by C.J. Darlington
Kyle Prohaska Interview
"Waiting on the Lord can be frustrating at times. You wonder if he's even around from time to time, or if He cares. But as I grew in the Lord I realized that if the resources weren't there, or the interest wasn't there, then it wasn't the proper timing." -- Kyle Prohaska
Kyle Prohaska is the co-founder of Praise Pictures and the writer/producer/director of their first feature film, Standing Firm. He sat down and chatted with us about how he got his start in filmmaking, the ministry model of Praise Pictures, his advice for other aspiring filmmakers, and much more!
C.J.: What was it that originally inspired you as a kid to make movies?
Kyle: Many things filter into that, but if I had to choose what inspired me to create films, it would be the films themselves that I grew up on. Movies to me (and music as well) are extremely important, especially the ones I watched over and over again as a kid. Movies like Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, Jurassic Park, etc. all remind me of moments of my childhood. It's nostalgic to watch them again and remember.
I always thought growing up that if I could somehow someday give to someone else what those movies and my other favorites have given me, then I would have done something special and meaningful. Granted, now with Christ as the center of my life the goal now is to do what His will commands, but it is incredible to know that what I've always wanted to do has been God's plan all along, just with a different goal in mind. Instead of personal achievement it's for the growth of God's Kingdom. What a better goal that is.
There were a lot of hurdles you had to endure early on in your ventures, including lack of interest from your friends and lack of necessary resources. And yet here you are about to make your first feature film. How did you keep from becoming discouraged during the times when it looked like your dreams would never happen?
I think it was the fact that I knew God was in control. Not that it wasn't difficult to wait. Waiting on the Lord can be frustrating at times. You wonder if he's even around from time to time, or if He cares. But as I grew in the Lord I realized that if the resources weren't there, or the interest wasn't there, then it wasn't the proper timing. Taking comfort in the fact you can do nothing but wait, and learn, and prepare, is a great place to be. It’s humbling. I can do nothing without Christ. It might not seem that great, because what you long for hasn't arrived, but honestly if what I really wanted showed up long ago, I don't think I would've been spiritually ready. I understand now why God forced me to wait.
How did Praise Pictures come to be? I hear there were a lot of divine appointments that put you in the right place at the right time.
Before the idea to make a Christian film ever arrived I was working at my church (Niagara Frontier Bible Church). I serve as Director of Media Production at NFBC (oddly enough, the same position held by Alex Kendrick at Sherwood Baptist Church). I had gotten out of college for engineering after just one year. It didn't feel like the direction God wanted me to go. It opened the door for me at the time to go from part-time to full-time ministry at the church as well, so that was great. Since I started about 2 years ago we've sent DVD's to countries all over the world. This position in ministry I think was God's way to get me ready to take on something like this. I had put the movie ideas on the back burner before college, thinking they weren't going to work out. So as I worked at the church, I kept asking the Lord if I would ever get to make a film, and if so . . . how? Film isn't a popular thing where I live, not filmmaking. Sure everyone watches movies, and goes to the movies, but it’s not a common thing for someone to make a film around here. I can go on opening day to my local theater to the biggest films of the year and sit alone, or with a few people. So finding people, let alone people I know who would be interested in such a thing (and Christian people to boot), was a daunting task. But still, even if I had those people available, how could it be done? I was tied to the church, I have a responsibility, and I'm in His will and I know I'm supposed to be here, but I also feel led to make Christian movies. That was a bad place to be, feeling led in two directions.
Then Kevin Michael (an elder at my church) showed up in my office one day with Flywheel, and Facing the Giants on DVD for me to watch. He had this crazy idea of doing a film. After watching them, I was blown away by the fact that a church had made these. It blew the doors off of what was possible. Not that God couldn't help us make a film if that was our mission, but to see a practical example in my hand really put things into perspective.
