For the next couple of days, you can get a e-copy of Thimblerig’s Ark at a discounted price! Run over and pick a copy today!
For a limited time, you can order an autographed copy of Thimblerig’s Ark to be sent directly to your door for the low price of $10.00 plus S&H (saving $10.00 from the Amazon price)! Just email Nate Fleming at email@example.com for more details. Offer good until August 10.
You already know about Noah. Just wait until you read the animal’s story.
Thimblerig is a little groundhog with big problems.
He’s a loner con-artist who’s losing his mojo; the wild dogs who run the forest harass him at every turn; he’s having vivid nightmares of apocalyptic floods; and worst of all, he believes he sees unicorns when everyone knows unicorns are only the stuff of legend.
But what one animal might call a problem, Thimblerig calls an opportunity.
In a moment of inspiration, he comes up with the ultimate con: persuade as many suckers as he can that a world-ending flood is coming; the fabled unicorns have told him where the only safe place will be; and only he can lead them to safety.
All for a reasonable price, of course.
When the flood really does come, Thimblerig has a choice: either save the ones who trusted him, or lose everything.
And that’s when he discovers that his problems have only just begun.
Thimblerig’s Ark was conceived while Nate sat in Tommy Condon’s Irish Pub in Charleston, South Carolina, listening to the band play a song about why the unicorn missed out on Noah’s Ark. Thimblerig’s Ark looks at how the animals all made it there in the first place, focusing on a con-artist groundhog named Thimblerig.
My wife and I enjoyed our first visit to Biltmore Estate today, but as I was driving away, I was struck by two things.
That may seem like a lot, but when you compare him to his grandfather, the shipping and railroad tycoon who built the Vanderbilt empire from nothing, and his delightfully mutton-chopped father, who after inheriting the empire, doubled it in just eight years, George was not a success.
George Vanderbilt – who reportedly had no interest in the family’s business empire, simply inherited a fortune, and then spent years sinking it all into building the largest home in the United States.
Given, that home is obviously spectacular, and Vanderbilt’s collections of cultural, artistic, and historical artifacts which fill the place are second-to-none. But the fact that we know about anything at all about Biltmore today says more about the tenacity, efforts, and business acumen of his descendants than it says about those of Vanderbilt himself.
This fact really surprised me.
Secondly, I was struck that I – as an average American – live a life that a turn-of-the-century person like Vanderbilt couldn’t have dreamt or imagined, even with his millions, his family name, and his impressive European chateau in North Carolina.
For example, I travel the globe cheaply and comfortably in a day, while a similar voyage would have been much more arduous for Vanderbilt, and would have taken him a much longer time by land and by sea. Vanderbilt may have had an impressive library, but I have every published book in the world at my disposal with the click of a button. I can communicate with anyone in the world in an instant, while it would have taken Vanderbilt days or weeks by post or perhaps by telephone to a few people. I drive my own horseless carriage at high rates of speed while enjoying the wonders of air conditioning and listening to any music I wish. I’ve seen pictures and video of men on the moon, of spacecraft reaching every planet in our solar system, and high resolution images of galaxies light years away.
To bring it back to Earth, in 1914, George Vanderbilt, one of the richest men of his generation with immediate access to the best medicine of his time, died in New York due to complications from appendi-freakin-citis. And right now, somewhere in a small hospital in middle America, an E.R. surgeon is performing an emergency appendectomy on a person with no money, and that person will likely walk away from the surgery.
We have vaccines for polio, measles, whooping cough, tuberculosis, cholera, yellow fever, rubella, hepatitis, and influenza – all diseases for which Vanderbilt’s money could not buy a cure.
Which makes me ask the question: what will things be like in another hundred years? Here’s hoping for more amazing breakthroughs, technological advances, and another hundred years of us not eradicating ourselves as a species.
All that being said, we enjoyed our visit to Biltmore, and I’ve come up with ten tips for visiting the place.
Thimblerig’s Ten Tips for Visiting Biltmore
1) Biltmore is crazy popular in Asheville in the summer, so visit on a weekday if you are able. But the place is very well organized, so even though we arrived at 11:00, we didn’t have too many lines.
2) Why would anyone bother with valet parking? To feel like a Vanderbilt? Folks, the shuttle service is free and easy, and if you’re really feeling healthy, the walk from the parking lot to the house is less than 10 minutes.
3) Bring a picnic lunch. We had a nice simple lunch we brought with us on a bench during our walk to the lake. It was fun, and it saved us money compared to the pricey Biltmore eateries (think airport prices on the property).
