Heaven: The First War (An Interview)




Heaven: The First War
by Nelson Fernandez @ thehaystack.tv

Animated Christian projects have always been a hit or miss for me. I remember as a kid watching television shows like Hanna-Barbera’s Greatest Adventure: Stories from the Bible where Derek, Margo, and Moki took me back in time to the stories I would hear about in the Bible. I also remember the epic scenes of the DreamWorks’s film The Prince of Egypt and the beautiful musical pieces from the sequel Joseph: King of Dreams. A few people before my time might remember a Japanese series called Superbook that tried to chronicle the Bible’s Old and New Testaments in its unique animation style. 

However, as interesting as those series were to me, there were many others (who will remain nameless) that were corny or poorly produced. Very rarely have I found a Christian animated feature that was high quality in both its aesthetics and its message (even fewer can be described as epics). That is, until I came across an interesting project currently in the works titled, Heaven: The First War. 

The official press release says that “a team of young Christian writers and producers are collaborating with experienced Hollywood talent to create an animated feature-length action film.  The film … portrays the biblical story of the first war in heaven, the fall of Lucifer, the battle between forces of good and evil, and the impact of sin’s origin on the human race.” 

However, when I looked at the concept and the potential of this project, I thought, “If done the right way, this has the potential to be one of the most exciting and high quality animated Christian films ever!” 

Consider this talent: the voice and casting director, Ned Lott, has worked with Disney and Pixar. The arranger/conductor, Larry Kenton, has worked on films like The Day After Tomorrow, Ratatouille, and the new Star Trek movies, and helped compose the score for the Grammy-winning film Up. Also, you video gamers out there might have heard of a little game called The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Yeah, he helped compose the soundtrack for that game, too… no big deal. 

That’s just to name a few of the people tentatively signed on to this project. You can see more talent currently assembled at the Heaven: The First War website.  This film has some serious potential. 

Incredibly, through some great connections in skaMEDIA, I was able to interview the producer and screenwriter for the film, Delroy Brown. 

Delroy, a native of the beautiful island of Jamaica, grew up in the Cayman Islands where he played semi-pro basketball for the national team. He currently lives in Indiantown, FL with his wife and kids where he works as a web-developer along with working on his passion, screenwriting. I was able to sit down with him for a web interview to discuss this upcoming project, as well as what he hopes to accomplish through its creation. 

NF: Delroy, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me about this project. Heaven: The First War is an exciting concept to bring to the big screen.

DB: No, thank you for having me. 

NF: Can you tell me a little about your involvement in this film and why this particular choice for an animated film? 

DB: Well, my role in the project is main producer and screenwriter for the film. The main reason why I wanted to make this movie is, well I’m a Seventh-day Adventist, but no matter what side of the religious spectrum, liberal or conservative, all of us have wanted to do a project on the Great Controversy. 

(Side note: The Great Controversy is the title of a book written by Ellen G. White, a prominent founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which details the battle between Christ and Satan from its very beginnings in Heaven through the ages and its eventual conclusion.) 

What I’ve seen done in the last few years is that everyone is trying to condense the entire history of the Great Controversy into one film or one project. I thought to myself, “Really? That’s cheapening the Great Controversy,” in the sense that there is so much material in there; we could easily break this up into 10 or even 30 different films. There is no need to force everything in one film. So instead of doing a film on the entire Great Controversy and hitting all these different points, I really wanted to start at the inception and give people a good overview: “Hey, this is how it started, this is how it began.” Everything else after this fact is the fallout. 


Snippets from the trailer - characters are not the final concepts.
Snippets from the trailer - characters are not the final concepts.

 NF: What’s different about this movie as opposed to what people may read in The Great Controversy? 

DB: Actually, nothing is different. When our director, Hendel Butoy (former Disney director and current professor of animation at Southern Adventist University), who directed The Fox and the Hound, Rescuers Down Under and Fantasia 2000, read the screenplay, he said, “I can tell that you took painstaking effort to stay as close as you can to what Ellen White said about the events that happened in Heaven before the fall.” 

The reason I did this was because, as a filmmaker you can take “creative license” to do whatever you want to do, you know what I mean? (laughs) 

So I thought to myself, “Should I take creative license or should I take what we love in the story of the Great Controversy and simply bring that out?” I thought this would be the most appropriate. To take the whole mood, background, dialogue, and everything that surrounded this and bring it out into a screenplay and eventually on the big screen. 

If this story is beloved by millions and millions of Adventists, I think there is potential for many people around the world to fall in love with this story too. 

