Hollywood: May We Have Your Attention?

50ShadesVsOF

Looks like OLD FASHIONED is catching the eye of people who think that Valentine’s Day weekend belongs to Fifty Shades of Grey. In response to the newest trailer for the movie about sex and abuse, OLD FASHIONED director Rik Swartzwelder created a video that talks about the importance of a movie that looks at relationships from a Godly perspective.

You can watch the video (followed by the OLD FASHIONED trailer) here:

In an article about the video, industry standard The Hollywood Reporters quotes OLD FASHIONED producer Nathan Nazario:

“Fifty Shades is short-term titillation and Old Fashioned offers a long-term alternative,” says producer Nathan Nazario. “Audiences want to hear that the best of the past is still possible—that a relationship can be the safe room.”

The Old Fashioned Team

 

The Two Ingredients in Every Successful Relationship

 

TwoThingsScientists like to study things. Lots of things. Including relationships. In a great article in The Atlantic magazine, we learn that science has uncovered a lot of really interesting and important aspects about relationships.

But at the end of the day, you can boil healthy relationships down to two key ingredients. Get ready … here they are:

  • Kindness
  • Generosity

(of course, we’d suggest that every successful relationship needs a third ingredient, God, but kindness and generosity are a good start)

So, everything your mom taught you when you were a toddler still applies today to dating, marriage, and every other important relationship in your life. And remember, this is science talking!

The Old Fashioned Team

Uncoupling?

Uncoupling

For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother, and will be joined to his wife. And they will become one flesh. Genesis 2:24

A recent ABC News piece highlighted a married couple that held a ceremony on a California beach to officially “uncouple.” What exactly is “uncoupling?” Brought into the cultural lexicon by actress Gwyneth Paltrow and musician Chris Martin, “uncoupling” is a seemingly acceptable new way of ending a marriage relationship.

The new story reports:

“Clark and Valerie took the wedding rings they exchanged 14 years ago and gave them back to each other. ‘These rings do not symbolize who we are to each other anymore,’ Clark said. ‘So we’re releasing them,’ Valerie added.

“The Tates, who went with their own version of ‘uncoupling,’ believed this was a way to break up their marriage without animosity.”

After decades of rising divorce statistics, could “uncoupling” be the new standard? Or might there be a better option than either divorce or “uncoupling?”

Could it be there’s something to be said about old-fashioned commitment to one’s vows … and to one’s spouse?

The Old Fashioned Team

Three Rules for Ducking Out of Dating Danger

DuckDynasty

Sadie Robertson, the teenaged daughter of Duck Dynasty stars Willie and Korie Robertson, has been making a name for herself on television’s Dancing With The Stars. Not only is she gaining fans with her dancing, but at the same time, she’s inspiring us with her faith.

A fun-loving teenager who uses her faith to guide her relationships, Sadie has publicly committed to staying pure until marriage. She recently shared her dating guidelines to help teens duck out trouble with Fox 411:

1) Don’t be home alone together
2) Stay outside of each other’s bedrooms
3) Pray together before dates

What do you think? What other rules would you add for teens? Are there different rules for single adults? How do those differ? At OLD FASHIONED, we’d love to hear your thoughts (and rules).

The Old Fashioned Team

The Artist as Missionary

Do you have a story from your life that you share often?  One of those personal life experience kind of stories that eventually becomes so much a part of you it seems it’s no longer merely a story you tell others… it’s something far more mystical and magical; it’s a story that is actually telling you, shaping you, guiding you

This is one of my stories; one that has a hold on me like that.  I tell it a lot, but I’ve never written it down.  The events are true, I was there… and I haven’t been the same since.

After the screening of one of my films at a Christian college in the Midwest, a young student with tears in her eyes approached me.  She told me how she believed God was calling her to be an actress.  I’m sometimes skeptical at statements like this… but she was convincing. I listened.  She shared with great detail and passion her desire to honor God through the craft of acting and then her voice faltered, disappearing into a whisper.

“But,” she said.

“Stop,” I interrupted.  “Let me guess… your parents…”  She nodded.  “They told you not to go into acting because there’s no money it.”  Her eyes widened as she nodded again.  “They also told you that Hollywood is a dark and evil place and if you go there something bad might happen to you.”  She nodded one last time and lowered her head.

