Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 06/26/24

The road best traveled. Director Jonathan Coussens built a name for himself by putting together award-winning commercial campaigns for good causes like St. Jude Children’s Hospital, the American Red Cross, Wounded Warrior Project, Shriners Hospital for Children, the United Nations and Disabled American Veterans. From those he went on work with Mike Rowe on the TBN documentary series The Story Behind the Story (based on Rowe’s popular podcast The Way I Heard It). The pair quickly developed a friendship founded partly on their mutual philosophy on the powerful combination of optimism, gratitude and hard work.

Their latest project, Something to Stand For, arrives in theaters tomorrow and is slated for a one-week run through Independence Day.

JWK: So, tell me about Something to Stand For. What does it stand for and how did the movie come about?

Jonathan Coussens: Something to Stand For is a movie with Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs. You know, Mike’s been on television for almost twenty years now. We take a field trip to Washington, D.C. It’s part documentary, part blockbuster reenactment. We celebrate American heroes, landmarks and all of the iconic symbols that make our country great. Mike tells a series of short stories, nine different short stories throughout the film. Each one is about an iconic figure, a hero or an everyday citizen who played a role in making our country what it is today.

JWK: Can you touch on a couple of those stories briefly?

JC: The thing about the movie is it’s part mystery and history. So, in the middle of the movie you’re trying to figure out who Mike is talking about – What event is he talking about? – which makes it really fun. We talk about everyone from the Founding Fathers to the Marines who were fighting in Iwo Jima. We’ve got a couple of presidents. I’m not gonna tell you which ones.

JWK: Oh, no! Don’t give away the store!  So, how did the idea for the movie come about?

JC: It all started with Mike’s podcast called The Way I Heard it. He’s been doing the podcast for, I think, almost six or seven years now. The podcast is kind of in the vein of Paul Harvey or Will Rogers. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Paul Harvey.

JWK: Oh, yeah. I’m old enough to remember Paul Harvey.

JC: Yeah, so Mike kind of uses that bait-and-switch technique that Paul Harvey used to do whenever he would tell you a story about a famous person you know but maybe not the event or a piece of their life that you really didn’t know much about. So, it started out as a podcast…Impact Productions was hired to take the podcast (and) visualize it for television.

So, we got to work. It is really difficult to take an audio form of entertainment and make it a visual form of entertainment but somehow we cracked the code and we’ve made 78 different episodes and visualized them for the screen. In the movie, Something to Stand, For we take nine of those episodes and make them for the BIG screen. It’s a really fun entertaining way to tell a story. We are really excited about what the movie means and…the way it represents the American values and virtues that our country was founded upon.

JWK: After a couple of years of seeing historic American statues defaced and pulled down by mobs, how important do you think it is to remind people of these positive American stories?

JC: That’s a great question, John. This movie is not a political film. It’s not left, right, Republican or Democrat. This movie is simply a reminder of the foundation that was laid for our country. When we see statues being town down, when we see those things happen, I think it’s important to remind Americans where we’ve come from and why some of those statues were built.

Like I said, this isn’t a political film. It’s a patriotic film. We believe that there are things in our country still worth standing for. It’s important to stand for Old Glory. It’s important to remember the ideals and the values that our Founding Fathers built the country upon. It’s important to remember the millions of men and women who have fought to defend those values and that foundation…This movie is really a love letter to America. It’s really a letter to the next generation to say “Hey, even though our country has had its ups and downs and there are some things in our past that are shameful, there are even greater things that are still worth fighting for and still worth defending.” This movie is a reminder of the great values and sacrifices that many Americans have made over our history.

JWK: I agree with you that many liberals share these values but there does seem to be a perception that the left is more associated with the tear down the statues crowd. Conservative or liberal, we may have different points of view about economic policy or this policy or that policy but, with all its flaws, most Americans are on the same page about this being a country worth standing up for – but, even it that’s the case, it feels like we’re all so divided. Is it possible bridge all the political divides and reignite that feeling of national unity.

JC: I think that is the billion/trillion dollar question. How do you unite Americans? I think this movie is one of the answers to that question. While there is such great division in our nation right now, the things that do unite people are things like love, hope and the promise of freedom. What we’re trying to do is remind Americans – and really the world that large – that it’s that promise of freedom that hundreds of thousands and millions of people have sacrificed for over the last 250 years. What our Founding Fathers originally stood for in 1776 is that promise of freedom.

I don’t think there is any American – whether right, left, center, Republican or Democrat – that would say that they don’t want freedom. I think that this movie takes the cause and the courage that was demonstrated in our history and puts it at the forefront and just says “This is what America was built on.” Let’s get back to those values. Let’s get back to standing for something that values our freedom and come together under a banner of looking at the past in order to improve our future.

JWK: Do you think that maybe some of those who have been out there pulling down the statues and whatnot have been pushed by the to look back on our ancestors in a rather judgemental and condemnatory way and maybe that that value of gratitude – for all the good things they passed down to us – has been forgotten? While mistakes were made in our country’s history, certainly a lot of courageous people also stood up and did the right things.

JC: I think you can always look to the past and find a problem. I think that you can always look to the past and see a mistake. I think you can also look to the past and learn from those mistakes, learn from those problems and improve the future. You can also look to the past and be reminded of what we did right…Politics was never what the Founders wanted. What they wanted was a people united under one banner living free. I think if we look to the past and focus on the problems without identifying the solutions, I think that in itself is a major problem. We have to be able to learn…and be reminded of the things made our country great. When we look at history though a lens of problems or we look at history through a lens of mistakes we’ve made, all we’re gonna see are those problems and those mistakes. I think what this film is trying to highlight is even though we’ve made mistakes and we have our differences, let’s look at the past in a way that unites us versus divides us.

JWK: How long have you and Mike Rowe been working together?

JC: We’ve been working together for the last four years. We started working together in 2020…Impact Productions was hired originally to take Mike’s stories and visualize them for the screen. Mike’s a great guy. He is a true American patriot. He loves the country. He loves the values that were instilled in him growing up, values of freedom, sacrifice and hard work. A lot of people associate Mike with all of the “dirty jobs” he’s done over the past twenty years. One thing is for certain. He has definitely learned what it means to persevere. I think that’s something that we can look back and see in this movie. There were also a lot of other great Americans who did dirty jobs too. Somehow their work – even though sometimes it was dirty – made our country great. I think that’s what we want to highlight in our film.

JWK: I guess optimism is one value that comes through.

JC: If you don’t have hope, what do you have? I think if don’t have hope for the country’s future then your gonna wake up every day depressed and feeling like not going outside. I think if we look at the future with optimism, and we look at the past with gratefulness, we can move forward in a way that honors our Founders and gives hope to the next generation.

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

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