Part Two of Dr. Diane Howard's interview of the Executive Producer/Director of The Prodigal Film, Michael Walters:
6. Tell me about this movie as an action-thriller movie.
Outstanding personnel attached to this movie will make the action scenes believable, realistic, and authentic. This movie is totally action packed! To enable the visuals to help tell the story we have the cinematography skills and experience of our Director of Photography, James Burgess. We also have the stunts and special effects experiences and talents of our veteran stuntman, Jackson Burns. As well as setting up explosions, Jackson will coordinate and supervise car and motorcycle stunts throughout the film. We have some scenarios that will truly be unexpected by audiences and never seen before. The team is focused on engaging the audience in the visual storytelling. Authenticity is a key element. There are others who will help bring a precision look to this film. For instance we have military battle scenes in The Prodigal. We are blessed to introduce Kurt Delia of Delia Tactical, who with his team train US special operations forces such as Navy Seal teams. This team will enact soldiers in the battle scenes in this film.
7. What kind of provisions and safety measures have you provided for the making of this movie?
Jackson Burns is “Mr. Safety.” Safety and security are also number one with me. One of the key reasons I reached out to Jackson was because of his experience. He is an old-timer in this industry and in stunt work. You don’t get to be old unless you adapted precautions in the first place. There is a time when bad publicity is beneficial to a film project, but an injured actor or crew member is not good for any reason. Jackson and I have discussed at length safety problems that have occurred on other films and how we intend to avoid these happening on our set. I am also asking our insurance company to help us look for safety problems we could have missed. I am surprised how many productions cut corners and do not secure insurance. This places a risk on everyone in the cast crew and even the community where the filming takes place. Our crew is also concerned about safety. It helps to have an experienced crew looking out for the production.
8. I know that you have full funding for this movie for about 12 million dollars. What part has Universal Studios had in supporting this movie?
When my agent, Mr. Bey, presented the treatment for the film to people at Universal, they jumped up on it immediately, and wanted to purchase the rights to the project right there. That was a blessing and it truly showed that The Prodigal was something special. I have worked with my contacts at Universal, as the script and project have been developed. Together we have strengthened areas of the script here and there. It has been a blessing to have this caliber of people working with me. I really am not at liberty to discuss too many details, but I can say publicly that I have a hybrid agreement on the table that offers with Universal and another distribution company their individual strengths to form a comprehensive and strong distribution package.
9. I know that you have arranged for full SAG status for this movie. What kinds of arrangements and provisions will be made for the crew and cast, including child actors?
The Prodigal intends to follow the SAG/AFTRA guidelines. This film meets the budget criteria to make this a full SAG/AFTRA feature, which means full SAG/AFTRA pay scale plus taxes and benefits are provided. We will also follow the working guidelines for hours on set and creature comforts that SAG/AFTRA requires. We really want to do this right. After all our actors are the face of the film.
10. Having worked with you now on this project in pre-production for over six months, I have been impressed by your business model and believe you are a role model for other producers. Can you describe your philosophy and business principles as a producer?
One of my mentors used to tell me little mottos which stuck in my head. One such motto was “You have a choice. You can choose to produce a high quantity of low budget productions or a low quantity of high quality productions; but you never can produce a high quantity of high quality productions.” We are all guilty of cranking out “stuff” because we do not have adequate time and financial resources. This is especially true if we are working in Christian media where often we are required to work in opposition to scripture which teaches us to produce all our work as if we are producing for God. (Colossians 3:23-24).
With cheap digital technology available, the lines have become blurred and so has the quality of work. It is way past time to change all of that! I also see too many producers treat cast and crew members as a commodities or pawns on a chess board. This is not the way to produce! It is a team effort. Also another model to which I ascribe is that a producer must be willing to do any job. I do not agree with the mindset that a producer (or other crew) can’t cross a job description line. I am not above handling a cable, picking up trash, moving a light, or flipping a burger, if need be. It takes a team, and I expect when necessary for my team to tend to their craft first, and where possible to help out in any other area.
11. How do you think this movie will serve as a role model for good filmmaking? Can you describe how it will raise the bar in terms of entertaining, inspiring, and serving audiences?
I believe The Prodigal has already begun to shift thinking in some ways, and my hope is that it will become a standard, especially in faith-based filmmaking. I really have no intention of following; but instead I want to lead, and change!
First, we have a good solid story, a recognizable story that audiences want. It is a story with the following tried and true elements: action, drama, romance, tragedy, and unexpected twists and turns. Audiences, whether on television or in the theatre, want a story that engages and compels them, that moves and even changes them! I hope The Prodigal raises the bar in this way because the industry is cranking out “ a high quantity of low quality work” and in reality few are watching.
