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.

“Let People See Jesus . . .”

“Gary made every day count, not only with his God-honoring work, but with his God-honoring life.”

—Dave Alan Johnson


Gary Johnson (left), Joan Considine Johnson and Dave Alan Johnson

Gary Johnson, with his brother Dave Alan Johnson and his wife Joan Considine Johnson, co-created, wrote, and produced two of the most beloved and successful television series for faith and general audiences (Doc and Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye), as well as movies and other television projects. We at Mastermedia are saddened by the passing of our dear friend Gary Johnson. We’ve asked his brother, Dave, to honor him with reflections on his life . . .

My brother, Gary R. Johnson, was one of the best writers in Hollywood. He is the best “clever dialogue” writer I’ve ever come across in nearly thirty years of working in this business at the highest levels. He worked in the entertainment “major leagues” for twenty years solid, made a lot of money by any standard, and won innumerable awards and praise for his work. He was grateful for all of that, but if we could ask him today to define success, he’d say it was that he followed Jesus through it all. And for those of us left behind, we couldn’t agree more.

On Father’s Day, June 18th, Gar, as we called him, went to be with his Savior Jesus Christ after a battle with cancer. What he knew, even long before the cancer, is that success, money, and accolades earned in this life won’t help us when it is time to meet our Lord. It’s so easy to buy into the lie that our success here on earth is what we should be living for. Gar knew there was more, and it was demonstrated by how he lived.

After his illness became public, we got hundreds of notes from people he knew, worked with, and touched over his lifetime. What moved us most wasn’t that they said he was a great writer, but that literally every person commented on how genuine, kind, humble, and uplifting Gar was. He was like that because he followed Jesus and let Jesus shine through him. He wasn’t perfect. No one is. But the good news is we’re not expected to be.

I’m hopeful that Gary’s life is a reminder to others, as it is to me, that even in the midst of the pressures of this sometimes thrilling—but always crazy—business, our goal is to let people see Jesus in us. Gary did that.

On June 18th, I lost my lifelong best friend. He also happened to be my brother. It has left a massive hole in my heart. I know that over time that empty space will begin to fill back in . . . and I thank God for that. But I also know the hole will never fill completely. A piece of me is gone, and I will miss Gar and the joy he brought every day until I laugh with him again in heaven. Many others feel the same.

He went too soon, but the truth is we live in a world where even a long life is still a short time. Gar knew that and he made every day count, not only with his God-honoring work, but with his God honoring-life. We will miss him. Our loss is heaven’s gain.

Kathie Lee—Changed Forever!

When Kathie Lee Gifford was 12 years old, her life changed forever. “I came home to see my mother and sister in our living room, sobbing in front of the television.” They had been watching a Billy Graham crusade and both had come to Christ.

In her March 2016 interview with Christianity Today (CT), Kathie shared how, a few months later, she went to see the Billy Graham movie The Restless Ones. “As I watched . . . I sensed God saying deep in my spirit, ‘Kathie, I love you. If you’ll trust me, I’ll make something beautiful out of your life.’” That day, in a movie theater, Kathie Lee gave her life to Christ.

Kathie’s journey as a believer in entertainment has not been without adversity. In the CT interview she shared that when vicious attacks and false accusations were hurled at her in the tabloids, “Frank and I both stopped watching TV and reading the papers. We focused on the Word of God. I chose to read what God said about us, not what the world said.”

And when Christians asked, “How can you say you’re a Christian and be in Hollywood?” she responded with, “How could I be in Hollywood and not be a Christian? How could I put up with the work and rejection without the security of God’s faithfulness?”

But Kathie Lee never felt pressured to downplay or hide her faith, even in the entertainment industry. “That doesn’t mean I didn’t struggle, make mistakes, or break God’s heart on occasion,” she says. “But the story of my life—and I dare say any Christian’s life—is not the story of my faithfulness to God but of his faithfulness to me.”

Having lost her father, her husband, and many others, Kathie is sometimes tempted to lose heart. She says, “It’s overwhelming at times, since the world is so dark and so void of God’s Spirit.” But when she reads in Scripture, “Let us not be weary in well doing” (Gal. 6:9, KJV) she prays, “Okay, Lord, you’re going to have to help me be strong. You’re going to have to help me with inspiration. You’re going to have to help me keep going.”

Kathie Lee’s heartfelt, inspiring challenge . . .

“The Devil would have us give up. The Devil would have us stop sharing the Word. He would have us stop giving hope to the hopeless. And we can’t fall for that. As much as we long for a different world, we have to stay in this one for now. It’s up to us to make an impact for Christ until he comes or until he takes us.

“The words God spoke to me 50 years ago are just as true today, and for every moment I have left, I will trust him to work his beautiful plan for me.”