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Rich Christiano[Jeff Gerke]

Interview: Rich Christiano

[Rich Christiano] Unlike most of our interview guests, Rich Christiano is a filmmaker, rather than an author. Out of the films that he has made (so far) which are of particular interest to science fiction fans are The Daylight Zone, Time Changer, and Unidentified. Rich lives with his wife Regina in California. He was interviewed in July, 2008. Greg Slade asked the questions, and here is an edited version of the question and answer sequence.

Where were you born?

I was born in upstate New York in a small town of 5000 called Waterloo.

What is your educational background?

I went to a Catholic grammar school and a Catholic college called St. John Fisher in Rochester, NY. After I became a born-again Christian in 1980, I went back to graduate school in Communications at Arkansas State University.

What is your family situation? (Married? Kids? 1.7 dogs?)

I have a wife, Regina, but no children. Regina is a huge supporter of our ministry and we get along terrific.

How did you get started making films?

Big question here. In 1977, my twin brother Dave and I left Waterloo, New York and drove out to Hollywood, California with high hopes and big dreams. I had written a high school script and was hoping this would lead to beginning a career in Hollywood. After negotiations with a few producers and one contract offer, I never signed and the movie was never produced. Then something happened that changed the whole direction of our lives. We became born again believers. As a result, we ended up moving to Jonesboro, Arkansas, in the fall of 1981 to get a Masters degree at Arkansas State University. Our plan was to study for a teaching job and pursue filmmaking on the side.

In the fall of 1983, Dave got a job at San Antonio Junior College teaching entry level classes in broadcasting. While there, he began to study filmmaking where he learned on an old 16mm Bolex camera shooting silent film. In 1985, Dave wrote, produced and directed our first film called The Daylight Zone. It was a Christian version of the old TV series, The Twilight Zone. I co-financed the project. Filmed in south Texas, the movie was shot on 16mm film and released by us to the church market in the spring of 1986. Prior to the release of The Daylight Zone, Dave moved back to Arkansas and rejoined me. We set up an office in Jonesboro and began to distribute our new movie. We did two more films together. In 1987, we produced a 39-minute youth film called The Pretender and then in 1988 a comedy called Crime of the Age. In 1990, we decided to set up two separate production companies for our future projects since each guy wanted to direct his own films.

In the 1990s, I shot three films (The Appointment, Second Glance, and End of the Harvest) and my brother Dave shot two (Pamela's Prayer and Late One Night.)

During the 1990s, the whole Christian film industry changed in that films were not released on 16mm anymore but rather came out straight to video. This allowed Christian movies to come directly into homes and also made it easier to air movies on television.

In 2000, Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), the largest TV network in the world, began airing the Christiano Brothers movies along with other titles from various producers. This relationship with TBN led to the production of our first theatrical film.

In October 2001, I wrote and directed Time Changer, my first feature length movie. The film featured actors D. David Morin and Gavin MacLeod in the lead roles. The movie came out in October 2002 and we formed a new distribution company, Five & Two Pictures, which released Time Changer.

In 2004, Dave started producing the first 24 episodes of a dramatic TV series entitled 7th Street Theater that is currently being air on TBN and other Christian stations. In May of 2005, I wrote, co-produced, and directed Unidentified, my second feature length movie. The subject of the film dealt with UFOs and how they could possibly play into the end times. Dave served as my story consultant. The film featured actors Jonathan Aube, Josh Adamson, and Michael Blain-Rozgay in the lead roles. It was released in a few theaters in April 2006 under Five & Two Pictures.

In June of 2006, Dave wrote, produced, and directed his first feature length movie, a love story, entitled Me & You, Us, Forever. The movie features Michael Blain-Rozgay and Stacey J. Aswad in the lead roles. It was released in theaters on a limited basis in February 2008.

And now, I just shot my third feature film, The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry, with Gavin MacLeod in the lead role, that is scheduled to come out in theaters in the spring of 2009.

All of these films, available at my website ChristianMovies.com (shameless plug), even the first three we did back in the late 80's, still sell today. Thankfully, all of our films are in the black and our goal is in all of these projects remains the same: to present solid messages for the LORD.

Ah. I didn't know about The Daylight Zone. Was it more towards the "science fiction" side of the Twilight Zone, the "fantasy" side, or the "weird" side?

Fantasy side but patterned like an old Twilight Zone episode.

The reference of the "Five & Two" in the title seems to be pretty obvious, but is there a particular reason you chose that name?

Yes, I wanted a name with some hidden meaning. Comes from 5 loaves and 2 fish. Idea being we are a small company so we need the LORD to multiply us.

You must like working with Gavin MacLeod, since you've used him twice now.

