Thursday, February 12, 2015

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"The Encounter," Part 3, The Making Thereof


When we were finishing up the script, David A.R. White called with exciting news.  Sting wanted to be in our movie.  That was amazing.  We were both fans of The Police and we knew he could act, but appearing in this film seemed out of character for him.

"Really?" we asked, not quite believing it.

"Yeah," David replied, "and you know what:  He's a Christian."

Wow.  All the better.  David said, depending on Sting's schedule, he would play either the State Trooper or Nick, the former athlete turned businessman.  The more David talked about Sting, the more confused we got.  Finally, we asked, "Are we talking about Sting from the Police?"

"No," David said.  "Sting the wrestler."

Ah, at least now we understood why David wanted to change Nick from a businessman to an athlete....

Sting or Sting
Easy to mistake the two of them.
It's just as well.  Personally, I think Sting the wrestler did better with the role than Sting the singer would have.  If we had gotten Sting the singer, every time the word football got mentioned, people would have thought soccer, and we wouldn't want that!

One important role down.  The next one was the most important.  We all knew the success of the film would ultimately rested on Jesus -- both figuratively and literally.   We had little control over what the literal Jesus would do, so we had to concentrate on the figurative one.  Our fictional Jesus needed to hit the perfect tone.  He couldn't be too glib with the jokes, or too judgmental in the more serious moments.  Mostly, we wanted him to exude knowing compassion.  We needed a Jesus with his heart on a sleeve.  The kind of Jesus who would stubbornly love and reach out to people he knows will reject him.  Personally, my favorite depiction of Jesus was by Robert Powell in Franco Zeffirelli's "Jesus of Nazareth."  That said, Tim and I also didn't necessarily want a WASPy Jesus.  We wanted some ethnic color.

David generally consulted Tim Ratajczak and I during casting, but we rarely pushed choices on him.  This time, however, we really pushed for the Latin heartthrob Eduardo Verastegui.  He had just appeared in the pro-life film "Bella" so we thought he would be sympathetic to our subject matter.   We also thought his presence would help us in foreign markets.  David nixed the idea because "Bella" didn't make any money.   David's first choice for Jesus was Alex Kendrick.

Alex Kendrick was a writer/director/producer/star at Sherwood Pictures, the makers of the faith-based hits "Facing the Giants" and "Fireproof."  In a sense, they were PureFlix's principal rivals in the Christian marketplace.  The biggest difference was that the Sherwood Pictures were released theatrically to much fanfare and box office success.  Whether he was right for the role of Jesus or not, it made sense to try to get him because he was a popular known entity in the market.  But there was more to it than that.  Although David wears many hats in the business -- producer, director, writer, star, executive -- his identity is defined as an actor and he wanted a role in the upcoming Sherwood production "Courageous."  He was hoping that if Alex appeared in "The Encounter," there might be a quid pro quo and he would have a leg up over the competition.

Alex read the script and apparently complimented it, but he said he was too busy with the pre-production of "Courageous" to appear in the movie.  Sadly, David did not get a role in that film.  However, his friend and sometime partner Kevin Downes got a role in.

Next up for the role of Jesus was Bruce Marchiano, who had previously worn those sandals in "The Gospel According to Matthew."   I have to give David his due.  Bruce was an inspired choice.  Bruce captured exactly the right tone we intended.  He would later appear in five more films written by either Tim or myself.

Eduardo - Alex - Bruce
Pick Your Jesus
Next on board was faith-based singer Jaci Valesquez.  I thought she was excellent as the love lost Melissa.  I also thought she made marketing sense.   We had a great experience working with Rebecca St. James on "Sarah's Choice."  When I look back on the press the film received, it was easy to see that most of the publicity was generated by her people.  I am glad we got Jaci, and hoped she would generate similar publicity.