4) While Biltmore is literally crawling with extremely well-informed guides, the general ticket doesn’t get you any sort of guided tour. Rather, you can pay $10 for a little cell-phone-like audio tour. I would highly recommend this, but would suggest you bring your own earbuds, as the headphones are curiously rationed, and normal earbuds will fit. Trust me – you don’t want to walk around the whole mansion holding the cell phone thing up to your ear. But do the audio tour. It’s worth the $10.
5) Travelling with a child? Leave the big stroller at home and bring the umbrella stroller and a backpack. Lots and lots of stairs everywhere at Biltmore – in the house and in the gardens – and you’ll end up carrying the stroller up lots of those stairs. Much of Biltmore is not wheel-friendly (keep this in mind for wheelchairs, too).
6) If you are travelling with a small child, do the gardens first so that they get plenty tired out. Our two year old blessedly slept nearly the entire time we were touring the house because we wore him out first in the gardens.
7) Bring a few bottles of water with you. I didn’t see many water fountains, and we got pretty thirsty.
8) Buy your tickets a week ahead from the website, and save $10 a ticket. And if you go this summer, kids under 16 are free. Many B&Bs and hotels have special deals as well, so check with your accommodations before buying from the website.
9) Stop off at the winery on your way out, as a few sample glasses of wine are a spectacular way to end a long day of seeing how the better half lived compared to your grandparents. It’s also fun to watch people sampling wine, as some of them look like they may have attended wine school in France, and beside them is the guy just gulping down free wine.
10) And if you are travelling with small children, and you spent all day dragging them through several floors of a turn-of-the-century mansion, you owe them at least a half hour at the little petting farm at Antler Hill. The kids can pet chickens and feed goats, which our two year old loved better than Disney. You must stop there.
All in all, a trip to Biltmore is something you should do if you have any interest in American history, and especially if you curious about the way a very small segment of the population lived at the turn of the century. It’s a bit pricey to enter, but it’s money well-spent.
In recent years, Christians have been pining for a return to first century Christianity. For example, articles and sermons like the following have been seen with increasing regularity:
It’s a somewhat romantic notion, that we get away from all of the centuries of tradition and added-on elements of the church and return to the simplicity and purity of the early church. But doing such a thing is easier said than done, as it is no easy feat to get rid of traditions and added-on elements that we have come to appreciate and enjoy. And this includes the power that the church amassed in the public arena, especially in the United States.
However, with today’s SCOTUS ruling and the subsequent celebrations by all corners of American culture (thanks for the rainbow header I didn’t request, WordPress), things have reached a turning point. We’ve been seeing it coming for years, but today’s ruling which recognizes homosexual marriage across the land has determined that – at least in the United States – Biblical Christianity is now officially counter-cultural.
The recent findings by the Pew Research Center seem to support this idea, that Christianity’s influence is waning in the United States. These findings have been disputed, but I think we can all agree that Christians don’t influence culture in America the way we used to. Given, Christians still have quite a bit of power and influence – we can still impact an election, we still buy a lot of products, we still make up a healthy percentage of the population, but it’s obviously a waning influence.
Just like in the first century.
It seems that we Christians are getting our wish, and we may be heading towards a more authentic twenty-first century expression of first century Christianity than we were banking on. We’re losing our influence, and they never had influence. Our hold on political power is slipping, and they never had power. We used to help guide culture, and now our attempts to impact culture are laughable. The culture of the first century didn’t care a whit about Christians, except as macabre entertainment in the colosseum.
The bad news is that the first century church suffered quite a bit of persecution for standing up for their faith, and this may or may not be where we are headed. However, if it is, we need to remember that Christians are guaranteed persecution in Scripture, and we’ve managed to avoid it for a long, long time – while much of the rest of the world has experienced it for a long, long time. It could be that our time has come.
The good news is, even twenty centuries later, we still look back at the first century church as what we want to emulate, persecution and all. They had their problems (as evidenced in the letters of Paul), but they learned and grew. More good news is that the God that they worshipped in the early church is the same God we worship today. He hasn’t changed. So no matter where we find ourselves in America in five years, it won’t change Him, and we can take great reassurance from the truth of that idea.
It could be that losing our influence and becoming counter to the culture will force us to ask ourselves what we truly believe and if we’re willing to stand for it. It could be that losing our hold on political power will give us a humility we haven’t had in ages. It could be that becoming outcasts will make us interact with the culture in a way many of us have avoided as we’ve built our cloistered walls and hid in our bubbled communities and universities. It could be that becoming helpless in the world’s eyes will push us to treasure God’s Word and study it with more intention and urgency in the same way the early church would have done. It could be that not getting what we want from government or society will compel us to revive our prayer life, and to truly seek Him. It could be that we will become more creative, more innovative, more ground-breaking in our art and our ministries to reach a potentially hostile, potentially disinterested majority.
