As you all know, our team has been asked to help in the coordination of FOTOlanthropy’s red carpet premiere of The Luckiest Man. In just two short days, this uplifting film will premiere at the Angelika Theatre in Dallas, Texas. This landmark second film for the FOTO crew will showcase John Paine, successful entrepreneur and family man, and his 15 year long battle with ALS. In preparation for the film’s debut, Katie Norris, Founder of FOTOlanthropy, agreed to sit down and discuss some questions about the film, her business and the lessons she’s learned along the way.
Tell us a little bit about how and why you got started doing these films, specifically tackling stories about individuals who have overcome adversity or circumstance?
I run my own professional photography business and I love the stories I get to tell for families through my camera. I wanted a way to be able to use my talents to give back to other families who were going through difficult life circumstances and to build a community of other like-minded, servant-hearted photographers and filmmakers. It wasn’t long after I started brainstorming and talking with friends about my desire that I received a phone call from a mother who’s child was in the hospital with an inoperable brain tumor and asked if I would be willing to come take a few family portraits. We brought a filmmaker with us and Fotolanthropy was born.
Fotolanthropy’s mission has covered a multitude of social issues that the community faces. Can you go into detail about a few of the issues your team has covered and what each story represents to the families?
Our very first story was a family whose first child was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. He tragically passed away a few weeks after we shared his story but his life impacted so many, including mine. We followed that up with the story of a father who had just welcomed his first child and found out he had cancer, and is now in remission.
We’ve also covered stories of dwarfism and SMA. These diagnosis are much more rare and thus, can feel like rather lonely journeys for the families that are walking through them.
Not all our stories focus around illnesses. We’ve also done stories detailing the struggles of infertility and international adoption, a wounded warrior and a family who lost their home in the Bastrop wildfires.
When someone is going through a trial, it is easy to assume that their biggest need is financial. And while that is sometimes true, people don’t realize how valuable a photograph can also be during these seasons. That visual timestamp and storytelling tool not only serves as a reminder of what a family has gone through together but also serves as a tool to help them share their story with others. What I love about each of these stories, is that although many of us may not be able to relate to the exact issue addressed, there is always a powerful message we can take away to challenge us in our own lives.
We understand this is your second film to premiere at the Angelika, can you tell us about the differences in preparing for Travis (A Soldier’s Story) and John Paine’s (The Luckiest Man) story.
Each of our Fotolanthropy recipients is facing dirrerent circumstances and our top priority is always to be sensitive to each of their individuation situations. While Travis and John are at such different places in their stories, Travis’s film is really the reason we were able to do John’s film. I’m so thankful for all the incredible opportunities we were given with Travis: A Soldier’s Story. It taught us so much, and it is what has allowed us to produce another full documentary and put on another premiere event just two years later.
You’ve met a lot of people through your work with FOTOlanthropy, is there one individual or a group of people that you would say have influenced your outlook on how your work affects the public and how you present these issues to your followers?
It would be hard to pick just one. While Reece and I remain close with Travis and Kelsey Mills, all of the families we’ve worked with have left a unique impression on us. Just last week we had the opportunity to get together with some of our previous Fotolanthropy families for a special film shoot. It was just such an amazing reminder of how much each of these families have impacted our team and how grateful I am for the individuals we’ve had the honor of working with and who have trusted us with their stories.
Onto John Paine’s story, do you feel that the promotion of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge had anything to do with your choice to showcase the Paine’s story?
We actually met John several years ago, before the Ice Bucket Challenge started, and knew right away we wanted to do his story, if possible. It just wasn’t until this year though that the timing worked out between the Paine family and Fotolanthropy for us to film.
How did you meet John or hear about his story?
The Paine family attends my church and my pastor shared their story with me. Many of our Fotolanthropy stories are nominated to us by others and we welcome nominations on our website.
John’s story is a remarkable one, do you have any thoughts on how John’s story has impacted your crew? Any lessons that you are hoping the audience will take away from highlighting this mans life?
I remember several years ago when one of our Fotocrew filmmakers, Jon Link, and I first sat down to meet with John Paine and hear his story. We were both in tears as we sat there and just listened, and I think we immediately knew what a powerful message John had to share.
I hope that the audience will see through John’s story that “overcoming” isn’t necessarily about getting to the other side of our mountains in life and that sometimes our tallest mountains can be our biggest blessings. John truly looks at his ALS diagnosis with this perspective: that it has changed his life for the better.
Your husband, Reece, has played a huge role in helping you put FOTOlanthropy on the map. Has tackling these serious issues brought you two closer together and any tips on how to find the time to enjoy family and life together with the stress of building such an influential company?
Reece has been the biggest supporter of Fotolanthropy from Day One. He and I are both dreamers and goal-setters, but we definitely bring different skill sets to the table. I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without his loving support, his business knowledge and his incredible servant heart. It has definitely had its challenges, but there’s no better feeling than working towards a goal with your spouse and seeing it achieved. I am grateful every day that we get to do this together.
What would you say has been the highlight of putting this film together and how pumped are you that you have opened a third theater?
What people also don’t really get to see are the people behind the scenes who pour themselves into these stories and events to make them the absolute best for our Fotolanthropy recipients. Our team is so passionate about these stories and works so hard, but you never can predict how others are going to respond. We had such an amazing response with Travis: A Soldier’s Story when we premiered it in 2013, but we weren’t sure if we should expect to be able to repeat that. It has been so humbling to see how many people will be joining us to honor the Paine family on October 22nd and those who have already reached out to us from different places across the country with interest in screening the film.
Lastly, what are you most looking forward to when it comes to this premiere?
My absolute favorite moment is right when the movie ends and the audience has a chance to respond to the story. I will never forget the moment Travis: A Soldier’s Story ended and immediately everyone jumped to their feet with applause for Travis and his family. That simple, yet powerful moment really sums up why we do what we do at Fotolanthropy.
We are so thankful for our the opportunity to play a small part in the preparation of this film and to Katie, for taking the time out of her crazy busy schedule to sit down and talk with us about her business model and this life-changing film. For more information about this event and ticket purchases, check out the links below!
Ticket Link: https://luckiestmanfilm.eventbrite.com
Emcee: Richard Ray, Fox 4 News
Music Performance By: Jason Castro