by C.J. Darlington
Nick Staron Interview
"You don't believe that the Christian film world has an impact on people? Then obviously you have not met the thousands or perhaps millions of people who learned about Christ because of a Christian film." -- Nick Staron
Nick Staron is co-founder (with his brother Chris) of the film company Glowing Nose. Between the Walls is the company’s first feature film and Nick Staron’s first feature film as cinematographer. Nick made Jesus his Lord at the age of ten at an evangelistic theatrical production. He graduated in 2003 from Ithaca College with a bachelor’s degree in Cinema and Photography. While attending Ithaca he lensed most of the Glowing Nose short films including The Elephant and In the Night. He interned in the camera department of commercials for Cingular Wireless, Toys R Us, and Old Spice.
After graduation he worked in Los Angeles in the camera department for reality shows, television programs, and feature films. Some of the projects he crewed on include Rodney (ABC), Unidentified, The Visitation and Think Tank. After leaving LA he released the animated series Pint Size Parables (for which he voices the characters Captain Cutthroat, the General, and King Dork) and produced Between the Walls.
C.J.: When did you first realize you wanted to make movies?
Nick: Chris and I did a short video in high school for a theater class. It was the first time we had ever really spent any time thinking about the production of the movie before shooting it. Everything turned out really well, and we decided it might be an interesting occupation. I had been praying for God to show me what I was good at for a long time. I loved God and movies then decided to combine the two favorite things.
What films had the most impact on you as a child?
To name a few:
The Shawshank Redemption
The Hudsucker Proxy
Dumb and Dumber
Chris and I did not know that Christian films existed until we were in college and had already decided to make them ourselves. That’s why you don’t see any of them on this list.
Tell us a little bit about your film company Glowing Nose.
Chris and I had been operating under that name since our sophomore year of college but did not officially organize until 2005. The name has to do with our first color 16mm film “Sauce”. A character straps a flashing red nose onto Chris’ face in order to fix a lighting problem. We thought it was a really funny idea and it became our trademark. Now it stands for putting your faith in the most prominent place and letting it shine. Plus, we find that no one seems to forget the name.
There are only two people that work for the company although we have yet to get paid. All of our projects just start and end with Chris and I. We wrote, directed, edited, did the set dressing, wardrobe, camera, sound design, graphic design and even built the DVD menu for “Between the Walls”.
What is your vision for the company?
We’re small and like our independence. We can make the movies we want when we want. It is our goal to be able to maintain creative control. Our dream is to be able to partner with distribution companies that would purchase our films from us outright and advance the funds for future projects so we are not relying on us doing all of the footwork and can focus on making films. We would also like to expand our producer base to include other people, but we are quite a ways from that since we cannot afford to pay people.
Your latest film, Between the Walls, has an intriguing concept. Where did the idea for this film come from?
Chris and I had someone offer to finance a feature film our own creation, but we had no script. We rushed home and sat around trying to think of messages that people need to hear. In one night of pitching ideas back and forth we had the basic outline of the movie. It went through many rewrites but the concept of an all-knowing father using audio recording to hold down his son was something that was always in tact. The financing ended up falling through so Chris and I had to use our own life savings to make the movie.
Christian movies have often been criticized for being too preachy and avoiding the real issues of life. What would you say to someone who feels this way about Christian films?
That I would love to see them try to make a movie and get it out there. I think a lot of people don’t realize just how tough it is to get a message across in a narrative format. We spend so much of our lives doing all of the steps for production that it consumes our lives for about two years per film. Why would we waste that two years of possible outreach time just to make a piece that made people feel good? We are called as Christians to reach out to people no matter what people think of us. In fact we are called to be die for our beliefs. Not to make people feel comfortable.
As far as making a movie with a “spiritual” message, I think it is almost worse than making a film with no God in it at all. Because you are allowing people to not have to chose: to feel comfortable with just being “spiritual”. Almost everyone thinks they are spiritual in some way. But the point is that most of them never decide to follow Christ and therefore miss out.
One of our short films “In the Night” had a vague spiritual message to it that people liked across the board. However, we had some Mormon groups contact us about using the movie in their places of worship. This stopped me cold. If they could not tell the difference between Christianity in our movie and Mormonism, I was helping Satan deceive people. From then on Chris and I were firm that the gospel message must be specific.