In short, it could be that losing influence and becoming authentically counter to the culture – truly being forced to become like the first century church – would be the best thing that happened to American Christianity in the history of American Christianity.
With the unqualified success of Pixar’s Inside Out, the faith-based audience demands a faith-and-family friendly version. To that end, I propose the following project.
In and Out of The Fruit of the Spirit
Faith and Family Friendly CGI
Stage of Development
An adventure that takes place entirely within the Spirit of an 11-year-old girl, featuring the Fruit of the Spirit and the Fleshly Nature as characters.
Kylie is a happy 11-year-old Midwestern girl from a devout community in Minnesota, but her world turns upside-down when she and her parents tragically move to the pagan enclave of San Francisco. Kylie’s Fruit of the Spirit – led by Love – try to guide her through this difficult, life-changing event from their place in Spirit Headquarters. However, the stress of the move awakens her Fleshly Nature, led by Pride. Love and Pride engage in conflict over control of Kylie, and when Love and Pride are inadvertently swept together into the far reaches of Kylie’s spirit, the remaining Fruits of the Spirit are left in Headquarters to fight off the fleshly nature and try to restore balance to Kylie’s spirit.
Faith-based producers or investors interested in producing or funding this story idea should contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to further discuss this idea, and how we can make this dream into a reality.
For more information, click this link.
This morning, when I read the news that Elisabeth Elliot died, I was sad, but not for her. I was sad for her family and friends, because I know that they will miss her, but I wasn’t sad for Elisabeth Elliot. If I could live a life even a tenth as full as the life she lived, if I were able to influence even a fraction of the number of people she influenced for the sake of the Gospel, if my life pointed to Jesus even marginally as much as hers did, then I would consider my life to have been well-lived. So rather than mourning her passing, I want to share a couple of memories of when I was privileged to meet Elisabeth Elliot, and I share these memories as a way of celebrating her life.
It was the mid-1990’s, I was in my late 20’s, I was single, and I was living in one of the most beautiful cities on earth – Charleston, South Carolina. I was working full time for the resident theater company at the Dock Street Theater, and I was attending East Cooper Baptist Church, one of the largest churches in the area, where I was a regular part of the single’s ministry.
When my friend John and I heard that Elisabeth Elliot was coming to town to speak, we – as good Christian singles – recognized the moment as a perfect double date opportunity. This was, after all, Elisabeth Elliot – an actual living legend and hero of the faith – the former missionary who gained fame for ministering to the Huaroni tribe in Ecuador, the very people who murdered her husband and his colleagues, a story made famous in the book Through Gates of Splendor.
Not only that, but Elliot was also a prolific writer, authoring many books that should be required reading for followers of Jesus, including a biography of missionary Amy Carmichael, a biography of her late husband Jim (who most young Christian men want to emulate at some point), and Passion and Purity, which was one of the most convicting books I ever read on the subject of dating – and a book that is possibly one of the most counter-cultural books a person could read these days.
So, yeah… a perfect double date.
Being the complete goober that I am, and wanting to impress my date that night, I brought the ultimate impress-your-date accessories to the Elisabeth Elliot talk: a couple of Pez dispensers. Inspired by an episode of Seinfeld, I offered Pez to my date during the middle of the talk, with thankfully less explosive results.
Afterwards, we stood in line for the opportunity to meet Mrs. Elliot, and while we waited, I commented that everyone seemed to be talking to Elisabeth Eliot very earnestly, pouring out their hearts, sharing deep things in their brief two or three minute audience.
“That has to be emotionally exhausting,” I said, “listening to so many heart-felt things from so many people all of the time. I should offer her a Pez.”
“You should what?” my date asked, laughing.
“Offer her a Pez,” I replied. “Seriously, she would probably really appreciate something different.”
“Offer Elisabeth Elliot a Pez? Elisabeth Elliot? You won’t do it,” she said, and she looked back at John for confirmation. He just smiled and shook his head.
He knew me well.
“Here, you hold Gonzo as a backup,” I said, handing her my second favorite dispenser. Then I turned and started planning what I would say when I reached the living legend. I figured I had about five minutes until it would be my turn.
“This is Elisabeth Elliot we’re talking about here,” my date insisted, no longer laughing. “And you’re going to offer her a Pez?”
“She’ll love it,” I replied. “It’ll thrill her to hear something different.”
I tucked Kermit into the shirt pocket of my blue Oxford and wiped my now-sweaty hands on my pants. Whatever I said to her would have to be simple and to the point. I didn’t want to take up too much of her time. I needed to say what I needed to say, and get out.
