by C.J. Darlington
David A.R. White Interview
"Whether the production value is there or not, whether the acting is there or not, whether the scripts are great or not, the Holy Spirit uses [Christian movies]. That’s the most humbling, and awesome, exciting thing for me to be able to see from where I get to sit." --David A.R. White
David A.R. White has been a working actor and producer in Los Angeles for over ten years. He had a recurring role on Evening Shade for four years playing the best friend of Burt Reynold's son. David then went on to guest appearances on such shows as: Coach, Saved by the Bell, Sisters, Melrose Place, Martial Law and many others.
David’s first Christian movie was The Moment After. He’s since starred and/or produced many other films including Mercy Streets, SIX: the Mark Unleashed, Hidden Secrets, and more. He is one of the founders of PureFlix Entertainment.
What was it that drew you to acting, when you hadn’t actually been exposed to movies all that much growing up?
I just think the Lord puts certain desires in people’s hearts. He put a desire to perform in my heart early on, but it was weird because I didn’t have any performance background. We didn’t have a drama program in any of the schools I grew up in because our public schools were very small. And of course growing up in a Mennonite background I didn’t watch a lot of movies growing up. I saw one movie in the movie theater the first eighteen years of my life. I really have to attribute it to the Lord planting those seeds in my heart, and that’s it. That’s all that I can attribute it to.
Did you know at the time that the Lord was the one putting it in your heart, or was it kind of just a desire you had?
No, I kinda had the desire. I was the class clown. I would tell a joke and people would laugh, and that response early on kind of stuck. But when I was in high school I told my parents I wanted to pursue a film career. I never told anybody else all the way through high school and into college. I went to Moody Bible Institute, where my entire family had gone and graduated. My mom, my brother and sister had all met their significant others there, and all gone into the ministry. I was eighteen when I told my parents I was going to leave Bible school after one year to move to Hollywood. I was nineteen when I got here.
But you did have that grounding spiritually in your life. You still kept your faith and came at it from that direction.
Absolutely. My parents had really grounded me spiritually and raised me up in the Lord. I struggled with it a lot though. I prayed and prayed and couldn’t quite figure out why the Lord would want me to go to Hollywood, leaving Bible school only after at year at so young an age. But I really felt that desire and after praying about it for six months it didn’t go away. I said, "Alright, Lord, I’m going to do it." And my parents supported me in it. So I just made the huge leap.
Was that an eye-opening experience for you to come to LA?
I first experienced it going to Chicago. That was the first eye-opening experience when coming out of high school, from a 2000 resident town. I just remember the first time I went into the city and saw all the tall buildings. Oh, my gosh. That was a huge awakening. But then Los Angeles was another huge awakening. I was one year older, but there’s a lot to LA. I ended up in a single apartment right on Venice Beach, which is kind of known for all the wackos.
You had these dreams, moved to LA. How did it come about that you started working with Christian movies?
I had no desire to do Christian movies, other then I remember we would have these church movie nights. They would play the World Wide Picture movies maybe once a year. I remember thinking, wow, I’d like to be in one of those someday, Lord. I prayed, “Lord if you’d ever let me be in one of those, that would be a dream.” But then I also had a dream of being on a mainstream sitcom. That was the first door he opened six months after I got to Los Angeles.
In a nutshell, how did you end up starting Pureflix?
This kind of ties in. God had started growing that seed inside of me. He had been giving me Christian films almost immediately. I was twenty when I did my first Christian film. I thought I’d only do one of them, but He then gave me another one the next year, another one the year after that. I started to learn this marketplace. Growing up in the church I knew quite well what church people wanted to see, what the Christian audience would watch. I produced my first one in 1999, a movie called The Moment After. We started producing them every couple years, and so that was my background. Then there was Michael Scott, a good friend of mine, we had always wanted to work together. He had produced the Travel the Road series on TBN and was wanting to get more into film. He was also hugely into producing commercials for advertisers. The big commercials he would do. He really had a heart for Christian film as well. Russell Wolf was another founding partner. All of us came together in 2006 to found Pureflix.
How does it work the role your company has. You make your own films, but you also distribute others?
Mike and myself had produced a lot in Hollywood and worked with really top notch people from the different series work I’d done, to his producerial side of it doing the high end commercials. We knew a lot of people. That led us into producing these films. We were able to get, even on our tight budgets, top notch people to work on them. A lot of times people gave of their time. That led into the producing side. We produce 4-6 films per year.
