“I AM,” the powerful new 20th Century Fox feature film, is the talk of the town, and not only this town, even though it has strong connections to Newport Beach. This week the locally filmed movie was shown at 2,500 churches around the world.
“I AM” is not your ordinary movie: it was produced using local residents as extras; it involved countless hours by volunteers from Mariners Church; almost all of its shooting locations were in our community; and it has a goal of having eternal impact.
Cast and crew joined the sold-out crowd at the Lido Theater on Monday night to view the film with filmmakers John Ward, Jeff Pries and Todd Zeile. John, a Newport resident and president of Bay Ridge Films, wrote the screenplay, directed the film and played one of the major characters. Jeff is a pastor at Mariners Church and served as the film’s executive producer. Todd co-produced and acts in the film after a16-year Major League Baseball career.
John knows movies from both sides of the camera. He was a Hollywood child actor, involved in more than 28 movies, feature films and TV, and has written seven screenplays. John first met Jeff when John and his family moved from Hollywood to Newport.
“John and his family were searching for the right church for them and they visited Mariners when I happened to be preaching.” Jeff said. “We were doing a Blockbuster movie series, and I showed clips from ‘Sweet Home Alabama.’ It was right up John’s alley. At the time he was working on a script and wanted to add some spiritual depth, so he emailed me asking for input. We became friends and I asked him to help me on the Liquid series.”
The Liquid Series is a small-group DVD series about the Ten Commandments, which Jeff and John wrote and produced in partnership with Mariners Church. Over 2 million people in Bible studies around the world have viewed the DVDs, and those contacts paved the way for the worldwide distribution of “I AM.”
John took the characters from the Liquid Series and wove them into the movie “I AM.” Jeff knew Todd from baseball days at UCLA and introduced him to John. The three became a dynamic trio, creating the inspirational drama that has been described as a faith-based version of the Oscar-winning movie “Crash.”
Before the screening began, Jeff thanked the audience, thanked the Board of Mariners Church for allowing the film to happen, introduced the cast and crew, thanking them for their sacrifices and dedication.
“Everybody did what was needed, so the movie could be made.” Jeff explained. “It was really a volunteer effort on every front and we worked together like a family.”
Their work paid off and resulted in a high quality, well acted movie with a message, and thanks to a creative distribution approach, it has been viewed by over one million people within a week’s time.
“I AM” is a modern day parable about ten strangers in Los Angeles whose lives connect and unravel. The plot is based on the Ten Commandments and each of the ten characters struggles with, and breaks, one of the commandments. Each character is involved in a private conversation with the same mysterious man whose words and warmth have a sustaining impact on them. His presence never leaves them, he faithfully and patiently points them to something better in life, some One who is the One, the great I AM, God Himself.
John explained that when the characters try to solve their problems themselves, they made things worse and end up hurting others, reminding us that what we do affects others. Every decision has consequences.
“It’s like dominoes,” John said. “We need to realize that the Ten Commandments are not something God wants to shame us with, but loving guidance to help us live lives the best way possible. Over time we’ve forgotten them, but it pays to remember.”
John’s and Todd’s passion to communicate God’s love and stimulate discussion about Him is shown artistically on screen, but it is especially evidenced by the two filmmakers choosing to finance the film, as well as footing the bill to send it to 2,500 churches around the world.
“We put our careers and our money on the line. We realized that once we were the empty seats in church.” John said. “We believe strongly that if we reach out to help the church now, others will reach back and buy ‘I AM’ later.”
Powerful music is woven throughout the movie, including Katharine McPhee’s new song, “Say Goodbye,” and songs by Mariners worship pastor Tim Timmons, and Garrett Zeile, Todd’s son.
“‘I AM’ is designed to create questions, not answer them,” Jeff explained. “When the lights go on, we want people to have conversations.”
For details, visit www.IAMthemovie.com.
Cindy can be reached at [email protected]