During that time a lot has happened, and I've been able to meet lots of people too, including Rich & Dave Christiano on the set of “The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry” last summer. So God has opened the doors. Right away we hit the ground running and began writing, and eventually got incorporated, and here we are! Sounds like a big mess I'm sure, and we were never sure we could ever pull this off, but now I'm answering interview questions about our first feature film. Who knew?
On your website you say, “We want to put healthy, uplifting, and God glorifying films in the hands of the families of America and the world over.” Share with us how you plan to do that.
This film will hopefully be that first stepping stone. There is a huge opportunity for Christians today to get the gospel out. There are so many avenues available, much more than even 10 years ago. The internet especially has birthed new ways to reach people. I mean say you removed the "films" part of that statement and just placed in the gospel. You can share God's word in so many ways now. Half of the witnessing opportunities I have been given and some of the deepest conversations I've had with others has been through online chatting. That alone tells you the possibilities. With online stores and advertising, email, streaming video, online renting and downloading of content, its just easier to get it in front of people’s eyes.
If it's God's will, we hope to get this film done and in the hands of a distributor. We have a few roads to go down to make that a reality, but ultimately that’s the goal. If you make a film and nobody sees it, where have you gotten? If you have tracks with the gospel on them but they're in your pocket all the time, what good are they? We have to utilize the tools available. Film is a great way to reach into someone's soul and bring up the things they keep to themselves. It's not about playing on the emotions necessarily but speaking to the viewer in a relatable way, so they connect with the message (in this case, the good news) and apply it to their lives.
Tell us about your first movie, Standing Firm. Where did the idea for this film come from and where does it currently stand in the movie making process?
When my Co-Producer Kevin Michael and I sat down to brainstorm, we were stumped. Finding a good idea is tough, that much is certain. You might even have a great idea but find out it won’t flesh out, or it’s too thin if you stretch it beyond a certain running time. A story about a man sitting on a bench probably wouldn't fill a 90min time slot. So our challenge was to find a good story that we could flesh out. Also to pick a topic/theme to drive home.
The initial inner core
of the story came from the Casting Crowns song "American
Dream." We watched the music video and found the kind of story we
wanted to tell, a family story. We built the first idea around that music
video almost completely. The son was younger, he played baseball, his father
neglected him because of work, etc. But soon we realized that we wouldn't
find a young actor, we wouldn't be able to secure a baseball field. Overall,
it just wasn't feasible. One thing we had to do while writing whatever
story we were going to tell was making sure it was practical. It had to
fit around the kinds of things we had available and had at our disposal,
Eventually, after many changes, like the main character’s age (we bumped Steven from the young baseball player, to the teenage son, to the young adult, etc.), we settled on a final story idea. We kept the main ideas of the original story, but changed their motives around. The film in its current state is in Pre-Production and we're gearing up to start shooting in June of this year. We started writing in May 07 so it’s been almost a year effort thus far. Writing the film, buying equipment, finding people to be on crew and cast, locating props, shot lists, schedules, call sheets, storyboards, web development, generate publicity (thanks TitleTrakk.com), etc. is only a piece of the pie that is creating a feature film. Lots had to be learned along the way. We are both new at this. Without God in the center, we wouldn't be this far along.
Your ministry model is similar to Sherwood Pictures (Flywheel, Facing the Giants) in that your church is highly involved in the movie making process. Why have you chosen to go this route rather than venturing out on your own?
There are many aspects of what Sherwood has done that we committed to following. Church involvement was a must because where else would you find the people to help with the film? Finding local people was pretty much a crapshoot. In a sense, we did venture out on our own. Unlike Sherwood, this movie and Praise Pictures is separate from the church while Sherwood Pictures and the films they create are considered a "ministry" of the church. In our case it’s a separate company, run by two people who happened to be members, asking for our church’s help. We aren't tied financially either, which saves us lots of trouble.
But all our actors except one are church volunteers, as well as a lot of the people filling crew positions. We have brought in other local people too that God has brought in out of the woodwork. The way I see it, it’s a community project. We're willing to work with whoever is in this community around us that loves the Lord and wants to use their talents for him.
