Faith, Media & Culture

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

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A faith-based Crash. Some are actually comparing Crossroad, the smart, twisty spiritual drama from the married producers David Dginguerian and Amy Weber to the 2004 Oscar which also knitted together otherwise disconnected people into the fabric of a compelling story with serious things on its mind.

In the case of Crossroad, which debuts on DVD this Wednesday (3/12), those serious things have particularly to do with the power of God to touch and redeem lives as it unfolds its tale of a hostage crisis at an out of the way diner. Making his feature debut, writer-director Shervin Youssefian takes a fairly traditional meat-and-potatoes plot and infuses it with plenty of unexpected twists and turns and a, yes, moral that sets it apart from its genre predecessors. With strong performances from its relatively-unknown cast (or let’s says future all-star) cast, Crossroad makes an impression and is Recommended by this critic.

Here’s the plot in a nutshell: Fueled by revenge, Michael (Philip Bulcock) sets up a meeting at an out-of-the-way diner with the man who murdered his wife and child six years earlier. But his plans of killing him come to a sudden standstill when two gunmen burst in to rob the place. Michael takes matters into his own hands, shooting a robber and holding the entire diner hostage until the man he really wants to target arrives. In the midst of all these events, Michael finds an unlikely ally in Don (Kim Estes), a devout Christian who believes God is going to help him in his endeavor. While Michael battles with his faith, the hostages begin to find extraordinary connections between them.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with David Dginguerian and Amy Weber, the husband-and-wife executive producers behind the film. David is a successful  entrepreneur involved in the restaurant, night club, real estate and construction businesses. Amy is an actress and producer who says she never intended on involving her husband in her line of work. But plans have a way of changing. Together, the couple told me how their three-year journey to make Crossroad a cinematic reality was  was the result of a crossroad in their own lives — one involving the against-the-odds birth of their twin children, and a script about the redemptive power of God that somehow landed in their laps.  Here are some highlights from our conversation:
JWK: How did this journey begin?

AMY WEBER:  Actually, John, a lot of people had asked David…to take on projects throughout the years. And, me, being in the entertainment industry I kind of always tried to steer him away from it…I just didn’t know that there was anything that was really worthy of his time or even his finances. When he brought the script to me from Shervin (Youssefian) who he had worked with before on (commercials for his business), it was an incredible, inspirational story. I felt like it was so true to life and kind of gritty and different than any type of faith-based film that I had ever seen or heard of. I just told him I really feel like it’s something that needs to be seen and needs to get made. David and I, I think we’re always about not really hitting people over the head (with our faith). And, so, if you can deliver the message not only to fellow Christians but to a general market, that’s what I’m interested in.

JWK: How did you two meet?

AMY WEBER: David owned a motor-cross racing company and he had an apparel line and I came in and modeled for that line. We really just became the best of friends and that friendship really blossomed into our relationship and, obviously, marriage…I think it was really my first grown-up relationship that was rooted in just pure respect and friendship for one another that grew into a deeper love and that friendship has always been the base of our relationship — you know, the fact that we’re both believers.

JWK: How long have you two been married?

AW: We’re going to celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary in May.

JWK: And I understand you have twins.

DAVID DGINGUERIAN: Yes, we have twins. They’ll be four in May.

JWK: The doctors didn’t think you’d be able to have children and, I’m told, the fact that you now have two was part of the inspiration for this film.

AW: I’m a cancer survivor…I’ve had surgeries and I had gone through chemotherapy. Between the two things the doctor just pretty much said that it really wasn’t in the cards for us. Between a lot of praying, a lot of different things, David went to a church an Armenian Church in Glendale…Anyway, he asked for these candles and he (lit) actually four candles..and that was our family that we got. You know, our two children, thank God, and us. So, that was definitely a miracle.

DD: In the beginning, John, Amy was honest with me and said “If you want children, I’m not the one for you because I can’t have kids.”  And I said “Well, I don’t believe in doctors, I believe in God.”…We tried and then we did get pregnant and then we lost (the baby). We were sad for a while…and then (we thought) “Wait a second. The doctor’s said you couldn’t get pregnant. You got pregnant! That was already against the odds of what your doctor said!” Then, going through some more procedures, we got not only twins but we ended up with a boy and girl that are beautiful and healthy and it just shows you that the power of God is so much stronger than what doctors are going to tell you for the rest of your life. And out of the miracle (we decided) to come out and do something really powerful.  During all this, the movie landed in our lap and we read it and we’re like “This is a great way to give back!”

