Q: What made you decide to write a book?
A: Many people have asked me for a while to write a book, but I didn't just want to tell my story, I really wanted to write a book that would ultimately help people identify what was in their heart, and how to take that and live out their passions in an actual day to day world.
Q: How does one go from being a Mennonite to a Hollywood movie producer?
A: I think it's the same as in any dream one has, it doesn't just happen overnight, it takes years to figure it out and keep moving forward. Yes, I was born into a very conservative Mennonite home, saw one movie in theater the first 18 years of my life, but I had this dream, that didn't make sense to anyone I knew, myself included, but I couldn't let it go. I think if your dream behaves in this manner, then you should go for it!
Q: You hit it big with the film God's Not Dead What was it like to have such sudden success?
A: It was a blessing. We had worked hard and struggled for many years with our company Pure Flix. But the vision to make films that up lift the human spirit, and to provide an alternative to what Hollywood was putting out there, was not an easy one, but we stayed on our target. As in all things, great things take time, and when GND came out, it was an overnight success that had taken us 10 years!
Q: You were on Evening Shade with Burt Reynolds. How did that come about?
A: I was in Hollywood for six months when I landed a recurring role on the hit CBS sitcom, Evening Shade. Everyone on the show had won an Emmy, an Oscar or an Academy Award. Of course with my up bringing, I didn't know any of them except Burt Reynolds. I went on the show with one line, and Burt took a liking to me, developed a role around my character and I ended up being on the show for close to four years. I always attribute my success to Burt giving me a chance, when i was just a kid.
Q: How were you fired?
A: In our third season, we did this episode where all the kids on the show were going to put a play on and impersonate the adults. Burt chose me to impersonate him. I was so honored, I spent the week preparing, and at that time Burt was going through a really stressful time, he was in the midst of a divorce with Loni Anderson and probably because of the stress, or just being middle age, had been gaining some weight. So right before the show was going to be taped in front of the live audience, I asked Burt if it was ok if I could put a pillow in my stomach. He said sure. When it came time to be introduced before the audience, he introduced everyone first, and then me, I was so honored, and of course as a kid, you don't think through things very well. I went up there with this huge pillow stuffed in my stomach and did my imitation of Burt. He was less than amused and ended up punching me in the ear. We did the show, and it actually turned out great. It seemed like Burt took it pretty good, although, the next week, I found out I was cut from the show.
Q: Your faith plays a big role in your work. How did you come to believe in God?
A: I was raised in a conservative Christian home. My father was a pastor. At the young age of 4 years old I remember my sister walking me down the aisle and helped me receive Christ into my life. I know it sounds difficult to make sense out of that, except this was just the start of my walk with God.
Q: Do you ever doubt his existence and goodness?
A: Of course there were questions; did I believe only because I was raised in the faith? Was it real? But the bottom line for me is that God is real. There was a time though when my life became very difficult and my faith wavered. But God never left me, even though I wandered away from Him for a little while. He has always been faithful to me, encouraging me to keep pursuing Him. That’s another reason why I wrote this book because God is faithful even in our darkest times, he is faithful.
Q: I'll never forget the meeting I had with a Hollywood bigwig who was thrilled at the prospect of doing what you did with GND-spending 2 million and making 60. But should that be the goal? And do Christians really prefer low budget movies or are they just desperate enough that they'll tolerate them but would prefer bigger budgets and higher quality?
A: The beauty of God is he says in his word, “my word will not come back void.” No matter what the budget is, if you make a film that is a great story, and ties in hope, anyone will want to see that film, especially those that are searching for real encouragement. Yes our goal is to make the best quality films that glorify God and bring people closer to. Him. And yes I hope we get to make bigger and better films, but I saw a market that was lacking in quality faith films; they barely existed. I didn't set out to get rich, I just wanted to make films about faith that encouraged people right where they were at. Not going to lie though, what an honor I feel that God chose me and my business partners, Michael Scott, Russell Wolfe and Elizabeth Travis to go off and make a little movie that shocked the world and became the fifth most profitable movie in cinema history based on its Return On Investment, and for that I'm so proud that God let me do that.
Q: What are your dreams and goals for your movies?
A: It is my goal to use my talents God has given me to further His name, and bring others to Him. We also strive for excellence in all of our movies to make them competitive and high quality. We thank the Lord for always coming through with the funding to make these movies. God also answered my prayer to expand our movies on a digital platform that is available 24/7 365 days out of the year, like Netflix but for faith and family, Pure Flix.com.
Q: Many people think the creation of a separate genre of Christian music had a negative effect because it walled off artists of faith from the mainstream audience and kept them from impacting mainstream culture. Are you concerned that you may be creating a Christian film industry that will similarly be removed from the people you most want to reach who may be turned off by the labels?
A: It is true that most of our films are seen by people of faith, however, at the core, we are trying to make movies that reach out and deal with everyday issues that affect everyone. It will be interesting to see where God takes our company and what He will do with us.
Q: What career advice would you have for up and coming filmmakers?
A: I have said that if God puts a dream in your heart to make or be a part of films, if there is any other career that you could be happy in, go for that instead. But if you can't seem to shake that desire, God is bigger than all the obstacles you may face along that journey. Surround yourself with those who work in the field, and learn as much from them as possible. Be excellent in your craft. Learn from each experience, and never forget the dream God has given you no matter how difficult things are. If God can do it for me, he can certainly do it for you.
Q: How have you managed to stay grounded in Hollywood?
A: I am thankful for the foundation my parents modeled for me growing up. I believe it is important to stay connected to God first and foremost. I love having a family. When you come home and your wife tells you to take out the trash or do the dishes, that will definitely keep you grounded. But I love this verse in Romans 8:28. "For God causes all things to work together for good, to those who love Him and for those who are called according to his purpose.” Lone and serve the Lord first in your life, and you'll be amazed to see what he will do with your life.
Q: What is the central message of your book?
A: My book is about following the dreams and desires that are bigger than ourselves, and not giving up no matter how many obstacles are thrown in our path. A dream deferred is not a dream denied, for God can bless you with a dream bigger than the one you ever had for yourself. He did it for me and he can do it for you. With God, all things are possible