God works miracles in people’s lives every day but are often untold and unsung in the wider culture. These stories can inspire, uplift, and transform people—for God makes possible what seems impossible. The upcoming Amazon Prime release of “On A Wing and A Prayer,” directed by Sean McNamara and produced by Roma Downey, is based on one such true story.
The formidable Dennis Quaid plays the character of Doug White, who with his wife and daughters, attends the funeral of his brother in Florida. He asks a pilot friend to fly them back to Louisiana on Easter Sunday in a King Air private plane. Doug sits in the co-pilot seat to keep the pilot company. Mid-air the pilot becomes unresponsive from a heart attack, leaving Doug to fly and land the airplane safely to save his family. His wife Terri (Heather Graham), a woman of deep faith, encourages him as she prays. With the help of air traffic control and an unconventional process of communicating with a King Air pilot expert in Connecticut, Doug relies on God in his most dire need.
Courtesy of Prime Video/Boris Martin © AMAZON CONTENT SERVICES LLC
In an interview, McNamara shares about why he wanted to tell this story and how his Catholic faith influences his filmmaking.
Your filmmaking career has been about family-friendly storytelling, many of which include elements of faith. What led you in this direction?
McNamara: I grew up Catholic [with] 16 years of Catholic school—Loyola High School, Loyola Marymount to Santa Clara University. I started doing kids’ films, and then somewhere around the time of “Soul Surfer,” which was released in 2011, that was successful enough…. So, I kind of fell into it. But I think I was well suited to do that…. I feel like the way I could give back from all that wonderful Jesuit education that I had growing up…. And what's interesting about getting to do “On a Wing and a Prayer” with Roma Downey is that it's in that same vein, although it gets a little bit more specific with praying. It's interesting because I feel like the world is kind of lacking in that right now. But I grew up in a big Irish Catholic family where my sisters pray novenas and Hail Marys all the time.
Author with Sean McNamara and Sr Rose Pacatte, FSP
How did you hear about this miraculous story and what compelled you to give it a cinematic platform?
McNamara: In this business, you have ups and downs. You're working sometimes [or] you're not working. My sister Colleen said, during one of my periods of non-work: “Why don't you just call Roma Downey and see if she'll hire you?” And I'm like, “Colleen, it doesn't work that way.” Three years later, I'm at MGM pitching a story…and lo and behold, Roma was in the meeting. And I just said to her, “I can't believe I'm actually meeting you in person, because my sister said I should meet you one day. And I just told her that it was impossible. It would never happen. And here we are.” She had this script and I read it and it was great. It is “On a Wing and a Prayer.” And I just said I would crawl over glass to make this movie. It’s so good, so well written…. Roma Downey is an angel. I mean, she is a new friend and a great friend. And she's just so lovely.
You've worked with Dennis Quaid many times on other films. What led you to connect with him again and cast him as Doug on this film?
McNamara: Well, originally, we had done Soul Surfer together and he's just a great actor. I mean, he's just got that charming smile, and he's easy to work with…. Then this script came along, and I knew he loved flying airplanes. So, I thought, you never know. Because I get these actors [who] work all the time, and they can pick anything they want. But I think what actors do is they'll find something [they like]… and I knew he liked to fly. And that's how we hooked him…. A great actor has tons of ideas and [he] just brings a smile to the set every day and it's just amazing to work with that guy.
Dennis Quaid and Heather Graham in "On a Wing and a Prayer," Courtesy of Prime Video/Boris Martin © AMAZON CONTENT SERVICES LLC
How does your Catholic faith inform your storytelling?
McNamara: Sure, I mean, look, my mom, I call her Mrs. Catholic, in like any city we go to the first thing we had to do is go find the Catholic Church…. My mom passed like, my gosh, 20 years ago now…. So, it's just in my veins. It's there. And I just think of Jesus' teachings. And it's like, do to others as you would [have them do to you] and put out good stuff, and put God above everything else. And they do pray in this plane…. So, I try to layer it in all my movies, even if sometimes when it's like, very direct, like in this movie, because it's exactly how it happened…. So, you put what you know about being a Catholic out into your work. And then you just hopefully put something good out there for people. That's how I at least get it into my movies. I mean, I put the hanging cross on the dashboard that wasn't in the script…. We should incorporate this more when we can and it's organic and it doesn't feel slammed in. That's how I try to do it.
What would be the most compelling aspect of this film that you hope audiences walk away with?
McNamara: You gotta sometimes believe in things you can't see. And that's faith. And, you know, in the movie, they prepare him. They teach him how to land. But at a certain point, you got to believe that you're in God's hands, and they're going to help you land this plane properly. And I think [that’s] all of our lives, certainly my life…. What's the worst when a plane feels out of control and you're sitting helpless? That's when I think most people start to pray, “God, I will do the right thing if you just land this plane with me.”
Dennis Quaid in "On a Wing and a Prayer," Courtesy of Prime Video/Boris Martin © AMAZON CONTENT SERVICES LLC
Why is it important to tell these types of stories even in a culture that sometimes pushes back against this?
McNamara: Well, for me as a filmmaker, I just have to do it. It's like a calling. And look, I love all films. I love horror films. I love action films. I like shooting my films, but I think there's a place for just good, faith-based, faith friendly movies. It's like Chicken Soup for the Soul…where every once in a while, you just got to see something good to warm your heart.
“On a Wing and a Prayer” is available on Amazon Prime.
About the Author
Sr. Nancy is the Director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies and a Media Literacy Education Specialist. She has degrees in Communications Arts and a Masters in Theology and the Arts from Fuller Theological Seminary. She has extensive experience in the creative aspects of social media, print media, radio and video production as well as in marketing, advertising, retail management and administration.
Sr. Nancy has given numerous media mindfulness workshops, presentations and film retreats around the country to youth, young adults, catechists, seminarians, teachers and media professionals helping to create that dialogue between faith and media. She is a member of NAMLE (National Association of Media Literacy Educators), SIGNIS (World Catholic Association for Communicators) and THEOCOM (Theology and Communications in Dialogue) and board member of CIMA (Catholics in Media Associates). She is the author of a theology of popular culture called, A Sacred Look: Becoming Cultural Mystics from Wipf & Stock Publishing. Sr. Nancy is a theologian, national speaker, blogger and film reviewer.