Pass the Light hits select Carmike Theaters this Friday. Clergy can get in free, and youth can get a free Coke. I sat down with screenwriter Victor Hawks to discuss the importance of the film and its message about a political novice taking on a political giant, all in the name of love.
Tell us a bit about your film for folks who haven’t seen it yet. (I have- and loved it!)
First off, thank you for loving and supporting our film; it means everything to us. For the hopeful future fans, Pass The Light is a film about Steve Bellafiore [Cameron Palatas], a seventeen-year-old young man who runs for Congress, to take a stand against the message of hate that candidate Franklin Baumann is espousing. The main message that resonates inside of this film is that God’s love is for everyone, and it shows us that we can all make a difference. We show how young people can make a difference when they are inspired by God’s love. There is so much to take away from this film, and we are so proud of it.
Where did you get the idea for that (running for politics) as a method to share faith, too?
We decided to tell the story through the prism of politics, because it is a perfect stage to exchange ideas, and the current state of politics is a perfect thing to react to. Today, many of the politicians use religion to divide people, and we wanted the juxtaposition of a kid who believes in the Lord, using the same political process to bring people together. Franklin uses everything he says as a tactic to win. He may even believe it, but is really just going after people’s vote, and saying things that he thinks will charge his base. To the contrary, Steve knows he can’t win. It is not about that for him. It is about his pure message getting out there, and inspiring people to love and accept one another. The juxtaposition between these two pursuits made for a good story.
Why did you focus on teenagers? How do you think that adults in real life could learn from young people, the way that Bellafiore’s parents and community do?
I focused on teenagers because they have a much less jaded view of the world. They are more pure in a sense. When you are a teenager you have the whole world out in front of you, and you believe you can change it, and Steve changes the world around him in such a substantial way. When we get older and life beats us down a beat, we lose some of that hopeful nature, which is shown in the story line of Pete (Steve’s Dad) and his troubles. Life has beaten him down, and it is Steve’s positivity that ends up lifting his parents back up. If adults lived with a little more of that positivity, and always remember that God is with us, even the most trying of times, we might be able to pick ourselves up and move forward with that strength.
Steve gets knocked down over and over again in the pursuit of his campaign, but he keeps getting back up, because he believe so much in what he is doing. Sure this view of things might be a little idealistic, but maybe we could all use a pair of rose-colored glasses to view the world through, and when you see someone really believing in something, it inspires you to believe as well.
How did your soundtrack shape up – and how does music play a part in your script’s flow?
We didn’t go into the process with music in mind, but it is incredible how important it became to the tone of the film. In a way the music found us. Our editor, Rosanne Tan, our director Malcolm Goodwin, and myself had the timeline laid out in front of us with no music, then we would look at the shots in front of us, and tested hundreds of songs to help the flow. Once we found Jason Gray, Britt Nicole, and Kari Jobe, there was simply no other song that fit into the film. We would try other songs in the places of where we slated their songs, but nothing compared. So we left those songs in the film, with the hopes that we could actually secure the rights. By the grace of God we were able to get the rights to all of the songs, and that means everything because the music completes the on screen painting that you see. The tone it provides is so important.
You assembled a cast that ranges from the reasonably unknown to the well-traveled Jon Gries as Franklin. How did you arrange that cast?
Yes, our cast is eclectic indeed, and that is the most beautiful of things. To begin with Jon, he had been a friend of ours for years, and we said Jon, we want you to do this, and without missing a beat, he said, I got you guys. A pro like Jon is an incredible asset on set. The young people we found were all a blessing in a lot of ways.
The most important thing we wanted in our cast, is that they believed in the film and it’s message. We didn’t have a lot of time for rehearsals, so they had to walk into the room, believing in the kind of film we were doing. For most genres of film, this would not matter as much, but to us in this film it meant everything. We were searching for that intangible energy in our young actors.
To give you an example of this, Rachael Kathryn Bell originally came in for the part of Jackie Burns. She got down to the wire, and it was between Allie DeBerry and Rachael. Ultimately, Allie got the role, but we knew we had to have Rachael in the film. She just believed in the message so much, and it showed in every word that she said in the audition process. We put our heads together to figure out how to give her a great part in the film to have her energy. We ended up taking a part for a young man, Louis, and made him into Louise, so that Rachael could be in this movie, and it was the best decision we made. All of the young people were a blessing, and they are perfect together because they came together for this purpose.
Does the message of the movie permeate the set? I know making films can be stressful (like anything else professionally) but I’m wondering if the sense of the film impacted the cast and crew at all.
