Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Sean Paul Murphy, Writer
Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Monday, May 11, 2015

Red City Review: The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God

Here's a new review of my book, The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God," from  Red City Review.  Printed with permission.

The Promise: Or, The Pros and Cons of Walking with God by Sean Paul Murphy

Sean Paul Murphy shares an interesting story of his life from hearing God’s messages, apparent promises, and directions to facing his own human death.  In his memoir, The Promise, or The Pros and Cons of Talking With God: A story of first faith and first love and how the two became almost fatally intertwined, Murphy explores his personal experiences. He writes of having a strong Christian faith and being a believer and a sinner, but he also shares that just because he can hear God’s voice doesn’t make him more religious or more highly valued by God.  Murphy does share some strong opinions surrounding his religious beliefs however.  Mind you, as he says himself about a third of the way through the book there is a “gray area we create for ourselves between His sovereignty and our own free will.”
The Promise, or The Pros and Cons of Talking With God was penned because, according to Sean Paul Murphy, God told him to write about his personal experiences of living in that gray area. It is a well-written book that shares exactly that. You, the reader, are given the premise of this memoir from early on and are not likely to be disappointed as you page through Murphy’s spiritual journey.  At times you might think he is a little bit crazy or needs psychological help, but he is very clear that he is not concerned about that.  Instead, his point was to be open and honest in his sharing. Within this memoir amongst Murphy’s journey, amidst his struggles and realizations and conversations with his sovereign deity, you can discover powerful inspiration for your own life no matter your spiritual beliefs or lack there of. 
To purchase a copy of the book, click here to find it on Amazon.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Zach Lawrence and The End Times Quandary

Some writers hate critics.  Especially when they are negative.   But I don't mind.  I enjoy it when a person takes the time to thoughtfully consider something I have written (or co-written.)  I don't even mind if they're negative, provided their criticism is reasonable and grounded.  Often time I find myself agreeing with my critics.  (And I often times warned of the same problems long before the shooting began....)

I have followed Zach Lawrence since he reviewed my film "The Encounter."  I find his reviews thoughtful and often humorous.  He's not a hater by any means, but, unlike too many fans of the genre, he isn't afraid to call Christian filmmakers out on sloppy work and general heavyhandedness.   I was curious to watch his review of my film "Revelation Road:  The Beginning of the End."

Here it is:

What I find most amusing about Zach Lawrence's critique of "Revelation Road: The Beginning of the End" is his general disgust with End Times movies.  He feels that they simply retell the same story over and over again.  I have to admit that I am tired of them, too.  I believe my response, when I was asked to write this film, was:  "Do we really need another End Times movie?"  The answer, from actor/producer/director David A.R. White, was, "Yes!"

For those unfamiliar with the term, End Time films are ones that deal with the events prophesied in the Bible's Book of Revelation.  It's an action-packed book whose events are open to a great deal of interpretation.  Since the 1972 release of the short, independent film, "A Thief in the Night," Christian filmmakers have returned to the subject matter almost as frequently as the sparrows return to Capistrano.

The way I see it, there are two main reasons why so many End Time movies are made.  First, Christians with a pre-tribulation viewpoint find the subject endlessly fascinating, and the core audience for faith-based films tend to fall into that category.  However, quite a few Christians do not subscribe to the pre-trib viewpoint.  Some of them find these films not only annoying but actually heretical.  That's why, despite all of the copies of the "Left Behind" books that were sold, I was surprised by the relatively high budget of the recent reboot of the "Left Behind" film starring Nicholas Cage.  I didn't expect the Christian community, as a whole, to rally behind it.  And they didn't.

