Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 01/20/23

Phil Stevens of Missio Dei Films
Man with a Mission.
The faith-themed film The Send Off is currently in pre-production in Atlanta. It’s the first movie from Missio Dei (Mission of God) Films, the newly launched Georgia-based shingle created by Phil Stevens. After receiving a directing award at the 2019 International Christian Film & Music Festival for a short film called Something Blue (which he co-wrote) while working as the creative director at Victory Church in Atlanta, the filmmaker felt called to launch his own faith-based film production company with the aim of developing, directing and distributing one to two original multicultural films a year.

JWK: Tell me about your company, how you came to launch and what your goals are.

Phil Stevens: Sure. Missio Dei Films is a faith-based film production company…Our hope is to raise an investment pool to work on a slate of TV and film projects. These projects would be focused on not just films and content for the church – which, obviously, there’s an audience for that – but, additionally, films that the lost could watch – people on the fence about Jesus – and connect with and see a character that they can relate to and realize that they need God’s love and God’s grace and forgiveness as well. So, that’s our goal. Our mission is to get content out there. Like Jesus said, “I’ve come to heal the sick, not the healthy.”

JWK: Your first film is called The Send Off which has been described as The Green Mile meets Just Mercy. Care to tell me about that?

PS: Sure. Our first film is an original film. It’s fiction. It is about a woman on death row who is spewing venom and hates the world. She just wants to die. She killed her ex-husband and his new wife which is actually her best friend. On death row, you’re there from four to six, maybe even eight, weeks waiting for the governor to give the word for you to be put to death – but she hears, on the other side of the wall through the grate, someone else who builds a relationship with her and offers a different perspective, offers her peace and a relationship with Jesus. So, the film is about that transformation and how this young woman got to where she is today and this heart change.

JWK: Has it been cast yet?

PS: It has not been cast yet but we are talking to some name actors which is, again, exciting. I didn’t even think I could play in this space – talking to these well-known actors that are on TV and in actual features. So, it’s exciting.

JWK: And this will be filming in Georgia where your company is based?

PS: Yeah, definitely filming Georgia, making use of our tax credits. The first film’s budget is anywhere from 3.5 to 4-million dollars. The film is based in Wilmington, North Carolina but, you know, we’ll send out a team to just get some stunning footage of some of the different beaches, trees and neighborhoods out there to just make sure that it’s based in that space but Georgia is where we’ll film most of the time.

JWK: How did you come upon the script?

PS: The idea came to me maybe five years ago. I was watching a TV series that had a very similar feel to it, It had just ended and I said “What if we could do this with a faith-based approach?…I started working on a short film that morphed into an entire feature film.

JWK: Georgia seems to establishing itself as a major hub for faith-based film and TV producers. The Kendrick Brothers are there, as well as Tyler Perry and UPtv. Why is that?

PS: Before – years ago, decades ago – you had to go to LA to make anything. If you did go anywhere other than LA it was very difficult to find resources. You had to fly and get lodging for entire crews of 20, 40, even 50 people. It just became costly. So, these faith-based films that didn’t have these big studio budgets – you know, they had a couple million dollars – just couldn’t afford to (produce much) content…Now, Georgia’s booming with resources like crews, rental houses and talent. There are several different acting studios out here. The studios are getting bigger and bigger – like Trillith and Tyler Perry Studios. I have a studio that I own that gets rented all the time. There’s just a lot of industry gold here now and it’s growing and growing.

JWK: But it seems to be particularly attracting the faith-based sector. Why is that? Is there a particular reason, other than the tax credits, because everybody gets those, right? 

PS: I think its the resources (along with) the tax credits. I think if you bring your film to Georgia as a faith-based project you have a ton of resources to choose from. I’m not sure but I don’t know if LA is the place for faith-based films or if people are as interested (in them) as they are here in Georgia.

JWK: What sort of movies are you looking to produce in the future at your company? You say you want to bring more diversity to faith-based films. How? Do you mean in the casting or in the stories you tell or what?

PS: I mean from a cultural perspective, genres as well. I don’t want this to be a good old boys club. That just doesn’t interest me. It can’t be that. At the end of the day it has to be about all people. It can’t be about just one culture. That’s not what Heaven looks like. Heaven’s gonna be multicultural. It’s gonna be absolutely beautiful so why not start with that in our films?

