Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Success of "Blind Side" Opens Doors

The massive success of The Blind Side has shocked Hollywood and opened studios to a market they're still trying to figure out--the heartland. Stories about Christians or Republicans are rare in the mainstream movie world, but seeing as how over half the country attends church regularly, it would stand to reason that more films portraying people like this would be made. To their credit, studios are working to appeal more to this market, which is difficult because many of these pepole aren't traditional moviegoers.

Hopefully, that will open some opportunities to filmmakers like me, who understand that market and how to appeal to it, and who have stories to tell from that world. I've said before that it's imperative to tirelessly prepare for the moments when the industry shifts and starts looking for something that you have to offer. Even when I'm not making a movie, I'm working overtime to make myself a better filmmaker, because I want to be ready when studios say, "We need more stories from the heartland," or "We need filmmakers who can relate to the faith-based audience."

In my book-reading and movie-watching, I've been concentrating on filmmakers like Frank Capra. I just read his book of interviews, and I'm about to read his autobiography. The next movie I watch will be Ben-Hur, and after that Capra's "You Can't Take It With You." These are films that were hugely successful with heartland audiences, so I want to understand what made them tick and learn from their success and artfulness. When you see a trend devleoping in Hollywood, look for films in the past that were successful the last time that same trend developed.

I happen to know that my favorite book of all time is being developed as a feature film at a studio. It's a story set in exactly the kind of church I grew up in and covers themes and characters that I know inside and out. I'm going to be a candidate to direct it, so I'm already preparing my pitch for the interview I'll have when they're looking for directors. I hope to convince them that no one knows this kind of film better than I do, so I'm going to make sure that's actually true.

Of course, first things first--I have to finish "What If..." and make sure it's great.

"What If..." Post Production Video Blog #7

Hear the latest regarding picture correction, DVD Commentary and "ADR" with the actors, and an update as we get closer to completion. Includes some images from the film. For this and all the other video blogs, check out

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Can "Christian films" appeal to the mainstream?

A couple of days ago, a good friend of mine and pop culture analyst emailed me to challenge me on some of my recent blogs and choices in my career. Specifically, he thought I was making a mistake by talking about making a "Christian movie" and broadcasting myself accordingly. See my articles on Big Hollywood ( I've maintained that embracing the core Christian market and making a lower budget film marketed primarily to the church crowd is a smart business decision as well as something that gives me the chance to make a good film in a market that hasn't had too many good films.

He found illogical a comment I'd made about hoping my film would still appeal to all markets. He said that that was unlikely because of the fact that the film was being marketed as "Christian" and added the following:

"...but if you feel you have to do this then I think you should at least count the cost and understand that this way of securing the base is by definition exclusionary and uninviting to those who are not already predisposed favorably toward Christianity and Christian movies."

I responded with the following...might be of note, even if you disagree:

Yes, the MARKETING isn't necessarily "inviting" to those who aren't fans of "Christian films," any more than the marketing of a horror film as a horror film isn't necessarily inviting to those who aren't fans of horror films. That said, it's certainly a worthwhile goal to make the FILM appealing to all.

Note what I said--"we always want the film to appeal to everyone." I didn't say "we want the marketing to be geared to everyone." There's a big difference.

I'm making a film that follows the conventions and boundaries of films that qualify for the Christian market. No language, no lust, include the gospel message, uplifting ending, etc.. Because of that, it's a waste of resources to try to market the film to everyone. Marketers know this in every genre or niche--if you've got limited resources, make the most of them by targeting the already existing marketplace.

However, my goal was to make a film that followed these conventions that would also be enjoyable and worthwhile to those who end up seeing the film who aren't evangelicals. That's not fantastical or a contradiction at all. They might come across it on TV, they might have it given to them by their Christian friends, they might read a positive review (critics do review Christian films), they might be big Debby Ryan or Kevin Sorbo fans, or in some cases, they might be curious to see a "Christian" film. I have many liberal agnostic film geek friends who say, "I have no problem with Christian films in general, I just want to see a good one."

What makes a movie successful long-term is word of mouth. The very law of averages dictates that some non-Christians will see the film early on, and if they happen to like it, they'll tell their other non-Christian friends. It behooves me to make a film that at least has a chance to get good word-of-mouth among non-Christians; it's a bonus.

I'm not a sci-fi fan AT ALL, but after enough people told me The Matrix was cool, I saw it and loved it. I don't like horror movies, but Paranormal Activity got enough good reviews that I figured it was different, so I saw it.

But the fact is, no one, not a studio or private financier, will spend the money on this film to market it to anyone but the base. As frustrating as that is, I have to adjust to it and act accordingly, and I know how to appeal to the base. But that doesn't mean I can't still make a good film that many non-Christians can like, too.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

My latest article for Big Hollywood...

I write about my attempt to actually make a good "Christian" film. Check it out here.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Just finished reading...

...Frank Capra Interviews, edited by Leland Poague. It's fantastic. Tons of good stuff from a master of uplifting storytelling.

In my pursuit of watching more and more classic films and learning from masters, I just saw "Tokyo Story" by Ozu. Have to admit, I found it boring. Does that make me a lightweight? About to watch Mutiny on the Bounty for the first time. Saw African Queen and The Third Man for the first time recently--liked African Queen better.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Read this article on the state of the business...

This is a phenomenal and informative article on the state of the business in Hollywood right now. It gives great detail and examples of how projects are getting set up. The business is changing, so read up here.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Post Production Blog #5

Footage from our test screening in North Carolina...

Results from test screening...

I just realized I never posted the results of the test screening of "What If..." in Charlotte. Here they are:

The two key questions are "How would you rate the film" and "Would you recommend it?" The answers you're hoping for are "excellent" or "very good" for film rating, and "definitely recommend." The average score for Hollywood films for these questions is about 50-55%, a good score is considered 65%. We scored 84% for those two questions, which is terrific.

