Catholic Elementary School
My first encounter with the wrath of the baby Jesus came when I was
kicked out of Catholic school in the first grade. What could have possibly
gone wrong? Nuns, plaid uniforms, chocolate milk, anointed wafers…sounds
safe enough, right? Not quite, after committing some egregious act on
the playground, I was forced to stand against the wall with my eyes
closed and arms sticking straight from my body. If I so much as wiggled
an eyelash, the nun in charge would smack my knuckles with a ruler.
After this went on a few times, I hit her back. BAM! Kicked out of first
My parents weren't very proud. I suspect neither was baby Jesus.
Baptist High School
My next encounter with Jesus, or in this case "Jeay-Sus!,"
happened while attending a strict Southern Baptist high school. Each
week we endured a fanatical assembly designed to put the fear of God
in us. One week the preacher told a cautionary tale about a wayward
girl who had acne. Of course the audience was filled with complexion-challenged
teens, myself included. The preacher spoke of a particular point on
the face where if you squeeze a zit, it’s lethal. Of course this
girl found the deadly spot, squeezed and died. Worse yet, she failed
to accept Jesus into her heart before doing so and was thus condemned
to an afterlife burning in the eternal hell fires of damnation. "Wow,"
I thought, "this Jesus isn't messing around!"
Jewish Summer Camp
My third encounter actually was more about the absence of Jesus. I
was working as a camp counselor at a Jewish summer camp where I headed
up a group of eight-year-olds in bunk Herzl. (Okay, I should explain.
Catholic Elementary, Baptist High School, Jewish Summer camp? All I
can say is my parents had their hands full with me and were willing
to try anything.) I'd teach the kids wonderful little Jewish songs like
"Shabot Shalom." Here I was, working with non-Christians and
loving it. And yet I was taught, these people were not going to make
it to heaven. Why would Jesus send these kids to Hell? They were no
different from the Catholic kids or the Baptist kids I had known. Could
the path really be that narrow? I wondered, "sure, they can't all
be right, but they can't all be wrong, right?"
My First Feature
I find it fitting that my first feature, Saved!,
would be all about the baby Jesus. After years of attending various
universities and studying everything from painting to international
studies, it was a Film 101 class that changed everything and, eventually
restored my faith in...Well, suffice it to say, it restored my faith
in all things.
As a Directing Fellow at the American Film Institute (AFI) I had to
write a feature length script as part of my graduation requirements.
I was trying to come up with a subject around the time of the tragic
Columbine incident and was struck by the role religion played in the
shootings. The evangelical youth movement, somewhat fringe and obscure
in my time, had become mainstream and nationwide. It had grown to incorporate
the music, clothes and attitude of mainstream culture. It was, with
fellow AFI graduate Michael Urban, that I set out to write the script.
Our goal in writing the film was to take the teen genre film and include
ideas that one would never find in, say, a John Hughes film. In order
to achieve that, we felt it was important to anchor the film with iconic
elements such as the prom, the gym glass, and to drive the film with
characters who would be recognizable to a mainstream audience. That
was the first part, the second part was to give the movie subversive
undertones, including ideas about faith, sexuality and religion. In
order to sell the second part, we had to sell the first.
All the conventions of modern society, politics and culture can be
filtered through the prism of high school thus setting up the perfect
microcosm for this evangelical society (for whom the youth market is
its primary target). In addition to the daunting task of making a teen
comedy about religion, it was important that we didn't adopt a purely
satirical take on the subject. For the film to work, it had to be accessible
to a wider audience. For the film to work for me, it had to respect
the religious choices that people make. We're all on a journey here,
One of the most important visual elements of the film centers on a
fifty-foot billboard of Jesus. In the beginning of the film, we show
our characters painting a billboard that reflects their idea of who
Jesus is. At the conclusion of the film, one of the characters literally
crashes into it and the head of Jesus falls to her windshield forcing
her to come face to face with the image she created. To me, this symbolically
represents the journey of faith. You begin with one construct of what
you believe in, and as time passes, you tear that down and reconstruct
it based on the experiences life offers you.
In a lot of ways I’m like the main character of the film. I had
a firm idea of who God was when I started out, but along the way that
got clouded. My faith could best be described as T.B.A. I will say this
though, in order to make an independent teen comedy about religion I
had to pray every day.