We chatted to Wish For Christmas director, John K.D. Graham about filmmaking, being a Christian in Hollywood and also about his film Wish For Christmas which is now available in the UK on Digital HD.
We have split the in-depth interview into two parts. In Part 1 we discuss Filmmaking and being a Christian in Hollywood. In Part 2 we talk about Wish For Christmas.
We also share some exclusive behind the scenes photos throughout the interview.
Please tell us about yourself and how you became a Christian?
As a child I inherently knew that God exists but my true faith began one night in 2004. I was a student at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia where I studied Film. Late one night I was walking home through the squares and cobble stone streets of the historic district. It was a quiet night, no cars or people around. I was lost in my thoughts, enjoying the live oaks that twist towards the ground, dripping with mysterious Spanish moss.
As I crossed a road I glanced to my right, down the side street. Coming my way were two men, wearing sweaters with the hoods covering their face. Immediately I became nervous. In Savannah, a beautiful city with a dark side, these were the types of guys to avoid. Just the week before two hooded men had held up a friend of mine at gunpoint.
As I crossed the street, the guys about a block away from me, thoughts rushed through my head: I was being ridiculous to be acting nervous. It was just a surprise after being alone on my walk, to encounter two other people. Obviously I’m nervous because there are two of them and one of me. I’m not that near them anyway, so what’s the worry? Lots of people in Savannah wear hoodies and that doesn’t make these two guys thugs. I’m being ridiculous.
All of these thoughts went through me in the few seconds it took to cross the street. As I mounted the curb, satisfied that I wasn’t going to over react, I passed a barrier fence that put me and the two men out of each other’s sight.
A distinct voice, right over my right shoulder said, “Run”.
The voice was distinct, right beside me and authoritative. It wasn’t my internal dialogue and it wasn’t imagined. It was a real, disembodied voice.
My ability as a high-school sprinter returned as I roared down the block, leaped across the following cross street and reached my truck. As my keys found their home in the lock and the car door opened I realized that horror movies had it wrong, people can open a lock on the first try. In my car I turned the ignition, slammed it into gear and zoomed out onto the street.
In that moment I realized how much adrenaline was racing through me. I had a fight or flight experience. I didn’t freeze but I did over react. What a silly thing to do, as a 23 year old, running through the city streets at night from imaginary attackers who are probably just two normal guys walking home. I thought all of these things in the moments it took for me to pass the street I had just run down. To reassure myself that I was over reacting I looked down the street.
Where the two men in hoodies were just coming to a stop from running. They had tried to catch up to me as soon as I passed out of view.
The voice saved me.
That is the day that I realized I truly believed in God.
What prompted you to get into making films?
I have always had a love for story telling. As a child I would develop elaborate stories with my action figures and my poor mother would be forced to play with me. Sitting patiently on the floor with me I would dictate to her exactly what her figurines should say. I’m sure for her it wasn’t incredibly enthralling. No wonder I like directing!
Later friends and I would use an old video camera to film similar stories, with more and more complex camera tricks to capture the scenes. I remember using a Frisbee with flashing lights to create a crashing alien spaceship effect. Throwing it into the dirt at evening time made an epic looking explosion for the crash, even if my friends mom wasn’t impressed that we were ‘breaking our toys.’
Later, in middle school, I got into acting and theater. High school continued my love for theater and getting behind the scenes of the action doing the lighting and even directing.
When it came time to choose a college I somehow managed to convince my parents to let me go to art school. This was a really big deal. My dad is British and very practical about life decisions. Being an artist was not deemed to be a smart choice. In retrospect he was probably correct, but I don’t want any other life.
I went to The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) and was surrounded by other creatives. A friend made a music video and asked me to act in it. It had never occurred to me that I could study filmmaking, I mean, is that really a job? Turns out it is and was and I’m still realizing what a big job it is! At the time it just made sense, although I didn’t tell my dad for a couple years. I figured it was safer for my career to tell him after I had taken too many courses to turn back. See? There I was, planning the story even then.
I’ve always enjoyed gadgetry, working with other people, telling stories, planning and using the computer. Film making involves all of these elements and it is like a giant puzzle. Making a film is a constantly evolving process so I never get bored. Every time one part of the process is over with, the next one begins. It is endlessly entertaining for me.
How would you encourage others who have an interest in making films?
Anyone interested in film making now days has a supreme advantage when it comes to access to the tools. Most editing programs can be rented month-to-month. Cameras shoot better qualities at lower prices and they don’t always need lots of lighting to get a usable exposure. The internet if full of websites that can teach someone how to edit, sound design, shoot . . . The only thing left for someone to do is to actually start doing it! That in itself is usually people’s biggest hang-up, whether they know it or not. If you want to be a filmmaker start making films now. Don’t wait until everything is perfect. Just start shooting. As you progress you can add more equipment or crew to your shoots. No matter how much you research and plan, you will not ever be ready to make your first film. I suggest making your first film and then planning to do even better on the next one.
Do you ever find it challenging being a Christian in the film industry?
Being a Christian in the film industry is quite interesting. It’s different than being a filmmaker of any other genre in that many people don’t take you seriously. If I tell people about my first film, which was a thriller, they say, “Oh that’s really cool”. When I tell people I make faith-based films it can be a sterile reaction. I think the reason is two fold: People associate Christian films as being of poor quality and people assume that a Christian film is about fire and brim stone. Hollywood has ignored the Christian audience for a long time and so Christians began making movies for themselves. Often these pioneers of Christian movies were not filmmakers first, so the films they made were amateur. These people were going through their own film school in practice, figuring out how to make movies as they went. Many of them have graduated to bigger and better filmmakers.
Although I feel Hollywood doesn’t always take me seriously, there are many people in film industry that appreciate what I do and recognize that success that our films ‘Catching Faith’ and ‘Wish For Christmas’ have received.
Our goal at Mustard Seed Entertainment is to make quality films with faith messages. I am an auteur and approach every movie with a desire to create with artistry as well as accessibility for the viewer. I want my films to be beautifully put together but also reflect the values of real people and create a connection with them.
We recently came back from Cuba where we showed our film Catching Faith to churches there. An industry professional who found out about this trip was really impressed. “How did you do that?” he asked. The answer is that we made a product that reaches peoples hearts and they wanted to see it.