168 Film Festival Retrospective

John David Ware with Big Shoes to Fill 
Photo by Steve Puffenberger

Melissa Biggs and Vincent Irizarry Present Awards
Photo by Bryan Seltzer

Psychotic Fog Machine
Photo by Bryan Seltzer

The 2014 edition of the 168 Film Festival was a tour de force experience!   It was certainly a bigger than our resources, bigger than me, bigger than ever before – MIRACLE!  The successful completion of this project is a prayer answered; and our debt to a mighty God is substantial. 

I wore some big boots to go with this big job (literally).  See the photo of me addressing the crowd of young folks at our first ever “168KIDS!” event.

It is hard to appreciate from the outside how much work goes into even a small show like ours. I appreciate it more as I do different jobs behind the scenes.

Usually, I'm working on the award show script and taking care of a lot of different details related to my last minute, procrastinating persona. This time, I delegated better and was much more prepared. That meant that I could be intimately involved in the logistical command center and execution side of things. And – all I can say is: “WOW!”

Here’s what I mean…

In the audience, everything – or almost everything – looks smooth. But, behind the scenes, you would never know there are a thousand emergencies; one coming on the heels of another, and then another and then another!

Special recognition goes to the amazing “pastor whisperer” and PR guru Tami Outterbridge, Stephany McManus, Patrick Snitchler, Spencer Clarke and Rachel Spartan.  I would also like to recognize EJ Orlando and the staff at the Aratani Japanese Theater.

The major differences between our show and a big one is the amount of money spent and the number of people involved. Because we're small, the budget doesn't allow for redundancies of personnel or a lot of extravagant things. And when volunteers don't show up, as happens frequently, it makes things much, much harder.

The joyful part of what I get to do is be an ambassador in the greeting of our filmmakers, volunteers and celebrities. Filmmakers from all over the world came; each of them so excited to see what would transpire. Could they possibly win that coveted award?

I was impressed with the work of ALL of the artists.  Their hard work and dedication was evident over the two days of the festival and they are to be congratulated and saluted!

I sometimes find myself wishing that we could do this without awards. But winning is what makes people work hard. It is also what makes people come from worlds away.

One of the Australian gentlemen just completely made my day when he said, “There's nothing on earth like 168. We come because of how you folks make us feel.”  Wow! Thanks, Mate!

But, there are regrets as well. In the massive crush of doing this festival, inevitably, some balls get dropped.  But, on the whole, it went great.

I was ecstatic about the “168KIDS!” event that was so amazingly executed by Hannah Brown, our Festival Director.   We had about 100 kids show up thanks to our partners, Union Rescue Mission and Team United Diversity, and they were absolutely jazzed with the activities.

They saw Nathan Kress (star of iCarly), played games on the Aratani Japanese Theater patio, watched a slate of kid-friendly films and, maybe the best part of all – just hung out with each other as kids! As part of this first-ever kids event, the moms and dads came to listen to Cindy Osbrink as she talked about  "Your Child In Hollywood."

The inaugural “Pastors & Producers Media Forum” was an amazing event – as riveting as I had hoped it would be. We really did uncover some new ground in our discussion, which was themed “Capitalizing On The Year of Christian Film.” There was such excitement from the pastors that were invited.

Their powerfully positive response warrants a follow-up event; and, quite possibly, a new cooperative where we can have ongoing interactions between pastors and producers. The goal would be to revolutionize the way faith films are done in the future. Expect the video of the “Pastors & Producers Media Forum” to be posted soon.

The screening of the films went flawlessly (with one exception). My sincere apologies to the film that was left out of the screening schedule.

Next to the screening of all the films on Friday and Saturday, the best part of the night was the Awards Show. Thanks to designer Timothy Lowry, we had a new look for the show that was "TV legit."   Expect a show coming your way soon!

Our award presenters were amazing – and the teleprompter worked well this year!  

One part of the comedy in the awards show was not intended. Specifically, we had what I’ve termed the "psychotic fog machine."

Award Show Producer, Susan Shearer, did an excellent job in pulling together the resources on a short timeline. The quality of the show is largely due to her efforts.

We wanted a fog machine for the production and that sounded pretty good. I expected "Nutcracker-ish" fog, cool and mysterious, sitting on the ground in an ankle-caressing embrace of mystery. Instead, what I got was more like one of the flaming sets from the movie "Backdraft," with smoke burning my eyes and filling my lungs.