We also asked for their favorite and least favorite aspects of the film. These answers were all over the map, with only a few repeated answers, but there was a somewhat surprising answer for "favorite thing." The character/actor who got mentioned the most was the little girl in the family, 6 year old Megan, played by newcomer Taylor Groothuis. All of our actors got mentioned a few times, and none of them were mentioned in response to the question of negatives, but Taylor got mentioned the most often, which is really cool. This actress is on her way to a big career, so maybe What If... will be famous for being "Taylor Groothuis's first film."

The only negative mentioned a few times was that the film was a little long, which isn't surprising because one, we could still tighten it a bit, and two, there was little to no music in the film and the sound and picture were unfinished and rough.

Over 80% said that even non-Christians would enjoy the film, which is great because this film will be labeled as a "Christian" film, but we always want the film to appeal to everyone.

We also asked if people would purchase a ticket in theaters or purchase the DVD, or whether they would just rent it. At least 85% said "purchase," a chunk said "rent," and only two out of 115 respondents said they wouldn't see it again. Pretty strong numbers, so we're very excited.

I sat in the audience and wrote down every line that got a big laugh and made notes of all the lines that I thought would get laughs but didn't. In those cases, I either cut the moment out of the film or do what I can to spice it up in editing. There are also moments that feel long or unnecessary when you're watching with an audience, so it's always good to test the film at least once with an audience to see the difference between how a film plays in a room and how it plays on a computer monitor with your editor.

I'm leaving for New York in a couple days, where I'll spend a day with my editor to make all the final adjustments. Then we'll "lock picture," which is when we decide not to make any more changes, and we can concentrate on sound and music. Our composer Jeehun Hwang will spend the month of November writing and performing the score, and we'll put all the sound elements together in December.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The brilliant Frank Capra...

"There are the critical minds as we know them here in the United States. Their base of operations is the Eastern seaboard and they're more or less allied to the European culture rather than to the American culture, certainly not to a city in Ohio a thousand miles away. So I've never had a very good standing among American intellectuals with my films. Certainly sentiment is an almost verboten emotion with the intellectuals. Why that should be I have not an idea, except it's perhaps too common, too ordinary--it's not arcane enough for an intellectual. Perhaps it's too simple." Frank Capra, responding to critics labeling his films "capracorn."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Interesting blog article on Christian films...

Screenwriter John August has a popular blog on filmmaking, particularly regarding screenwriting, and he just wrote a very good article on the Christian film market. Check it out:

Friday, October 23, 2009

Test screening audience questions for "What If..."

Test screenings are common in Hollywood, of course...nearly every studio films does a couple of them. The results impact how the film will be marketed and in many cases impact reshoots and new endings.

I've never actually done one for a film, but we're doing one for "What If..." tonight in Charlotte at a Christian film festival. Below are the questions we'll be asking this audience. Because we still have a week or so to do more edits, we can still make some adjustments based on this screening.


How would you rate this movie:

__ Excellent
__ Very Good
__ Good
__ Fair
__ Poor

Can you mention a few of your favorite things in the movie (character, scene, story point, etc.)?

Can you mention a few of your least favorite things in the movie?

Did anything bother or offend you (please list)?

Was there anything at all confusing (please list)?

What’s the youngest aged child you’d allow to see this film?

__ 6 and older
__ 8 and older
__ 10 and older

Please rate your chances of recommending this movie to others:

__ Definitely recommend
__ Maybe recommend
__ Won't recommend

Would your church show this movie as a special event? __ Yes __ No

Please rate the Christian content in the film:

__ There was enough Christian content, and the gospel message was presented sufficiently.
__ There was enough Christian content, but the gospel message was insufficient.
__ I was disappointed in the Christian content.

How would non-Christians respond to this film (check all that apply)?

__ My non-Christian friends would enjoy this film.
__ This movie would impact non-Christians for the gospel.
__ Non-Christians wouldn’t enjoy this movie.

Would you (check all that apply):

__ See this movie in theaters
__ Purchase the movie on DVD
__ Rent the movie
__ I won’t see it again

Do you like the title "What If..."? If not what would you call it?

Thank you so much for your time and attention, Jenkins Entertainment and Pure Flix Entertainment really appreciate it. Anything else you'd like to say about the film? Every little bit helps!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Took 2 and a half minutes out, not 12

Instead of taking the entire sequence out, we just worked hard today to tighten it and make it as efficient as possible. I think it actually works better now. The only thing left to do is to test it with an audience, which we're doing this Saturday night. I'll post the questions we'll be asking the audience in the next few days.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

How can I cut 12 minutes out of my movie?

The most important time for a director to be objective is in the editing room. This is when you have to look at all the footage you've shot, all the blood, sweat, and tears you've put in, and be honest about what works and what doesn't. The editor and the audience don't care how long a scene took to shoot, they don't care about the actors you love to work with, and they don't care about fun something was. If it doesn't work, it needs to go.

Right now the film is a smidge under two hours. That's a little long for a romantic comedy, but it's not bad if the film works for those two hours. Right now the film works, but there's a section near the middle of the film that doesn't work great. It's a 12 minute sequence that involves about 5 or 6 scenes and nearly all the characters in the film. But each of the scenes within the sequence have their own little problems, some larger than others, particularly in one huge scene that took nearly an entire day to shoot.

I've got to figure out what I'd lose from cutting this sequence compared to what I'd gain in terms of pacing and tone. It sounds like no big deal, but it's huge. I care about the actors in the scenes, I care about everything I shot; obviously, if I didn't like it from the beginning, I wouldn't have had it in the script, and we wouldn't have shot it.

Filmmakers refer to this as "being willing to hurt your baby." No one wants to hurt their baby, but if it makes the baby better in the long run, sometimes you have to give a spanking or take something away from it.

My editor Frank doesn't want to lose the sequence, my wife does want to lose it. I'm back and forth. Some artist I'm being, huh?

