September 26, 2014

Screenwriter Andrea Nasfell talks about Moms' Night Out

"I love to read. Well, I have three kids, so no, I don't read. But I aspire to read." -- Allyson, from Moms' Night Out


The amount of time I spent trying to title this blog entry is ridiculous.

Gotta be clever. Gotta be succinct. Gotta tell what the article is about.

Welp, I went one for three.

And I just said, "welp." I love that word.

I mean, I didn't say, "welp." I typed it. And in reality, Andrea Nasfell isn't going to talk about Moms' Night Out here. I'm going to relay her answers to some questions I posed. By typing.

I've already raved about Moms' Night Out and if you haven't seen it yet, stop reading now and go buy it or rent it. No, buy it. Heck, do both. Tell Hollywood these are the movies you want to see. Buy it twice.

I haven't bought it yet.

But I'm going to. More than once. Christmas spoiler alert.

Screenwriter, Andrea Nasfell
Okay, stop skimming now. Here's the good stuff. I promise no spoilers in this conversation with Moms' Night Out screenwriter, Andrea Nasfell.

So before everybody dies at the end of the movie...

Just kidding. No spoilers. Really.


The first thing I had to ask Andrea was how much of the story was derived from her own experiences. She said, "The idea of starting [the story] on Mother's Day came from my life - the high expectations of needing to feel appreciated on that day and the chaos that results from having kids 'appreciating you.' Just the overall feeling of being overwhelmed and feeling like a failure, and totally alone in that failure, is from my life."

Now, technically, I'm not a mother. But aside from my reproductive system, slightly lower voice, and splotchy facial hair, I fit in more closely with mothers than fathers. As a weekday stay-at-home dad, I relate to Moms' Night Out more profoundly than the typical 30-something dude, and Andrea's sentiments speak to me on an almost uterine level.

She continues, "It wasn't until I opened up to some friends about how I was feeling that I realized we are ALL feeling the same way, but everyone is afraid to admit it. So it was fun to put that vulnerability on screen and to see how many women responded saying, 'That is me! I didn't know anybody else understood!'"

I understand.

And lest the men out there think Moms' Night Out is just a chick-flick, rest assured there is plenty of screen time for the other halves of the moms having their night out. When co-directors Jon and Andrew Erwin (October Baby) came on board, Jon expanded Andrea's script to include more from the dads' point of view.

"When they acquired [the screenplay], Jon, Andrew, and [co-producer and actor] Kevin [Downes] sat me down and told me they wanted to make a movie for their wives," Andrea reflects. "[Each having young kids], they instantly related to the family dynamics. They wanted to make the movie to show their wives how much they loved and appreciated what their wives do. I knew they 'got' the movie."

Originally, Andrea wrote Moms' Night Out for PureFlix (God's Not Dead) with a small budget, non-theatrical release expected. When Kevin Downes and the Erwins got involved, the project grew in scope and budget and Jon Erwin rewrote the script accordingly. Then Sony (Soul SurferHeaven is for Real) came on board, and Moms' Night Out evolved into a bigger studio release.

On the plot challenges of Moms' Night Out, Andrea said, "This one had a lot of plotting to get the overlapping story lines to lay out the right way, but [the effort] was well worth the payoff. The other issue was always, 'is it funny enough?' People start worrying about that a lot once it gets close to production, but in the end, once you bring in a cast as funny as the one we had, every beat gets funnier with their masterful comic execution."

I agree with Andrea that the cast was outstanding. Yes, the lead roles are cast with recognizable talent, but beyond the star power, they are just funny, talented, easy to watch homo sapiens. Andrea commented that the Erwins got pretty much all the actors they wanted for this film. I'm sure they wanted me, too, but you know... things happen. No hard feelings.

Next up for the talented and busy Andrea Nasfell is another faith-friendly comedy like Moms' Night Out that will shoot this fall. She has another Christmas movie that should be released in 2015. And she continues to write, write, write and mommy, mommy, mommy.

Be sure to visit Andrea's blog: A Hundred Hats

And please do watch Moms' Night Out. Go to the movie's official website and choose between two versions of the DVD or BluRay. What's the difference? Go to the website and find out! I'll be here when you get back, aspiring to read, write, and do other things I did before I had kids.


September 18, 2014

Anything Worth Saying

In the words of Aaron Shust...

Give me words to speak
Don't let my spirit sleep
Cause I can't think of anything worth saying

So is the lament of the lonely blogger. I'm sure Mr. Shust was thinking of bloggers when he penned the lyrics to Give Me Words to Speak.

Give me words to speak
My blog is feeling weak
Cause no one really cares what I've been saying

That's gotta be the long lost chorus that didn't make it into the public EP release of Whispered and Shouted -- a great easy-listening Christian CD, by the way.

Moms' Night Out, my favorite faith-based film of 2014, opens with our hero, Allyson, typing, "I am a mommy blogger… I have 3 followers. Yesterday I had 4, so that's awesome."

Wow, can I relate. Although, according to my tracking software, last week's post reached a few more eyes than normal. Which is a good thing.


I'm not sure my words were received as intended.

I'm supposed to be sharing in this post some wonderful nuggets of wisdom from the superbly talented screenwriter of Moms' Night Out, Andrea Nasfell.


I wanted to clear up any misconceptions that may have surfaced from my post imploring Christian filmmakers to take risks and raise their standards.

First, I didn't mean to imply that all Christian movies released in the time period between What If… and Moms' Night Out were bad movies. On the contrary, Christian cinema is progressing in the right direction, both aesthetically and message-wise. Yes, there have been Christian movies that fall into one or more categories of too preachy, meandering story, inconsistent acting -- but a similar percentage (probably a higher percentage, actually) of mainstream movies fall into the exact same categories.

