Faith, Media & Culture

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

YouTube Preview Image

“The Road Less Graveled.” That’s how Crackerjack creator Bryan Coley describes the journey of his independent comedy film. Though the film as a Christian theme, Coley doesn’t want it tossed into the faith-based film bin. He says this one’s for the masses. Perhaps the biggest leg up for Crackerjack as it ambles toward its September 12th premiere the support of comedian Jeff Foxworthy (The American Bible Challenge) who is on board as the film’s executive producer and narrator.

As for the story, here’s the description from the website of Coley’s development shingle, Art Within: Bill “Crackerjack” Bailey IV, a lovable loser who is skilled in avoiding the responsibilities of manhood. His residence of choice is a singlewide and the only diamond that he gets near is not on the finger of his live-in girlfriend, Sherry. But when Sherry learns she’s pregnant and moves out to push Crackerjack into action, the root of his artful dodging is unearthed. It’s a leak in the Bailey gene pool — a generational curse in which the Bailey men leave as soon as a baby is in the picture. Faced with losing his true love or confronting the curse and his impending fatherhood, Crackerjack does what any responsible man would do — play ball! Through an unexpected twist of fate, he stumbles into the comical world of church league softball, where men struggle with being lovers or fighters on the field. With Sherry’s delivery date drawing close, will he stay or will he go?

I recently spoke with Coley about his vision for Crackerjack and Christian filmmaking in general.

JWK: What inspired you to write Crackerjack?

BRYAN COLEY: It was kind of one of those moments where, you know, you’re sitting there brainstorming and all of a sudden something pops into your head — like, you know, prostitute, puppets, softball and mascot Jesus — and it’s like gold!

JWK: Stream-of-consciousness comedy, I get it. You obviously have a sense of humor. Are you a standup yourself?

BC: Heavens, no. Definitely not.

JWK: What is your background?

BC: I have a theater background and I went to NYU Film School. I worked for Turner Broadcasting for 12 years and I started a company called Art Within which has been around for about 17 years. We’ve been devoted for a while to helping writers — first it was playwrights and, now, it’s screenwriters — to blend their faith with good storytelling in a way that’s totally different than most people have seen before. So, that’s what we’ve been working on for a long time…We just decided we had to bring something to market…(to give) people a vision as to what we were talking about.

JWK: How’d you get Jeff Foxworthy as the narrator and executive producer?

BC: I think Jeff is very faith friendly. I think he gravitated a lot towards us trying to do something different than what the genre had been before.

JWK: Faith-based films tend to be very heartfelt, earnest and, well, serious — which is fine if done well. But this is definitely different.

BC: Yeah, exactly. People who have seen it have said it’s a heartwarming southern comedy. In other words, there’s a definite deeper theme to it which looks at the concept of our generational curses and how we as men have a hard time stepping up because we are trying to solve this issue of our worth and where that worth comes from. So, it has some resonant themes in it. It’s not just fun and games.

JWK: How would you compare your film to, say, Courageous which hits some of the same themes but with a far more serious tone.

BC: It’s not meant to fall into that kind of sub-cultural genre. I would say, first of all, it’s a comedy and, second of all, it’s meant to try to bridge into the mainstream a little bit more than Courageous. I would say there are similarities. It definitely deals with looking at men’s issues but it’s not a movie where people are gonna make a commitment to be a better man or something like that — in the movie itself. It’s just a narrative. I mean the story itself, for me, was one in which it came out of a situation in which, you know, I was having a hard time with a specific personal situation involving my child where something happened and I brushed it underneath the rug. Luckily, I had a group of men in my life who were very much into authenticity and one of the guys took a baseball bat and slammed it on the table and said “Step up! Wake up! You ‘re trying to just brush this underneath the rug!” And that actually is in the film itself. The mentor character in the film actually does the same thing to the title character…It ultimately was an exploration of my own need to figure out what kept me as a man from stepping up and taking ownership (of) my role as a father and as a husband.

JWK: Maybe you’re not hitting the points as hard and directly as Courageous but it seems to me that you do want to have some sort of impact with this film.

BC: It’s not gratuitous. I mean who doesn’t make a picture in order to say something. I think as artists we all make things because we have something to say — even it if is funny. I just don’t want to preach to the choir. I don’t want (this) to come across as a movie that’s trying to proselytize as much as it is trying to just explore my own questions which I trace to…this issue of worth in my own life. A lot of it came down to just generational patterns.

And, ironically enough, I think it’s the same thing with Jeff Foxworthy. He also shared a moment that I didn’t know until he stood in front of a group of investors. He said the reason that (the film resonated with him) was because his dad left him and his dad’s dad left his dad.

JWK: And that was sheer coincidence? You didn’t know that when you approached him with the concept?