I wasn’t being prophetic; it’s just that I’d already heard all the arguments against the entertainment industry.  A hundred times.  But this moment was different.  With her hopeful eyes looking to me for some kind of answer and my own words still echoing all around me… it happened.  Epiphany.  Clarity.  God opened my eyes to the obvious.

The artist as missionary.

What if, hundreds of years ago, the church had told potential missionaries, “Don’t do it.  There’s no money in it.  Besides, you might have to go to far away places where bad things might happen to you.”  What a tragic loss that would have been.  Yes, many died penniless.  Yes, some even died tragic deaths in far away places.  And the world was changed because of them.  Is the cause of Christ no longer worth the risk?  What is His story telling… how is His story shaping… where is His story guiding?

We are all missionaries, in a sense.  And the truth remains, the only safe place to be is where Christ calls; it doesn’t matter if you’re a nurse, preacher, tentmaker, writer, or even… an actor.

– Rik

* An edited version of this blog post originally appeared in The Columbia Union Visitor in December 2007.

 

Love into Greatness

Did you ever wonder why so many of the world’s most talented and famous singers—in all kinds of genres—grew up singing in churches?

I don’t think it’s a coincidence… and I don’t think those singers can take all the credit for their success.

In part, they were loved into greatness.

It’s true, God-given talent can be spotted from a very young age; but, my guess is that not all of those singers were drop-dead amazing and 100% pitch perfect the very first time they sang a solo at church.  The raw talent may have been there… but it needed to be nurtured.

And it was.  By congregations that applauded them and showered them with praise and encouragement not only for the performance… but also because of the potential that was there.  Those congregations didn’t sit back, fold their arms, and say, “Impress us, kid.”  They did the exact opposite… they took an active role in helping that kid blossom into a greater talent than ever could have been possible without that kind of love and support.

It reminds me of a story I heard once about a church congregation looking for a new pastor.  They kept getting all these top-notch resumes from rock star preachers, but passed on them all.  Finally, they extended an audition/invite to a younger, beginning preacher that was rough around the edges but had genuine potential.  The church gave him the job.  Someone asked one of the elders why the church passed on so many great preachers and offered the job to someone with so little experience…

The elder replied, “Those other preachers are already great.  We’d rather have the kid that could go either way and help ensure that he becomes great.  That’s our job.”

They saw it as their mission to love into greatness.  Beautiful.

So… what’s any of this got to do with Old Fashioned or filmmaking?

I’ve been pretty blessed and lucky in my filmmaking journey.  Many of my earlier films have done rather well on the festival circuit, received distribution deals, and earned some decent reviews.  And, even though I’ve also dealt with my fair share of criticism (like all filmmakers)… by and large, I’ve been on the receiving end of above average encouragement, kudos, and support.

That’s not true for everybody.  Especially for a lot of young filmmakers just now starting out…

We are in the midst of a mini-explosion of “faith-based” films (I’m on a mission to dream up another genre description for this)… and a lot of these young filmmakers just beginning their journeys are taking an absolute beating.  To say they are not being loved into greatness would be a gross understatement.

Now, again, I would never defend any hack charlatans that are making quickie films to cash in on a niche… or those that really don’t love cinema and aren’t genuinely working as hard as they can to make the best films they possibly can.  But the truth is, I really don’t know many filmmakers like that, personally.  Most of the folks I know want to make solid, entertaining films… and are committed to finding ways to make the exploration of spiritual themes more organic and authentic in their work.

But alas, many of the most talented filmmakers I’ve met along the way are no longer making films.  They were crushed, mercilessly, over and over for not making Citizen Kane right out of the gate and simply decided it just wasn’t worth it any more.

I can hear it already: “Well, they didn’t want it bad enough.  Too bad.  Toughen up.”  But, until you’ve been on the receiving end of unbridled, gleeful (often anonymous) criticism… no disrespect, but, you really don’t know what you’re talking about.

Maybe it’s because we live in such a media saturated age and we love talking about movies so much as a culture.  But, the chatter (even amongst “religious” or “spiritual” people) can be just plain brutal, especially in the Internet era.  And I wonder, what’s the point or goal of that?

As hard as it is to sing a solo in church… directing a film is infinitely more complicated, has way more moving parts, and many more things that can go wrong along the way.  And yet, I rarely see the concept of “love into greatness” applied to young filmmakers just starting out to the degree it is in other mediums.

And that’s a shame.  Like that church elder said, it is up to us to ensure that the kid that has the talent—but could go either way—becomes great, lives up to his or her potential.  Not beat them down because the effects in their first sci-fi short or indie feature don’t live up to the latest Star Wars film or superhero movie.

