By Skin Mead, Executive Producer of FINDING HOPE NOW
How does a film get made in God’s Economy, for God’s Purpose? Not as you might think.
I’m a person who has many strengths and tons of weaknesses, a person like you, who likes to have a certain amount of control over life and a feeling for where things are going. But that wasn’t God’s plan for me with the film FINDING HOPE NOW.
About me. . . I have degrees in math, science, and business. Not English. Not writing. In school, I hated writing. As a matter of fact, I would do anything to avoid an essay test. Give me a good old multiple-guess test anytime.
Yet, I felt a passion to write this story. A yearning inside of me that said this story can change a lot of lives. I felt God calling me to do something I had never done before, so I stepped outside my comfort zone to take a step into God’s Economy.
The beginning of a good film always starts with a fabulous story. The story is key. I knew there was a great story to be told about Reverend Minassian, a pastor in Fresno, CA, who at the age of 52 founded the faith-based organization called Hope Now for Youth.
Hope Now for Youth has an amazing success story of its own. To date it has taken over 1,700 gang youth off the streets of Fresno. But I was interested primarily in the story about Roger Minassian, the organization’s founder. He knew nothing about gangs, had no training in gang protocol, and he could have coasted to retirement as the senior pastor of a large church, but instead he resigned his position to do something extraordinary.
Talk about a fish out of water! He was a white middle-aged middle-class Armenian pastor, not exactly the kind of guy you would picture to help gang youths who had no hope and were poor Hispanic, Asian, and Black kids. What a story!
I had lunch with Rev. Minassian every other Friday for almost two years, digging for insights. He set up interviews for me with gang youths who had straightened out their lives through God and the Hope Now for Youth program. It was during this time that I wrote the screenplay FINDING HOPE NOW.
I knew when I finished the screenplay that it was a good story, so I entered the script into screenplay competitions. I needed encouragement and good, honest, straight-forward critiques from people who didn’t know me. My wife loved the screenplay, but that wasn’t enough!
I took the advice of the many critiques and proceeded to revise, rewrite, and rework the script again and again. This was a total walk of faith. I had no training in writing a screenplay and no experience to fall back on. Yet, I knew I was doing what I needed to do.
Encouragingly, the screenplay won first place in a small screenwriting contest, then it won first place in a bigger contest, and then it was a semi-finalist in the Kairos Prize Competition sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation and MOVIEGUIDE®. That’s when I knew the screenplay was ready, but now what? How does a screenplay get made into a movie?
Various producers showed an interest in optioning the script, but they all wanted to obtain total rights “in perpetuity.” This meant they could change anything in the screenplay that they wanted. I couldn’t have that. This screenplay is based on a true story.
I knew nothing about producing a film. I had never been on a film set, and didn’t know anyone in the film business, but I had heard about a church in Albany, Georgia, that produced its own movie FACING THE GIANTS.
The church didn’t sell the story rights to anyone, so the script could never be changed. In this way they controlled the total content of their film. They sold only the rights to distribute their film.
I decided to follow their production model. They hired a limited number of professionals and used mostly volunteers, people with a passion for telling a story of God, in order to keep their production costs down.
In God’s Economy, you are not the leader. God’s Economy is best summed up in 2 Corinthians 12:9 when Jesus said, “My gracious favor is all you need. My power works best in your weakness.”
God opened doors to places I could never have imagined. It all started when I went skiing with some dear friends. I told them about winning the screenplay contests and that I wanted this great story to become a film. My friend said, “I wonder if Michael would like to be in your movie?”
I had no idea. Here’s the connection. My friend’s daughter married Michael Badalucco’s best friend’s son. Read that sentence again slowly!
This connection led to Michael Badalucco (Emmy Award winner from the series “The Practice”) playing the role of Rev. Minassian in our film. This wasn’t a coincidence. It was part of God’s Economy.
When Michael Badalucco came on board, he gave credibility to our film, and the production train started rolling. As he said, “The train is leaving the station.” He wasn’t kidding.
From interviewing gang kids who had changed their lives, I created the “real-life” character of “Santos.” In our movie, Santos must decide between getting help from Reverend Minassian, or joining the local gang. Avan Jogia (Nickelodeon movies GYM TEACHER, and SPECTACULAR) came on board to play this key role.
The character of the gang leader, Reynaldo, needed someone intimidating. Nick Rey Angeles (WORLD TRADE CENTER, LADRON QUE ROTA A LADRON) fit the role.
I was now the engineer of a film production project going down tracks that I had never been on before. The one thing I did know was the importance of surrounding myself with knowledgeable people. Our director, an award winner from the Houston International Film Festival, came on board with a great passion for our story. So did the Director of Photography, and also our Post-Production Supervisor, himself an Emmy Award nominee.
I wrote the screenplay as I saw it in my head, not thinking about the production costs involved with making it into a movie. My close circle of knowledgeable associates quickly told me that this wasn’t a typical low-budget Indie film. It had hundreds of actors and because of its 32 locations it could not be filmed in the usual eighteen days it took to produce an Indie movie. This was going to be a costly production.
The only way we could produce this film was through the Screen Actors Guild Ultra-Low Budget contract. This meant that everyone involved had to work for reduced wages, deferrals, and film participation, or completely volunteer their time and talents. And this they enthusiastically did. Everybody.
In God’s Economy, when you know that you don’t have the resources for the production, you have to let go and let God do His work. And, marvelous things begin to happen.
30 out of the 32 locations were donated.
A 6,000 square foot production office was donated.
Four penthouse apartments were donated for key actors.
A 10-ton grip truck arrived instead of the 3-ton ordered.
All of the food for production was donated.
The wardrobe was donated.
Most of the props were donated.
Production RVs were donated.
Isn’t God’s Economy awesome?
The Fresno community caught the passion for our film project: to help take gang kids off our streets, and heighten the awareness of the organization Hope Now for Youth. And God provided:
228 Food Donors
109 Crew Members
26 Full Shoot Days
Now it’s up to us to edit this film to the highest quality possible, with God’s help, because we signed a contract with the producer’s representative who handled the distribution for FACING THE GIANTS and FIREPROOF.
God’s Economy. Isn’t it something? He has blessed us tremendously, above our wildest expectations, with His abounding resources.
Do you have a screenplay that glorifies God, a screenplay which can change lives? Let Him lead your film project.
He wants to do the same for you.
Editor’s Note: Many Kairos Prize winners and finalists have amazing stories of being produced, optioned, or financed. If you are interested, please go to www.kairosprize.com.