Celebrity Interviews

Brigham Taylor, Producer of New Ewan McGregor Disney Film ‘Christopher Robin’ Talks Winnie the Pooh, Redemption & Why Our Culture Needs This Movie Today

Originally published at Rocking God's House.

The new live-action Winnie the Pooh #Disney film Christopher Robin tells the story of an adult Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) living in midcentury London when suddenly he comes face-to-face with his past from Hundred Acre Wood.

The film releases in theaters nationwide this weekend. Like many Winnie the Pooh fans young and old, I'm looking forward to seeing it, especially after my intriguing conversation with the film's producer Brigham Taylor.

Directed by Marc Forster, the film also stars Hayley Atwell and Bronte Carmichael along with Jim Cummings reprising his beloved role as the voice of Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, roles he has played for several decades. There are quite a few other high caliber actors in this film--see full cast here. In fact, Clara McGregor, the daughter of Ewan McGregor, also has a few scenes in the film in what looks to be her first film with her father.

After such a heavy, rather contentious two years in American culture, a movie like this is both welcome and refreshing. I had the opportunity to discuss the film with Brigham Taylor, who produced Christopher Robin with Kristin Burr of Burr! Productions. Taylor has a long and fruitful history in Hollywood, recently producing under TaylorMade Productions such notable features as "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales," the live action version of "Jungle Book," and "Tomorrowland." When he was an executive vice president at Disney, he oversaw the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, “Tron: Legacy,” “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “Oz: The Great and Powerful.” (I was especially interested to see his Narnia credit as I am a huge Narnia fan and published a book about C. S. Lewis.)

And as a long-time fan of Winnie the Pooh ("Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day" is still my favorite), I was quite curious about "Christopher Robin." I had a number of questions about the film, including how Ewan McGregor became interested in the project. After speaking with Brigham, I'm convinced that "Christopher Robin" will eventually become one of Disney's all-time classics. It seems to have all the right elements in play--even a powerful theme of redemption:

I know it took you many years to see it come to life. Can you share a little how that journey started for you and how it's evolved into the film we have today?

It's been an idea that I was thinking about years ago. We got as far as writing some scripts, but we set it aside because at the time [early 2000s] the animation group was still doing wonderful things with the character and the stories and putting films out. So we didn't really want to compete with ourselves, and so we set it aside. The years went by, and honestly for a stretch of that time I wasn't thinking that much about it just because of preoccupation with everything else we were doing. And then as we [Disney] were slowly coming back as we have in recent years to this idea of utilizing some of these classic stories, re-telling some of these fairy tales and featuring characters we love--to utilize old stories in new ways--it made more and more sense to pitch this. We had a whole new group at the studio, Alan Horn is now the Chairman and Sean Bailey is now President of Production, and none of them were around when we pitched this 15 years ago. So it's kind of like doing it all over again from the start. I was now stepping into my producing role at the studio, and my old friend and colleague Kristin Burr was still in an executive role and she's the one who said, "Now is the time to dig up that old idea of yours because this is really want they are leaning into." And she's definitely right, this was perfect, and so we found a new writer and we pitched it again. The concept was very similar. We had new details I think that we improved, in terms of certain ideas we put into it, but it was really about waiting for the right time, and it finally came out.

It sounds like the delay was a blessing in disguise.

Christopher Robin quote-2.jpg

I think so. We were able to not compete with other projects we were making. Also, we were able to benefit from the advancement and wonderful animation techniques that we can utilize with the visual effects team in bringing these characters to life. It's gotten ever more sophisticated. And the funny thing here is that we're trying to do the most rudimentary thing: we're trying to basically present vintage stuffed toys and have them only move in ways that they could realistically move. So we're trying to do the most low-fi possible presentation but it takes wonderful technology to do that. So hopefully the effect is that of a very low tech even though it's using state-of-the-art techniques.

Interesting contradiction there. I'm excited to see the animation. The trailer looks extraordinary. I write for a Christian website, and I'm a Christian. Obviously not every movie talks about faith, but just about every good movie in Hollywood has some theme of redemption in it, where something lost is found again. I was curious what kind of themes of redemption do you see in this project?

I think this is all about finding the things you've lost, and specifically the things that Christopher has left behind in childhood. So that is, I think, the universal challenge that everyone faces: how to hold on to the best things from youth, assuming we were privileged enough to have a happy childhood. But there are these wonderful lessons about friendship, about kindness, about taking time to be completely present with your friends and with your family. That gets ever more challenging as you get older and you take on your education and eventually your career. We wanted to tell a story and have Christopher Robin be very much the "everyman" who stands in for all of us, all the men and women who grow old and get weighed down with responsibilities and distractions that can absolutely pull you away from things that are important. And so what better way to remind you of that than the embodiment of your childhood--in this case Winnie the Pooh arriving at your doorstep needing your help. Christopher has to tend to someone else's needs, which is always a great way to get outside of your own issues. And in doing so, to see yourself even more clearly for what you're doing and more for what you're not doing. In the case of Christopher, he's really not attending to his most important relationships, which are his wife and daughter. And so hopefully in the story you will get a feeling that he corrects that and puts his life back in balance. We can't all quit our jobs and go play in the woods all day [laughs], but we can find time to do that and put life in balance, and that's hopefully the message that comes through.

Was Winnie the Pooh a part of your childhood? What's your history with that character?

Yes, he was a part of my childhood, and the stories I remember were read to me by my mom who remains a huge fan of A.A. Milne. Even now, I just came from a family reunion where there are four generations and 95 people all sort of springing out of my parents' family and we are inevitably all forced to recite one of the poems from A. A. Milne's "When We Were Very Young." I gave my parents--they have sitting outside their cabin--a wood carving of Pooh and Piglet. He's always been kind of a key character in childhood and even adulthood, which made it all the more exciting to try to add a new chapter and to re-introduce these characters to this generation in a way that no one has ever quite seen them before, as these very real and approachable characters. The characters were very meaningful and I really fell in love with the early animation of those three featurettes they produced, especially between '66 and '74. Just amazing voices that they found to embody these characters and the most charming animation. They were very adept at portraying these characters as stuffed animals, even their drawings and the wonderful charm and kindness that permeates these stories. They have a certain kind of tone all to themselves, and we really tried to keep that in the movie. We didn't try to put a weird edge on it or hip it up, we tried to keep it very approachable and keep the tone more of the sort of quiet communication of these characters. Though there's Tigger who's very energetic and there's a little bit of lunacy there, but by and large it's a movie that gets by on its charm.

That's fantastic. And we would expect that from Tigger definitely [laughs]. Ewan McGregor, I just saw him in "Last Days in the Desert," and he has such an amazing range of roles: I was just curious how he got involved in this particular project.

We had a script and a director and we sat down and of course the most important decision at that point is "who is our Christopher?" You look around in the landscape of who is out there in the right age range and one guy just popped out to all of us as number one on our wish list, and that was Ewan. Mark, our director, had made a film with Ewan, so they were friendly and he was able to approach him with a positive past relationship. But still it comes down to him reading the script, wrapping his head around it and wanting to do it or not. Lucky for us, he embraced and jumped into it. I remember, just a week into filming, we felt like we had the right guy, but we were really blown away. He was incredibly prepared, he takes his craft super seriously. There was not a moment where he was thinking, oh I'm just making a family film. He was making a dramatic film in the best way because him being very grounded in that role both I think accentuates the drama and the emotion but also heightens the humor in the movie because there's a very real tension between the adult Christopher Robin trying to maintain all the issues that are on his plate and also deal with this friend who has seemingly very frivolous problems. That was always to me going to be a wonderful source of comedy in this movie and I think it's in there. And I love those scenes where he's having to suppress his own frustration, which eventually turns around into understanding. With Ewan we couldn't have been happier. He's one of our best actors working in this industry. And he's the guy who brought to us both this amazing sort of gravitas and emotional depth but also has this tremendous charm and can remind you of the six year old boy he used to be and the kid who used to play in these woods. He has just one of the most magnetic smiles that you're ever going to see, and when you get to employ that it's an amazing sort of jolt. His range is tremendous and I can't imagine it without him now.

