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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!

Black Panther Star: New Life in Christ

“I can’t keep this to myself—I fell in love with Jesus . . . .”

This bold expression of her new life in Christ was shared by actress Letitia Wright in a 2016 interview with Premiere Gospel internet radio. Wright plays T’Challa’s little sister Shuri in the blockbuster Marvel film Black Panther. Her backstory is fascinating. She almost missed getting this role when she left acting to seek a relationship with God.

Letitia came to Christ in 2015 after attending an actor’s Bible study in London. She recounted her journey on a UK talk show:  “I needed to take a break from acting because I really idolized it.” She went on to describe the spiritual change in her life:  “I felt secure, like I didn’t need validation from anyone else, or getting a part. My happiness wasn’t dependent on that, it was dependent on my relationship with God.”

Wright was prompted to return to acting by her conviction that God has given her new purpose. Prayer has become a part of her life on the set, and she sees her career as a way to spread God’s love to others.

The young actress told Premiere Gospel, “Where I go, where he takes me, that’s where I need to spread the love of God . . . Because people’s souls are dying. My soul was dying, and He saved me. So I can’t keep this to myself . . . I fell in love with Jesus and I’m still in love. Amen.”

Your Dream . . . Worth the Wait!

Patrick Cavanaugh’s book, Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers, reveals intriguing details of George Frederick Handel’s life-changing experience composing The Messiah. By age 56 he was about to retire as a failure when a friend gave him a libretto of Scripture verses—and everything changed.

Cavanaugh writes, “Handel threw himself into writing and in a staggering stretch completed part one in only six days, part two in only nine, and part three in another six. He worked feverishly, driven by one overwhelming purpose.”

According to Cavanaugh, at one point he answered the door with tears streaming down his face and cried out, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God himself.” He had just finished what would become known as the “Hallelujah” chorus.

Cavanaugh describes this amazing experience: “Handel completed an astounding 260 pages of orchestration in only twenty-four days. During that process, he didn’t leave his house, and friends often found him sobbing with emotion . . . . Some have considered it one of the greatest musical feats in history.”

Writer, speaker, and producer Phil Cooke reflects on this inspiring account in his blog . . . It was as if he had been waiting his entire life for that moment.

“Even Handel’s commercial successes were usually followed by financial disaster. He was attacked by the church and many at the time felt little reason to believe his talent was worthy of any kind of legacy—until The Messiah . . . .

“Out of a past that was uneven at best, the creation of Messiah was a burst of creativity driven by the remarkable passion of a man who glimpsed his one real purpose.”

Phil asks this penetrating question: “What’s that one moment you’ve been waiting for all your life? How many times have you thought about giving up?”