Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Sean Paul Murphy, Writer
Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Black Rider Review

Zack Lawrence, aka, The Storyteller, just reviewed my final PureFlix film "The Black Rider."  You can see for yourself if this is the film that finally breaks him.

I have always enjoyed Zack's reviews because he's entertaining and honest.  He believes in the faith-based film genre, but he knows the films have got to get better.  In this review, he identifies on of the major reasons why the films aren't better.   I could give him additional reasons, but that would take around 190 pages in trade paperback....

Speaking of trade paperbacks, be sure to pick up a copy of my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  You won't regret it.

Check out the preview:

Here are some of Zack's other reviews:
The Encounter

The Encounter: Paradise Lost

Revelation Road 1

Revelation Road 2

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Internet Radio Interview with Yours Truly

Jeralynn Kawewong Kozak
I recently had the good fortune to be interviewed by Jeralynn Kawewong Kozak, The Thai Girl 4 God, about my career in faith-based films.  It is a rather long interview.  If you want to know anything about me, or life in the faith-based film business, this is a great place to start.

Check it out:

To learn even more about me, 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, October 6, 2015

Churches Making Movies Film Festival: This Weekend!

I love the Churches Making Movies Christian Film Festival.  This is the third year and I have attended each of them.  Organizer and Filmmaker LaVonne McIver James always puts to together a great event, I'm not saying that just because my film "Sacred Ground: The Battle For Mount Auburn Cemetery" won the Best Documentary Award last year.  LaVonne truly has her finger on the pulse of the growing church-based film movement.

In addition to attending the festival, I have also been given the honor of delivering the keynote speech Friday night (which I should be working on now instead of blogging!)  I will also be giving a seminar on Saturday at 2:30 called "Unlocking Your Inner Screenwriter."  I look forward to meeting the attendees and answering their questions about the art of screenwriting.

Come to the festival and enjoy the movies.   You won't regret it.

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.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Sacred Ground: Now Available

My award-winning documentary "Sacred Ground:  The Battle for Mount Auburn Cemetery" is now streaming and available for purchase.

"Sacred Ground:  The Battle for Mount Auburn Cemetery" tells the story of community activists and family members battling a Methodist Church for control of the historic African-American Cemetery.  For years, Mount Auburn Cemetery was the only place African-Americans could be buried in the city of Baltimore.  It is the burial place of lightweight boxing champion Joe Gans, the first African-American world champion in any sport, and numerous leaders of the early Civil Rights struggle.  It is a registered historic landmark that has fallen into such shocking disrepair that human bones litter the ground.  It is a tale of grave recycling and grave robbing but mostly a tale of underdogs fighting the powers-to-be so that their ancestors can rest in dignity.

This film was a definite labor of love both for us, the filmmakers, and our "stars"over our six years of filming.  More importantly, I believe the pressure we applied help improve conditions at this sad landmark.  Director David Butler and I are delighted that the film is now available.

You can stream the film here:  PureFlix   It is a subscription website, but they offer a free one month trial.  Feel free to sign up, enjoy a free month, then cancel before you are charged.

You can also buy the film here:  Sacred Ground

The film is also available at libraries all around the country.  Ask for it at yours!

Here's the trailer:

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.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Reloading Reality

Lately, I have been taking time off from the utterly insane and self-important world of independent film to work at Discovery Communications.  It has been a very welcome break indeed.  If you've never worked for a television network, I definitely recommend that you give it a try.

What impresses me most is the utter lack of pretension I have encountered here at the Discovery Creative and Technical Center.  In the movie world, everyone is always trying to one up everyone else.  People seem to feel an almost pathological desire to prove they are the most important or famous person in the room.  At Discovery, I have often found myself working with people with very impressive resumes, but I never realized it until I researched them myself.