As for avoiding real issues of life, I would have to agree with that. Most of the Christian films do not deal with what actual people are going through in real life. There are some good reasons for that. For example, it is easier to convey a message in a world that is not quite like our own. Chris and I try to address emotions and situations that actually happen in real life. Most of our characters are lower middle class in financial straits in the present time. The message for “Between the Walls” was helping people who have been hurt by a father. For the next movie it is helping people to find themselves even when everything is falling apart around them. I think we have a real advantage with being so low budget. It forces us to not make period pieces or anything with special effects. All we have is a heap of real life to work with. Hopefully it ends up as realism on the screen.
Why do you think the Christian film industry hasn’t taken off in the same way as say the Christian book and music industry?
There are several reasons:
1) I think it is because people have not been there to support a variety of movies like they have for the music.
2) It is a lot easier to get a polished recording of vocals than it is to get a story, sound and picture right. The lower quality is hard for people to get behind.
3) The Christian film market has unspoken rules to it that limit the variety of films that come out. These rules (which I mostly agree with) are no smoking, dancing, kissing, sex, foul language and no alcohol.
4) It is easier to give a three-minute song a chance than an hour and a half movie.
5) Christian movies have no way to advertise. Christian magazines and radio programs will not talk about your movie unless you dump money into their advertising. However, Christian music just freely plays on the radio getting more people to know about it. One major Christian bookstore charges the filmmaker $7,000 for the privilege to have a small picture put in their catalogue. How can a little person like us afford even one ad?
Honestly, I think that people are out there who will watch the movies if we can make better ones. And they are getting better. If we can get the support to grow the market, better movies will come.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a Christian film maker, and how have you overcome it?
Doubt and stress. There are so much of both in this industry that it has often made me think about quitting. The odds are piled up against you and the stress is never ending. That and just like the secular entertainment field, there is a lot of underhanded junk going on. It’s worse because you expect Christians to act better but we often do not.
In an article on your website, Chris said, “…we have resigned to avoid the stereotypes that people have with Christian entertainment.” How have you specifically done that?
People always get mad at me when I say these things but since you asked . . .
1) We do not make movies with horses in them. Many Christian films are rip-offs of “Little House on the Prairie”. Any time a horse is something more than a mode of transportation in a movie, Chris and I do not enjoy it.
2) The woman is always right. Most Christian films involve a man getting himself into a mess and then a woman (usually his wife) comes along and sets him straight. Most often on or by a couch. I’m not saying it is wrong to have a woman in a role of correction, I’m just saying that it happens a lot.
3) The hair is not perfect. In most Christian films the hair of the people on the screen never moves. It is always perfect. That never happens in real life or secular movies.
4) Old jokes. This is true in the church as well. They reuse jokes about the weather, how men don’t ask directions and only pay attention to sports teams. It really bothers me.
5) People are always well off in a Christian movie. Even if they are supposed to be poor they live in really nice houses or apartments. Why is that? Where is the dirt? Chris and I usually try to tell stories of the lower middle class.
6) They usually treat the audience like idiots. Specifically, a lot of movies have been aimed at teenagers that talk down to them. The average teenager today is way more grown up than they should be but we still make movies that are pure fluff. We try to keep our acting, sound effects and lighting more on the level of art film rather than being like a cartoon.
What do you wish Christians knew about the Christian movie industry?
How difficult it is and how hard people are tying to make it better. I think if people could see the heart behind the filmmaker, they might be more inclined to help support the industry. Even people who make bad films spend years to do so. And when they get to the end of the project they are often rejected and their only reward is that they get to do it all over again. Most of us never make a dime off of these movies.
However, I also wish people would know that even the worst Christian films can touch people. As long as there is a strong message, God uses it to touch people’s lives. Even some of our awful student film work was used to bring people closer to God. Countless times I’ve heard stories about movies made on old VHS cameras that had an impact on a whole community. You don’t believe that the Christian film world has an impact on people? Then obviously you have not met the thousands or perhaps millions of people who learned about Christ because of a Christian film.
Our new film is a comedy. We are casting for it this weekend and are about halfway done with the pre-production process. The story follows a family that is going through a will dispute while the youngest son attempts to find himself. There are some really great, original laughs in this film and a lot of human moments. Chris and I started out making comedies and it is nice to get back to our roots. We hope to have it done in a year or so.
What is your favorite part of the movie making process?
The dreaming stage is my favorite. I like lying awake in bed at night dreaming about what to do next. The tough part is making it come to life.
What would you love to write/direct/produce someday but haven’t yet?
The movie version of Frank Peretti’s “The Oath” is my favorite project to dream about. I think it has one of the clearest and smoothest gospel messages that I’ve ever read. I’ve even written up a script in case I ever overhear anyone talking about it. Chris and I also have a few top secret projects that we dream about all of the time but have no means to make.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started in the movie making business?