On the other side of the equation was the fact that there really hasn’t been a Christian faith and family based studio. You have the family based studios like Disney, and you have a couple of these studios coming in to produce Christian content, and then there’s the mainstream studios, the bigger studios, Sony, Fox, Paramount . . . that all have been working on getting a faith based label. But at the core of it, Christians don’t run those studios. They are such big conglomerates that I think the message sometimes gets lost. Now, Sherwood Pictures is an anomaly, an exception, and it’s great that Sony is working with them. They make sure that the message goes out instead of being changed. But the majority of the studios have always tried to water down the messages, always tried to dilute them or change them, or theologically they’re just off. So our vision was to get a lot of Christian producers out there who are making one or two films... let’s help them put their films out into the marketplace, wider, so they can make another one. And obviously try to do it from a place of integrity, honesty. Ultimately we share the same vision as most of these producers—there are a lot of producers out there. They have a lot of stories to tell, and we could never make them all. Nor would we want to because God has created all of us with individual stories to uplift the brethren. So Pureflix has become a conduit to help get those messages and movies out there.
How did you end up being involved with making Jerusalem Countdown?
Randy and Elizabeth
Travis are our partners in the company. They had a really close relationship
Pastor John Hagee, and they had brought
it to us originally asking what we thought of the book Jerusalem Countdown.
And of course it’s a bestselling book. We loved it because there
a lot of end times movies out there, and I’ve made my share of them,
but this one was a little different because we dealt with so many modern
events. And that’s what Pastor Hagee’s book really hits
on. Iran and Russia’s alignment coming against Israel, and how that’s
even happening today. We found that fascinating. And then of course we’re
huge fans of 24, so we wrote it in that vein.
It’s always tricky adapting a book into a script. How did you approach this?
We had a lot of different writers, a lot of great writers. It took a long time. Especially because it’s not a fiction book. It’s based on current events. There’s no story in there, so we had to create that. Obviously you want the writer of the book, Pastor John Hagee, to sign off on it and help along the process. It took many years to bring it to the script we actually shot.
I can imagine how you got Randy Travis, but how did you end up casting people like Lee Majors and Stacy Keech. Did you know them?
We had done another movie called Johnny with Lee Majors. We had such a great experience with him on that. When he read the script he really liked his role. It was a Russian guy at first, but we kind of got the idea that he had Russian ties but he was American. He fit into that role then, and Stacy Keech, I’d worked with him on Mercy Streets. I had a great experience with him. He’s really one of the country’s top theater actors. He has a tremendous amount of heavy dialogue with the whole explanation with the Israeli angle. He plays a Masad agent. Because of the political backdrop of this movie, he was just the perfect person. And then Jaci Velasquez, that was our first film with her. She was just terrific. She’s done a couple other movies in the past, but she has a very meaty role, and she was just awesome. She loves the Lord, and she’s just a cool lady.
How did you end up in the lead role, and what was the hardest aspect of making this movie?
We shot in a blizzard in December in Michigan. That was difficult, a) because I was away from my family for quite awhile, and b) the blizzard made it difficult to shoot in. It was freezing with the winds and below zeroes. That was something that was tough. And then you also can’t wear gloves. You’re an FBI agent. You’re in a very thin jacket out in the middle of this. You don’t get to wear a hat or anything because that’s just not the wardrobe (Laughs). And all those shoots are always tough too because they’re all nighters, you’re cold and you’re tired. There’s a lot that goes on there. There’s a big fight scene in this movie, and then of course I ended up spraining . . . there was a little bit of damage that happened. I fight a very, very large man who’s very strong.
Hopefully those shots were done toward the end of filming!
They were actually. I finished the last fight scene at like six in the morning. And the problem is it’s so cold, you’ve been up all night. Your muscles aren’t stretched out. I ended up getting on the plane exceptionally in pain. I ended up missing my ultrasound because the plane got cancelled.
What was the most memorable thing that happened during the making of Jerusalem Countdown?
I actually think one of the really neat things about Jerusalem Countdown, and I haven’t seen it in any other movies, not to give it away, but the Rapture happens. You kind of get that from the trailer. I think it is the best Rapture scene on film that I’ve ever seen in my life. We had over five hundred extras. The state of Michigan in that town we were in, we ended up getting all the resources we needed for that. The fire engines, the trucks, the cop cars. All of it they helped us in. So that scene just looks huge. When people see Jerusalem Countdown I think that’s what they’re going to remember.
How difficult is it for you to switch in your mind from your character roles to your daily life?
(Laughs) I find it to be more difficult the older I get. When you’re younger and you have less life going on . . . you don’t have kids, you’re not married, your life is more simple. I find as I’m preparing right now for a movie we’re shooting in August, I have less time and find it more painful to go through the process of getting into these roles. And doing the background and all the research on the roles you have to do. There are a lot of actors who are crazy, and I hope I’m not one of them, though I’m sure I have some screws loose too (Laughs).