Either way, I need to work hard tomorrow on the whole sequence to make it as good as possible. Frank leaves on Wednesday the 21st, and we have a preview test screening on Saturday the 24th, so I want to give the movie every chance to be acceptable to the test screening audience so I know what I have and what works. I'm going to trim the sequence as much as possible, cutting anything that doesn't advance the story and try to make the scenes as smooth and as watchable as possible. But if the audience doesn't respond to it, it just might have to go.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

One week until we're "done" editing...

I've been working with Frank every day on the edit. It's been going really well, and what a relief to not have to build the scenes from scratch like I've always had to do. Now I just watch what he's done and make any adjustments I think are necessary. We argue occasionally, but for the most part I like what he's doing and only make changes if I feel a strong need for them.

In the past, as I've said, I've always watched the raw footage with the editor and built the scenes with him from scratch. It hasn't been awful, as it allows me to get 100% familiar with the footage and make sure I don't miss one second of anything I like, but it can also cause me to miss the forest for the trees and lose objectivity. Now that Frank has edited the first cut, I'm able to only change things I think need changing, especially because I trust his judgment quite a bit.

This movie is a Christian romantic comedy, which basically means that we're not trying to get too "arty" outsmart ourselves. When in doubt, we go for what's going to be most pleasing to the audience. That said, it's been interesting and very artistically fulfilling to work with Frank, who doesn't necessarily share my spiritual or political beliefs, and who normally edits and likes films that go against the grain a bit (not to mention the Oscar nominee "In the Bedroom"). He's also seen twice as many films as I have and understands the art of film and the language of cinema as well as anyone. All that to say, he's not going to let the film ever be silly or groan-inducing, but he's also been aware of the needs of the Christian and dramedy genres and cooperative to that end.

The other day we were debating over which take to use of a particular scene. It's the scene where Mike the Angel (John Ratzenberger) basically tells the protagonist Ben (Kevin Sorbo) the meaning of life. It's an important moment that addresses the thrust of the film, and John had two different takes. I was arguing for one, Frank for the other, and at one point he said, "I hate to say this, but the take you like is the one I'd expect from a Christian movie." Say no more. It's no secret that Christian movies aren't usually great (I wrote an article about this trend here), and we'd like to do our best to raise the bar a little. Someone like Frank can help us do that.

Check out for our latest pictures from the set and video blog from the editing room.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Post Production Video Blog...

This is the fourth post production video blog from "What If..." Check out for more.

Monday, September 28, 2009

"What If..." 2nd edit done, "Riven" outline turned in...

I sent Frank about ten email pages of notes on the first cut of the film, and he's already executed most of them and sent me a new version of the film. He works fast.

There are a few things that can only be executed when we're together. Most of the time, a director has to communicate their vision to the DP, the actors, the editor, etc., and assuming communication has been solid, they can execute it on their own without "over the shoulder" directing. But occasionally there's a specific kind of scene or something tricky or specific or stylistic that requires more direct involvement from the director, and we have a couple of those that we'll get to when Frank comes to L.A. in less than a week.

On Friday I spent a little time looking at a couple scenes Frank adjusted based on my notes, and it's always sobering when you realize that a change you wanted just isn't possible because the footage isn't there. "What was I thinking on the set" moments are common for everyone.

Also, we designed a new look for the What If... blog page, it looks a lot sharper and more relevant to the actual story. It's at I'm also going to be uploading some new exclusive pics there in a day or two.

Nate Scoggins turned in his first draft of the outline for "Riven," and it's exciting to see. I'm convinced it's always best to have screenwriters do an outline of at least ten pages to make sure everyone's on the same page before they write a complete draft of the script that goes in the wrong direction and requires extra work to adjust. Nate wrote a very good outline, but there are a few things we needed to discuss, and now it'll be easy for him to make those adjustments in outline form before he commences the script.

We've been on the same page on everything so far, which is great, even including the music we listen to to get inspired with this story. By coincidence, we're both listening to a ton of Jars of Clay--the movie is about broken souls, and Jars always writes about broken souls, so it's perfect.

Two nights ago I was driving to a conference I was speaking at, and it was 11:30 at night, and I texted Nate to see if he was awake because I'd just gotten inspired with some thoughts about the key scene in the movie. He was, and we ended up talking past Midnight about the story, and it was cool. I actually got choked up while I was describing how the scene could look, which is probably a good sign.

Speaking of the conference, I showed 15 minutes of the rough cut of the movie to about 150 or so attendees, and it went really well. This is the worst the movie will ever look, and it was playing on a cheap screen from a DVD player in a room with sunlight coming in. Not the best venue. But people laughed, were engaged, and I got a few genuinely enthusiastic responses afterward. That was encouraging.

Man, I just tried to say "afterwards" instead of "afterward," and spell check flagged me. I didn't realize "afterwards" wasn't a word. All righty.

Normally I like to write about difficult things, because I want my blogs to be honest, but things have been going pretty well over the last few months, so now it's reading more like a promotional tool for my films. I'm sorry about that!

So much going on right now, I'm trying to find time to write blog entries. Right now it's 2:25 am...I must away...

Published: September 19, 2009

As I discuss in my latest video blog at, our editor Frank Reynolds has completed and submitted the first edit of the film. This is usually called an assembly and is for the purpose of just seeing the movie put together in raw form. Normally it goes:

1. Editor puts together a rough assembly, just to see all the footage in one piece to see if there's anything missing or scary.
2. Director and editor work to get a first cut done, which is still pretty rough, just to see if the movie plays and makes sense.
3. They fine tune, taking chunks out, working on pacing, etc. After showing it to people, getting some feedback, they...
4. Put a scalpel to every scene, working hard to produce a "locked" cut, before turning it over to the composer.

However, because we don't have a lot of time to submit too many edits, and because Frank is too much of an artist to just sloppily assemble the film together, this first edit is somewhere in between 1 and 2. I'm giving him notes while he's still in New York, so over the next week and a half, he'll produce something closer to #2, and once he gets out to L.A. and we can work together, we'll work towards getting something like #4. After that we'll have a screening to get some feedback before we officially lock the picture.