Yours truly with Jaci Valesquez
Next came Jamie Nieto as Hank, the husband of divorce minded Catherine.  I believe David might have met him in an acting class.  He also appeared in "Jerusalem Countdown."  Although Jamie was a relative newcomer to acting, he was an Olympian and track and field athlete.  Jamie placed 4th in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens in the high jump.  He could definitely jump over me height-wise, but I am not so sure about girth-wise (at the time.)  He gave a very thoughtful and earnest performance.

Jamie and yours truly
Which one is the professional athlete?
I am not sure how we got Danah Davis got into the mix as Jamie's dissatisfied wife Catherine, but I am glad we got her.  The role of the runaway Kayla was played by Madison Gibney, who was a student in an acting class David taught in San Diego.  This was her first role and she did a wonderful job.   She would appear in two more films I wrote.  Her brother Sean Gibney would also become a fixture on Pureflix sets -- both before and behind the camera.  So would their mother Debi Gibney -- who would be the ever helpful "set mom" on many films to come.

Yours truly and Madison
Kass Connors rounded off the principals as Officer DeVille.   Kass had already given us an amusing little turn as the befuddled criminal in "Holyman Undercover."  He also appeared in the film I edited, and nearly wrote, "In The Blink of an Eye."  He brought the perfect amount of menace as the devil.  (Deville/Devil -- get it?  Yeah, I thought so.)  We also wrote a nice little cameo for David at the end.

The film was scheduled to be shot in California over the course of a week -- mainly at night.  David decided to direct it.  We were fine with that.  Actors tend to good job directing other actors in actory pieces like this one.  Personally, I thought this would have been a good project for Tim to direct, but his health prohibited it -- even if he had been interested.  The film would be shot by the great Darren Rydstrom, who would tragically die before long in a helicopter working on another project for the Discovery Channel.  There was zero possibility of Tim and I going to the shoot.  Tim was still battling cancer, and, collectively we still had too much writing to do.  The day after we typed Fade Out on this script, we were hard at work on "Proof," "Marriage Retreat" and "Brother White."  David did, however, offer me the opportunity to edit "The Encounter."  It would be a labor of love.  I certainly wasn't doing it for the money.  Although I worked as a writer, my primary income came as an editor at the time, and independent feature films paid very poorly compared to commercials.  I probably lost money on every feature I edited, but I couldn't resist.

Darren Rydstrom on the set of Holyman
Undercover with David A.R. White
We followed the shoot on Facebook.  Then a hard drive showed up at my door with the footage.  Overall, I was happy with the footage and the edit went smoothly.  I must, however, confess some disappointment with the flashbacks.  I never liked the idea of Madison pointing the gun at her abusive stepfather, but that was a small point.  I hated the flashback of Sting's character as a young boy with his grandmother.  We make a huge point in the script about how he was raised by poor immigrants with thick accents and how he turned his back on them in embarrassment.  So what do they do?  They cast a kid and a grandma who sound like they're straight of out Kansas.  Oy vey.  It's like they didn't even read the script!  Don't get me wrong:  I have no problem with either actor.  They were just wrong for these roles.

I did not edit the flashback for Jaci's character responding to an altar call in a movie theater given by Tom Saab, one of the producers of the film.  I wouldn't even see that footage until the premiere, where I would find myself in a theater where Tom Saab gave an actual altar call.  Talk about surreal.

Before long the film was completed and we were ready for the premiere.

To be continued....

Previous segments:
"The Encounter," Part 1, Proof God's Not Dead
"The Encounter," Part 2, The Writing

Read about the making of my previous features:

21 Eyes
Hidden Secrets
Holyman Undercover
Sarah's Choice

Be sure to check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

"The Encounter," Part 2, The Writing

Early Artwork Mock-Up
"The Encounter" began on the Firday,  November 5, 2009.

I received a phone call from producer/director/star and all around hyphenate David A.R. White.  He wanted Tim and I to read a treatment.  He said it was about some people having an appointment to talk with Jesus in person --just like the film "The Perfect Stranger."  Yikes.

