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Senator, Filmmaker, Son Brooks Douglass and "HEAVEN'S RAIN"
Senator, Filmmaker, Son Brooks Douglass and "HEAVEN'S RAIN"

Senator, Filmmaker, Son Brooks Douglass and "HEAVEN'S RAIN"

by Angela Walker - Contributing Writer

HEAVEN'S RAIN is a story taken straight from headline news. It sounds like too many others that we hear on a regular basis. Then something happens and we realize there's more to this story than just another terrifying news piece. There is a deeper and much more compelling story that will grip the hearts of all who see it. Many years after it happened, Brooks Douglass went through the cathartic experience of writing, producing and filming his family's story; a dramatic tale of forgiveness and hope.

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HEAVEN'S RAIN is the story of Richard and Marilyn Douglass. After serving as missionaries in Brazil, they brought their two children, Brooks and Leslie, back to Oklahoma City, where Richard pastured a large church. In mid-October of 1979, two men entered their family home, repeatedly assaulted Leslie, shot all four of the Douglass family, and left them for dead. Richard and Marilyn died at the scene and Brooks and Leslie recovered. However, their ordeal was just beginning. For the next 16 years after the two men were caught, the legal system protected the rights of the accused men. Brooks and Leslie were repeatedly called upon to testify in court and relive what Brooks calls "the worst day of my life."


Jump to…

The Normal Path

You've Lost Your Mind

I Never Wanted to Write It

Now What?

We're Not Finished Yet

A Convoluted Mess

The Normal Path

Years later as a state Senator in Oklahoma, Brooks passed a series of victims' rights bills, because he believed that the system should "no longer step over the body of a victim to read the criminal his rights." Politics was not his first career choice; entertainment was. "I always knew I wanted to make movies. I didn't really expect to go into politics. I was drawn to entertainment: acting, movies, and I had done some stage work. But I had no way to make a living."

The path everyone encouraged Brooks to take was go to school, get a job and make money. So Brooks became a lawyer. But in the late 1980s, early 1990s, lots of people [including Brooks] getting out of law school couldn't find jobs. Those who were working weren't making enough to pay off their law school loans. "So I did what lots of people do when they can't find jobs – run for public office. It worked and I got elected."

At age 27, Brooks became Oklahoma's youngest state Senator and served three terms, during which he passed a series of victims' rights bills. "I loved serving the people of my district and the state of Oklahoma. But at the same time, I never really felt like what I was doing was what I needed to be doing at that time. I always thought [politics] was the sort of thing you do after you've had a career doing something else. It's not what you do at the front end. Politics is all about the timing, and maybe later in my life I'll feel led to go back to politics."

You've Lost Your Mind

The transition after his Senate career was the hardest part for Brooks. He went to grad school in Boston, which really gave him time to think about what he really wanted to do next. "Many people told me, 'You've completely lost your mind.' I was older than most people are when they decide to take it on, but making movies was what I wanted to do all my life."

Brooks and his wife were already planning to get married, so they sat down and talked about their future plans. I told her, "It's in my heart, what I feel I'm meant to do. I had only done stage acting at that point, but I loved it and wanted to give movies a shot."

We decided that we would support each other's passions. Hers was to write a curriculum for high school kids, which is now used in over 1000 schools nationwide. Mine is making movies, so we moved to Los Angeles." Movie deals are made in Los Angeles, so if you want to make movies, you need to at least have a foot in the door there. "You can film anywhere, but deals are made in Los Angeles."

Brooks Douglass Interview

I  Never Wanted to Write It

Brooks wanted to write screenplays and had ideas for many different stories. "After about three and a half years being in LA and going to acting classes, I realized that the more ways you have control over your career, the more successful you'll likely be. Conversely, the more you're begging other people to be in their productions, the lower your odds are of actually accomplishing anything."

I got into a screenwriting class with Paul Brown. I eventually showed him the stories I'd written and asked his opinion. He asked where my ideas were coming from, whether I had worked for a Senator at some point. I told him I was a Senator, and bit by bit he pulled the story out of me. 'That's the one you should write,' he said."

I told him it's too personal and painful. 'That's exactly why you should write it,' he told me." After talking with his wife about it and praying, the couple decided Brooks should tell the story. He spent a year writing scenes from the story, and then hired Paul to help him finish the screenplay. "He helped figure out a structure for the story and we finished it."

Now What?

Once the story was done, Paul and Brooks discussed what to do with it. They could shop it around Hollywood to studios and production companies and find someone to put it into development and make it. But Brooks quickly realized that doing so meant giving up control of the story. "They could re-write it, couldn't they?" Brooks asked Paul. "Yes." "Well, couldn't we just make this ourselves?" That was the fateful question.

Initially, the two men thought the film would cost around $300,000 to make. But a comment from an acting coach persuaded Brooks to shoot for a higher caliber film. "He said, 'Don't make it a glorified class project. Make it a serious movie. You have a well-written screenplay, so go after real actors. Get a real crew and real cinematographers. Make a movie you're going to be proud of.'" So Brooks did. "Every time we made that decision, the budget went up. And up."

They finished the film about one and a half years ago. They had a premiere in Los Angeles and breathed a sigh of relief. "We thought we were through shooting and editing. Now my wife and I laugh routinely about that. We thought we were ready to start another project, but we learned we hadn't even really begun."

We're Not Finished Yet

"We had a finished movie, but so much more work comes after you finish. It has been all-consuming since then to get the film distributed. As recently as a few days ago we were finalizing new interim artwork. I haven't really been happy with that for quite some time, but wasn't sure where to go with it."  

Another thing Brooks wanted adjusted was the MPAA's original R rating of the movie. "They gave us a couple of points to adjust, and we negotiated to trim one thing to get a PG-13 rating instead. It probably could be a PG, but because of the heavy subject matter, it's a 13. That was very important to us; to get that rating changed.

"This weekend [April 22], the movie will air on GMC [Gospel Music Channel – check with your local cable provider for channels and times], and we're very excited about that. I've been on Dateline, The Today Show, The View, etc., yet during those interviews, people who wanted to couldn't buy the movie. Now they can buy it [through ChristianCinema.com] and see it. We have a much better plan going forward."

A Convoluted Mess

When a story is your own idea, it's hard to step back and be objective about it. When it's your life on display, it's even harder. "I tried to separate myself as a filmmaker from the person these events happened to. While Paul and I were writing, we identified several different Brooks. There was Brooks – me; the adult that is living now. There was Brooks the child, Brooks the teenager and Brooks the younger adult."

Compounding that confusion was the fact that Brooks played his own father in the film. At times it was Brooks the current adult playing his father while looking at an actor playing Brooks the child. "It was a convoluted mess. But at the end of the day, we wound up with something that's good: a good story told in the right way. Hopefully it will reach people and make them think about thing that are more important than just the day-to-day stuff, and to help them think about those things in their daily lives."

An unexpected benefit to making the film was the cathartic effect of reviewing so many events that ultimately shaped his life. "I didn't know I had so much left to work through. I thought I had worked my way through things and it was all behind me. But there were times during the writing process that I would get really angry and take it out on Paul. Literally. I didn't even realize it was because I was continuing to deal with the worst day of my life. There were so many things that came up during the shooting of the movie – it was surprising to me. I just didn't know it would be that hard.

Through it all, Brooks credits his wife for keeping him sane. Their relationship gave him the freedom to pursue his passion. "She's been there every step of the way. Whether writing, shooting, or producing, she's been there."

HEAVEN'S RAIN premieres this weekend on GMC. Check your local listings for times and channels, and go to ChristianCinema.com to purchase the DVD.

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