The saying goes, "The movie's never as good as the dailies (the raw footage), never as bad as the first cut." That's pretty much true. Because of that, I feel very good about this film. The first cut isn't pretty, but Frank did a very good job overall, and the film obviously works. Normally there are some red flags, things that make us think we might have to reshoot or work some magic to fill in gaps, but that doesn't seem to be the case here.

It's currently 2 hours and 15 minutes long. I'd like to cut at least 20 minutes from it, and that's without cutting any scenes. There are some pacing problems in the first third of the film--we simply need to speed it up. There are a few lines throughout that we can cut just because once you see the film and see how the characters look, many times stuff in the script becomes unnecessary.

There's also a key scene that feels out of order right now--it's very important to build a good emotional progression in the story, especially when you're dealing with a main character's emotional and spiritual journey, so you can't have any key emotional beats come too soon. Again, sometimes things happen when you're shooting that can be both good and bad. For instance, let's say someone gets emotional in a scene. In the moment, it's good because it's moving and spontaneous--but when you look at it later in the context of the whole film, it feels out of place. Same thing with comedy--maybe a scene ended up playing more comedically than you intended, and now you have to make that work within the context of the film.

We have a few moments like that, especially one scene, so that'll take a little delicacy to make work.

I'm also a little unsure if the ending of the movie will have as much impact as I want, and that's obviously of VITAL importance, but I think we can make that work.

I showed the cut to the producers of the film at Pure Flix, and they had very few notes, which is a good sign.

We've got to be done by October 19th, because we're screening the film for an audience a few days after that to see how it plays before we officially lock picture and get the composer going. So four weeks to get this all done! Not a lot of time...

Published: September 4, 2009

We're co-producing this film with Pure Flix Entertainment, a company that is also a distribution company. They focus primarily on straight-to-DVD releases and on a church screening program, and they do distribution and marketing, which makes them a nice fit for us because we don't want to do that. So we know that, at the very least, Pure Flix will be doing a strong DVD release, and we're confident they'll do a great job.

That said, when "What If..." is completed, we'll show it to the big studios to see if they have any interest in buying us out. This is what has happened on all the films we've made so far. As with any independent film (a film financed and produced outside of the studio system), we made the film and then showed it to the studios. For Hometown Legend, Warner Brothers purchased distribution rights; for Midnight Clear, Lionsgate purchased them.

I had a good chat with Pure Flix today, and we're all on the same page. We think What If... has a chance to be special and to do really well, but until we actually see it, we're unsure of how exactly this will all pan out. If a studio wants to purchase rights and release it theatrically, we'll be open to that if we feel they can make it work financially; if we decide we want to release it theatrically, we can look at that option as well and raise some extra money. But either way, we know that we have a strong safety net in the Pure Flix distribution system.

Of course, it's impossible to know what chances the movie has until we see it. So right now the next step is simply for me to work on making a great film. If the film is only pretty good, then our chances for wider distribution are slim anyway. But if the film is great, and people respond very strongly to it, then our options are broadened significantly.


Published: September 2, 2009
Well, I'm finally on twitter. Sigh. It's going to be primarily geared towards the film stuff, so if you have any interest in getting more frequent updates on what we're up to or little tips and info on filmmaking, find me at I'll also be posting pics from What If... there that you won't find anywhere else.

Right now, while I wait for the editor to finish the initial assembly of the film, I'm spending time making sure that I'm primed and ready once it's time for me to go in and shape it. That means not only looking at raw footage and re-familiarizing myself with everything that I shot (so that if I don't like something Frank did, I know what the alternative is), but also continuing my work and study with other films and books. Inspiration comes from everywhere--I remember watching Traffic for the first time when I was making Hometown Legend, and it gave us a few great editing ideas for a few scenes.

As I've mentioned, my netflix queue is filled with as many great films as I can think of that I haven't seen. One right after another, trying to increase my film vocabulary and appreciation. All of the great filmmakers of all time have seen every important film ever made; I've got a long way to go, as I got off to a late start because I grew up in a pretty strict home when it came to entertainment. Plus, when I started getting into films, I didn't work as hard as I should have to see the classics.

Today I'll be watching The Manchurian Candidate for the first time, and later this week I'll see The Third Man. I also continue to do a lot of reading; I've discovered that my style and tastes are similar to Frank Capra's (although I'm nowhere in his league, of course), so I'm reading a few books on him. It's important to not only watch the films of your favorite filmmakers, but to find out what they were thinking and why.

I've also created a "What If..." folder on my itunes so that I can listen to the songs that most stir me up for the emotion or story of the film. Because this film is a romantic comedy with a lot of heart, I'm listening to songs that are more sweeping and uplifting and emotional (Snow Patrol has two songs on the list, as does Coldplay--also loving Avril Lavigne's "Keep Holding On" and Taylor Swift's "Change." For my next film "Riven," which is set in a death row prison and is more raw, I'll listen to rootsy/bluesy/country-ish stuff.

Besides being a director, I have to be a business man, so I'm spending a lot of time updating all our websites and keeping marketing going. It's no fun, but it's part of the marriage between art and commerce. Grief, I sound like a jackass.

Friday, August 21, 2009


There are some new pictures and updates on the "What If..." site,

Good movie streak...
Published: August 18, 2009
Right now I'm on a streak where I believe the last eight movies I've seen in the theater have been very good. I recommend all of these films for various reasons:

Up, The Hangover, The Proposal, Away We Go, Funny People, 500 Days of Summer, The Hurt Locker, District 9

I think Funny People is very underrated--my wife and I really liked it. The Proposal was surprisingly witty and well-done. District 9 was stunning, you really have to see it to believe it. I was especially charmed by 500 Days of Summer; wonderful movie, surprisingly good message.