"The Perfect Stranger" was based on the book "Dinner with the Perfect Stranger" by David Gregory.  I had never seen the movie or read the book, but I was familiar with the basic plot.  Jesus sends a person an invitation to dinner at restaurant and then they talk.  I initially found this project somewhat unappealing.   At the time, PureFlix specialized in making "Christian" versions of successful "secular" films.  Essentially, David would see a movie he wished he could have starred in and then made his own version of it dressed up with some Christianity.  Timothy Ratajczak and I didn't like that.  We preferred working on original ideas rather than reworking other people's ideas.  And we certainly didn't want to get into the business of writing "Christian" versions of "Christian" films.  I remember reading something in the Bible along the lines of Thou Shall Not Steal.

Still, I read the treatment by Steve Taylor (not the singer), Jason Cusick and producer Michael Scott.  Michael Scott is, along with David, one of the owners of PureFlix Entertainment.  He apparently developed the concept with Steve and Jason.  I never met Steve or Jason.  However, if I remember correctly, Steve was involved somehow with the episode of the John Hagee show I wrote involving the PureFlix film "In the Blink of an Eye."

I skimmed the highly-detailed sixteen-page treatment.  I don't believe Tim ever did.  It was oddly structured.  It was like an outline with all of the characters, their backstories, symbolic items and actions for each of the people involved, and Bible quotes to be used to solve their problems.  But, strangely, it wasn't told like a story.  The intended film went like this:  Person A receives an mysterious invitation.  He/She goes to the address.  He/She meets Jesus.  They talk.  Jesus answers his/her questions and solves his/her problems.  Person leaves.  Next Person B gets an invitation.  Then Person C.  Then Person D.

I immediately called David and said the premise was unworkable structurally.  Films, generally, work on a three act structure.  It was impossible to give these characters an emotional arc over the course of the entire film when they all only appear in their own segments.  In fact, we would have to throw out the traditional three act structure entirely.  David knew we were right.  He asked us what we would do.  We said we would have Jesus interact with all of the characters at once.  We would structure it more like a "Twilight Zone" episode.  A bunch of strangers end up stranded at a mysterious diner only to be confronted by a man claiming to be Jesus.

David liked the new concept and the original treatment was completely discarded.  The main question was whether Tim was up to the challenge.  Tim had recently been diagnosed with leukemia and was battling for his life.  His fate was uncertain, but not his determination.  He wanted to write the movie, so we took the assignment.  We submitted the original treatment to David A.R. White a few days later on Sunday, November 7, 2009.  Wanna read it?  Here it is:

THE ENCOUNTER

ACT ONE:

This film takes place on a dark stormy night.  Torrential rain is pouring.  Four cars are moving down an obscure side road far from the interstate.  Matthew Padden, 53, a high-powered real estate tycoon, needs to get across the desert to close an important deal.  His entire empire hangs on the result of the deal.  Hank and Catherine Miller, an unhappily-married couple, are driving home after dropping their son off at college.  Hank wants to save their marriage, but Catherine wants to end it now that their son is gone.  Melissa Lewald, 34, a single woman obsessed with getting a husband, drives with a hitchhiker she found on the road, Kayla Huettner, 17, who is fleeing an abusive home environment.  While they are driving through the wasteland, Melissa spots an inviting diner on the side of the road, but she continues driving.

All four of the cars soon find themselves stopped at an unmanned roadblock.  The bridge around the bend up ahead has been flooded out.   Everyone is frustrated, particularly Matthew.  He needs to go forward.  The only other way around is a two hundred mile detour.  Melissa recommends that they go back to the diner she passed.  Everyone is surprised by her suggestion because none of them saw the diner.  Still, they follow her.  What else are they going to do?

The folks arrive at the small diner.  The staff consists of a single man with the name Jesus on his nameplate, who welcomes them and makes them feel comfortable.  The diner phone is out, which frustrates everyone since they are all out of cell phone range.  Jesus takes their orders and starts cooking them their food.  There is something odd about Jesus.  He lets out little comments about the people that he could not possibly know.  Matthew is the most suspicious.  He wants to know how Jesus knows all these things.  Jesus explains that it is because he is The Jesus.