That's awesome. It was surprising to see him there, but then the more I thought about it, I thought "That's going to be amazing!" [laughs] How do you hope this movie will contribute to the overall legacy of Winnie the Pooh in our culture?

I hope it serves as a wonderful refresher course in the value of these characters and what they represent. I think a lot of people don't have to be reminded. But I think there's a lot of people who maybe grew up with it and haven't re-engaged with one of the movies or with the books recently and I think this is a gateway back into that and it reminds you about the value of this kind of friendship, the value of doing nothing with people that you love, and that means just being present and being together doing your favorite things. As Christopher Robin asks Pooh, "How do you do nothing?" He says, "That's when someone says, 'What are you going to do?' and you say, 'Nothing,' and then you go and do it," [laughs] which means you go and do something you enjoy. That's a timeless value and I'm hoping this keeps those lessons firmly etched in people's minds and imaginations and has them going back to re-read these books, which are amazing. Every time I've read them, now multiple times in the course of making the film, they're never notenjoyable. That's my hope.

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To view theater listings and purchase tickets for "Christopher Robin," click here.

Kevin Ott is a movie reviewer, entertainment journalist and the author of the C. S. Lewis, music-themed inspirational book Shadowlands and Songs of Light.

Is The Shroud of Turin Evidence for Christ’s Resurrection?

Originally published on Rocking God's House.

Have you ever wondered about the Shroud of Turin–whether it’s authentic? Is it really the burial cloth of Christ?

Well, one of the world’s leading experts on the Shroud, Mark Antonacci, wondered the same thing too once, and it changed his life. Antonacci, a lawyer by trader, has not only discerned evidence that the cloth is authentic and is the burial shroud of Christ, but he has recently released an astonishing hypothesis: the Shroud also bears evidence that the body wrapped in it was resurrected.

So when I had the chance to interview him about the Shroud, I jumped at the chance. Besides hearing about the remarkable facts about the Shroud that led to his hypothesis, we hear how God used the Shroud to bring him to Christ.

But before we jump into the interview, here is the latest press release about him and his new book TEST THE SHROUD:

Author and one of the leading experts on the Shroud of Turin, Mark Antonacci, continues his pursuit for the authenticity of Christ’s burial cloth with his new book, Test The Shroud. Following over 34 years of studying the garment, Antonacci is convinced that additional testing at the atomic and molecular levels could easily prove that the crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection of Christ were actual events in history. Antonacci maintains that the marks on the cloth are those of a dead human body and were made with particle or neutron radiation that wasn’t discovered until the 20th century. The radiation accounts for more than 30 unique and remarkable features on the body image that includes still-red blood stains and the pre-mortem and post-mortem wounds that were inflicted upon Jesus. Test The Shroud presents illustrations to help explain the proposed testing, while the writing style is easy to understand and can be enjoyed by everyone.

Test The Shroud describes advanced scientific testing techniques that have become available and can demonstrate if a miraculous event occurred, when it happened, where it happened, the actual age of the garment and the identity of the corpse. Antonacci is petitioning the Vatican to allow this new scientific examination to take place, and his theory is being supported from other scientists around the world.

•    “…convincing line of reasoning that the Shroud of Turin is the authentic burial cloth of Jesus Christ.” – Art Lind, Physicist

•    “Test The Shroud is a gold mine of information on the controversial Shroud of Turin.” – Joe Marino, Theologian, Sindonologist

•    “A fascinating read – highly recommended.” – Robert A. Rucker, PE, Nuclear Engineer

•    “…many interesting details of the most important relic of Christianity, both from the scientific and historical points of view.” – Giulio Fanti, Associate Professor of Mechanical and Thermal Measurement, University of Padua, Italy.

For my first question, I want to hear more about your story before we get into the Shroud. How did you get interested in the Shroud? And how did it lead to your faith in Christ?

I stumbled on the subject by accident as a result of an argument with an old girlfriend almost 35 years ago. The argument was over the fact that she was a Christian and I was an agnostic and it was kind of a threat to the relationship, which was just beginning. I didn’t want to sit around all weekend and let it bother me so I decided to go in and do some work on a Saturday, when there’s no deadlines hanging over your head or nothing like that–there’s no court on Saturday morning.

As a result of the argument I go into work and I can’t get anything done there either so I decided, “Well, I’ll just take some lunch.” It was a Saturday and the paper that I stopped to get didn’t even stay in business much longer after that and it had been in business for decades, but I never read that particular paper, but on Saturday the weekend sports edition came out in that paper so that was one of the few times in my life I grabbed that paper. It had a review of an article about a new book that came out on the Shroud of Turin summarizing the findings from the first initial examination of the cloth. In fact, it’s still the only examination of the cloth. If it wasn’t for the argument I never would have came across the article or the paper and if I had come across the article I wouldn’t have paid any attention to it. But this actually irritated and bugged me because it reminded me of the argument and this is what I was trying to forget.

You couldn’t get away from it!

I literally sat there eating lunch and there was a byline at the top of the paper on the weekend edition and they had a picture of the man on the shroud. You know how a picture looks like it’s looking at you? The thing kept looking at me out of the corner of my eye when I’m trying to read the sports page, and I pushed it away a couple times. Finally I picked it up and said, “All right, I’ll read the blankity-blank article.” Then I find myself back at the apartment where I started out and I’m pacing back and forth and this is the key. I feel threatened and a lot of people feel threatened by new, objective and independent evidence on a subject that is almost as personal as you can get–your religion. But I was very attracted to it because I’m an attorney and it’s very unique evidence, unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.

Finally, I’m pacing a couple hours and finally in mid-step it hits me, I go, “Wait a minute, what are you worked up about? If this, if there is evidence of the Passion, crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, what’s bad about this? This could be good news, idiot.” So I thought, “Well, okay, I’ll look at it all … ” Boy was it interesting, it was just astounding. But a lot of people can’t get over that first hurdle and I admit, having a long-legged brunette was a real incentive to reach an accommodation here. [laughs] But after we more or less put that issue behind us we found other things we could argue about. Everybody thinks, “Oh, it has a happy ending and you marry her and you live a wonderful Christian life together.” I do live a Christian life, but I didn’t marry her. I married somebody else 10-12 years later.

So it’s almost as if God set up these little things that prodded you in the right direction.

Yes, we were to meet and to know each well for a short while. I still talk to the gal once in a while, we went to school together but we were three years apart so you didn’t have any contact with each other in those days. That’s how I got started and I really do think it was very important because it’s hard to get yourself to look at it, to overcome your preconceived notions, whatever they are. I was agnostic but you could have been an atheist, you could have been a Hindu, a Buddhist, you could have been anything. It’s hard for people to think, jimminy, there might actually be scientific, medical, and archaeological evidence that corroborates the accounts of the greatest historical sources in the world, the Gospels and the New Testament.

It has been pretty astounding just to read through your material. One of the things that jumped out to me about the Shroud was where it says that there are approximately 130 blood marks, and there are many unique features have never been duplicated in any age. Can you maybe talk a little about that?

