Making Movies, Making Memories

Making Movies, Making Memories

Michael Davis '90 filming on location. Photo courtesy of Michael Davis.

by Mark Kakkuri '93 and Julianne Sandberg '08

February 26, 2009

This article originally appeared in the Fall/ Winter 2008 issue of Inspire, published by Cedarville University.

Michael Davis ’90 is not one to shy away from new adventures, and he knows full-well what it means to confidently pursue one’s dreams.

While at Cedarville, Mike’s ambitious spirit became intertwined with a life-defining vision. The theme for that academic year was “Making a Difference,” an idea that so deeply resonated with him that it became a personal mission statement and continues to influence his work as a thriving professional in the entertainment industry.

After earning a B.A. in communication arts, Mike landed careers in radio and television and later began working at an advertising agency. He then joined EBI Video, where he served as executive producer for a national PBS cooking show and for a direct-to-video kids’ project titled Tails From the Ark. He was also involved in starting a local daily news show in partnership with Fox News.

In 2000 — with his goal of impacting lives still driving his efforts and his entrepreneurial spirit in high gear — Mike launched Phoenix Entertainment, a content provider and syndicator of programs for various media platforms. With Phoenix, Mike has produced radio shows, TV shows, and Internet content, as well as live stage shows and direct-to-DVD film projects. In 2005, he expanded the company by establishing Uptone Pictures, which serves as the creative/production side of Phoenix.

Making a Difference
However, for this producer, the goal goes far beyond enjoyable films and a growing business. Mike’s philosophy of film production is to carry forward the “Making a Difference” theme he first encountered at Cedarville.

“I am not much of a spoon feeder,” he said. “I seek to impact people to make them think.” He believes that combining picture and sound through the medium of film is a powerful way to do just that.

“The world has a big appetite for entertainment, and television and film are by far the most powerful media today,” Mike said. Uptone Pictures capitalizes on this demand by using visual methods to project truth to media-stimulated viewers. The company works extensively with ministries and organizations to disperse Christian music, books, and TV and radio programs to audiences around the world.

Making Christmas Memories
But Mike also takes time to work on his own creative projects. His most recent endeavor was Christmas Memories, a documentary-style film that takes a nostalgic look at Christmases past through the lens of amateur home movies.

“I grew up watching old movies and silent films being projected on a sheet in the living room as part of our family movie night,” Mike explained. “Our family would spend hours laughing at the silly antics that were going on. Afterward, my siblings and I would bombard my parents with questions: Who was Uncle Cecil? What was he like? Did you go to that lake often?”

The sense of community and heritage born from these special evenings motivated Mike to pursue the Christmas Memories project. After watching hours of vintage films collected from local stores and estate sales, he selected the silent footage for the movie. From there, a group of narrators — which included Jim Leightenheimer ’80, associate professor of communication arts at Cedarville — recorded original stories that corresponded with the film. In the end, Mike had produced a two-hour collection of heart-warming stories about the Christmas season.

Christmas Memories first aired in December 2007 to a potential combined audience of 107 million households. It has been broadcast
in Canada, Brazil, and Australia, with possible syndication in Kenya, Burundi, and Tanzania.

For Mike, the best part of this project has been seeing people respond positively to his message. “The film transports people to an earlier time, place, or moment,” he said. “My hope is that Christmas Memories becomes a tradition for families today — to remember the good times and the blessings, to catch a glimpse of a bygone era, to see a simpler time. I want them to ask, ‘What do we miss today in
the increased hype and busyness of the season?’”

He also hopes his film inspires many “remember when” conversations like the ones he had growing up. As always, Mike wants to help his viewers think critically and to remind them of the reason they celebrate Christmas.

Summarizing the purpose of this film and the goal of his career, Mike said, “Christmas Memories should encourage us to celebrate the meaning of Christmas every day!”