Gavin has become a good friend and is wonderful man. I would love to do another movie with him if the right script came along. I think he is comfortable with me also. He really liked the new film we did. He has seen it 4 times now.

Who are your influences as a filmmaker, and why?

I had no real influence. I actually watch very few movies mainly due to conviction. Most of it is so anti-Christian so I stay away. I think this has helped both my brother and I in our writing. It's a challenge to do a Christian film since you need to put forth an entertaining story and weave in a presentable message for Christ. Not so easy to do.

How did you become a Christian?

Too long of a story to tell how I left the Catholic faith and became a true believer. I started to read the Bible for one and started to see some differences between what the Catholics said regarding salvation by good works and what the Bible taught saying salvation is by faith in Christ. I came to understand the requirement to get into heaven was perfection and that I needed to receive Christ into my life for forgivenss of sins so that I could meet that requirement.

How did you choose the church you attend?

The first Bible church I ever attended was Grace Community Church whose pastor is John MacArthur. He is a very solid Bible teacher, one of the very best, and we both learned a lot from him. I now attend Calvary Chapel in Foothill Ranch, CA which is in Orange County and like it alot. My current pastor is also a good teacher with a heart for the LORD. I look for churches that teach the Word of God.

What is the difference between the church market for films, and the feature film market? (Length, subject matter, and/or?)

The church market is different in the sense that you could show shorter films for Sunday School and to youth groups. They can be from 20-60 minutes. Normally, features are 80 minutes or longer.

I got my hands on Time Changer a couple of years ago from a Christian bookstore, but when I went to review if, I had a really hard time finding it listed at any of the online vendors. (At the time, only Amazon had it, and that used. They said that it would be coming out on DVD in a few months, which I found more than a little odd, considering that I'd had it for some time at that point.) Can you talk a little bit about the joys and tribulations of getting DVDs distributed?

We do our own distribution in setting up the sub-distributors. I like distribution also. But, promotion is hard. Not sure where to put promotion dollars and Christain media does not give us much coverage. We are now set up directly with Christian bookstores, Amazon, NetFlix Blockbuster and many other vendors.

Do you see a role for Christian films in nurturing Christians and encouraging them to move forward in their spiritual walk, or must a film be evangelistic to be "Christian"?

A Christian film should promote the Jesus Christ and point to the LORD. This is what makes it Christian. If a movie is just wholesome entertainment, it is a wholesome movie and may be based on Biblical values but I do not consider this a Christian film because it does not point to Christ.

Do you have another film project planned, or are you still too wrapped up in The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry to think about what comes next?

I am slowly working on two scripts but do not plan to shoot a new film until 2010 if the LORD allows. My focus is on finishing Sperry and getting it out there.

Do you see yourself as making science fiction films, or were the science fiction elements just a way for you to get your point across? In other words, do you think of Time Changer, Unidentified, and (possibly) The Daylight Zone as "science fiction"?

I don't think of them as sci-fi films but they really are. I want to do a sequel to Time Changer. This is one of the scripts I am working on. I love time travel movies and I think we have a nice idea for the sequel here.

Have you ever thought about taking a work by a Christian science fiction author (we have a list of candidates), and adapting it to film?

We write our own scripts and do not take other ideas. If someone approaches us that has funding behind their project, we would look at it.

How do you approach the job of directing the film? Do you have a specific interpretation for how each character is supposed to utter every single line, or do you let people improvise while the camera is rolling, or somewhere in the middle?

We do not improvise. I let the actor give me his imput on the script and how he thinks the lines should be said. If I like what he does, we keep it. If not, we change it. I try to let the actors use their gifts. But, we nail all of this down before we shoot and then stick to it.

D. David Morin is such a delight as Russell Carlisle. Did you have him in mind as you were writing the character, or did he just come up during the casting process?

I had never met D. David Morin while writing the script. I acutally had a friend of mine in mind and patterned the movie after him. But, when I read him, he didn't seem to work for the role. D. David was recommneded by a good friend of ours and when we read him, we really liked him. D. David did a better job on this film that I even thought he could when I read him for his audition. I was very proud of his effort and performance.

It was kind of a surprise to see so many recognisable faces in Time Changer: Gavin MacLeod, Hal Linden, Paul Rodriguez, and Richard Riehle kind of jumped off the screen for me. Did you approach them, or did they approach you?

We approached all of these name actors. Gavin MacLeod was the first one we signed, then Jennifer O'Neill. Both are believers and so they were interested in the film. I have since come to know Gavin very well and did another movie with him that we hope to put in theaters in March, 2009 called The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry. He is super in both films.