JWK: What kind of cancer was it?

DD: It was cervical cancer that started to spread to all my female organs. I was almost 20 at the time and I had a choice. I could either have a full hysterectomy or I could go do the chemotherapy. So, you know, when you go through something like that, the chemotherapy that’s inside of you, it kills everything — not just the bad cells. So, it just killed off a lot of my eggs.

JWK: Sounds like a miracle to me. Thank God and congratulations to both of you.

AW: Thank you.

JWK: Exactly how did the Crossroad script fall into your lap?

DD: Shervin Youssefian and Danny Simonzod (also an executive producer of the film) are partners. They went to film school a while back and they made a couple of short films. They got into doing commercials and infomercials and they became really good at doing those. I’m an entrepreneur, so I used them for a few of my other projects and I used to always tell them “Your  30 second spots and infomercials are better than most movies that are out there. Why aren’t you guys doing movies?” They’d say “Well, you know, you gotta raise the funds, they’re expensive, they’re millions of dollars.”

Shervin became a born-again Christian four or five years ago…In the beginning, he took two months off and he said “I have something for you guys to see.” He gave us a script. Actually, we read it on Amy’s birthday. We took the day off and went to Palos Verdes and just laid by the pool and tried to enjoy the sun but it was very overcast. We read the script there and we got so into it. As you know from watching the film, it really keeps you on your toes. It’s got that suspense to it. What’s happening next?…I’m not a reader (but) I got really into it. We came back and we put a budget to it and (asked) can we make this film for this amount?

JWK: May I ask what the budget was?

DD: It was under $500,000. We did the whole project on our own. We had no outside investors. We funded it 100% and we just made it happen…I’m an entrepreneur but I don’t have the expertise in that industry. Amy’s been in the industry. She’s been producing, acting, modeling and is now in the music business. She knew so much. So, with her guidance, she had more experience than all of us together, even my other producers. So, once she blessed it and we were able to keep the price down, we committed to the price because you know, in movies, it’s like a house remodeling. If you say you’re gonna spend $200,000 on a house, it’s $400,000. So, she helped us keep the budget really low and, you know, we did it. There were a lot of obstacles but we pulled it through.

JWK: What other businesses are you in?

DD: I’ve been in the restaurant business. I’ve been in the nightclub business. I’m in real estate now, construction. I get myself involved in a lot of stuff.

JWK: Was the restaurant in the movie yours?

DD: No. That was actually the first diner that I found. And then, after looking at 30 or 40 of them, we went back to that restaurant. That restaurant’s not even an existing restaurant. It’s just for movies.

JWK: So it was movie set?

AW: It used to be a diner. Now, they just, basically, rent it out…When you figure out a budget and you think about having to basically recreate something like that, it just had everything. As far as the art direction, we didn’t really put much in there. It was ready to go. So, that was really a nice benefit and it was close enough for everybody and they were all lovely to us as far as keeping within our budget.

JWK: How did you assemble the cast?

DD: That was really difficult. Amy did a lot. Amy didn’t want to be in it at first but I wanted her to be in it. Shervin and Danny did most of the casting.

AW: They did a lot of the preliminary casting. Basically, you just put out your breakdown and you just start getting massive submissions from people  — online and phone calls from agents. You just kind of sift through. And so they kind of narrowed it down and then started having auditions at their office. And then we came in and started looking at tapes and narrowing it down (further)…I think we ended up with just such a brilliant cast. We were so proud of everyone’s performance.

JWK: And you play Rita, the waitress.

AW: I do. Yes. It was lovely not having to wear makeup and kind of looking a little disheveled. Normally, people are like “Oh, come on, let’s put some lashes on you.”  I’m like “No!”

JWK: Have you ever both acted in and produced a film before?

AW: I have. Only on one film. I really would not suggest it. It’s really tough to wear those two hats because, especially for something that’s pretty heavy material and my character is really holding such a deep secret that’s really kind of ripping her apart inside. So, it’s a little bit tough when you’re getting ready to do your scene. You’re really trying to be in that moment and bring truth to that particular scene and people are like “Do you know where my props are?!” and “Oh, my gosh! You know, we’re over-budget on this!” and “We ran out of battery!”…Any film where you’re one of the key executive producers and people know that you have the power of decision making, they’re gonna come to you. They’re not going to stop and think “Oh, she’s getting ready to go do her scene, so maybe we shouldn’t bother her.” It’s a balance. I think everything in life is a balance.

