How did you get started in movies?

I started making movies in junior high and high school and then I was fortunate enough to go to UCLA film school. When I graduated, I started working for an independent producer/director as a screenwriter. I think I was 22 years old when my first screenplay was made into a movie.

How do you go about choosing your projects?

Well, they kind of choose me. In other words, of all the projects in the world, only a certain number get filtered through to me. I don’t know how you would characterize that, but if a project gets to me, I usually take a look at it. If it has an offer to direct, it goes to the top of the stack. If it’s financed already, it goes to the very top of the stack. I look at it and see if it’s something that I’m the right person for. Just a few months ago there was a film that came to me with an offer to direct that I just didn’t feel was right for me, so I turned it down.

I always look at the story and if the story has got all of the elements that I respond to, usually redemption, somebody seeking redemption, something that is authentically written, then I really respond to it.

Can you tell me a bit about your own spiritual journey?

There was a great awakening in America during the early 70s called the Jesus movement. Jesus Freaks were running around converting everyone. I was in high school and had a girlfriend who I knew really well. She went off to Colorado to go skiing and when she got back, she was a completely different person. I saw when she was walking in the door without even saying a word that she was a completely changed person. It was amazing. I had never seen that before. She told me what had happened to her and I fought it for a while (maybe a week) on my own, just between me and God. Finally, God convinced me that this was the way, the truth, and the life. So I surrendered my life.

There’s been a lot of talk about “The Passion Effect” as Hollywood tries to go after the “Christian audience.” Do you see yourself mostly making films targeting the Christian market?

That’s almost a two part question. The Passion Effect … I look at it as one man who had a vision and a passion, Mel Gibson, and he made a film exactly the way he wanted to make it. He was criticized heavily before that film opened about how it was going to be everything from too violent to anti-Semitic, you name it. And he stuck to his guns and the public responded. I think what they saw was a movie made by a person, not by a committee. The effect is that a lot of studios recognize that there is an untapped audience out there.

The Ultimate Gift is not Christian per se, but enjoys a Christian worldview. It is just great entertainment. It’s about character and what does and does not really matters in life. Whether you call that a Christian film or not is up to you.

One of the experiences we had was that we were released by Fox Faith as opposed to 20th Century Fox or another studio. Which labeled the movie as a Christian movie and critics really went after it as a Christian film. At the same time, we are marketing to the Christian community because they have been clamoring for entertainment that is inspiring, non-offensive, or is sympathetic with a Christian worldview. The Ultimate Gift has all of that. In the music business it’s what you would call a crossover picture. It can please any of a number of audiences.

What’s the one thing you’d like people to take away from this movie?

The ultimate gift isn’t any specific type of dogma or religious thought. The ultimate gift is the passing on of one’s values to the next generation. The ultimate gift is what those who are wiser than we are can share with us. And it’s not about a lot of the things that today’s society would hold in high regard. Like money, fame, and all of the accompanying signs of success. It’s about what really counts.

Do you think you’re passing along the gift of story?

I like to think of myself as a director who happens to be a Christian. What appeals to me about any project that comes across my desk is that I see if it’s a story that I would want to tell. Every now and then, a story comes past me that I HAVE to tell. And that’s the difference: what can I take that I really like and am inspired by and what do I get really passionate about. Certainly The Ultimate Gift and before that, One Night with a King, all the work that I’ve done in my career so far has been stuff that I’ve felt that I was ideally suited to do.

What are you up to now?

I was in the running for a project called Joshua, sort of a “what if Jesus was to come back now” sort of story. I didn’t get that project, but then I came across a book that really nailed it for me. Eli by Bill Myers. A radical take on the synoptic gospels, kind of like Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Eli. Most sermons explain things like “a drachma was”, taking us back into the culture of the time. Eli does none of that but is about Jesus in our culture and our time. The premise is that Jesus never came back two thousand years ago, but came now for the first time.

I bought the rights to the book Eli, I talked with the author about it, and we agreed that I would write the screenplay because I have a particular vision for this book. It’s unlike a lot of books where you’d have to radically change them. The screenplay is going to be very, very in harmony with the book. The fact that Bill Myers is also a screen writer as well as an excellent story-teller probably is why my life is fairly easier on this one than it has been on other projects.

But Eli is an extremely challenging character and story. It just won’t let you off the hook. Jesus is not a milquetoast, mamby-pamby, pablum-spouting, do-gooder. He challenges you, every turn that you make, to what you hold is real and what your values are. I should have the screenplay done in the next week and, if I get the financing, will have the film ready for next year. It’s really more me. I really can’t do a film that I don’t see myself in or in some way can grab ahold of the theme and the story and take it somewhere.

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