These blood marks appear in cloth in the same shape and form as they would have on the body. They formed and flowed, they coagulated and first of all it’s hard to get coagulated blood off of your skin and onto cloth, it’s just hard to get it off your skin in the same shape that it was in on your skin. They’re not only on the cloth, they’re embedded in the cloth with serum around the edges and you can see them on both sides of the cloth.

The outer side of the cloth has always had a backing cloth on it for support but when you take the backing cloth off and you look at it, they’re in almost the same shape and form on the outer side of the cloth as they are on the inside of the cloth that wrapped the body, the dead body. The blood still has a reddish color to it, tint is a better word for it. If the blood is from the Middle Ages it wouldn’t have been red after a few days. I don’t know if you read that part in the book but if you irradiate blood with neutrons and then subsequently expose it to sunlight or ultra violet light, it will maintain a reddish color and it will even look more red than it does in natural light, in sunlight. It will look even more red than in a room or something. It’s something about the combination of neutron radiation initially and then ultraviolet light subsequently, but no forger could have irradiated it with neutrons in the middle ages, of course, neutrons aren’t discovered until the twentieth century.

That touches on one of the things that really stuck out to me the most, your discussion about how it’s been irradiated with particle radiation and the more I read about that it seemed to create this amazing image of basically Christ’s body–evidence of the resurrection. Is that what you’re pointing to? Is this particle radiation showing that something really supernatural happened here?

Oh, yes. This could only have been a miracle. It appears, and of course we’ll want to test this, but it appears that particle radiation emanates from the length and width and depth of the dead body that’s in rigor mortis, and it’s after he suffered all the wounds. This is a miraculous event. Scientists can’t do that in the 21st century, although they discovered particle radiation, protons and neutrons, they can’t make it come from your little finger let alone the length and width and depth of your body–a dead body on top of it.

That’s incredible.

It captures all the indicators of a prior event. This guy has been crucified, he’s got all the signs of it, he’s had a bundle of sharp pointed objects, or thorns, put over his entire head, which is consistent with the types of crowns that were used in the east in the first century. He’s been scourged with a Roman instrument, he’s had a rough, heavy object across the back of his shoulders. He’s fallen down, he’s got a postmortem wound in his right side in the perfect location that they would have never known of back then, from which blood and a watery fluid flows, just as the Gospel of John describes, on Jesus. His legs aren’t broken, unlike the thieves–they’re legs and all other crucifixion victims were broken–but this guy was already dead, as indicated by the postmortem side wound and the lack of broken legs.

They’re all captured by this, what we think is a miraculous event that happened and if it’s particle radiation it will leave unique proof that this event occurred, but it will even tell you when it occurred and where it occurred and, at that point, the identity would be pretty simple. But the clincher of who it was would be the miraculous event. No other such miraculous event under all these same circumstances [has happened]–that only exists for the historical Jesus. It doesn’t exist for somebody else. What gets me is the evidence is simply unfaceable. Collectively, it’s unfakeable. You can fake a few aspects of the images, though I’ve never come across anyone who’s duplicated one of the blood marks let alone 130 of them. The blood marks are not broken on the edges and they simply don’t know how any of this happened, and my book hypothesizes that after the radiating event occurs, the body also disappears. If you hypothesize that the disappearance occurs at the time of this radiating event you can account for all the primary and secondary body image features, as well as its off-image features such as this radiocarbon dating or the excellent condition of the cloth, and if there are things like coins and flowers on there you can explain those as well by this event.

The evidence is definitely overwhelming and, like you said, it’s a thread to an amazing path to joy if people are willing to accept it. I know your desire is to have the shroud tested, do you see any progress in having that happen, is there resistance to that? Have you been trying to petition for that to happen?

There is resistance to that, a lot of people don’t know the first thing about the subject and when they hear it, when you talk about that they just think it’s preposterous and they have no idea what the evidence indicates. All they know is it’s carbon dated to the Middle Ages and that’s that. Even a lot of Christians will think, or even people who study the Shroud will think, “You can’t risk doing these tests because what happens if they fail?” Well, you’re just in the same situation you already are in. It wouldn’t mean anything except that my hypothesis is wrong. You’d still have to explain all the features on the body images and the blood marks.

Is it the Catholic Church that has the authority to have it tested? Is that really the main one that you have to petition or is it more complicated than that?

Certainly you would have to convince them but you’d have to convince the people who have influence with them–say in Italy, various scientists and that probably have more influence.

It’s just so fascinating. Thanks for writing this book and sharing all of that. I’m praying that it actually does come to fruition, that it does get tested. I really think that could lead to many, many more people like you who found Christ through the Shroud.

Listen, your prayers are very valuable, don’t think they’re not. They help more than anything. I find myself all the time praying about this. If the public’s aware of it you can get a response from the Vatican even if the present conduits to the Vatican never do believe in it themselves. I’m not limiting myself just to those conduits. They’re good people, it’s just I don’t think they have a good grasp of [it], and they’re afraid of what other scientists might think.

But this is very detailed out in peer-reviewed, scientific literature–the hypothesis is out there, as well as in the book. The hypothesis is testable and there’s no reason it shouldn’t be tested. The technology should be developed more and perfected before it’s ever applied to the Shroud itself. The technology exists now for limestone but it needs to be developed and perfected for linen and blood, which are the most important things to test. We don’t know for sure whether Jesus’s burial tomb, the reputed locations, we don’t know if one of them really is the tomb. The most likely one is the Holy Sepulcher, by far, in my opinion, but we don’t know for sure if that’s the case or not. I think even they questioned this very strongly back 1600 years ago.

It’s just amazing that we have the Shroud. I think that’s definitely a sign, I think God intended that as another way to advance the Gospel during these difficult times of humanity. It’s amazing to see all this come to fruition. I’m excited to see how it develops.

Think of all the wars and conflicts that are going on now where religion is at the heart of these disputes or certainly an underlying element or a long-established basis for such centuries-long conflict. Why can’t we decide this question based on logic and evidence instead of who can outgun the other one, who can conquer the other one? It doesn’t work on these kind of issues. You can’t. Any victories you have are temporary and it just makes the bitterness and the combativeness. It just ingrains it and gives people a more recent reason to fight even harder and to start another war. It’s time these things were answered on the basis of evidence, like we try to do on every other issue. You try to get the evidence, the objective evidence to guide your opinions. It’s too bad we can’t do this on politics as well.

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For more information on Test The Shroud visit online at www.testtheshroudonline.com.

About Mark Antonacci

Mark Antonacci is the founder and president of the Test the Shroud Foundation, one of the world’s leading authorities on the Shroud of Turin. He gave the keynote address at the international conference held in Italy in conjunction with the Shroud’s exhibition in 2010. As an attorney, he has spent over 30 years studying all aspects of the evidence relating to the Shroud of Turin and released his first book on the topic,The Resurrection of the Shroud, in 2000. The project received coverage from such high-profile outlets as the Chicago Sun Times, Dallas Morning News, Tulsa World News, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Trinity Broadcasting Network, and the nationally syndicated radio program Coast to Coast AM. Antonacci practices law and lives with his wife outside of St. Louis.

Exclusive Interview & Review: How Patrick Walsh, Producer of New CBS Show ‘Living Biblically’ is Adding Something Positive to Our Cultural Conversation

Originally published on Rocking God's House

Producer and writer Patrick Walsh (“2 Broke Girls,” “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) has teamed up with Johnny Galecki of “Big Bang Theory” fame and a host of talented people to bring a new show to CBS called Living Biblically, which premiers this Monday, Feb. 26 at 9:30pm (8:30 Central).