I've produced two feature films that definitely fall into more than one of those categories!

It's not my intention to tear down any films or filmmakers, which is why I didn't reference specific titles. Still, specific mentions or not, speculative deduction can bring a number of titles to readers' minds. If that's the case, there's a good chance the reader feels the same way about certain movies. I can live with that.

But… as a filmmaker myself, I know how personal these projects can be and to hear negative comments, directly or indirectly, can spur emotions that debilitate and invoke fear of future failure. I know from experience! And I hate those feelings!

Or they spur anger over the idiot typing them.

Either way, the last thing I want to do is tear down Christian filmmakers. I'm trying to encourage, but I suspect that sentiment may not have been completely evident.

I'm not taking back my plea to make better movies, but I'm not implying that the majority of Christian movies in the market today are bad. I've seen probably 40-50 Christian movies in the last five years and I didn't hate a single one of them. Every one had redeeming qualities that I could appreciate, if not for my own personal growth, for the potential growth they could encourage in other audience members.

And that is the key. If a movie has the power to speak to somebody, anybody, in a way that can improve his or her life, that movie is a worthy tool in God's belt.

I have so much to say on this topic, but I don't know if any of it is worth saying, so I'll just Shust my mouth for now.

September 11, 2014

Christian cinema needs to take more risks

"God chose to introduce Himself to us in the first verse of Genesis as a Creator. And yet so few Christians really understand the power of creativity to influence the culture." -- Phil Cooke

Three years ago I saw a movie that forever changed my perception of Christian cinema. What If..., directed by Dallas Jenkins, proved that faith-based films didn't have to be plagued by poor production value, underwhelming acting, meandering story lines, and heavy handed preachiness. Finally, I had found a Christian movie I wasn't embarrassed to share with my non-believing friends.

Unfortunately, What If... didn't start a new trend. High quality faith-based movies are still the exception, but church audiences tend to give them a free pass because the filmmakers are "doing God's work." Really, does a movie have to look pretty to be effective?

Yes. It does.

I'm not talking pretty in the sense of beautiful scenery, gorgeous stars, and shiny plot points (though it's not like any of those elements are bad!). I'm talking about faith-based films meeting the production standards of the secular motion pictures that dominate the box office. There's no reason Christian cinema shouldn't be held to the same standards as, say, Dallas Buyers Club or Captain Phillips or The Hangover, part 8.

It's time for Christian filmmakers to raise their own bars. It's time to bring story to the forefront and let the message come out organically instead of forcing it down the audience's throat. It's time to employ talented folks who may not share our worldview, but who bring world-class sensibilities to any and all stages of production.

It's time to take the kid gloves off and tackle some of the bigger issues that are running this world into the ground. Or, on a lighter note, it's time to crack some jokes about ourselves and tear down that wall that separates the overly pious from the shunned bystanders.

Now, What If... isn't a movie that risks a lot, but its production value ranks up there with mainstream Hollywood cinema. The script is tight, the acting is solid, the direction is spot-on, and the overall feel is unlike most faith-based films available today.

New on DVD last week is a faith-based film that rivals What If... as my favorite Christian movie of the last decade. At times riotous, always heartfelt, and undeniably relatable to me as a stay-at-home dad, Moms' Night Out finally continues the trend I'd wanted What If... to ignite. It's no coincidence that Moms' Night Out is written by What If... screenwriter Andrea Nasfell, who will join me in my next blog entry to share some of the backstory behind Moms' Night Out.

I can't recommend Moms' Night Out and What If… enough. To me, they set the standard for what faith-based films should be. Are they perfect? Of course not. No movie is. But strip away the Christian message (which isn't nauseatingly forced down the throats of the audience), and these movies look like they belong in the same category as typical wide-release Hollywood fare.

And that is what makes them effective.

September 2, 2014

What's quality got to do with it?

"The actor's popularity is evanescent; applauded today, forgotten tomorrow." -- Harrison Ford

Is it better to be good or popular?

One needn't look past the Kardashian empire to find the answer to that question.

Then again, building your own popularity is a talent in itself.

A talent I don't possess.

Justen Overlander, Keri Bunkers, and Gary David Keast
at the Action On Film Festival's screening of The Bequeather.
Here's what I learned last week at the Action On Film Festival where my feature comedy, The Bequeather, screened late Monday night to an audience of nine:

The quality of a film is inconsequential to film festivals.

What does a festival care whether a movie is any good? All that matters is that people come to see it. Period.

And that's the way it should be. One certainly can't fault a business for wanting to make money.

Still, it's frustrating as an artist who works his tail off to create something through years of blood, sweat, and caffeine, to have his film screened after something that clearly wasn't tended to as much as it should have been.

I'm not saying The Bequeather is a modern Citizen Kane, but it's a coherent story with decent production value. I can't say the lead-in movie last week was either.

But they promoted themselves well. I tip my hat to them. And I really don't mean to send any negative energy their way. I'm reflecting as an artist, separating myself from the partiality I have to my own movie, and assessing both projects as unbiased as I can.

One movie deserved to screen at the festival; one didn't.

The Bequeather is the one that didn't deserve to screen.

I'm a terrible self-promoter and until I can get over my deficiencies in that essential part of artistry, I will not achieve the success I crave. It doesn't matter how good I am; If I'm not popular, nobody will care.

A better press kit, a bigger social presence, unashamed promotion… I need these. All artists need these. The trick is to attain them without also adapting obnoxious egocentrism.

Wait a sec… obnoxious egocentrism is working for a ton of people. Surely that's the way to go. What have I been thinking all these years?

Time to make a trip to Sarr Chasm.