The mood is also more relaxing than the worlds of independent film and advertising.  In those worlds, there always seems to be a presumption that something is going to go terribly awry.  Here, there seems to be an almost supernatural presumption that everything is going to work out fine.  I remember working on a promo for Animal Planet.  It was around three o'clock in the afternoon.  The spot was supposed to air that evening at seven.  I opened up the job and discovered that the media was gone.  Everything.  Footage.  Graphics.  Audio.  I called the producer into the suite, expecting her to freak out.  Looking at those dreaded words, Media Offline, on the giant screen, she just sighed and said, "I guess we'll have to find it."  No screaming.  No shouting.  No panicked calls upstairs about the possibility about missing the air date.  No hurried resume updating.  No.  Instead, we just found the footage and put the spot on the air.  It is mind-boggling how many shows we push to air on the actual day of broadcast.  This is only possible because the place is a well-oiled machine populated by people who know how to do their jobs.

So what am I doing?  First, I fell back on my old reliable field:  advertising.  I started editing promos for TLC programs.  Below is my first spot.  It sailed through the approval process without any changes.  I was told that that would probably be the last time that happened.  (They were right.)

After a while, I got tired of editing things that people fast-forward through.  I wanted to edit programs instead.  However, I didn't necessarily want to work on a series and edit shows from scratch.  I had done that before and I didn't want to make that kind of commitment again.  (Depending on the series, it can take anywhere from three weeks to three months to edit a single episode from scratch.)  Fortunately, I found a happy medium on the Reloads Team.

What are Reloads?

Reloads are social versions of hit shows with bonus footage.  Here's how it works.  For example, "19 Kids and Counting" would premiere a brand new episode every Tuesday night at 9pm.  Its legion of fans would excitedly live tweet the show.  The next day, we'd take that original episode and cut four minutes of footage from it.  Then we add four minutes of previously unseen bonus footage.  Then, to make the loyal fans feel like they're part of the show, we would add a couple dozen of their tweets to the program plus a few fun facts.  Then, viola, we have a new version of the show which generally aired just prior to the next brand new episode the following Tuesday.  It's win for the fans who get to see their tweets on national television, a win for the network who gets a brand new show for a fraction of the original price, and a win for the talent, who get paid for another show.  The only losers are the original editors, who probably cringe at every change we make....

It's a fun job and you really get attached to the shows you reload.  The first program I worked on was "19 Kids and Counting."  I reloaded their entire ninth season.  I was looking forward to finally meeting them at a TLC event before the Josh Duggar scandal hit.  Unbelievable.  I thought I had left scandal behind when I walked away from the faith-based film world.  (See the "God's Not Dead" lawsuit.)  I will say that I feel very bad for the Duggar girls.  As of today, their rumored spin-off series seems dead.  It's so unfair.  It's punishing these innocent victims of sexual assault all over again....

But that's Hollywood.

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.

Check out a preview:

Monday, June 29, 2015

"The Black Rider: Revelation Road" Wins!

"The Black Rider:  Revelation Road," the third film in the Revelation Road series, recently won second place in the feature film category at the International Christian Film Festival.   The film was also nominated for best screenplay, which was co-written by director Gabriel Sabloff, and star David A. R. White was also nominated for best actor.  Sadly, the film came up short in both of those categories.

Overall, it was a good festival for me.  "Open My Eyes," another film I wrote with Tim Ratajczak and directed by Gabriel Alonzo was also an official selection at the festival. 

"The Black Rider: Revelation Road" is currently available for purchase and it also streaming on Netflix.   "Open My Eyes" will be available later this summer.

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.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Black List: Evaluating the Evaluators

I am a big fan of InkTip, a website where screenwriters can post their scripts to be read by industry professionals.  I have received offers of commissioned work as a direct result of posting some of my older scripts on the website.  A producer, and budding screenwriter, at the Discovery Channel recently asked me what I thought about The Black List.  The Black List is a similar but more expensive site that allows industry professionals access to your script.  However, this website gives users the opportunity to rate the scripts they read.  You are also required to purchase at least one professional evaluation when you list your script.  They charge $50 per evaluation.  A bargain.  I decided to get two of them.  It seemed only fair.  At the time, I was judging scripts for the Baltimore Film Office's Screenplay Competition.  I could dish out the criticism, but could I take it?

I offered up my newest script entitled "Life-Like," a coming of age romp loaded -- in my opinion -- with laughs and heart.  I normally wouldn't post a fresh, new script which hadn't been extensively marketed to agents and production companies yet.  However, I thought, who knows....  Perhaps I will gain some insight that will help me improve the script.  So I submitted it.