Now, some of you might be offended or turned off by some of these films, so please check the ratings or the details of what's in the films before you see them.

Editing has begun
Published: August 11, 2009
It's been a few weeks since I've blogged about the film. I hope you took a look at the videos on

Since shooting, most of what's gone on has been purely technical. Transferring footage, getting paperwork wrapped up, etc.. I was finally able to watch the footage in raw form, although some of it didn't have sound yet. I have to say, looking at footage has made me more optimistic than I've ever been on a film. Everything looks how I hoped it would, and the performances are just as good as I thought. This has a chance to be really good; hopefully, I won't screw it up!

Frank Reynolds is the editor on this; he came on board Midnight Clear halfway through and did a great job for me. He's out in New York doing the assembly, which is the very first edit of the film. He basically takes all the footage and comes up with a longer version of the film; he tries to make it good, but his primary focus is to simply put the story down and let us see how it all works. The larger adjustments come next, and then the finetuning commences. He'll come out to L.A. for the finetuning. The whole process will take about a month and a half or two months, and then we work on music and finalizing the sound.

Frank has forgotten more about film than I've ever learned, so it's good to have someone who can look at the film from a different perspective and see what he comes up with. As a director, it's important to not be married too strongly to any one thing. A lot of times you fall in love with a moment or a scene because you know how hard it was to get it; but the audience doesn't know or care about any of that, and neither does the editor, so it's important to grasp what he sees.

For the next few weeks, I'll just be catching up on business stuff, watching a few scenes as he puts them together and sends them to me online, watching lots of movies to keep my brain active and creative, reading books on filmmaking for the same reason (right now I'm reading "The Director's Idea," which is great), and preparing to be out of commission again once Frank gets out here.

More to come...

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Video Blog...

Check out for daily video blogs from the set of "What If..."

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Things heating up...

30 hours until we start shooting, and so much is happening so fast. Bad news is that we lost one of my favorite locations, but some of the good news is that all of our locations are still great. We did a tech scout today, which is when the heads of each crew department visit all the locations to make sure all the practical needs can be met, and everyone agreed the locations looked and felt great.

I've got an interesting bet going with a few people on the production team. I'm betting that I can keep our "2nd meals" at 3 or fewer for the 15 day shoot. What's a 2nd meal, you may be asking? Every day is supposed to go 12 hours. By law we have to feed people "lunch" at the six hour mark, and if we go longer than 12 hours, we have to feed them at the 12 hour mark. That 12 hour mark meal is called "2nd meal." If you give it, it means you've gone into overtime, which no one likes.

I believe I can keep the production from doing more than 3 second meals in our 15 days, even though our schedule is tight. I'm betting $100 with a few people who believe I'll do more than 3.

Kevin Sorbo and Kristy Swanson got in tonight, and the three of us went out to dinner. It was great. Both of them are really sweet and cool, and it's obvious we're going to have a good and productive time together. When you're going to be in the trenches with people for three weeks, you typically want to like them, and we've got that covered here. Kevin and I are buddies anyway, but tonight was the first time I've met Kristy in person, and she was terrific.

Tomorrow we do some wardrobe fittings to make sure they like their clothes, and I'm meeting with my cinematographer Todd Barron to prepare a shot list for the first week. A shot list is when you literally plan out all the shots you plan to make for each scene, type it up, and give it to the production staff so they can have a decent handle on how long things will take.

More to come...

Cast filling up...
Published: June 23, 2009
Today was my best day of pre-production. Great news all day.

Kristy Swanson is officially booked as Wendy, our lead female character. We're getting quite a cast. Kevin Sorbo plays Ben, the hot-shot investment banker who gets a glimpse of what his life would have looked like had he followed his calling to be a pastor and stay with the right girl. Kristy Swanson plays Wendy, the right girl. John Ratzenberger plays Mike, the angel who gives Ben the glimpse and acts as a guide through the process. And Debby Ryan, big up and coming Disney star from "Suite Life On Deck," plays Kimberly, the older daughter in Ben's "alternate life."

Had a little scare with Disney, as they wanted to make sure it wasn't a "right-wing fundamentalist" movie before they released Debby, but they read the script and were fine. Hearing that news this morning got the day started right.

We're also finding some awesome locations. The opening and closing scenes of the film take place in a bus station, and we're going to turn a huge warehouse into a de facto bus station, which will look very cool. Most times the locations you find force you to compromise in some way, but occasionally you get the cool experience of finding locations that open the movie up even more and give you better opportunities than you thought you'd have.

One week from shooting...
Published: June 21, 2009
Woke up this morning to the news that we've cast our Wendy! The great thing is we got someone who will bring a little name value to the project and has a ton of experience. We'll make an official announcement about all our cast as soon as they're all official.

It all happened very fast, which was cool. Got her the script a few days ago, she said "I'm in" last night while I was sleeping.

Auditioned a girl today for the part of the 6 year old. Sometimes it's good to cast locally (saves money and is easier), sometimes it's better to find someone from L.A. who has more experience and fly them in. The girl today doesn't have much experience, but she's absolutely adorable and could be great. We'll make a decision there in a couple days. I should have the whole film cast within the next 3 to 4 days.

The locations are all coming together; spent some time today with the production designer and art director going through the house where we're shooting all the family scenes. We had to make sure that every scene could be shot there without any problems. For instance, there always has to be enough room for lights, the camera, and all the actors, obviously. So you're not only looking for rooms that have depth, but you're looking for places where you can place the camera that will take up as little room as possible, even if that means the camera being outside the room (shooting through a doorway or window).

Whenever you don't have depth in the film, or enough distance from the camera to the subject, the film always ends up looking cheap.

One thing cool about the house is that it's owned by a couple that LOVES my Dad's books, and they share the values of the film, so they're letting us pretty much do whatever we want. We've already chopped down three huge evergreens in their front lawn, and we're choosing colors with which to paint their interior walls. Most of their walls are white, which never looks very good on film. I'm trying to depict the home life as warm and inviting, so we're looking for light, warm colors. Light browns, greens, oranges, etc.