ACT TWO:

The people react to Jesus' revelation with varying degrees of suspicion and amusement.  Throughout the second act, Jesus and the customers talk.  They are trying to disprove his claims, but in the process, the customers reveal more and more about themselves and Jesus presents solutions.  It eventually becomes clear that Hank and Melissa are Christians.  They begin to respond to his words.  Matthew grows increasingly hostile to Jesus, and he seems to find an ally in Catherine.  Kayla find herself drawn to his message despite her hurts.  She comes to the Lord.

ACT THREE:

Matthew has had enough.  He rejects Jesus.  He wants to leave and take a chance on the bridge.  He's willing to take anybody with him.  Now it comes down to Catherine.  Will she stay with Jesus and her husband or leave with Matthew.  In the end, she decides to stay and accept Jesus.  Matthew leaves in disgust alone.

Morning.  Hank, Catherine, Melissa and Kayla wake up to find Jesus gone.  The rain has stopped.  The sky is sunny.  They're not completely sure that everything that had happened was real.  They get into their cars and leave.  They reach the road block.  It is still up, but now there are some state troopers on the scene.  The troopers tell them that the bridge was no longer flooded, but they had to clean up the wreck of a car that tried to get through it last night.  The driver was dead.  It was Matthew. 

The others are happy they spent the night at the diner.  "What diner?" The trooper asks.  The one about three miles back. The Trooper says there's no diner back there.  The customers go back to see that the trooper was correct.  They find their tire tracks where they left the road, but there is no diner.  Just a few items that Jesus had associated with them.

The End

David's response to the treatment was a single word, followed by a few exclamation points:  "Awesome!!!"  Tim and I started working immediately -- even before we had a signed contract.  That was not uncommon.  Tim and I trusted PureFlix completely.  Why wouldn't we?  After all, we were all Christians with a common goal, and we considered David to be a personal friend.   What could possibly go wrong?  (Nothing on this film.)

Still, writing "The Encounter" would  prove to be a daunting task on two levels.  First, we were essentially writing a one location film which places great limitations on the action.  The film would more resemble a stage play than a traditional movie.  This was unavoidable considering both the storyline and the budget.  This film would be the lowest budget feature film Tim and I had written, both individually and collectively.  David told me the shooting budget was sixty-thousand dollars, and the post couldn't have possibly cost half that amount, even if you included the cost of the trailer in the production budget rather than the marketing budget.  (Strangely, however, when we got our first profit participation statement, it reported that the budget of film was now $200,000.)

Our main location

The other, much more daunting, task was putting words in Jesus' mouth.  There was one thing for certain, we weren't going to have him quoting the Bible all the time.  Somehow, I can't imagine meeting Jesus walking the streets of gold in Heaven and him starting each sentence with "As I once said in Matthew Eighteen, verse six....."  Jesus doesn't need to quote the Bible to give his words authority.  He is the authority.  We wanted a conversational Jesus dealing with people and their problems where they lived.  Just like he did in Biblical times.  We didn't want a marble Jesus, we wanted a flesh-and-blood Jesus with heart and a sense of humor.

Tim and I dug quickly into the script.  Once we started writing, it flowed very easily.  Tim and I are both students of apologetics and the work was spiritually and intellectually fulfilling.   Normally, I would hammer out the structure of the scenes during the week and we would get together and work out the dialogue during the weekends.  We usually worked at my house, where my wife would always prepare us a nice dinner.  This time, she provided one of my favorite jokes in the movie, too.  Jesus' line when someone compliments him on the water served in the diner:  "It's my own recipe.  Two molecules of hydrogen and one of oxygen."   However, I remember us doing some of the later revisions at Tim's house for his convenience as a result of his health situation.

