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Christians Making an Impact in Hollywood, Part Two

Hometown Legend Out on DVD/VHS

Order your copy of Jerry Jenkin's companion novel, Hometown Legend

Check out Jenkins Entertainment Online

More from Craig von Buseck on CBN.com

 
ENTERTAINMENT

Christians Making an Impact in Hollywood, Part One

By Craig von Buseck
CBN.com Producer

CBN.com - The new film, Hometown Legend, from Jenkins Entertainment opens in theaters in Louisville, Nashville, St. Paul/Minneapolis, and Colorado Springs on Friday, April 19th. Jenkins Entertainment has signed a distribution deal with Warner Brothers, and they will release the movie to video/DVD in August, 2002.

The movie has received positive reviews from prominent critics like Michael Medved (calling it "entertaining and uplifting in the tradition of 'Remember the Titans' and 'Hoosiers'"), and Holly McClure ("a great family film!"). It has also been endorsed by the president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Dal Shealy, who said the movie "touched his heart."

CBN.com Producer, Craig von Buseck, recently sat down Dallas Jenkins, the producer of the film, James Anderson, the director, and Jars of Clay's Dan Haseltine, who composed the movie's sound track. They talked about the making of this movie -- and the impact that Christians are having in Hollywood today.

Craig von Buseck: Tell me how you all came together on this project.

James Anderson (Director): Dallas and I would talk on the phone and we just began to realize that we had a very similar vision of the things we wanted to do. We were interested in doing things that would positively affect the mainstream market for the cause of Christ. Specifically, how can we make movies that change the way Christianity is represented, and the way that certain things that Christianity upholds as core beliefs, such as marriage, and family, and love, and those kinds of things? And we started to realize that we have a very similar vision.

We got together for lunch and he was telling me about this little movie project that he had, and I just fell in love with it. We ended up forming an informal partnership. I'd call him and I'd say, "I was thinking about that one scene in there, and I don't know who's going to direct your movie, but you should think about doing something like this." That's how we ended up being partners. And Dallas knew Dan.

Dallas Jenkins (Producer): I figured that since I had never produced a movie before it would probably be best to find a director who had never directed before (laughs), and a composer who had never composed a movie before. If I surrounded myself with too much experience then they would tell me what to do, so I thought that if I could surround myself with people who were just as inexperienced as I was, then I could still be the dictator.

Dan Haseltine (Composer): Dallas has always had a problem with authority (laughs).

Dallas Jenkins: This is a way to control my minions (laughs).

Craig von Buseck: So ignorance is bliss?

Dallas Jenkins: For a little while (laughs).

Early on, Dan was actually one of the first extras that we added to the project. James was also a big Jars of Clay fan, like I was, so that excited us. And then we were able to shoot a music video with Jars on the set of the film. And all three of us have a very similar goal -- Dan with his music, and us with the movie -- it is very similar in trying to do stuff that the mainstream market will also appreciate. Regardless of whether we had a lot of experience we had very similar passions that allowed us to work harder.

James Anderson: I think that passion sometimes carries a lot of weight in ignorance. So we were very passionate and ignorant, and we just kind of charged forward. We did some great things, and we did some dumb things.

Craig von Buseck: When did this all start?

Dallas Jenkins: About two years ago, my father, Jerry Jenkins, and I started this company. I received a script through a friend, and they were looking for financing. So we decided to provide the financing, and this would be our first big picture. There were two writers, and we got the script from them. The next step was bringing James on, and then we actually moved very quickly for an independent film. We were able to shoot within seven months. We finished the film in March of 2001.

Craig von Buseck: How was the process of bringing on actors? Were you able to find people that clicked really well?

James Anderson: Yes and no. We have real success stories where people walked in and we knew that unless they give a really awful reading that this person has the part. With other people it was really interesting to see how things just kind of fell away, and we were left with this nugget of a person that we really loved, and it was very clear that they were meant to have the role.

When we first started casting, we were out in LA, and Dallas was in Louisville, where he was living at the time. I had everything videotaped, and I would Fed-Ex him the videotapes every night. Every night I'd call him and say, "O.K., I just got done, and the guy from Home Improvement, and Mark Hamill, Luke Skywalker, read for me today." It was really unique. This was my first time ever casting a movie.

Dallas Jenkins: The auditions were the fun part, realizing that whoever you choose is going to be in your movie and then trying to convince Dan that he couldn't play the lead (laughs).

James Anderson: We told him he had to cut his hair.

Dan Haseltine: I just wanted to be the coach, but they told me I was too young (laughs). I told them, "I can play old." I thought that if we turned it into a musical, maybe I could be a singing coach (laughs).

