It’s 9 am and an 8 year old child sits alone clutching a teddy bear waiting on his or her turn to begin their twelfth cancer treatment. He /She doesn’t feel well today but wanders over to the window to look outside. The sun is shining and they wish their parents were there. Where are the parents?….. This is the same question a little girl named Hope asked her parents one day as she was hospitalized for her cancer treatment? ‘Mom and Dad, why do these kids have to go through these chemo treatments alone?’
The time was 2003. The place, Carolina’s Medical Center (now Levine’s Children’s Hospital) Charlotte, NC. The little girl…12 year old Hope Elizabeth Stout. Hope Stout was diagnosed with bone cancer that year, and along with many other kids in her age bracket, had to spend her days undergoing chemotherapy treatments to combat the disease. Many children’s medical expenses and care are covered through community and national programs but the day to day living expenses often require parents to continue work, causing them to have to leave their children to face chemo alone. Day to day expenses include house payments, utilities, travel costs and the day to day expenses for additional siblings.
Instead of pondering ‘Why me?’. The selfless Hope could only focus on the plight of the other kids in the same facility. How scary it would be to face all the unfamiliar equipment, sounds, smells and the multiple rounds of treatments without a parent by their side.
Hope insisted to her parents that they do something about this. The Stouts promised that as soon as Hope got better, they would.
Hope was visited by the Make-A-Wish Foundation in November, 2003. At this point in her life, Hope felt that she had experienced much joy in life already…a loving family, travel, and many other unique life experiences. Her focus was on the others kids on the list ahead of her.
There were 155 children waiting to have their wishes granted. And soon that became Hope’s wish. She told the stunned wish granters that all she wanted was to grant the 155 kids on the list their wishes. That and to be famous!
Far from a storybook wish that one would expect from a child, at first the Make-a-Wish folks did not know what to do. But soon they realized Hope was not going to be talked out of this, so they hit the pavement in a sprint knowing they were going to have to raise around a million dollars to grant “Hope’s Wish.”
The story hit the media big time. WBT radio personality Keith Larson had come across the December 19th article on Hope in the Charlotte Observer. She was featured on his program that morning and gave an interview that is still talked about, a broadcast that is re-played every year at Christmas time.
Shortly after Hope made her one wish, telephones at Make a Wish began ringing off the hook with donations; a gala, the Celebration of Hope, was planned and many of the Carolina Panthers came to honor Hope, which was held at the Westin Charlotte where at 11:00 PM it was announced that $1,116, 000 was raised. Unfortunately, Hope sadly passed away two weeks before the gala. But she had no doubt that the money would be raised and all the wishes would be granted…along with hers too.
In 2006, her parents Stuart and Shelby Stout, authored a book on Hope’s journey and its remarkable aftermath entitled, appropriately enough, Hope’s Wish. The book was written with both a Father’s and a Mother’s perspective of dealing with such a challenging time. The book was self published by the Stouts but in 2008, Hope’s Wish was picked up by Thomas Nelson Publishing, where only 4 words were changed from their self published work. Two years later in 2010, the story caught the eye of Hollywood and now a project is underway to make Hope’s Wish a feature length film.
Charlotte Banter (CB) spent an evening with Hope’s father Stuart Stout, the Chairman of the Board of the March Forth with Hope Foundation (MFWH). He shared with us the highlights of this remarkable story as well as the progress of the Hope’s Wish film project today. It is worth noting; when CB mentioned this would be the feature interview for March, where we try to talk to local ‘celebrities’, that the true celebrity here is Hope Stout.
CB: Tell us a little bit about the history of the project, from the release of the book to the origin of the film concept?
Stuart: Well, I took a leave of absence from my job as an insurance consultant to write the book with my wife Shelby. The book project had actually begun with another author, but after an initial review of the manuscript, we opted to write it ourselves. The premise of the story is based on the 191 days of Hope’s illness, and everything we did and everything we went through. After the book’s publishing and eventual success, it caught the attention of some producers in Hollywood. It’s been a very educational process, learning how the film process works, from inception to production. For example, I quickly became aware from a blunt retired veteran of the film business that Hope’s story would be changed if we didn’t keep control of the process. Initially, production centered on a made for television movie. Obviously we didn’t want the story modified, so we turned down some of the first offers, opting to retain creative control. Secondly, we were convinced to go for theatrical release. Investors were attracted and got the production started. We were very excited and actually got into pre production but in 2008, as we all remember, a recession hit. And as a result, our funding sources fell apart. I often joke of my involvement with two movies…my first…and last (laughs)!