The second reason has more to do with certain filmmakers desire for fun.  You can only do so many movies about a pastor's crisis of faith.  Once you commit yourself to making films for the Christian marketplace, you have to follow the dictates of the audience, which includes no bad language, no sex, no drugs, no real rock'n'roll and no violence.  That prohibition against violence pretty much means, if you are a faith-based filmmaker, you can never make an action film.  There are only two acceptable exceptions:  Films set in Biblical times and End Time movies.  End Time movies are cheaper to produce than Biblical period pieces, so tah-dah:  We have End Times movies galore.  This is particularly true if you work for an actor/producer like David A.R. White, whose most fervent desire is to position himself as an action hero in a genre that doesn't want or need them.  As a result you end up with "The Moment After," "The Moment After 2," "Six:  The Mark Unleashed," "In The Blink of an Eye," "Jerusalem Countdown," "The Mark," "Revelation Road:  The Beginning of the End," "Revelation Road 2:  The Sea of Glass and Fire" and "The Black Rider:  Revelation Road."  It's hard to imagine the Rapture without David A.R. White.  I'm surprised he wasn't actually prophesied in the Bible.

As to Zach's criticism that these films tell the same story endlessly:  He's right.  The movies always tend to center on a unbeliever whose Christian spouse, family and/or friends disappear in a twinkling of the eye during the rapture.  Then he/she must wrestle with his/her doubts until they come to accept the Lord.  That's a reasonably compelling story the first couple of times you see it.  Less so the fifteenth time.  Making a film about post-rapture events, however, can be complicated.  In a movie, you always want the hero to decisively defeat the evil forces present in the film.  However, a hero in an End Times movie can't always do that.  Once the Apocalyptic clock starts running, the events must play out as God has preordained.  Therefore, if the hero kills the anti-Christ, he would actually be thwarting God's will!  Oooops.  Therefore, filmmakers tend to stick with the less theologically complicated Rapture period.

My second script "The Mark," written when I was but a boy screenwriter, dealt with the End Times long before there was a faith-based genre.  I wrote it even before the publication of the "Left Behind" books.  It was my first script taken seriously by Hollywood.  The script was sent around by a Jewish agent who didn't view it as being exclusively Christian.  He thought the story was a Twilight Zone-ish allegory about the Holocaust, and feared it might actually be too Jewish in its sensitivities.  I wish I would have pursued this project more aggressively.  I might have invented the modern End Times genre.  I think Zach would have approved of that project.  It didn't tell the Rapture story.  That tale started three years into the Tribulation period.  (Maybe if I had started off with a Rapture scene, the script would have sold....)

Much to his surprise, Zach found the first Revelation Road film interesting enough to be sucked into watching the second film.  Here's his review of that film:

I wonder if he will review Black Rider?

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.

“The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God” by Sean Paul Murphy

“The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God” by Sean Paul Murphy

Monday, March 30, 2015

"The Encounter," Part 4, Aftermath

Yours Truly at the Premiere of The Encounter
When I finished editing "The Encounter," I sent the drives back to PureFlix where they edited in the final flashback scenes and did the sound mix and color correction.  Co-writer Tim Ratajczak and I were too busy writing to worry about those aspects of the production.   We didn't get any checking copies.  We would first see the film at the world premiere at the Boston Christian Film Festival.  Or I should say I would.  Tim, my lovely wife and I had attended the premiere of "Sarah's Choice" at the same film festival the previous year.  This year, however, Tim was still too sick to go and my wife had to work.  I would have travel to Boston alone.

The Boston Christian Film Festival was an evangelical enterprise organized by Tom Saab, who also happened to be an investor on "The Encounter."  The festival would rent a number of theaters in a multiplex for a weekend and show a wide variety of Christian films free of charge, and then give an altar call for anyone who felt inclined to accept Christ after the films.   The festivals seemed to be very successful.  The screenings were often very crowded.

A large PureFlix contingent flew out from Los Angeles for the film festival which was also serving as the premiere venue of their more highly-touted film "Jerusalem Countdown."  David A.R. White, the ultimate hyphenate, attended.  So did Steve "Sting" Borden, Jaci Valezquez, Jamie Nieto and practically the whole zany Gibney clan.  So did Carey Scott, the director of "Hidden Secrets" who also appeared as an actor in "Jerusalem Countdown," and Anna Zielinski, another star of "Jerusalem Countdown," who would loom large in the upcoming "Marriage Retreat."  Sadly, Bruce Marchiano didn't attend.  I still haven't had the chance to meet him yet.

