Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 05/10/23

Karl Horstmann 2023.jpg

True faith. Director, producer and Triple Horse Studios founder Karl Horstmann has played a pivotal role in bringing some of the most successful faith-themed films of recent years to the screen, many of them based on true stories. His notable recent credits include the currently streaming On a Wing and a Prayer and Southern Gospel.

Among Horstmann’s many upcoming projects in development is Experiencing God – Angola, a scripted feature chronicling the true story of an inmate and a prison warden whose faith sparked reformation at the infamous Louisiana prison named for a former slave plantation that itself was named after the country of origin of many of its slaves. He’s also working on an interactive Bible study based on the story.

JWK: You’ve certainly been involved with several high-profile faith-themed project of the past several years. For instance, you were a producer on the film The Case for the Christ based on the memoir of his own conversion experience. I actually used to work for him several years ago as a segment producer on his PAX TV show Faith Under Fire. So, I guess we both know Lee.

Karl Horstmann: Oh, that’s cool! Yeah, he and (his wife) Leslie came down and visited the set a few times when we were filming. Great people!

JWK: Yeah, he’s a very nice guy. So, you’re newest release is On a Wing and a Prayer which is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video. I’ve posted quite a bit about the movie – including an interview with your fellow producer Roma Downey and the real-life guy at the center of the story whose name is Doug White as well as one with Jesse Metcalfe who played one of the major characters in the story. What brought you to that project?

KH: One of the other producers who worked with Roma (named) Autumn Bailey found the script from a local writer who is actually based in Atlanta (named) Brian Egeston. Brian had a passion for this. He discovered this story, wrote this script and brought it to Autumn. Autumn and I are dear friends and had worked on other projects together. So, Autumn brought me in on it to look at it from a physical production standpoint. We got to working on it together, doing a script breakdown and she also, simultaneously, was talking to Roma Downey. Roma loved the story and we packaged it up and took it to Lightworkers, which is Roma’s company (and) she took it over to MGM Studios. MGM, which has since been bought by Amazon, loved it and jumped on board.  

JWK: Did you know Roma Downey before this?

KH: I did not. Autumn actually introduced me to Roma. Autumn had known Roma and Roma’s husband Mark Burnett…So, she introduced me to both of them and we flew out on more than one occasion, actually. We worked with the team there at MGM on getting the project done.

JWK: What was it like to work with Roma?

KH: It was fantastic! She is a very kind person but a force! She really has a great instinct for this. She is not new to producing. She’s had quite a bit of experience and success with other faith-based projects as well. She was fantastic to work with.

JWK: Another legend you worked with on this project is Dennis Quaid who played Doug White. What was he like?

KH: Dennis was a consummate pro. He was always ready to go. He personally is a pilot himself and was very, very emphatic that we get all the nomenclature and all the air traffic control-speak perfect. He really helped us with that. He really worked hard. Extra effort was put in by Dennis to make sure that it was as realistic as possible while honoring what really went down with the real-life pilot Doug White.

JWK: So, A Wing and a Prayer follows another recent release you did called Southern Gospel which is also based on a true story, the life story of Samuel Allen, a 1960s rock star who became a preacher. Are you drawn to true stories?

KH: I am, actually. I am drawn to true stories…I think that’s what most people can relate to. I think when you realize something really happened to someone it’s easier to approach that and accept what’s being presented – as amazing as it may sometimes…especially when it comes to miraculous stories.

JWK: I know what you mean. Sometimes the facts of a true story are too wild to accept in a fictional screenplay where it would be like “Come on, give me a break!”

KH: Yeah, you’re right! Exactly!

JWK: In your view, what makes for a good faith-themed movie?

KH: Well, I think it’s got to have a couple of elements. Regardless of what someone’s background is, I think it’s really interesting when we see someone in the crosshairs or in the crux of crisis – whatever that may be, whether it’s a crisis of faith like it was with Lee Strobel in trying to determine whether or not this whole thing (about) faith in Christ was real or a crisis of the moment and physical peril like it was with Doug White in On a Wing and a Prayer. I think we meet these characters, these people, in these moments of crisis. It really comes down to what they do in those moments, at that crossroads – whether they abandon their faith or they lean into it.