After speaking with Patrick and seeing a few episodes, I have to say from the standpoint of both a Christian and a reviewer, “Living Biblically” is refreshing, laugh-out-loud funny, endearing, and respectful of the people and subjects it tackles.

I genuinely liked it.

Here’s the plot: After losing his best friend and learning that his wife is pregnant, film critic Chip Curry–played by Jay R. Ferguson (“Mad Men,” “Surface”)–embarks on a spiritual journey to start living a better, more moral life, and he decides to live his life 100% by the Bible. The show is an adaptation of the non-fiction book by A. J. Jacobs.

Patrick’s insights below, and the insights contained in the show itself, are things our hyper-divisive culture could really use right now.

Our society has been charged with anger and argument at every turn. Our insulated silos in life and on social media (with its strident, carefully manicured group think) have turned the “Us” vs. “Them” mentality up to 11 across the spectrum of society, especially with politics and religion. There’s not much room for active listening, meet-in-the-middle empathy, or patience in conversations with people we have deemed “the enemy,” whether for political or other reasons. Things have escalated, to say the least, and like feuding families who refuse to forgive or forget, the blame-game and vitriol has grown exponentially.

“Living Biblically,” besides being a great comedy, tries to de-escalate that situation by tackling one of the most sensitive topics (religion) with infectious humor, zany and witty situational comedy, relational warmth, and empathetic conversations between a melting pot of Christian, Jewish, and non-believing characters.

After the interview you can read my full review of the show, and why I genuinely liked it. (To be clear, I’m not saying this show is a Walton Family all-ages sit-down for Sunday afternoons. This is not “Fireproof.” It’s a comedy meant for adults that airs at 9:30pm on CBS, a major, non-religious network. But I’ll get into that in more detail my review.)

As I introduced myself to Patrick, I learned that his father is a theology professor at a community college who has shaped curriculum and taught many different topics dealing with theology. That interesting revelation about his background led to my first question:

When you talk to Christians, whether it’s your family or friends, how do you pitch the show and describe it to them?

A big help is that the book was so successful. A lot of my religious friends had already read the book, knew the book. Actually way more than I thought; it was a best-seller, but I didn’t realize how many people had actually read it. That was a help and it was also a help in guiding the tone of the show because I was very intimidated about doing a comedy about religion, which makes people uneasy.

I am in Los Angeles, so it’s a little different, but logging into Twitter every morning you see. I think it’s a shame. There are a lot of people who will say, you know, “I’m not watching this. I’m banning CBS. This shows going to make fun of my beliefs, etc.” I hope they watch the show and know that’s not the case at all. It’s very respectful and I think it’s really a celebration of faith. Every week it has a very positive influence on Chip’s life and even the lives around him, even though they’re skeptical or even though they may mock him at times. It always has a positive influence in his life. It helps in some way. It helps him be a better person.

So that’s basically it. When I explain the show I say: “You know, it’s a comedy about religion. It’s not excluding non-Christians and it’s not making fun of Christians. It’s somewhere in the middle.” I hope that it appeals to both sides, and it’s a shame it has to be called sides but that’s kind of where we’re at.

It is definitely an argumentative culture right now. I consider myself to be a serious, devoted Christian, and I found the show very endearing. And I think there are plenty of Christians out there who are okay with that kind of show, who are just glad Christians aren’t portrayed as the villain [laughs].

And Christian entertainment, you know, “God’s Not Dead” and “Left Behind,” they tend to paint atheists as the villain. And secular entertainment, if we’re going to discuss Christianity, paint Christians if not as the villain, then silly. They’re both doing kind of the same thing. It’s kind of a shame. The show is really just trying to be a celebration of people. People of all faiths. I tried to do a lot of things suddenly. A priest and a rabbi being best friends. An atheist and a guy who is somehow living by the Bible being married. Stuff like that is very powerful. We tested the show in Vegas and people were shocked that a rabbi and priest could even be friends. I think there’s a lot of misinformation because people only talk to people who share their same beliefs when it comes to religion. Everyone’s too scared of offending or etc. and I think its a shame. I think you can learn so much by talking to people of a variety of faiths and beliefs.

So true. And I felt that warmth from the show, inviting you to get in conversation with people instead of backing away. What have you enjoyed about this project so far?

The biggest pull for me is our live taping. We do them on Friday nights with an audience of about 200 people so I always say, “Get some church groups in there and get some non-religious people off the streets in there and let’s see how the shows are playing.” And I’d being lying to you if I said it wasn’t scary every week. The pilot was the scariest because I had no idea what to expect but, you know, you learn what people laugh at, what people don’t laugh at. We were hesitant; we did an episode about prayer, and does prayer work? Is that even the right question to be asking? And it was a little heavier than the other ones. And we put it up for the audience and we learned that they were hooked on it. But it was hearing this kind of pressure on television and I was concerned, and I know CBS was concerned that it would turn people off on either side of the fence. But at the end of the day most of the shows on TV, most of these sitcoms amount to, “Dad ate the pizza and we need the pizza for the big party,” or whatever it is. I think people got a real kick out of having a meatier discussion to sink their teeth into. And my hope is that it helps non-religious people have more respect for Christianity and what Christians are trying to do. And also, Christians realize that the only way people are going to know more about your life and what you’re doing is by opening up and talking about it, and it’s scary and uncomfortable but that’s what the show is supposed to be. And so you’ll see a lot of that going forward with these long conversations about faith and what it means. And sometimes they don’t get it, sometimes they think it’s silly, sometimes it changes their life in a very massive way. And I think that’s healthy. I think its an exciting thing, especially for a CBS sitcom.

Very exciting. I’m very curious the future episodes. You mentioned the meaty conversations and the prayer. One of the biggest misunderstanding I come across with people is they think Christianity is just a book a rules when actually the main heart of Christianity is that you can’t earn your way to heaven by being a good person; you receive it by grace. Is that concept of grace ever explored in a future episode?

Well, [pauses thoughtfully] yes. It’s not explicitly discussed in the first thirteen episodes, but there’s a lot of, “You’re focusing on the wrong thing here Chip.” That’s why it was important for me to have the priest laugh at Chip when he said he’s going to live by the Bible. I have seen people have issue with that and it’s true. The priest is saying, “You can’t do it.” And there are certain aspects of the Bible that maybe you shouldn’t do–you’re sticking to the letter as opposed to the spirit of it. That stuff is very much discussed in there. As we get into charity and some of them are lying and stealing and false idols and that kind of stuff: those are more fun episodes. But the show definitely tackles deeper topics. Why people choose religion. Why people believe what they do. And I think that’s a very good part of the show going forward, these discussions and Chip kind of growing in his faith as well, and realizing you can’t always follow it to the letter.

One of the most interesting, and the audience really enjoyed this one and this was a very nerve-racking one, was about the misogyny in the Bible–specifically the verse, submit to your husband. That’s very controversial today and especially in marriages. So, Leslie, Chip’s wife says, “Look, I’m saying positive things, I’m happy for you, etc.” but once she starts reading up on the Bible she thinks, well is this going to happen in my marriage. Is this going to be a submit situation? And she says,”Chip’s not like that, my husband’s not like that.” Ms Meadows, who’s talking to her at the time says, “Well, you probably never thought he’d hit somebody with a rock either.” So Leslie starts to get freaked out, confronts him about it, and she has to say, “You know I am following 100 percent but you’re absolutely right. We need to submit to each other, we are equals and …” that was a really powerful episode. The audience really got into that. And I think it’s got a great point in terms of, yes, sticking to every word of the Bible can be great, can be positive, but there are times when you have to say, I’ve got to make an adaptation here. If I’m going to have a positive marriage, if I’m going to have a successful family, etc. so that too is what the show’s about every week.