And then, too soon – much too soon – it was my turn.
There I stood, before Elisabeth Elliot. The Elisabeth Elliot. The woman who had been married to Jim Elliot. The woman who’d had the strength of faith and character to forgive the people who had taken Jim from her. The woman who had more wisdom, life experience, theological understanding, and humility in her little finger than I had in my entire body.
She looked at me expectantly from her seat at the small, round, wooden table, ready to hear what I had to say. She was so distinguished and regal, but also open and friendly, and behind her, her husband Lars stood like a protecting force. He was quite the imposing figure.
Maybe I shouldn’t do this? This woman had experienced so much in her life, had helped so many people, and she was more than just a woman, she was also a beloved icon of my faith.
And I was going to offer her a Pez?
I chanced a glance back at my date, and her eyes were wide. She shook her head almost imperceptibly, pleading. Then I looked at John, who stood beside her. He nodded.
His nod said exactly what I needed to hear.
You got this.
Emboldened, I turned and sat down across from Elisabeth Elliot, and launched into my hastily prepared, mostly unrehearsed speech.
“Mrs. Elliot, you have helped so many people through the years with your words and your writing, including me. I have been inspired by your story, and the way that you challenge my generation. But I know you hear this all of the time, and so rather than just telling you, I want to demonstrate my appreciation.”
To this day I don’t know if it was my imagination or not, but it seemed that Lars leaned closer with a concerned look in his eye.
I ignored him and pressed on.
“And so, Mrs. Elliot, I would like to offer you a Pez.”
What happened next happened two different ways. First, is the way it happened in my mind, and second was the way that it really happened.
In my mind, I smiled a charming smile, reached into my shirt pocket and pulled out Kermit. In one fluid motion, I set him on the table in front of Mrs. Elliot, and pulled back on the frog’s head to reveal the lemon flavored candy within. She, of course, laughed with delight and received the proffered Pez. She smiled up at Lars, who visibly relaxed, and then she turned back to me, leaned forward, and placed her hand on mine. Conspiratorially, she whispered, “I really needed this, young man. Thank you for being so clever and unique.”
The moment was magical, and certainly my date was suitably impressed, and at this point, a second date would be assumed. I would walk away from this night a hero, Christianity Today would issue a special edition just to name me one of the 25 under 25 most influential young Christians, and then the pièce de résistance, Billy Graham himself would invite me to The Cove to join him in some North Carolina barbecue.
That was what happened in my mind.
Following is the way it really happened.
I did do my best to smile a charming smile, but when I reached into my shirt pocket and pulled out Kermit, his oversized plastic green head caught on the lip of the pocket. I gave a little yank, forcing his head back, and ejecting Pez candies all over the table and the floor in front of a wide-eyed Elisabeth Elliot.
Thinking quickly, I turned back to my date and blurted, “Give me Gonzo! Give me Gonzo!”
I’m sure only half a second passed between Gonzo’s appearance and Elisabeth Elliot’s response, but for me it seemed like time had slowed to a near-complete halt. There I sat, Gonzo in hand, smiling a lunatic smile at one of my faith heroes, and waiting to see if the rest of the incident would play out like it had in my mind.
It would not.
“What… is… that?” Elisabeth Elliot asked, staring down at poor Gonzo as if I were holding a squirming cockroach and not a beloved children’s character.
“It’s Pez,” I stammered. “It’s candy from a cartoon character’s head.”
Seeing that I wasn’t going anywhere until she had pulled a little tablet of candy from under Gonzo’s chin, Elisabeth Eliot reached over and pulled one out, and smiled at me. I’m sure it must have been the same smile she reserved for delusional men on the subway who insisted that they were actually the President of France.
I thanked her, scooped up the other Pez candies with as much dignity as I could muster, and walked past my giggling friends, my only solace being the knowledge that as bad as that had been, my friends had to go after me.
A few years later, I was studying for my Master’s of Divinity degree at Beeson Divinity School on the campus of Samford University. Beeson is an excellent institution of higher learning, a terrific training ground for people looking to go into ministry or pursuing higher education. It is a place of rigorous academic study, and challenging theological settings.
And somehow, I had been elected president of the student body.
Being president of the student body gave me unique access to visiting dignitaries, including Elisabeth Elliot, who spoke in our chapel in May 1996.
At that time, I was dating a young woman from Kazakhstan who was at Beeson working on her Master’s in Theological Studies. I’d told her my Elisabeth Elliot story, and thought that Mrs. Elliot’s visit was an opportune time to impress my girlfriend by seeing how well Elisabeth Elliot remembered that crazy kid in Charleston.
