Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Sean Paul Murphy, Writer
Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Thursday, February 12, 2015

"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:


  1. Thanks for the inside bit. I still think this movie was a great idea. I just wish we got to Jesus a little more quickly, and since Deville was not central to the story, should have just been kept out.

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed the movie. I would politely disagree with you about whether DeVille (The Devil) was central to the story. Remember Ephesians 6:8 "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." The character of DeVille represents that struggle.

  3. I think the movie would have lost something essential if Deville had been left out. The choice of Bruce Marchiano for the role of Jesus was spot on, and I've enjoyed him in several others movies as Jesus.

    1. We definitely wanted the devil character in the film. We only objected to the name "DeVille" because we thought it was too heavy-handed.

  4. I absolutely love both movies! It definitely moved me. Jesus is amazing. I was very impressed with both movies. I'm a strong Christian believer. I would have to say these are my favorite Christian movies by far! Can't wait for the Encounter 3 to come out!

    1. There is a webseries on PureFlix. You may want to check it out.