I noticed one of the executive producers is Johnny Galecki from ‘Big Bang Theory.” How has he been involved?

Well, Johnny was involved before I was. He had the rights to the book. He and his company really loved A.J.Jacobs book, and was looking for the right person to adapt it. And they had been looking for quite some time. It remains now, and it was at that time, a very daunting subject to do a comedy about on network television. So they had met with a bunch of people. I just had dinner with them and talked about growing up Catholic and I had a bunch of funny stories and a bunch of anecdotes and more emotional stories and how Catholicism shaped my life and continues to shape my life. And I think that might be kind of a rare thing to find in a Hollywood writer, you know a strong sense of faith and growing up religious. So I think that is probably why I got the job. And they also probably liked me as a person and sense of humor. Johnny really really wanted to make a show that was sort of modern day “All In the Family,” and that was a show where every week this family would argue with each other, and they would argue about huge topics about politics, racism, religion whatever it would be. And the audience would cheer both sides, and at the end, well, it wasn’t always “we all learned and we all hugged,” but everyone understood each other better. In all the early conversations of the show, the most important thing was that you see so much benefit discussing these topics with others. I know it was important to him, and I think he found a kindred spirit in me. And that was it.

That’s awesome. What do you hope people get out of Living Biblically?

On a small scale I hope they take away the moral, the message of each week. Some weeks are more subtle than others. The false idols episodes is a great one to start; it’s the second episode we will air. It’s about false idols. In Chip’s case it’s his iPhone. He can’t stop looking at his iPhone. He winds up destroying it. He winds up connecting much more with his fellow man. He has this amazing day where he’s out in the world talking to people. Every week has some sort of built in moral like that.

If people take those little lessons from it great. The bigger lesson I hope they would take is that you can talk about, you can even laugh about, religion and it’s okay. Everybody is fine, everybody can learn from each other. And all discussion about religion and of course politics is a huge one as well, it does not have to be you covering your ears and screaming your opinion. You have to talk. I think social media has been a major component in that where people only talk about these huge issues with people who align themselves with 100 percent with what they believe. That’s no way to live, that’s no way to grow, no way to learn.

That is kind of a larger theme of the show. And I really hope people talk to each other more often as a result. I think we’re headed towards dangerous times, in the way people speak to each other. It’s getting more and more isolated and there are more divides. This show is about uniting people, and I hope that’s what it does.

“Living Biblically” premiers on CBS on Monday, Feb. 26 at 9:30/8:30 C.

***

My Review of ‘Living Biblically’: Funny, Moving, and Respectful

I laughed out loud often while watching this show.

Besides being funny about religion in a way that Christian comedian/blogger Jon Acuff would likely appreciate, the show is genuinely moving. It tackles subjects ranging from the grief of losing someone you love to the Ten Commandments. Within that wide range, we see likable characters try to clumsily (and hilariously) navigate their somewhat immature understanding of the Bible, and then we watch them grow in their relationships and in their understanding of the Bible and what it means to “live Biblically.”

I especially appreciated its exploration of grief in the storyline. Maybe it’s because I’ve been dealing with that topic in major ways in my personal life, but those parts of this show stood out to me. The scenes in the pilot episode, particularly the final scene, was especially moving as Chip wrestles with the loss of his best friend.

This show has depth, in other words, which is always refreshing to find in a comedy.

There are also hints of the concept of “saved by grace alone” vs. “saved by good deeds” churning in the subtext as the main character strives to turn himself into a superman of morality by his own efforts, but quickly realizes how difficult that really is. (Basic orthodox Christianity teaches that no one can earn their way to Heaven by being a good person. We’re saved by simple faith in what Christ did to permanently pay off our spiritual debt, not saved by our own “righteousness.” Our gratitude for what Christ did for us is supposed to overflow into good deeds. Joyful thankfulness is the motivator for doing good, not because we’re trying to score enough points to get to Heaven.)

Sure, it’s not a faith-based “God’s Not Dead” production that’s trying to be squeaky clean. It’s certainly not trying to advocate or convert. It’s a sitcom on a major network in a 9:30pm slot, written to have broad appeal as a comedy for every adult in the country, whether religious or not. For that reason it has some mild (and infrequent) language and some suggestive/sexual humor (but not raunchy or explicit). It’s actually a much cleaner show than most network sitcoms that have aired in recent years.

All in all, it’s refreshing to have a major network air something that tackles such a challenging topic with humor and sincere respect. “Living Biblically” adds something meaningful and positive to our cultural conversation, and it’s a show we desperately need right now.

When God Confirms We're On the Right Course: My Interview with Singer Jordan Feliz

(This article originally appeared on RockinGodsHouse.com)

Jordan Feliz and I have something in common: we're both from the Central Valley in California -- he from Fresno, me from Shafter. Even many people in the Central Valley haven't heard of my small town where I grew up, but Jordan, to my shock, new Shafter.

So it was easy for me to imagine the beginning of his journey from California to Nashville: speeding down the road with the wide panorama of the mythic, John Steinbeck-ian Central Valley looming behind -- an adventurous drive across the country that he and his wife made completely by faith. They only had enough money to get to Phoenix, AZ, and yet they both felt without a doubt that God was calling them to move to Nashville so that Jordan could put his musical talents to work in the Christian music industry.

And when I heard the rest of the story -- how God actually got them to Nashville -- my jaw dropped. (And you'll have to read the interview below to find out why.) The story will be deeply encouraging for anyone in the midst of a scary faith journey.

It's a great example of how God uses events in our lives to confirm we're on the right course.

And the way that God has provided for Jordan and his family, even during the leanest of times, reminds me of Abraham's journey of faith and the journeys that many of us take when God calls us to leave behind the familiar and jump headfirst into the unknown. An awareness of this miraculous provision and of the true riches of Christ permeate Jordan's music. And thanks to the success of his smash-hit single "The River," which reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot AC/CHR Chart, millions of people are getting exposed to those riches of faith that Jordan has found in Christ.

Jordan and I spoke recently over the phone about his new album Beloved that is turning a lot of heads in the music industry, his new single "The River" and the meaning behind it, and, most importantly, his inspiring faith journey:

In your bio I noticed you're from Central California. I'm from a town called Shafter, near Bakersfield. So I just had to ask.

Yeah, I know Shafter!

You do? Wow that's crazy. So what is Nashville like compared to our neck of the woods in Central California.

Man. It's better. (laughs) 

I bet! [And I said that because we Central Valley dwellers are known for being self-effacing about some of the less than desirable qualities of the Central Valley -- like its soul-crushing heat in the summer.]

Yeah, it's better. It's really green which is something I never used to see. It's also just a totally different dynamic with the people. It's almost like you have to get used to it. The people of Nashville are just so welcoming and very communal. Everybody wants to be your friend and hang out. It's just awesome, really great.

That makes me want to visit Nashville. Though I do get kinda homesick when I'm away from Central California. You kinda get used to John Steinback-like vast plain of agriculture.

Oh, totally dude. There are definitely things I miss. But the "miss" doesn't outweight the things we have out here. But I completely agree. I find myself every time I think about a restaurant over there or my coffee place I get a little homesick.

I love the imagery of the song "The River," and I was curious what inspired you to use that imagery?

This song stems from John 7:38 and the verse says, "Whoever believes in Me will have rivers of living water flow from within them." So the imagery got kinda drawn out of that verse. The song is an invitation. That's what it's written to be -- an invitation to everyone, maybe someone who feels like they've lived their entire life by the books or someone who is maybe on the opposite side of that who feels like they have so much baggage that they're just too ashamed to bring that to the Cross. More than anything it's the opportunity to go down in amazing grace and rise up being made new.

