Sunday, May 24, 2015

My Personal and Company Creed in the Film Arts

I have been in the film industry in some shape or form since I was about 10 years old. My father, a local Southern Baptist pastor, was supportive of the talent that seemed to come to me at a very early age.  My first experience working with professional actors was in the play South Pacific, produced by the Community Theater in Vallejo, California. I played the Filipino boy, Jerome. That play included the actor Bill Granger, who had recently starred in the Disney movie Inky The Crow. My parents would drop me off at rehearsal and the performances. When the play closed, my parents let me ride to the cast party with one of the cast members. At the cast party, held at one of the cast member's house, there was drinking and dancing. For years I wondered about the thought process of my parents in allowing me to attend, at such an early age, what they might deem a worldly event. Perhaps my parents knew that even a 10-year-old boy must learn that we are called to "Be in the world, but not of it". A defining moment happened to me during that event. As I looked around at these people, I had one thought- I loved them and I knew that God loved them. I was in their world, but I knew, that I was not of that world. That solidifying moment would guide me through many similar events, in plays, films sets and cast parties, both in high school, college and professionally. At times, I stood out like a sore thumb. with the more worldly types. They knew I had an uncompromising, moral Christan center. However, I had influence because the words of Christ were written on my soul, "For I did not come into the word to condemn the world, for the world was already condemned."  My heart was to love as Christ loved so that I might win a few.

I remember one encounter with a fellow actor who was living in a homosexual relationship. We were chatting as were were in the make-up room. I was civilly sharing with him my spiritual view of such a lifestyle, when I realized that he had often been subject to condemnation and unloving confrontations by Christians- ignorant dogmatists who failed to love as Christ loved. I was able to put my arms around the man and tell him, "I don't know if I have the right to do this, but please let me tell you...I am so sorry and I apologize for how others have treated you. I love you." Did he see Christ in this? I can only hope.

Christ was questioned, for hanging with the wrong crowd.

"And Levi made him a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them. But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners? And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."

Through the years there have been many voices from well-meaning and some not-so-well-meaning critics of Christians who are involved the film and acting industries. It took me many years to define the moral parameters of Christians in the arts- my moral parameters. I was influenced by the book, Addicted to Mediocrity-20th Century Christians and the Arts, by Franky Schaeffer, an Orthodox filmmaker and the son of theologian Francis Shaeffer. The most important thing I gleaned from his writings was the definition as to what art a Christian filmmaker/actor should or should not be attached. I formed this concise mantra: 

"If it makes something holy appear as unholy, 
or makes something unholy appear as holy, then avoid it all costs."

What some critics do not accept is the idea that just because an actor, writer, producer, acts, writes, or produces a project where there are ungodly characters, it does not mean they are endorsing ungodly conduct. Does a painter paint only scenes of churches and domes? No. Christian actors, writers, and producers also have liberty to portray humanity in all of its colors, good and bad, righteous and evil. I have written and directed a film about child abduction and slavery. Is depicting such evil inherently evil in itself?  No. Shaeffer proposes that it is arbitrary and intellectual paralyzing to suggest that art should be divided between the spiritual and secular world. He proposes that there is but one world and Christian artists are called to be in that world. To abdicate that role is to allow only godless people to create. He also suggests that creativity such as films do not have to serve some utilitarian purpose. Just the very act of creation is a reflection of the Creator and He is pleased.

Thus, I have played the role of a Native American who rebelled against the encroaching white man. I have played the role of a young man who fights Count Dracula. I have played the role of young rebellious teen who goes to a bar and reads books that are considered  risque. I have played the role of a Baptist Preacher who conducts a funeral. I have played the role of a hick womanizer who goes to get a reading from a Psychic. I have played the role of a redneck father who abandoned his son and is redeemed to his son only after his death. I have played the role of a loving father who has a heart attack. I have played the role of  a satirical character in a Star Wars spoof. I have played the role of an ex-sheriff terrified by the demonic evil that has entered a town and shoots himself. This month I will play the role of a mountain man trying to survive in an apocalyptic age. I have not played some roles offered to me---why?--because they did not meet the criteria as stated above. Some of the characters I played were ugly, godless, foul mouthed. I am not an evil man, but I may play one on T.V.. Actors must field the offers that come their way. This week I auditioned for the role of  Hippie Bus Driver in a Robert De Nero film. Hippies smoke dope and cuss. I don't, but the character does. Some critics do not understand the craft of acting. "How dare a Christian cuss!" They are not able to distinguish the difference between a matter of the heart and the craft of acting. Should a painter paint only churches? Should and actor play only Christian characters? If so, then who would play Judas Iscariot, the Roman soldiers, a harlot?

I wrote a poem and produced this animated recitation of it. It is for the ignorant, condemning critics of Christians in the film industry. The last statement is somewhat abrasive and is intentionally directed at Orthodox Christians who callously cast dispersion from their ivory temples. They send up prayers as incense to the Lord while discouraging Christians artists who are called to a unique mission field. They should be praying for the Christian artist!

I am grateful that my Bishop knows my heart, discerns between the heart and the craft and blesses me in this career. He knows that the opportunities I have to rub elbows with people of all cultures and spiritual states, allows me to do as Christ did- to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. So does my Christian Talent Agent, who knows there are roles I will not play and projects in which I will not participate. By the way, it is only "Christian Critics" who have a problem with Christian actors. It seems that a Christian actor's witness is only ruined on their behalf. The lost, the ones Christ sent us to reach, respect the craft and respect even more a Christian with principles and love in their hearts.

On the producing side: I do not produce Christian films. I produce films. Rocky Top Pictures is not a Christian film company. It is a film company owned by an Orthodox Christian. Through this company, I am producing a film about an autistic white boy and his friendship with a black boy from the other side of the tracks. I am producing a period piece about a gunslinger who leaves his wife and hides out in the mountains for 20 years finding salvation with the help of an itinerant preacher. I am producing a film about the life of Saint Moses the Black. I am producing a pro-life film exposing the true nature of the abortion industry. I have just co-written a T.V. pilot in which the main family is Orthodox. It may be the first exposure to Orthodoxy for millions who see it. But critics would say "stop!"  Thank God I am not the only Orthodox Christian in the industry who ignores such critics.

We will not stop! We will go as Christ commands. Pray for us as we do.

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