I’ll tell you a really quick story. I was the creative director at a gigachurch in Atlanta called Victory Church. Thirty years ago about eight or ten Caucasian folks said “We’re gonna start a multicultural church.” Now, they represent 142 nations! It’s absolutely beautiful! There’s tens and tens of thousands of people that belong to this church. When the race riots hit and there was just all this tension their numbers didn’t shake. They were able to say from their platform “Our black lives matter to us.” Other churches, at risk of losing their members, losing money and people losing their jobs, couldn’t say that – but when we start an organization by being multicultural then I think we’re moving in the right direction.

JWK: What films have moved you and suggest the kind of movies you’re going for?

PS: That’s a good question. I love a film that is heavy in story arc. So, The Revenant, 12 Years a Slave (and), if you can believe it, The Dark Knight, the second Batman film (directed by) Christopher Nolan. These aren’t faith-based film but they’re films filmmakers can learn from when it comes to doing the story arc correctly. A lot of times producers get money to make a faith-based film and what they do is they’re not too focused on the story. They just think that they can put, you know, a God story on the screen and it isn’t necessarily great. I want people to talk about this in small groups and, you know, at the grocery store. Some of the films that I did for this church that I told you about, they just went viral because they were great story arcs, character arcs and they just moved people.

JWK: It’s great go have a movie with a good message but do you think that sometimes focusing too much on driving home a message can overwhelm the believability of the story?

PS: Right. People need to feel like they can relate to what they’re seeing on the screen because if it’s too churchy and it’s just to high level for them (they’ll say) “I don’t fit in this world. Why is this story for me?” If you don’t show that it’s a broken world (and) that people are dealing with grief, loss, infidelity, divorce, losing a job, money issues, health issues…people can’t connect. So, that’s what we’re really trying to do is to show realistic stories that people can relate to and share with their friends.

JWK: Where do you see your company – and yourself – in ten years?

PS: I see the company doing extremely well. What I’ll be doing is moving into pre-retirement and focusing on producing more content and features instead of directing everything. I think there’s a plethora of talented filmmakers out there that have great stories to tell. We’re getting scripts all the time. I’d like to make that happen for people.
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The King of All Media. Following the surprisingly strong box office results of its Season 3 premiere at the box office in November, The Chosen, the crowd-sourced international streaming hit produced by Angel Studios, is heading to theaters again as another Fathom Event. Fans of the episodic TV drama about the life of Jesus Christ will see its Season 3 finale hit big screens across the country on Thursday, February 2nd and Friday, February 3rd at 3:00 PM and 7:00 PM local time both days. Location and ticket information is here. More following the trailer below.

The Chosen has garnered more than 450 million episode views from people all around the world. In the Season 3 finale (comprised of episodes 7 & 8) storylines reach an epic climax as Simon and Eden deal with their marital crisis while the thousands of people gathering for Jesus grow restless…until a boy brings five loaves and two fish. According to director and series creator Dallas Jenkins “Once we saw Episodes 7 and 8 finished with the incredible music and the biggest story we’ve told yet, we all said this has to be on the big screen.”

Giving 130%.
BTW, a quick shout out to Michael Conrad and Lucas Fairchild of the 130 Agency, the public relations and marketing company of record for The Chosen (as well as Pure Flix). The long-term employees have, respectively, been promoted to the positions of chief operating officer and chief marketing officer. In announcing the promotions, CEO Julie Fairchild proclaimed that “Inspirational content has skyrocketed, while traditional church attendance is down,” adding “Although this agency has specialized in the inspirational content and outreach niche for more than two decades, something explosive is happening now.”
Talking of his new position, Michael Conrad said “There have been unprecedented changes in media and publicity over the last decade and it’s required consistent adaptation and resilience to deliver the best product for our clientele…Working in this space for over the last decade, I’ve had a front-row seat to it all and am excited to see our 130A team face those challenges in this next chapter of our agency.”
To that end, 130A has also added account representatives Morgann Delaney and Ashli Bock, as well as administrative assistant Emanuel Flores.
Congratulations to all! The folks at 130 are as hardworking, nice and professional as they come.

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

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