JWK: So, what’s your story? How did you get into filmmaking – in particular faith-themed filmmaking?

KH: I started my career as a young person working at a church for a couple or three years – everything from a hey-go-do-that to a cameraman and, ultimately, an editor editing the Sunday services over a couple of years. Then I was very fortunate at a young age to get hired at Turner Broadcasting and go work for Ted Turner here in Atlanta back in the nineties when it was just an explosive time of growth there. I was fortunate to work at Cartoon Network and Turner Classic Movies and those launches for those cable networks.

JWK: I worked for Ted Turner in the nineties too. I was at CNN during the time when he sold it to Time Warner in 1996. Later on I did work for the Cartoon Network after he was gone. My job was to novelize episodes of Ben 10 and some other shows to encourage kids to read.

KH: Oh, yeah! I know Ben 10! My brother worked on Ben 10!

JWK: That’s funny! Just as an aside, I was prepared to hate the show and just do the job for the money – but it turned out to be a really good show. I really liked it.

KH: Yeah, it did turn out (well). I think we all thought initially that it wasn’t going to work but it really did turn out (to be good).

JWK: So, just curious. Did you know Ted Turner?

KH: I met him several times. I worked on several productions that he was involved with – but we all tried to steer clear of Ted whenever we could. You know, he was a shaker and mover and a man sometimes of few words. (He was) a man of action. So, I enjoyed my time there. I will say that during my tenure there they were very promotive of entrepreneurship and allowed me to start my company (while) moonlighting nights and weekends and hiring my friends and colleagues from Turner to work on my projects and allowed me to rent their facilities at a very discounted price. They were really very supportive of me. During my time there I did a documentary with the late race driver Dale Earnhardt while I was on staff at Turner. I sold that and that was what really allowed me to leave.

JWK: You also did a lot of commercials for companies like Home Depot and Coca-Cola.

KH: Yes. Ultimately that kind of graduated into – and you’ll love this – what was deemed “pre-feature entertainment” which was those commercials they make you watch when you go to the movies…They didn’t call them commercials. They tried to dress them up as “pre-feature entertainment.” We were guilty of producing a bunch of those kind of commercials for Coca-Cola, NASCAR and the like that ran in theaters – in addition to the ones be did for broadcast.

JWK: Your production company is called Triple Horse Studios. Where did that name come from?

KH: I was literally driving in my truck one afternoon and my wife and I decided that we were going to start this company. We knew we needed a name. To be quite honest, I looked up to my right and there were two horses grazing in the field that I had never seen before even though I had been down this road a thousand times – and, to my left, there was a third horse. What’s ironic about that is I had already run the name Triple Horse past my wife and she thought “Well, I don’t know. It’s kind of an odd name.” I (said) “I know. I can’t shake it. I feel like I’m maybe being led in that direction.” And then these horses just appeared right after that conversation. It kinda solidified the name for us. Since then we have really studied and dug into what the horses would mean – and what they mean to us.

JWK: So, what do they mean to you?

KH: In our logo we have a black horse, a red horse and a white horse. The black horse is indicative of a work horse. The Scripture says “Study to show yourself approved.” So, that black horse is representative to us of that workhorse – that plow horse that’s always working hard at being ready for the opportunity when God opens those doors. In the ancient days – and in the biblical times – when a king of one city went to another city if he was riding on a donkey or a light-colored horse he was there to make peace but if he came riding up on a colored horse, most notably a red horse, he was there to lay siege on the city. So, the second horse in our logo is the red horse. So, if we first show ourselves approved the Lord opens up the opportunity to make war on the enemy – which is the enemy of God. We try to tell stories stories that do that. And then, ultimately, our third horse in our logo is the white horse which is shrouded in smoke in our logo because it represents Christ’s horse. So, if we show ourselves approved and do our in our calling to make war on the enemy then, ultimately, we’ll see the Lord return.

