Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Preacher's Kid

Over the years faith based movie companies have sugar coated their truths, and frankly, made crappy movies. As one who reviews film, who enjoys film, and has the opportunity to comment on film, I am more often than not embarrassed by what I see on screen. To comment on those movies that are hap hazard in their approach, and content, is hard because while some have good intentions, those good intentions just don’t matter to me. If one believes in God, has a movie based in part on their belief in God, I don’t understand why they present their story in such a horrible, lazy way.

I recently had the opportunity to interview the writer, director and producer of a new film, Preacher's Kid, Stan Foster prior to seeing his movie. This is always a dangerous thing, I don’t like being swayed in my approach to a film, and I know my greater responsibility is to the audience seeing the film. I was reluctant to interview Stan prior to seeing the movie, but it is the way it happened.

I saw Preacher's Kid on DVD. It had a short theatrical run and was recently released on DVD. I was cautious because the cast included individuals not well known for their experience in the medium of film. Preacher's Kid stars LeToya Luckett, formerly of Destiny’s Child as Angie, and Durrell ‘Tank’ Babbs, a real life R&B artist. Normally, using musicians and performers in a movie indicates there is likely to be good music, but often times, sub par performances. To have had such for this Prodigal Son scenario was what I expected, what I didn’t expect was the quality of acting. Much of the credit for the quality performances goes to the direction of first time director Stan Foster. While Foster has had his hand involved in numerous television and movie aspects as an actor, writer, and producer, this is his first venture into directing. What transpires on screen is beautiful. Foster understands when to use the craft of his cast, in most cases involving music, to tell a part of the story. As a musician myself, as one who enjoys good music, this is where the movie shines.

While Preacher's Kid has as a starting point, the church, it quickly realizes that the story isn’t about the church, as much as it is the concepts of leaving the things we love and living through our regrets. We see the pressures, in a respectful way, to both the Christian Church, and the non Christian world. It is a wonderful reminder that many of the stories in the bible are relevant. Preacher's Kid, through the direction of Foster addresses real life, spiritual issues while at the same time respecting the audience.

In Preacher's Kid we see Angie going through the struggles of being a preacher’s kid. As a pastor myself, who spent a great deal of time in the real world prior to being a pastor, this is presented in an honest and real way. We see a human pastor, Angie’s father played nicely by Greg Alan Williams. We see pressure coming down on a preacher’s kid from the congregation of a church, and the unknowing pressure sometimes presented by a loved one, in this case, a father who happens to be the Bishop of the church.

While Angie has a wonderful voice, sings in the church choir, she has a desire for more. One evening while out with a friend she decides to join a traveling gospel theater production. She quickly learns the road is not what she thought it would be, and the people on the road, even those in a ‘Christian’ production, are not always living up to what they are presenting. Angie quickly learns, and subsequently fails at following her beliefs, and living the life she was raised to live.

The spiritual applications are well presented and portrayed, and the story of The Prodigal, is lived out in a compelling way that many can relate to, even those who aren’t religious. We see real world situations, presented in a way that is refreshing, especially for a film which has as a starting point, the church. There is no sugar coating here, and while the movie could have been a little more realistic in its approach, especially with language, it gets the point across. We see things take place that are often ignored by those in faith communities. While faith communities may not address those things, there are ample stories that do, and ample examples many have lived.

The movie reminded me in many ways of another release featuring the story of The Prodigal son, The Gospel. While there are similarities, there are enough differences that both films are worth watching. Preacher's Kid is worth the package deal being offered by Wal-Mart and others where you can purchase the DVD and get a copy of the DVD in regular format, Blu-Ray and a downloadable digital copy. The music is exceptional, the transfer is quite nice, and the Blu-Ray offers some wonderful special features including a reflection on the concept of The Prodigal, a feature on LeToya Luckett and more. The Blu-Ray version is superior in the special features to the standard DVD, but the combo price again, makes both available to the buyer.

