168's Team Features Gigi Guizado from "I’m in Love with a Church Girl"

Gigi Guizado

Faith-based is hot and shows no sign of cooling off. With the success of "God is Not Dead," "Son of God," and others, has Hollywood got religion?  Well

Anyway, here's a team that proves the point, the train is here and it's not slowing down.

Team 21 in the 168 Film Project 2014 includes Actress Gigi Guizado (I’m in Love with a Church Girl) and Las Vegas author Jonathan Sturak (Clouded Rainbow) have teamed up with Las Vegas filmmakers Jim Sams and Marlon Jay Manuel to collaborate on a 168 Short.

Guizado will exploit her strong resemblance to Tina Fey in an original, redemptive dramedy written by Sturak, whose novels are frequently set in Las Vegas.  The team will have 10 days for pre-production, including screenwriting, followed by 168 hours to shoot and edit their short film based on a theme and a Bible verse.  

Las Vegas, aka Sin City, will be the setting.  Pre-production is set to begin May 13, 2014, and production week is May 23 – 30, 2014.

Of course all 168 Speed Films know they will be disqualified if they write before their foundational verse is randomly assigned. But that doesn't stop them from legally brainstorming as this group is doing. 

International Christian moviegoers will recognize Gigi Guizado as the title character’s protective mother, playing opposite Jeffrey “Ja Rule” Atkins, in I’m in Love with a Church Girl.  Guizado will serve as both star and producer on this new project.

With three published novels set in Las Vegas’ grittier environs (From Vegas With Blood, Vegas Was Her Name, Geek vs Vegas), UNLV Film Department graduate Jonathan Sturak knows the territory well.  Sturak contributes his talents as both co-producer and screenwriter of this short film.  His debut thriller novel "Clouded Rainbow" was published in December 2009 and has over 100,000 downloads on Amazon Kindle. 

The 168 Film Festival will take place September 11-13, 2014 in Los Angeles, CA.


Biblical Justice: “Son of God” and the Popcorn Bridge

On February 11th, 2014, I was inspired by "Son of God" movie producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, along with Pastor Rick Warren, talking about the film being for everyone.

(L-R) Roma Downey, Mark Burnett, Miles McPherson, Ray Johnston, Rick Warren 
at Saddleback Church Febuary 11, 2014

But, not everyone can afford the expense of popcorn and movie passes.

Yet, the power of story is the greatest motivator on the planet.  As proof, look at the many stories Jesus used to teach, challenge and lead the masses.

I've long been fascinated by Jesus' Matthew 22 parable in the Bible.  The poor were invited to a wedding banquet in place of the wealthy, who were too busy to come. Something just clicked as I took it all in at Saddleback Church.

Actor Diogo Morgado's portrayal was powerful.  He made Jesus very real and very accessible to all, regardless of financial means.  For a long time, I had been praying for fresh vision and I knew that this was from God and that nothing could stand in the way.
Simply put, the plan was dinner and a movie for those who are unable to afford it, and an invitation to follow Jesus. “Son of God” was the perfect film for this outreach, which was code-named "The Popcorn Bridge."

See the 4-minute documentary video here: http://youtu.be/IgNGEZThGDM

The plan was implemented quickly, and on March 16, six buses brought over 250 people from families in low income areas of Pasadena to the Pacific Theater at the Americana Mall in Glendale, CA for dinner and a screening of ‘Son of God.’  After the film there was a short Gospel message and an invitation to follow Jesus. 

On that day, one hundred Bibles were given away and nearly one fifth of the attendees made a decision to follow Jesus.

The Popcorn Bridge is about valuing all people, especially those who may not be able to afford a night out. They get VIP treatment food, drinks and of course, popcorn, making it a memorable event for everyone – children, adults and entire families. 

On March 16, the thrill turned to absolute wonderment when members of the “Son of God” cast arrived at the theater to greet them after the film. In attendance were Darwin Shaw, who played Peter and Sebastian Knapp, who played John the Apostle.