Here's the first evaluation:  (I apologize if the evaluations are hard to understand without reading the script.)

Modern; Near Future
Various; Cemetery; Apartment; Office
Comedy, Dramatic Comedy, Coming-of-Age, Sci-Fi & Fantasy
Upon taking a job at a cemetery where one can interact with the deceased through artificially-intelligent holographic recreations, a post-grad finds himself entangled in a murder plot when one of the newly installed holograms admits she was killed by her elderly husband.
What the script has going for it most is its genuinely unique, high-concept premise – as opposed to most other comedies, the material does not seem the least bit derivative. Also, the material should be applauded for its quality characterization, as both the protagonist and the holographic characters (most notably, Billy Idol) prove appealing for a number of reasons: Andy for his innocence and relatability, Carlotta for her sympathetic nature, and Billy Idol for his humor. Though it seems some added description is needed to better setup the holographic technology at story’s beginning (or, at least, to better establish the more high-tech nature of the Hall of Wisdom), once the story gets underway the setting makes for truly imaginative visual. All said, the script checks many of the boxes required of quality sci-fi comedies, but some additional consideration should be given to keeping the protagonist proactive in the latter portion of the screenplay, as currently his time in prison hinders his involvement in the unfolding murder plot (more on this below).
The biggest issue with the script is that, once the protagonist makes it his mission to go about solving the murder plot, the forward-moving narrative suffers when he is eventually carted off to jail, as such takes away from his active involvement in the unfolding case. Rather than having him locked away for a portion of the screenplay, the writer should figure out a way to keep him engaged in the events that are playing out – by this point in the screenplay, he needs to remain a proactive protagonist (as opposed to a reactive one). Also, the script suffers from not really having an Act Two low point. Though the material teases that Holly is going to leave Andy, which WOULD make for the lowest point of the screenplay, Holly never really commits to the breakup. As a result, this leaves the narrative in an awkward state of flux. Instead, it seems Holly should decide to leave Andy, only to see the error of her ways by story’s end. Of course, by this point, it would be entirely left up to Andy whether or not he wants to get back together with her, which makes his decision to grab coffee with Melody an even more interesting ending.
At the end of the day, the script has a lot working in its favor: most notably; a genuinely unique hook and characters that prove engaging for a variety of reasons. Should some of the narrative wrinkles get ironed out, there is no reason to think the high-concept premise won’t appeal to at least a few studio financiers. If anything, the material should serve to help the writer generate some interest amongst industry reps.

Overall, a pretty good evaluation.  I have to admit I liked it -- despite the fact that it uses the words "elderly husband" in the logline.  In reality, the husband is essentially the same age as his murdered wife.  However, that is a small point.  Perhaps the reader was confused by the fact that the murderous husband Gabriel always carried a cane as an affectation (and weapon.)

Obviously, I have to agree with all of the strengths.  Needless to say, I was less happy but not entirely surprised with the listed weaknesses.  The film is first and foremost a character study.  To me, what goes on inside the main character Andy Watson is much more important than the external "action." Throughout the story, Andy evolves from a likable but ineffectual slacker into a man capable of risking everything, including his life, in pursuit of justice.  His journey follows the beats of the "Rites of Passage" genre, as defined by the late Blake Snyder, who, despite his death, currently remains the most popular screenwriting guru in Hollywood.

That said, the evaluator makes one excellent point.  The emotional action of the story plays out against the relationship between Andy and his college sweetheart Holly.  The two of them have been drifting apart since graduation.  Andy's main motivation is his desire to earn back her respect.   In this original draft, however, the two never actually break up.  That was definitely a mistake on my part.  Having Holly leave Andy when he finds himself in jail at the end of Act Two would make the obligatory Big Gloom even blacker and more hopeless.  I immediately made the change and improved the script.  That was a fifty dollars well spent!