The message of the film permeated on set in the way that everyone was incredibly kind, respectful, and efficient on our seventeen-day shoot, which is the best gift we can get from cast and crew. The amazing thing was how the message carried on after the shoot. For most films, the cast and crew do their jobs, and then kind of move on, and see each other at the premiere, but the friendships and bonds that were forged on this set were far more lasting.
The young people all keep up with one another, and we have all done things together as a group, like the LA HOMEWALK for the homeless. That was about a year after shooting, but we all got together and said, hey let’s pass some light, and raise some money for a good cause. Without missing a beat, the group got together, and did it for no other reason than to just bring some light and love to people in need. You can even see it in the way that the young people treat their fans; they are the most gracious and kind young adults I have ever seen. In a lot of ways they have restored my faith in the next generation. I am not sure if that makes me sound old or not. (Laughs)
Who was your intended target audience? What do you hope the audience takes away from seeing the film?
I think our intended audience was anyone who might gravitate towards a story of universal love, which we hoped might be everyone. There are a lot of layers in this film for the whole family. We made a Christian film that was meant to bring people in, and tell them that God’s love is for everyone, I am not sure we went in with a focused intention. We wanted to tell a good story that anyone could take something from, and what we hope they take is that we are always stronger together. We want people to see that God’s love is for everyone, and we want them to see that they can make a change.
One of the things we show in the film is what I call the simplicity of kindness. People think that you have to do these huge, grandiose things to make an impact, but the smallest kindnesses change the people around you, and that is enough. One of the main themes of this film is youth empowerment, but I think the message can extend to universal empowerment. We can all stand up for things we believe in. We can all make a difference. We are all powerful with God’s love.
You present two ‘types’ of Christian faith. One is an “us against the world” and another is “love people.” How have you experienced both in your own life, and why is presenting the second option important to you?
That is certainly an important question, and something I could go on and on about for hours, but let me try and encapsulate it the best I can. In my personal life, I have experienced the “us against the world” type of faith, was actually during the process of making this film. I am a conservative Christian, but it is not something I advertise a lot, so people were surprised that we were making this film.
Some of my friends would make comments about Christians in a negative fashion, because of the way some Christians like Franklin Baumann would use the good book to chastise and divide. I would stop them, and say, “Guys, I am a Christian,” and they would say, “Well that’s different,” and I would say, “No, it is really not. The generalizations you are using to paint Christians are part of the problem.”
This was one of the reasons that I wanted to display the God that was in my heart, and make Pass The Light. Because the God in my heart tells me that his love is for everyone. I would say that 99% of good Christian people believe this, but there is a very loud one percent, that sometimes uses the good book to divide people, and that is not how you bring someone closer to Christ. You bring people closer by assuring them of his love.
Are we always going to agree on every matter? No, but if we start from a place of love we will come a lot closer to understanding the differences that we have. Pass The Light is in no way trying to change the way someone believes, but we are challenging people to look at how they communicate God’s message. We are challenging people to think about the power of their words, and ask themselves if they are really trying to bring people closer to Christ, or if they are serving another agenda. The God in my heart tells me that he loves us all, and if we ALL embrace that love we will find more roads to understanding., and that is why this was so important for us to illustrate.
My early comparison for Pass the Light was the Kevin Spacey-headed flick Pay It Forward. That film spawned a real-life movement. What would you hope a “pass the light” movement might look like in real life? How might an individual or group get involved?
I would a hope a Pass The Light movement would start with a purpose to change the world around you. A Pass The Light movement would start with the simplicity of kindness. It really is so simple to be kind, and spread kindles, if only we would make the effort. You can seriously change someone’s day with a compliment, or a small kind action, and that kindness spreads.
Passing the light is about the deed, yes, but it is more about the energy you give to someone. It is more about listening to someone and taking the time to understand someone. It is more about taking the time to include someone. It is more about inspiring someone to be great through your action and belief. A pass the light movement would probably start more personal in a lot of ways, and then grow into a movement like Steve’s if enough of those seeds are planted. And all an individual has to do to get involved is just tell someone who needs to hear it, that you love them: tell someone who is struggling, that you got their back. Show the people you love your heart, and how you will protect theirs. Be a good friend. Be a good neighbor. Be a good citizen. Be strong in the lord. If we ALL do that in our own way, the movement will take care of itself.
Are you working on any projects that you can tell us about?
Currently Vision Vehicle Productions has several more films in development, as well as several television pilots. We are opening up a faith division within our company, because Pass the Light has become so incredibly important to us on personal levels, that we want to tell more and more stories inspired by God, and all of his love. Thanks so much for having me, and really understanding our film. For more information on our film, and where to get tickets, you can find us at www.passthelightmovie.come. We look forward to you all seeing our little film that could, and we hope it means as much to you as it does to us.