On that note, if you haven’t seen the very first films (shorts or features) of your favorite director, that might be worth doing.  With few exceptions, most of those films are far from perfect even though they do admittedly possess the spark and possibility of something better further down the road.  And many of the world’s greatest filmmakers owe their very careers to insightful critics who saw that potential and helped nurture it so it might survive and blossom (rather than kill it for not being fully formed right out of the gate).

To be clear, I’m in no way saying that there shouldn’t be film criticism… there definitely should be.  And I’m not saying we should settle for less than the pursuit of artistic excellence in “faith-based” filmmaking (or any other kind).  We shouldn’t.  But, what’s our end game?  The purpose of our critique?

There is a context for everything.  And it takes time to get great at anything.  Legend has it that Frank Capra (It’s a Wonderful Life) made more than 100 one-reelers (10-minute shorts) before his first full-length feature.  I’ve never seen his very first short, but… my guess is, it isn’t a home run.

As people of faith, we should be looking for ways to “love into greatness” whenever possible… that’s really all I’m trying to say here.  And that goes for all of life.  Not just for kids singing in church.  Not just for filmmakers.  For everyone…

My official two cents for the day…

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29)

– Rik

 

Finding Amber

Appearances

Elizabeth Ann Roberts is a star.

There, I said it.  And I believe it.  She plays the role of Amber Hewson in Old Fashioned and delivers the kind of breakout, career-defining performance that we all love to discover in small, indie films like ours.

And that’s just not me talking.  From Northampton, Massachusetts, to Temecula, California, to a whole bunch of other “sneak peek” and festival screenings in between… audiences agree with my bold claim above.  She provides the life and spark of Old Fashioned and simply makes you fall in love.  It’s magical, really.

Elizabeth Ann Roberts is something special and the rest of the world is about to find out and I can hardly wait.  But, the crazy thing is…

I almost didn’t cast her.

She was actually one of the very first actors that auditioned for the role of Amber.  I was already in Tuscarawas County, Ohio, scouting locations when one of our co-producers sent me video link to her casting session out in Los Angeles.

Her take on the character was extraordinary—even on a laptop; that was obvious.  When she read the lines “respect her emotions as well as her body” I choked up; my eyes began to water.  She was that good.

But in my mind, I always saw “Amber” with very dark brown hair and dark brown eyes.  And Elizabeth, though incredibly beautiful, didn’t line up 100% with what I had imagined.

So, I kept looking.  For six months.  I saw countless actresses with dark brown hair and dark brown eyes; they all looked the part, but they couldn’t hold a candle to Elizabeth.  Elizabeth simply was the character of Amber in a way that went far beyond physical appearance, in a way that was almost spiritual.

She got the gig, obviously.  What choice did I have?

And indeed, Elizabeth actually felt a very clear, personal connection with the strong, bold, and spiritually searching role of Amber.  There is sometimes an authenticity in a performance that simply can’t be faked… it’s a rare thing and it’s what exists between Elizabeth and her character in Old Fashioned.

It’s all a little ironic given that much of the story of Old Fashioned is actually about looking beyond the physical when it comes to love and romance.  There’s nothing wrong with physical attraction and chemistry, of course; but, it isn’t everything… no matter what Hollywood says.

Just like in casting a movie.  Just like in life.

We live in a world today that places ludicrous value on physical appearance.  Do six-pack abs really make someone a good potential spouse?  The perfect nose?  Just the right skin tone?  Will great physical chemistry be enough to weather the tough times that face any relationship?

Think about what we are being sold via music, film, TV, social media… think about what ideas are being affirmed, over and over, in young people.

Right now, Renée Zellweger, is being attacked and critiqued from all sides because of her plastic surgery that has made her virtually unrecognizable.  In some cases, she’s being ripped into by the very same folks that badgered her into feeling so insecure about her physical appearance to begin with.

I love movies.  Always have.  But I hate with a passion the pressure and unrealistic expectation, on women especially, for physical perfection that is spun and stoked by the entire entertainment industry.  It’s absolute insanity and it’s a lie and it’s now spreading far beyond the silver screen and into real life.  And when we buy into the “he’s so hot” and “she’s so hot” and and and… well, we’ve got no one to blame but ourselves.

