May all your lightsabers be elegant.
May all your lightsabers be elegant.
It’s hard to believe, but today the blog had it’s 300,000th hit! I wish I could figure out who the person was who took us over the 300K mark so that I could give them a prize, but since I can’t, I’ve decided to give everyone a prize! Also, I’m going to be counting down the top five posts of all time on the Thimblerig’s Ark blog.
But before we get to the top five, to celebrate this milestone, I’m giving away copies of my novel, Thimblerig’s Ark, for anyone who would like to read it!
To get your free copy for Kindle, just click on the picture below and don’t forget to tell your friends! Share it on social media! Paint it on your roof for passing planes to see!
And let them all know that Thimblerig’s Ark will be free until Sunday, February 25.
And it would be really, really super cool if you actually gave the novel a try, and then took a couple of minutes to write a review on Amazon. I appreciate my 29 reviews, but want to get many, many more!
And just for fun, I thought I would show the five most popular articles to come from this blog since we began in 2014.
5. Nine Things I Learned from 40 Days (and Nights) of Christian Media. Yes, it’s over. (5,295 hits, published April 27, 2015)
In 2015, I decided to spend 40 days (and nights) consuming nothing but Christian media. It was a long 40 days, but in the end I think I learned some valuable lessons.
This article got a good bump when it was featured and discussed by Phil Vischer (the creator of Veggietales) on The Phil Vischer Podcast, episode 151.
4. A Memorial to the Family of Tambii Jee, lost on MH17 (11,673 hits, July 14, 2014)
How often do we hear about tragic events of the world, shake our head at the tragedy, and then go on with our lives?
On July 17, 2014, a tragic event far away struck very close to home for me. On that day, Malaysia Airlines flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine, and one of the heartbreaking stories was a family of six, three of whom were my former students from Atyrau, Kazakhstan. The family of Tambii Jee was returning home to Malaysia after many years in Kazakhstan, and this blog post was my response to this tragic situation, sharing some memories of this sweet family, especially the youngest son Afruz, who was in my homeroom.
3. My Review of Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter Theme Park (12,403 hits, published July 19, 2016)
When Ken Ham’s Ark Park opened on July 7, 2016, my family was there. The ark was an impressive feat of building, but entertainment-wise, it was a letdown. “But it’s a ministry!” some would say. “Why should it be entertaining?” Considering that Ken Ham compared the place with the Disney and Universal parks, I would have expected the entertainment factor to be higher.
When The Friendly Atheist, an atheist blogger, linked to my review, the article blew up and was seen by thousands.
2. Unpacking that God’s Not Dead 3 Teaser (21,916 hits, published April 12, 2016)
If you would have asked me when I was writing this blog post if I thought it would be the second most popular post I would write, I would have laughed. But, the God’s Not Dead franchise is unarguably popular for a Christian film franchise, and so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that my dissection of the claims made at the end of God’s Not Dead 2 would get so many visitors.
1. What’s Wrong With Christian Filmmaking? (107,234 hits, published March 25, 2014)
The post that started it all. God’s Not Dead had just been released, and reading a critical review sparked me to scribble down on my blog what I had been learning and thinking about since taking the Act One screenwriting course a few years earlier: the importance of Christians artists doing everything with excellence, including filmmaking.
And the bigger importance of the Big Christian Audience allowing Christian artists to do it.
And so, that’s it! Thank you, loyal readers, for being a part of this journey!
Enjoy reading Thimblerig’s Ark…
…and here’s to the next 300,000!
And if you haven’t gotten your copy of Thimblerig’s Ark, the ultimate groundhog novel, what are you waiting for?
In the eighth episode of the Thimblerig’s Ark Film Review podcast, I give my thoughts on the recent controversy that has been swirling since producer Mark Joseph discussed the need to get rid of the “faith-based” film label in an interview with Fox News. Joseph’s comments created quite a stir, and prompted a response from a few different people in the faith-based film business, most notably filmmaker Dallas Jenkins (“The Resurrection of Gavin Stone”), who disagreed with Joseph’s arguments.
Follow this link to listen to the podcast, and then let me know what you think!
The Thimblerig’s Ark Film Review podcast is a part of the More Than One Lesson family of podcasts, and you can listen to it as well as other great film podcasts by visiting More Than One Lesson.