CB: Tell us where the ‘Hope’s Wish’ film project stands today?
Stuart: The first screenplay draft we reviewed was OK but not exactly what we envisioned. During 2009, our production team here decided we needed to partner with a producer with “boots on the ground” in Hollywood. Well, through a local Charlotte acquaintance, I was introduced to Hollywood producer Jonah Hirsch, who so just happened to be a former Bank of America executive in Charlotte. After his banking career, he became a successful Hollywood producer and actually produced a film that was shot in Durham. Jonah believes that the screenplay is the screenwriters: Diana Ossana wrote the screenplay for the Oscar winning film Brokeback Mountain in 2005 and legendary Pulitzer Prize winning writer Larry McMurty whose credits include the Lonesome Dove Series, Terms of Endearment, and The Last Picture Show. Both Ossana and McMurty have been hired to co-write the Hope’s Wish screenplay. Since October 2012 they have been working on it, and the first draft is due any day, which we are obviously very excited about. Getting the script will feel like we are beginning a new chapter. Then after the script is edited to everyone’s satisfaction, the writers will become producers for this project. Their help will be critical in finding a reputable director for the project. We have established MFWH Productions as the producing company for Hope’s Wish, and we are hoping to raise $250,000 to allow us to retain a director and then an “A” list actor or actress.
CB: Will the production be shot in and around Charlotte?
Stuart: Yes. We are insisting that the film be shot entirely here in Charlotte if at all possible. Other films have been shot in Charlotte, yes. But this may very well be the first movie that is about a story that actually took place here. In the end, I am confident Hope’s Wish will be shot in Charlotte.
CB: Will the production company for Hope’s Wish be encouraged to seek local artistic (acting, other) talent for the film?
Stuart: Absolutely wherever possible. For sure. Again, Charlotte granted Hope her wish. This is our gift back to Charlotte so we want to have as many locals as possible involved in the film,
CB: Presumably proceeds from the future film will continue to finance the March Forth With Hope Foundation?
Stuart: It is our intention to negotiate as much as 10 percent of profits to go to the March Forth with Hope Foundation. This foundation provides grants to families of children facing life threatening illnesses they can focus on being with their children during treatment and not have to worry so much about day to day life challenges. Grants typically include housing, travel and utility assistance. In one case the foundation replaced a HVAC unit so the family could have acceptable filtration for their child when he came home from treatment.
CB: Tell us about the beverage Hope’s Stout?
Stuart: Yes! Todd and Suzie Ford who own Noda Brewing Company partnered with March Forth With Hope and created a beer in Hope’s memory on what would have been her 21st birthday. You can find Hope’s Stout in several local establishment, learn about Hope’s story, the March Forth With Hope Foundation and enjoy this tasty beer. Duckworth Tavern, Brixx Pizza and VBGB Beer Hall and Garden are a few places to try Hope’s Stout. Stop in for a Hope’s Stout and know that each time you order a drink it is for a great cause!
CB: Tell us about the Hope Masquerade Gala?
Stuart: This is our largest fundraiser and a really fun event. Last year the event sold out. This year we have even more surprises planned. We have rebranded it the Celebration of Hope after the initial gala in 2004 and it will be on March 9th at the Ballantyne Hotel and Lodge, beginning at 6:30 pm. It is a black tie, masquerade so dress up and bring your masks! There is a sit down dinner, prizes, a silent and live auction with some fabulous items and dancing. Several former and current Carolina Panthers and other local celebrities are expected to attend. The former Panthers that will be in attendance are The Fat Cats. They were the offensive line of the Carolina Panthers back in 2003. There are only 300 seats and tickets are selling really fast. It is going to be a great time and we would love to have everyone come on out for a great time! Information can be found here.
CB: Is there anything that the local Charlotte community can do to help and get involved in Hope’s Wish?
Stuart: Yes, Shelby and I believe anything is possible and that this movie WILL GET produced and until it is, we will never give up. While we are working hard to get this done, ultimately, the big director upstairs has all of this under His control. We ask that everybody keep this project in their prayers and visit the website March Forth with Hope for information, and keep an eye out for future events and promotions on Hope’s Wish. All updated information can be found at this site.
CB:In closing, anything else?
Stuart: There is one thing and please be sure to write this down. If any of you out there think you are having a bad day, just take a few minutes and visit some of the children facing cancer treatments at Levine’s Children’s Hospital. I promise you that your problems will suddenly not seem so bad.