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An Interview with Michael C. Brown of Testimony Pictures

by Dale Pierce

November 2008

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1. When and where was your company Testimony Pictures founded?

 

Originally it was Testimony Video Productions in 1998. I changed it to Testimony Pictures when we produced our first feature film.

 

2. Do you offer a web page where people might find out more about your company?

 

Yes, www.testimonypictures.com. It probably needs updating, but I've been retooling and will be creating a new company shortly.

 

3. You have mainly dealt with Christian projects, correct?

 

Yes, I started out providing video productions for churches and ministries at the time. About the same time DV formats were getting grounded, so it was a great time to enter the industry. What really assisted me in learning to be a storyteller was producing short vignettes for Pastors. I was only given 4 minutes to reach the heart of the congregation. One of my talents is the ability to make you cry in just a few minutes - not an easy task. Some of my older Christian media can be found here: www.youtube.com/overflow2u

 

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4. Yet do you see any reason why these films should be of interest to nonchristians or to the secular world as well?

 

Most of my projects have been for the Christian industry. As far as films go, I think the greatest problem I've seen is Christian filmmakers attempting to peddle their films to a secular market when their films were really designed for the Christian market. Know thy audience market. Nevertheless, I do believe films can have a Christian overtone and be entertaining to all audiences, that's where I want to go.

 

5. Didn't you also enter into some kind of commercial contest for Klondike Bars a while ago?

 

I actually entered several contests as I've been seeking to broaden my scope of work beyond the Christian market. However, I soon learned the goal of these online video contests. The Klondike contest was for $100,000. I didn't win. Nevertheless, we give Klondike - or any sponsor - permission to use our work, even if we don't win. Over 1,000 videos were produced in this contest. I just don't like the idea of my hard work being used without ANY compensation, so I think I'm done with online video contests. Nevertheless, it did allow me to showcase the kind of high quality work I can do. These ads can be seen at www.youtube.com/globalbyus

 

6. You have come quite a ways since then?

 

I've learned a great deal since then. I've learned the importance of marketing. A video promo is just a tool - like a hammer. In the hands of a craftsmen, it's a very valuable tool, in the hands of a child, it's fairly ineffective. So I have dived headlong into an entirely different aspect of the industry - marketing.

 

7. The Calling was your first big project, correct?

 

For me it was big, but it was only a $160,000 project - our own money. We had 44 locations, a cast of 150 people, mostly volunteers and local talent, in 32 days. I wore far too many hats. But it was a test to see if I could construct and tell a story of this magnitude - it's a two hour film and I think I did a good job considering the conditions. I also wanted to produce a film that non-Christians could watch and be entertained and not feel like they were being preached at. A huge mistake with most Christian filmmakers.

 

8. You have other projects in varied stages of production and preparation also?

 

I do. Since The Calling in 2002, I have moved to producing more commercially viable films for ALL audiences. I firmly believe the art is still in the storytelling. Nevertheless, for high production values, these kinds of films need a budget of 5 to 20 million nowadays - and that's considered the low end of film budgets.

 

9. You both direct and produce most of your own projects?

 

I edit them as well. Having worn ALL the hats over the last 10 years has been a boon, as I have the ability to oversee the entire project and help ensure the finished product represents the script closely. There are so many places in the course of production where the ball can be dropped - which is why feature film work is such a high risk investment. Because I've been involved in EVERY phase of production, I am able to minimize that risk and ensure we end up with a great film.

 

10. Where did you study film or did you just jump into the industry as some indie producers have done and learn as you went along?

 

I jumped in and learned as I went. My first editing job was in linear fashion in 1997 for my wedding, and I got hooked. The editing process is where it all comes together. It's like creating a painting, with all the right colors so you end up with a masterpiece. But there was a great deal of trial and error, lots of reading, researching and studying to get where I am today - and I'm still not done. Technology requires a constant upgrade of knowledge.

 

11. Do you use nonchristian as well as Christian staff and actors in your projects, as it seems unlikely in bigger productions, you could depend entirely on church-goers to get something done?

 

My tennis partner is not a Christian, one of the best guys I know! I don't differentiate when it comes to casting, I have no litmus test for working with talent. Sherwood Church can get away with using all church-goers to volunteer, but that's not the direction I'm going in nor want to go in.

 

12. I assume you are dying to give your conversion story, as mosty Christians I know are? Here is the chance if you desire to do so. Go.

 

Sorry. Not me. I only share as I am led to share. However, I am not the man I used to be - thank God. But I'm not done yet either, I have a long way to go. My work in progress joke is this, "I only drive like a Christian in the church parking lot."  I will add, I am far from a righteous man still, I'm sure there are many more non-Christians in the world that would be deemed a better man than I. Which is why I carry a get-out-of-jail-free-card with Jesus' name on it.

 

13. Not wanting to put you on the spot where it looks like you are playing favorites, but are there any actresses and actors out there you have used, who have been ignored in the mainstream, but really come through for you?