While the movie, Preacher's Kid did not do well at the box office, it is worthy of purchase and viewing. The Story of The Prodigal has been told for generations and is among societies most popular concepts. Foster presents a unique twist that will have those not familiar with the story thinking about not just the story, but on their own lives of where real love comes from, and the need for some to go back home, home in both a physical, and spiritual sense. For many a prodigal, those who are lost, this may be the message they need to hear, and a film like this could be the tool that gets them to hear that old story, uttered over 2,000 years ago. It has relevance for a society so desperately looking for ultimate love, and the realization that forgiveness exists.

On a scale of 1 – 10, while not a perfect movie, it is still a very good one and well worth watching. This is a movie with a quality young actress, LeToya Luckett. If you take those 7 letters in Luckett, you come out with a rather respectable score for the movie, a quality 7

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Interview with Stan Foster, Writer, Director, Producer

Stan Foster is an up and coming writer, director producer who has been working in numerous projects over the last several years. From writing the screenplay and producing the Film Woman Thou are Loosed, a somewhat controversial film featuring the story from Bishop TD Jakes dealing with physical abuse and adult themes, to experience from appearing on the Mo’Nique Show and producing the television program Homeboys in Outer Space, Foster is sure to raise eyebrows with his blending of spiritual themes with real life events, episodes, and language.
I recently had the opportunity to spend some time with Mr. Foster regarding his work and to discuss some about his new DVD release of his most recent film, Preachers Kid. The following includes some of the insights of Mr. Foster including the making of film in general.

Stan Foster (SF): Hey Mike

Mike Furches (MF): Hey Stan, how are you doing?

SF: I’m doing well, how’s it going?

MF: Doing great

SF: Have you had a chance to see the film yet?

MF: No not yet, I am planning on seeing it this weekend. I do have a few things I am interested in talking to you about if I can, including of course the film.


MF: What is it that you as a director have brought to the table in the making of the film Preachers Kid?

SF: You know, it’s interesting as I started as an actor, then I mingled into writing, then producing and now directing. What I’ve learned the most is that in all four mediums, which are so closely related, I’ve found that your life experience is your color palate. It’s like all of these wonderfully vivid colors have been lived, viewed and experienced, and so when you paint, you are painting from experience. As a director I brought my own personal experiences to the table. It was very important to me; I remember in shooting the movie, in one of the last scenes that you will see, which is of course the story of The Prodigal, and I know that at the end of the prodigal, that his father greeted him with a robe and a ring. I was adamant about that because in my own personal experiences the story of the prodigal really resonated with me. I don’t know how many conventional directors would insist on something like that, but it was very important to me. There was one cut of the film in the editing process that the studio actually wanted to take out the ring. When I saw the version without it I said this is not right. So I think I bring my own personal experiences and values as a director.

MF: Where do some of those values and principals come from?

SF: You know, I didn’t grow up in the church, I actually grew up in a sort of really rough neighborhood, in the projects, drug dealing from the time I was in the 3rd grade drug use, physical abuse, there was sexual abuse that was rampant and I didn’t get saved until I got to college during my first year of college. I met a guy from Augusta Georgia, and you talk about bringing your personal experiences to the screen, which is why The Preachers Kid takes place in Augusta. It was because of that individual, who is a lawyer now in DC now named Eric Seabrook, but he was from Augusta Georgia and so I decided to use that as my backdrop.

MF: Speaking of abuse, you did some work on the film, Woman Thou Art Loosed…

SF: Yes, I was the writer and producer of Woman Thou Art Loosed. That story was actually the story of my ex-girlfriend in college. Her name was Michelle which is why her name is Michelle in the film. In the play that we did, her name was Michelle Foster, but for the film I changed it to Michelle Jordan, which was my mothers’ family name. You know, long before Precious, there was Woman Thou Art Loosed and it really dealt with some of those same issues, in a real, no holds barred, kind of way. I think it is really another wonderful film that has proven over the years to be able to be cathartic and actually help some people through and dealing with some of their past pains.

MF: With Woman Thou Art Loosed, there was a little bit of controversy, mainly because it went outside the norm of typical Christian movies with the theme, language and so forth. If not mistaken it was one of the first ‘R’ rated Christian movies?