Following her talk, Elisabeth Elliot and her husband Lars sat in the student center, and they welcomed people to come up and talk with her. With my Kermit Pez firmly in hand, and with my girlfriend beside me, I approached the table and asked if we could sit. She smiled and gestured to the empty chairs.
“Mrs. Elliot, you probably don’t remember me, but a few years ago back in Charleston I heard you speak. Afterwards, I was able to talk with you, and when I did, I embarrassed myself by offering you a Pez. Well, since that time, I’ve had a fantastic time telling people that story, and so as a sign of my gratitude, I want to offer you something.”
I glanced at Lars. He didn’t move this time. But he was listening.
I sat Kermit on the table between us, and smiled.
“I’d like to offer you a Pez.”
This time, I was completely confident. I wasn’t trying to be cheeky, my supportive girlfriend sat beside me, and certainly Elisabeth Elliot would remember the incident from before. In my mind, she would laugh, say something like, “I remember you!”, take a Pez, and the story would have come full circle.
I would be a hero, once again. The dean of the seminary would put me on cover of the next newsletter, Christianity Today would put me on their list of the 29 under 29 most influential Christians, and Steven Curtis Chapman would call me to ask if I could teach him a thing or two about playing the guitar.
That was what happened in my mind.
Following is the way it really happened.
“What… is… that?” Elisabeth Elliot asked. Again.
“It’s Pez,” I stammered. “It’s candy from a cartoon character’s head.” Again.
Elisabeth Elliot smiled a very patient smile, and again, she took a Pez. Without having any candies to clean up, it was easy to stand, say thank you, and leave.
“I’ll stay a little longer, if that’s okay,” my girlfriend asked, and Mrs. Elliot nodded. I backed away, wondering what my girlfriend wanted to talk to Elisabeth Elliot about.
They talked quite a while, and my girlfriend ended up invited to Elisabeth Elliot’s hotel for breakfast the next morning to continue the conversation. Turns out they talked about me quite a bit, and they discussed my girlfriend’s frustration that she didn’t know where things were going with us. That I seemed afraid to commit. That I seemed to be obsessed with Pez.
Looking back, I realize that while it might be exhausting to have people come to you constantly, pouring out their hearts, looking for guidance and wisdom at their times of great need, Elisabeth Elliot did this for years, gladly and inexhaustibly. My only way of understanding this is that she must have felt such gratitude towards her Savior, who met her in the jungles of Ecuador at her time of greatest need, and that it was the least she could do.
And so I am not sad that Elisabeth Elliot has died. I’m grateful for her life, for the legacy she left behind, and for the witness that she will continue to be to countless individuals through her writings and her story.
And I smile when I think that she is with Jim and the others, missionaries and Huaroni alike, worshipping and praising the Lord whom she loved so much.
How could I be sad?
By the way, I don’t know the details of the conversation between my girlfriend and Elisabeth Elliot, but I do know that it was a very important conversation.
That girlfriend has been my wife now for nearly twenty years, so it was a very important conversation, indeed.
My first foray into screenwriting came back in the summer of 2007, when I took part in Act One’s Writer’s Program, and experienced my first taste of the Christian community in Hollywood. That time was transformational to me as I learned about the craft and business of screenwriting in a faith-focused context, and I enjoyed the relationships I gained as I became a part of the ever-growing Act One alumni community.
Last May, I was thrilled to hear that Andrea Nasfell, another member of the Act One community, had written Mom’s Night Out, that rare film made for the faith-based market that would be released widely, in over 1,000 theaters.
When I finally had the opportunity to watch Mom’s Night Out, I loved it. I especially appreciated the casting choices, the quietly subversive and revolutionary nature of the film, and the writing, which I found to be funny, smart, and heartfelt. Mom’s Night Out was one of my favorite films of the year, and I continue to be proud that it was written by a fellow Act One alum.
Last January, I had the surprising pleasure of taking a screenwriting class taught by Andrea as a part of Asbury University’s Master of Digital Storytelling program. It was a tough academic experience, where we were required to produce quite a bit of writing in an eight-week period, but I loved every minute of it. It reminded me of my time at Act One, and I really felt like I was in my element.
When the course was over, I presumptuously approached Andrea and asked if she would mind sharing some of her thoughts about being a successful Christian screenwriter with the readers of the Thimblerig’s Ark blog, and she graciously agreed. I’m happy to present that interview to you.
First of all, please tell a little bit about yourself.
