When we think of faith-based filmmaking, we often think about the content of a film and rarely stop to question the process behind making one. My name is Christopher Schunk, I am a graduate of Calvary Christian Academy’s (CCA) class of 2017, and I am in my final semester of film school at Biola University, a small Christian university in Southern California.
God called me to pursue filmmaking around the beginning of my high school career at CCA. I accidentally took a film class due to the cancellation of another class, and I can only say this was the hand of God in my life showing me what I was called to do.
Growing up, whenever I was involved in conversations within the church about being called to a career in filmmaking, I was often met with warnings on my descent into “the evil of Hollywood” and advice to hold onto my faith tightly in such a dark place. While I understand the good will behind these types of comments, I think they ultimately come from a misunderstanding of the process of creative expression and what faith-based filmmaking might actually look like. Traditionally, when I think of faith-based films, I think of movies like “God’s Not Dead,” “Facing the Giants,” or “Soul-Surfer.” These are movies with Christian content, and are often seen as a counterculture alternative to traditional media. But, what if a Christian makes a film that has biblical themes and messages but doesn’t end with a call for the audiences’ salvation? Is this type of content just as valid for a Christian to make, or are we not even asking the right questions to begin with?
One of the reasons I chose Biola is because it’s a Christian school that isn’t afraid to ask these difficult questions. I will never forget in my sophomore directing class when our professor told us “starting a film is itself a great act of faith.” At the time, I was unsure of what this meant. However, now that I am in my final semester and in the process of producing my senior thesis film, I am beginning to understand what he truly meant. There is so much that goes into making a film from logistics and permitting to the creative process of writing, filming and editing, that it’s a miracle any film can come to be made. There are also so many people involved in the process of making a film, and Christians are usually the minority on sets. So, for me, faith-based filmmaking has come to take on an entirely new meaning. Faith-based filmmaking has much more to do with how we as Christians conduct ourselves, in an ethical and professional manner, in the process of filmmaking, rather than creating our own alternatives and leaving traditional Hollywood to the wolves.
“Death of an Artist”
Of course, to take on this kind of faith-based filmmaking, we need more Christian filmmakers. This is what myself and fellow Calvary Christian Academy alumni Andres Casanova set out to do when we graduated in 2017 and left to study film in California. I have learned much over the past four years, and now it is time to start my career. It is my goal to be a feature film and television cinematographer, responsible for the “look” of films. However, in the entertainment industry, you must show that you are capable of producing quality work to be given work. This is the goal for my team and I with our senior thesis film, “Death of an Artist.”
“Death of an Artist” is a modern-day parable, heavily inspired by the book of Ecclesiastes, where the main character, Rickard Phoenix, is a direct representation of King Solomon in the Bible. Loosely set during the 1960’s, “Death of an Artisit” is a modern-day parable about legendary painter Richard Phoenix, who is one day afflicted with Parkinson’s disease, leaving him without the ability to do the one thing that he loves most, to paint. We watch as his loss of identity affects his marriage, his perception of the world around him and his own self-worth.
As Christians, we know that true meaning in life can only be found in God through Christ. This is a message the world needs to hear, and in order for the world to hear it, we need Christians in places where they can speak this truth. As my professor for my senior portfolio class says, “if you can take twenty-five thousand dollars and make it look like two million dollars, a studio will trust you with two million dollars to make the feature film you want to make.” This is exactly what we are looking to do through this project. We started this film in much prayer and a faith-based process. In order to make this film, we need $25,000 to cover costs for COVID-19 testing, locations and equipment rentals, props and set builds, and to pay professional actors. We know God will provide exactly what we need, so we are running an all-or-nothing fundraising campaign on Kickstarter. If you are interested in joining us on this process, you can find the campaign at http://kck.st/30S7uuP and help us make something great through a journey of faith.
Christopher Schunk is a 2017 graduate of Calvary Christian Academy and a senior at Biola University in California.