Writer/director Bill Muir - bestselling author and owner of MeThinx Entertainment - recently spoke with Phoenix Movie Examiner about his new faith-based family adventure flick “The Lost Medallion.”
In “The Lost Medallion,” which opens Friday, March 1 at movie theaters throughout the Valley, Billy Unger and Sammi Hanratty play two teenage friends who uncover a long-lost medallion and accidentally wish themselves back in time. The experience gives them a new understanding of who they are and what their lives really mean.
Question: This is the epitome of a movie with a message. At the end of the day, what is it that you hope audiences will take away from “The Lost Medallion?”
Answer: Alex Kendrick, who has been in “Courageous” and “Fireproof,” is featured in the movie as kind of the storyteller of “The Lost Medallion” for kids in a foster home. At the end, he looks at them and tells them how much they are loved by God. That is where we find our value. That is why other people have value. That is why we should be kind and loving to each other. I hope that people leaving the theater will sense that they are significant. And it has nothing to do with their external clothing, labeling, number of friends or who invites them to what party. I hope the kids who feel invisible in their world, overlooked, not voted on as class president and not picked first on the sports team would say, “I have value because God has created me and I will be kind to others because God created them too.”
Q: You mentioned Alex Kendrick’s role as the storyteller for kids in a foster home. What was your motivation for framing the film with foster care?
A: My wife and I have been foster parents for 30 years. We started taking in kids in 1984 and I discovered how unsettling it was to be taken out of somebody’s home and placed in somebody else's home. We really enjoyed being able to be a part of kids’ lives and create some warmth and love. While we were doing that, we were given a child that was born with just a partial brain. His name was Embry. We got him when he was about 3 weeks old and they said that he would only live about a week. We were basically a hospice for him. We took him in and he lived 8 months with us, primarily because of - even though he was blind and deaf and on oxygen - the love of my wife, my kids and myself. Holding, hugging, kissing, talking. As a result of that, the foster care agency began to place more children with us. We took in a little girl that was a month old, had fallen on her head and had a shunt and some fluid on her head. We took her in and a year later we were asked to adopt her. We did and now she is our 19-year-old daughter. I need to reach out to people who are disenfranchised. It has been a part of our culture to demonstrate kindness and love to people who could use some.
Q: You already said what you hope audiences take away from the film. But what did you take away from it?
A: Having been a part of the whole journey as the filmmaker - the one who wrote the first words of the screenplay and was there at the very end when the music score was laid down and the colors were corrected - I learned how difficult it is to make a movie. It is a collaborative effort. You need a lot of people to deliver their A-game to have an A-movie. I am now the guy in the theater who, no matter how bad the movie is, applauds because I know just getting it on the screen was difficult. And it sounds cliche but I really learned in the midst of the battle - and when you make a movie there are always battles - that when you treat people with respect and come into conversations with humility, it makes for good relationships. When we were in Thailand, I had a crew of 200 and the key players and I all sat at the same table as everybody else. We got in the same lines, we didn't live any better and, after a while, they were really struck by the fact that we were literally a team together and that there was no superiority because I'm the director. I think that the power of kindness, the power of humility and the power of authenticity makes relationships in any community better.
Q: The motion picture’s production design is beautiful. What can you tell me about how that beauty was achieved?
A: What I am really encouraged by is the fact that we have had several studios say this is a $16 million movie from a production value quality. It didn't cost that but it holds up. We have been to a lot of film festivals where the responses have been that it has as good a production value as any movie that they have seen. That feels good. And when you film in Thailand - in jungles and on beaches - you have a beautiful palette to pick from. We really worked hard. We didn't want people sitting at a kitchen table talking. We wanted an action adventure film that held up and would hold up for years to come. So we worked really hard to put it on the screen and make it beautiful. Our production designer Mona Nahm deserves kudos for the amazing job of creating that beauty.
Q: Finally, the movie balances its faith-based theme with secular entertainment better than most. What is your secret to walking that fine line?
A: You write a movie over and over again and stay away from propaganda, preaching and on-the-nose dialogue. I worked hard to make my characters authentic and talk the way that they would talk to each other in light of the environment and not throw mini-sermons into their lips and make those things come out of their choices. Friends of mine who are screenwriters in Hollywood kept pushing me to write better dialogue, take out all of the messaging and drive it deeper into the subtext. Rewrite after rewrite, I didn't take the shortcut and just have a character say something to the audience. I went back and took everything like that out, let it seep into the subtext of the story and really become a part of it. I wanted to create a movie that would hold up in the marketplace and be seen as a quality movie that didn't have a secret agenda or a bait-and-switch sort of thing. I wanted a kid who isn't religious and doesn't believe in God to say, “Hey, it's a good movie. There's a little bit of ‘God loves us’ and I don't believe in God but that was a fun movie. They jumped off waterfalls, they were in canoes, they were climbing cliffs and they were sneaking around caves.” My thesis was that if we just created an entertaining story and let the story breathe out its theme, anybody would like it. And our experience is that everybody loves it. We decided not to put the gospel of Jesus Christ into the film, which can make a film feel like that is what it was all about. We just said, “Let's just bring God's love to the story and if people want to talk to their kids on the way home about God's love and that love being demonstrated in Jesus, they can do that. We will just trust Christian parents, youth pastors and Sunday school teachers to have that dialogue about Jesus Christ.” For us, it became a discussion-starter film that springboarded into a deeper conversation that we would let people have over time in an authentic way on the way home or over a piece of pie after the movie. We just trusted parents to do that part and, by a whole lot of rewrites and great performances, it just feels like an organically true movie.