Actors and The Power of "No"

Sometimes you wonder whether you are making a difference in the world. Notes like the one below remind me that indeed, 168 is a vital ministry, having a positive effect on the future of the media.

Jun 17, 2011
Dear John David,

We met you last summer. Love and appreciate what you are doing to redeem Hollywood!

Our daughter Faith felt so akin to your vision! We were excited to hear what God was doing through you (and 168). As we raised Faith and thought about all the areas she could go into, at the bottom in last place would have to be the Entertainment Industry.

But God, of course, has a sense of humor and that is where He gifted her. And after trying every other alternative, we had to admit it, at least for now, He has called her there.

Just wanted to relate an experience that you helped inspire and let you know your encouragement has helped our daughter stand strong.

Faith got an opportunity to attend (a VERY PRESTIGIOUS ACTING SCHOOL’S) summer program. She just arrived there and has finished her first week. She wasn't too shocked but reported that every single teacher there cursed like a sailor.

More surprising every single kid but two, cursed in there initial audition, sadly even those that identified themselves as Christians.

She was given a character and a script that as you may guess, cursed. (A lot of these kids are 17 or younger!? ) Faith, remembering your passionate sharing (at the seminar), and following her own convictions said she went to the teacher and said she wanted to do her best but she didn't want to have her character curse.

The teacher dug her heels in and said, "You're an actor and actor's portray real life, and in real life people curse."

Faith smiled and just said, "That may be, but its not something I want to do." The teacher was miffed and told her she would " have to go to an Administrator and get permission, not to curse?!"

She stood her ground and they came back and said " Ok, you don't have to do it in our summer program. If you want to come back next year, you will have to curse if we give you a script that curses. Score one for the Light side!

I know this is a tiny, tiny battle in the redemption scheme of things. But, it is a tiny step in the RIGHT direction.

She is being a witness to industry professionals with her class of 30 kids or so. We just keep telling her to be faithful in these small things.

Let God use it as He will. We just wanted to encourage you that she remembered you saying, If actors would just say no, things would change overnight" and that encouraged her to "just say no."

(Please) continue to share your vision with young people entering the industry. It is so necessary. It helps them catch the vision!


"Super 8" or Super 168

J.J. Abrams, left, writer/director of "Super 8," arrives with his wife Katie McGrath at the premiere of the film in Los Angeles, Wednesday, June 8, 2011. Chris Pizzello / AP Photo

With no (on screen) stars, J.J. Abrams’ and Steven Spielberg’s "Super 8" made over $35 Million on opening weekend.

The film's central quest is the goal of the school-aged kids to finish their Super 8 zombie film.

The success of "Super 8" gives pause to think about the dramatic impact it could have upon youth. Currently, there are kids out there all around the world running around every week making short films like the kids in "Super 8." After this movie, there will be more.

Like it or not, life imitates art and imitates celebrity, especially at the kid level. Don't believe it? Just go Bieber-spotting at your local high school. Go see how many kids are sporting the Justin Bieber wanna-be doo. Or the look of the latest TV show cast. If kids are sponges, then the media is a giant cranberry juice spill on aisle 9. And grown-ups are the pimply-faced shop clerks running to clean up.

So, what?

So 168. The annual 168 Film Project is a grassroots way to help these artist kids who will soon shape culture with such a big megaphone.

That is the reason 168 is such a passion for it’s participants, festival-goers, sponsors and others.

Please consider supporting 168 by clicking here and making a generous donation.


The "Super 8" production budget is listed at $50 million. The marketing budget could be twice that. On an indie-level marketing budget, figure $10,000 per theater to put a film out, times 3,379 theaters and you get a minimum of $33,790,000 to market the film, which obviously has great behind the line obligations with names like Abrams and Spielberg attached to the gravy train.

It is a very enjoyable film, though it is by no means a great film. It has action, danger, intrigue and many of the ingredients necessary for a fun, exciting film. What it lacks in logic and character development, it makes up in cute kids whom you want to see succeed.

