2013 Write of Passage Winner Interviewed - William G. Jones

To order the 2013 Best of 168 DVD, including the Winning Write of Passage Spotlight Film, Click Here.

This is one of the most fascinating and candid interviews I have ever conducted. Thanks to you William for your candor and your artistry.  The world is a better place with you in it. Allen Wolf, I thank you for your prowess in leading writers as one of our Development Executives.

Without great stories, we are lost.

"When you write about 'The Church,' it becomes something bigger and more sacred. The ugly brush strokes used to tell a single character’s story tend to have universal implications. It’s not just one character you’re writing about, it becomes every Christian in every church." 
  -- William G. Jones

William G. Jones is our Write of Passage winning writer for 2013.  That means writing the best 12-page screenplay (“Stop Being a Jerk”) in one week (168 hours) with a mentor called a Development Executive (DE).  Allen Wolf is the DE (see interviews below). 

William G. Jones
Write of Passage Winner 2013

WP 2013 Prizes include $1,000 cash and introductions to writer/producers Luke Schelhaas ("The Good Wife, "Law and Order," “Smallville") and Brian Bird ("Not Easily Broken"). Any WP script may be produced for the 168 Film Festival's Write of Passage Showcase.  Writers and mentors (DE's) receive screen credit if their film is made.  

From Manitou, Kentucky, William G. Jones is a graduate of Mid-Continent University and the University of Kentucky and the author of "Driving to Belair: A Novella," currently available on Amazon.

Interview: William G. Jones

Interviewer: John David Ware

JDW: What do you do for work?

WGJ: I worked in church media from 2006 until February of this year, doing everything from broadcast editing with Final Cut Pro to graphic design and video production, to running the sound system. I needed a change and stepped out on faith, resigned my job and moved across the state. God blessed me in so many ways since then, but I’m still looking for steady full-time work.

JDW: How did you learn about 168?

WGJ: In January 2011, my friend Rita Betti brought me to Media City Church to hear Ralph Winter (“X-MEN” Producer) speak at a 168 Film Project function.  It’s not a cliche to say that night changed my life.

I’m so thankful that I got to be there and talk to so many fellow believers and see the 168 Community up close. I also owe a huge debt of gratitude to Derrick Warfel, who taught me so much as my mentor (Development Executive) last year, and to Liz Hewes for her help in this year’s Write of Passage.

The 168 Film Project has made a huge impact on me as a writer and as a person. I know that sounds crazy, but it’s true. God has really worked this organization tremendously. Thank you so much for all the work you guys do.

JDW: What was your inspiration for this year’s story, “Stop Being a Jerk”?

WGJ: The stories I wrote for the 2011 and 2012 Write of Passage were both dark and I wanted to do something different this year, something fun. So, going in, I wanted to write a comedy. The night of verse assignment, I asked God to help me with the story, and He really started dealing with me about the nature of true repentance versus superficial repentance. That idea, mixed with my own experiences after suffering a concussion (after an auto crash), led to the treatment, which led to the initial story.

JDW: How do you see the verse in your story?

The 2013 Verse: Matthew 5:23-24 (NIV) “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”

WGJ: To me, it’s all about making sure our inner life is consistent with our outer life and not just going through the motions.  With the character of Roy, I tried to present the verse literally.

Roy is extremely superficial, so when he has the experience in the church parking lot that makes him realize he’s a jerk, his immediate response is to say he’s sorry to everyone he’s offended.  It’s superficial.

But, then he runs across Mr. Jackson, who doesn’t accept his apology—that’s when Roy is forced into a position of healing the relationship to get what he wants, which is ultimately to be a good person.

At the church I worked at for years, the pastor would lead the congregation in communion but insist that anyone who knew of anybody who might have an issue with them to not take communion, but instead go into the hallway and call that person and make things right.

He would even have five or ten minutes of silence so that people could go make those phone calls, then come back and partake in communion.

JDW: The graduation of character (from superficial to healed) gives your story depth.  What is the big picture in terms of Roy’s or anyone’s salvation?