David, Madison, Jamie, Sean, Anna, Carey
Not having attended the shoot, the festival finally gave me a chance to meet the actors that I had been editing for so long on my little computer in the corner of my dining room.  Sting hadn't seen the film yet.  Knowing that I was both the writer and editor, he pulled me aside and asked me what I had thought of his performance.  I told him that I liked his performance and that I only questioned his reading of one line in particular.  He asked what line and I told him -- adding that I knew David specifically directed him to say it that way.  Some people might question the wisdom of making a comment like that to the star of the film.  However, I have always appreciated honesty in regards to my work, and I felt he deserved the same respect.

The big moment came.  We went into the theater and sat near the front.  The theater was packed.  I sat next to Jaci and a few seats away from Sting.  The movie played and the audience immediately accepted it.  When the line I mentioned to Sting came up, he gave me a curious look.  I nodded with approval.  (He later asked what I thought about the line in the final film.  I said, honestly, that, with the music, it worked.)  When Jaci's character's flashback came up, she asked in a whisper which of the two girls was supposed to be her.  I answered, honestly, that I had no idea.  I had never seen the footage before.

After the film, the lights came up a bit.  Producer/Festival Organizer/Evangelist Tom Saab came forward and gave an altar call.  I was not prepared for the response.  Over two hundred people came forward to accept the Lord.  It was very humbling.

After seeing the response of that audience, I was anticipating big things upon the release of the film.  I was wrong.  It dropped into the market with zero marketing.  (I believe PureFlix was still pouring all of its money into "Jerusalem Countdown.")  I saw no ads.  No reviews.  Nothing.  I was crushed.  I felt we had made a film that would truly touch people, but it looked like no one would ever see it.

Then the film hit NetFlix.  I have previously written a blog about my belief that Netflix would destroy the independent film business, but it saved "The Encounter" from oblivion.  People saw the film on the website and word of mouth quickly spread.  It became a sleeper hit.  It soon rose to the Top 10 in it's category in Amazon and remained there for over two years.  Prior to the release of "God's Not Dead," PureFlix proclaimed it was the most profitable film they made.

But more important than the money were the testimonies I heard.  Non-believers have turned to the Lord after seeing the film, and believers have found their faith restored and their questions answered.  This film has only been seen by a fraction of people who have seen "Titanic," but I doubt "Titanic" changed as many lives.  There truly seems to be a special anointing on this film, and I am grateful to have been a part of it.

In retrospect, I wish this had been my last film with PureFlix.  There was a certain purity of purpose to "The Encounter."  We just wanted to make a little evangelical Jesus film that we felt would touch people and answer some of the modern objections to Christianity, and that's exactly what we did.  None of the major decisions involving the production were marred by ego, compromise, a desire for career enhancement or an unseemly grasping for money.

Sadly, that would not be the case on all of the films that followed.

Previous segments:
"The Encounter," Part 1, Proof God's Not Dead
"The Encounter," Part 2, The Writing
"The Encounter," Part 3, The Making Thereof

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, March 10, 2015

The Black Rider: Revelation Road nominated

My film "The Black Rider:  Revelation Road" has been nominated for Best Screenplay, Feature Film Category, at the International Christian Film Festival in Orlando, Florida.  The film, which was co-written by director/editor Gabriel Sabloff and starring James Denton, Kevin Sorbo and  David A. R. White, will be opening night feature at the film festival.

I am also delighted to announce that another film that Tim Ratajczak and I wrote "Open My Eyes," directed by Gabriel Alonzo and starring Dominick LaBanca and Jeanne Garcia, is also an official selection at the festival.   This is particularly satisfying because "Open My Eyes" was shot on a fraction of the budget of "Black Rider" and had none of its star power.  Good job!

Congratulations to the cast and crew of both films!

Here's the trailer for "The Black Rider:  Revelation Road":

Here's the trailer for "Open My Eyes":

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, February 12, 2015

Heartbeat Magazine : The Promise Or, The Pros and Cons of Talking with ...

Heartbeat Magazine : The Promise Or, The Pros and Cons of Talking with ...: Interview with Sean Paul Murphy by Nicole Flothe: It was so nice to connect with Sean Paul via email after he read my review of S...

"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 an unspoken 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 it.

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.

"The Encounter," Part 4, Aftermath

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.