Sunday, June 2, 2013

How to Get Happy

By Chelsea Batten at Converge

Writer-director Brad Wise talks about what's important, and what's not, for a Christian  who makes movies.

"It's not like I was a kid dreaming of making movies one day. I never really set out to do any of this stuff. It just kind of happened"

Brad Wise has the shell-shocked look of a guy who just found out his wife is having triplets. His voice is quiet, maybe slightly preoccupied. I expected more fist-pumping, more chest-pounding, more promotional rhetoric. For a guy who brought together a pastor, a 1960s TV icon, and the poster girl for pop Christianity to make an indie film that defies the boundaries of most any category you could shoehorn it into, Brad doesn’t come off like the one-man hype machine I expected.

Back in 2008, Brad was working at a Vineyard church in Cincinnati, Ohio, not far from where he grew up. He started hanging out with a group within the church who had creative tendencies. The ideas they tossed around snowballed into a few good stories, which became short videos and sketches for use on Sunday mornings. In 2008, they put together their first “big” production–a 20-minute Christmas-themed mashup presentation of live action and film.
Actors and crew on the set of “A Strange Brand of Happy”
Brad says that was the first time they felt like more than just a group of friends messing around with video equipment. All of a sudden, they were a crew, and their project was a production.
It was also the first time, for many of them, that they felt the stirring to life of certain gifts that they’d never put to work. The feeling, Brad says, was addictive.
All that stuff that we never knew what it would be useful for? We got to do something with it, and felt like, “Whoa, we should do this again.”
That same year, Brad and his friend Joe Boyd, a teaching pastor at a church in Las Vegas, began writing a story that drew on their own search for happiness. The script that resulted (after several iterations and thrown-away drafts) is “A Strange Brand of Happy,” which Brad is hesitant to describe as a Christian movie.
It’s kind of a quirky existential comedy with a couple love triangles thrown in to keep it interesting. But that doesn’t fit well on a poster.
I like to pride myself on keeping a conscientiously open mind; that doesn’t stop me from marshaling a host of pre-fab judgments when I read the words “faith-friendly” in the film’s press release. Even as the opening credits roll, I’m listening for the telltale qualities of a CCM artist on the soundtrack, and speculating on how closely the acting will resemble what I’ve seen in school chapel presentations. Above all, I’m wondering if there’s going to be any kissing in this movie, not least because it stars the darling of the True Love Waits movement.
Rebecca St. James, as Joyce
Rebecca St. James, as Joyce

Given Brad’s non-hype approach to our conversation, I feel like I should dial down my aggressive cynicism about the “faith-friendly” genre he’s entering. To my surprise, he shares it–”I’m with you when it comes to being cynical about Christian art.” What he’s seen in that market, he hasn’t found terribly compelling, especially when it comes to film. As an example, he brings up the recent adaptation of “Blue Like Jazz.” But then he lets it fall, without any actual criticism of it–”You could argue whether what they did worked or not.”
The thing is, Brad says, he and his friends weren’t trying to make a Christian movie. They weren’t even really trying to break into the movie business. Their objective, then and now, is almost disingenuously simple.

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