It is my pleasure to introduce to you Sharon Wilharm, a Christian film producer/director. I first discovered Sharon when I followed a tweet that led to her website (and didn’t regret it!), and saw the wonderful work she was doing there. I later thought it would be nice to interview on To Be A Person. Please, join us below.
Me: Hello Sharon! Thank you for visiting To Be A Person today. Could you please tell us a little bit about yourself.
Sharon: I’m a former school teacher and freelance writer who married a communications major. We live in a 120-year-old house in a small Southern town and our only daughter got married last weekend.
Me: Congrats on your daughter getting married! Much blessings to them! And, a 120-year old house? Cool!
So, what made you go into Christian film as opposed to secular?
Sharon: I take the parables of the talents very seriously. God blesses us with gifts and abilities and, it’s our responsibility to take those gifts and invest them in projects that will bring glory to God. To me, it would be a waste to invest all the time and money in a movie that didn’t have eternal value.
Me: I totally agree with you on that! We should strive to have everything we do have meaning. How else would we give a good account to God? Thank you for that!
What is the motto of your production studio?
Sharon: We work very hard to stretch our resources and provide a big bang for little bucks.
Me: Great! What is your greatest inspiration and drive?
Sharon: My ultimate goal in life is to be exactly where God wants me to be, doing what He has called me to do. If He calls me to do something, I do it regardless of whether or not it makes sense to the rest of the world.
Me: What a life of faith! And quite inspirational, too.
What is the principle behind the stories you choose to make into film, and, what kinds of stories are your preference?
Sharon: I once read somewhere that every storyteller has one basic story that they keep telling over and over. For me, I’ve discovered that my stories tend to have a theme of finding love and acceptance in unexpected sources. I love to go against stereotypes and force viewers to look at people in a new light.
Me: Wow. Never heard that before. Now that I think about it, you’re right. Wonderful theme, by the way!
Every time you make a film, what do you hope to pass across to your viewers?
Sharon: I want to provide hope and encouragement, that even though things may look dark and not turn out the way they expected, that God has great things in store for their future.
Me: As an author, I can relate to wanting to spread the message of hope. Well done, Sharon!
You released a movie not so long ago. What makes the story special?
Sharon: Last October our movie Flowers For Fannie was released on DVD and VOD. It’s a little different from most movies in that we geared it for an older audience. It’s about a crotchety old woman who is desperately looking for someone to put flowers on her grave after she dies. In the process, she is befriended by a young woman who is equally lonely. Together, they form an unlikely friendship and help each other find the love that they’re each searching for.
Although we expected it to appeal to an older audience, we found that younger audiences enjoyed it as well. What really surprised us was the number of colleges who screened it. Basically, it appeals to anyone who’s ever felt alone and unloved.
Me: Glad to hear the movie worked out so well! And I can see why. Hearts are wired to respond to true love offered.
Could you tell us a little bit about the project you’re working on right now? When can we expect it’s release?
Sharon: Our most recent movie, The Good Book, is the first evangelistic silent feature since sound was added to movies. It tells the story of a small Bible that is passed along to fourteen strangers, dramatically impacting the lives of seven of those individuals. The story is told without dialogue, using only dramatic action and a dynamic soundtrack.
Right now the movie is making its rounds through the film festival circuit. It’s been in eight film festivals so far with three more coming up in the next few months including the I Will Tell Film Festival taking place next month in London, UK. It’s won numerous awards including “Best Inspirational Film” at Hollywood Christian Film Festival and “Best Feature” at GloryReelz Christian Film Festival and was nominated for the prestigious “Best Mission” Stellae Award at the Pan Pacific Film Festival.
We’d hoped to have The Good Book in stores this fall, but with a cross country trip to L.A. for the Stellae Awards and our daughter getting married this month, it’s looking like it will be more likely early 2015 before it’s released to stores. In the meantime, we have a limited number of pre-release DVDs available from our website.
Me: Amazing! So glad I get to watch this movie, review it and post on my blog. Thank you for that!
Where do you see Christian film in the next five to ten years?