I always wanted to be a writer, even as a little girl. At first I thought I would be a novelist, but then in high school I fell in love with movies and realized they have to start with words on a page. So I got a copy of Syd Field’s Screenplay and tried to figure it out. I studied Media Comm in college and went to L.A. for a semester to study film. I was hooked – I loved L.A. and knew I wanted to stay. Luckily, my fiancée was just as excited about L.A. Now he’s my husband and he’s a producer. We live in Burbank with our two kids who were both born here in California.
How did you become a screenwriter?
It’s a gradual process, but it starts with lots and lots of writing. I attended the Act One program, and that was a huge jumpstart for me. I met a mentor who was a working screenwriter, and she is still a good friend. I joined her writer’s group and they put me through the ringer. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I developed my voice. Finally, a friend from Act One met a producer looking for a writer for an indie film. He read my work, I pitched a take on his story, and he hired me. That script never got made, but later that producer formed a bigger company and I have written ten scripts for him since.
Please describe your working day as a writer.
I have to write in the hours that my kids are in school, so that’s how every day is structured. Drop them off, make coffee, write, pick them up and try to be present with them rather than in my work at that point. It’s not always easy, especially when there are deadlines. There is a lot of juggling that happens.
Congratulations on the success of Mom’s Night Out, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Can you tell a little about your involvement bringing Mom’s Night Out from idea to screen?
The process started when David White at Pure Flix came to me asking if I’d be interested in writing something for moms. There had been a number of successful faith-based films for men – especially the Sherwood movies – but nobody had tried the female audience. David and Andrea had just had their second baby and she was very interested in a movie about motherhood. So I pitched them this idea and wrote it for hire for them, with the expectation that it would fit into their TV or DVD model at the time. But then Kevin Downes – a friend of David’s – read it, and he took it to the Erwins. All three of them had two children under the age of 3 or 4 at the time, so they “got it” immediately and wanted to be involved. Kevin acquired the film to make with Jon and Andy, whose October Baby success got Sony into the picture. It kept getting bigger from there. Jon rewrote it to make it more cinematic – he had significantly more budget and was able to add scenes and characters, honing it to get the actors he wanted, which he did. The nice thing was that I felt like they really understood the original vision, and they kept the main skeleton of the story the same, while adding some really fun things. So in the end, I still felt like it was my movie, even though Jon had kind of made it the “deluxe” version!
The film had some great laugh-out-loud moments. Who are your comedic influences – from the worlds of screenwriting, standup, television, or elsewhere?
I fell in love with movies in an era when there were a lot of successful “comedies with heart” and those were the films I wanted to emulate — Father of the Bride, Sister Act, Mrs. Doubtfire, even going back as far as Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Back to the Future, and Tootsie (which I think is probably the best comedy of all time). I also really loved those movies like Adventures in Babysitting, Bringing Up Baby, or It Happened One Night where everything goes wrong in one long, zany day or night. More recently there was Date Night, which I had high hopes for, but I felt like they bowed to the modern need for “edginess” in a way the story didn’t require. But those in particular were inspirational films to me. I’m sad we’ve gone a different direction with comedy in recent years because I think the heart part of the comedy is what makes them endure. Those are all still terrific movies when you watch them today.
What was your role in Mom’s Night Out while it was being filmed?
The screenwriter doesn’t usually have much to do once the cameras roll. Occasionally I have been called up to adjust a scene or help solve a logistics problem by adjusting the script, but in the case of Mom’s Night Out, I visited the set in Alabama for a couple of days and that was it. It’s such a joy for a writer to visit though – it’s like seeing your imagination come to life. To watch as a huge group of people bring words to life is very exciting.
Looking back on the experience, is there anything you wish you could change about the finished product? Any scenes that you wish you could have added, or wish had been left out?
I really loved Jon’s version of the script, and we had talented and hilarious actors who added their own bits to it – I was really happy in the end. The only thing I wondered about was the fact that in the early drafts both Sondra (Patricia Heaton) and Izzy (Andrea Logan White) had careers that were discussed more explicitly. I think, had those elements of their character remained in the final version, it might have opened up a better conversation about all types of moms rather than pegging them all as stay-at-home moms (which many of the films’ critics assumed, but was not ever said explicitly in the film, except about Allyson.)
I was frustrated that Mom’s Night Out was the criticized for “reinforcing traditional gender roles” and for featuring a protagonist who was a stay-at-home mom. How do you respond to those criticisms?
