A Conversation with Author and Filmmaker Frank Peretti
- Janet Chismar Senior Editor, News & Culture
- 2003 1 Oct
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Crosswalk: How much input did you have in the making of Hangman's Curse the movie?
Peretti: In God's grace, He finally brought me together with some filmmakers who really wanted to work with me and let me work with them. That's something that I've always wanted to do - make movies. The bigger picture is that we're not just making more movies; we're in it for the long haul. We want to follow that Christian principle of, "If you're faithful in the little things, then God will entrust you with bigger things."
The question always comes up, "When's This Present Darkness going to be a movie. How come This Present Darkness isn't a movie?" Well, I'll tell you why This Present Darkness isn't a movie. It's not a movie because we cannot make a movie that big, that expensive, that technically demanding. It would take incredible resources, staff, studios, special effects, actors, everything.
You know, all too often we shoot real high, but we don't realize that the Lord wants to bring us there step by step. So, in good faith, we want to be faithful in the little things. Let's start with this movie. This is something we can handle. Let's do the best job we can on it. Let's learn from it. Learn from our mistakes. Learn from our strengths. Do better each time.
We'll do this one, then we're going to do Nightmare Academy. Then we'll do The Visitation. Then maybe we'll do The Oath. And then, maybe by then, the Lord will say, "Okay you're ready, now let's try This Present Darkness.
Crosswalk: Your books really seem to resonant with teens and also their parents - especially the themes of "wounded spirits" and bullying in schools.
Peretti: Right, Hangman's Curse deals with bullying. The book deals with it a lot more directly, and it's in the movie too. Now the Veritas Project is a series for young people, to encourage them to think, to deal with issues, to not just parrot everything they hear on the boob tube, but to think things through. Hangman's Curse talks about bullying, harassment, respect for others. Nightmare Academy deals with absolute truth. It's a direct confrontation of the popular relativism that you hear so much of today.
Crosswalk: Can you talk about your own wounded spirit and how God has used that story in your life?
Peretti: Well, it started out as a talk that I knew that I always wanted to give, just never had the opportunity. I always imagined giving this talk at a Bible college or something. The time and place would be right and I'd actually come out and say something like, "This is probably going to be the weirdest sermon you're ever going to hear. I've never heard it before. I've never heard a pastor, or a youth leader, or a teacher, or a principal, or anybody ever talk about this, but I'm going to talk about it because I know it affects everybody." And then I'd go on to tell them about the wounded spirit.
Well, that opportunity finally did come a month after Columbine. I was going to do a Life On The Edge event for Focus on the Family and I was part of their speakers' pool. I had material already done for it. So I called the organizers and I said, "You know, I think God wants me to talk about bullying and harassment," and they said, "We're with you brother, go for it." So, I got the talk together and I just spilled my guts and it was tough, real tough. I was on the verge of tears the whole time. The talk brought such an incredible response and it was recorded, so Dr. Dobson heard it and played it on his radio station, on his program, and that got such an incredible response, so, that's what gave rise to the book. Then, right about that same season I was writing the Veritas series and so I said, "Let's deal with that in the Veritas series as well."
Crosswalk: What kind of parenting advice do you have for someone whose child is being harassed at school? Do you have any practical tips that you can share with them?
Peretti: Well, my first thing that I always say is get proactive and do something about it. One of the biggest mistakes parents make for generations is make excuses for it. Just excuse it. "Oh just ignore them. Oh just stay away from them. Oh don't worry about it. You'll outgrow it. Da da da da da... You know what you're really telling your child is don't come to me when you have a problem. I'm not going to help you. You're on your own kid. Tough nuggets. You have to understand, like when I was a kid, because of the attitude of parents and teachers, I thought this was supposed to be happening to me. It's part of my educational experience. I'm supposed to be here. I'm supposed to be picked on. I'm supposed to be harassed and molested. I often compare it to a child being molested by a family member. On the one hand they're being told that this is okay, this is our secret, that you're supposed to go through this, don't whine about it, don't tell anybody...blah, blah, blah. And I suppose they want to be a good little boy or girl, so they don't say anything, they obey and they say, "Look kid," but something in their heart is telling them that this should not be happening to me. That's how it was for me. The teachers allowed it, turned their backs on it, made excuses for it. My parents sent me there, I had to be there. Nobody ever told me, I was never told, "You know what? You should not have to put up with this and you are not to be treated this way."
J: Yeah, right, same here. How come?