SF: Yes, one thing that TD Jakes and I talked about early on, he told me, that if you get the Bible, and you shot a movie about the Bible and showed every scene that the Bible describes, what would the rating be? (laughing)

MF: It would be NC-17

SF: (still laughing) You know that, or worse. It’s like, it’s real. I think a lot of times we as Christians kind of get caught up in the beliefs that once we get saved, once we start going to church that our worlds going to be perfect, so when we go out into the real world we’re faced with the dilemma that the world brings us. We don’t know how to deal with it in a real, practical sense. Sometimes, we can’t just pray it away. Sometimes, we have to make tough decisions. I think that in Woman Thou Art Loosed and in Preachers Kid these characters have to make some tough decisions, and it doesn’t mean that they have to be right all of the time. In the end, whether it’s Preachers Kid or Woman Thou Art Loosed, or any other movie that I write, God’s going to get the glory, and he’s going to get the credit, and there will be redemption.

MF: When you do a film that deals with spiritual themes, yet it addresses the real world, how do you go about getting financing and funding for something like that? Is that something that Hollywood will normally jump on or did you have to work at getting the funding, and did how did you get the funding for both Woman Thou Art Loosed and for Preachers Kid?

SF: Well, Woman Thou Art Loosed was unique because we actually went about getting independent financing with some entertainers, Oprah Winfrey put up some, Johnny Corcoran’s estate put up some, athletes, Gary Sheffield the baseball player, Cedric the Entertainer, and other celebrities and they are all credited at the end of the film with thank yous. Then there were just regular folks, lawyers, doctors and regular business people that just gave money as we broke it up in increments and raised the money independently and we raised and shot it for just under $2,000,000.
With The Preachers Kid I was introduced to Warner Brothers through a friend, and my friend told me that I should not pitch my faith based movie to this division because they weren’t interested in doing that. They were going to do prequels, sequels, and remakes. Then I get in the room and I start pitching, prequels, sequels, and remakes and the executive is looking bored and he goes, ‘You know that Tyler Perry is amazing, you got anything like that?’ And I went, like ahhh, yeah! (laughing)
You know at the end of the day, what makes people like Tyler so important is that if we can show that faith based movies, and that’s not just Tyler but Fireproof and some of the other ones that have done pretty well, and if we can show Hollywood that there is profit, then they will put up the money ultimately. I believe that there is a large group of people that want to see movies that are in this genera, that will not compromise their walk and their faith.

MF: So when you were trying to get the money, was that just individuals that you knew, or did you just pound the pavement trying to get the doors open?

SF: It was sort of a mixture of things and circumstances. One of the producers was friends with Oprah Winfrey and some other people who had invested in one of his other films. He just told her about this project and they were like, oh yes we love TD Jakes, ok. You know, you just kind of put the word out to people. There was a banker in Los Angeles who was helpful, and she dealt with investments for some of the people in Hollywood. She just sort of mentioned to them what we were doing and they were like, wow I want to be involved in that. So there is really no formula for financing. You just kind of play it by ear.

MF: In trying to relate to the common person who may not know that much about the role of a director, can you tell us what all is involved for you as the director and in what parts of the movie are you involved in?

SF: This is my first time directing, so I had no idea how intense a process this is. When I tell you that every single frame of this film has my stamp on it, that film has as much as Stan Foster in it as a painter, painting every stroke on a painting and handing it to you. I work with every bit of music, to get it to specification, every graph, every table, what the characters are eating, what they are wearing, how their hair is, how the acting is directed, the editing process, do we use this angle, or do we use that take, what kind of cars are driving by, every department comes to you. I’ve been a writer before that and as a writer you just write, okay, so and so sits in a car and they are eating a sandwich, then they say x, y and z. As a writer that is a real simple life, but when you’re a director that so and so becomes how do you want things. The wardrobe department comes to you about dressing her, what do you want her wearing, this, this and this or something else? The hair department comes to you and asks how do you want her hair, like this, or this or do you have something else in mind? The prop department comes you and says, what do you want in the car; do you want these kind of seats? The transportation department comes to you and asks what kind of car is it, what kind of car is passing by. These are the guys that are saying, what kind of music do you want in the background playing? The actors are asking you, what is our motivation here? So the director is involved in every bit of it. Then when you are done shooting the film, the editor is saying, which take do you want to use? Do you want to use that one, or this angle? Your DP is saying do you want to use a dolly wrap or a steady camera or a hand held? Every bit of it is your decision and your call, where the actors are lined up or who speaks first. Sometimes you are rewriting scenes on the fly, it is really intense. Yet, I loved it! I loved the whole process.