Sebastian Knapp, John the Apostle; Joe Osborn; John David Ware, Founder and Director, 168 Film; Darwin Shaw, Peter the Apostle

To create this bridge to the low-income community, we called on many partners including Stephen and Linda Tavani and Ceasar Cano of WOW International, Harlan Redmond, Executive Director of Harambee Ministries, Community Clergy Coalition (CCC), Pasadena Church and Lake Avenue Church.

I interviewed Redmond at Harambee Ministries, which includes community empowerment through tutoring, Bible Clubs and a college scholarship program.  Harambee is located at the intersection of Howard and Navarro Streets, which was once the most violent corner in all of Los Angeles.  Redmond detailed the positive change that has occurred in the neighborhood over twenty-seven years through the pioneering work of John M. Perkins, civil rights activist and founder of Harambee.

(L-R) Ceasar Cano, Officer, WOW Int'l; Harlan Redmond, Director Harambee Ministries; Stephen Tavani, Director WOW Int'l; John David Ware, Founder and Director, 168 Film

Perkins was born a sharecropper’s son.  His leadership in civil rights demonstrations resulted in repeated harassment, beatings and imprisonment. Harlan Redmond has worked his way up from janitor to his current position.  Redmond’s achievement completes Perkins vision of community renaissance through hard work and divine intervention.

“I am persuaded that the Church, as the steward of this gospel, holds the key to justice in our society. Either justice will come through us or it will not come at all,” Perkins said. *

John M. Perkins

Justice means caring enough to do what is right and going out of one’s way to help advance important causes started by those who have gone before.

It is fascinating to learn about Mr. Perkins and how much he has accomplished non-violently, through the power of God and the church.  Social Justice is a great movement in our world.  But, according to Perkins the Church is the key.  "Biblical Justice" is stronger.

Much work remains to be done.  Digging deeper into the community, one finds a mix of pain, despair and hope.  The Popcorn Bridge is a simple way to kindle that hope in communities lacking it.  It is caring enough to share what we have with the less fortunate.

The results of the March 16th “Son of God” screening will last a lifetime.

A Packed House, March 16, 2014

Audience member Justina (interviewed on video clip) wept tears of joy during and after the film.  Meeting Jesus for the first time, she exclaimed, “Thank you Jesus, I feel like a new baby!”

Two students wept throughout the film. The next day they said, “I love your Jesus.” They have received Christian materials in their native language.

According to Pastor Walter Mills of Grace Community Bible Church, “Many are dealing with substance abuse issues touching their families.  Others are underwater in their mortgages.  A day like today (at the theater) means more than you can imagine, especially to families, many of which are seeing this film together as a family, which is a rarity.”

On the bus to the screening, I interviewed a former notorious drug dealer, who in the past, had helped to destroy the community.  But today, he brought many family members to celebrate the story of God’s love in Christ.

I am grateful to Mark Burnett and Roma Downey for their beautiful film, “Son of God,” which inspired all of this.  I have a vision to see this and other films like it used to create bridges that all can walk upon.

Thanks in large part to the excellence of the “Son of God” film, the Popcorn Bridge has been a huge success.  In the future, more of these events are planned with “Son of God” and other films in other cities.

To learn more about building a Popcorn Bridge in your Community, click here.
 * “With Justice for All: A Strategy for Community Development” by John Perkins (1983)


Event Review: Brian Bird, Writer and Executive Producer

This Event was Held 3/30/14 at CBS Studios

Brian Bird, Writer/Executive Producer

Fresh from making 12 episodes (in six months) on the Vancouver set of his original TV series for the Hallmark Channel, Millennium Entertainment and Word Films, "When Calls the Heart,"
Brian Bird explained the non-stop nature of TV series production and answered questions about writing and producing television.

 It was a pleasure to sit down with friend and 168 Board Member Brian Bird to unpack the production of 12 episodes of his Janette Oke-inspired TV series, "When Calls the Heart."

