Dallas Jenkins Speaks
Filmmaker Dallas Jenkins produced the independent feature Hometown Legend at the age of 25 and shepherded it to distribution by Warner Bros. He made his directing debut with the short film Cliche, and his next short film, Midnight Clear, starring Stephen Baldwin, won a Crystal Heart Award from the Heartland Film Festival and was the opening night selection of the San Diego Film Festival. His latest feature What If…, starring Kevin Sorbo, Kristy Swanson, Debby Ryan, and John Ratzenberger released in theaters in 2010 and is currently available on DVD. Dallas recently accepted the position of Director of Media at Harvest Bible Chapel, a mega-church in Chicago, where he’s directing and producing feature-length and short films. His latest feature film, The Resurrection of Gavin Stone hits theatres January 20, 2017.
BuddyHollywood.com’s Mike Parker recently had the opportunity to chat with Jenkins about filmmaking in the faith community.
MikeParker: What was the impetus for The Resurrection of Gavin Stone?
Dallas Jenkins: There is a popular stage production called The Thorn, which is kind of a a ‘Cirque-meets-Jesus,’ that was the impetus for the movie. It’s a fish-out-of-water-concept that I just loved. I thought it was a ripe concept for a film; the set up gave us a perfect opportunity to poke fun at ourselves while still making an important point.
Parker: Directing a movie can be a bit like herding cats. What was the most challenging part of the process for you? What was the most rewarding aspect?
Jenkins: On one hand, we were shooting the movie at my own church, so organizing the professional crew and mixing that in with church volunteers, where there may be hundreds of people in the crowd, was challenging. I’ve made movies before, but finding the balance between satire and comedy was also a challenge. On the other hand, we had pro wrestler Shawn Michaels making his first movie, and that was one of my favorite parts.
I think the most rewarding part has been the response that we’ve got from people who are not church-goers. They said this movie made them want to go back to church. That’s the ultimate goal of the movie; that church-goers will find it funny, but that it will also make non-church-goers want to re-explore their faith experience.
Parker: Gavin Stone avoids many of the clichéd pitfalls of so many faith-based films. Was that a function of the script, or something that you brought to the table?
Jenkins: I did a rewrite of the script. Audiences for faith-based films have certain expectations. They want a strong theme, the gospel presented, and the conversion experience. I wanted to give the audience what they want, but I wanted to give it to them in a fresh way. Maybe we can add a twist. Maybe we can take the sting out of it; try to not make it a sermon. Movies are for stories and I wanted to tell the story in a fresh way. I think the humor makes it different.
Parker: I understand your son played an instrumental role in the casting of the film.
Jenkins: My son is a great Marvel nerd. We where having a hard time finding an actor to play Gavin Stone. My son recommended Brett Dalton, who is best known for his work in Marvels Agents of Shield. We contacted his people, and they sent him the script. He is a church outsider, but he loved the script and his audition knocked it out of the park. That was just one of the many cool casting moments we had for this film. Shawn Michaels is one of the biggest wrestling stars of all time. WWE approached us about putting a wrestler in the film, and I suggested Shawn because I knew he was a believer. They told us, ‘No, he’ll never go for it. He’s been offered a lot of movie roles and he’s always turned them down.’ I said, ‘What would it hurt to ask?’ So, they pitched to him and he was on board. It’s his first film and it was a great experience to work with him.
Parker: What do you hope to accomplish with The Resurrection of Gavin Stone?
Jenkins: I don’t have an agenda. I don’t think my movies are going to radically change the world, but I hope my movies can help change people’s perception of the church. In Gavin Stone, we show the flaws of people in the church, and maybe show how we can tell the story of Jesus better. The church is a place where uncommon community can happen. My pastor once commented that we should be a place where people welcome without judgement, love without condition and forgive without limit. The church that lives that out will need to buy more chairs.
Parker: What’s next on your agenda?
Jenkins: The next few weeks are just making sure this film is successful. We’ve got a couple of projects in development. It will depend on how Gavin does. But ultimately this model of our church working with significant Hollywood production houses is something we want to emulate. The stew worked very well and we’re hopeful we can do a lot more. We really want to restock the pool of Christian films. We’ve seen with Noah and Exodus, Hollywood doesn’t always get it right.
I challenge people to give this movie a chance. I think you will get a genuine laugh, but you’ll also get a strong message. It’s a movie you can take your church outsider friends to without having to apologize for it afterwards. There is also a Shawn Michaels testimony video that is going viral that I would encourage people to find.