I’ve been fortunate to produce, co-produce, or associate produce 11 cable Christmas movies, most of them for Crown Media’s Hallmark Channel. These movies follow a familiar formula and are universally adored by their devoted fans. They are fun, lighthearted, and always promote a sense of happiness and wellbeing.
So how did an ex-Mormon and recovering addict start producing Christmas Movies for cable networks? Here’s my story.
My Road To Rock Bottom
My family joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints not long after I was born. My father held a position of responsibility as city manager in Vail, Colorado, and was the president of his branch there, but I always sensed religious life wasn’t for me.
Then in my early 20s, I found myself at a crossroads. I was married with a young son, and working my first job as a manager of business development in Orem, Utah. The work was fun, educational, and my ideas were valued. But I also felt out of place. Traveling and entertaining were part of the job, and I constantly found myself awkwardly declining drinks at work functions. Eventually, I gave in. I started drinking at the age of 25 and wouldn’t stop completely until the age of 44.
We moved to Los Angeles where I took a job at House of Moves Motion Capture Studios. We had another child, a daughter, and adapted to life in Southern California. But it was there that I felt as though I’d found my secret weapon: alcohol. Alcohol helped me avoid difficult feelings and feel charming in social situations. I also got into smoking cigarettes.
Eventually, I developed a cocaine habit. Over the course of several years, I sold my marriage and my children for fractions of ounces of blow. My drinking and drug use took over my life and my work. My employer very kindly asked me to leave and even offered to pay for treatment, but I demurred, denying there was a problem. I thought I had hit rock bottom, but it was only the beginning.
At that point, I left Los Angeles in 2005 and moved back in with my parents. Around the same time, the movie “Failure to Launch” was released. In it, a man in his thirties was still living with his parents. That situation was the crux of the comedy in the film, but nothing about my own situation seemed funny. During my first three months in Colorado, I managed to get another DUI―my second arrest―and almost totaled my car in the process.
I had run out of options. I figured that I was either going to die or end up in jail unless I made a substantial life change. Though I was able to kick my cocaine habit, I was scared to give up alcohol. By that point, I felt like I had no idea how to live without it. I attended AA on and off, but my attempts to quit were very short lived.
I was clear enough for brief periods to see that my life was not moving in the direction I wanted. But those periods didn’t last. Things continued to get worse until I attempted to kill myself, several times. I passed through the darkest nights my soul has ever seen, I felt like such a burden to everyone I knew, and I was disgusted with myself. Thankfully, I made it through those nights, and I’m grateful every day that I get to be alive.
My Climb To The Top
Finally, in 2007, a friend introduced me to a company called Impact Trainings in Bluffdale, Utah. Created in 1985 by founders Hans and Sally Berger, Impact has assisted thousands of people―including me―to break down those emotional walls that keep us from fully experiencing life. Impact was the first place I realized I had been slowly and methodically shutting everyone out of my life.
There, I was able to rediscover who I am―powerful, loving, inspiring, and passionate―and I began to love myself again. I began to trust others and grew less afraid to ask for assistance. This started me on the path of pulling myself out of the morass into which I had planted myself and helped me set a new tone for my life, one of kindness and love.
As a result, my relationships with my kids and family started improving, and slowly, but surely, I began to regain the trust of the people I worked with. I started hugging everyone I met―even in business settings, with their permission of course. My hugging ways have since earned me the nickname “the hugger.” I found my heart again and finally felt the courage to share it authentically.
In 2010, after another marriage―and subsequent divorce―I decided to start acting again. It was one of my dream jobs growing up, and I figured that, after a lifetime of doing what everyone else thought I should do, I had everything to gain by finally going for it. My acting teacher, Rob Diamond, encouraged me to get an agent, helped me secure my first film acting gigs, and supported me to get started and to stay consistent. I have since had the opportunity to act in more than 23 films and shorts, including “Punk’s Dead, SLC Punk 2,” and last year’s horror breakout hit, “Hereditary.”
I was willing to do whatever it took to stay working and to learn the ropes of the film industry. After my marketing assistance on a film called “Chick Magnets” helped sell out its premiere, I received some local attention and was invited to help produce “Friend Request” starring Anthony Michael Hall in 2012. After that first film, I produced with Jason Falasco, Brad Johnson, and Mario DeAngelis; I took some gigs as a location manager, and I acted in just about anything willing to cast me. Seeing others doing what I wanted to do was extremely motivating and my commitment to producing started paying off when I began to be hired to produce small films such as “Inspired Guns,” “The Christmas Project,” and “Saturday’s Warrior.”
Eventually, I was cast in a Hallmark Christmas movie called “Christmasland.” While on set, I met my friend and mentor, Brian Nolan. Mr. Nolan would go on to hire me first as a location manager, and then to recommend me to Mar Vista Entertainment to produce my first Hallmark movie, “My Christmas Love” in 2016. Mr. Nolan has since hired me several times to be his associate producer and unit production manager as has another friend and mentor, Markus Bishop-Hill.
It’s Never Too Late To Learn
Knowing what it’s like to have nothing has been incredibly liberating and powerful―not to mention extremely motivating. Until I lost everything, it was impossible for me to understand the concept. I have often said to myself: If I can survive bankruptcy, multiple divorces, more than one sudden and complete loss of income, foreclosure, and several suicide attempts then there is strength and power to support me and that’s something I will always be grateful for.
Quitting, or wanting to give up, when things aren’t going my way has often seemed like the easy choice, but ultimately continuing to persevere in the face of difficulty has taught me lessons I could have never learned any other way. When I finally started to let myself slow down, get still, adapt, and acquire patience I began to understand what Leo Tolstoy meant when he said, “the two most powerful warriors are patience and time.”
I now have the confidence that if I were to lose it all again, I could bounce back. That confidence is empowering and provides an attitude that leads to success. I now get to enjoy a life that is overwhelmingly in the positive. I have supportive parents, siblings, and close friends who have assisted me along the way. My son, Nick is a computer software engineer with a degree from UC Davis and is engaged to be married this October. My daughter, Katie is a talented artist, writer, and dedicated student. Both live in Northern California and there are few things in my life that make me as proud as being their dad.
My wife, Melissa is the most supportive, kind, loving, and forgiving partner. Having her believe in me has made all the difference, and I am deeply deeply grateful to her. Having her, and her two kids, Mae and Sawyer in my life reminds me of Marianne Williamson’s words: “Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.”
My wife and I now work together in Farmington, Utah, where we have the good fortune of working on projects that are fun, lighthearted, and always promote a sense of happiness and wellbeing. My life may not have been like Hallmark Christmas movie, but I’m so grateful for all of it.
Photos in this piece were shot by Ori Media.