Hallmark movie with LSU alum’s script ranks no. 1

Photo courtesy of Donald Davenport
Donald Davenport

January 21, 2009
By Darla Martin Tucker

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – ( www.lasierra.edu )On Jan. 10, the script writing skills of a La Sierra University alumnus played out before a national audience as a Hallmark Channel Original Movie. Three days later, Nielsen Media Research ranked “Expecting a Miracle” the no. 1 cable program of the night and the no. 1 cable movie of the week, a distinction that propelled Hallmark into first place for that day’s Prime Time television.

Writer, director/producer Donald Davenport Jr., a 1975 and 1977 LSU graduate, wrote the script for the romantic comedy, “Expecting a Miracle.” Jason Priestley, Teri Polo and Cheech Marin star in the film. “Expecting a Miracle” first aired Jan. 10 with more than three million total viewers, according to Hallmark. The film will broadcast again on Thurs., Jan. 22 and Sun., Feb. 8 at 9 p.m. on cable channels, 6 p.m. on Direct TV.

“Expecting a Miracle” portrays the difficulties of a busy professional couple whose hopes are crushed when a fertility test proves negative. Priestley, of Fox Broadcasting Co.’s “Beverly Hills 90210,” and Polo, of NBC’s “West Wing,” plays Pete and Donna, a couple in the throes of marital distress. The duo attempts to escape their troubles by taking a road trip to a friend’s vacation home in Mexico. But their sport utility vehicle breaks down in a remote area across the border. They decide to head to the tiny village of Dommatina for repairs and during their weeklong stay, they and the townspeople they encounter undergo a transformational experience.

Actor and comedian Marin, of former CBS television drama “Nash Bridges,” plays a kind priest while Shalim Ortiz of NBC’s “Heroes” plays a village boy.

The movie is based on the book, “The Miracle of Dommatina,” by the late Ira Avery and published in 1978.

For Davenport, Hallmark’s broadcast of “Expecting a Miracle” caps eight years of work to acquire the story’s rights and another six months hashing out a script. Davenport ultimately delivered three drafts and “a polish” of the script to the production company, he said. “The challenge with doing adaptations is you have to find ways to tell a story, any story, in about 100 minutes.”

The greatest obstacle, however, involved changing the story setting from Italy to Mexico. “Now I had always seen Italy. I had traveled to Italy to scout locations. So to be told you have to make the same story work in a charming little Mexican town rather than a charming little town in Tuscany, that was probably the biggest challenge,” he said.

The completion of the film provided a moment of satisfaction for its scriptwriter, but as with most films, editors made changes that Davenport did not see prior to show time. “How the film actually turns out is completely beyond my control, and any film writer has to make peace with that,” Davenport said on Jan. 8.

After its first broadcast, Davenport concluded he was happy with the network’s final version of “Expecting a Miracle.” The movie’s strong ratings, which continued to climb throughout the show, is evidence of a “good” collaboration between those involved including the network and viewers, Davenport said.  “I am very pleased with the numbers. …That the show got good numbers suggests that it was a good collaboration, and I can certainly live with that,” he said.

“I really loved this story. I loved the journey it took the characters. My worry was always ‘Would the finished film convey the viewer on the same journey?’” said Davenport.

“…there were a half a dozen scenes or parts of scenes that I thought were beautifully acted and beautifully shot, and that provided some nice moments that aren't part of the film. Would anyone who hadn't known about those scenes or seen them, miss them? Probably not, except perhaps in one case where I think a scene feels like it has had the middle chopped out of it, which it has,” the writer said.

Davenport also wrote a script for “Love Finds a Home,” starring Patty Duke and based on the book by best-selling author Janette Oke. The film airs on the Hallmark Channel on May 10.  Davenport is also “ramping up” for the film version of “Christmas in Canaan,” a 2002 HarperCollins novel he co-wrote with country singer Kenny Rogers, he said. The story chronicles the unexpected friendship between two boys, one black, one white, in east Texas during the 1960s. “The script is finished, but the network wants some changes so I’m rolling up my sleeves for that,” Davenport said.

Davenport’s first produced film, “Doomsday Ward,” earned the Gold Medal for Public Service Television in 1977 at the Houston International Film Festival, now called WorldFest. He also directed and produced a series of international documentaries, shot throughout Asia, on world food and local economies issues. In 1984, he wrote and produced the award-winning “Lesson in Loving,” starring Mel Ferrer and Lee Meriwether. The story chronicled the trials of a family raising two children born with cystic fibrosis, according to information from the Hallmark Channel.

While studying at La Sierra during the 1970s, Davenport wrote a column for the Criterion, the university’s paper. He recalled the influence of two professors, Delmer Davis and Robert Dunn, “who really provided a great literary foundation for me,” Davenport said. He also met his future wife, Carol Richardson Boyko, at La Sierra in 1973. After intermittent dating, the couple finally wed in 2003 in Santa Fe. La Sierra’s Fritz Guy, a philosophical theology professor, officiated the ceremony. “It only took us about 30 years to get around to tying the knot. Definitely worth the wait,” Davenport quipped.

Faith and Family Entertainment is presenting “Expecting a Miracle,” an LG Films production in association with Larry Levinson Productions.

Levinson is executive producer of the movie. His extensive credits include the miniseries “Larry McMurtry’s Streets of Laredo” and numerous Hallmark Channel productions including “Love Comes Softly,” “A Time to Remember,” “The Last Cowboy,” Love’s Enduring Promise,” “Our House,” and many others. He also produced the Hallmark Channel Mystery Movie franchises  “Jane Doe,” “Mystery Woman,” “McBride” and “Murder 101.”

Steve Gomer, who serves as director of “Expecting a Miracle,” is winner of the Filmmaker’s Award at the Sundance Film Festival for his production of “Fly by Night.” He debuted as a feature director for the award-winning “Sweet Lorraine” starring Maureen Stapleton and directed the big screen debut of “Barney’s Great Adventure” for Universal. Gomer has worked on numerous television episodes of “The Unit,” “Jericho,” “Ally McBeal,” “The Practice,” and “Joan of Arcadia.”



PR Contact: Larry Becker
Executive Director of University Relations
La Sierra University
Riverside, California
951.785.2460 (voice)

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