And just a head’s up… Thimblerig’s Ark 2: The Ark Heist will be coming out in just a couple of months. Keep your eye out for the sequel to Thimblerig’s Ark!
In the sixth episode of the Thimblerig’s Ark Film Review Podcast, we look at 2017’s The Resurrection of Gavin Stone, directed by Dallas Jenkins (What If?), written by Andrea Gyertson Nasfell, and starring Brett Dalton (Agents of SHIELD), Anjelah Johnson-Reyes (Bon Qui Qui), Neil Flynn (Scrubs), D.B. Sweeney (Taken 2), and former WWF celebrity Shawn Michaels.
The Resurrection of Gavin Stone is a comedy about a washed-up former child star who is forced to do community service at a local megachurch, and pretends to be a Christian to land the part of Jesus in their annual Passion Play, only to discover that the most important role of his life is far from Hollywood.
In this episode, we review the film (how many golden groundhogs did it get?) as well as look at the state of comedy in faith based filmmaking. Also, we uncover a brilliant metaphor for the state of faith based filmmaking hidden in the scenes of Gavin Stone.
You can listen to this episode as well as other great podcasts by visiting the More Than One Lesson website.
And oh! You can also read an interview I conducted with screenwriter Andrea Gyertson Nasfall after her last big comedy, Mom’s Night Out by clicking here.
In the fifth episode of the Thimblerig’s Ark Film Review Podcast, we look at 2016’s Wildflower. Directed by Nicholas DiBella, and starring Nathalia Ramos and Cory Longo (among others), Wildflower is an unusual film in that it’s a Christian-made thriller that doesn’t have anything to do with the Rapture. I was especially excited to have a nice long conversation via Skype with Mr. Dibella and his partner, producer Jim Pavone.
The Thimblerig’s Ark Film Review Podcast is a part of the More Than One Lesson podcasting family. Check out this and other episodes as well as other great podcasts at morethanonelesson.com.
I’m pleased to announce that the Thimblerig’s Ark Film Review Podcast is up and running. The podcast has come about as a result of conversations with Tyler Smith of Battleship Pretension and More Than One Lesson, and will be hosted on the More Than One Lesson website.
If you are interested in the world of Christian media, specifically Christian filmmaking, this is the podcast for you. We will be examining Christian-made films thematically and artistically, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the budding Christian film industry.
Follow this link to iTunes to subscribe! And if you do, and if you enjoy it, please rate and review the podcast to help give it more exposure.
Click this link to enjoy the first full episode, which is an examination of the mega-hit, God’s Not Dead.
In honor of yesterday’s most important holiday Groundhog’s Day (why isn’t it a day off, Mr. Trump? That should have been your first executive order!), we’re pleased to announce that Thimblerig’s Ark will be free for download on February 3 and 4!
The second book in the series is nearing completion, and so you want to make sure you grab the first book while you still can. And tell your friends!
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.
I’ve had several people contact me and ask me to share my experiences with the Act One program. Rather than just cutting and pasting my response to this question into different emails, I thought I would just post it here to answer the question once and for all:
Is Act One worth it?
Before I get to that question, let’s start with a little teaser about Act One, in case you aren’t familiar with the organization.
As longtime readers of this blog know, I have lived overseas for the past fifteen years. I chose to attend the Act One Writing Program back in 2007 while living in Kazakhstan and working with the Kazakhstan English Language Theater (KELT). I had dreams of expanding KELT to include filmmaking, and so I chose to take part in the writing program while home for the summer.
Unfortunately, when I returned to Kazakhstan after taking the program, life stepped in the way, as it is want to do, and I had to put the film plans on hold. I continued writing and theater production, but was forced to watch my filmmaking dream wither on the vine.
Now I live in China, where filmmaking is growing in leaps and bounds, and I have long-term plans to resurrect that dream. I’m developing a few live action film ideas, and I’m also adapting my novel, Thimblerig’s Ark, into an animated feature screenplay.
But this leads us back to the question: was Act One worth it? As a person whose route to the film industry has been anything but direct, would I recommend that hopeful Christian artists spend the money and a month in L.A. working with professional film industry people, studying the process of writing or film production with Act One?