WGJ: I’m convinced God reaches out to us where we are, the Holy Spirit stirs us and opens our eyes to our need for salvation. It’s a 100% spiritual process that happens inside the new believer. I don’t believe in a works component to the initial moment of salvation.

JDW: What did the concussion do to your healthy/mental health/outlook? 

WGJ: The short answer is, the concussion completely disrupted my life. It affected every area of my mental health and even my spiritual walk. I had to fight through depression, suicidal tendencies, and even irrational thinking to end up where I am today.

I was highly emotional, easily confused, and it was hard to think or concentrate or be productive at all.  I cried a lot.  I was angry.  My temper got way out of hand. I couldn’t process noise, I couldn’t think about complicated things. I couldn’t watch TV because it got on my nerves. There were times I couldn’t remember which side of the road I was supposed to drive on.  I couldn’t even figure out how to cook a frozen pizza.

Then the headaches started, sometimes four or five days on end. They lasted about a year and a half. I had one headache that started at work.  It was so bad that I don’t remember how I got home.  I just kind of blacked out and woke up in my own bed the next afternoon.

I’m not sure which was worse, the concussion or the medication. After taking it, I became extremely depressed, then obsessed with suicide. I went through a huge internal struggle because I couldn’t just pray the problem away.

The church I was working in was hyper-charismatic and I was repeatedly told that I had sin in my life and I must not love Jesus or I wouldn’t be struggling.  So I needed to pray and read the Bible more. Eventually, I questioned my own salvation and became convinced that God didn’t want me or He would have let me die in that wreck (and go to heaven). 

I found a Christian counselor and I spent three years in therapy. I got tested for bi-polar and schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder. I started getting better when I went off the medication.

Through counseling, I learned to recognize my mental state and how to change it. My counselor believed in practical application of scripture for my treatment.  He also taught me that whatever questions I asked myself, my subconscious would work to answer, so he gave me a list of questions to ask myself throughout the day: 

Who loves you?
Who do you love?
What does God want to do through you today?
How can today be a great day?
What can I do to make today great?

I had my wreck on July 3rd, 2008, and I was still battling depression as late as January 2013. By that point, I was attending several different churches.  I was desperate for God to do something.

On Fridays I went to a Messianic Jewish fellowship, Saturdays to a non-denominational church, Sunday mornings to a Methodist church, Sunday nights to a hyper-charismatic church, and on Wednesdays I was driving to a little storefront Pentecostal church just over a hundred miles away.

On January 9th, 2013, at that storefront church. I felt the Lord say to me, “Leave it here.”  That’s when the depression finally broke for me. I believe that my long joinery was God’s way of moving me to a place where He could heal me.
I know the concussion has permanently affected my ability to process information and think. Situations happen and I can see a huge difference in the way I deal with it now as opposed to before the wreck. But it’s just a change in the way I think and process information, it’s not an anchor around my neck the way the depression was.

I can look back and see God’s fingerprints all over my life throughout that whole time. I know it was all for a reason, if nothing else to strengthen my faith in God’s plan for my life.

JDW: Tell us about your 2011 and 2012 Write of Passage Entries?
WGJ: Both Scripts made it as far as the semi-finals. “The Suicide Party” (2012) is about a kid who is door-knocking as an evangelical outreach for school and stumbles across a suicidal biker. What made that story so challenging for me was that years ago, I had a gun pointed at me by a suicidal alcoholic.  

It was cathartic to write the story, and I learned so much from working with Derrick Warfel over the course of three or four rewrites, but I really wish I had picked a different topic. By the time I turned in the final draft, I was emotionally exhausted.

“At An End” (2011) is the story of a mega church pastor embroiled in a scandal. He literally walks away from everything and ends up in a soup kitchen on skid row. Having worked in churches, I’ve seen abuse and the devastation that comes from it (scandal/sin).

I’ve since realized it’s very easy for someone outside the church to see scandals like this as indictments against the entire church or against Christianity in general.