Annoyed by the deliberate actions of some of the investors to remove any subtle references to Catholicism in "Sarah's Choice," Tim tried again.  We referred to the minister who helped our runaway as "Father," but his title was changed by the producers to "Pastor."  However, catching the small reference, they missed a much bigger one.  Tim worked to make the meal Jesus prepared for the guests highly symbolic of communion.  That managed to slip through.  I was happy.  The us versus them of Protestants versus Catholics, as well as between different Protestant denominations and traditions make a mockery of God's grace.  I'm sick of it.

We finished the first draft of the script on December 19, 2009.  Forty-two days after the submission of the treatment.  That was twenty-eight days more than it took us to finish the first draft of "Sarah's Choice."  But please don't think we were slacking.  During that same time we were finishing up David's new one man show "Prodigal," honing the treatment for "Marriage Retreat," and working on the original concept for "Brother White."  All while Tim was still battling cancer.

Hyphenate David A.R. White on the set
When we finished the first draft, David asked us to change our arrogant businessman to an athlete, preferably a football player.  I wasn't happy about that change.  I had a (step)-son-in-law who played for the Kansas City Chiefs and I didn't want anyone in the family to think I was making a comment about him.  Still, we made the changes and the script was done.

Almost.

We were also instructed to beef up the role of the State Trooper.  We added him to the beginning and turned him into the devil.  However, there is one thing we didn't do:  We didn't name him Officer Deville in our draft.  That was way too obvious for us.  I cringe when I hear it in the film, especially when Kayla spells it out at the end.  Please.  That's just insulting the intelligence of the audience. It's saying they couldn't figure it out themselves....

Oh well.

Now it was time to cast and shoot the movie.

"The Encounter," Part 3, The Making Thereof

Previous segments:
"The Encounter," Part 1, Proof God's Not Dead

Read about the making of my previous features:

21 Eyes
Hidden Secrets
Holyman Undercover
Sarah's Choice

Be sure to check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

"The Encounter," Part 1, Proof God's Not Dead


In July 2009, Timothy Ratajczak and I were both pretty happy with our budding career in the faith-based films.  We were very happy with our drama "Hidden Secrets."  We were very happy with the original edit of our comedy "Holyman Undercover," although we were both displeased with the later edits which attempted to remove any objectionable humor from the film.  Fortunately, we felt we rebounded with our pro-life drama "Sarah's Choice."  The question was:  What's next?  Quite a bit actually.

The next ten months would be a tremendous blur of work while the country suffered under the effects of the recession.  The films "The Encounter," "Run On," "Marriage Retreat" and "Brother White" would all be developed and written, somewhat simultaneously, but at a heavy cost and much travail.  One of us would nearly die.  (The other one of us would die later.)  One of us would become disillusioned and walk temporarily away from the Christian movie business.  (It would take a lot more to disillusion the other one, but in time....)

The first project Tim and I were offered after finishing "Sarah's Choice" was an adaptation of television evangelist John Hagee's book "Jerusalem Countdown."  PureFlix bought the rights to the non-fiction book and intended to use it as a basis for a fictional End Times thriller.  It was a good business decision.   Independent faith-based films, without a sizable advertising and marketing budget, live or die on the recommendations and support of national ministries.  Hagee was known for his end times teaching and was very supportive of the PureFlix film "In The Blink of an Eye."  He bought a large number of copies to give to his audience in return for donations.  Additionally, Hagee devoted an entire program to promoting the movie.  (I even wrote that program.)  That said, we were not going to write "Jerusalem Countdown."  Why?  Tim and I were both raised Catholic, and Tim still went to the Catholic Church.   He despised Hagee's outspoken and sometimes irrational anti-Catholic bigotry.  He flat out refused, and I stood by him.  (We almost did a rewrite on the disastrous first draft of the script out of friendship to the producer David A.R. White, but politics with the director and original writer happily prevented us from doing so.  From the final film, however, I could tell that they acted on some of our notes.)