Thankfully, we had a good mentor in Rich Christiano. He is the director of a bunch of Christian films and he helped us miss a lot of landmines that we would have plowed through. But then again, there are a lot of things about a difficult journey that you do not want to know before you get started or you would not do it.
The thing I always tell people before they get started is to know who you are outside of the film industry because this business will consume you. You need to maintain interests outside of work or you will waste your life away. Before you ever get involved you need to write down a list of things you will and will not do. Be specific and if you find yourself becoming someone other than what that list dictates, you need to go in a different direction.
What actor or actress would you love to work with someday and why?
Jamie Lee Curtis is one of my favorite female actresses because of her versatility and the way she just lights up a screen. I just don’t think she is in enough movies.
I usually write a script with Jim Caviezel in mind. And that started way before “The Passion” came out. I just think he has a great everyman look.
What’s your favorite movie (Christian or secular) of all time, and why?
I always answer “The Shawshank Redemption”. It is one of those movies where every element of the film is top notch. From the amazing location in the Mansfield Reformatory to the music of Thomas Newman and the cinematography by Roger Deakins, it all came together perfectly. I still watch it a couple of times a year and am fascinated with the story and the way it draws the viewer in.
If you could change one thing about the Christian film industry, what would it be?
I wish we could be better examples of Christians to the world as filmmakers. Because this industry destroys people it is hard to live a life of an example to the outside world. I’ve seen many times on Christian films where things are not handled the way they should be. Where corners are cut that end up hurting someone. Where the non Christians go away with a worse image of a Christian than when they came in. And I am no better. What most people do not understand is that every single stage of this industry tests your character and faith. I have yet to meet anyone who has really come out of this industry better than they were when they went in. But that is true of the secular film world as well. I just wish it was better in the Christian film world.
What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?
I play the accordion (which I got at a garage sale for $15.)
I work for the Cleveland Indians as a cameraman during the season. Working with the Indians is probably the most enjoyable job I’ve ever had.
When you’re not making movies, what do you enjoy doing?
I work with teenagers through Campus Life (a division of Youth for Christ). Playing ultimate Frisbee with some people after church on Sunday. Eat. I love to eat. Big fan of eating. Playing card games with my family and neighbors. Dancing. I know some groups of Christianity do not like dancing but I am a big fan.
You’re at the checkout counter in Barnes & Noble and are purchasing one item each from the books, music & movie sections. What are you buying?
Books: Biographies. I love to read about the way other people lived. Or fiction wrapped around real events. Music: I love everything from Rap to Polka. I usually end up somewhere in the Christian rock section. Movies: I love a good dark, offbeat comedy. Hard to find one that is clean though.
What did you have for breakfast this morning?
Wow. I’m going to sound like an old fart here but I have to admit that it was toast. My family goes on kicks where we’ll eat one thing for a long time and then not touch it for a while. Right now we are on toast because we made our own grape jelly this year.
Three things always found in your refrigerator:
Butter. For some reason we buy a lot of butter. Blackberries. Because we pick them every year and have more than we usually use shoved in there. Milk. How I wish it was chocolate milk. It usually only lasts a day when we buy it so I cannot claim that it is always in there.
You’re next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?
I usually do not go to Starbucks because I’m a cheapskate. But when I do splash out it is on the strawberry frozen drink. Even if it is cold outside I’ll have one of those.
What’s left unchecked in your “goals for life” list?
Honestly, I do not have many things on my list that I haven’t done yet. Most of them have been done or are being worked on. I’d really like to own a house some day. I would like a small house with a big living room so I can have guests over.
When was the last time you cried?
I cannot remember the exact day but it was during “Between the Walls” when the stress was really taking its toll. I remember a profound sense of disappointment and stress. After crying and praying I recall feeling a whole lot better about things. Pushing forward through life no matter what is a very difficult thing that we all face. I just don’t know how people without God do it.
Anything else you’d like to share with TitleTrakk.com readers?
If you see something you like in a Christian film, contact the filmmaker and build them up. We are ripped apart all of the time and it is hard to keep going. Write a comment on IMDB or Amazon.com supporting the movie if you liked it. Write a letter to the Christian magazines and radio stations asking them to do a story on the movie. Try to organize screenings at your churches to get the word out there and pray hard for those of us who have chosen this line of work. There is so much temptation, anger, fear, worry, abuse and other elements that are constantly eating away at filmmakers. We need all of the prayers we can get.
Watch the trailer for Between the Walls:
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.