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Craig von Buseck

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Christians Making an Impact in Hollywood, Part One

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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Christians Making an Impact in Hollywood, Part Two

By Craig von Buseck Producer -- The new film, Hometown Legend, from Jenkins Entertainment opens in theaters in Louisville, Nashville, St. Paul/Minneapolis, and Colorado Springs in April. Jenkins Entertainment has signed a distribution deal with Warner Brothers, and they will release the movie to video/DVD in August, 2002. 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: I agree that Christians should be out in the forefront making the best stuff. But many times the people who own the studios and the distribution don't want to put out a film with a Christian worldview.

Dan Haseltine: I would disagree, because the world loves redemption. The world loves forgiveness. The world has a very soft place in their heart for stories that have a happy ending.

James Anderson: I think the problem is that when people set out to make a "Christian" film, they've got to get the whole thing, lock, stock, and two smoking barrels. It doesn't happen that way anywhere else but Christianity. I think many groups have found a very solid niche in society because they don't hammer you with the full weight of things. Gay and lesbian issues have found their way into popular culture because they make them seem like they're just the guy next door. They don't hit you with the full weight of what's happening there. You see films that promote Buddhist issues, or other cultural things, and they don't hit you with the full thing. How they get you is with their lowest common denominator. Well, our lowest common denominator is widely accepted principles of love and forgiveness.

The things that Dallas and I have talked about specifically, wanting to improve the culture's view of marriage, having a whole family, how do you deal with love, how do you deal with sex -- and those kinds of issues are very different from what the world wants to be a part of. But we've actually had a very positive response from the secular media to this film because they see that it has so much heart. It's so wholesome, it makes you feel good.

Dallas Jenkins: If they feel like you're using them as a means to your own propaganda, they'll say no, because they don't do that for anybody. But if they feel like you're just making a good quality film that's O.K.

Another big point is, Hollywood isn't run by some board of directors who has a list that they allow into the gates. Hollywood is just as open a market as any other business. So one of the things that I always say to Christians who want to get into the industry is, you don't have to buzz at the gate to get in. This is an open market. Do your own. It's not like you don't have the same access to theaters, and the same access to distribution that everyone else has. A lot of it we're controlling ourselves.

Craig von Buseck: So how did you do that? How did you say, wow, this a great script -- it's got a good, positive message, but it's not so "in your face" that people are not going to get behind it who have the money? How did you take that step?

Dallas Jenkins: Well, we put up the money ourselves. We didn't ask for any favors. No on is going to necessarily make things easy for you. We got good actors, a good director, and a good composer, people who were already respected in the industry. And we made a good film, and worked hard, and people in the industry respect that.

We've had the attitude that we're not going to wait for people to do things for us. We're not going to try to always play by someone else's rules. Because we did that I think that we actually got more respect. If you want to have things done for you, you have to make a great movie. You've got to have the same standards they do, and you have to work just as hard as they do.

James Anderson: And Dallas maintained control, and by doing that he was able to insure that the integrity of the project as we first saw it. It would not be compromised by somebody saying, "This is nice, but instead of saying 'dear Lord, we need a miracle' could she just say, 'we need a miracle,' because that will play better." There's nobody saying that because Dallas and his dad kept control and then we can say whatever we want, and nobody's bothered by it. But it's those people that are the gatekeepers that are going to be saying, "You shouldn't say dear Lord."

Dallas Jenkins: I hope that eventually some more of the Christians become the gatekeepers. I hope that some Christian will run a studio, and will be willing to put up the time, and the effort, and the money. There's money there, and there are hard workers there.

Craig von Buseck: And there is obviously a market there. There are people who are looking for this kind of product on the consumer end.

Dallas Jenkins: And that is what you are doing at CBN. You're not trying to make programs so that CBS will buy them. You started your own network, and you do it high quality. You start your own web site, and you make that high quality. If you were trying to break into the doors of network television, then you are beholden to what they want, and so you're doing it yourself.

Craig von Buseck: Dan, did you write from the script, or did you wait to see the rushes and wrote the music from the rushes?

Dan Haseltine: A little of both. I actually started writing themes before I actually got the script.

Dallas Jenkins: That's because he has another job on the side (laughs).

Dan Haseltine: Yeah, I've got this other day job (laughs).

So it was a process of getting scenes from them and then writing to those, a talking to them and asking, what's the scene about, and what do you really want to get out of this? I'd ask, what kind of emotions are we trying to get out of different scenes. This is the first film that I've ever done music for, so I went out and bought a bunch of books on film scoring.

Dallas Jenkins: Composing for Dummies (laughs).

Dan Haseltine: It's amazing, because you go through all these books, and there are all these rules. And you go through and you try to find the foundation of what really needs to happen when you do a film. At the end of every book, after you've gone through all the rules and regulations, and things you should and shouldn't do, there is always the one sentence that disqualifies all of that and says, "now you know the rules, remember, it's all about feeling."

Dallas Jenkins: We have all these ideas of how the film is going to turn out, and what it's going to look like, and what the music is going to be. And then the rushes come in, and then you edit the film, and you remember it's not about basketball, it's about football, and then that changes -- and so I know that Dan's music changed through the process. There were a couple of times when he would come up with a score for a scene and it would almost teach us how the scene should play out. So it was very collaborative.

