Posts Tagged ‘Not Today the Movie’

Monday, October 17, 2011

When Walid Amani showed up for the casting call, he had no idea what was just over the horizon for the aspiring actor who was in possession of the prized SAG card.  He had roles in a couple of independent movies, episodes of NCIS and Lie to Me.  But this one would be very different.  Here in Hollywood, he is a long way from the University of Minnesota where he earned a degree in computer science.  He’s a trained classical pianist.  But when the film’s director and producer agreed with the casting agent saw the test outtakes, Walid would be on his way to India.  He was perfect for the part.

In his former life, he was a natural at the computer.  He can figure things out.  His piano concerts were inspiring.  But acting trumped those other career tracks.  He attacked the craft with the same intensity and focus he brought to those two familiar keyboards.  This role would demand more than he imagined.  He’s conversant in several languages, including Hindi.  He consulted dialect and linguistic coaches, here in California and there in India.  He would play the role of a Dalit man committed to provide and care for an eight-year-old daughter.  His native tongue would be Telegu, and he would speak limited English with a heavy Indian accent.  He would familiarize himself with life in the outcast slum.

So he did his homework.  He practiced until he found a character voice.  And then they introduced him to an eight-year old girl with jet-black hair, big bright eyes and an engaging smile.  Persis Karen, a Dalit, was picked from a large collection of uniformed students who had been snatched from sure hopelessness in neighboring slums.  These girls were engaged in a formal, intense education, which included English, in the heart of India.  They were eager cadidates.  When the director of the movie first met young Persis, he knew he had found Annika.   She would be Walid’s daughter.  He would take the name Kiran.  They would spend the next six weeks together, inseparable.

As I sat in the theater in Nashville after the focus group screening of the film in which Walid and Persis play a major role as Kiran and Annika, I listened in as folks who had little background in the world of India’s Dalit population shared their response to the film.  They expressed wonder and amazement at the performances, which touched them deeply.  Kiran, hopeless, lost, with no means of providing for the daughter he loves, accepts a modest sum of money (rupees) in exchange for the promise of a better life for his little girl.  His new American friend, Caden (Cody Longo), is outraged.  The ugly American becomes a man with possessed by a cause.  The two of them emerge as unlikely partners in a search and rescue mission that takes us into some of India’s darker shadows.

Last night, we met four of the actors who played major roles in the new film, Not Today.  Brent Martz (Producer) and Jon Van Dyke (Director) interviewed them, as they played finished extended scenes.  They reminisced over six weeks of filming on location in India, where their lives were forever changed.  All of them.

The focus group in Nashville raved over the performance of Cody Longo, who plays a privileged Orange County millennial, Caden Welles, who on a sort of dare, goes to India for no other reason than to party with his college pals.  They are the quintessential ugly Americans.  He leaves behind a girlfriend, Audrey (Cassie Scerbo), who loves him but fears what he is becoming.  She’s in turmoil.  Caden’s mother, Sarah (Shari Widmann), divorced from Caden’s father and remarried to Luke (Jon Schneider), knows Caden’s inner strife, and wants desperately for him to find wholeness.  The unexpected quest to find Annika changes everything.  They all delivered.  Their performances rock.  Brent and Jon captured it on film – a stunning achievement.

I’ve always liked DVDs because they include “The Making Of,” which takes us into the background of the story, the on location shooting, a discussion of the film’s purpose and meaning.  Last night, we enjoyed the Making Of Not Today live and in person.

We now have a growing sense of confidence and anticipation that this film is going to reach a large audience, bring awareness and motivation, which, we trust, will mobilize an army.

Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2011



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Monday, September 19, 2011

Three years ago, the seed idea sprouted its first shoot.  It was, as my friend Scott Last likes to call it, a BHAG.  Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal.  Our team got together and agreed – “Let’s make a movie.”

Frankly, if we had known in advance the obstacles, the barriers, the resistance, the seemingly insurmountable, the flat opposition – I’m not sure our guys would have proceeded back then.  There is something to be said for naïveté.  In the three years that followed, there were a hundred excuses for quitting – maybe more.  And most everyone would have understood.  But it was a powerful dream.  A compelling vision.  The impossible emerged as a possibility.  The door cracked open.  Our guys barged on through – with a team of prayer warriors holding them up all the way.

I’ve had a close look at this thing from the beginning.  I had the incredible experience of two personal trips to India in the interim.  This weekend, the official two minute thirty second trailer was introduced to over four thousand eager enthusiasts.  It’s been a long wait.  The guys nailed it.  They call it NOT TODAY.

Brent Martz, road weary and worn, beamed as he launched the video short.  Just a few weeks ago, on the flight back from India and a premier showing (to rave reviews) for the good folks who hosted the six-week on-location shoot and thirty American cast and crew (not counting the local actors, technicians, and support staff), Brent felt awful.  The day after his arrival home in Yorba Linda, he was admitted to the Emergency Center with a near burst appendix.  The doctors performed a surgery just in time.  But this weekend, Brent stood strong and tall – and as the trailer ran, the folks were flat blown away.  This is a real movie.  A powerful message.  A compelling story.  A fast paced journey, learning all the way.  A heart-tugging experience of India.  People you care for.

Back in the planning stages, we all looked around.  We could see it.  The church is abundantly blessed with artists, musicians, actors, writers, technicians and all the equipment anyone would need to make a feature film.  Most important, there was a message.  Global Freedom!  Free the Dalits!  This became our rallying cry as a church body.  And in the message of freedom is the essence of the Gospel.  Transformed lives lead to transformed culture and a transformed world.  Reaching out across the globe had a corresponding effect on the local neighborhood.  Our team agreed.  A documentary would be good.  But a full-length drama would be better.

Brent and his partner, Jon Van Dyke, were commissioned to write a script.  I read it for the first time while attending the first graduating class of Dalit students (high school) in Hyderabad.  I loved it.  A privileged Orange County millennial (Caden Welles) goes to India on a fluke with his partying pals.  They play the “ugly Americans,” Caden leaving behind a caring Mom and girlfriend. He stumbles across Annika (an eight year old Dalit – played by a student in one of our schools) and her father on the mean streets.  At first, he shuns them.  But they come back.  He grows attached to the little girl.  And when he learns that her father, thinking it best, accepts cash and a promise that she will be better off from an agent who takes Annika away, Caden does his homework.  He staggers, surmizing from an Internet search that the innocent little girl has become the victim of human trafficking – children snatched from their families and tossed into a world of unimaginable torment.  Off balance, Caden becomes obsessed with her rescue.  He and Annika’s father, Kiran, join forces as an unlikely pair in the hunt.

I couldn’t put down the script.  I spent the next week traveling with Brent and Jon scouting film sites and locations for the movie.  Then the next ten months researching and writing a book with Matthew Cork on the story of Global Freedom.  I spoke regularly with our partners in India who were enormously helpful in the research.  Next came the casting.  Then delays in filming (getting “permissions” to bring the film crew into India and through customs).  Then more challenges with time constraints and weather conditions, sickness, unreliable permissions on site, language barriers, clashing visions, debates over locations and scene selection, transportation, and every other distraction you might imagine.  Then in the editing room.  What to cut?  Keep the story moving, with all the hints and details just right.  And finally, post-production – color corrections, animated sub-titles, original music for the sound track, smoothing out the dialogue, adding street sounds and highlights.  And this paragraph barely begins to identify the monumental challenges.

It was an unfortunate banner – “Mission Accomplished.”  If former President G.W. Bush could do it over, the announcement would not have been so apparent on that aircraft carrier as the nation celebrated the fall of Hussein’s reign over Iraq.  Because, in retrospect, the work wasn’t done.  The mission still incomplete.  To this day.

So, when I congratulate our team with a  “Mission Accomplished,” I am compelled to add some qualifiers.  In many respects, the work is just beginning.  The movie needs to be seen, and should be seen by a mass audience.  The message needs to get out there. We’re eager (and sometimes impatient) as we watch the plan unfold.

But for today, just for today, our team has accomplished that BHAG. Kudos! It is nothing short of amazing.  We like to call it a God-sized vision.  Impossible, apart from His clear passion for a world in need – prompting us all to see beyond ourselves to something more – and His power to enable us to go far beyond what we can imagine.  Mission accomplished.

A great film is “in the can.”  Ready for prime time.  Who would have imagined it?

Well, some did.  And here we are.

Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2011


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