Monday, March 24, 2008

The Road,Hitting

I gotta tell you, one of the hardest parts of movie making is sending it out to "experts" all over the country and letting them tell you what they think. I'm truly not all that interested in what they think about Treasure Blind, but I do care about how they can market my movie, so it follows that what they think is important to the process. My experience divides the responses into three categories: those who would never say anything to discourage you in any way, those who want to punish you if they weren't swept away from the opening sequence, and then those few who are truly helpful. Thank God for category 3. One example of Category 1 was a famous pastor who was able to compose an entire page of 12 point Times New Roman font and say absolutely nothing quotable. It was amazing - truly an art form. It was a slough of such pap and mushy concepts as may, by itself, disprove the theory of evolution - nothing vital could ever be found in gooey soup. I understand I guess. He doesn't know me. As far as he knows, I could be arrested tomorrow for hanging around the playground too long, and if he's said something supportive of my art, he's going down with me. It's just prudence, but it makes lousy press kit fodder. On the other end of the spectrum, I got a terse email from a 30 something mom in California on an absolute rant. Seems she sat her two pre-teen daughters down to watch this unknown movie with unknown actors and found the writing awkward, the acting amatuerish, the scenes skit-like, and the pace agonizingly slow. After 20 minutes, she was so angry with for inflicting my movie on her and her girls that she decided to exact justice through a verbal flogging. The audience I should target is old people. (Politically awkward comment) But then she concluded her biting stings with, "I hope this is helpful." Yeah, thanks. So, you're saying I just wasted 150 grand on a geriatric skit. I'm so uplifted and encouraged! Thankfully however, there are a few viewers who possess both sanity and sensibility, and pass along some truly knowledgeable criticism mixed with just enough "atta boy" to keep me from throwing in the towel. Once again, thank God for Category 3. The road is still new, and there are many potential markets still ahead, but I'm gaining some road wisdom already. When you start the journey, be convinced of your product - be sure YOU like your movie. Then, whether your critics are blowing pretty bubbles as you pass, or pelting you with rocks, you will be able to steer a course straight down the center line, listening to those few helpful voices, and be well on your way to making better movies. See you on down the road, Jack.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

What Would Jesus Video?

So I had lunch in Tulsa yesterday with my brother. He is just settling into the Central time zone after jetting home from Africa where he taught at a Bible School the last 5 weeks. It was a return trip really as he was headmaster for Rusitu Bible Institute in Zimbabwe for eleven years - just long enough for the nationals to take over things. His eyes welled up when he told me about his former students who now run that institution, and very well. Denominations from all over that tiny nation are sending their pastors there for training. "There's something different about those students," it is said. Other RBI grads pastor churches in surrounding towns and villages, or hold other significant ministry posts in the region. And some teach at the Institute. His pace quickened when he told me how two Bible School students recently jumped the river that marks the border of Mozambique just 5 K away. When Dave was there in the late 80's, raiders from Mozambique would jump that same river and execute raids into Zimbabwe - not always killing, but mutilating children and terrorizing the countryside. Now, Bible School students have gone there to tell them about Jesus. Know what? Many believed, including the chief of that whole region. Now they are all invited to come teach, hold their own Bible School, and establish churches among the Mozambique people. Amazing. After that visit, my brother slogged up to Uganda, to the islands of Lake Victoria. 84 little dots on a lake nearly the size of Superior house fishing camps - the absolute dregs of the earth. There exists no sanitation, no electricity, no running water, no decent buildings, and absolutely no morals. The society of those outpost-ers resembles "the Lord of the Flies" meets "Night of the Living Dead". Violence and raging promiscuity are the norm. Aids infects over 90% of the 40,000 or so huddling there. Dave's missionary friend chose those stinking islands as the place to carry the story of Jesus and His forgiveness of sins. And, after some very hard - ridiculously hard - years, God is transforming hearts and raising up evangelists from among those very HIV infested fishermen. Churches are being established. The light of the gospel is transforming that hell-hole. I asked about the missionary couple: in their late 30's, been just looking around for what the Lord had for them, when they found the islands, they just knew. My brother spoke longingly about his time in Africa, and about going back. Maybe when he retires from his pastorate. That's when I said... I made a movie.

The words echoed in my brain like an empty gymnasium. Suddenly, getting up at 5:30 every day for 2 months to get the day's shooting done, doesn't sound all that important. Working 14 to 20 hour days to try to stay on budget, sounds like the worst kind of tiny-minded ego trip. Arguing with my editor about which lines to cut and how loud to play the music, sounds ridiculous. Indeed, the entire 2 year project suddenly looks perfectly trivial next to investing one's life in 40,000 vile fishermen to bring them the eternal hope of the gospel. It doesn't seem to matter at all compared to bringing the message of hope in Christ to an entire nation where hope was extinguished long ago. I made a movie? So... freakin'... what!

But, sitting there in my pool of self doubt, a couple thoughts floated to the surface like... well, nevermind. First, the Lord Himself worked some pretty incredible miracles before I ever found myself in position to make a movie. He doesn't strike me as one to waste miracles. Secondly, I'm 57 years old. I will never admit this to anyone - only all of you - but I'm a weak old man. Never intended to be, but here I am. I can't go to Africa and live off the land like some Tarzan guy. But... I can make a movie. God equipped me to make a movie. God gave me experience right for making a movie. God provided funding for me to make a movie. God brought together talent, crew, gave me a story... you could say that - this whole movie; God himself did.

So, here's what I learned from listening to my brother. Those missionaries aren't changing lives in Africa, God is. I didn't make a movie, God did. God is doing some amazingly wonderful things in Africa. He is also doing some wonderful things here in Tulsa. God is making his salvation known in Africa by the means that works best there. He is making the same salvation known in Tulsa, but in different ways: one of which is the movie He made called Treasure Blind. Pray for Africa. Pray for Treasure Blind. And give God credit for both. Then, go to , where you can actually buy the movie God made for only $19.95.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Brave, The Few, The Movie Makers

I just came from a lunch meeting with a young budding film maker who makes me seriously consider slinking back into my work-a-day world and forgetting about this silly dream of being a movie maker. Why? Because this kid was way smarter than me, he's a stone's throw from getting his MFA in film, he's talented with a camera, has a good eye, has great ideas for smart, earthy stories, is gaining experience every day, and he's a kid! And what's most amazing, at lunch, he was asking me for advice since I have written one - count 'em - one screenplay and directed as many movies. He was looking to me as an expert on the basis of that meager experience. I, of course, cleared my constricting throat and tried my best to sound erudite in my stammering responses, all the while feeling like a complete phony. This isn't the first time either. I have been asked to speak to groups, some in other towns, as a movie producer/director as though I had something important to say simply because I was the guy who said "Action" for a few weeks. Surely these people know down deep that I'm really just a regular schmo who was blessed with a really great opportunity. If anything, they should be asking, "How in the world did you get to do something so fun? It's not fair."

As I think about it though, if we who have been so blessed as to have made a movie will just turn the shiny privilege over, we'll discover a responsibility attached to it. In persevering from pre-production to premier, we have in fact ventured where most have only dreamed of going. It is not nothing. It makes us members of an elite family, and our experience, however mundane and understandable in our honest hindsight, is in fact valuable to those who still dream of the journey. In fact, most will only dream and state intentions, but never venture out of the safety of the coffee shop debate. So, to all who find ourselves looking back at the journey, kudos, my daring comrades! Know that the journey is the value you have to offer. Offer it humbly, because you know how blessed you are, but offer it confidently, because you have bested its perils and completed it. Encourage everyone, knowing that only a few will actually follow.