Rather than to simply entertain, (although he hopes the movie does that, too) director Steve Taylor hopes the conversation that was started in his first film, "The Second Chance," will be an ongoing one.
While Christian music fans will certainly remember him as that rather tall, quirky guy who sang about wanting be a clone back in the ‘80s, Steve Taylor has always had the itch to make movies. And now after six years of perfecting the script, his long-time dream has finally come to fruition with this month's release of "The Second Chance."
When making the movie, Taylor readily admits the odds were against him. After all, he didn't exactly have experience on his side, a Hollywood budget with "King Kong"-sized special effects at his disposal, or even an experienced, Oscar-worthy cast. But what Taylor did have was an important story to tell with a message he hopes that audiences will continue to talk about after the closing credits have rolled.
In route to another interview as we catch up by phone this particular Monday afternoon, Taylor's making the promotional rounds these days - a process that's providing him with plenty of feedback on the film. "You don't know anything until you show it to an audience," Taylor says with a laugh. "Generally, the response has been really positive, which has been really encouraging."
Inspired by his church background, Taylor couldn't help but notice that previous portrayals of church life came up a little short in the accuracy department. "My dad was a pastor, and with few exceptions, every time I'd see a movie or TV show set in a church that was telling a pastor story, most of these projects felt like they were made by people who don't go to church," Taylor says. "So I wanted to come up with something that felt authentic - a story that was redemptive but not sort of simplistic."
And with crisscrossing storylines along the lines of movies like "Crash" or "Traffic", "The Second Chance" is really a tale of two churches - one that's white, another that's black. First, audiences get a glimpse of "The Rock," a rather affluent, suburban church that's big on appearances and rather proud of the fact that it's got the best music in town and all the cutting-edge multimedia to keep even the most A-D-D member of the congregation entertained. But despite appearances, things aren't as healthy as they seem. Despite the "success" of the church and all its programs, senior pastor Jeremiah Jenkins couldn't seem more removed. So at the end of his father's tenure, former rock star Ethan Jenkins (Michael W. Smith) is slated to assume his duties. But after a scandalous incident stirs up quite the controversy one Sunday morning, Ethan is relegated to The Rock's inner-city "satellite congregation," The Second Chance Community Church - something he's not that excited about in the least.
With his expensive Gucci wardrobe, a cash-can-fix-anything attitude and shiny BMW to boot, Ethan can't help but clash with The Second Chance's street-smart pastor, Jake Sanders (jeff obafemi carr). In stark contrast to Ethan, Jake's a dedicated community servant who constantly faces the reality of life in a poor, often dangerous neighborhood. And when Ethan arrives on the scene, he's convinced he won't be around for long.
But as time passes and they're forced to work through a variety of troubling situations together, Ethan and Jake ultimately realize they have far more in common than they expected. And as the story unfolds, you begin to see changes in attitude and priorities - and old prejudices put to rest.
In addition to the film's pertinent and relevant message, another much-talked about element is Michael W. Smith's acting debut. Known for more than 20 years as one of Christian music's most popular artists and worship leaders with hits including "Secret Ambition," "Place in This World," and "Above All," the jury's still out on whether he's the next George Clooney. But Taylor couldn't be happier with the selection of Smith for his project.
"I have to say that [casting him] wasn't my idea initially. It was Ben Pearson, one of the writers of the script who's known Michael for a long time," Taylor says. "So they had talked, and he knew that Michael always wanted to act. So, when Ben brought this idea up, my question was everyone's question, ‘Can he act?' So we met with him, and he was really enthusiastic. We then spent an afternoon working through some scenes. And I kept feeling that he could take direction and do a good job.
"Then the question came, ‘If Michael's got a dark side, I haven't seen it.' I've known him for a long time, and he's a genuinely nice guy. But this character … starts off as not a particularly nice guy. So I was really happy with the way Michael let us sort of play with the persona of a Christian pastor who's in the spotlight and kind of see behind the scenes. Certainly not all pastors are like that, or even most pastors aren't like that, but in the case of Michael's character, he starts out doing things primarily kind of for the camera. And that's where the conflict starts early on, and I think Michael did a really good job of immersing himself in this character who is not like Michael at all. He brought a lot to the role and I'm really happy with the job he did. It was really hard for him to be mean. There were times when he really didn't know what to do, so I had to come up with something kind of artificial to draw him into it. I've never seen him angry. So for him to come in and confront Jake's character was not in his nature."
And it's this honest look at the church, and its often misplaced priorities, that Taylor hopes will ultimately appeal to churched and non-churched audiences alike. "Not everyone would agree on this, but I feel really strongly about this, there's some people that would say, ‘Aren't you showing the church warts and all when you tell a story like this? Aren't you airing our dirty laundry?'
And I'm like, ‘Are you kidding me? You think people outside the church don't already know that?' The problem is that they think we don't know it. They think we're blind to all that stuff. So I think that when people outside of our faith see a movie like this, they have an entirely different take on it. They actually really appreciate it; and it actually opens their minds and hearts to looking at Christianity a different way because we see there are problems. They see that we're not happy with it either and have some work to do.
"I think that's probably where a lot of Christian movies fall short - they're simple-minded stories that don't really have an anchor in reality. We're trying really hard to come up with something that felt true to life. It's really hard to tell a redemptive story without a basis in reality."
Directed by Steve Taylor and starring Michael W. Smith, J. Don Ferguson and jeff obafemi carr, "The Second Chance" opens in limited release in theaters this Friday, February 17, 2006. Click here for more information.
Clips courtesy of Sony Pictures.