JWK: That was a deeper answer than I expected. So, you’re based in Atlanta.

KH: Yep.

JWK: The city is booming with movie and TV production right now – particularly with faith-based projects. Why do you think that is?

KH: Yeah. They dub it “Hollywood of the South.” It really has exploded in growth over the last few years, the last decade or so. I think initially because of the tax incentives – the tax credits – that are available here for entertainment projects but, in addition to that, we’ve seen an awful lot of infrastructure. Not just facilities but technology has poured into this state. I think a lot of people who are from Los Angeles and other parts of the country have worked here and got the opportunity to work here because of those tax credits and I think they have, at some level, fallen in love with the South and with the economics down here which are a bit better than they would be, say, on the West Coast. You get a lot more bang for your buck here – and I think the pace, the family life and just everything about the South has really drawn people who had not experienced that to work here. We’re seeing now that not just technicians have relocated here but we’re also seeing producers and writers and the like that are starting to relocate to Atlanta. More and more projects are being homegrown out of the Georgia market. So, it’s been a really great thing but I think, ultimately, it’s because of those tax credits and then, secondly, the lifestyle.

JWK: For a while some in Hollywood were calling for boycotting Georgia because of its conservative abortion law but that seems to have faded – or has it?

KH: Yeah, we’ve had a few dust-ups over that over the last few years but, again, the governor has come out and said “Hey, Georgia is all about industry and about being forward thinking. It wants to be open for business for people of all faiths, denominations and backgrounds. Ultimately, we just want to focus on what the law is and focus on what’s best for Georgians.” I think they’ve done that and we’ve had a lot of support from both sides of the aisle on that. I think it’s really been beneficial to the state to stick to their roots and continue to press forward as to what they think is best for Georgians. The entertainment business has realized, I think, that they’re not really under attack here. They’re just seeing people being true to their faith and true to who they are.

JWK: I see among your upcoming projects is a TV series called Shadrach which is actually about a horse – which goes with your logo. Is television something you’re going to be delving more into?

KH: Yeah, I think so. Television series are certainly something that we see as being able to expand the story beyond just the initial two hours. Series like that and other series that we’re working on allow us often to have a six-episode or a nine-episode run. So, I think television is certainly something that we’re pushing into in a bigger way.

JWK: Where do you see your company in ten years or so?

KH: We hope to be continuing to produce projects with a biblical worldview. Not all of our projects are overtly (about) faith but (they) certainly have an underpinning of a biblical worldview. I hope that we will continue to do that and expand into more feature films and more television series that can touch people in that dark room.

JWK: A recent Wall Street Journal poll found that American attitudes toward traditional values like patriotism and religion have taken a deep slide. Are the kind of movies you’re making going against the grain? Do you feel the cultural momentum is with you or against you with these films?

KH: I think that there is a great audience that is very much under-served by the content that is coming out of the coasts. I think there are many, many, many people who have rallied around the faith properties and the faith content in the last decade and I think we’re seeing more – and higher quality – content produced than ever before and I think it’s because of the hunger that we’re seeing out there.

I’m familiar with the poll that you referenced. I think it’s a sad day that we see patriotism and faith in religion – specifically faith in God – in a declining moment. I think it’s part of our job as filmmakers, and as people who are part of the culture, to continue to push forward the message even though sometimes it may not be the most popular or the most accepted by all parties who I think in this day and age (find) everything offensive. That’s certainly not who we try to be. As faith filmmakers, we’re just trying to spread that message of love, peace and acceptance that Christ taught us. I think if we continue to do that then the audience, I hope and believe, will continue to grow.

John W. Kennedy is a writer, producer and media development consultant specializing in television and movie projects that uphold positive timeless values, including trust in God.

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

More from Beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad