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Faith, Media & Culture

Here are today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

I recently had the pleasure of taking part in phone conference with Steve McEveety and John Shepherd, the producers of MPower Pictures’ Snowmen which opens in theaters tomorrow (Oct. 21) and follows the humorous and heartfelt story of a group of kids on a quest to get into the Guinness Book of World Records by building the most snowmen in one day. The movie stars Ray Liotta and Christopher Lloyd along with a cast of kids that 14-year-old Bobby Coleman (as Billy Kirkfield) and 11-year-old Christian Martyn (as Lucas Lamb).  Bobby and Christian were on hand for the conversation and, I gotta tell you, adults should possess as much wisdom about life as those two kids.

The movie itself has been building incredible buzz, scoring prestigious honors at the Dallas International Film Festival, the Toronto International Film Festival, the Tribeca Film Festival and the Heartland Film Festival. I’m previewing the film later today and will share my review tomorrow.  In the meantime, checkout the trailer below followed be excerpts from phone conference.

QUESTION: How did this movie come about?

STEVE MCEVEETY (Producer): You know I’ve, if you saw the films I’ve done in the past this is not the likely next step for me. I’ve done some pretty tough films and hard-hitting films , and powerful films (The Passion of the Christ, The Stoning of Soraya M., Braveheart) and I wasn’t really too interested in the concept of this movie when it was brought to me by my company but John and Todd and David Siegel got the entire group together and brought in some actors and sat me down and they did a read-through and, you know, I was forced to pay attention and, you know, the script had so many twists and turns and was so engaging and so emotional and just it had me laughing and crying and then laughing again I thought geez, if a script is doing this with, you know, a bunch of people in a room, you know, there’s something really great here.

But the problem was it was a first-time director, Rob Kirbyson, which wasn’t really a problem for me because I’ve worked with tons of first-time directors in my career. It is, you know, it is risky, but he wrote it, and he had the passion and the read-through just moved me so much that I said, well, you know, if we can find kids that could actually pull this off, actors that could actually pull this off, it might just work. But it was really contingent on whether we could find, you know, the talent, the kids. And so we set about, we green-lit the picture contingent on finding the actors and honest to God you know after the first couple of casting sessions I was at the verge of just saying guys let’s not do this movie. In walks Bobby Coleman and he just blew us away. And I looked at Rob and John right then and said, and just was beaming and said we can do this. The next guy we meet was Christian and Christian, Christian just (laughing), he was like; you know he just made it happen. I mean after first Bobby and then Christian, I said, you know we’ve got to make this movie and you’ve got both of them on the phone here too. So, that’s how it started for me and I’m so excited that we made this film. It’s just a very, very entertaining, powerful, movie. I’m done.

QUESTION: Do I understand that you actually cast the kids before the name adult actors like Ray Liotta and Christopher Lloyd?

JOHN SHEPHERD (Producer): YES!  Joey Paul Jensen (who also cast Soul Surfer) was engaged to do a nationwide talent search to find the right boys — especially the Billy Kirkfield character.  Steve…said we would not make the film unless we found the perfect Billy Kirkfield — which Joey did find in the person of Bobby Coleman…and then Joey was able to persuade Josh Flitter from New Jersey go come on board as the neighborhood bully Jason Bound.  Josh had just starred in the new Young Ace Ventura movie and was very comfortable with comedy — but he really wanted to do a role where he got to play “the bad guy…”

And we re-wrote the role of Lucas Lamb to introduce the world to talented newcomer Christian Martyn who we flew in from Toronto because he was just too darn perfect not too include in the movie.  The girls in our office all adored him immediately — and despite a plethora of blonde haired blue eyed boys in LA and Salt Lake City — there was just something so special about Christian that we decided let’s bring in a Canadian — he’s just so funny, endearing and talented!  He ends up stealing several scenes in the movie.

Then the real work started — we had to work extremely hard to get to the caliber of talent like Ray Liotta… but when he read the script — it was such a departure for him from most of his bad boy roles — he really seemed to respond to the idea of a great Father / Son story where he plays a guy that has a bit of an ethical if not a spiritual epiphany in the movie.

And as for Christopher Lloyd — he was another major coup!  Christopher was funny because some of our stars are so young they don’t even know his body of work (Taxi, Back to the Future). But our young stars made him feel right at home when they told him he was “pretty good” in his role as the Caretaker!  He had to laugh that they had no idea who he was…but (they) welcomed him on the set and to their “club” once they found out he could act “okay.”

QUESTION: It sounds like you enjoyed making this movie.

JOHN SHEPHERD: Yeah, I loved making Snowmen because it really, in a funny and humorous way appeals, you know, to a different demographic…This is definitely a mom movie, a family movie. I call a “Braveheart for kids” because it really is inspirational, motivational, it empowers young people to make a difference in the world…Not telling them what to think, but telling them to dream big, to think great thoughts and this is a movie that encourages people to realize we’re all snowmen right? We’re here for a moment and then we’re gone. And so what’s our mark on the world? Do we just leave a puddle of water, or a stain? Or, what can we do that will actually impact people for perhaps eternity? And I think that a movie like Snowmen, in a very funny and entertaining way, makes kids think about what is it that I’m building with my life that’s going to last? You know, is it accomplishments, is it trophies, is it awards, is it you know, making a bunch of money like my parents, or having a big house? Or is it relationships? And I think what Steve has done, in a very masterful way, is find a story that has just as much impact as a Braveheart, but it’s done in a very family-friendly kid-friendly way that inspires people to want to make a difference not through doing great big things but through the little things. Through the simple acts of kindness or reaching out to a person who doesn’t want to be a friend or standing up to a bully, these little, small acts that make a big difference and make a ripple, from, like as we say in the movie, “person to person for a long, long time”.

So Mpower, it fits very nicely with our brand, which is to empower the audience, empower the artists also (like first-time filmmaker Rob Kirbyson) to make a difference in the culture, to make a positive contribution to society, to reflect our sort-of Judeo-Christian roots and heritage,  and to incorporate within a movie biblical values without beating people over the head with a, you know, a message that is “churchy”, or “preachy”, or “to the choir.” It’s a mainstream movie that encourages all (people to) think about what are we doing that will last beyond our short time on this planet.

QUESTION: What attracted you to this film, Christian?

CHRISTIAN MARTYN (LUCAS LAMB): Well, this kid, he’s really, really a nice guy and he wouldn’t do anything on purpose just to do something wrong. He would always be as good as he could. And he was a funny guy. I really liked this character. He was funny, he was the hero and so Lucas Lamb he is,um, you think he’s wimpy. You would think he’s all wimpy but when it comes to someone’s life being at risk he’s the most brave kid I ever knew.

QUESTION: What did you enjoy most about making this movie? Who did you particularly enjoy working with?

CHRISTIAN MARTYN: I just really liked working with everyone. It doesn’t even matter about the kids, or about the adults, it doesn’t matter about if they are an adult or a kid. I just had fun with the entire cast but mostl, if I had to choose mostly, it would probably be Bobby, who has probably just heard that right now (all laughing), and is giggling, hopefully he’s giggling, or he’s…(interrupted).

BOBBY COLEMAN (Billy Kirkfield): (laughing) I am giggling.

CHRISTIAN MARTYN: Ok, just making sure (giggling).

QUESTION: Bobby, what led you to do this movie?

BOBBY COLEMAN: When I first read the script I read it with my mom and when we were finished….we were both crying…It was just such…a beautifully woven script and, was very well written…It really brings up a lot of important topics…Being an actor, you can really start to get caught up in, like, “Oh, I’m important, I’m a big shot, you know, I’ve been in movies and all that.” But that really isn’t what matters. That can, you know, come and go so easily. That doesn’t last in life.

What really lasts is relationships and family and…there are so many hungry people in this world that are, you know, starving right now and…we adopted a child and sponsored a child with World Vision. You know, that’s very small step but I hope I can make something that lasts, a program, or something that lasts to help these people, and to, to just, you know, try and solve that problem.

I went on a mission trip to the Bahamas and worked with Haitian refugees that came over from Haiti and, we did two week camp there. My sister and I went and it was just a wonderful experience, it was just amazing. It taught me a lot and that’s really what this movie is saying…It matters if you’re a good person and a good role model and being an actor actually really helps. Now I can really go to interviews and different things like that really tell people…I’m just a person and it doesn’t matter but go out and help other people that need it, you know? Don’t look at me and like, be like, “Oh my gosh, Oh my gosh, I talked to Bobby Coleman or whatever”, go out and help other people and then help other people realize the same thing. I hope this movie can help other people and can really influence different lives.

QUESTION: Is there anything, not in the press materials, about this movie that you really think people should know?

