John David Ware explained the vision for the 168 Film Project in this way: "Oftentimes, filmmaking is about pushing the envelope. What we do is more like repairing the envelope, and not pushing it. The contract with the filmmaker is what we do first, but we also have a contract with the audience in trying not to offend them (where possible) while still being out-of-the box storytellers. Being edgy in a different way, in terms of telling great wisdom and truth on the screen."
John birthed the 168 Project in 2003, as part of a group of filmmakers he knew at Bel Air Presbyterian Church. "Everyone was kind of excited about what they were going to do, but it was clear there was a need for some structure to give them some tracks to run on to develop their careers and practice their craft. So we looked into what was going on at the time--48 hours wasn't long enough to complete a film, and 72 hours wasn't long enough either. So, I did the math: seven days x 24 hours is 168, so that was where we worked from."
The very first 168 Film Festival was held in 2003 with 13 films entered. "The theater was standing room only," John said. "I'm convinced that they came to see how bad it would be, and we surprised them."
From this illustrious beginning, the 168 Project is now entering its 11th year. The Project has welcomed national and international artists of secular, Christian and other beliefs, who are willing to take the challenge to produce a short work based on a Theme, a Verse and a Week. "I find that basing it on the scripture verse engages a real strong passion for the eternal in the filmmakers, and gives it a core, built in audience--which is really cool. It gives them a chance to not just express their creativity, but their faith as well."
This year's 168 Film Festival will be held from Wednesday, August 8 through Saturday, August 10, 2013 at the Glendale Performing Arts Center, 1440 E. Broadway, Glendale, Calif. The final night includes the Red Carpet at 5:30 p.m., with the Awards Show following at 7:00 p.m. From the presenters to the Grand Jury prize, the professionalism factor of the Festival has increased exponentially. "This year is different for a lot of reasons: We got a new website launched early this year. We put all the submissions online, and we are also offering a BIG Prize."
The 168 Project has partnered with Dallas-based EchoLight Studios, a full-service film production and distribution studio that produces and distributes high-quality movies for families of faith. EchoLight has pledged up to 1 million to produce and distribute a new work from the Grand Jury winner for the 2013 168 Film Project. "We are excited for the feature film that will come out of it, that will be co-produced by 168, EchoLight, and the filmmaker," John said.
The awards show boasts presenters like Jen Lilley of "The Book of Esther" and "Days of our Lives," Stephen Baldwin from “The Usual Suspects,” Rachel Hendrix of “October Baby”, and “Soul Surfer” director Sean McNamara. Tickets can be purchased at the new 168 Project website.
The 168 Project also offers a cash-award writing competition. Like the film project, "Write of Passage" is based on a Theme, a Verse, and a Week, with the end-result being a 12-page script. "We will probably do longer format things in the future," John continued, "But for right now, training, and building up new filmmakers, shorts, and short screenplays are definitely a better way to go."
John is a filmmaker in his own right. Originally from Columbus, Ohio, John went to film school at Miami University and graduated in 1995 with honors. John went on to co-found SLATE Entertainment Fellowship at Bel Air Presbyterian Church, and it was from this fellowship that the 168 Project was born. Initially, John had no plans of the 168 Project becoming a decades-long, worldwide phenomenon. "The first year, it was filling a need. By the second year, it became very clear that this has the power to affect content and to become kind of like a micro-studio--to make feature length films that are different. Eleven years later, we are finally going to be able to start doing that."
John has not closed the door on his own career goals. "I'm a filmmaker myself, so at some point I definitely will be making films. But the whole point is to train up young fillmmakers and watch them go." John sees himself as "Corman with a conscience. I plan to be involved and I plan to keep it going. Until we run out of Bible verses, we'll keep doing it."