James Anderson: This actually was a very unique aspect of this. We targeted immediately a couple of people that are Christians who are working in the mainstream in music, or TV, or in movies, that you could open Entertainment Weekly and they're talking about their faith. Those are the kind of people that we wanted to align ourselves with. So we immediately started to put together some lists.

Dan Haseltine: In talking with Dallas, when they were going through the casting process, they were looking for people that exemplified the concept that as a Christian let your excellence be your protest. Let the work that you do be so excellent that these people can speak about their faith, because what they do carries enough credibility in their particular field as an actor or an actress. To a cynical world, or a watching world, that would try to discount what their abilities are because of their faith, these were people that you could really connect with.

Craig von Buseck: That's really an interesting concept. In casting this, did you go for the person who was best for the part, or the Christian who was best for the part?

James Anderson: Dallas always said, "We're going to find the best actors in all of Los Angeles. I don't care if they just wandered in off the street and they give the best reading of the part." The second criteria was that this needs to be someone that we feel like we can spend time with on the set -- this was going to be like a family to us.

Dallas Jenkins: One cool part about this project was that our actors and crew members were introduced to Jars of Clay, and to Dan's music, and were able to say, "This music is so great. What else can I get from them?" And we'd give them their CDs, and they would see our faith, and we would pray in front of them. They saw through our example what Christianity was about. If that's the only influence we have through this movie, that's enough -- that the family that we developed on the set was able to see Christlike behavior. To us, that's just as important as the audience that sees the film.

James Anderson: I specifically felt like that was going to be my mission field. Creatively, there shouldn't be any difference between Dallas and I, and any producer or director in Hollywood. It was how we handled the ups and downs, the highs and lows, that was going to really set us apart and make a distinction. That's really why I felt this was a huge part of our mission field. Do they know that we love and care for them? Do we really show them that? How do we handle supreme disappointment? Making a low budget, independent film is just asking for trouble. I think heartbreak is the right word. And when they see you experience real heartbreak, all eyes turn to you. And they ask how are you going to handle it?

Craig von Buseck: Give me an example.

James Anderson: We lost roughly four days of film that was x-rayed and ruined. Low budget features just don't recover from that kind of stuff. We were able scrap things together and figure that out. But I was standing with our director of photography, who is not a Christian, who worked very closely with me and Dallas -- he was with me when I got the call saying that we had lost all these days. That's the moment where you realize you have to fly all the actors back in, and everyone looks at you and wonders how are you going to handle this.

Dallas Jenkins: It's easy to have a good example when things are going well, but those are moments where you say, are we going to stand and yell at somebody, or are we going to simply show people how to recover from problems and move on?

James Anderson: Dallas and I had several opportunities where things would happen and we would say, "We're going to kneel right down here, because this is where the problems need to be lifted up." And we would say to them, we're going to pray right now, you're more than welcome to join us. More often than not those people would kneel right down with us on the football field. We had a running joke that our Executive, Executive Producer was in the sky, and it's hard to have a better policy than that.

I think that they bought into it because these people saw that Dallas and I were real people and that we truly cared about them.

Craig von Buseck: How did you bring Dan in on the film?

Dallas Jenkins: Dan and I met about three years ago at a CBA convention, and became close friends right away. We always wanted to work together.

Dan Haseltine: Dallas sent me a script. We've had many conversations about culture. He and I are both students of culture -- watching the way it moves, and the way Christianity in many ways has ceased to have a really strong voice in the entertainment industry, at least a voice that is relevant. In college I sat around with other guys and asked, "How come Christian music doesn't sound like mainstream music? What is the missing element that is keeping it from having relevance? And from that we formed Jars of Clay.

Dallas was having a similar conversation. Why do a lot of Christian movies not look like movies? Why do they not have good acting? Why don't they have good music? What's the problem? What's missing? I was really excited about that, because it was a question that needed to be asked. Especially in this time when Christian film is getting more of a name. It's getting more of a reputation. It would be nice to see that that reputation was based on excellence, and not on mediocrity. And I think the trend was mediocrity.

Dallas' asking me to be a part of this project was exciting, because I felt like what we were doing was making a movie that was relevant. It was a movie based on a really great story, with really good actors. It had the potential to be the benchmark for films done by Christians. Dallas' approach to not making movies that were specifically for a Christian marketplace was exciting as well.

For all those reasons, knowing that they had a perspective that was beyond just the four walls of the church, and beyond just living up to expectations of Christians, but really living up to expectations of critics and the mainstream world, if you will, I think that's exciting, and that really shows a good direction for filmmaking.

Related articles:

Christians Making an Impact in Hollywood, Part Two

More from Craig von Buseck on CBN.com

Hometown Legend Out on DVD/VHS

Order your copy of Jerry Jenkin's companion novel, Hometown Legend

Check out Jenkins Entertainment Online

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