Gonna make a few more tweaks to the script based on locations we're finding, and then next week is going to be crazy as the crew and cast start showing up.

Still don't have a Wendy...
Published: June 17, 2009
Man, this is frustrating...we're trying to cast our lead actress but have been failing for over a month. Every time we've got someone, something gets in the way, whether it's schedule or money or some other silly reason. We're less than two weeks from shooting and we don't have a lead girl!

Last night I saw an online audition from a girl in Chicago who was fantastic. I'm driving 3 hours to meet her today, so we'll see if that works out.

In Michigan...
Published: June 16, 2009
I'm in Michigan now, and we start shooting in less than two weeks. Wow. Everything's going quite well, actually. The producers we're working with at Pure Flix Entertainment are terrific; totally on top of everything. Yesterday we drove around looking at and choosing locations. When choosing locations, it's all about the balance between art and commerce. One location looks perfect but has bad sound issues, or lack of parking, or will be too expensive. Another location doesn't look perfect but has all the perks we need. Another important aspect is that you want the locations to be as close to each other as possible. Every time you have to move all the trucks and cast/crew, it takes time and costs money.

We're completing our casting right now. Kevin Sorbo is the lead, John Ratzenberger is Mike the Angel, Debby Ryan (upcoming Disney star) is one of the daughters, and we're about to close a deal on our lead female. Most of the rest of the cast is coming out of Michigan and Chicago, so I'm spending half the day today looking at online auditions for "day player" roles (roles where the person works for one day). Local casting is always an adventure. Sometimes you find diamonds, sometimes you get people like from the opening weeks of American Idol.

I'm going to be video blogging every day from the set, so stay tuned for more regular updates...

Shooting one month away...
Published: June 1, 2009
Right now we're holding auditions for the female lead and are down to a few options. I'm doing callbacks tomorrow; we've seen about 15 women, gotten them on tape, watched the tape a few times, and are seeing a few tomorrow who will read a different scene. This is such an important process--80% of directing is casting properly, so we have to get it right. Never ever ever settle for someone less than your best available option, even for a small role, because a bad performance can kill a film.

We're closing deals on two of our key parts (announcement coming), which is great. With one of the parts, we're getting a great performer, but we had to expand the role a bit to get this person involved. Some star actors are willing to take less money to do a role, but it needs to be worth it for them, which makes sense. We added a few scenes and moments within the context of the film because of the value this person brings to the film, and it looks like it's going to work out. We're very excited.

We start filming on June 29th, and we still haven't really nailed down all our locations, so we've got a ton to do. Scheduling and locations are the hardest parts of a low budget films. You have to schedule so that you can work around the schedules of your actors, but you also have to make sure you're being smart about WHERE you shoot. It's a juggling act. As the director, I've got to constantly make adjustments, because sometimes the Assistant Director (who does the scheduling) or the line producer (who pays the bills) will say, "You can't have this location because it's too expensive," or "We need to make this scene take place outside because we won't have time to go inside," or "Can we lose this character in this scene because we can't afford him on this day?"

I could be a selfish artiste and get riled up, or I could make some compromises and do what I can to work within the limitations I'm given. I choose the latter, because I need to get my film made on time and on budget.

I'm spending some of my time fine-tuning the script, some time working through the schedule, some time auditioning the actors, some time choosing locations, some time talking to the production designers and cinematographer about the look of the film. I'm leaving for Michigan in a couple weeks, where I'll have a little over two weeks to get ready to shoot. It's going to be a whirlwind.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Final script changes...

We're wrapping up the contract stuff and have already begun sending the script to cast potentials. We've chosen an editor, cinematographer, and a composer, so we're on the fast track. Right now the biggest decision is location. We've been planning on shooting in L.A. all along, but Michigan has become a possibility.

Michigan has this program where if you shoot a film there, you get a 42% tax rebate. Basically, 42% of your budget comes back to you in cash; they do this because they're trying to entice filmmakers to spend money in their state and increase tourism and interest. So we're flying out to Michigan in the next few days to check it out and see if we can make a good low budget movie there.

I'm also doing some work on the script; the script works well now, but I want to make some changes that will make it even more enticing to our core audience, as well as make sure the movie doesn't feel too much like other movies in this vein. The story is about a man who gets a "glimpse" into what his life would look like if he had made a different choice--a la 17 Again, 13 Going on 30, Family Man, It's a Wonderful Life, etc.. We want to honor the genre but also make sure there are unique twists, so I'm working on that now.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Big Hollywood Article

I just wrote an article for the growing and popular website "Big Hollywood," entitled "Why Are Christian Movies So Bad?" You can read it here. It's already gotten over 200 comments, so join the party.
Solved the ending to my film...
Published: April 16, 2009
The key to an audience-pleasing movie is a great, uplifting ending. On this film, I've been focused on being more audience-friendly than I have been in the past, so we had an ending that was ultra-happy and whatnot. Unfortunately, it didn't really make a lot of sense, so I've had something in the back of my head bugging me about it. Fortunately, a great conversation with a filmmaker friend of mine birthed an idea that is both uplifting and realistic, so I'm excited.

It's so important to surround yourself with people who will challenge you, who will say "no" as often as "yes." Encouragement is great, but if one really wants to improve, having a group of friends who will tell you what's wrong and needs improvement in your projects is essential.

On another note, well-known author Angela Hunt just wrote a really nice note on her blog about Midnight Clear:

The other night I had some time to kill, so I opened my Netflix queue to see if there were any "instant" movies I could watch online. I discovered "Midnight Clear," and I knew it was based on a book by my pal Jerry Jenkins, so I settled back to watch it.

An hour and forty minutes later, I was bawling like a baby. The story concerns at least five characters whose lives intertwine, even momentarily, on Christmas Eve. To its credit, there are no miraculous conversions, angelic visitations, or heavy sermons . . . instead we see one Christian man doing what's right because it's right, and then we see how his actions multiply and bless the lives of other people in need of a loving touch.

