Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 09/13/21

Kanye West goes wild. The headline-making Christian rap artist who, according to Politico, is “arguably the modern era’s most accomplished provocateur” is lending his music to the trailer for The Riot and the Dance, itself a provocative new nature series that looks at the world through the lens of Creator Theory. That’s the idea that the diverse life teeming all around us is the result of the Creative Imagination of an Intelligent Designer people of faith have come to call God. These days that counts as a controversial perspective.

N.D. Wilson is the writer-director of the proposed show which is currently seeking to raise five-million dollars via an Angel Studios crowdfunding effort.

JWK: Why is The Riot and the Dance important to you?

N.D. Wilson: I would say I’ve thought it was important my entire adult life. It’s been both a dream and a goal for decades…because the worldview of atheism controls 100% of nature documentaries. That’s been the case my entire life. It’s really quite strange. I’m not sure all of the reasons how it happened or why it happened this way but that is, in fact, the case.

I think Q Research said that like seven percent of North America is openly atheist but the worldview of that seven percent controls 100% of nature docs. We actually commissioned…some polling to assess the marketplace (and) kind of let us know, you know, “Are we crazy that we think there’s a market here?” About two-thirds of Americans consume nature programming. Of that market, three-quarters of them are religious – but there is just zero faith content around nature documentaries. Like zero.

When believers do start to want to get involved – or they think they want to make a nature documentary or something – they want it to be argumentative. I don’t know if they’re insecure or they’re just evangelistic or what it is. They want to debate. It’s more of a debate movie. It’s a Genesis history movie instead of just a nature doc.

I mean I’ve been in love with…studying animals my entire life – specifically with my Uncle Gordon which is really funny. I’m a fantasy novelist but he’s the one who dragged me around when I was little (and made) me realize that this is a fantasy world. This is a world in which tadpoles actually turn into frogs, in which caterpillars turn into soup and (then) turn into butterflies which somehow know the way to Mexico. You know, it’s a very, very wild world.

So, I wanted to not just make nature documentaries that were a celebration of animals but also of their Creator, of their Artist. I also specifically wanted to give millions of kids the avuncular experience that I had with my Uncle Gordon, “Dr. G.” So, I went from, in my childhood, him dragging me around (and) showing me awesome stuff to, in my adulthood, me dragging him around all around the world.

JWK: This proposed series is based on you Uncle Gordon Wilson’s 2015 book of the same name, right?

NDW: Yeah.

JWK: Is he a biologist?

NW: Yeah, he’s a biologist. He has higher degrees in entomology and herpetology. He’s a published academic. He’s very academic but, ultimately, he’s just a joyful recipient of the creative world more than anything else.

JWK: You also did a 2018 feature film based on the book. Is that correct?

NDW: Yeah. Where we started with this was assuming he had to pursue a feature-length and that theaters – event screenings and that kind of stuff – would be our only outlet.

When Angel Studios developed their model and really proved the concept with The Chosen we were extremely excited to come on board and adapt it to a series. We made two feature-length docs, one Earth, one Water and then, as we were preparing for our next one (and) preparing to go into production for our next feature-length doc, we met with the Angel Studios’ boys, the Harmon Brothers. We’re really excited about the possibilities of working in series. (With) half-hour episodes we could cover more ground. It wouldn’t be the slow glacial pace of producing full feature-length (movies) and then having to do a full feature release campaign every single time. So, it’s been just a fantastic match and we’re experienced enough now to know that we can really execute on this. We’ve done other TV shows. We’ve done nature production.

JWK: Do you see this as an ongoing nature series or a limited run?

NDW: This is gonna be as ongoing as we can make it.

JWK: Why is there a conflict between science and faith at all? It seems to me that, when it comes to creation, science is more concerned with the how? and faith is more concerned with the why? I’m not really sure I see the conflict between the two.

NDW: The conflict exists when you look at an animal. You look at something that just has amazing engineering and fantastic design. If you are a scientist, (and) you approach that and you just factor out faith completely and you start trying to look at it, are you studying an explosion? An accident? Or are you trying to study something that’s brilliantly engineered?

