Pastor and Wife's Ministry Includes Filmmaking: Art and Kelly Ayris
At one point in their career, writers are usually told, "Write what you know." Art Ayris, an executive pastor at a large central Florida church, put that advice to good use and wrote a screenplay (The Touch) about his church's women's shelter. Art has also written graphic novels, comics and novels, as well as a screenplay based on a true story from the Sudan. I spent some time talking with Art and his wife Kelly, also a media professional, at the Gideon Media Arts Conference and Film Festival.
Kelly, you were involved in television production. Can you talk about your background and how that helped with Art's work?
Kelly: I started in radio in 1979 or so, then I went into Christian television in 1981. I worked in production in front of and behind the camera for several years. When we started having children, I got out of it, but then later found myself back in it. When it's in your blood, you can't really get away from it.
Our church has a television ministry and I was working for the television station so they said, "As long as you're there, why don't you run camera?" It was a volunteer position that later became a paid position. Later, when the director left, even though I had not had experience directing, they decided to train me to do that. That job evolved over the years.
The person doing post-production on the program and other little pieces left, so I fell into that position. So I do that and some voice work and assist Art, and that's enough for me.
So your job is at the church but for a media station?
Kelly: The church program was broadcast for about 30 years, and was worldwide, because we were carried on the web and satellite as well. After 30 years, we decided we were going to stop broadcasting, at least temporarily, and go straight to DVD. We send the DVD out to people who have requested it, and who knows, we may end up broadcasting again.
I also do some freelance production for commercials and some industrial pieces as well.
When you consider your experience, what charges you creatively and made you decide to get back into that work after a few years?
Kelly: The thing that's the most fun to me creatively is when you have someone come to you and say, "We want to do a piece about…" and you have to create it. They don't have any background or know what they want, but they need to have something publicized with a commercial or something similar.
You start from ground zero and write the script, determine how to do the shots, come up with the music, do the editing, and kind of do the whole thing. I really enjoy that because a lot of times the projects take on their own personalities. I'll pray and the Lord will direct me, and it will come out better than I thought it would. I know where the credit goes.
What's one of the more challenging projects you've undertaken?
Kelly: I don't know that the production work has been challenging as much as assisting Art with some of the screenplays and novels he's worked on. I'll go along behind him and be the person who does those micro-edits. It's pretty painstaking.
You're going page by page through the scripts, looking for inconsistencies or holes in the quality of work. It can really be very demanding.
Art is a pastor. From your perspective, what has been his journey from pastor to screenwriter to producer?
Kelly: Some of that really dates over 20 years back. He has a real interest in human rights issues. He traveled to India at one point and someone tried to sell him a baby girl. That may have been what really sparked this initially. When he got on the plane on the way home, he started writing a script or novel about that. That may really have been the instigation. He's traveled to Brazil to do some documentation about child slavery there.
Art: That, and I'd been on drugs for about a year.
Kelly: He's a very creative and high-energy person. He's very intelligent. I'm amazed at all the work he can put out. He literally can do the work of about three people.
Art: Kelly has to sacrifice for a lot of stuff we do. It's amazing how God works. She was in media first, and then my thing started taking off and now we're both in media. It's like a perfect match, and we didn't even anticipate that when we got married.
Kelly: His initial degree was in criminology.
Art: I thought about being with the CIA or FBI or something.
Kelly: He graduated and decided not to go into criminology, then went into organic farming. Then he went into education, then the ministry. Now he's on about career number five.
Which of those careers was he in when you two married?
Kelly: When we actually tied the knot, he was in organic farming. We had no clue what was down the road.
Art: I will tell you, there are some great things ahead for us. It's very exciting.
Can you tell us some of the background on the film The Touch?
Art: I was having screenwriting success with a script I did about the Sudan. It was winning in some festivals and getting the attention of some name people in Hollywood. I wrote a TV screenplay called "Last Babylon" that won a competition and studio people were interested in it, so I felt like I was doing what God wanted me to do.
One day I was interviewing these two different ladies who are in our women's shelter. I was thinking about maybe writing a magazine article about the ministries of the church.
Kelly: We had discussed maybe shooting a documentary about the subject.
Art: That's right. Kelly and I had produced a video together that won an award, so we were looking at a documentary film. What happened is that I was talking with these ladies, and after I heard on woman's story, I felt like I'd been hit. Her story was absolutely tragic with everything she'd been through, but she still had a great attitude.
God really convicted me that I was trying to do all this stuff in L.A. and other places, but right here in this little town where I lived, God was doing things. So we did the movie, and now are considering a sequel because a miracle happened after we did The Touch.
After the film one day, I was in my office doing something related to the production, and felt God speak to my heart very clearly. Our church made the decision to not build a new sanctuary but take care of needy people. In addition to the women's shelter, we were helping victims of Hurricane Katrina.
God spoke to me and said, "Because you have done that, I'm going to build you a new sanctuary." I shared that with our church at a prayer meeting. Ten days later at 6:23 on a Saturday morning, my pastor called. You know, when your pastor calls early in the morning or late at night, it's usually not good news.
He goes, "Art, I'm sitting by the phone and can't wait any longer."
Kelly: He'd been waiting since 5 that morning.
Art: This lady in our church was dying of cancer. She had this huge farm estate of almost 1000 acres in a prime location by this big development. The church was her primary beneficiary, and the property was worth $30 – 50 million. We were getting two-thirds of it.
So now I'm looking at this sequel to The Touch. It's based on a true story. There's this black guy who murdered somebody and drugs and alcohol were involved, and he gets involved with the recovery program at the church. So this next movie would show what happens after The Touch, what happened for the church, and also tell this man's story.
Kelly: I need to interject something about The Touch. Art said we were considering a documentary. He told me something I think I'll never forget. He said, "Jesus taught in parables, in stories. Stories touch the heart." So that's why we made the movie. We intended it to go straight to DVD, but God had other plans because it's gone much further.