MF: That gives some detail as to the direction, as the writer though; do you give up the baby?

SF: It’s different in every case when you are the writer and director as I was on Preachers Kid, it’s the same baby. You do understand that you may have to sacrifice some of the baby for a greater good on down the road. I was also the producer so I determined which scenes also got cut. It’s hard but I would rather make that decision than have someone else make it.
In Woman Thou Art Loosed I was just the writer and producer and the director was really, and he didn’t have to be this way, the director was really considerate of what my intent was, so when he would set up a scene, he would look at me and ask, is this what you had in mind or did you see it differently? There are other projects where the writer is never on the set, and not allowed on the set and somebody takes it and you go, what movie did they make, what were they reading?

MF: As of late, it seems like there has been a lot of movies made with the Black church that is used as a backdrop. What do you see going on there? What is happening to where we are seeing more of that now and is there the potential for crossover?

SF: I think that for this genera, the African American genera, the black church is really the starting point. There was a time, right after slavery it was our everything, it was where we had our socialization, it is where we had our political meetings, it is where we met our wives, it’s where we did everything, it where we worshiped, so the church was everything, it is where we voted, it was, everything for the African American community. I think there is usually a fundamental belief in church and God, I think in the genera.

In terms of it being the backdrop for this film, it really is the starting point, but not necessarily the backdrop. We’re in the church for a few scenes to show where our character starts out before making her journey and it helps us understand her better. I think whether it is a trend or not, I’m not sure. I would like to see some other films. I don’t think I have ever seen that many films that really depicts what happens in the church. You know what’s interesting is there is films that Christians seem to ignore, but it’s true there seems to be a Black church and a White church and a Latino church; the worship is different, there is something about being able to embody a hybrid of the two. I realized this when I did Woman Thou Art Loosed, in that same year I did a film called Hangman’s Curse, which was Frank Peretti’s book brought to film. I was a writer on both of those and we were doing screenings and Fox had distribution for both films. There was a guy named John Scott at Fox and so we would give a screening for Woman Thou Art Loosed in a theater and John would say Stan is a wonderful writer and he also did Frank Peretti’s book and they would go, who’s that? Then we would be at the Peretti screening for Hangman’s Curse and John would go, Stan is a wonderful writer and he also did Woman Thou Art Loosed by TD Jakes and they would go who’s that? (laughter) You know, sometimes it’s just two different worlds. Hopefully, if we continue to make movies that have universal themes and stories that will resonate, whether it’s in the church, or the circus, or the boardroom that it will be relatable, because I think that relatable themes and issues are important. The church should happen to be a jumping off point in any film.
(At this point the publicist steps in): Mike We have time for one more question

SF: Make it a good one Mike, (genuine and warm laughter)

MF: One more question, goodness gracious. (both of us are laughing at this point.) Here is one, what do you think is the importance of getting spiritual themes out into the mainstream of movies and into the general market?

SF: I think if there is a word more than important, I think it is crucial, I think it is vital, I think that the problem with Christian movies in the past is that they had to be word for word, literally as they were read in the Bible, or as they were taught. But I think the Biblical theme and message is what’s important. It’s sort of like when Jesus was talking to the Pharisees and they were complaining about working on the Sabbath. He is like looking at them like; you’ve missed the whole point. You’ve taken it literally word for word and you’ve missed the whole message. I think this film, and the films I hope to do in the future, and Woman Thou Art Loosed is that the theme is what resonates, and the theme is what we’re selling. Just quickly; when I was on TBN about a month ago promoting the film I was with a pastor named Kenneth Ulmer who’s got a huge church in Las Angeles and I said, Bishop, I was concerned about getting this movie right for Christians, I was a stickler for details, and he said, that’s not your calling. You are called to reach with your movies, people who would never show up in the church and you’re supposed to get your film into them, instead of bringing them into the church. So I think that is my responsibility.

MF: I sure do appreciate it Stan.

SF: Thank you Mike.
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