As a learner (or) a scientist, if you approach a Ferrari as if it’s shrapnel – as if this is just a pile of accident – you’re going to take it apart differently and talk about it differently and, ultimately, you won’t be able to tell the truth about it. So…I think you’re exactly right. There should be no conflict between science and faith. There is no inevitable conflict between science and faith but, if you want to know Michelangelo, then you would go look at his paintings, you would study his statuary and you would learn about him, the artist. You would learn a lot about him. If you want to know Shakespeare, you’d go read his plays. What we do, unfortunately, with modern documentaries is we act as if there is no Shakespeare, as if there is no Michelangelo. We go out into the world with cameras then look at it functionally like it’s all meaningless. It might be beautiful. We might love it. But it has not purpose. It has no meaning. And it has no artist – so it is not art. There is no comedian, so there is no humor. But when a big fat frog slips and falls, there’s hilarious physical comedy in the world because there is a comedian and there is an artist.

So, what we want to do is, rather than arguing about how old the Earth is or debating how God did what He did, we’re not interested in that. We simply want to celebrate the animals in the light of their Creator (and) approach them as if they were, in fact, artistically designed, brilliantly engineered and even comedically loved (and) put together with a comedic affection. That’s ultimately the agenda behind what we’re doing. We don’t want to act like atheists when we set foot in the Sri Lankan cloud forest and start filming land leeches. We’re not gonna act like these are just a complete byproduct of chaos and accident.

JWK: So, Kanye West has given you permission to use his music for your trailer. How did that come about?

NDW: That came about through the magic of Aaron Rench, my producer, who went on a long slow campaign when I cut my first trailer for this series and I said “Man, I really think Selah is the perfect song for this and everybody laughed and said “Yeah, no way.” Aaron slowly got to work and routed through family members and friends of Kanye until, finally, Kanye was able to watch the trailer and kind of assess our goals and said “Sure, let’s do it.”…So, it was long process of working through personal connections to get to him. Being the level of star that he is, he’s not somebody where you can ring the front doorbell.

JWK: Is his music just for the trailer or will it be part of the show as well?

NDW: I can’t remember, actually, what the time limit is. We could use it in the TV show for free but we just have to renew the license. I think we have six months with the song. Basically, we are really grateful. We are really grateful A.) because it’s a very recognizable track…At the same time also, I was really grateful because when I was cutting that trailer it’s the song that was just pumping in my head that I really wanted to use and that I really assumed I wouldn’t be allowed to. I was as excited about that as I was when we had cameras pointed in the right place when a whale breached.

JWK: Tell me about the format of the show. Do you plan on traveling all over the world? Will there by a host or a narrator?

NDW: There is a host and that’s Dr. G. That’s my uncle. He’s the one that we take around. A lot of it’s on camera. A lot of it is narration after the fact (basically like) what the BBC does.

JWK: Will you be with him on camera? That might be an interesting dynamic.

NDW: I will be with him often. That’s been the case in our first two features where I was on location and directing. Then, actually, I received a diagnosis of a brain tumor (during) the production of the second one. So, we handed off directing to one of the guys who had been working on the projects with us and he did a fantastic job.

JWK: Are you okay now?

NDW: Yes, I am indeed. It’s been a long slog. Brain surgery is no joke but I’m okay now. So, I will be in the field as much as I am able to be and our team will be in the field all the time. We’ll be all over the place.

JWK: What’s your target goal regarding crowdfunding?

NW: The target goal is five-million (dollars) because we’ve really gotten our budgets dialed in well. We can execute on a pretty lean budget…That (will) enable us to make eight to ten episodes. That fluctuation between eight and ten is really probably gonna depend on the pandemic. You know Covid protocols/extra costs, things like that.

JWK: How can people support your project?

NDW: They can support our project by sharing our pitch videos and trailers on social media and they can invest in the project at angel.com/riot. So, the two ways to support it are spread the word or partner with us as investors. That’s one of the great thing about the Angel model. We’re not asking for donations. We’re actually selling a stake in the project. That’s, honestly, a really exciting new innovation in the industry.

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

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