This is a lovely film, produced and directed by Dallas Jenkins, Jerry's son. Stephen Baldwin stars, and does an excellent job. Excellent production values, too.

So look for this movie wherever you buy or rent DVDs. It's available at, too. I think you'll like it a lot. Uplifting . . . and you don't have to wait until the Christmas season to enjoy it.


Getting closer? Maybe?
Published: April 14, 2009
Last month I said I hoped we could get done within a week. I'm saying the same thing now. We finally were able to get in a room and discuss the contract stuff face to face, and it was a great meeting. As I said before, I'm always going to go this route--get in a room, address every question/concern until you're done. Now we're at the legalize stage, and hopefully that won't take too long.

Nothing's ever as simple as "We like each other, we want to work together, we agree on the basic terms." Someday, perhaps a miracle will happen and it'll be that simple.

I continue to try to watch 3-5 movies a week, which is something I think every person in film should do. Sounds obvious, but it's amazing how much of a difference it makes in your understanding of cinema and film language. It makes me a better filmmaker. Last week I saw Tootsie (2nd time), Terms of Endearment, and Some Like It Hot. I really think Terms of Endearment is overrated, Some Like It Hot is terrific, and I think that Tootsie might be one of the best films ever made. Truly amazing.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Tweaking script, finalizing contract

It never ceases to amaze me how long everything takes when making a film. I simply refuse to never give a timeline again, it's always wrong. We verbally agreed with Pure Flix to make some films back in September, and now it's March, and we're just finishing up all the contract stuff. It's no one's fault in particular, but lawyers always go back and forth and can never get their schedules together, the producers get interrupted by other projects, holidays come in, etc.. It's remarkable.

Our screenwriters for the project we're about to do, title still in the air, are Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman. They're terrific to work with and delivered a great draft. In the past month or so, I've been tweaking it to fit my specific vision and personality. At this stage, I usually work with a friend of mine from college, Wes Halula (he wrote Midnight Clear), who's exceptional with dialogue whenever I tell him, "I want to say this in this scene, help me." The key is always to maintain the overall vision that you agreed on with the original writers, and to protect their work, because usually there are good reasons why choices were made. But at the same time, it's ultimately the director's job to incorporate all the elements (writing, acting, photography, editing, music, etc.) into a coherent theme that fits their specific vision, and that always involves some tweaking.

Most of it's dialogue tweaks, but sometimes it might be a scene or a character choice that the writers feel strongly about but the director doesn't. It's always important for the director to believe passionately in every line and scene, so if he or she wants the writers to change something, and the writers don't agree or can't see it, then the director needs to go ahead and make the adjustment. A director should never ask a writer or actor to do something that the director can't articulate well himself.

But at long last, I feel strongly about the script, including all the minor stuff. The timing is right because we're finally at a point in our contract discussions with Pure Flix where all the major stuff seems to have been worked out, and we have clarity with each other. We'll be meeting with them this week to finalize it all, and hopefully we should have everything signed within a week. In the future, whenever we're working with another group, we're going to have everyone get together, including the lawyers, to talk about the general issues. Then I'm going to demand that the lawyers spend an afternoon together hashing everything out, and then if there's anything remaining, we're all getting together again to finalize it.

This script has been fun to work on. This time around, we're going straight for a particular market, and it's actually somewhat freeing. I've always maintained that I was making films that were for everyone, which often ended with me making a film that was tough to market to any one group. Someday, I'll hopefully get back to the place where I can make any film I want without having to be obsessed with marketing, but I don't have the clout for that yet. For now, we're making a film for the Christian market, we're making no apologies for it, and now that we've fit within the parameters of that kind of film, my sole focus now is on simply making the best film I can. And realizing that you have a specific market in mind makes a lot of your decisions easier.

Hopefully we'll wrap this all up this week, and we can get into the fun part, and I'll be doing several blogs a week.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Some older blogs taking us to the present

Below are some blogs I'd written that had gotten deleted...these give a decent rundown of how we got to the place we're at now, which I'll update tomorrow.


I'm starting to wonder if Mountain is ready to be made. Maybe I've just been pushing a square peg into a round hole, I don't know. I love this project, I think it can be great, but if it can't be made the way I want to make it, then perhaps I need to do something else.

I've always said that I want to make movies that are mainstream and treated like normal films but that also come from my worldview and perspective of faith. Not traditional "Christian" films. But right now the market doesn't seem to have room for that. Even the studios want to package and label something that they can sell to the hardcore evangelical community. They don't know how to find and market to people like me. And it's making me wonder if I just need to embrace the beast and be part of it for awhile. If I can still make decent movies that I can care about, maybe I should go ahead and "go Christian" and make a little money for awhile before I try getting nuanced or artsy. I don't know.

What I do know is that Hollywood is a business, and the people who succeed are those who find a hole and fill it. Our company has something to offer Hollywood that they want, but we've been holding it back in favor of doing something different. Was that the wrong move? Am I gambling instead of playing it smart?

Maybe I can change the way Hollywood and audiences look at faith-based films. Maybe I can make them better; satisfying the core audience but creating something of artistic value that slowly buy surely raises the bar. Is that selling out? Maybe not. As a good friend of mine said, "It's not selling out as long as you tell the truth."

Either way, I'm working through it, and we should know more about what we're doing next in the next few weeks. And if it's not Mountain, I may have to deal with that.

Well, it looks like my passion project "Mountain" isn't going to happen. The project has simply taken too long, and a good chunk of our funding was withdrawn.

I'd normally be pretty depressed about this, but in a way, I'm feeling pretty settled. This project is obviously not meant to be right now. I've fought it for years, and perhaps this is for the best; perhaps this is protecting me from a mistake, I don't know.

