About 15 years ago, homeschooling began to emerge as a viable alternative for parents who did not want their child in the public school system or in a private school.
Even though homeschooling was ruled to be perfectly legal in the courts, it was still a largely controversial and often “suspect” movement in education. Furthermore, it was considered an affront to professional educators that somehow parents were more equipped than certified teachers to provide a proper education for their children.
Yet despite legal attacks by hostile legislatures at the behest of teachers unions, negative media coverage and the initial lack of educational resources designed for homeschoolers, all of the critics and their protestations have been proved wrong.
Studies are now showing that homeschooled students are achieving higher test scores, are better “socialized” across multi-generational groups and are more prepared to succeed in college than their public school counterparts.
In short, homeschoolers are fighters and achievers who are successfully turning the monopoly of the public educational system upside down, defying all odds and overcoming huge obstacles.
It is in this backdrop that homeschooled filmmakers are gaining confidence that they can also overturn the Hollywood monopoly.
Really? You must be kidding? When and how will this happen?
Homeschoolers turned their sights to filmmaking not only as a feasible profession but as a mission field over a decade ago in late 2006. That’s when the micro-budget movie, “Facing The Giants,” made for $100,000, was released in theaters by Provident Films, a unit of Sony Entertainment. Made by a church and led brothers Alex and Stephen Kendrick, who were then associate pastors at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia, “Facing The Giants” earned more than $11 million at the box office and another $30 million in DVD sales.
It was a wake-up call for homeschoolers and their parents. If two pastors from a local church could succeed in movie-making, why couldn’t they?
It was, in fact, a short but fateful meeting between Stephen Kendrick and George Escobar at a film conference in October 2006 that led to Escobar’s founding of Advent Film Group.
“With all the gifts and blessings that God had given you,” Kendrick asked Escobar, “what are you doing with it?”
“Nothing,” was Escobar’s honest answer.
According to Escobar, who is now Vice President of WND Films, all of his training from the American Film Institute Conservatory as a producing fellow, all of his professional successes at Discovery Networks, AOL/Time Warner, Tele-TV and other media ventures, were self-serving endeavors.
“None of it was to glorify God,” Escobar admitted. “Nor was it a blessing for anyone.”
Following that meeting with Kendrick, Escobar went home with great consternation and conviction.
“Lord, I’ve been useless to You. I’ve been selfish, self-centered, focused on what I wanted to do, and how I wanted to do it. I can’t keep doing that. I don’t want to do that. So if You want me to be involved in film, please use me. If not, I’m OK with that, too.” Escobar prayed.
Three months later, in 2007, Advent Film Group began and within the year had completed its first feature film. “Come What May” was distributed by Provident Films, selling nearly 80,000 DVDs, and was broadcast on TBN. It was the first feature film streamed online by the American Family Association and GodTube, reaching an estimated 3.5 million viewers.
Advent’s mission wasn’t to become another film production company making feature-length movies. Advent’s mission was to train up the next generation of Christian filmmakers, with feature films being the necessary by-product of that training.
More than 30 homeschooled students worked on “Come What May,” filmed on location at Patrick Henry College and at Liberty University’s then newly constructed replica of the U.S. Supreme Court chambers.
For Advent’s next film, “Every Boy Needs a HERO,” another 30 homeschooled students were trained. Soon after, Advent’s creative team was then hired by Enthuse Entertainment to make its inaugural feature film, “Alone Yet Not Alone.” Escobar brought over 25 Advent interns and associates — most were homeschooled — to help make
“Alone Yet Not Alone,” which garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song by Bruce Broughton for music with lyrics by Dennis Spiegel.
In early 2017, Advent released its newest film, “The Screenwriters,” which Escobar considers the ‘graduation’ film for many of Advent’s top performers.
“Our best students and associates wrote, produced, directed and served as the department heads in the making of ‘The Screenwriters,'” Escobar said proudly. “It’s an outstanding achievement that has garnered many film awards and launched careers.”
Concurrent with Advent’s efforts were other film productions employing or spearheaded by many homeschoolers including: “Pendragon” and “Beyond The Mask,” both made by the Burns Family Studios; “Ace Wonder” by HueMoore Productions; “Indescribable” by husband and wife team Joseph and Stacie Graber; “Creed of Gold” and “Christmas Grace” by Crystal Creek Media; “Polycarp” by Henline Productions; “Princess Cut” by Watchman Pictures; “Touched By Grace” and “Badge of Faith” by StoneTable Films; “The Runner from Ravenshead” and “The Defense of New Haven” by Little Crew Studios.
These early efforts by homeschool filmmakers were recognized and nurtured by the Christian Worldview Film Festival and Film Guild (CWVFF).
Now in its fourth year, CWVFF, was founded by pastor Phillip Telfer under his non-profit ministry Media Talk 101 to encourage Christian filmmakers to make films from a biblical worldview and advance the craft of filmmaking. This annual gathering of film students and their families, rubbing shoulders alongside successful film veterans such as writer/producer Stephen Kendrick, directors/producers Rich Christiano and Ken Carpenter, screenwriter John Fornof and Escobar, has grown significantly over the years. It’s the nexus of all film-related activities for many homeschoolers, allowing them to network, share knowledge and resources, and be taught by professionals over the week-long event.
When homeschoolers aren’t “learning-by-doing” during the production phase of a movie, their film training options are now plentiful. They can attend traditional film school programs at Christian institutions such as Liberty University, Bob Jones University and Regent University. They can also learn on their own by taking a rigorous online film course provided by Tomorrow’s Filmmaker on its website, taught by Justus McCranie.
“My wife and I have travel across the United States going to many different homeschool conferences to promote Tomorrow’s Filmmakers,” McCranie said. “I am constantly amazed at how many people are interested in filmmaking. With all the homeschool families I have met — and that’s a lot — almost every family has at least one son or daughter that loves making movies and wants to eagerly pursue it. Some are 7 years old, some are teenagers, but I have never seen so many Christians that want to make films for God’s glory. It’s very encouraging to me when I meet them.”
One of the questions often asked of McCranie is: “If someone wants to get into film, where do they usually go?”
“If you are a Christian trying to get into Hollywood, you have a rough road ahead. Hollywood is definitely controlled by the secular world,” McCranie warned. “But if you are committed to making films for God’s glory, we wanted to create a place where people could learn the tricks of the trade without having to compromise their faith. That’s where we want to fill that void with Tomorrow’s Filmmakers.”
According to Escobar and his peers: “If you doubt that homeschoolers can eventually be at the forefront of rebuilding culture through films, all you have to do is examine their track record in overturning education and achieving success in nearly every field of endeavor.”
Hollywood can choose to ignore or sideline or even maligned the early efforts of these homeschooled filmmaking pioneers. But the evidence is clear, homeschooled filmmakers are coming on strong in greater numbers, and their films are coming soon in theaters near you.
Aside from the emerging army of filmmakers being groomed within the ranks of the homeschooling community, there is an even greater force at work that Escobar contends “will eventually overtake Hollywood’s best and brightest.”