Here’s my take. I don’t view myself as a Christian filmmaker. I’m a filmmaker who happens to be a Christian. There’s a difference. Our business needs more and more talented Christians. But young actors who are Christian, especially those in their late teens and early 20s, are being challenged by some of the content. They’re caught in a dilemma. They’re being asked to take chances that will undermine their convictions and what they believe as Christians.
From a storytelling standpoint, my faith definitely means something, deeply. I won’t ever tell a story that I believe goes against my worldview or will undercut a person’s life. I look for projects that I believe in and will affect the human condition and speak to people’s hearts and minds.
Q: Do you sense a pent-up demand or desire for more Christian-related themes or at least stories relating high moral values?
A: There’s a battle raging for our hearts and minds. I believe there is a huge market for that type of programming. I think we all desire the truth, but it’s all about how the truth is conveyed. The story has to be told well, the acting must be performed well, and the lighting and production design must be executed well. Otherwise, the audience won’t be interested.
Oftentimes, though, a studio or a network is afraid to take on this type of project because it doesn’t want to be branded in a certain way, so an independent avenue must be taken. But can you then obtain the funding? These are always challenges.
Q: What’s an example of positive programming?
A: I would definitely give huge kudos to my father. I think Little House on the Prairie, though it never won an Emmy, exemplified storytelling of faith and family that was extremely powerful. People at least asked themselves, “Could life be like that? Could I be like that? Could my family be like that?”
In today’s world, I’m a huge fan of the Pixar guys. They’re some of the best storytellers out there. Take for example the movie Up. I’ve never been so touched. In the first 10 to 15 minutes, it captures the love between a husband and wife, and it made me yearn to have that type of commitment and relationship with my wife, Sharee.
Q: And bad programming?
A: Today’s content is so adult-oriented. As a culture, we have sacrificed our children for our adult wants. The challenge facing parents is overwhelming as they try to protect their children. It’s unbelievable.
Q: Talk about the need for Christians being an integral part of the entertainment industry.
A: It’s a huge need. Our culture is definitely influenced by the arts. There’s power in the message, both positive and negative. So we desperately need Christians to get involved and be a part of the storytelling process. If you sense God calling you to make an impact vis-à-vis the arts, I recommend fostering that.
There are lots of Christians in the business, but they are not necessarily the ones in front of the camera or the ones writing the movies. But they’re crew members, they’re assistant cameramen, they’re make-up artists. And they’re making an influence living out their faith on the set. Pray that God will raise up believers who will become the ones in the lead acting roles who can stand fast in their faith.
Q: Are you upbeat about the future?
A: I definitely live with hope. My faith tells me that I can because God is in control. If all I’m shooting for is human recognition and pats on the back, it’s not going to happen. But if I’m thinking about serving God, then I can give it my all and trust Him for the results. ©2014 BGEA
Interviewed by Richard Greene, assistant editor for Decision.