Everyone wants their work to matter. I’m no different. In fact, as an artist in the craft of filmmaking, I would guess that my predisposition to “wanting to matter to the world” is likely skewed to the high side of the curve. Anyone without a deep-rooted passion for what they’re doing will simply not last, especially in the film and television industry.
When I produced my first feature film at the age of 23, I thought that it would be something that mattered. I thought, “Surely, this has permanence. Surely it will leave a mark in the world.” And, I suppose it did, for about 90 minutes. After that, the world moved on. A few of us managed to capitalize on what brief, fleeting fame we may have had, but for the most part the film was largely forgotten as the audiences grew up and the next audience had no idea who we even were. Save for ourselves and those now “old-school” industry players who remembered the way the world was back then.
The hardest lesson I ever had to learn in my life and career was how to gracefully accept what I had known all my life: Life moves on, and it moves on quickly. And as easy as it is to say it to someone else, when it’s your own career that’s in need of such counsel, denial can bury you up to your axles in the mud of living in the past, and into despair.
You see, the hardest thing about dealing with a successful film can be watching as the world moves on the minute the credits roll, and realizing that all of your work’s impact has ended, and that your audience will likely have forgotten about you by the time they reach the door of the theater, and certainly by the time they reach the parking lot. Years later it would hit me even harder as I realized that the “take away” that we had left people with after watching our film was not anything to be proud of. The most frequent feedback we got after screenings of “In the Company of Men” was, “I know a guy just like that Chad character. He’s such a jerk. I can’t stand him.”
Wow. Really? That’s my legacy? After all of that work, that’s what people take away from this film, that they know a guy who’s a jerk just like Aaron Eckhart‘s character and they hate him? Whatever happened to wanting to make the world a better place through the magical medium of cinema? I just knew that I had blown it. Completely. This was not what I wanted. This was not what I wanted my life and career to be remembered for – stories about jerks.
I wrestled with how to rectify this in my life and career for twenty years. Countless other films, TV commercials, music videos, corporate projects – you name it, but none of them had any lasting impact that I could see. Sure, some were entertaining, some were adventurous, some were great learning experiences, but not a single one changed anyone’s life. Not a single one gave anyone any hope. They gave information. They gave knowledge. But not a single one gave hope. And then I came to the realization: My life’s work has been meaningless.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to document some stories of salvation, as told by those whose stories they were. They were nothing fancy. I had no advanced lighting or camera systems, no flashy special effects, no dollies or drones. Just me, with a camera, a few lights and a microphone – and each individual, who would sit and bear their heart and soul to me as the camera took it all in. They would tell stories of life, loss, death, heartache, lives seemingly ruined beyond repair…until Jesus. Every one of these tragic tales ended with unexplainable hope and transformational life change beyond human comprehension, and they all pointed to Jesus.
Even as a Christian, I was admittedly baffled by not only the willingness of the participants to bear their souls to the world, but also at the impact that these stories started to have on others. Over and over again, I would watch in awe as the Lord would use these simple stories of faith to move mountains, to change people’s lives – to bring them to the one and only life-changing decision that truly does make an impact for all of eternity. People were giving their lives to Jesus Christ and having their whole world changed – in an instant – for all of eternity.
And it finally hit me, squarely between the eyes. The harder I tried to engineer something that would “create emotion” and “move people”, with all of my fancy cameras and dollies and drones and VFX plug-ins…the harder I tried, the more meaningless it became. But, when I said, “Yes, Lord”, and did the simple task of just letting someone tell their story for Him – He took it and changed the world with it. And finally I gave it all to Him. “It’s not about me, Lord. It’s about You, Your story and Your purpose. Forgive me for not getting it for so long. Use me for your Kingdom. I’ll bring my camera.”
There are a lot of great stories to be told, but only one story that can truly change the world. I’ve watched and listened to a thousand stories through the years, and listened and argued the critiques of characters and storylines and plots and character motivations…but there’s one story that no one can argue or twist or critique, and that is someone’s real story of their life, and how Jesus Christ forever changed it.
I want my work to matter. I want to be part of the Lord’s work and the Lord’s plan, and knowing that I’m doing His will with the skills that He has given me is all the satisfaction I will ever need.
Introducing “Fearless”, our new, monthly documentary film series. Simple stories of monumental life change for the whole world to see.