JOHN SHEPHERD: A lot of people think it’s Frosty the Snowman when they look at the poster or hear the ad campaign and this is a little bit closer to Stand By Me or to a Simon Birch or, you know, it’s got some real, deep thoughts and my girls came back, people that see this film come away from it and it draws you closer as a family because (it) make your kids think, and it makes parents think about what’s really important in life.

And I just think that one of the neat stories is we had a little girl from Make-A-Wish on the set named Kelsey Cassick from Northern California. She just wanted to be an extra and we did a great, we just did, had a real neat scene with her and we did a whole special behind-the-scenes making-of video of her and her life and her amazing second chance at life, her amazing hope that she is to others and the inspiration that she has been to us, and I recently just showed the film to Make-A-Wish up in New York and they just love the message of it. (View video)

QUESTION: What’s the message of Snowmen?

JOHN SHEPHERD: That, you know, when all looks lost that’s when God can operate, that God is a specialist. That’s where, he’s the clutch performer when things look the bleakest, that’s when you cannot do it on your own anymore and you have to look for help outside yourself and that’s the message of Snowmen, that help comes from a surprising place and we do get a second chance and there is hope, there’s always hope and we must never give up that kind of faith.

BOBBY COLEMAN: I just realized there’s one more really important message in this movie which is kind of an undertone…It’s not one of the main messages but it’s there…Josh Flitter plays a bully in a movie and…throughout the movie…we are mad at him. You know he’s our enemy but then, at the end of the movie, the bully’s all alone…He’s walking away sad that certain things happen and there’s just, there’s a message at the end that just says look at him you know, he’s sad, he’s alone, and you know, bullies bully because they’re bullied, you know, we realize that finally, that he’s obviously hurting us because he’s been hurt in the past and that bullies you know, take their life problems and take their hurt and turn it into hurt…At the end, you know, there, he really has nobody and he really, you know, is all alone and sad, and at the end we feel sorry for him and, and it just really shows that I hope bullies see this, you know, I hope kids see this that are in school bullying other people and really realize what they’re doing and realize that, you know, it doesn’t actually help them.  It hurts them to bully other people. It just gives them more hurt and it just makes it have no friends.

QUESTION: What’s your biggest hope for this movie?

STEVE MCEVEETY: You know for me, I had just a fabulous career and (have been) part of some really powerful, fabulous films. And I travel around the world and people come up to me constantly and tell me you made one of my favorite films, you know, and it’s usually Braveheart or We Were Soldiers or The Passion of the Christ, constantly I get that, of course. And, I’ve just been so blessed, but there’s something about this film that, you know five years from now I know that people are going to come up to me and say you made one of my favorite films and all of a sudden they’re going to say Snowmen. I mean it’s that kind of movie; it’s a very, very special film that affects people in a happy way but in a very, very powerful way and that they don’t forget it and it does tweak their lives a little bit. And, if you can do that in a movie that’s something to be glad to have achieved.

QUESTION: Your company is called MPower Pictures. What do you hope people think of when they hear that name?

STEVE MCEVEETY:  Oh, geez. You know, I think that if, if people are thinking about Mpower productions then I’ve accomplished something….Every movie is going to have a different effect on people…I don’t want to make movies that don’t affect people, that’s all. So if it doesn’t move you, if it doesn’t change your life somehow, and you can only do that through entertainment. You can’t do it preaching, you know…My job is to entertain…If people look at Mpower and say, whatever they do, it affects you then I think I’ve accomplished what I’m supposed to do.

JOHN SHEPHERD: : I look at what Steve’s done and…there’s kind of three divisions of the company…You know, we have our Braveheart’s and our tough-stuff films. We have our issue-advocacy films, our mission films that you know we’ve got a message to portray. We do it artistically, hopefully…and then we’ve got movies for mom…And I think that when we intersect those three areas of mission and we reach the men, we reach the moms, well then…that’s a Snowmen movie, that’s a Snowmen moment. That’s when we have achieved what we want to do — which is to empower the family to make family, quote-unquote, beneficial entertainment so that it in some ways inspires, uplifts, empowers the family to live differently, to live better, to think you know, in a way that’s different than when they started and that’s what empowering youth, empowering families, empowering parents and their kids is all about.  We want to impact the culture in a positive way and that’s what I think was so genius when Steve saw Snowmen and said “You know what? I get it.  It actually fits in all three of these sectors.” That’s when we said if we can find the right kids we’ll make the movie and we were blessed with Christian and Bobby Coleman for sure.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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