Sharon: The Christian film industry has changed dramatically in the past couple of years. It’s incredible the number of films being produced, and the quality of the movies is definitely improving. The problem that we’re hearing from distributors and others in the industry is that at the same time the market is being flooded with product, sales are actually going down. Stores are selling fewer DVDs and consequently cutting down on their shelf space.
I honestly have no idea what’s going to happen in the new few years. I think that the competition will force filmmakers to continue to up their game and create higher quality movies, but I’m not sure what the financial prospects are for filmmakers. I know that most Christian filmmakers are not in it for the money, but they do need to at least break even and hopefully make enough to support their families. If they can’t do that, they’ll be forced to discontinue their film-making endeavors.
Me: To discontinue will be so sad, indeed, especially for those of us who want to see more Christian movies out there. Hopefully, we can all come together and organize a system that will work? We’ll see.
In your opinion, what does the Christian film industry lack right now? What can be done about it?
Sharon: I wish there were a way to better connect the average Christian consumer with Christian movies. So many people have no idea that there’s a whole world of movies available. They only know about the Sherwood movies and the big theater successes like God’s Not Dead. They would love to watch other movies but they have no idea they even exist. I have no idea what can be done to change that. CFDb and Christian Cinema as well as other websites do all they can to inform the viewing public of the many choices available, but the average consumer isn’t aware of those sites, either.
Me: Hmm, Sharon, been thinking exactly the same thing. It’s part of the reason I decided to expand my blog to include Christian entertainment, as I’ve seen that book blogging has helped make Christian Publishing very successful in past and recent times. Like I said earlier, I think we need a system that works.
How’s the Christian film industry different from the secular?
Sharon: I think as a rule Christian films have a better chance at getting distributed. There’s a definite need for movies that can help change lives rather than just entertain.
Me: “… help change lives rather than just entertain.” That is something to think about. Thank you for that!
What do you expect from actors/actresses you work with? How do you pick your cast?
Sharon: While talent is very important, even more critical for me is attitude. I look for actors who embrace the vision of the movie and are more interested in what they can contribute to the movie rather than what they can get out of it. Character is important to me as each and every individual involved is a reflection of the movie. I don’t want to cast anyone whose reputation or behavior will bring a negative light on the movie.
I love to discover new talent, then, use them again in future projects. I’ve been known to write scripts with specific actors in mind just because I enjoyed working with them. I’ve also added to roles just to highlight certain actors.
For The Good Book we used a very unique casting approach, in that, we cast completely from applications and video auditions. We wanted actors with interesting, expressive faces and a passion for the silent movie concept. Also, because it’s an ensemble cast, it was important to match families up in a believable way and also not to cast actors who might be confused for each other. We ended up with an incredible cast who gave the movie all that they had, and have also bonded and formed special friendships.
Me: Interesting way to cast! I love that the approach is unique and methodical at the same time. And I can understand why it would work for a silent movie. Expression is key. Well done!
How’s your production/directing style different from that of other producers/directors?
Sharon: I’m very hands on and prefer a small skeleton crew, and short filming days. I handle everything that goes on in front of the camera and my husband, Fred, handles the behind the camera details. My goal as a director is not just to
focus on the finished product, but to make the filming process a special experience for each person involved. I recognize that each and every person is a critical factor in the movie’s success. I despise the whole concept of extras. I prefer instead, the term background actor. And whether someone has a leading role or just sits in the background of a scene, they get treated the same. I also provide hot cooked meals which I personally prepare. I have a whole repertoire of crock pot and other meals that I can cook while filming. It’s my way of showing my appreciation to everyone for being a part of our movie.
Me: My goodness, Sharon, what actor wouldn’t want to work with you? That is so sweet and loving! Truly inspiring, too! It is my prayer that other film-makers will make a culture of treating their actors like family behind the scenes.
What’s the worst difficulty you’ve ever encountered in film making? was it peculiar to the project?
