Tag: personal story

Off Camera . . . with Producer Howard Kazanjian

Mastermedia CEO Dan Rupple talks with Howard Kazanjian, producer of Star Wars: Episode VI—Return of the Jedi and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Dan: Thank you for being with us, Howard. Before you began to chart a course into the movie industry, what and when was the spark that drew you to this career?

Howard: The spark, as you call it, was my parents handing me their 8mm spring-wound camera at the age of 11. I was taken to the movie theaters at a very young age and was captivated by the idea of recreating a world of storytelling by visuals.

Dan: Transcending cultures, nations, and age, Star Wars has become the global folklore of the 21st Century. What do you think it is about this epic story that resonates so powerfully?

Howard: First and foremost, credit must be given to George Lucas because he created a new way of storytelling. We all grew up hearing fairy tales, but George created a new fairy tale for the screen.

Stepping “out of the box,” Star Wars combines traditional Hollywood filmmaking with fabulous elements and techniques of storytelling through exciting visuals, great music, sound, special effects, creatures, captivating characters, eye-catching sets, and tight editing. This was new-world technology with fast action. It was a new road to filmmaking that captured the imagination, first of America and then the world. Most important, it had story that didn’t end two hours later.

Dan: During your early years in the industry there were relatively few Christians working in the media. Now, thankfully, Christian media professionals are too numerous to count. What changes have you seen through the years in the Christian presence within the industry? And what changes have you seen in the media’s perception of the Christian community?

Howard: Today, there are more Christians working in the media. But media now has hundreds of thousands of employees—more than ever before. The industry has become even more secular, and I would say increasingly negative toward Christians. What we need is more Christians in the decision-making areas of our industry. We need Christians as attorneys, executives, agents, and those who can green-light projects.

Dan: Working within the mainstream film world, how does your faith inform your role as a producer?

Howard: My faith keeps me going. My faith is my hope for tomorrow. My faith is my rock.

Dan: Has the Christian community ever questioned why you produce mainstream, “secular” fare, as opposed to explicitly Christian films?

Howard: Christian films are rarely approved by studio heads. I choose my films rather than have them assigned to me. I am very selective of the films I work on and, hopefully, they are appropriate for family.

Dan: What advice would you have for the young Christian who feels a call to the film industry?

Howard: Be strong in your faith. Be tough, yet soft. Learn your craft well. Work hard and long hours. Shine for the Lord. This is not an easy road to travel. As you get to a certain level you may find that there are no executives who will agree with your thinking and push your project to the top.

Dan: Howard, your friends at Mastermedia are proud of who you are as a Christian, as a media professional and as an example of a follower of Christ within the media. We ask our entire Mastermedia community to continue to pray for you and your family. Thank you!

Off Camera . . . with Louis Henry Mitchell

An intriguing conversation with Dan Rupple and Louis Henry Mitchell, Creative Director of Character Design at Sesame Street Workshop. They discuss how Louis’ love for the Lord and his love for people come together in the workplace.

DAN: Your love for the Lord just radiates from you, Louis. Tell us about how you see your role and why you believe God put you at Sesame Street.

LOUIS: I know that [Sesame Street] is the backdrop for what He actually has me doing. Sesame Street has a big vision, but the bigger vision—my vision—is reaching out to touch people’s hearts.

Years ago, I was called “the pastor of Sesame Street.” People will say, “Louis, can I talk to you?” “Sure, what’s going on?” (I’m thinking it’s about work) One co-worker said, “I know you really love kids, right? I’m having trouble with my son.” He told me about the situation and after a while he said to me, “Would you mind speaking to him?” “Not at all if you feel like it would help.”

When I mention I’m at Sesame Street people’s hearts open up, and it’s the perfect opportunity to talk with them on a deeper level. Generally I just start sharing about the love of God. I love my work, but I love the people where I work even more than the work itself.

DAN: I know how sincere you are in your love for these wonderful people you’ve built relationships with. How do your conversations transition into the moment when it’s right to share the gospel?

LOUIS: Eventually people start asking me things like “What’s your life like outside of Sesame?” It’s not me trying to shove it down their throat; I just share with them in love and they ask, “Tell me more about you. Why do you love this so much? What’s going on?” After a while I say to them . . . “Do you really want to know?”

At that point God has prepared their hearts to receive whatever He’s going to give to me to share. It’s fun. That’s the best part of my job—co-workers asking me so I can lead to why I’m here and who I belong to.

DAN: What role does a Christian community of media professionals like Mastermedia or others have in your life?

LOUIS: The more I’m involved, the more encouraged I am because I don’t have a lot of believers around me. It’s been a blessing to engage with other brothers and to come back to work knowing that in a couple of weeks I’ll be able to be with them again.

It’s a ministry at Sesame Street, and that ultimately makes it worth it, even during the most difficult times. I don’t have to worry because it’s not me, it’s God at work in me. So I rest on that. It makes it fun, actually.

DAN: Louis, it’s always a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you so much for giving us a glimpse of how you walk out your faith as you fulfill your career calling within the entertainment industry. Blessings my friend!

Off Camera . . . with Brian Bird

Producer/writer Brian Bird (Touched by an Angel, Captive, When Calls the Heart) shares personal insights with Mastermedia CEO Dan Rupple.

Dan: Brian, God has guided your career to the highest levels in film and television, and you have been a faithful witness for Christ. Has your faith ever been an obstacle?

Brian: To be honest, I have never felt that faith has been an impediment in my career. If you’re good at what you do and are willing to work everybody else under the table, there will always be a place for you. The entertainment business can be so terrifying, so fiercely competitive and alienating, that people are hungry for authentic, meaningful relationships. As Christians we can commit to loving on the people around us with no strings attached.

Dan: Can you share a time when God showed His faithfulness during your 30-year career?

Brian: In 2008, when the global financial meltdown happened, I was in Alberta, Canada, filming a movie. The day Lehman Brothers went belly up, so did our source of funding. We had to shut down the project halfway through filming and were left with $1.4 million in debts—a devastating time for me personally. I considered quitting the business until my pastor, Rick Warren, said to me, “There is no such thing as being ‘uncalled’ when God drafts you to a position of leadership. Persistence always beats resistance.” I took that advice to heart, and three years later we finished the movie. It was called When Calls the Heart, and is now a TV series for the Hallmark Channel and is in Season 5.

Dan: What’s different about your approach to mainstream projects and faith-based projects?

Brian: I think good stories are good stories, whether they are secular or faith-based. I have this theory that all good stories are faith-based in a way. Many of the top films of all times have contained transcendent themes of redemption, forgiveness and resurrection. Yes, resurrection. ET, The Matrix, Harry Potter, and many others had resurrection in them. That’s because mankind is wired for these stories. We are all hungry for stories of overcoming the mortal coil, so I try to approach every project in the same way.

Tell stories that stir up soul cravings in people, just like Jesus did with His parables. He used messy, authentic human situations that His audience could relate to in order to communicate eternal principles necessary for salvation and redemption.

Dan: Brian, thank you for sharing your heart with us. We in the Mastermedia community will continue to pray for God’s hand upon your career, your family and your life.