When you write about the Church it becomes something bigger and more sacred. The ugly brush strokes used to tell a single character’s story tend to have universal implications. It’s not just one character you’re writing about, it becomes every Christian in every church.  You can write about the Titanic sinking, but there’s been a million ships that haven’t sunk.

JDW: So, what then is our responsibility when writing about "The Church?"

WGJ: I can only speak for myself and I can only answer for myself.  For me, personally, the institution of church has been—at times—a very hurtful place. I think every Christian in America has some baggage with the institution of church. But even as an institution, the Church is a vehicle God uses. Church buildings are places that facilitate meetings between God and people.

It’s easy to look at the faults and point fingers at things that we know in our gut aren’t right or even aren’t Biblical. But, the truth is that the institution of the Church wouldn’t exist if God wasn’t in it.

Hurting people go to churches all the time and find a connection with God. Lost people find salvation through church. The lonely find connection. The institution of church can be a place of comfort and peace and a place to grow and be challenged in our faith.

It’s my responsibility to make sure that I don’t become a stumbling block, or provide ammunition that keeps someone from ever taking that first step into a church. Now, I’m not saying that church is the be-all-end-all of God. It’s undeniably a connection point, but the true power is God and the relationship we can have with God through Jesus Christ.

As for “The Church,” defined as the body of believers, I feel it’s my responsibility to portray Christians as real people, not perfect and not demonized. One thing I’ve tried to steer clear from is portraying Christians as caricatures of what I think a Christian should be.

My goal is to portray Christians as vulnerable and flawed yet filled with the kind of strength and peace that can only come from outside ourselves. Even at that, I don’t want to portray God as a cosmic wish-granter. I find it more interesting and more real when Christian characters must chose to trust God even at times when it doesn’t seem to make sense.

JDW: How did Mentor/Development Executive, Allen Wolf help shape your story?

WGJ: Without Allen, there wouldn't be a third act. His feedback inspired the entire hospital scene. Allen truly helped shape the entire ending. I am absolutely positive I drove him crazy with my long, rambling emails those first few days, but he was really able to pinpoint exactly where I needed to focus my attention.

Interview with Winning Development Executive (and wiseguy) Allen Wolf

Allen Wolf
Best Development Executive 
Write of Passage 2013

JDW: You are a two-time winning Development Executive of the Best Screenplay.  What is your secret?

AW: I'm honored to be part of the winning writing team for the second time. I try to inspire my writers to make their story the best by looking at it through the lens of their own experiences.

Often the first drafts I receive are beyond the scope of something that should be accomplished in a short film so I usually start by asking my writers to look to their own life experience to connect to the story they would like to tell.

With William, I noticed he had a great sense of comedy so I just tried to draw more out of him and encourage him to ramp up what he already has as well as pull the elements more closely together.  I then made suggestions on moments I think could help improve the story and William ran with it.
I think with short stories it's a great idea to start with a simple concept and concentrate on communicating moments rather than trying to communicate large ideas that are better suited for a feature film. I think William did a great job with his story.

JDW: Do you recruit?  In KY?

AW: While I'm assigned random writers from 168 that doesn't stop me from recruiting, specifically in Kentucky.

I grew up in Ohio so I know Kentucky well as it was my neighbor from years ago. We haven't spent as much time together lately but I follow Kentucky on Facebook and wish it Happy Birthday now and then.

I poked it a couple years ago and have yet to be poked back. I think of Kentucky fondly whenever I eat KFC or travel to Paris, France, as it reminds me of Paris, Kentucky, except for the people and architecture.

JDW: Do you have any ties to the Kentucky Derby?

AW: My only ties with the Kentucky Derby are with the horse named "Double Winner."

JDW: You seem to have a great deal of modesty, yes?

AW: Yes, I think I'm the best at modesty, hands down.

To order the 2013 Best of 168 DVD, including the 
Best Write of Passage Spotlight Film, Click Here.

To read some of the Best of Write of Passage, Click Here

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