That's awesome. It just has that communal feel. "Let's all go down to the river." It has a warmth to it besides that powerful theology. Very cool.

It's funny because some people have taken it as a baptismal kind of vibe. Essentially it's kinda like that, but really the song is -- those rivers of living water -- that is the Holy Spirit. That's what the verse is talking about. So let's go down. It's almost funny, so yes, it's about the river but it's about the river inside of you. It's about the Spirit flowing inside of you and going down into that and being made new from that.

Reading your bio I was really inspired by your journey of faith. It kinda reminded me about how God called Abraham out -- a calling to go into the scary unknown -- because of how God called you out on this crazy trip to Nashville. I was just curious; what gave you the sense that God was moving you to Nashville? Or how did God help you make that decision?

I took a job as a worship leader for a year after the band I was in broke up, and in that year I had a really, really close friend of mine (who actually is now my manager), but he reached out to me. He used to be in a band that played with my band. He was talking to me about how he would love for me to come to Nashville. Around that time I was really feeling like God kept giving me revelations and ideas for songs. So I was just like, wow, that's weird that Adam calls me, and then God is giving me these song ideas. That's weird. So I felt like I wanted to explore it.

So I flew out to Nashville. I just felt like God's hand was over the entire trip like, "this is something you need to pursue." I came back home, talked to my wife about it. We prayed about it for about a year. We both felt like we had made a couple trips to Nashville. We both felt that every time we left it felt like home. It felt like we were going back somewhere that wasn't our home. We just really felt like God was just "go."

It's really interesting because sometimes you want to know, and it's really hard, there's so much wondering in your journey as a human being. You're like, "Am I just saying this to myself? Am I the one speaking this into my life or is this God?" Our journey w
as just a testament to God's abundance in our lives. It was really amazing to see Him and His hand over us in our journey.

That's incredible. I think it is awesome how God will confirm things with external signs that you know you couldn't have invented on your own. And that brings me to my next question about your amazing story of how you actually made it across the country, somehow getting shows along the way. Could you fill us in on how that happened?

In that year of planning and praying I started putting together some kind of tour so that we would basically not have to feel the financial weight of the move and the costs and the gas to get to Nashville because my wife -- I mean, I'm a musician and a worship leader; it's not like we're really rolling in it. [laughs] It was kinda one of these things where I put all these things together. I've always been that way, just a planner and I want to take control of things and just kinda do it.

Two weeks before we decided to move everything fell apart. Everything fell apart. All the shows got canceled. I was just like, "oh my gosh how are we going to make it?" My wife and I were both kinda looking at each other like, "Is this God saying don't go?" Is this Him saying you've been misinterpreting this the whole time? There was much confusion. We just really, we prayed together every night for the next two weeks. We really felt like God was still telling us to go. So we hopped in my van and trailer that had everything we owned, and I just starting calling. I mean the day we left, the first day, I didn't have a show, so I called and ended up getting a show in San Bernadino, California. That show paid to get us to Phoenix, which is where my wife's family is from. So we stayed there as a home base for a couple days while we tried to get a couple more things kinda figured out.

Basically that became the trend: calling, just cold calling people I've never met before like "hey, do you need a worship leader today? or for anything?" It was crazy because all of a sudden we're making like literally just enough money to get us to the next place, and it's just like "oh my gosh God you're providing." I'm seeing all these things, and then we're driving through Texas, and I'll never forget it because I felt like all of a sudden we're running out. We're just not going to make it. There's just no way. I'm calling everyone, like can I get a show in Oklahoma City? I don't know anyone there. We have nothing else. I've called hundreds of people in a matter of like seven days.

I end up calling a friend from Dallas, and I say, "Dude, by any chance do you have any connection in Oklahoma City?" And he says, "Actually, yeah, I do. Let me text you his number and see if you can work something out." So I call him, and the guy goes, "Oh man that church doesn't even exist anymore." I'm like great, great, that's awesome. Thanks. He goes, "But honestly though, I have a buddy of mine who just started a church in his backyard in a barn. I'm thinking, yeah that sounds about right. Yeah, send me his phone number.

So I called this guy, his name is Tony, he's amazing. A super awesome guy. We end up going there. He's like, "I can pay you a hundred bucks if you want to come in." I'm all, "Hey, it's better than nothing." So I go in and this is just total proof that God is way bigger than anything we could ever imagine. So I go in on the day of the Oklahoma City Bombing Marathon, and so their entire church is participating in it, so I played to 26 people in two services. So I don't know how, but I ended up making like $1,500 from a church with 26 people. There was a guy who literally wrote me a check for $300 and just told me, "I don't know why, but when you were up there God told me to give this to you." [Jordan pauses on the phone for a moment] Dude, I have goosebumps right now. Everytime I talk about it, it's just crazy. The only answer to it is just the fact that God's provision is such that He wants much more for us than we even want for ourselves. Because I was striving just to get to Nashville, and I ended up making money moving to Nashville. It's just proof that His ideas for us are much bigger than we even have for ourselves. 

Incredible. I knew there was a story in there, but I didn't know it was that awesome. [laughs] Thank you for sharing that. Just hearing that story is going to keep me encouraged for the rest of the week. Wow. My next question ties into all of that. What advice would you give to a Christian who feels God is calling them to do something big and scary but they're really not sure they can pull it off?

Man. Even though it's terrifying and I've been there, done that legitimately the thing is is that if God is calling you to do it no matter what comes out of it because even when we've been in Nashville there have been things that God has asked me to do that have not ended up in the moment really being a good idea. You're like why am I doing this? And all of a sudden three months later you're like, oh that's why I did that. So I say, go, jump headfirst. You know what I mean? Dive into it. Ever since that move my wife and I have been living our lives like that. Of just saying, "God we trust You. Do what you have to do." I mean we have been provided for in moments that you would have though how are they going to make it there's no way that's going to happen and we have. The moment you abandon all your earthly fears and all these things that weigh you down and that is a lot harder than you think it is, I still struggle with it. But the moment that you run from them is the moment that you see God doing some amazing things in your life that you would have never though you would have happened because it's totally true that He wants so much more for you than you want for yourself.

Wow. [pauses] Yeah, I'm just kinda absorbing that right now. That's really awesome, thank you so much for that, it's really encouraging. Are there any tour plans or anything you want people to know about that's coming up?

I'm going to be home all fall. Being a family man, being a dad. Being a husband. I'm writing for my next record. But in the spring I'm starting, well, I guess it's late winter in January, I'm starting a tour with Big Daddy Weave and Plumb. It's called the "Beautiful Offerings Tour." So keep your eyes pealed and hopefully we will be able to hang out.

***

Check out the official Jordan Feliz website to learn more about his music and to stay up-to-date with the latest news.

For Valentine's Day: My Interview with Author Nicholas Sparks On Relationships

(This article originally appeared on RockinGodsHouse.com. I interviewed Nicholas Sparks as he was promoting his film "The Choice," and the interview is being republished here on my blog to commemorate Valentine's Day.)

Nicholas Sparks Talks God, Broken Relationships, and 'The Choice'

"I think that most people go into long-term relationships really committed to the idea that they would be together for a long period of time and sometimes it just doesn't work. Sometimes it just doesn't work, and that can be sad, and yet it doesn't deny that initial feeling in that couple, that, hey, they were willing to take a risk that it would last forever. There's something noble in that." -Nicholas Sparks

With the release of The Choice (@TheChoiceFilm, #TheChoice) Nicholas Sparks's 11th book-to-movie production, the media is once again abuzz with themes of true love, hardship, and what I'd label "grace under pressure," using the Lost Generation's words--my description/interpretation of how Sparks deftly blends bitter tragedies of this world with fiery incarnations of Eros (i.e. really intense romantic love).