Sharon: In one of our earlier movies we had a big group scene which we saved for the very last day of filming. It was a pretty complicated scene and required everyone to be there for most of the filming day. Well, one of our lead actresses lived five hours away and she somehow got the date wrong. She didn’t realize the mistake until she got up and saw a facebook post about filming and then frantically headed our way. Also, we had a number of our friends who were supposed to be background actors and for various reasons, they didn’t show up. So we had to shoot very carefully so you couldn’t tell how small the crowd was, and, then, did closeups so you wouldn’t be able to see we were missing the lead actress. Then when she got there, we had to film her shots and make them work with the other shots. It all made for a very stressful day and the results were disappointing to say the least.
Me: Truly sorry to hear that, Sharon.
What other directors/producers have you worked with in the past? What was the experience like? What others do you hope to work with in the future?
Sharon: I got into film-making because I married a film-maker. I have no desire to make movies other than with my husband. However, when my daughter was younger, she was in a short promotional film that really influenced me as a director. With that project, they had all the young actors arrive early in the morning and then wait in little holding rooms until someone called for them. They didn’t really have a plan, though, so they would just randomly pull kids and have them do something, and then keep doing it over and over and over while they played around with lighting and sound. Some kids kept getting called over and over, and other kids like my daughter somehow got looked over. Finally, after about six hours, they called on her. She ended up being there for around eight hours and read one line. To my knowledge, nothing ever came of the project.
As a result of that experience, I determined that I would never waste other people’s time. I schedule a very tight schedule that allows actors to only work when they’re actually needed. And I plan ahead of time what each person, including background actors, will do.
Me: What a sad experience. But I’m glad something good came out of it.
Can you tell us a bit about your personal journey in the industry so far: what you’ve learned, and how you’ve grown spiritually as a Christian?
Sharon: We made our first movie almost fifteen years ago. It was awful. We had good intentions, but didn’t have a clue what we were doing. I swore that I’d never do another movie, but God had other plans. Each time we finish a movie, I say it’s the last one, but then God gives us a new vision and I find myself enjoying it a little more. With each movie, I find myself becoming more humble. The more I learn, the more I grow, the more I realize how little I know and how much more growing I need. I have to keep reminding myself that even though there are plenty of more talented filmmakers out there, God has given us stories that only we can tell in a way that only we can tell it. And, so, we do what He commands, and then trust Him to take the movie and use it for His glory.
What advice would you give to any young Christian producer/director or film maker?
Sharon: Film-making is a very difficult endeavor and should only be attempted if you know that this is what God has called you to do. Pray that He will reveal to you the story that you need to tell. Then take that story and make it the very best that you can possibly make it. Read every writing/film-making book you can get your hands on. Attend workshops and seminars. Listen to the experts. Give it all that you’ve got, then trust Him to take your efforts and use them to bless others. Don’t get caught up in yourself nor lose focus on God’s purpose for your movie. Remember, God’s ways are not our ways and He doesn’t call us all to create blockbuster theatrical films. Sometimes He needs little films that will reach niche audiences. But whatever the film, it should be our best efforts.
Me: Wow! What an awesome advice. It does take delusion out of the equation. I pray every young film-maker gets to have someone give them similar advice if they don’t get to read this.
This or That Q&A!
Coffee or tea? Dr. Pepper
Lemonade or orange juice? Lemonade
Bicycling or walking? Walking
Gym or outdoor? Outdoor
Vegetable or fruit? Vegetable
Rain or snow? Snow
Flats or heels? Heels
Twitter or Facebook? Facebook
Books or music? Books
Cook or clean? Cook
Me: Sharon, thank you so much for stopping by today! This was a marvelous experience! Hopefully, we’ll do this again with your future projects.
Well, I hope you had as much fun with us in this interview. You are welcome to leave your comments. And, finally, look out for my review of the movie, The Good Book, on August 27th.
has written and directed five feature length films, including Class of 91, Flowers For Fannie, and the most recent, The Good Book, the first evangelistic silent feature to be produced since sound was added to movies. She’s the editor at faith Flix Films where she interviews filmmakers and reviews films. she and her husband live in a 120-year-old house in a small town in Tennessee.