I was frustrated too! We fully expected to be panned by critics because of the faith elements of the movie, but that was almost overlooked completely. We were shocked that a movie that was supposed to be a love letter to moms, recognizing their hard work and allowing them to laugh at their frustrations was called “anti-feminist” and criticized for daring to have a stay-at-home mom as the protagonist. I always thought the point of feminism was for we as women to be able to choose our own paths and not be limited by any societal expectations. But apparently that is true only if you choose a full-time career. One of my pet peeves is when women turn on each other instead of giving a hand up, so my biggest frustration was with female critics like the one who said, “Why didn’t she just quit whining and get a nanny?” Wow. I think many of them saw the film was rewritten by a man and directed by two men and completely disregarded my involvement. But Jon and Andy chose this film because they saw the joys and pains of their own wives and wanted to recognize them.
The other side of that coin is that the male characters were criticized for being incompetent, which is completely untrue if you think carefully about it. Anything that seems like incompetence (excepting Marco, I guess) is in Allyson’s imagination, not what actually happens. The rest is a series of unfortunate mishaps that they handle quite well, in my opinion. It’s a comedy, people. Lighten up!
As a Christian, what are some of the challenges you have faced being involved in the film industry?
One of the challenges is that I’m just not interested in writing the things that are “hot” in the marketplace, so I have to find other niches to fit in. I’m not interested in writing Bridesmaids (and I actually sat in the theater in front of some women who walked out because they thought Mom’s Night Out was going to be in that genre and it wasn’t). That’s just not my style. So I don’t fit in a lot of places, and I often have people tell me, “You should get a meeting at Hallmark.” That’s fine too, but I think there is a mainstream movie audience that wants wholesome but still funny and adventurous stories. And many of them are not opposed to having issues or characters of faith in them. The problem is that many of those audience members are gun shy, because the marketplace is flooded with stories that are cynical, raunchy or just disappointing. They’ve been burned, and movies are expensive, so it’s hard to get them out to the theater.
Obviously one of my own biggest challenges has been meeting the expectation of a “Christian movie audience” as perceived by producers while also creating something artistic and true. It’s a very difficult position as a writer, when the marketing team and the producers need that moment that seals the deal for pastors, while at the same time you want to create something challenging and artistically beautiful. It’s a balancing act and it’s not always in your control. (I’ve had scenes added to scripts on-set, because the producers didn’t think they had enough on-the-nose content for marketing the film.)
How can Christians outside Hollywood support Christians working in Hollywood?
Go see their movies! The only thing that matters to decision makers in Hollywood is money. That is the only thing. You will get more of whatever makes money. Period. And they stay employed and making more product when that happens. Certainly pray for them to find opportunity and stay strong in their faith as well.
What are your thoughts on Christian filmmaking? Where do you see it going in the future?
I never make predictions. There are too many unexpected blockbusters and surprising disappointments. It’s good old William Goldman, “Nobody knows anything.” But I will say that, in my experience, there are a lot of secular companies recognizing the potential of the church-going audience and trying to figure out how to capitalize on it. Some of them are going to succeed and some of them are going to fail. They need good Christian artists to help as cultural language-translators to figure it all out.
“Faith-based” films are typically also expected to be family friendly, but the Bible is often not family friendly. How would you advise Christian artists as they think about portraying the grittier sides of life?
I don’t know if I completely agree with this, but I understand how it might look that way from the outside. There are certainly movies like The Song, Blue Like Jazz, To End All Wars and others that have been fine to delve into certain grittier subjects. It’s just like with any secular movie genre – each movie is made for a particular audience, and a good amount of Christian movies make a bundle of their money from church licensing or word-of-mouth from pastors and other Christian leaders. Those people are going to be hesitant to bring films into their church building or to send their parishioners to the theater if it’s going to bring them blowback over offensive content. So yes, the filmmakers consider that and cater to it. My opinion is that we should choose film content that matches the audience we serve, rather than sanitizing or dumbing down the content to the point that it doesn’t seem real. If you need it to be church and family friendly, choose a story about churches or families rather than about war or drug addiction. Make those movies for a different audience and be okay with them not being shown in church. Maybe you’re actually making a mainstream movie that happens to have elements of faith, instead of a movie branded by faith-based production and distribution.
You’re right that the Bible isn’t family friendly, but the Bible is told in words and not pictures that take viewers through experiences the way movies do. I’m sure blood squirted everywhere when David chopped off Goliath’s head, but we should consider how helpful it is to glorify that moment if we’re making that movie. As artists we can be responsible to the spirit of a grittier piece while at the same time being responsible to the audience that experiences it.
What final advice would you give to Christians who want to become involved in any aspect of filmmaking?
I’ll go back to my Father of the Bride and Planes, Trains and Automobiles hero and quote Steve Martin. “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” There are lots of reasons why people get opportunities in Hollywood, and some of them aren’t related to talent. But nobody keeps working in Hollywood without talent and hard work, and that’s the only part you can control. The worst thing for Christians in Hollywood are those filmmakers who come out here saying “God called me” but yet they aren’t talented and they won’t put in the work. Yes, God can open opportunities, but you have to be prepared enough to take them.