BC: Sheer coincidence. It happened to be the actual plot of the movie that I had already written — where the character’s dad was leaving as the baby showed up. So, Jeff shared that and I was like “Oh, my goodness!…This is his life!” And Jeff has actually broken that curse. He’s taken huge strides to make sure that doesn’t happen moving forward with his children. He chose not to live in Hollywood so that he could break the curse himself with his own children.

JWK: How did you and Jeff Foxworthy actually meet?

BC: We had a mutual friend — as well as one of our producers kind of stalked him for (want of) a better word. We do have a couple of mutual friends who kind of made the introduction and got us talking and once we did Jeff just jumped at the idea. He like the southern kind of flavor of it and then later on I found out another aspect was because it was a story that he lived.

JWK: When does Crackerjack come out and where can people see it?

BC: Hopefully, they’ll get to see it in a wider release. We’re actually going to platform release in Myrtle Beach. September 12th is our premiere. We’re actually kind of doing something a little bit unconventional. I have wrapped my 1974 Airstream (motor home)…with a billboard on the side…We’re calling it The Road Less Graveled Tour. We’re taking it and doing a staggered release geographically. So, we’ll do South Carolina and then North Carolina and, hopefully, all throughout the Southeast and then the South and then, hopefully, that will lead us to an actual national release but the idea now is to do a kind of this limited release place by place and then expand it to a wider release.

JWK: Is this your first feature film?

BC: This is my first feature.

JWK: What comedies inspire you? What do you find funny yourself that you, perhaps, drew on to make your own movie?

BC: I think this movie has a little bit of a Napoleon Dynamite flair. It has a Raising Arizona flair to it. Those were two kind of inspirations for the movie. I tend to like comedies that are a little bit more thoughtful — movies like Stranger Than Fiction, even kind of stupid movies that have a really cool point, like Shallow Hal. Obviously, movies like Bruce Almighty are great. But I tend to like the Junos and the independent comedies that are a little bit quirkier.

JWK: So, you like comedies with heart.

BC: Yeah, I mean I’m not gonna deny that what really hits me is a movie like Shawshank Redemption or Slum Dog Millionaire or Life is Beautiful. Those (are) movies that tremendously have a Christian world view in them.

JWK: The trailer for Crackerjack struck me as something like a southern Wonder Years.

BC: I never really watched The Wonder Years. I think I was a little bit older when that came out. But, yeah, I think it’s a little bit quirkier. If you’re a southerner, I think you’ll appreciate it…This movie has Church League Softball. (There’s) comedy (in) Christian guys trying to figure out whether Jesus would slide hard into second base. It’s just my life growing up here and my faith is a part of it. When I grew up in a really small southern town…I was in a Baptist church where they did visitations. So, I wanted to put a visitation into this film. You don’t see that in film.

JWK: I’m not a Baptist. What is a visitation?

BC: A visitation is when you come to church and you get a card and they say on the side of the card we’re gonna need some information about you — and the next thing that happens is someone shows up at your door the next day to visit you and then welcome you to the church but, unfortunately for our main character, he actually is drunk the night that he stumbles into the church and he doesn’t remember any of it. So, they have to tell him what happened.

JWK: Tell me about Art Within.

BC: My ultimate goal is to break down the doors for a lot of artists out there who want to put their faith in films but don’t want to do it in the way that it’s been done before. They’re tired of seeing (faith films be about) priest characters, pastors, (being) apocalyptic…or, you know, these melodramas where you just prop up a character in order to tear him down as a straw man and teach him a lesson. A lot of us want to do things that are not safe for the whole family and that are artistically significant but we often run into a problem with the churches being such that they don’t support anything that’s not G-rated or they don’t support anything that doesn’t have someone coming to the full knowledge of Jesus at the end of the movie — and that’s so limited. As artists, that’s just so limited and yet we want to be able to say that this comes from our faith because we’re proud of our faith. We can’t do that with the baggage that comes along with it. I would love to call this a Christian film because I’m not ashamed of being a Christian (but), immediately when I call it a Christian film, I’ll get put into this whole box of movies that are nothing like Crackerjack. So, that’s my goal — to break that wall down and also make people who make films in Hollywood see that the films they’re making are what I would call Christian too. If I look at Shawshank Redemption, I go “I can’t think of a more Christian film than that film.”

JWK: Anything else you’d like to say about your movie.

BC: As far as the movie is concerned itself, I’ll just reiterate…that I feel like this movie is just an exploration of those things that get passed down to us and we find it hard to break (free of) them — those patterns where we go “Why am I just like my dad?!” or “Why am I just like my mom?!” or “Why can’t I break these things that seem to be coming down generationally.” I think this movie will give people hope that that’s possible…There is hope and change is possible. As Jeff says in the movie “Change is more than something in your pocket.”

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

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus