After more than a two month postponement, the APU community saw “Paul’s Promise,” a film released in theaters nationwide, with the cast and crew giving the audience an inside look into the film industry.
Long worth the wait, the Azusa Pacific University community screened “Paul’s Promise” on Thursday, January 19 in Munson Chapel. The night included refreshments with cast and crew members, the showing of “Paul’s Promise” and a question and answers session. Three APU alumni and one current APU student were a part of this film. With an all-star cast and talented crew, “Paul’s Promise” proved to be an inspiring example of what is possible for students in the College of the Arts.
“Paul’s Promise,” released in October 21, 2022 and directed by APU alumnus Matthew Reithmayer ’98 (who also played firefighter #6), captures the inspiring true story of Paul Holderfield, played by Ryan O’ Quinn.
Set in the height of the civil rights movement in Little Rock, Arkansas, Paul goes from a bitter, cowardly firefighter who is unwilling to stand against racism to a pastor who started one of the first integrated churches in the South, “Friendly Chapel,” which is still active today.
While racism serves as a subplot, the main premise showcases how a dying mother’s unrelenting prayers changed her son’s life. Paul’s mother, played by Linda Purl, who has acted in shows such as “Happy Days” and “The Office,” delivered a witty performance. Paul Holderfield and his mother’s simple story was heartwarming, and from talking to a few of the night’s viewers, thought-provoking as well.
After the showing, cinematic arts freshman Maria Kurakulova said, “It’s a movie that makes you think about a lot of stuff. It’s a movie about love, and all during it I was thinking about my personal issues in my relationship with my family.”
Left with a similar feeling, cinematic arts freshman Iren Tovmasyan expressed that the movie made her realize how much she should think about Christianity.
Stirring reactions like Kurakulova’s and Tovmasyan makes all the hard work worth it. “Paul’s Promise” indeed faced many challenges. APU alumnus Taylor Cole ’16, who was one of the producers and played Jake in the film, said, “Everything was a challenge. Making a movie is nothing short of a miracle.”
Cole described how filming took place at the very peak of COVID-19, where they were given extremely strict guidelines and eventually had to move from their location in New Mexico to downtown LA in the middle of filming. On top of this, they faced sand storms, snow storms, time constraints, creative differences, trouble finding child actors and a last minute change in a music composer.
Intermingled with production headaches were joyful moments. Producer Sean Meade, who’s daughter Maddy Meade played Nurse Jenny in “Paul’s Promise” and attends APU, talked about the excitement of burning down a house on set.
Sean recalled how when the house was all burned down, a swarm of people descended on cast member Dean Cain, who is best known for playing Clark Kent/Superman in “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.” Sean said that though this destroyed every COVID protocol, it fulfilled the hopes of every middle-aged woman who came to see him from a 200-mile radius, seeing that they finally got to meet Superman.
After the crew discussed the making of “Paul’s Promise,” the cast and crew gave advice on how students can succeed in the industry.
Some of the most meaningful counsel came from Taylor Cole. While waiting outside of the premiere doors, Cole approached students and told them his story. Like “Paul’s Promise” lead actor O’Quinn, Cole grew up in Grundy, Virginia and came out at the very last minute to APU for their theater arts program.
He told the students just how invaluable connections are. This has helped him immensely in his career. Cole is now working on his third movie alongside Dean Cain. (This film, “Little Angels,” is a soccer movie produced by O’Quinn and is set to release around the Women’s World Cup.) Wanting to return what others have given him, Cole exchanged Instagrams with the students, encouraging them to reach out with any questions.
During the Q&A session, students received more guidance.
“Make horrible, awful films. Write horrible, awful scripts. Don’t be afraid to fail,” Reithmayer said, convicting the audience and warning them that they cannot be the next Stephen Spielberg if they binge watch “Friends” all day. In response to this, the room got noticeably quiet to the point where one could hear a pin drop.
Chad Reisser, APU alumnus ’98 and the composer who produced the “Paul’s Promise” soundtrack in three weeks (which can be found on all streaming platforms) seconded Reithmayer, a friend of his since middle school. He then ended the night by speaking about what it’s like to be a Christian in the film industry.
Offering a unique perspective, Reisser explained how being a Christian can give filmmakers an advantage because of the way they treat others under the example of Jesus. He saw this while working on “Perfect Harmony,” when one of the leading cast members told Reisser, “I think you might be the most encouraging person I’ve ever met in show business.”
Reisser added even more encouragement, talking about how Christian media is rapidly expanding. He relayed how Comcast produced a nine figure fund towards finding the next show like “The Chosen.” Additionally, he believes there is significant room for Chrisitan creative voices.
“In the last ten years in Christian culture, imagination seems to be a thing of the past. Perhaps I’m just nostalgic, but I grew up on things like C.S Lewis. When I was here at this school, the church seemed a lot more imaginative and that’s something I lament … I would love to see that dissipate in the next 15 to 20 years of Christian storytelling,” said Reisser.
With that said, having seen first-hand from APU alumni what is possible, perhaps APU students will go out and make the next “Chosen” or be the next C.S Lewis of this generation. Events like “Paul’s Promise” certainly help to foster an environment where out of APU, a needed creative voice can rise.