Talk about a tough day of production. The lead actress (Elle Fanning) shows up with an attitude, the film loader is happier blowing off explosives on the set and there is a huge train derailment in the background that nearly wipes out the entire cast and crew. But wait, that's "production value."

In true indie film style, cast doubles as crew when not on camera. How very 168.

It's like STAND BY ME meets CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, E.T. and a few other films. Its mixed genre message is diluted by flawed logic and all-too-convenient devices within the story. But, the cast performances are great and do much to help the audience gloss over story weaknesses.

Indie filmmakers take heart. Though you may not be able to equal this film's budget or production values, you can make a far better story.

You might be surprised to hear some of the language in the film. The name of Jesus Christ is prominently featured by both kids and adults. Profanely, unfortunately.

Oh, for the sweetness of Spielberg's "E.T." But wait, didn't 7-year-old Elliot scream "penis breath" at his older brother at the dinner table. Yeah, he did. Romantic kid movies push envelopes too. It's just a fact.

Is it in the quest for "realism" that "Super 8" director/screenwriter (both Abrams) felt the need for the kids to swear in the name of Jesus? Don't the filmmakers know this is offensive to 70 million Christians? Is it?

Is Hollywood really just about making money? Because if it is, then presumably, there would be less offense to the largest faith group in the country.

Maybe they just know that no one probably will say anything and they'll go see the film anyway. Maybe it's just that the public has allowed them to get away with it. Try substituting the name Jesus with the name Muhammad and see how far the film gets.


Getting Work in the Biz: The 168 Connection

Photo: "Red Line" film set with (L-R) director Robert Kirbyson, actress Nicole Gale Anderson ("Mean Girls 2," "Jonas" "iCarly"), 168 founder & president John David Ware, actor Kevin Sizemore ("Johnny Blue," "Transformers: Dark of the Moon") on location at the Hollywood station of L.A.'s metro rail system (image by Joe Osborn).

How do we evaluate success at 168? There are many barometers we could use. We are primarily concerned with providing a spiritually profound experience for our participants.

Of course, we are dependent on individual team leadership to provide an environment conducive to growth in this area. Each year we see evidence that there is a hunger for and satisfaction in spiritual things. This year, we saw many grow closer to Jesus, at least two for the first time.

But, spiritual success is only part of the story. Each year, we prove more conclusively that the 168 experience is a platform from which cast and crew find work.

Successes are coming faster and faster for 168 Alumni. Here are some examples.

Joshua & Rebekah Weigel started their filmmaking career with 168. Their film "The Butterfly Circus," which won $100,000 at the Doorpost Film Project and has been downloaded 10 million times. “Butterfly” stars the limbless evangelist, Nick Vujicic and Eduardo Verastegui from "Bella." "Butterfly" is currently in development as a feature.

Actress Jenn Gotzon has honed her craft in ten 168 films. She sees the 168 community as a foundation, which helps keep her grounded. After her Best Actress Award-winning performance in 2008's "Stained," she has been in great demand. A cameo in "Frost/Nixon" (2008) opened the floodgates to starring roles in five feature films including “Alone, Yet Not Alone,” “Crossroads,” “Dragon Day,” “September Skies,” (from 168 veteran Don Wahl) “Dante's Inferno Documented” and "Doonby," opposite "Dukes of Hazzard" star John Schneider. Recently she climbed to a #2 rating on the Internet Movie Database Starmeter, beaten out only by actor Chris Hemsworth of “Thor.”

168 has been instrumental in connecting both cast and crew for many of these features. Jenn's husband Chris Armstrong directed "Crossroads," which will be distributed by Sony Pictures. 168 Best Editor, Chris Witt is editing "Crossroads" and "Dragon Day."

Congratulations go to 168 veteran producer Jessie Ottolini for winning the 2010 GoDaddy.com “Create Your Own Commercial” contest and grand prize of $100,000. Going against the website registrar's normally sex-based advertising strategy, Jessie’s family friendly spot paid off, proving that quality can compete with gratuity.