On July 19th, Tim and I received an email from David A.R. White.  It contained a six-page treatment for a film called Proof.  The treatment was written by Brad Stine and John Sullivan.   We knew and liked the comedian Brad Stine.  He gave us a great performance in "Sarah's Choice," and we had already talked about writing a movie with him away from the umbrella of PureFlix.  We didn't know John Sullivan personally, but we were familiar with a theatrically released documentary film he had produced starring Ben Stein called "Expelled:  No Intelligence Allowed."  He would later hit pay dirt with "2016:  Obama's America."

God's Comic:  Brad Stine
We read the treatment.  It was about a Christian college professor, Marcus Daniels. who must endure hostile students and faculty in defense of his faith.  Tim and I liked the treatment, but we made some changes.  We shifted the persecution from the professor to a mild-mannered student, Josh Langum, Daniels was mentoring who received a failing grade in a science class because he made a reference to intelligent design in a paper.  Eventually Daniels debates the atheist science professor about the existence of God.

Starting to sound like another movie?  The biggest difference between Proof and the main plot of "God's Not Dead" was who did the debating.   Narratively speaking, it would be ideal for the persecuted student Josh (same name in both stories) to do the debating himself, but since the film was intelligently designed as a starring vehicle for Brad Stine, the professor had to defend the student.

Tim and I submitted a revised treatment to David a couple weeks later on August 4th.  It was approved by PureFlix and Brad.  Contracts were written up and dutifully signed.  The project seemed greenlit.  PureFlix rarely spent money on scripts they didn't intend to produce.  Tim and I went to work.  We were quite excited about the project.  It was right in our wheelhouse.  Tim and I both enjoyed apologetics and comedy.  This film would have plenty of both.

We began writing it.  Then tragedy struck about halfway through -- the same week "Sarah's Choice" was released.  Tim was diagnosed with leukemia.  This was serious business and Tim soon found himself in the hospital battling for his life while writing projects began to pile up.  In addition to Proof, we were already discussing "Marriage Retreat," "Brother White" and putting the finishing touches on David White's new one-man-show "Prodigal" -- which would be the basis for his segment of the film "Run On."

Tim was very sick.  I was concerned that the burden of the work would be too much for him, but he wanted to continue and we did when he got out of the hospital.  By that time, David had sent us the original treatment for "The Encounter."  That film was now the one with the heat.  David wanted us to put Proof aside and start immediately on "The Encounter."  We objected.  We were already halfway through Proof.  We thought it was very promising and we wanted to finish it.  However, David was insistent.  We moved over to "The Encounter."  We did, after we completed the first draft of that script, we went back and finished Proof.

Tim and I quickly finished the second half of the script.  There was one interesting change from our original conception which was written prior to Tim's illness.  In the treatment, our atheist professor had a wife who died a result of cancer.  (As opposed to God's Not Dead, where the atheist's mother died.)  In this first draft, written after Tim's illness, the wife miraculously survives.  Tim wanted it that way, and I couldn't argue against it.

We sent the script to David.  He had no real notes on it.  He said Brad would walk us through a rewrite after we finished up with the other films.  We got some initial notes from Brad and found ourselves in agreement with them, but the rewrites never happened.  The project went from green to red without any explanation.   We were too busy to worry about it.

Then I started hearing rumors about "God's Not Dead."  I heard that it had the same central plot as Proof.  Brad and John heard the same thing, and they were understandably concerned.  I later heard that PureFlix never even purchased their original treatment.  That was insane to me.  Why would they pay Tim and I to write a screenplay based on a property they didn't even own?  And now they were making another film on the same subject....

It couldn't be a coincidence.  PureFlix isn't a massive multinational corporation moving in twenty directions at once.   It only has four principal partners, David A.R. White, Michael Scott, Russell Wolfe and Elizabeth Travis.  (Back then, Byron Jones was also a partner.)  They all know about the projects in development.  David obviously knew about it.  So did Russ.  He was copied on some of our emails.  I was hearing so much whispering that I decided to investigate myself.  I knew and respected Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman, the screenwriters of "God's Not Dead."  I know them to be men of Christian integrity and they were genuinely surprised to hear about Proof.   They assured me they had never read the script and explained how they had worked out the plot lines in conjunction with Hunter Dennis.  I believed them and offered my opinion on the subject to anyone who asked.