Here's the second evaluation:

Los Angeles
Dark Comedy, Dramatic Comedy, Coming-of-Age, Sci-Fi & Fantasy
A slacker finds himself working at a unique mausoleum which combines embalming techniques with artificial intelligence, and finds a renewed sense of purpose when he's convinced a woman was murdered by her husband.
The relationship which develops between Andy and Carlotta is a sincere and heartfelt bond which emotionally grounds the story and offers Andy a chance to grow as a person. The whole concept of a mausoleum which uses AI and residual emotions is a creative idea that allows for a lot of sincerity. Finally, the breakdown of Andy and Holly’s relationship feels very organic and true to life, and it’s easy to see from his old video why Andy wants to salvage this doomed relationship.
While a suspension of disbelief is required and necessary for the story to work, there are elements of Andy’s character that contradict themselves, and some of these issues undermine the story’s logic. For instance, if Andy’s a relatively bright philosophy major, shouldn’t he realize that breaking into someone’s personal email (dead or alive) is both illegal and immoral? You don’t need to be a law student to realize that this will get Andy in trouble, so it weakens him as a character and this feeling of inevitability saps some of the rising tension. Instead, he should realize that the only way that Gabriel will get caught is via a confession, and there’s many comedic ways to approach this. Additionally, it’s not clear why Gabriel would put Carlotta in this mausoleum; after her death, he’s gotten what she wants, their new relationship is frosty and there’s nothing indicating that she’s there because of her will. Is there something she’s hiding that he needs? Does he still love her deep down? There’s a chance to make him a deeper antagonist if there’s a distinct reason why she’s in this unorthodox mausoleum.
This project’s prospects are rather bright. Conceptually, it has traces of HER and more often than not, the comedy works (save for a rather derivative and homophobic scene about prison rape). Some of the logic issues need to be ironed out and the characters could be more layered, but thanks to the quirky tone and the rather restrained budget, this has the feel of an indie film that could work either as a theatrical release or via VOD. Some audiences might be repelled by some of the darker elements, but this is a pretty funny and surprisingly emotional story about closure.

Once again, overall, a pretty good evaluation.  Loved his/her logline.  Very concise.  Better than the one I was using in my initial query letters.  If only for the logline, I have to say this was another fifty dollars well spent!

The second reader compliments the relationship between Andy and Holly.  That's good.  It means that my revisions concerning that relationship after the first review worked.  That said, I disagree with some of the second reader's later conclusions.

For example, I don't see someone like Andy would be morally bothered by hacking into Carlotta's email account.  The woman was murdered, and Andy will do anything to bring her killer to justice.  He initially tries to do the right thing.  He brings his information directly to the police only to be shot down.  Now Andy and his friends know they have to act outside the law.  Legal technicalities don't concern them as they seek justice.  And, sure, there were other ways some clever guys could trick a paranoid killer into confessing his crime, but I didn't want to go that route.  I did try.  Originally, I wrote a long, complicated sequence where Andy and his friends try to convince the extremely paranoid Gabriel that he was being haunted by his wife.  However, I didn't want Andy to beat Gabriel with his head.  I wanted him to beat him with his heart.  To make that more believable, I actually went back through the script and dumbed down Andy and his friends.  (Maybe I didn't make them dumb enough!)

Thematically, Andy's desire to bring justice to Carlotta has to resolve his internal problem that manifests itself in his failing relationship with his college girlfriend Holly.  Andy loves Holly and he made a sincere commitment to her.  Still, she continues to drift away from him.  While wrestling with that dilemma, he falls in love, albeit platonically, with the late Carlotta.  He makes a commitment to her as well -- to bring her husband to justice -- and soon ends up facing a very long prison sentence.  A plea bargain will win him his freedom, but compel him to abandon his commitment to Carlotta.  Now he is forced to do something he never really did with Holly:  Make a true sacrifice for love.  His decision to reject the deal and remain in prison does briefly sideline him from the "action," but Andy is never a passive protagonist since the real struggle is internal.  Plus, he's out soon enough to face down the villain.

I also reject the notion that the script is homophobic simply because Andy has a fear of prison rape.  Would it be fair to label a woman who expresses a fear of rape in certain situations as being afraid of men? Nor do I think that scene would ruin the commercial prospects of the script since Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart just did a comedy almost entirely about the fear of prison rape.  However, since the reader found it derivative, I will probably remove it....

Bottom line.  Was it worth the money to place my script on The Black List?  

My answer:  Yes.   No one bought my script off the website, but the evaluations definitely helped me hone the material.