So what's next? I'm thinking I may have to embrace the beast and try to hit a few singles and doubles instead of trying for a home run. The Hollywood industry is telling me they want stronger, faith-based product, stuff they can really market and sell more easily. So far, I've been doing stuff that's more nuanced and difficult, and it hasn't worked. I've got to accept that. I've got to make my investors some money, and there seems to be better ways of doing that than what I've done so far. So I'm ready and willing to do a few lower budget, more "faith-based" films than what I've been doing.

Is that selling out? I don't think so. I still plan to make good movies, and I certainly plan to vastly improve the quality of movies that have come from the Christian market. And I'm never going to lie in my films, telling stories that don't reflect reality. But part of being a filmmaker is making smart business decisions, and so far, I haven't earned the right to take big risks and try to change the market. If I can make a few movies that make some money and earn us some status and trust in the industry, then perhaps I can push the envelope a little more. I'm in this for the long haul, so I guess I'm going to have to pull back, start again, and this time start small and build up.

Was this my original intent when I got in the business? Not really. But that doesn't necessarily make it wrong. I'm on a journey, and this is part of it. Hopefully, I'll be able to follow God's plan for my life, whatever that may be. I'm not very good at hearing God's explicit voice, so I often have to rely on open and closed doors. The "Mountain" door seems pretty clearly to be closed.

As I mentioned, "Mountain" is in a coma for awhile, and we're moving on to something else. I would be sad about it, but it's been obvious in the last few weeks that we're doing the right thing.

Right now independent movies are becoming increasingly squeezed out of the marketplace. They simply don't have the marketing dollars to compete with the big studio releases, and many of these films, even the good ones, are going straight to DVD and not making much money. Additionally, the studios that have shown interest in "faith-based" product, which is one of the unique things we can provide, are only interested in or able to go after one segment of the faith market, and that's the hardcore evangelical crowd that typically is interested in one kind of film.

Because of all these factors, I don't think "Mountain" would have had a chance to be very successful, at least at this point in time. So we've decided to partner with Pureflix Entertainment to do a couple of smaller, faith-based films, and really work within the system that's currently in place. My long-term goal is to do some films that can really resonate on a larger scale and to a wider audience, and perhaps some of these early films can do that. But our primary, short-term goal is to simply make some good movies that have a strong message that can make a little money through the channels that Pureflix has been setting up.

If we can make some money and get a little attention, perhaps we can build on it and take a few more risks. But we're going to go one small step at a time.

The cool thing is, we've got a project that's currently in development that we're pretty excited about. Pureflix introduced me to a writing duo that is fantastic, two guys who had the exact same urge I had to go in this direction. Our primary objective is to make higher quality films than what the Christian market has provided thus far, and these guys can help us get there. If the films get better, hopefully the market will grow and mature, and we can really start to compete with what's out there in the mainstream. And ultimately, we'd love to be a valid and legitimate part of the mainstream. Anyway, these guys are going to take the next month or so to rewrite an already good script, and we plan to be in pre-production by early 2009.

The current plan is to start shooting in the spring, and while we're making this first film, we'll be getting another one written. Then, while we're marketing this first film, we'll make the second one. And so on.

I'll have more details for you when we make the deal official, and once we start pre-production, I'll be blogging daily like I was going to do with Mountain. And when shooting begins, we'll be doing video blogs from the set. It'll be very cool and give you a chance to see a film get made step by step, with behind the scenes looks at the cast and crew and all the details that go into getting a film done.

Stay tuned!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Update, plus a nice note from Midnight Clear viewer

In the next couple of days, I should be getting the revised screenplay for my next film from the screenwriters. I'm doing a film currently entitled The Call, and it's basically a faith-based take on films like Family Man, It's a Wonderful Life, etc., films where the protagonist is allowed a glimpse of an alternate life. We're hoping to shoot sometime in March, depending on how the script continues to develop. I'll keep you updated, of course, and once we start pre-production, I'll be doing a weekly blog, and once we start shooting, I'll be doing a daily video blog.

We've also decided that Riven, the book my Dad wrote that came out last year (and for my money, is his best book), is going to be the second film in the Jenkins/Pureflix partnership. We will be talking to screenwriters in the next couple of weeks and hope to be in production by the end of the year. I'm actually going to send a letter to Joe Eszterhas, the famous screenwriter of Basic Instinct, Flashdance, Music Box, and Jagged Edge, among others, who recently became a Christian. I know it's a long shot, but I think he'd be interested in some of the films we're doing. His books are incredible (any aspiring filmmaker should read The Devil's Guide to Hollywood), including his recent one, Crossbearer, which is about his conversion. Maybe Riven will strike a chord, or perhaps Youngest Hero, which is about baseball, one of his great loves. We'll see.

I recently allowed a church in Florida to show Midnight Clear at their monthly "dinner and a movie" night. They have a ministry to the homeless and thought that my film could speak to some of those who struggle around Christmas. I just received the following note from the organizer, which meant a lot:

Thank you so much for blessing our socks off with letting us play your movie. Remember me I go to the little church on the west coast of FL that works with and helps the homeless. We had our movie night in December, I myself was a little disappointed with our numbers that night, we didn't have as many people as usual, but God still worked in amazing ways. Most of them we won't know until we reach Heaven. I did find out today, as I was talking with of our homeless guys after church today, that your movie "Midnight Clear" made a huge impact with at least one person this Christmas. Tommy has been missing for awhile from our church and wasn't at church for the Christmas Eve service (as he had promised he would be). He told me tonight, that he was laying in the woods (his "home") singing Christmas carols to himself. It was one of the loneliest Christmas' he ever had, he plans on next Christmas already will be different. He also mentioned that thinking about the movie "Midnight Clear" helped him get through it (he didn't even know I organize it). He kept thinking about different scenes in the movie and how it related to him. THANK YOU SO MUCH. I know you will never know on this side of Heaven what kind of an impact you made. It helps the guys to know that they are not throw away people that they too can still make an impact in someones life. Keep up the good work and God Bless!