"The Choice" is no exception. In fact, I felt it was one of his best movies. (You can read my review of it to find out why.)

I had the chance to speak with Nicholas Sparks (@NicholasSparks) over the phone about "The Choice" and other topics--God, broken relationships, and the nobleness of being "willing to take a risk that it would last forever," as he put it so well:

[Warningthis interview contains one SPOILER (during my fifth question) about the plot of the film]

Were you pleased with how the book translated into the screen?

I was very pleased. I thought it captured the spirit and the intent of the story. I thought it captured the spirit and intent of the characters. I thought that in the end it was just a wonderful film.

That's about everything you could ask for in that case. That's great. I believe you wrote the story around 10 years ago, but where did you get the story idea?

Early on, right after I got out of college I got married, had babies right away. Meanwhile, I had an older brother who was just great at being a bachelor. He had weekends full of water skiing and mountain biking and whitewater rafting and meanwhile I'm changing diapers, getting puked on, wondering what does it take for a man like him to settle down? So the story began germinating around those years, and then finally in 2006 or so I was ready to start writing it. 

I really enjoyed the film's inclusion of deeper theological questions and I am just curious to hear your perspective on the whole God topic. Are you more on the Gabby side of the things or closer to the Travis side of things? I'm referring to the scene [where they discuss their beliefs about God] under the stars.

I'm more on Gabby's side, there's no question. I believe in God, I was raised Catholic, and I would probably be regarded more as a nominal Catholic at the present time. I've always been of the belief that there's something greater out there, that Jesus is the Son of God and that we're supposed to love God and our neighbors as ourselves. Right? I think those are the lessons I've tried to live my own life by.

That's wonderful. I also love how the movie just asks really good questions. It didn't try too hard to preach; it just asked really good questions. I was also impressed with how fiercely Travis fought for Gabby in both parts of the story. Do you think couples in America today could maybe learn a little bit about Travis's fighting spirit?

I think that obviously there are those couples that perhaps give in too early, that could have perhaps salvaged the relationship with a little more effort, and at the same time I think there are those relationships that are better off ending where they are--those relationships that just work until they don't work anymore. I think that God offers all sorts of choices in our lives, and I think those choices are endless reminders of the choices we make with regards to our own faith, and they are the choices we make not only with faith but with our lives, and that's the way it was all planned out. Because in the end I think God wants people to choose to love Him. I think that most people go into long-term relationships really committed to the idea that they would be together for a long period of time and sometimes it just doesn't work. Sometimes it just doesn't work, and that can be sad, and yet it doesn't deny that initial feeling in that couple, that, hey, they were willing to take a risk that it would last forever. There's something noble in that.

[spoiler] Noble is a great word for it. I really felt that nobility in Travis. Even if the story ended up differently and he didn't get Gabby, I still like that he fought and tried for it. I really love the cast. I wish Tom Wilkerson's character was a real person because he would be a really cool guy to go to church with.

[Laughs] Absolutely.

He's one of my favorite actors. Did you get a chance to hang out with the cast members very much or spend some time with them?

I was with them on the set; it's just about 10 minutes from where I was living so it was quite easy to get to the set. At the same time, at that point in the production, it's very important to me to allow the director and the actors to do what they do best. So I'm a guy who might be seen in between the scenes and things like that. 

How do you hope this movie will inspire audiences when they go see "The Choice"?

What I want is for people to have enjoyed the film and tell other people to go see the film. Because, look, it's a film that is very hard to have made in Hollywood these days. There are so many tent pole films, and I'm the first one to go see dinosaurs raging loose on an island with an action hero, but there are moments where I just love good old fashioned dramas that tell real human stories that everyone can relate to, and I just love "The Choice," and I know that people who take a chance on it and go see it will love it as well. 

 

My Interview with Christian Band 'For King and Country'

(This article originally reappeared on RockingGodsHouse.com)

After living in Brisbane, Australia for a summer, I've always been a fan of Aussies in general--everything from their awesome accent to their laid-back culture (which suits me to a tee). So recently, when my phone rang and I heard the relaxed and friendly Aussie voice of Luke Smallbone from the band For King and Country, I had to smile. We had a great conversation about how he made the leap from music to film and about the amazing true story that inspired "Priceless." He and his family have made a lasting contribution to the music world, and now the Smallbone brothers--Ben, Luke, and Joel--are making a splash in the film industry with their new feature film "Priceless" that has all the thrills and drama of a legit major studio Hollywood feature.

Of course, your first thought might be, "Wait, some rock and roll guys made a movie? Did they shoot it on their phone and make one of those found-footage movies? Is this a 'real' movie or is it an amateurish indie film?"

Nope, "Priceless" is the real deal. It was bought by major Hollywood distributor Roadside Attractions--a company that has distributed everything from the recent Tom Hanks film "A Hologram for the King" to the critically acclaimed Beach Boys biopic "Love & Mercy" to the sleeper hit "Mr. Holmes" starring Ian McKellen. As "Variety" reported in August, "Priceless" has some notable names attached to the project:

Roadside Attractions has acquired U.S. distribution rights to the Smallbone brothers drama “Priceless” and set an Oct. 14 release date, Variety has learned exclusively.

It’s the feature debut for Joel and Luke Smallbone, who comprise the Christian band For King and Country....Ben Smallbone directs from the script by Chris Dowling and Tyler Poelle. The film was produced by Steve Barnett (“300”). David Smallbone and Luke Smallbone serve as executive producers, and Jacob “Cubbie” Fink is a co-producer.

The story centers on a man who finds himself at a crossroads following the tragic death of his wife and losing custody of his little girl. Unable to hold down a steady job, he agrees to drive a box truck on a one-time trip cross country for cash — no questions asked — but when he discovers what he is delivering, he is faced with a life-changing choice.

Before I share my interview with Luke Smallbone, who was one of the film's producers, let me share my quick one-paragraph, mini-review of the film:

"Priceless" impressed me with its painstaking production quality, its careful, thoughtful pacing, and its sobering, moving glimpse of a frightening underside of America. It really was the real deal--a high quality feature film with a production value that stands its ground with any major studio Hollywood release. It's a compelling story that sucks you in from the opening frames as it begins with a troubled soul driving a beat up moving truck through the New Mexico landscape along the I-40 (a stretch of road that any road warrior who enjoys traveling America will know well and be happy to see on the big screen); and from there it plunges head-first into the desperate world of poor souls caught in the nightmare of human trafficking. Star Joel Smallbone and the supporting cast--Bianca Santos (“The Duff”), Amber Midthunder (“Longmire”), Jim Parrack (“True Blood”), and David Koechner (“The Goldbergs”)--all delivered plenty of believable tension and intrigue to the story. Movie fans will recognize actor David Koechner immediately. He has been in many high profile projects, including a major role in the "Anchorman" films. It was nice to see David Koechner display a different side of his impressive acting chops. In "Priceless" he plays a gritty, serious, noble character--a striking contrast to the raucous comedies he's been known to do. Whenever actors become stamped as "comedy" actors, I always suspect there is a serious, tragic, Shakespearean side to their acting skills hiding beneath the easy sheen of mainstream comedies. Koechner's performance in "Priceless" is a classic example. He brings a real gravity to his performance, and it adds a lot of salt and flavor to the story--a nice complement to Joel Smallbone's skilled performance.

