Production has begun in Canada for the screen adaptation of Todd Burpo's best-selling book Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back, which chronicles the near death experience that reportedly brought a 3-year-old boy face-to-face with Jesus Christ.
Filming started last week in Winnipeg, Manitoba, under Director Randall Wallace, who wrote the Academy Award-winning film "Braveheart" and directed "We Were Soldiers," "Secretariat," and "The Man in the Iron Mask." T.D. Jakes, pastor at the Potter's House in Dallas, best-selling author and producer of the movie "Jumping the Broom," adds his weight to the film as a producer.
In 2003, 3-year-old Colton Burpo nearly died after his appendix burst. While in surgery, he reportedly went to heaven and saw Jesus. "It wasn't until four months after we got out of the hospital that we finally listened to our son," Todd explained, in a 2011 interview that has received over 13 million hits on Youtube.
"Jesus and some angels came and flew me up to heaven," Colton explained. He identified Jesus through the "markers" on his hands and feet. "I was in the throne room of God to start with, so I got to see what that looked like."
"God used people or things that I liked to calm me down," Colton said. While reportedly in heaven, Colton met Todd's grandfather, Pop, who was Todd's "most significant male role model" but died when Todd was six years old. "He's really nice," the revived boy told his father, "you used to play with him as a kid and work with him on the farm and shoot stuff with him." Speechless, Todd verified the story.
Colton also knew that he had two sisters, one of whom died in a miscarriage. "You had a baby die in your tummy," he told his mother Sonja. She asked, "How do you know you have two sisters?" He responded, "Well, she told me." Colton told his mother that his sister is "just waiting for you guys to come to heaven."
When Jesus reportedly told Colton he had to go back, the boy didn't want to leave. "Even though I didn't want to go back, he said that he was answering my dad's prayer," the boy explained.
The book, published in November 2010, has sold more than 8 million copies and has been translated into more than 30 languages. It has also spent more than two years on the New York Times paperback nonfiction best-seller list.
The film, set to be released around Easter 2014 by TriStar Pictures, will feature first-time actor Connor Corum as Colton, along with Thomas Haden Church ("Sideways") as family friend Jay Olson. Greg Kinnear ("Little Miss Sunshine," "You've Got Mail," Oscar nominated for "As Good as it Gets") will play the boy's father, Todd, while Kelly Reilly (Mary Watson in "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows") will play his mother, Sonja. Along with Jakes, another producer is Joe Roth ("Oz the Great and Powerful," "Alice in Wonderland").
Todd and Sonja currently run Heaven is for Real Ministries, which preaches the message of God's love and hope from this experience. Their next worship event, at Aurora Central High School in Aurora, Colo., will feature both Todd and Sonja, along with the band "Read You and Me," on August 17. The website promises "an intimate interview with the best selling authors of Heaven is for Real, and Read You and Me will use their musical gifts to help us all catch a glimpse of Heaven as we worship together."