F: I just... So that was a big question that I had to grapple with for quite a while and I finally started writing about it and talking about it and, "Frank, what, why didn't you ever say anything about it." And that's wrong, as bizarre as it seems. So, that's why I say the first thing that parents needs to do is don't excuse it, don't blink you're eye at it, don't just say you'll outgrow it. Do something about it because it's wrong. And then you hear this other thing that comes along, "Well, it'll make you strong." Or, you hear this a lot from Christians, "Well, the Lord uses it." And I have to keep coming back, "You're missing the point. It's wrong!" How many times do I have to say it. It's wrong and when I give the talk I go through it and say, "Is it right to injure someone, to inflict upon them wounds that they will carry for the rest of their lives? That will have an affect
on the risks they take, the decisions they make, the people they associate with. The social situations they shy away from. The false image of what they can and cannot do. Yes, it's wrong. All right, if it's wrong then why do we allow it? We clothe our kids, we bundle them up for the winter, we tell them to look both ways for traffic before they cross the street, we give them vitamins, we make sure they eat properly, we do everything to take care of them and then we send them into an environment where they are going to get stabbed through the spirit and then we send them again. So, that's my first thing to say to parents. You get proactive. You do something about it. You find out what the problem is and you stop it.
I'm among the flock whose trying to make a splash out there.
J: Yes. [Inaudible]
F: We still have so much growing up to do. Our philosophy is we want to achieve a general marketability and whatever that takes and I don't think we have to compromise our message to do that, but we've got to have good stories and we've got to get away from schmaltz, and what we kind of call the Sunday school paper mentality. "Johnny learns to read his Bible," or something like that, so we're going to grow...
J: You are obviously a wonderful story teller. Has that always been part of your personality or did that kind of grow into or did you always know that you wanted to write?
F: I think I knew it. It took me a while to get that really settled. Cause I tried a lot of other things.
J: Yeah, cause I was reading in your bio that you'd done a number of things.
F: I'd tell stories to the kids. I'd do comics when I was a kid. I wrote all kinds of stories, but it takes you a while to sort of figure out what you want to do. I was going to be a musician among other things, but I never felt peace until I was writing, so I finally settled on it and stuck with it.
J: Is it challenging for you or does it flow pretty easily?
F: No, it's awful. It's just awful.
J: That comforts me!
F: I'm working on a new novel now, Evolution. It's just tough, a lot of research and it's supposed to be a kind of comedy, which I've never done before, so. I've always been one to kind of shy away from the pack. I don't want to do what everybody else is doing. Everybody's doing thrillers. I've done thrillers. I want to do a comedy this time. I'm not going to do an end times book, man!
F: I cannot believe how many end times books there are. We don't need another end times book. I have a big enough challenge dealing with the Christian right right where I am. I don't need to be dabbling in worlds that might not even happen. So..., but that's a whole other subject.
J: What kind of themes would you deal with in a comedy?
F: Well, in the comedy. I don't know. I'm doing Evolution now and I'm dealing with the heart level issues in that. You know, cause evolution is not scientifically driven, it's ideologically driven, so there's a whole mentality, a whole heart attitude and denial involved there. You can do a lot with that. You can create a whole crazy lie and a whole crazy story around it, and uh, so... it's intriguing.
J: I know they probably want me to talk more about [inaudible] My brain is fried...
F: Oh, yeah, that's the hot button for the day.
F: Well, see, you know all the basics. My, my, basically Frank Perretti's angle would be the big picture, the long range goal. That's the kind of the thing I'm going to be emphasizing. Cause I want God's people and everybody to pick up that vision. Like you say, "Quit whining." No, you didn't say that. The last interviewer said that. The last interviewer said, "Quit whining and get behind these things." If there's a good film out there, see it, buy it on video, talk it up, because it takes bucks to make these movies, and it we're making crummy movies we don't deserve your support, but if we're doing our best to make good movies and we're going to learn and do better every time and then that's a good place to put your support. Buy a ticket once in a while.
J: Yeah, it's not a sin to go to the movies.
F: The other thing is if your kids are going to have an overnighter or a sleepover or something instead of getting them a gory slash em up movie or something kind of hokey, get em. They'll all scream and have a good time and it won't be a dangerous movie for them. It's not suitable for little kids because it's spooky and scary, but there's no swearing in it, there's no sex in it, there's no gratuitous violence in it. There are some chases and some grabs and some out of the darks at you and things like that, but, the uh, one of our challenges we kind of embraced at the front was, let's see how scary we can get without getting bloody or violent. Hitchcock used to be really good at that. He could scare you to death, but you'd never see....so, you know.
J: You're actually appearing in the movie. Tell me about that.
F: Oh, yes! I play the part of Algernon Wheeling, the eccentric scientist, forensic egghead, whatever he is. Um, I kind of wrote it as a comical character when I wrote the book and when we started making the movie and... They right away, Algernon, they just pointed me So, I do Algernon. That was a lot of fun. That was my first big movie acting. Yeah, my motion picture debut. I've done Mr. Henry, then I did Mr. Henry, did I do anything else? I did the Mr. Henry audios which was a lot of voice work. I think this was the first actual movie movie I've ever been in. So that was fun.
J: When is it going to be released?
F: September 12th. Is it Dallas/Fort Worth? Yeah, Dallas and Fort Worth, Chicago, Oklahoma City, Louisville, Nashville and Spokane are our six. We're going to start there and if we get the rear ends in the seats and do well, then we can go somewhere else. We're going to do Faithful in the Little Things.
J: Yeah, well we'll be sure to try and get there.
F: Yeah, get rear ends in the seats!
Other: Tell your friends to get their in Nashville.