What role would you love to play that you haven’t yet?
You know, I don’t know that yet. One of the really great things about the Christian film industry is that when I entered it was pretty wide open. It still is in the way that I’m able to do my zany comedies that I love to do, and at the same token I’m a huge action buff and fan. I like to do all the guy stuff with the cars, the guns, and the fighting and somehow wrap it into a message and hopefully something that matters (Laughs). I don’t have one role that sticks out. There are certain things I want to do. I love the comedy aspect, the sitcom. The next movie I’m doing is actually with the GMC network. It’s called Brotha White, a great fish out of water story about these kind of mega church youth pastors who end up moving to a really poor, run down section of Atlanta and pastoring an all black church. It’s funny, and it’s setting us up for a tv series. I’m excited to do that too.
Could you talk about those who think they could make a blockbuster Christian film if they only had a bigger budget. You have a different perspective on that. Could you talk about that. Certainly money helps, but . . .
Oh, sure. There’s no doubt. I suppose if you had 50 million years and another 100 million dollars in the advertising world, yeah you would have a much bigger blockbuster film because you’ve reached the masses. That’s a huge aspect of it. The Sherwood Pictures movies, which are great movies, they’ve certainly hit a certain core audience with what they’re doing. I’ve seen Courageous, and I enjoyed it. They have a massive machine behind them. They’re putting a lot of money into advertising. They’re able to reach out further. Absolutely the money aspect is a big thing, but I think the Lord puts us right where we’re supposed to be. He provides the resources to do with them what we will.
This is a humanistic flaw, but success is always measured by the amount of money something makes. You don’t see the hearts that are reached. It’s amazing the amount of letters and e-mails we get from people who have seen different films for different reasons. That’s one of the things I love about what Pureflix is able to do. We’re releasing all types of films. I suppose we could release one film every couple years and hope that it makes a massive splash, or try to do a bigger budget film. But I like the fact that we’re reaching different people with different stories. That’s exciting. My foster child watched The Encounter. She doesn’t watch Christian films, but she came to the Lord through that movie. We get these stories all the time, and when you see them running in Christian film festivals, and you see them doing altar calls after these films it’s amazing how the general public will respond to the Holy Spirit using one of these films. Whether the production value is there or not, whether the acting is there or not, whether the scripts are great or not, the Holy Spirit uses them. That’s the most humbling, and awesome, exciting thing for me to be able to see from where I get to sit.
What do you wish the average American Christian knew about making movies, or what do you think is the biggest misconception we have that you’d like to address?
The Christian audience is very fickle with what they like. Or you have Christians saying make more Hollywood movies, make the message more subtle. Then you have the other side that says to make the message more hard core. Why are you pulling back and compromising because you’re trying to reach the mass of people? I don’t know if you’ve ever seen our movie In the Blink of an Eye. My wife plays my wife in the movie. I asked her to pick the most conservative bathing suit you could possibly buy. She bought what she thought was a very brown, conservative . . . what she called a Mom bathing suit (Laughs). And yet we still get letters saying, “How could she be naked on the beach.” What? What are you talking about? You have all these opinions, and ultimately our heart is to make these films that uplift and inspire people and bring them closer to the Lord. Those kind of comments kind of hurt sometimes. You’re just like, “Wow, we can’t get it right.” No matter what we do we always get blasted for something. Ultimately we wish that the audience would see what we’re trying to make. If they had gone through the whole process I think they’d realize. It’s that old saying about if you’d walked a couple steps in somebody’s shoes, I think everybody would be a lot less judgmental and a lot more loving. It’s not even so much about production quality. The Christian mainstream audience is a tough audience to please. Maybe they could pray before they would watch a movie (Laughs) Ask the Holy Spirit to use the movie the way He sees fit.
You’ve worn so many hats as actor, director and producer. If you could be known for one of those what would you pick?
I think I would just be known as a filmmaker. Performing is a very big passion and love of mine. But it’s funny how the Lord knows what we need and what we desire. I never would’ve thought that it would’ve been producing or directing or more a part of these productions. But he really has grown that seed in me. I’m so thankful to being able to be a part of the whole picture. As an actor you just get to be in on one side of it. I love being part of the whole thing.
Anything else you’d like to say?
If people could just
got to www.pureflix.com . That’s the place
to get the updates on the films we’re shooting, and then you can
certainly buy the films there. There’s the whole PureFlix Cinema
side which is just bringing these Church movie nights back on an ongoing,
sometimes monthly basis in your churches as outreach tools.
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C.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.