Most recently, through a weekly Bible Study, Boo Arnold asked his friend and fellow actor Kevin Sizemore to meet Brandon Adams, director of the based-on-scripture-and-shot-in-a-week 168 Film Project short, "Useless."

It's a cop-with-a-conscious drama from husband and wife producers Dennis & Olivia Bentivengo (& Best Film of 2011). Arnold and Sizemore became co-stars for the film and later, dual Best Actor nominees. In the end, it was Kevin Sizemore, who scored the Best Actor prize.

After Sizemore won as Best Actor, 168 Juror and casting director Beverly Holloway auditioned him for feature film "Red Line," directed by 168 veteran Robert Kirbyson.

Holloway was asked to reveal a bit of her process in recommending Sizemore for a larger role than he originally auditioned for.

“As a juror for this year’s 168 Film Festival, I had the privilege of watching some great performances by several very talented actors.

I can honestly say that had it not been for seeing Kevin (Sizemore) in the 168 film “Useless” I may have very likely passed over his submission.

Because of the timeline for casting ("Red Line") I had to be extremely selective about how many actors I auditioned. I received about 1400 submissions FOR EACH ROLE and was only able to call in about 75 people per role.

That’s a tough selection process, but when I came across Kevin’s submission for one of the supporting lead roles (Actors take note: He had taken the initiative for his own career and submitted himself through Actor’s Access) I enthusiastically scheduled him for an audition.

I did this based solely on his performance in ‘Useless” without even checking the rest of his credits or resume. (Credits listed on a piece of paper can be good, but NOTHING beats a great performance that I can see for myself.)

When Kevin came in for his audition he did all the right things, he was prepared, on time, ready to jump in and “play” but unfortunately he just wasn’t the right fit for that particular role.

I had seen him give a powerful performance and I knew he was talented, so it was worth trying in another role. And thankfully we did! We are thrilled to have him as a part of the cast!”

"Red Line" is about a terrorist bomb on an L.A. metro train. The film, which stars John Billingsly & Nicole Gale Anderson, is due later in 2011. Said Sizemore, "If not for my involvement in the 168 Film Project, (my role in "Red Line") would not have happened. This is a character that plays to all my strengths and is perfect for me.

Look for Kevin Sizemore on the small screen for Toyota and Old Navy commercials and soon in the upcoming feature "Johnny Blue" and "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" (July 2011)

"Red Line" director Robert Kirbyson said of Sizemore, "We asked him to read for the larger role of a father conflicted with doing the right thing (or) protecting his family. His audition was extraordinary, emotional and powerful. Originally we had discussed trying to attract a big 'name' to take on this role, but we all fell in love with Kevin and couldn't imagine anyone else in the role."

Kirbyson's directorial debut feature film "Snowmen" opened the 2010 Heartland Film Fest, winning it's highest honor, the Truly Moving Picture Award and it was voted Top Narrative at the 2010 Tribeca Film Fest World Premiere. Most recently, "Snowmen" won the Audience Award for Best Picture at the 2011 Dallas Int'l Film Fest, as well as a Jury Prize for Best Picture at the 2011 Toronto Int'l Film Fest Sprockets Program for Youth.

What does all this mean for the future of Hollywood? These successes represent the first ripples from the wave of triumphs coming from almuni of the 168 Film Project.

Persistence and dedication to craft is pays off. Be encouraged! These are very exciting times indeed.

"Red Line" Synopsis: Moments after departing from the Hollywood & Highland Metro Station, commuters on L.A.'s subway system experience a sudden explosion. Deep underground nine survivors soon discover that the danger has just begun. Not only are they trapped between the collapsed tunnel and the twisted remains of the metro, but they soon uncover a second bomb that has yet to detonate. As the timer counts down to certain death, the trapped survivors begin to suspect that the bomber has been trapped among them. With an unexploded bomb, a missing gun, and a group that's quickly turning on one another, the rescue crews might not arrive in time to save the survivors from themselves.