Best of all (in my book), "Priceless" is a deeply edifying film. Yes, it is intense in some places and shows some gun violence worthy of its PG-13 rating, but there's nothing gratuitous in this movie like you see in so many other PG-13 movies that push the limits of that rating as far as it can go. I recommend this film to any teenager and adult. It will inspire and move you.

Without any further delay, my interview with Luke Smallbone:

You're known for your band For King and Country and your music. How did you get into the film industry?

One of the things that we strive to do is to make the best art possible. And one of the things you realize is that today's generation is being discipled by two things: they are discipled by what they hear in their headphones and also by what they see on-screen--their mobile phone's screen or computer screen or movie theater screen, whatever it might be. So we want to be in those spaces. My brother Ben is a film director, and we've been talking about this Priceless movement for a number of years, and so about two years ago we said to Ben, "Hey man, we're just scratching the surface of this, what would you think about directing a film?" And he loved the idea, and so we started working on that part about two years ago and here we are today. Not sure if we should've entered the film world just because of how much work it is [laughs]--I don't think any of us had any idea how much work it would be. But we're so thrilled with how it came together, it's a film we're really proud of, and so far the response we've been getting has been overwhelming--something we're very thrilled about.

Can you tell us a little bit about the Priceless movement and why it's important to you?

We started about five, six years ago saying to women, "Hey, the culture says that you're cheap, but we believe that there's a God who says that you're priceless, and hey guys it's time for us to treat ladies with respect and honor, time for us to stand up and stand out and be different in this world, not just going with the status flow," and it was all such a big deal when we started talking about it. Before our music hit the radio or anything that's what people were talking about. They were like, "You know, that message that you said in the middle of your concert that, that resurrected me..."

Wow.

That's kind of how we got to this thought of even doing a film [because] of how powerful that had become [the cheapening of women in culture] and how we were seeing it. It was kind of an epidemic and people needed to be reminded of their value.

How did you stumble upon the story of James Stevens and what made you want to make this story into a movie?

My brother Ben was working on a documentary about seven or eight years ago, and he stumbled upon a dude that is in Brazil and he had been working at one point in his life kind of on the other side of the law. He was a criminal, and he radically changed and he decided to start on the things that he knew, [saying] "Hey, how can I work against the system and take everything I learned from being a criminal and use it for good," and we were really inspired by that. And so we kind of interjected those stories and those things into our film and what's crazy is that man, we don't even know his name, we never saw his face. Even the documentary that my brother Ben did hid his face, and it's kind of cool because we never got to interview him yet this guy that we don't even know, he inspired a whole movement and, in a roundabout way, is coming out in this film. So this guy's not going to know that, in fact, he is having a worldwide impact.

Wow. That's incredible. If you ever actually do meet this guy, what would you say to him if you ran into him in the street one day?

Man, I'd say thank you for being bold enough to change, that you've actually been bold enough to have your life radically changed, and then saying, "Yeah, I've been a part of a problem for so long. I need to do something to help solve these problems." I mean, that takes a lot of courage. Not many people that I know do that and obviously this guy has helped inspire this film of ours--so just being able to thank him for the creativity that he has inspired that he never even knew he was a part of.

A large part of the story deals with human trafficking, which is obviously becoming an epidemic in our nation and in other places. Why did you include this element in the plot?

When I look at us talking about a female life in particular being priceless--and honestly I believe that all lives are priceless, but in this story it's particularly about female lives--I look at what is the opposite of a priceless life. The antithesis of that is somebody whose life can be bought. And so that's how we feel we can best illustrate this story, and so we put [human trafficking] in there and the other thing is this: the human trafficking side of things is a dark dark world and one of the best ways to bring about change is to shine a really really bright light on it, and a film is one way that you can do that. And I think people are now finally becoming aware of it and not so scared of something that is so dark so that they're actually starting to say, "What can I actually do about it?" rather than just turning a blind eye to it.

It really is kind of a freaky thing to think about, the idea of just being abducted one day, and then suddenly you're a slave.

Yeah, yeah, it's not comfortable, but I think God does some special things in uncomfortable places, and if we always did everything that was easy and comfortable I don't think we would ever have what it takes. And we want to be people who are highlighting real issues, real topics and actually doing something--not necessarily making a film about how we think life should be but actually making a film about life as it really is.

I definitely think that's important to not sugar coat things, so that's awesome you're doing that. What could you tell us about the movie without giving too much away?

The film follows a character whose name is James Stevens. He's kind of a down and out character who's lost his wife to a tragic accident, and then he ends up losing his daughter as he goes through this kind of grieving and mourning period. He lost his job, he doesn't have any way to provide, [and he needs] kind of a way out, so he takes on a transportation job saying, "Hey, no questions asked, go from here to there and you get paid really well," and he says to himself, "I just want to figure out a way to break this cycle of life that I've gotten into," and he does it, and then on the way he opens up the back of his truck realizing it's not what he's carrying but who he is carrying back there.

Wow.

The rest of the story is about what he's going to do with that situation--is he going to do anything? Is he not going to do anything?--what that's going to look like.

How can men show the women in their lives their priceless worth? What kind of advice would you give to men about that?

I think talk is cheap, so you've got to actually show it. There's got to be actions that actually show how valuable we think the women are in our lives, so I actually think it's real simple. If you really love your wife and you want to show her respect, then you're going to turn off the football game and really talk to her and ask, "How was your day? What was it like?" And whether or not it's your daughter or your sister or your girlfriend or whatever, we have to be people who [value them] not when we think, "Oh you know what, I'm going to put this on display and show everybody else a show." It takes place when you don't want to get up in the middle of the night and go change a diaper so your wife [doesn't have to]. That's what actually making change. Talk is cheap.

Right, we need to take action, even if it gets messy. [laughs]

Yeah, my parents always say, "Actions speak louder than words," and so I can say that I love my wife all the time, but if I'm not doing anything to invest in that relationship or, you know, saying it in an interview but not living it, then I actually don't really love my wife.

Right, exactly. It's easy just spitting out some words. I'm married, so this is a good reminder to hear these things!

Yeah, man, yeah.

"Priceless" hits theaters October 14. Where can people go to find out more information or to purchase tickets?

Go to pricelessthemovie.com and you got everything: you got the trailer there, all the information, what theater it's going to be at and what that looks like. It also has some of our social--"Priceless the Movie" Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. We really want people to rally behind us--especially talk about the film and help us get the word out. That's one of the most cost-effective ways that we could do that, and obviously in our world we have limited amount of resources, so word-of-mouth is the greatest way that we can spread information.

To close, I just want to say thank you for being a voice in our culture. It is the kind of voice that I've been praying God would raise up. God's definitely been raising up some voices in awesome ways to speak life to our culture, and it's great to hear your voice, so I hope you keep speaking!

Thank you very much for saying that and taking the time to hang out with us, we really appreciate it!

***

Check out the film at pricelessthemovie.com or dive into the film's social media stream at any of these locations and hashtags:

Facebook: /pricelessthemovie

Twitter: @PricelessMovie @4kingandcountry @JoelSmallbone @LukeSmallbone @Bianca00Alexa @Parrack120 @DavidKoechner

Instagram: #PricelessTheMovie

Youtube Channel for Priceless

My Interview with 'Moana' Supervising Animator Mark Henn about Faith, Gratitude, and Disney's New Animated Epic

I had the chance to chat with Mark Henn, supervising animator of "Moana," about faith, gratitude, and what amazing things are in "Moana." I was surprised by his answer to this question:

"Is there a song in 'Moana' that will finally stop kids from singing 'Let It Go' from "Frozen?"

Read the whole thing here at RockinGodsHouse.com: http://bit.ly/2geRtr0