Whatever makes you happy, I guess.  But our physical bodies are fading… no matter what.  It’s the Kobayashi Maru (yeah, I’m an old school Star Trek nerd, deal)… a no-win scenario.

I wonder what I’ve missed out on in my own life because I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, look beneath the surface of things.  Did I miss out on something God was trying to show me… or a connection that God was trying to make?  Have you?

I learned a valuable lesson in casting the role of Amber in Old Fashioned.  If I had stuck to the preconceived image in my mind, I would have made a tragic mistake and missed out on witnessing something remarkable… something far beyond merely the physical.

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Here’s to the things beneath the surface…

And, to Elizabeth Ann Roberts… thank you.

Cheers!

– Rik

 

Fifty Shades of Mixed Messages

fiftyshadesdaughter

Just a quick observation for today…

It seems that Dakota Johnson, the daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith, might be causing a little bit of conflict in her family with her role as Anastasia Steele in the upcoming film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey.

According to The Express, Dakota’s mom is upset that her family isn’t supporting her daughter in her high-profile and potentially breakout role.

“Melanie is bitterly upset that she is the only one standing alongside her daughter. She’s told both Don and Tippi [Hedren] that Dakota really can’t look at roles and wonder what her dad and grandma are going to think. She believes Dakota was right to seize her opportunity in what will almost certainly become a major international blockbuster.”

But.

In another related article in Indiewire, Griffith acknowledges that it’s unlikely she’ll ever actually see the film she is so proud of her daughter for starring in:

I have not seen “50 Shades of Grey.” I don’t think I’m going to see it…[Dakota] was like, “You guys cannot come. There’s no way.” So we’re not going. I did go visit for a couple of days when they were shooting just normal stuff. I did see the Room of Pain — I did go in there and check it out.

It’s all a little confusing.

If I was doing something professionally that I wouldn’t want my family, friends, or loved ones to see… should I be doing it?

Further, this is another curious example of the contemporary twist in defining “unconditional love” as blind, unquestioning, non-challenging support for almost any choice or action whatsoever.

Maybe, just maybe, there are some things we shouldn’t encourage… some things that are not worthy of applause.

Personally, I think it’s rather obvious that you can love others “unconditionally” and yet also challenge them and, in some cases, even withhold support if a person’s choices or actions could actually end up hurting that person or someone else.

For if we applaud and encourage someone toward things that could indeed lead to real and lasting damage—even if those things make them millions of dollars or give them great careers or win them the appearance of success—aren’t we, at least in part, responsible for that damage?

Not saying this is easy or uncomplicated.  And I definitely don’t mean to imply in the slightest that any person, bad choice, or well-intentioned yet misplaced support is beyond God’s redemptive reach.

All the same, just something to think about…

– Rik

 

Christian Singles, Marriage, and the Danger of Sexual Atheism

sexualatheism

There is an article that is making the rounds right now that has a lot of people talking about singles in the church, sex, and the erosion of biblical standards.

Clearly, this is Old Fashioned territory…

Author Kenny Luck really goes after what he calls “sexual atheism” among many self-described Christian singles today and begins by including this little tidbit:

In a recent study conducted by ChristianMingle.com, Christian singles between the ages of 18 to 59 were asked, “Would you have sex before marriage?” The response? Sixty-three percent of the single Christian respondents indicated yes.

63%.  Does this surprise you?

It does me.  Or it did.  Now that we are having some advance sneak peek screenings of Old Fashioned and I’m being involved in lots of conversations about this issue… I’m hearing more and more evidence to back up the stats from the study quoted by Luck.

I fully expected to get some push-back to the God-honoring approach to love and romance that we take in Old Fashioned (which includes, among many other things, the idea that sex is sacred and meant for marriage).  I just didn’t expect to get so much push-back from others who claim the same faith and yet don’t share the belief that physical intimacy is exclusively for marriage alone.

It’s been an interesting, eye-opening experience to say the least.  I was clearly naïve and not fully informed.  Luck continues:

To say that professing or self-described Christians are becoming more liberal means that their reference point for assessing and practicing sexuality is more cultural and personal rather than biblical or spiritual. It means that they possess a low view of God and Scripture and a high view of self and culture as the key drivers of their moral and sexual behavior.

But why?  Why such a seismic shift within the church?

Culture is indeed key here, I think.  America has shifted… and it’s never easy to resist or stand against any avalanche of social change.  Bottom line is that a majority of Americans no longer believe that sex—in nearly any fashion or expression—has anything to do with morality.  It doesn’t mean we don’t still look to judge things as “good” (eco-friendly living, healthy diets) or “bad” (bigotry, racism)… we just don’t much include sex in that context (good/bad) anymore.

Ironically, it hasn’t made folks less judgmental at all… just judgmental about different things.

I personally know of a progressive, socially conscious pastor who refused to confront his worship leader—who was living with his girlfriend—because he didn’t feel it was his place to judge.  Maybe you can relate to a similar situation in your own life with a family member or friend.

But, what if that worship leader (or family member or friend) was an outspoken racist… and yet claimed to be a Christ follower?  Would that pastor, or you, hesitate to challenge or question that person?

Of course not.  In fact, you might think it your duty to do so and it possibly a sin to not say something.

There’s no denying it, when it comes to chastity or purity or sex in general, I think a lot of us are very hesitant to take any kind of stand (about anything in any way) because we don’t want to appear judgmental and/or we don’t want to end up as a punchline on The Daily Show.

And over time, that slowly affects not only the way we think… but eventually our actions.

That is how good a job American culture as a whole (politics, entertainment, and social media) has done in repositioning the sexual discussion as it relates to morality, etc.

And the how it happened, why it happened, when it happened no longer matters.  It happened.

I say this because I have great empathy for Christian singles today.  It is not easy.  In some ways, it’s never been harder.

But even with culture at large making a mockery of virtue… and often times confusing, conflicting messages coming from different branches of the Christian faith… the call of God on our lives remains the same.

Be still.  Listen.  Follow.

Check out Luck’s article in its entirety at Charisma Magazine.

– Rik

 

Science proves benefits of nice, boring guys

GoodDatesGoodMates

Before I sat down to write the very first draft of the screenplay that, many years later, would become Old Fashioned, I interviewed a wide variety of women…

Some single and never married, some divorced, some married… some younger, some older… some devoutly religious, some not…

I asked them all the same two questions.

First, I asked, “Describe to me your perfect date.”

The answers I got back were remarkably similar… he needs to be romantic and handsome, a good sense of humor is a plus, he better make me feel like a princess, it helps if he drives a nice car… even better if he has a good sound system in that car…

Nearly all of the answers revolved around idealistic romantic fantasy and some surprisingly superficial qualities in many ways.  Then, I asked the follow up:

“Describe to me your perfect mate.”

Again, the answers were remarkably similar… I want someone who is honest, faithful, good with children, good with money…

The two lists of responses to those two questions could not have been less similar.  And it really hit me like a ton of Valentine’s candy that, indeed—at least in American culture—we are much better trained to be good “dates” than good “mates.”

Movies and music and pop culture have deftly schooled us in how to be romantic, how to create a mood, how to woo and seduce and pose… we are experts at that stuff.  We are much less educated in how to prepare ourselves to be good life partners for another or even how to discern the qualities in another that would make for a good life partner for us.

That reality very much helped shape the story of Old Fashioned and the odd and curious character of Clay Walsh, especially… the kind of guy that could easily be passed over today for being a little too—in a word—boring.

Well, according to some recent scientific research, it now turns out that guys like that might not only lead to greater happiness in marriage, but also more successful careers!

No, I’m not making this up.

In a recent article in The Washington Post, Elahe Izadi boldly stakes the claim: Want to get ahead in your career?  Marry a dork.

Based on a new five-year study in Australia, it seems like our cultural over-emphasis on physical chemistry, personal charm and charisma, and/or our conditioning to be drawn to the “bad boy” or the “bad girl” may, in fact, not be the best recipe for relational bliss…

The study’s findings may have broader implications when it comes to picking partners, said Joshua Jackson, an assistant professor at Washington University.

“This might be something to suggest that people maybe should be attuned to these conscientious, more dorky, not-as-lively-or-exciting-because-they’re-rule-following people,” said Jackson, the study’s lead author. “There’s something to say in terms of the characteristics you should look for in a mate. This might not be the most obvious, but it’s important.”

Izadi half-jokingly ends the piece…

So, look, next time you’re on a date, don’t write off the boring rule-follower so quickly. You may be writing off career advancement, too.

All joking aside, whether or not it leads to career advancement or making more money, when it comes to romance… it makes sense to take the time to look more closely than just the surface.

As it says in Proverbs, “Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting…”

Learn more about the study here.

– Rik