This was really evident when Ned (Lott) and Larry (Kenton) read it. They said, “We’ve never read anything like this in our lives. This is amazing!” It’s funny because afterwards they asked me, “What’s your budget look like?” I said, “2.5 million.” They looked at me in shock and said “NO, NO, a project like this needs at least 40 million!” and I said, “Okay…” They said that a story like this is so unique and good, and demands that we go all out on a project like this. 

NF: You really have an amazing group of people collaborating on this project. How did this all come together? 

DB: Aw man… first off, I’m glad that I’m not a very intelligent individual (laughs). 

I say this in the sense that, if I knew what I was getting into, I might not have gotten into it. God has definitely blessed in bringing all these people on board. All I did was have an idea about bringing the Great Controversy to the world. Then I went to the ASI  [Adventist Service Industry] Conference and someone introduced me to Brenda Lane, our music director and Brenda just opened her contact list and before you know it, we had what we have today. 

There are also a few big names out there that would be on board with this project to do voice acting, but we can’t say anything at this time [until we secure the necessary funds through Kickstarter to begin producing this movie]. 

But seriously, we have this idea of not just taking this movie nationwide, we’re thinking global. Really, if this were to happen, it would be the single biggest evangelistic effort that the Adventist church has been a part of in decades. So, it’s really exciting. 

NF: I have to ask, why Kickstarter as opposed to another form of funding? 

DB: The reason why we did this crowdsourcing is, first of all, you get an awareness out there that this project is happening in a very big way. Secondly, we wanted to keep creative control of our project, 100%. We didn’t want corporations or people coming and saying, “We’ll give you this money if you change this or do that.” We want to keep this as real as we possibly can. 

There’s a saying that I love which is, “Life imitates art.” And if what we find [in the Great Controversy] is true, then this is really exciting. We don’t want to change things because of people coming in with hidden agendas or politics. So we thought, “We need the public’s support of this project if it’s going to take off.” 

Thankfully, we’ve had many people from different faiths and backgrounds supporting us so far.

Concept art for the film. Some allusion to popular video game franchises but, not this is not the final concept.
Concept art for the film. Some allusion to popular video game franchises but, not this is not the final concept.

NF: If you were to get funding in this initial phase, what would be the next step? 

DB: Our next step would be to immediately move into our studio, storyboard the entire screenplay, and start working on a trailer. From there we would look to secure distribution rights, start hiring actors and animators, develop the characters and the rest. 

NF: Anything you would like to say to people that are considering giving but are not sure about supporting this project financially or otherwise? 

DB: I’ve watched big-name movies like Noah recently and many other Christian films that Hollywood has put out, and it’s always one of two extremes: either the films are subpar, or they are way off with the messages that they’re trying to convey. There is a huge disproportion between movies made for strictly entertainment value vs. edification, it’s ridiculous. 

Plus, Christians need to put their money where their mouth is. As much as Christians say they love Jesus and want to support creative outreach ideas, they don’t support evangelism to the secular world when it comes time to help with their pocketbooks. 

Look at the hundreds of millions of dollars that are raised with no problem to make movies that misrepresent, mock, and degrade Christianity, Christian beliefs, and Jesus, versus the challenge of making high quality animated Christian films. Anybody in Hollywood will look at Christians and say, “These people aren’t serious.” 

This is frustrating to me because it’s true: Christians will think twice about supporting a Christian film, but won’t think twice about spending $20 to go watch a movie made by Atheists about Christianity. 

__________

 As mentioned earlier, although ultimately seeking a 40 million-dollar production budget through investors, the team has turned to Kickstarter.com to raise a $300,000 early production budget by December 29, 2014. Kickstarter helps creative projects generate funding through large numbers of donors often giving smaller amounts. Supporters receive incentives related to the film, and pledges are only fulfilled if the entire funding goal is reached. 

The campaign can be viewed by clicking here or copying the following link on your browser: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/heaventhefirstwar/heaven-the-first-war 

I hope that you’ll strongly consider helping them achieve their dream.



Nelson Fernandez

Nelson Fernandez

Nelson serves as a pastor in a growing in a bilingual and multicultural church district in Greenville, South Carolina in the Carolina Conference. He is married to the love of his life Sarah, who is Venezuelan and American. Born and raised in Miami, FL, he is a second-generation Hispanic of Dominican-Salvadorian decent. He loves reading, learning and blogging about church growth, discipleship and practical Christianity at www.pastornelsonsblog.com

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