 

Oh sure! There's a huge body of underused talent out there, not just Christian either. But in the film industry, name brand talent still carry some weight when it comes to distribution more than drawing an audience. It's not that they are not talented, it's that they have not developed a name for themselves. To do that, you really need to live in L.A. That's where most of the jobs are.

 

14. What do you look for in an actress or actor?

 

Well... I'm very good at type casting and rely on a casting director to select several talented actors and then I pick out the one who also exemplifies the character I'm looking for and takes direction well.

 

15. What to you, makes a good script, especially in your area of production?

 

Well, a script is a script. I am big on character development, character metamorphesis and twists and turns. I like to surround my main character with insurmountable odds and watch how he climbs out. My main forte however, is producing joy in the audience. This is why My Big Fat Greek Wedding did so well. It produced joy. Audiences can't get enough of that. Producing fear is easy, which is why they make so many horror films. Producing joy however, is one of the toughtest emotions. Another group that majors on producing joy so effectively is PIXAR, every one of their films do this very effectively.

 

16. Aside from films, what are your personal interests?

 

My family is #1. In fact, my next film is based on a situation I saw myself in while editing The Calling. I could have been editing 18 hours a day, I was so caught up. But I had a wife and two kids who needed me. So I had to daily push myself away from the edit station and devote myself to them. Priorities in life are very important for balance. But I'm an outdoor person. I love Harley's, tennis, hiking and camping.

 

17. Has the Chrsitian community been very supportive of your works? I say this because I know some Christians who run a local book store and it seems like the church people are not as supprtive of their own as they might be.

 

Not really. In fact, many Christian filmmakers slammed my film The Calling because I dared to make the bad guy in my film a Christian. However, that is the real world. Self-righteous believers do exist! In this way, secular people appreciated the honesty. Christians are NOT superpeople, but are frought with many of the same failures as anyone else (that's why we need a Savior).  Worst thing Christians can do is think they are better than they really are - the Pharisees had that same problem, remember them? They were the ones who executed Jesus.

 

Also, it's important to note, of the majority of those who attend church, only 13% ever frequent a Christian bookstore, tithe, or become interested in Christian television, radio or internet. So catering to the Christian market is VERY difficult. Most church going people are entirely connected to the secular market. And of those 13% that are actively engaged, they are the ones that are most likely to be critical of any Christian film that does not line up with their doctrine. Which is one of the reaons Christian film has never really taken off. Again, know thy market.

 

Since beginning in 1998, the Christian market has become somewhat self-sufficient in video production using amateurs to fulfill the churches needs, both in churches and ministries. So I've been attempting to move into corporate work and commercials, which I really enjoy doing. I can't eat a burger without seeing a commercial in there somewhere. But with little background in this arena, it's not an easy industry to break into.

 

18. Any interesting behind the scenes stories or humorous incidents during filming varied projects you might want to share with us?

 

Well, I can share my most successful accident.  I am the writer, director and producer of Dear Mr.Obama, the #1 viral video of the 2008 Presidential election. It is the first GOP viral video. When we went to film, my soldier who lost a leg in Iraq nailed the first take, which he thought was just a walk-through. It ended up being the best take - he didn't think the camera was recording. I came home that night, edited it and uploaded it to the internet here: www.youtube.com/weneedmccain I called my soldier the next morning and told him we may re-shoot, as I was working the teleprompter and wasn't able to "pull focus" adjust focus as he walked away - so there was some blurring in the image. But before I could re-schedule, this thing started taking off. To date, it has over 13 Million views worldwide and Iraq has been the second largest nation of hits to date. When the BBC announced it as the #1 video, FOX NEWS, CNN, MSNBC all ran stories on it and interviewed my soldier about it, as well as some articles in national papers. This has caused me to be pulled into politics. Until now, my greatest political activity consisted of putting yard signs in my yard. I don't know how long this will last. But after this last election, I think it's time we come together as Americans. President-elect Obama has his hands full and deserves the support of all Americans. So I hope I can help produce healing between liberals and conservatives and be a bridge to constructive, civil, and respectful dialogue.

 

19. Anything else you would like to touch on that we may have missed?

 

Well, for someone who is not a Christian, I hope my take on life is a bit refreshing for you. I realize the overall impression made by believers nowadays reflects a smaller segment that are nevertheless given greater exposure. So I guess this was my chance to reflect a different view of Christians, and I hope I reflected it appropriately.

 

20. Closing comments.

 

Well, I want to thank you Dale for your interest in my work. I try to pour my heart and soul into every production, which makes my work distinctfully me. Not an easy task to birth baby after baby not knowing what the end result will be. It certainly requires one to be thick skinned and have a passion for this kind of work. Nevertheless, when it reaches a heart, when it touches someone's life in a profound way, there is nothing under heaven that is as immensely rewarding to me. Everyday, all of us, leave impressions on everyone we meet. Either negative or positive, either to a small degree or a large degree. It is my calling, my mission so to speak, to make a positive difference in the life of everyone I meet, and it is my hope that my work reflects that same ideal. I love what I do and will never retire. I told my wife, "My wake will be my retirement party." And I mean that.

 

Thanks for the interview!

 

© by Dale Pierce


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