I did what I always do – I made a joke. The crowd thought it was very funny, and many of them later asked if it was planned.  Uhm – No!

We also did the ALS “gag,” which was where hostess Kerri Pomarolli called me out for not having taken the challenge of having a bucket of ice water dumped on me by "friends."

It was a lot of fun to see the audience nervously slip away as I sat on the lap of an unsuspecting gent.  There was relief when the bucket contents turned out to be confetti and not ice water!

The Roush Media After party at the Ace Hotel was spectacular. I got there tardy (11 PM), after the theater load out and cleanup. The folks stayed late and so did I, especially because I was crashing at the Ace.

When I got to my room, I was jazzed to see where God had placed me in the hotel. I was directly under the giant, blazing, red neon "Jesus Saves" sign, which has been there since the 1960's.  Thank YOU, Lord!

A good night “street taco” at 2 AM and I was out like a light!

Thanks, again, to all who participated, supported and enjoyed the 12th Annual 168 Film Festival!  See Facebook for more pics.


iCarly Star Nathan Kress on Faith and Hollywood

In 2007, Kathy and James Choiniere's 168 Film "Bag" starred a very young and undiscovered Nathan Kress. The film won Best Comedy and Nathan received a Jury "Honorable Mention" award as a Supporting Actor for his role as Albert.

The film was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor, Best Scriptural Integration and Best Editor.  Here are some thoughts from Nathan on 168 Film, Faith and Hollywood.

Nathan Kress

How did 168 affect your career?

168 provided me with a chance to stretch myself and do something out of my comfort zone. Everything about the concept of the festival was so foreign to me, from the audition process to the DIY (do it yourself) feel of the production. I think it caused me to be more confident moving forward with other opportunities, because I was better equipped to handle an assortment of new hurdles that I hadn't encountered before.

What do you think is the value of doing short films?

I think short films are great because it has benefits and drawbacks. The cool thing is that it doesn't take long to put together (even shorter for 168) compared to larger projects, so it's a great way to learn the ropes of the industry in a more forgiving, entry-level way. The disadvantage, however, is that you have to have a talent for telling a story clearly and concisely. There is no room for over-drawn exposition and lengthy setup. You have to be able to convey the message in a short amount of time, which takes quite a bit of creativity.

Would you recommend 168 Film to actors? Why?

Absolutely!! It's just a great environment, full of uplifting people and a SAFE place to work on your craft. I think that's my favorite thing about it... you know that there won't be compromises in content. Just creative people making stories worth telling. Plus, it's great for seasoned actors, as well as newbies. It's a wonderful opportunity to get your feet wet.

What's next for you?

I did a movie that's currently out in theaters, called "Into the Storm," and am eagerly anticipating the release of a web series that I was given the opportunity to be involved in. It's called Video Game High School, and I had been a fan of it for years. The makers of the show found out, and offered to write me a part! It's set to premiere October 13th.

Do you have any aspirations behind the camera?

Definitely. As I've gotten more experienced, I've been very interested in the production aspect of the industry. I actually have plans to make my directorial debut in a few months!

What do u think of the recent success of so many faith based films?

I absolutely love it! It's so encouraging to see that those films are gaining traction. It's great to see the increase in production value and money being put into these movies, because the industry is finally realizing that people really do want to see them.

How has the success of iCarly and your being so recognizable to so many affected you?

It's changed my life in a lot of ways. It has brought about incredible blessings that I could never have imagined, and also brought it's fair share of trials as well. Since the show took off, I've kind of lived in a fish bowl, often being watched and scrutinized. It's hard being a role model, especially in this industry. But, it's something that I feel so strongly that I have to do. Every day, I hear from kids all over the world that they look up to me and respect me for the way I live my life. And that's a phenomenal burden, that can ONLY be carried by walking hand in hand with God. Without him, I'm nothing in this place.

What's your favorite film/kind of film to watch? To act in?

I'm a sucker for military movies, or anything action-adventure. If I could take my pick of one genre to be cast in, it would definitely be some kind of gritty war piece.

What advice would you give to struggling actors to encourage them?

Well that's challenging... because my words depend heavily on their relationship with God. If they don't have that, it's very hard to say anything meaningful. But to those who are trusting that they have been called to this industry for a purpose, we have no choice but to stay the course and keep God as our central focus. If we lose sight of that, we become victims of a merciless profession. God is constant when all else is variable.