The short answer is yes, to both questions.
My Act One experience was transformational for me as as a writer, and my short time there also had a profound impact on my life as a Christian. That month in L.A. helped me see how artistic endeavors could be more than ego aggrandizement, and the huge potential for created art to bring glory to the One who created Art.
Any believer who is considering entering into the film industry (or even believers who just want to develop their own artistic sensibilities when it comes to film) can find great benefit from investing in the Act One program.
Just as I did.
The three reasons why I feel this way:
1) The Friendships and Relationships Developed
My involvement in Act One has led to some great relationships with people who are in Hollywood, working in the film industry. Getting to know them, I have developed the utmost respect for people living their faith in the trenches, and I see them as missionaries as much as anyone I’ve met while living and working overseas. My Act One friends helped me edit my first novel, dialogue with me frequently about my thoughts on Chrisitan filmmaking here on the blog, and even taught the excellent screenwriting class I took at Asbury last year (Andrea Nasfell, writer of Mom’s Night Out and other films).
Without Act One, I would have been hard pressed to know any of these people.
2) The Power and Value of Story
Act One champions the power and value of story, and this is something that Christian filmmakers need to learn. While you could probably get much of what was taught in class from a book, there was the added and very real benefit of sitting in a classroom with twenty other passionate students, all working through the same issues, listening to stories by film industry professionals. I felt, for that month, that I had found my people – people who loved movies, loved talking about them, analyzing them, dreaming about making them. And we went on a month-long journey together.
As a class, we spent time looking at examples of strong cinema storytelling and having discussions about why those examples were strong. We learned how to develop and pitch our story ideas, including holding a pitch session with actual producers. We heard stories from successful screenwriters and producers, where they told about the challenges, difficulties, and rewards of pursuing this particular line of work. Act One brings in top of the line talent to teach and get to know students; faculty with years and years of collective experience, and we soaked up every day.
My only regret was that the month was too short.
3) The Diverse Christian Perspective
As much as I loved developing the relationships, as much as I soaked up learning about the power of story, the best thing about Act One was that everything was done from a Christian perspective. Believers from all different backgrounds took part both as students and as teachers, and I felt right at home in that atmosphere. It reminded me of my experience living overseas, where the differences of our denominations and traditions weren’t as important as our being faithful Christians in difficult or stressful situations.
I was also relieved that Act One wasn’t trying to train us to go out and build a Christian film industry (although the program certainly equipped us to be a part of faith-based filmmaking), rather they were training us how to survive and thrive as Christians in the secular film industry.
That being said, my relationships in Act One also introduced me to several weekly Bible studies and prayer groups in the Los Angeles area, helped me get to know many of the great churches that are hard at work ministering in those parts, and led me to learn about many of the other fantastic Christian organizations ministering in Hollywood, such as Hollywood Prayer Network and 168 Film, to name just a couple.
So, is Act One worth it? Even if you don’t wind up living in a 900- zip code? Well, I couldn’t be farther away from the biz, but since 2007, but I’ve used what I learned at Act One over and over.
I used it in developing Thimblerig’s Ark as well as other projects both published and not.
I used it while working with the theater in Kazakhstan.
In my writing classes here in China, I use it quite often, taking students through intense novel and short story writing.
I use it when analyzing films with a critical mind.
Along those lines, I use it all the time when putting my thoughts together for writing about the Christian Film Industry for this blog, with much of what I wrote in What’s Wrong With Christian Filmmaking coming directly from what I learned in Act One.
And so, yes, Act One is absolutely worth it. It’s worth the money you pay, it’s worth the time you spend away from your family, it’s worth the mental energy you will bring to the table. And if you have the desire to be a part of the film industry and to do it in a way that is true to your faith as a Christian, it is most definitely worth it.
I just wish I could do it again!
To apply for the Act One Writing Program, click here. And while I didn’t take the Producing & Entertainment Executive Program, I’ve heard good things about it as well. Click here for more information.
NOTE: The deadline for applying for the 2016 summer program is May 25, 2016, so don’t delay!
And by the way, nobody from Act One asked me to write this. I just really believe in the program.