Finally, do you have any projects in the pipeline that you’d like to share?
I have a couple of films in development and one that is shooting right now. I can’t share too much, but it’s another comedy, set in a mega-church, and I’m really excited for you to find out more soon!
A big thank you to Andrea for taking the time to answer my questions, and for openly sharing her experiences and her thoughts about screenwriting and filmmaking for people of faith.
To find out more about Andrea:
Andrea Nasfell on Twitter: @AndreaNasfell
Andrea Nasfell on IMDb: IMDb
Andrea Nasfell’s blog: ahundredhats.wordpress.com
Mom’s Night Out: www.momsnightoutmovie.com
And if you enjoyed this interview, check out past Thimblerig interviews!
Stay tuned to the Thimblerig’s Ark blog for more interviews with artists doing interesting work in the name of Christ, and come join the Sacred Arts Revolution conversation over at Facebook!
What started out as a normal family trip to the Festival of Asarata ended as a nightmare for a gopher family from Underhill Fields.
Daggy Gingerroot, an unassuming gopher if ever there was one, had been enjoying the annual festival with his family of four when he noticed a gaggle of geese nodding their long necks his way.
He heard them honking out something about “The Creep”.
“Sure I was offended by it,” said Gingerroot. “But it’s the festival, right? You kind of expect to be called names.”
As he and his mate and two young ones continued on their way towards the Great Tree to look for figs, the gopher noticed something he didn’t expect: more and more animals looking at him angrily.
And then the threats started.
“The first one was this big mongoose, who bumped me as he waddled past.” Gingerroot recalled, visibly shaken. “He growled “Creep” at me, and when I looked crossly at him, he said – ”
We can’t reprint here what the mongoose said.
For Gingerroot and his family, things just went from bad to worse.
“Some of the animals started following us, hissing and growling,” he said. “They were so angry, and I had no idea why!”
And then the yelling started. And then the throwing.
“They threw rotten figs at first, and then clumps of dirt and rock,” Gingerroot grew more emotional as he relived the horrible experience. “It was all I could do to get my young ones away from that mob. I had no idea why I’d been singled out!”
The little gopher family just managed to make it to their rented burrow before the angry crowd could reach them, and they hunkered down until nightfall. When it was quiet, Gingerroot crept out to see if the coast was clear.
“I came upon a beaver couple, also hiding. They’d experienced the same thing. And then some squirrels. They’d all been attacked by angry mobs, all called “Creeps” and other terrible things. It was baffling!”
Mr. Gingerroot and his small furry friends were all victims of a new forest phenomenon – creep shaming.
It all started when this was posted on Furbook:
But just who is the marmot in the picture? That’s the question begging for an answer. He is apparently a groundhog, and he’s allegedly one of the con-artists famed for working the annual festival.
We managed to catch up with Kid Duffy, the brave and noble Enforcer of the wild dogs, and asked him what was being done about the groundhog threat.
“We know exactly who it is,” Kid Duffy replied. “We’re taking care of it.”
This reporter was greatly relieved to know that the wild dogs have matters firmly in hand. Once again, the forest is safe because of wild dog diligence and fortitude. All hail Blonger, Leader of the Wild Dogs!
Meanwhile, because of this irresponsible post and a sad case of mistaken identity, Daggy Gingerroot was forced to prematurely remove his family from the festival, days before it was over. And reportedly, he has since lost his job as third burrower of Underhill Fields as a result of the incident.
We caught up with Mr. Gingerroot at his burrow, where he and his family have been hiding out ever since the debacle happened. He’s not sure when his life will return to normal.
“It’s not even a gopher in that picture! It’s clearly a groundhog!” Gingerroot exclaimed, frustrated and upset. “And the Unicorn help that groundhog if they ever figure out who he is…”
His voice trailing off, a despondent Daggy Gingerroot disappeared back down into his subterranean home in Underhill Fields, his life changed forever.
I’m OUTRAGED!!! Today, I went to The Rock to see what the crazies were preaching, and HE WAS BACK! That creep from the tree yesterday was now at the The Rock, AGAIN trying to take advantage of people. This time the nutjob was telling everyone some garbage about the end of the world, and he even mentioned UNICORNS. That’s right. Unicorns.
I was able to get another pic, but people we HAVE to do something about this pest!!! He makes me feel very unsafe, and again, the wild dogs aren’t interested. (Personally, I think they’re on the take, but PLEASE don’t tell them I said that.)