Oke is a Canadian author of inspirational fiction. Her books are often set in pioneer times and centered around female protagonists.

Set in 1910, "When Calls the Heart" is about a wealthy young schoolteacher who goes west to teach a community where one third of the men have been killed in a mining accident. It's a town full of widows and fatherless kids.

Brian continues to work with his longtime producing partner, Michael Landon, Jr.  In 2013, they also worked on the feature film “The Ultimate Life,” with James Garner and Peter Fonda about a billionaire with questionable priorities re-examining his life.

INTERVIEW: (Moderator, John David Ware)

In his 30-year career in film and TV, Brian Bird has seen many battles.  He sees success as a healthy balance of God, family and work.  Here are just a few nuggets from our time together.

Brian described a conversation with his pastor Pastor Rick Warren, who said “We need to preach what we practice, the culture needs it and just because they’re not asking for something doesn’t mean they don’t need it.”

Here’s a new term.  Brian is a  “Retro Pioneer.”  This refers to his efforts to help to put “the family” back into family TV.

“Name five shows that you can watch with your family,” Brian said. The audience was hard pressed to do that, but “Monday Night Football” was mentioned.

Brian's TV series for the Hallmark Channel, "When Calls the Heart," has received some unexpected marketing support. A group has started organically that is rabidly appreciative of the TV series, especially of the fact that they can watch the show as a family.

They call themselves the "Hearties" and they are now over 5,000 members in the first three weeks, including an Indiana Congressman's wife.  This viral group is bound and determined to keep the show on the air and if they have their way, to order another season.

Unlike other producers, Brian was not shy with the numbers.  He said it’s the Wild West out there in TV with all the fragmentation -- a thousand channels and 10,000 choices of programming every day.  There is an endless appetite for content and all the channels are interested in producing original programming.  But all of the appetite and all of the networks mean that the media pie is carved up into much smaller slices.  This means much smaller budgets than the major networks.

The budget for "When Calls the Heart" was $1.4 Million per episode or about half of what the bigger networks spend.

The road to making "When Calls the Heart" was extremely difficult and took almost six years.  At one point, in 2008, Brian had to shut down production on the original movie behind the series because of the financial meltdown on Wall Street.

It was deeply discouraging and he even considered getting out of the business.  But Pastor Rick Warren told him that nobody who is called to a mission gets "uncalled" and so Brian stuck with it.

The film had to be “rebuilt” because some of the original actors were not available to finish production. 

Brian had to use great creativity in “re-imagining” the story.  The goal was to preserve and not waste what was shot in 2008.  He used the existing footage as the entire middle of the film, treating it as flashbacks framed around a new story, taking place 20 years later.

Audiences love the multi-generational aspect of the story and the use of the flashbacks as "journal entries" discovered by the niece of the original heroine of the film.

In summing up the experience of making "When Calls the Heart," Brian had a great quote for this success: “Persistence beats resistance.”

Brian’s film "Captive," the true story of the 2005 Atlanta hostage crisis, is currently in post production.  He wrote and executive produced the film with Ralph Winter and Ken Wales.  The film stars Mimi Rodgers, Kate Mara, David Oyelowo and Michael K. Williams.

In addition to his most recent work on "When Calls the Heart," Brian Bird's 30-year career in Hollywood includes writing and producing credits such as the 2013 feature film, "Captive," the true story of the 2005 Atlanta hostage crisis, currently in post-production; "Gametime" for NBC (2012), "Not Easily Broken," adapted from the novel by T.D. Jakes, for Sony/Screen Gems (2009); "The Confession" (2013) and "The Shunning" (2011) for Sony Affirm, "Saving Sarah Cain" (2008) and "The Last Sin Eater" (2007) for (20th Century Fox 2007), "Call Me Claus" (2003) for Sony, and "Bopha!" (1993) for Paramount, along with 250 episodes of network TV, including "Touched By an Angel" and "Step By Step" and "Evening Shade."  However, his best productions to date are his five children with his wife of 33 years, Patty.