Like most people, Thomas Purifoy has always enjoyed the thrill of watching a really good movie.

But unlike the casual fan who only buys a ticket to whatever popcorn flick happens to be buzzworthy at the moment, Purifoy made watching films from every era a priority. In fact, during the summers of his high school years, he’d watch two or three a day, a practice inspired by taking a class in “Film and Literature.” During the hours he’d spend watching selections from the American Movie Classics channel, Purifoy quickly became a fan of everyone from famed Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, one of Woody Allen’s biggest influences, to Orson Welles, who directed Citizen Kane, which is often regarded as the best movie of all time.

“When I first watched Citizen Kane, it was in a class at film school in Arkansas. When the teacher basically explained how the film was done, I finally began to understand how movies worked,” Purifoy says. “You always watch movies growing up and enjoy them because it’s such an immediate art form. But as I realized how they were actually constructed, well, that really intrigued me.”

During the summer between Purifoy’s junior and senior year of high school while watching Bergman’s Sjunde inseglet, Det (The Seventh Seal) from 1957 and Persona from 1966, the proverbial lightbulb shined particularly bright. Ultimately, Purifoy began to realize how film can be used as a medium for religious communication because Bergman’s work “explored how a Christian would actually do this, even though he wasn’t necessarily coming from a Christian point of view.”

“That was the point that really pushed me in the direction of having a hands-on interest in film and filmmaking,” Purifoy says. “I saw how a movie could be used artistically in a worldview perspective, not simply communicating the four spiritual laws or anything along those lines.”

An Unconventional Path

Even with his newfound love of film, Purifoy didn’t immediately high-tail it to the bright lights of Hollywood after high school graduation, however. Instead, he pursued more education, majoring in English and Creative Writing at Nashville’s Vanderbilt University. While he explored different mediums of creative expression, movies were never far from his mind, though. For his honors thesis, Purifoy dug into screenwriting, focusing on a group of local fugitive poets.

Leaving the potential for colorful life experiences wide open, Purifoy’s post-grad plans also didn’t exactly follow a conventional path for a guy interested in film either. For the next two years, Purifoy spent his spare time working on screenplays and stories while serving as an officer on an amphibious ship for the U.S. Navy. Then after spending a year and a half with a Naval Special Boat Unit with the Navy Seals, it was eight years after graduation when he decided he’d leave the Navy and focus on screenwriting exclusively.

But Purifoy’s stint in Los Angeles didn’t last long. After attending the first class of Act One: Writing for Hollywood, an organization that helps train and mentor Christians for careers in mainstream film and television, he moved to France where he taught high school and eventually served as a director and instructor of Old Testament and Philosophy.

After returning to the States in 2001, Purifoy made his way back to Nashville and four years later, Purifoy and a friend eventually started their own production company, Compass Cinema. Less than a year later, Purifoy put his multitasking skills to the test when he produced, directed and co-wrote Samaritan, the first short film in what’s now the Modern Parables film-based Bible study curriculum series.