By Lydia P. Robles
GCU News Bureau
A bit of Hollywood found its way to the Grand Canyon University campus this week when students got an inside look at filmmaking from the perspective of a trio of independent Christian movie producers who are scouting campus locations for their next project.
The two-day “Hollywood How-To” symposium, presented by the College of Fine Arts and Production and moderated by the college’s dean, Dr. Craig Detweiler, featured Mustard Seed Entertainment’s Alexandra and Andrea Boylan. They have produced such faith-based films as “Catching Faith” and “Wish for Christmas” (both starring recent GCU graduate and comedian Bill Engvall) and their latest, “Switched.”
“In their movies, the Boylan Sisters put compelling characters into ethical conundrums that test their Christian convictions. This integration of faith and work is at the core of GCU’s mission,” Detweiler said.
Lisa Tervo, GCU Program Director for Digital Film, said the University became connected to the Boylans through their brother, who was on campus recently to film an episode of "The College Tour" for Amazon Prime and knew his sisters were looking for a college campus as a setting for their new movie.
On Monday, the speakers dove into the creative aspect of screenwriting and how to turn an idea into a large production. Then on Tuesday, they tackled the business side. They spoke about financials and investing in filmmaking, concentrating on the do's and don’ts of financing your project.
Their visit will culminate with a third talk, “How to Produce and Distribute” your film, along with a screening of “Switched” at 6 p.m. Friday in Sunset Auditorium, at the campus’ church property at 31st Avenue and Camelback Road.
The Boylans, who grew up as pastor’s kids in Boston, loved to watch movies, but they wanted to watch relatable films that their parents would approve of.
Alexandra's love for filmmaking started when their parents took her and Andrea to see their first movie in theaters: “Back to the Future.”
“I remember sitting there and thinking, ‘What is this feeling that I feel?’ ‘I love it! I want to do this when I grow up,”’ she said.
The sisters launched their career by making thrillers.
But after selling their first film, their sales agent, who didn’t know their dad was a minister, said they should be making faith-based films. They would have a change of heart and did just that, turning their attention to bringing faith-based movies to the big screen.
“What I am doing is bringing people to the kingdom of heaven. People ask if I’ll go back to making thrillers,” Alexandra said. “But once you make movies that impact the world, I don’t see the point of going back.”
She said, simply: “I want to change lives.”
Although faith-based filmmaking was not the original path they followed, God had other plans for the Boylans, not that they don’t strive to appeal to more than just faith-based audiences.
They also want to celebrate strong female leads in their movies.
“I felt it was God calling us to speak to the women and teen girls in a positive way,” Andrea said.
Mustard Seed Entertainment got its name from its humble beginnings — taking what little resources they had and seeing God grow those resources into what the company is now.
Their mission is to create visually stimulating films that honor God and spark conversations with viewers.
The Boylans and Howard said they let their faith drive the production of their movies.
“My Christian faith informs everything I do,” Andrea said. “I try to walk with Jesus, so I want to look like Jesus in everything I do. The integrity, kindness and love of God is infused into my work and character.”
Howard sees value in telling a story that has meaning and has found a way to involve God in a way that attracts all audiences.
“Jesus’ stories weren’t just about faith or God; they were just great stories that pointed to truth,” he said. “Movies are a great way to present those truths to people. My goal is to invoke hope, meaning and avoid making hopeless stories.”
Tervo said, "Workshops highlighting the work being made by Christian filmmakers is so important for our students as it helps them better understand how they can succeed in the film industry and maintain their Christian identity. They get to hear stories about challenges and struggles and how faith played a major role in overcoming them. Additionally, filmmakers like the Boylan sisters and producer Ben Howard are helping change the perception of Christian films, which I think our students respond well to."
Mustard Seed Entertainment's latest film, “Switched,” is a “Mean Girls”-meets-“Freaky Friday” movie starring Denise Richards, John Schneider, Madeleine Byrne and Miya Horcher. They made the movie with Howard, who ran marketing for Reunion Records, a label that launched the careers of several Christian music artists. He also ran Sony’s Provident Films and then launched Third Coast Content.
The sisters wanted to work with someone like Howard, who has a master’s degree in business and knows the economics and investment side of filmmaking.
“We wanted to partner with someone who was bigger than us and what we were doing, so we could get to the next level of the industry,” Alexandra said.
Added Howard, “There is great value in the entertainment business for those who are less creative but can work the numbers.”
The trio also is collaborating on a new movie, “Identity Crisis,” featuring the GCU campus as a filming site and GCU students as production assistants and in other roles. The movie is in preproduction as Howard and the Boylans scout locations on campus and go over the script. Filming is scheduled to start Jan 6.
"They were excited for the opportunity to give back to the school by involving students as much as possible in the process as well as provide some informational/educational talks," Tervo said.
Said Detweiler, “We hope that students will learn from the Boylans how to practice Christian ethics, stewardship, and creativity both on and off screen. A holistic faith can actually enhance our artistry and entrepreneurship.”
Tervo added, "It’s been so amazing having the Boylan sisters on campus this week and getting to see them interact with our students. Their love and passion for filmmaking only seems equaled by their kindness and generosity toward our students."
For the aspiring filmmakers, actors and directors who don’t know how to get going in the business, Andrea said, “Just start. Do something. I believe that saying yes is part of how I got to where I am now. It is all because I said yes – even if I did not know what I was doing.”
Students interested in being an extra in "Identity Crisis" should email [email protected].
GCU Magazine: Acting on faith, Detweiler found place in the arts