Another way we have raised the bar is with the use of social media to build an anticipating audience. Audiences want to know that there are films that will interest them, so why not tell them about it. I hear producers tell me all the time, “I just have to tell the story.” I question whether or not they have asked the question, “Who is my audience? A producer needs to build an audience. That process begins day one in promoting a film.
The producer also has to build distribution. If audiences are anticipating a film and the distributors can measure this through social media, then distribution gets that much easier. Today with cheap digital cinematography films and videos are coming out in the thousands per day. But who is actually watching them? If the story is good then producers should seek the widest audience possible. I believe this is most important for faith-based filmmakers.
If we have a quality redemptive story and if only the church is watching it, then we are guilty of “hiding our lamp under a bushel” (Matthew 5:15). The church has become guilty of this practice. If few are watching redemptive films beyond the church, let’s change that. Let’s bring real stories with Hollywood quality production. The money is there, but investors and studios do not want to back poor quality productions. Hollywood is actually begging for quality faith-based films. I have been told that there are many A list actors who are also begging to perform in movies with stories that matter.
Most of all, I am creating an action thriller, not some watered-down story with small action and poor quality effects. An engaging movie has to be realistic! When I felt compelled to launch this project, I set a goal that either this movie is funded the way this story needs to be told, or I don’t do it at all.
Another way we are raising the bar with faith-based movies, is to commit to pay people industry scale. Our actors will be paid SAG/AFTRA rates and benefits and the crew will be paid at or near union scale. There will be absolutely no volunteerism on this project! I do not use unpaid interns! I know that flies in the face of practices in the film industry, but it is my belief it is unethical and unnecessary. When I was at NBC, management was notified that they had to change their practices of just compensating interns with college credits. In the labor laws only a non-profit is allowed to use volunteer labor. I cannot see depending on interns for a production only for them to not show up because they can’t afford gas car or because they have had a better offer. Try to explain to a client or an investor that you have thousands of dollars a day riding on the back of unpaid, unprofessional labor?
If producers cannot raise the money for their films, they need to go back and do their homework or ask themselves if they really have a calling or proper training to produce professionally. I hope some change of thought and practices occur as we raise the bar, and show other producers it is possible to produce professionally with proper training, preparation, knowledge.
The foundation of our approach involves taking a universal story and adapting it with solid, compelling, realistic writing that allows audiences to connect with characters that are portrayed by believable actors. Faith-based films often have poor storytelling and poor production quality. This is because the producers have not had adequate experience, training, and realistic strategies for getting their films to the real world. Faith-based films are improving, but they still have a long way to go.
And as for all the slasher/zombie films, it may be entertaining to some audiences; but c’mon who really can connect with them! This theme has already been overdone. Movies are needed with stories that allow audiences to both connect and think. The audiences need to connect so strongly that they continue to talk and think about what they have seen. Producers should want their audiences to text, tweet, and Facebook their experience.
Writers, producers, and directors must clearly envision the power of their stories and their visuals on their audiences. They need to have a visual sense of public impact even long before the filming begins. It has not been my intention for this movie to be just a faith-based story. The Prodigal is also a Texas-centric film that is already raising hopes and interests for the industry here. Texas needs a movie of this quality and our cast and crew intend to deliver.
12. Any closing thoughts?
In closing I want to thank all involved with our movie: producers, cast, crew, talent agents and more. We have already had feedback from within the film industry that we have an amazing cast and one of the best crews anywhere. I am proud of that! I give God all the credit. It is truly His film. We continue down the tracks of the production of this epic film. We are a fast-moving freight train working our way toward our destiny.
Check out The Prodigal Film's Web site at www.theprodigalfilm.net. Please also LIKE the movie on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/TheProdigalFilm?fref=ts, and Twitter, https://twitter.com/TheProdigalFilm. For wonderful, inspirational interviews of the cast with their headshots see https://www.facebook.com/TheProdigalFilm?fref=ts . (Go to Photos.)
See ongoing work on professional, epic, redemptive movies on my Pro Films Facebook site, https://www.facebook.com/groups/profilms13/ .
The Prodigal Film is on IMDb.com. I am on IMDb as Dr. Diane Howard. You can support good film work with Like buttons on IMDb (Internet Movie Database) by Liking the following: films, filmmakers, actors, crew, casting directors, agents... Please support good actors, film, and production companies on IMDb.com, Facebook, and Twitter.