Honestly, it wouldn't have mattered to Tim or I whether Cary and Chuck saw our script or not.  We obviously wanted to see our movie made but it ultimately wasn't our idea.  Our property.  It was a work for hire.  Tim and I did our work and got paid.  Although, one could argue, we were cheated out of our contracted points when they dumped this film for the other one. But at least we got something.   I do feel bad for Brad and John.  They weren't paid for their original treatment and now, because of its remarkable similarity to "God's Not Dead," they can't exploit it elsewhere without being derided as copycats.

Oh well.  That's Hollywood.

And Tim and I had more movies to write!

"The Encounter," Part 2, The Writing

Read about the making of my previous features:

21 Eyes
Hidden Secrets
Holyman Undercover
Sarah's Choice

Be sure to check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

RIP Carolyn Jacobi

Carolyn Jacobi
I must sadly report the passing of Carolyn Jacobi.

Carolyn Jacobi was the CEO of Eternal Justice.  She relentlessly battled the death care industry -- particularly cemeteries --  to guarantee that people found the rest they deserved.  Her battle began at  Mount Auburn Cemetery in Baltimore, Maryland, where her father was buried.  Appalled by the conditions at the cemetery, she led the fight to establish an Office of  Cemetery Oversight in the State of Maryland -- at one point pushing a wheelbarrow full of human remains found above the ground at Mount Auburn into the State House in Annapolis and dumping them on the floor.  She was a woman who would stop at nothing to fight injustice.  She later became a national advocate for cemetery reform throughout the United States and Canada.

I met Carolyn during the making of the film "Sacred Ground:  The Battle For Mount Auburn Cemetery."  The film follows the struggles of family activist Lu Moorman, as she battles Sharp Street Memorial Church and the Baltimore Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church for control of the historic but desecrated African American landmark.  Carolyn was one of Lu's mentors and advisors and I met with her many times during the shooting of the film.

Carolyn was a strong, opinionated and principled woman who always proceeded in her own time and in her own way.  She did not suffer fools gladly.  Initially, I believe Carolyn was a little suspicious of director David Butler and myself.  As documentarians, we always endeavored to get the perspectives of all of the people involved, and she didn't particularly like us interviewing and talking with the leadership of Sharp Street Church and the Baltimore Washington Conference on our own.  I, for my part, thought she was unnecessarily cynical when the Conference offered to meet with Lu and her team.  However, Carolyn had been down that road before and her cynicism proved to be justified in the end.

I think we finally won Carolyn's respect when we discovered a casket mangled by a backhoe hidden in the weeds in the back of the cemetery.  It was obvious evidence of grave recycling, and it led to a very public fight on Fox45 news between Lu and Carolyn and Reverend Dell Hinton, the pastor of Sharp Street Memorial Church.   She was happy that David and I had discovered and photographed a century old document that proved, despite the church's often repeated claims to the contrary, that a fund was established to maintain the cemetery.  It gave her ammunition in her arguments that the church had mismanaged the cemetery financially.

In the end, I believe Carolyn came to respect our commitment to helping Mount Auburn Cemetery.  We spoke on the phone when events at the cemetery warranted discussion.  I am not sure if she saw the final, completed film, but I know she was quite happy with the trailer.  When I last spoke with her, she wanted arrange a screening of the film for the new head of the Maryland Office of Cemetery Oversight.  We were happy to comply.  Sadly, it never happened.  It is a pity, I'm sure she would have enjoyed the film and it certainly would have reiterated the points she wanted to make about the cemetery.

Below is a little tribute I put together from an interview with Carolyn about her history and accomplishments shot at Mount Auburn.  Some of the footage in found in the feature.  Some can only be seen here:



Here is trailer to the film, which will soon be available to the public.



Rest in peace, Carolyn.  You will be missed, and, hopefully, our film will carry on your legacy.

Be sure to check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.