Dan Haseltine: That's the best part of the creative process, is when the project you're working on starts to take on a life, and starts showing you what it's supposed to be. It starts defining itself. That's the best part, because then Dallas doesn't have to worry being in control as much as being able to be in awe of what's going on in the project. He can say, 'wow, I can step back and realize that this thing is growing, it's taking on a life.' It's an exciting process.

Craig von Buseck: Let's talk about learning. What was the life lesson that came out of this process for you?

Dallas Jenkins: Don't get into the movie business unless you're prepared to get kicked around a bit.

Dan Haseltine: Don't do films in hot weather during the summer (laughs).

James Anderson: For me, there was a point right after Christmas in which we had pretty much edited the film down as close to what it was actually going to be. We kind of knew what it was going to be. And there was a point when you're kind of faced with what's really there. And I was really frustrated by what was there -- you know, why didn't my ideas come through, and I had that great plan, and how did I lose track of this. I was in a really deep depression about where the movie actually stood.

I kept saying to my wife, this is not going to be a successful film. She asked me at one point, "How are you going to define when it's a successful film?" Through the course of a few days I started going over what that would be -- it gets a theatrical release, or makes a lot of money, or it sets benchmarks. What if it won an Academy Award? At that point would I consider it successful? I had to say no for all of those things. However realistic or unrealistic those things would be, that would not be the benchmark of a successful film for me. I began to realize that what Dallas and I set out to do was to change the way that people make movies. When they tell us we can't, let's do it. And when they tell us we shouldn't, let's definitely do it. And when trouble happens, let's remind people that we're not alone.

Probably the best feeling I have about this film is that I know in my heart that we impacted some of the most grizzled non-Christian out there. We made a positive impact for the kingdom of Christ by exposing them to people who were real, and creative, and fun.

Dallas Jenkins: But that in turn freed us up creatively, and we were able to focus better. And we ended up with a good product. And it's important to know that he did come out of the depression!

James Anderson: Yes!

Craig von Buseck: That's why you're wearing black, right (laughs)?

Dan Haseltine: He's mourning the loss of his depression (laughs).

James Anderson: I think that a reassessment of my original goals of what the benchmark was of a successful venture here, and realizing that it was about positively impacting people for the kingdom of God.

Craig von Buseck: So how do you feel about the film now that it's being released?

James Anderson: I think we have a lot to really be proud of. I also think we have a lot left in the tank. This is not my opus; it's not Dallas' opus, or Dan's opus -- this is just the beginning.

Dallas Jenkins: But it's a good beginning. The biggest benchmark for us was the response it got from the gatekeepers in Hollywood. It was extremely positive. Ninety percent of independent films never see the light of day. I'm not exaggerating. If they get anything it shows up at 3 o'clock in the morning in some cable station. This movie is going to be in theaters, and it's going to be on video. It's a good film, and people have enjoyed it, and have been moved by it.

James Anderson: We have people from our crew and from our cast that are still desiring to be around us because they're realizing that they had something different and something special. I feel like we've already made a successful film. We've really set up something strong because we can take everything we've learned and apply it to the next one, and we should be able to fly twice as high.

Dallas Jenkins: This is a film that Christians will be able to see and be proud of, and will be able to take their friends to see. In addition it will be in Blockbusters and Wal-Mart. Christian bookstores will be able to carry it and say, this is not only a good film, but it's one that has a good message. That was important for us as well. All three of us grew in a Christian culture and were in youth groups. And your youth group pastor was always renting Christian films

Dan Haseltine: like Erik Estrada in Cross and the Switchblade (laughs).

Dallas Jenkins: Or there weren't any real Christian movies, or movies that you could watch at a youth group event. Either the mainstream movies were bad to watch

Craig von Buseck: Someone had to stand in front of the screen while you fast forward through the bad part (laughs).

Dallas Jenkins: Exactly -- this is the scene where he says a bad word, so we have to fast forward (laughs). Or it was just not a good film. So this is a film that we think is a great bridge between Christians and non-Christians. But it's very important that we also want to let people know that we're not necessarily Christians trying to come in through the back door of Hollywood. We are Hollywood. We are part of Hollywood, just like a Christian plumber is part of the plumbing industry. It's not us verses them -- we are them. But we're a positive impact there, so something good is coming out of Hollywood now.

Dan Haseltine: We're in the army, and we're recruiting a force of people who want to change the way Hollywood views a great many things. And we're doing that inside out.

Craig von Buseck: Doesn't it seem that there is somewhat of a trend in this direction overall? It seems that in the last couple of years there have been more positive message films. You look at The Prince of Egypt, and how that signaled a shift.

Dallas Jenkins: The difference between now and ten years ago is a seismic shift. There are both Christian companies doing more films, and there are more studios doing positive-oriented films because they're finding out that there's an audience. We're not there yet, it's moving slowly, but we're getting there.

If we have delivered a movie that you will enjoy, please support it and get people to come so that we can make more of them. But if we don't then we deserve the same criticism that everyone else does -- don't hold us to a different standard. Pray for us, and for people who make movies, because it is the most influential medium in the world.

Related articles:

Christians Making an Impact in Hollywood, Part One

More from Craig von Buseck on

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

Check out Jenkins Entertainment Online

More evangelism on the Spiritual Life Channel

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