It’s been a slow few weeks, and considering I have a personal boycott of anything having to do with the presidential election and I’m tired of people arguing about bathrooms, I thought I would reinstate the old “Three Interesting Things” I’ve found recently as I’ve been jumping around the internet.
Today, I’ll be writing about Lecrae, Phil Vischer, and The Flash.
This is tremendously exciting news for a number of reasons. But for me, I’m excited because it shows that secular companies recognize and reward artistic excellence, even when it comes from *gasp* Christians.
This news also flies in the face of the American persecution narrative that is so popular in certain Evangelical circles these days. If things were so bad for American Christians, would one of our top artists be getting deals with major labels?
Let’s take a moment and look at this particular artist.
Over the past few years, Lecrae has had songs reach #1 on the Billboard charts, won two Grammy awards, and has appeared on secular national television performing his music (see the video above). These things wouldn’t have happened if he cared about his artistic integrity less than he did sharing his faith, and I think his story should inspire all Christian artists to work hard on achieving excellence in both things.
Believing artists, take your craft seriously, do it with all excellence, and the world will notice and respond.
You might know Phil Vischer as the creator of Veggietales. Well, I have been a loyal listener of the Phil Vischer podcast for the past couple of years, which I wrote about in a past article. I highly recommend this podcast for those of you who want fun and reasoned discourse on all sorts of important issues. Phil and his co-hosts Skye Jethani and Christian Taylor do a great job breaking down stories of the day and discussing them from a Christian perspective.
Recently, Phil announced that he was starting a Patreon account so that the podcast gang can branch out and do more. I’m personally excited to see what this might mean, and am happy to encourage Thimblerig readers to consider supporting Phil’s Patreon as well.
So, if you aren’t familiar with Phil and his podcast, go check it out!
3. The Runaway Dinosaur
Okay, technically, this isn’t a news story I found online. It’s an episode of my family’s favorite television program, The Flash. And if you don’t watch The Flash, know that it delivers, week after week.
My family loves it, my toddler thinks that he is the Flash (see the video below), and I’ve been consistently impressed by the way the show delivers action with heart. Grant Gustin is the perfect Barry Allen/Flash, and in this past week’s episode (directed by Kevin Smith), the show outdid itself, taking us to places we’ve never been before. And darned if I didn’t get a bit teary-eyed by the way they wrapped up Barry’s time with the Speed Force. Great job to Gustin and the cast, Kevin Smith, writer Zack Stentz, and producer Greg Berlanti.
If you aren’t watching The Flash, then what are you waiting for? Binge the past two seasons and get caught up in time for the summer hiatus.
Having said that, I do have one word of criticism for The Flash and the other superhero programs produced by Greg Berlanti, and I’ll mention it in the off-and-not-likely-chance that he reads this article.
Mr. Berlanti, I appreciate that you are committed to diversity with the programs you produce, attempting to represent all different aspects of our society. For example, I thought it was bold and brave that you made the potentially controversial choice to have the West family be African-American rather than Caucasian, that you’ve consistently had strong female characters as well as male, and that you have quietly introduced homosexual characters, all in an attempt to reflect society.
But, in my opinion, you’ve left out one group of people, and it’s pretty glaring.
Where are people of faith?
Almost 90% of Americans identify as religious, and yet we see no people of faith (not counting ancient Egyptian religion) in any of your superhero programs. No character turns to their religious beliefs to help them grapple with receiving super-powers, no character mourns the loss of another character by praying in (or out of) church, no character reads any sort of sacred text as inspiration or goes to a priest to discuss what is happening in the world, no talking heads discuss the theological ramifications of super beings in the background on Central City talk shows.
It’s a pity, especially when a nuanced handling of the topic could increase the potential power of The Flash, Arrow, Supergirl, and Legends of Tomorrow, putting them over the top of being great dramatic/action television.
So, Mr. Berlanti, as a “fan of faith”, I’d love it if you’d consider representing my people in your programs as well.
By the way, here’s my toddler (Noah, the fastest three year old alive) recreating a Flash sprint through the ferry terminal here in Shenzhen, China, complete with the slow motion scenes. And yes, we are planning on getting him a Flash costume when we are back in the U.S. this summer.
Thanks for joining us for Thimblerig’s Three Interesting Things of the Day! Look for a new episode next week, and feel free to share your own interesting stories!