The Evolution of Prayers for Bobby

From big screen to Lifetime, Susan Sarandon to Sigourney Weaver, it's taken 12 years to bring Prayers for Bobby, the story of homophobe-turned-activist Mary Griffith, to life.

BY Dale Hrabi

January 23 2009 1:00 AM ET

The success of
Brokeback Mountain notwithstanding,
convincing Hollywood suits to make a gay-themed film for
a mainstream audience is tough. If your script also happens
to involve suicide and an indictment of evangelical
faith, you’re pretty much screwed.

A rare exception
is Prayers for Bobby, based on Leroy Aarons's
1995 nonfiction account of a mother named Mary
Griffith, whose erstwhile religious extremism led her gay
son to kill himself. Starring Sigourney Weaver, the
film will finally make it to the screen this January
24, thanks to Lifetime Television (in its new,
post–evil-twin-drama incarnation) and the three gay
executive producers who stuck with the film through 12
years of development agony.

David Permut, 52
(whose eclectic career encompasses movies as varied as
the Travolta action flick Face-Off and the
upcoming Michael Cera indie Youth in Revolt),
and his production partners Daniel Sladek, 43, and Chris
Taaffe, 42, describe themselves as “three men
on a mission.” Their story is one of unexpected
network turnover, bad luck, creative clashes, a succession
of female leads including Susan Sarandon and Christine
Lahti, and, ultimately, the powers of persuasion.

With additional
support from Stanley M. Brooks (producer of the Emmy
Award–winning miniseries Broken Trail), their
efforts have yielded a strategically
“palatable” movie that is nevertheless
bound to provoke debate among the book’s many gay
fans as well as the broader Lifetime audience.

Advocate.com
recently spoke with David, Dan, and Chris about their
passion project and their hopes that it will help other
parents accept their gay children.

Advocate.com:Was there a point at which you were
ready to give up?
David: Not really. I believe in fate… Even
though it took 12 years to get this movie made, I think it
was meant to be. And of course, we got very lucky with
Sigourney Weaver. To have a star of her caliber
working with the confines of a 20-day shoot for a
cable network is remarkable.

What was the project’s genesis?Dan: Back in 1996, before David came on board,
Chris walked into A Different Light bookstore [in Los
Angeles] and found a copy of Prayers for Bobby.
When I came home that night, he said
“Don’t talk to me until I finish this
book.” And then he basically went insane and
insisted we try to get the film rights.

Was that easier said than done?Chris: Yes. The book had already been optioned.
But we finally flew up to Northern California to meet the
author, Leroy Aarons, a year later. When we walked into his
backyard, Mary Griffith and her entire family were
waiting for us too, which was a shock. For probably
eight hours, we all had this cathartic, storytelling,
get-to-know-you discussion. They wanted to know our
motivations in telling Bobby’s story.

Tags: Television

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