Monday, August 12, 2013

Polycarp: The Destroyer of Gods

If you ever meet Jerry Henline, you wouldn’t think of him as a movie producer. I’m sure if you ask Mr. Henline, he certainly wouldn’t have considered himself a filmmaker two years ago. Mr. Henline is a successful Cincinnati Area businessman, who has been busy raising five children with his wife of 35 years. The last thing that he ever thought he would stumble into is the movie-making business.

Today, Jerry Henline is producing a major motion picture titled Polycarp: The Destroyer of Gods. The film is based on actual historical events which took place in 2nd Century Smyrna, which is located in modern-day Turkey.

Polycarp is believed to have been martyred and burned at the stake for his Christian beliefs. He was the Christian bishop of Smyrna at the time of his death. The Catholic Church recognizes Polycarp as a saint. He is also equally recognized within the Eastern Orthodox Church as a saint.

So why would Mr. Henline decide to get into the filmmaking business and tackle such a difficult task as recreating the ancient world of Smyrna? Doesn’t that sound like something that only Hollywood would have the resources to accurately depict?

Mr. Henline’s story is an interesting one to say the least. It started four years ago with Mr. Henline’s two youngest children, Joe, age 14 at the time, and Jerica, age 16 at the time started to express an interest in media. This brother and sister team produced a music video that won Second Place in a national contest. That ignited a passion for filmmaking. What resulted was an award for Best Young Filmmaker in 2012 for The Forgotten Martyr: Lady Jane Greg at the San Antonio Independent Film Festival. Joe directed the short film, and Jerica wrote the feature and starred as Lady Jane Greg.

For the Henlines, the question became what’s next. It’s obvious that Joe and Jerica are extremely talented for their age. The three felt God’s pull to do something bigger. Could they produce a full-length motion picture? Jerica chose Polycarp as a story that needed to be told and then started the difficult task of writing a script.

The Henlines wanted to remind Christians about their heritage and the sacrifices that have been made to allow us to freely share our faith. The early Church Fathers all paid a dear price for their belief in Christ. Many died at the hands of the Roman Empire in the most brutal ways imaginable.

After a great deal of time, prayer and, I might add, script revisions, Polycarp: The Destroyer of God began to take shape. Production started in mid-July of 2013.

A few days ago, I was invited on set to take a look at the progress. To be honest with you, I was skeptical. After all, producing any movie is challenging, but trying to accurately recreate a 2nd Century Mediterranean city is a major violation of the low-budget filmmaking guidebook—Never do a period piece. And how many 18 year olds can pull off directing a feature film. After all, Joe was just recently graduated from high school.

I was pleasantly surprised in what I saw. Mr. Henline converted part of his manufacturing business into a sound stage. His team has built sets that look like the real deal. John Calhoun, who is the Data Wrangler, showed me some of the footage. It looks great! It is as good as anything you can imagine. They really sell the fact that you are watching events that are taking place hundreds of years ago. The important thing is you have to convince your audience that what they are watching is real and plausible. Of course, it’s an illusion, but that’s what filmmaking is all about. And somehow Mr. Henline and his team have managed to pull it off.

I couldn’t help but wonder how they could do this. First, Mr. Henline told me they had over $200,000 in building materials, sets, and props donated. They came from several Christian ministries and individuals. That helped keep the budget manageable and under control.

I couldn’t help but notice that the crew looked young—really young. Mr. Henline told me that the average age of his 48-member crew was 21, and most were self-taught and have never attended film school. They came from all over the country because they believed in the vision of the project. After all, Polycarp is a Christian movie, and many of the crew have a passion to use film as a tool to reach our culture with the message of Christ. This wasn’t a crew that just wanted to help out. I’ve been in the media business for 35 years and have been on several film sets. This crew knows what they’re doing. They are very professional and, obviously, talented in what they do.

I was especially impressed with Mr. Henline’s son Joe, who is directing the film. As I said, Joe is 18, and it is nothing short of astonishing to see him at such a young age mastering his craft. I can only imagine what the future will hold for Joe and Jerica if they continue to pursue filmmaking as a career. How many lives will they impact in the years to come? And, if they are that good at this age, where will they be in their careers in ten years?

In some ways, Jerry Henline’s story isn’t that unusual. There’s been an explosion in recent years in the world of low-budget, independent filmmaking, especially Christian films. What’s made this possible is the digital revolution. Until recently, movies were shot on 35mm film. That’s no longer the case. Pollycarp: The Destroyers of God is shot with a digital Red Scarlet Camera. Without getting too technical, shooting digitally has changed the game and allowed filmmakers like Mr. Henline access to the filmmaking process. Today, the cost of shooting a movie with digital cameras is a fraction of what it used to be shooting a movie on film.

The bottom line: Hollywood is no longer the center of the filmmaking universe. Everybody today has an opportunity to tell their story. To tell you the truth, although Polycarp is a low-budget feature, it doesn’t feel that way thanks to the advancement of technology and the hard work of individuals who believe in the project.

In the next few days, Polycarp will wrap up the production phase. After that, there’s perhaps a year of work ahead to edit, color grade, and score the film, along with other postproduction elements to be added.

Does Polycarp have an opportunity to play at your local theater? I sure think so. It certainly has an opportunity for some type of distribution. Who knows? Perhaps the Hallmark Channel? DVD distribution at your local Wal-Mart or Target? These are certainly possibilities.

And what about the Henlines? Will they continue to produce movies? If it is God’s calling, I have no doubt that there will be more to come. 

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