JWK: Speaking of balance, you’re married, you’re raising kids and you’re doing this film together. Do you ever get on each others’ nerves?

AW: I think we get on each others’ nerves every day but we always make a joke out of it because it’s funny. We’re so opposite. You know, the beauty of this was that David knew his jobs, his part, and then he let me do my part. So, David would come to the set in the morning…Whatever hole he needed to plug, as one of the captains of the ship so we wouldn’t take on water, he did. And then he left and did that and then he left me on set to do my role as a producer and my job as an actress and then he would come back and he would check in. So, we trusted each other enough and we respect each other enough to just know that whatever each person’s respective responsibility was, it was going to get done that day.

DD: She’s experienced in this, so I can’t come in as the newbie on the shot and try to change things around. She’s knowledgeable. She knows what she’s doing.

JWK: What do you hope people get out of this film?

AW: I think it’s exceeded even my expectations thus far. Just the fact that we oversold our 1400-seat premiere. There was a line around the block for people trying to get in…We had a limited theatrical release. We ended up on an Oscar list for potential contention…We were pre-nominated for Original Score. We (didn’t make the final cut) but just to be (among) huge movies like Les Misérables (and) to be in Oscar contention was (amazing).

JWK: I did take notice of the very interesting music during the film. Is there a soundtrack album coming?

DD: We have that on our list. We don’t have it put together yet. We got pre-nominated for Best Picture up against 282 films and for Best Original Music up against 78 songs. We didn’t get nominated but it was still an honor.

AW: Obviously, it’s gone above and beyond. We’ve got Christian distribution, DVD and we have general market (and foreign) distribution.

JWK: So, the film is making its money back and more, hopefully?

AW: It’s not just the money. It’s just the fact that, for me, the core message of the movie is that you’re not alone and that God does love you and that, hopefully, you get to the point that you realize that having a relationship with God should be first and foremost in your life. So, that would be my hope that we get that out to people who, maybe, already know that but this might solidify that for some people that are having a hard time and might be questioning their faith. So, we’re just getting it out to people that are feeling a little alone and a little bit lost and letting them know that there is Someone out there that loves you and is watching over you and that is God.

JWK: Are you two planning to do anymore films together?

DD: This is our first as a couple. We’re planning to do one a year or one every couple of years because we all enjoy it. We love the passion behind it. This one being in the Christian market has taught us a lot because I’ve dealt with all the contributors and the foreign market and DVD and VOD and theatrical as a bonus. We weren’t supposed to go theatrical but once they saw it, specific theaters wanted us on board. So, it was a learning experience. Yeah, we definitely love it. We have a passion for it.

JWK: So, you got the bug?

DD: Yeah. We spent so much time on it. I’m learning the formula now.

JWK: Will your future films be aimed  at the faith-based market?

DD: Right now we’re getting scripts from other people that aren’t faith-based. But, right now, Crossroad has really, really opened the doors for us. We believed in it so much and we’re so proud of it but, I think, right now, I would like, as a team, for all of us to try to do one faith-based film, at least one a year or one every couple of years. Because, now we have the formula. That was the hard part…We went to so many distributors and picking out the right one that wasn’t just going to be signing your life away and your don’t see a penny or they can shelf it or they can change it around or they can edit it. You know, we’re in full control of everything and we’re working with really great partners.

AW: It’s not just profit. At the end of the day, it’s nice to walk away from a set knowing that you’re doing a movie that is not just for money and is not just pure  entertainment. It has a really gorgeous message and that makes you feel good. I know those days when I was modeling and (also doing) my waitressing job, you’d come home and feel a little bit unfulfilled. I always wanted to making a difference…and it’s really nice to know that you’re putting your energy and your money and everything into something that could potentially make a difference.

At the premiere, there were grown men coming up to me bawling their eyes out and saying (things) like “This movie just changed me” (and) “This movie touched my heart.” That’s the payoff for me and I know that’s really the payoff for David.  I know there’s the (financial) formula and that’s really important, as well. Because, you know, he’s a businessman. I know , at the end of the day, what’s important...I’ve produced scary movies and this and that but it feels like I can put my head on my pillow at night and feel really proud of myself — and I know David can too.

JWK: You want to make positive films.

AW: Yeah.  It feels great!

DD: We’re both very positive people and want to inspire people to do good. So, we’re sticking to the positive.

JWK: Anything you’d like to add?

DD: I just want to thank people for supporting us.

Note: David and Amy are also the creative forces behind the promising feel-good TV reality show Good Samaritans. You can check that out here.

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

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