In re-testing the links to Amazon, I was reminded of the variety of reviews, ranging from those who reflexively blast anything which even whiffs of Christianity, through thoughtful reviews (whether critical or positive), to those who unthinkingly praise any "Christian" work, whether it's any good or not. How do you handle such an avalanche of opinions about your work? Do the negative reviews haunt you? Do you try to cling to the good and ignore the bad? Has any review ever pointed out something that you hadn't realised was a mistake, and motivated you not to do the same thing again? Or do you ignore it all and concentrate on your work?

To me, you can almost tell the true believers from the non-believers from the reviews. As much as you would like everyone to like your work, the only person I really need to please is the LORD. What bothers me more is that most Christians do not care about Christian films because they are so entrenched into the Hollywood scene.

One of the recurring complaints I see in reviews about Time Changer is that the rapture element is "tacked on" and detracts from the main theme of the story. (Probably, people are tempted to lump your work together with things like Left Behind, which just didn't have the same thoughtfulness to it.) Is the rapture something that you feel compelled to work into every film you make, or did you feel that it was an essential part of that story?

I don't understand this complaint. Our one line regarding the rapture in this movie gets the biggest laugh in the film. I have not noticed this as a complaint. Overall, we have received terrific response from Time Changer. It's been a huge blessing and I hope it challenges people in their faith.

Turning to Unidentified, the theme of UFOs being demonic deception was new to me when I first read Lynn Marzulli's book Nephilim, although I have since read Lights In The Sky And Little Green Men, by Hugh Ross, Kenneth R. Samples, & Mark Clark. Was this a theme that you have known about for some time, or did you also come across it recently, and how did you pick it up?

I have always felt the UFO thing was a demonic distraction and still do. I had not read any books on the subject at all, just kind of picked it up over the years from conversations with people about the subject. Most people do not take the UFO thing seriously, but it seems to never go away. What bothers me about UFOs is that Christian actually believe there are aliens and life on other planets. This is just not the case.

Unidentified definitely didn't have the same rich feel to it that Time Changer did, and in the director's commentary, you mentioned that the budget was much lower. Were you making a deliberate decision to go for quantity over quality, or did you just feel that the story didn't deserve as much attention?

We did Unidentified with a great cast, but it was a non-SAG film so it was a no-name cast other than Rebecca St. James. I think if we had cast some recognizable faces in this film, it would be perceived somewhat differently. I am proud of my cast though and really enjoyed working with them. It was the most fun group I have worked with to date. They were real pros. We only had about $400,000 to shoot this film and I think we did a decent job with what we had. You have to work within your means sometimes.

The trailer for The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry doesn't have any obvious science fiction or fantasy content to it, so I'm assuming that the film is a straight drama. Can you tell us a bit about the premise?

I think The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry can be our biggest movie to date. It is a simple story about a 75 year old man named Jonathan Sperry (Gavin MacLeod) in the year 1970 who starts talking to these 3 twelve year old boys about the LORD to motivate them to live for Christ. This film has lots of heart and I think will be an emotional experience for all who see it. Check out our trailer at www.SperryMovie.com

[Home][Creativity][Genres][Resources][Links][About Us]

[Audio][Biographies][Books][Events][Film][Interviews][Mailing List][Publications][Publications]

[David R. Beaucage][Kathy Tyers][James BeauSeigneur][Jefferson Scott][Walker Chandler][Alton Gansky][Ray Hansen]

[Emily Snyder][Randall Ingermanson][Theodore Beale][Steve Laube][Laura Lond][Frank Wu][Donita K. Paul][Brenda W. Clough][Bryan Davis][John Granger]

[Karen Hancock][Miles Owens][Robert Liparulo][Bryan Davis, part 2][Chris Walley][Kathryn Mackel][Gene Wolfe][Sharon Hinck][Wayne Thomas Batson][Lars Walker][Christopher Hopper][Jeffrey Overstreet]

Rich Christiano[Jeff Gerke]

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[David R. Beaucage] [Kathy Tyers] [James BeauSeigneur] [Jefferson Scott] [Walker Chandler] [Alton Gansky] [Ray Hansen] [Emily Snyder] [Randall Ingermanson] [Theodore Beale] [Steve Laube] [Laura Lond] [Frank Wu] [Donita K. Paul] [Brenda W. Clough] [Bryan Davis] [John Granger] [Karen Hancock] [Miles Owens] [Robert Liparulo] [Bryan Davis, part 2] [Chris Walley] [Kathryn Mackel] [Gene Wolfe] [Sharon Hinck] [Wayne Thomas Batson] [Lars Walker] [Christopher Hopper] [Jeffrey Overstreet][Rich Christiano] [Jeff Gerke]