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, June 25, 2015

Religion and Politics: An Uneasy Mix

A couple of times a week, I drive past this sign.  Sometimes it makes me chuckle.  Sometimes it makes me sad.  Sometimes it makes me angry.  Lately, it has been making me angry because I believe it is symptomatic of a major failing of the American Evangelical community.  Patriotism ceases to be a virtue when you place your love of country on the same level as your love of God.  It is idolatry, and it is becoming rampant as the church becomes increasingly and foolishly political.

I try not to get too political or religious on this blog.  Its purpose is to discuss the film business and writing in general.  However, this absurd "culture war" that we find ourselves engaged in compels me to speak up because I believe the Evangelical community is doing a grave disservice to both itself and the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Not only have we sold our souls to a partisan political agenda that does nothing to further the gospel, we sold it very cheaply at the expense of our credibility in the eyes of the people who need us most.

Christ gave the church a mission.  It is called The Great Commission.  It can be found in Matthew 28:16-20 and goes something like this:  Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.  When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.  Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and Earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

That is an awesome task, but problems arise when we try to fulfill it.  I think the major mistake comes when well-meaning people try to fulfill it by putting the cart before the horse.  We are told to make disciples of all nations, baptize them and then teach them to obey everything Jesus commanded.  We are leaving out the conversion and baptism part and trying to compel the people of this country to obey Jesus' commands using the legislative process.  That process is ultimately counter-productive and doomed to failure.

I am not one of those people who say you can't legislate morality.  That's silly.  Every law passed in every country of the world is a moral judgement designed to compel its population to abstain from behavior the majority of the people or its leaders find harmful.  Such laws are necessary to maintain an orderly society.  Not surprisingly, most of the behavior prohibited by civil laws are also described as sins in the Bible.  Sin separates human beings from God, and some people seem to believe that if they can stop people from sinning, they can reunite them with God.  That, however, is an absurd assumption.

Until recently, when the term "hate crimes" entered our lexicon, laws primarily dealt with actions.  Sin, however, is a matter of the heart.  It is a sin to covet your neighbor's possessions whether or not you actually steal them.  It is also a sin to covet your neighbor's wife, whether or not you actually sleep with her.  Jesus said if you hate your brother, you are guilty of murder.  God holds us to a much higher standard than the law, and only God can judge us by that standard because only He can see into our hearts.  With our endless self-justifications, we cannot even see our own sin without the assistance of the Holy Spirit.  Sadly, too many of us feel capable of judging others when we can't even effectively judge ourselves.  We see other people's sins all too clearly, and we aren't afraid to judge them.  However, in doing so, we exceed the mandate given by Christ in the Great Commission.

John 3:15-17 states:  "For God so loved the world, that He His only begotten Son, what whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.  For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him."  Sometimes I think God didn't send Jesus to judge the world because He knew we would do a such good job on our own.  Unfortunately, since we are replacing Jesus' compassion with our own condemnation, we are not doing a very good of saving the world.

It is foolish to think that non-believers would behave like believers.  Why would they?  Plenty of Christians don't even behave like Christians.  And, even if non-believers obeyed the law, would it save them?  No.  We are saved by faith not works.   The Apostle Paul teaches that the law itself cannot save.  The law can only condemn.  We are saved by the grace of the Lord.  Think about it.   Would anyone be saved if we managed to codify every commandment of God into the law of land and compelled everyone to obey?  No.

This is the fundamental flaw behind the Religious Right's political engagement.  Even if the politicians gave us everything we wanted it would not forward the Great Commission one iota.  That said, what have the politicians given Evangelicals in return for their votes and hundreds of millions of dollars in donations over the last three decades?


I shouldn't say nothing.  After all, a handful of religious leaders get their egos stroked when aspiring politicians come to curry favor every election cycle.  That should count for something, I suppose.   But let's look at the so-called hot button issues.  Has abortion been banned?  No.  Has prayer returned to schools?  No.  Is Creationism being taught in the schools?  Nope.  Don't think so.  Have drugs been stamped out?  No, in fact, they are becoming increasingly legal.  And we all know how the war against gay marriage turned out.

We got nothing from the politicians.

What did we sacrifice in return?

Love.  And grace.