The other aspect of the Sherwood Model is the simple fact that it’s not our movie, its God's movie. You want God to bless something? You want him to use it for his Glory? You want him to take it and mold it into what he wants? Then you have to have your hands off of it! Give it all to Him. That’s been the struggle. Keeping in mind all the time that it’s His movie, He's in control, He owns the cattle on a 1000 hills, if it’s His will it’s going to happen, etc. Keeping those principles in your head is key to taking on something this large. No way can we do this alone, and God will have to intervene to bring it to completion. Alone I can do nothing, with the Lord . . . well, you know the rest.
A goal of Praise Pictures is to evangelize. Are there any steps you’ve taken in the writing process to avoid the stigma of your films being too preachy?
1 Corinthians 1:18 - "For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God." I try and keep that in mind when I think about something like being too preachy. As far as I'm concerned, you can load it with the gospel all you want if it’s presented well. When you witness to someone, it’s the Lord who prepares their heart to receive, so really the weight isn't so much on what they're watching as much as it is if they're ready to hear what's being said. You can't cater to everyone, it’s just not possible.
I've seen some films that made me want to gouge my eyes out (I'm talking Christian films), but then you read that someone came to know the Lord through it. So I guess it depends on the individual watching it. Not that films can't be overdone in some way, but I make no apologies for putting the Word of God front and center. The goal in it speaking to someone is to make the film relatable, then bring them the gospel after that connection is made. So really, all I tried to do is make the dialog and circumstances as real as possible, get the gospel in there clearly, the rest is up to the Lord.
How important is it to you, as someone involved in the Christian arts, to commit your work to the Lord?
Anything I do, think, say, or listen to, if God isn't the center of that . . . I've missed the boat entirely. Dedicating your life to the Lord is the duty of every true Christian, hence anything in that life should be dedicated as well. You can't dedicate your entire life but hold a little piece for yourself. He must be the center of it all. I have minimal time on this planet. The fact I would waste my time working on something that has no eternal value is foolish and selfish.
Actually, this is an opportunity for me to share a blessing we've been given (for others look on our Blog -- lots of info there about how things have gone bad and how God has pulled a 180 to work things out). We found our new composer only two weeks ago. Kevin M. Walczyk, Professor of Composition Studies at Western Oregon University emailed me about interest in the film. His resume is very extensive and I was shocked that he would even take the time to get in contact with me. I told Kevin we couldn't really guarantee payment for his services (at which point I thought we were sunk) but Kevin's response was this: “As a composer with a passion for film music I have been seeking a way in which I can use my passion for God's purpose. As a Christian, I believe that committing my efforts to Christian filmmakers and Christian film making is the path that I am being called and, after a long sabbatical from underscoring, I am eager to renew my passion - but this time doing God's work . . . I am not seeking any financial compensation for my work in this venture - only the opportunity to use my talents in a manner befitting Christ.”
To answer the question simply after that entire response . . . YES IT IS VERY IMPORTANT!
How can people get involved in helping you guys with Standing Firm?
The two big things people can do to help us at this point is PRAY, and SPREAD the word! Prayer from the other Christians out there is very important and #1 in my book. We currently have a prayer list available on our website that you can look over to pray for specific needs we have. Spreading the word is very important also because of our lack of advertising funding (it always comes down to the dollar amount doesn't it?). Email friends and family our website, tell your local pastor about the film, leave us a message of encouragement on the website, etc. In the end, prayer and support is what we really need. Donations through the website would still be helpful, since this movie is personally funded by Kevin and I, but we aren't pushy about that. If someone feels led to give, let them give. We will need more funding to finish the film, but the way I see it, if the film is God's will, that money will show up one way or another. It's all his money anyway. :)
We will have in the future many more things available on the site to generate interest.
What advice would you most like to share with other aspiring filmmakers?
One thing I've always thought to be true, and I've found out this last year that it absolutely is, is how important a website is in today’s age for something like this. Without our website, our film has no credibility and has nothing to show. All they have is my word or text to look at. It pains me to see great films that are being released with no pre-thought to generating interest in the film. Movies being made by people I know where their budgets are huge, but their planning in the long run is short. It's unfortunate to see.
The movie’s website, email, getting a concept that you can spread around (banners, buddy icons, wallpapers), posting production threads on Christian forums, generating an email list to send updates, facebook groups, etc. etc. are all important. I was shocked to see how easy it was to generate interest as well. It didn't take long, just took some good planning and proper implementation. All of this was done for free as well, using what's available to you, which is quite a bit in my opinion. If you don't have the ability to create a great website and you can't pay the standard rate, then shoot me an email! I'm always trying to help out other Christians who need something great for their ministry project or film, or whatever it is. We all need to start helping each other out.
I've seen many websites for films that are poorly done. Some people don't seem to mind but, to me it’s a red flag on how the film itself will be. That might sound judgmental, but what other example do I have to base my view of the film? You might have a great film but a poor website...will you generate interest? Probably not if the content on the site doesn't showcase that great film. You wouldn't buy your wife an anniversary ring and wrap it in newspaper would you? Presentation is lacking in most Christian content, we are ALWAYS behind. It's time to change that and hit the gas pedal.
My other piece of advice is: Make God #1. If he's not steering you, then he's not steering your film. Everything else comes under that truth.
What’s surprised you most about the movie making process?
The process of writing is by far the most difficult. Everything trickles into what's on that paper. It surprised me just how long it took to craft an idea into something that could be told on screen in the right way with the right message.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received thus far about making Christian movies?
Prepare in whatever way you can. Take the time to think it out to avoid mistakes before they arrive. The more time spent planning in Pre-Production, the less time wasted in Production and Post Production.
What actor or actress would you love to work with someday and why?
I doubt I'll get the chance, but Tom Hanks is amazing. He is one of the greatest actors in the last 30 years or so. It will be a while before someone can stack up to him. Working with him would be incredible.
What’s your favorite movie of all time, Christian or secular? Why is it special to you?
The Shawshank Redemption. An incredible film. Very rarely would I call a film beautiful, but that one takes the cake. It'll always hold a special place in my heart. If I can create a film with even a piece of what makes that film great, then Lord take me home. In case anyone is interested my top 4 films from 1-4 are Shawshank, The Green Mile, Forrest Gump, and Signs.
What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?
1) I used to do Gospel magic for birthdays, churches, events, etc. For those of you who don't know, it’s when you do a magic show but include the gospel, sometimes the tricks themselves being an example of your message. I was chosen to go compete in Las Vegas at one point with others my age but decided not to go.
2) I have no schooling at all for what I do at the church, I've been learning video/graphics/web design by myself at home for about 8 years.
When you’re not making movies, what do you enjoy doing?
Watching movies :) I'm also a huge fan of hockey and tennis.
What did you eat for breakfast this morning?
Frosted Shredded Wheat...awesome stuff.
Three things always found in your refrigerator:
Milk, Veggies, Juice
You’re next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?
Whatever has less fat in it. Starbucks = bloated.
What’s left unchecked in your “goals for life” list?
Make a feature film. (Hopefully checking this one off soon!)
When was the last time you cried?
I watched Schindler’s List for the first time recently.
Three words that best describe you:
Determined, Ambitious, Prepared.
What’s currently in your CD player/iPod?
Orchestra music (John Williams)
Anything else you’d like to share with TitleTrakk.com readers?
There are other Christian films coming soon! Don't forget to check out
the other films from other Christian brothers and sisters.
No Greater Love (http://www.nogreaterlovethemovie.com),
The One Lamb (http://www.theonelambmovie.com/).
Be sure to check out these other films and share them with friends and family as well.
Don't forget to keep up with what's going on at our website and blog at http://www.standingfirmmovie.com
Watch the teaser for Standing Firm:
C.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.