Wars are fought by enemies.  When the church entered the culture war, we declared war on everyone who doesn't believe the same thing we believe.  Oh wait, we only hate the sin, not the sinner.  Yeah, right.  It doesn't feel like love when someone's hitting you on the head with a placard.   Jesus went and ate with sinners.  We, on the other hand, self-righteously won't even bake them a wedding cake.

Let me tell you something.  No one is going to hell because they are a homosexual.  Or because they had an abortion.  Or because they became addicted to drugs.  Or because they drove sixty-five-miles-an-hour in a forty-mile-an-hour zone.  The only people going to hell are those who refuse the Lord's free offer of grace and forgiveness.

How can I say that?  Doesn't the Bible specify that homosexuals are going straight to hell.  That's what the Bible says, but who else is going to join them?   Revelation 21:8 says "But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars -- they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur.  This is the second death."

You might pat yourself on the back for having kept away from sexual immorality.  But have you ever told a lie?  I bet you did.  Well, guess what:  If you were being judged solely on your own merits, telling one little white lie will send you to hell just as quickly as a whole lifetime of homosexuality.

Am I saying that sin doesn't matter?  No.  Not at all.  I'm just saying that it is impossible to overcome sin without regeneration, and, even with God's grace, it is something we all still struggle with daily.  Yet we still devote so much of our valuable time trying to elect politician to pass laws to force people to do things alien to their hearts.  If we concentrated on changing their hearts instead, through good old-fashioned evangelism, we wouldn't even need the laws.  And, may I remind you that the early church flourished under a much more evil and corrupt government than we have now.  Perhaps it was because they spent more time seeking God than signing petitions.

So why do we spend so much time trying to change the laws?

Because it is easier to hate than to love.

And it easier to judge than forgive.

And because we're lazy.  We want the government to do the work God has given the church.

Am I saying don't vote?  No.  Please vote your conscience in every election.   Be politically active.  (I have worked on dozens of election campaigns around the country.)  Just try to remember that the gospel is more important than any election or any government or any country.  After all, if you a Christian, this world is not your home.  We have to keep our priorities straight.  And if our angry, partisan political posts on social media are causing people who need the Lord to unfriend us, we are probably not putting the Kingdom first.  (And not being political persuasive either.)

As for me, I am going to try not to pick any fights over politics anymore.  Call me a sell-out if you must, but I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.  I do this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

Or something to that effect.

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.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

RIP Dick Van Patten

Dick Van Patten died yesterday declaring that eighty-six was enough.  (Please forgive me for being glib, but that was simply too obvious to ignore.)

Dick Van Patten appeared as the fatherly pastor in my film "Sarah's Choice."  Apparently, according to a conversation with producer David A.R. White, it was the first time he had been asked to play a minister.  That's amazing when you consider his amazing list of credits.  An accomplished character actor with great comic timing, he appeared in a dizzying number of television series from "Rawhide" and "I Dream of Jeannie" to "Love, American Style" and "Loveboat" before he finally hit pay dirt in his own series "Eight is Enought."  He also appeared in a wide variety of films from "Soylent Green" (which was made out of people) and "Westworld," a guilty pleasure of mine, but he is perhaps best known in movies for a becoming a regular member of Mel Brooks' troupe of comic actors.  (After finishing his work on our film, he went out to dinner with Mel Brooks.)

I did not get to meet Dick.  I did not attend the California shoot of "Sarah's Choice," only the Ohio location shoot.  However, I was delighted to have him bring his avuncular, reassuring presence to the film.  I was a fan of "Eight is Enough."   I used to watch the show in the comfortable living room of our family home on Rueckert Avenue in the quiet Baltimore neighborhood of Hamilton,  At the time, I had definite aspirations of becoming a writer.  I considered the possibility of being journalist or a novelist.  Or even a playwright.  Although movies were my first love, I never considered the possibility of becoming a screenwriter.  I didn't know how it was done.  I couldn't see a path from Hamilton to Hollywood.  In a very real sense, working with Dick Van Patten was the consummation of a dream I didn't even dare imagine as a teenager.

Rest in peace, Dick.  My condolences to your family.

Here's the trailer to "Sarah's Choice."

Read about the making of the film here:  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.

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 producers 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 swallows 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.

Here's a preview: