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"Beyond The Mask": Aaron Burns On Identity, Interstellar, & Casting a Vision
"Beyond The Mask": Aaron Burns On Identity, Interstellar, & Casting a Vision

"Beyond The Mask": Aaron Burns On Identity, Interstellar, & Casting a Vision

By Jacob Sahms

Aaron Burns, who produced Beyond the Mask with his cousin, Chad, sat down with to discuss his new movie, in theaters in April. Along the way, Chicago Fire's Kara Killmer, Lord of the Rings' John Rhys-Davies, and Courageous' Stephen Kendrick came up. Check out what Aaron has to say, and then go to the film's website to buy tickets... and go see BEYOND THE MASK in theaters June 5th!

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Beyond the Mask seems like a movie written by some serious readers. What kinds of works did you guys read? 

Growing up I read just about everything. I was homeschooled and a big part of my education was reading literature, biography, historical fiction, and analyzing the culture around the work. We’d write an essay about the book we’d just read and then sort of flesh it out.

We would study England in the Middle Ages and read Chaucer at the same time. Then we’d dress up in appropriate costumes and eat foods based on the time period.

In terms of film, I’m a big fan of Christopher Nolan’s style and work.

Where did you first get the idea for Beyond the Mask?

It revolves around identity and justification. Chad and I grew up together, and for me, filmmaking was just a hobby. I was never intending to pursue it as a career.

In our first film Pendragon, I was the lead actor. It was a Christ-centered film with action adventure. We were surprised to see the film we’d made in the Midwest reaching all over the world, and be translated into four languages. When I went to college, the Lord sent some mentors who grabbed me and encouraged me to see the way our relationship with God with God matters. I had grown up in a Christian home, but I ended up reading Rev. Tim Keller’s The Counterfeit Gods

It explores the concepts of identity, and all the different things we try to do to make ourselves okay. Even as a Christian young person, I thought,  “It’s okay, I don’t listen to the wrong things, I go to church, I am a good person.”

We can easily put our hopes in our good works, rather than in Christ’s grace.

We wanted to find a way to put that in a story for young people – for families to get together and watch and discuss these things.

I have an eight year old son who I’m showing movies slowly. Beyond the Mask seemed like a Christian version of The Princess Bride.

I have a fifteen-month-old. This is a movie I want to watch with my son in a few years. We made this movie for you and your son to be able to watch together.

I remember being with friends who had seen Pirates of the Caribbean when it came out, sitting around talking about it over lunch. They’re talking about the film and everything that could happen in the sequel. I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if we could tell a story that people could go and see, even take their kids to, that had characters and themes with real truth in them?

Look at Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge. Dickens created the character hundreds of years ago, but to me as a kid, he’s just as real as Abe Lincoln. How cool is it that we could tell a story and create characters that could impact young people and become part of their worldview?

How did you get Stephen Kendrick involved in co-writing?

We met at a film festival and ended up connecting. He’s a great guy, and our biggest film mentor. I was post-production supervisor on War Room because when he was writing Beyond the Mask, he invited me out there. He has a real sense for emotion and how to make the spiritual things relevant in the movie. When you watch the movie, the spiritual impact has been increased because of his influence.

I haven’t seen Quest For Glory or Pendragon, but what did you learn from those two films that made Beyond the Mask better?

(Laughs) Just about everything. I didn’t go to film school and studied music and got my MBA instead!

You can learn three ways: by studying, by watching, or by doing. All three things are important. We started by doing and have been working to study great filmmakers more recently. We learned about the team leadership and the work required of a long term project.

At festivals, I tell kids that the real challenge is not the camera on set but creating the story first and finding the way to build the team around it. We found that working in community with an excited group of people was really important.  First, you let Lord cast a vision and then he’ll give you the grace to accomplish it.

The Lord sent so many people from around the country: five to six hundred people came, people who donated horses or construction crews or stunt actors. The Lord taught us about himself, his faithfulness and provision. When you’re working on a film project it might not be as steady as the car industry. Here in Detroit, they might be planning models five years out but the film industry is one day at a time.

Speaking of your team, how did you round up the cast you did? I recognize Kara Killmer from Chicago Fire, John Rhys-Davies from, well, everything. You guys really swung for the fences!

We had such a fun time working with our cast. Kara is a beautiful person on the inside and out; she went to Baylor University. We went to LA and fourteen hundred people auditioned for the role Kara got. Kara told us about connecting to the character of this innocent girl with a strong faith, who shines the gospel into the heart of the lead character. I say we cast a rising star because we cast her before Chicago Fire!

John Rhys-Davies didn’t seem like a possibility but a year or so out we had this role. His character is this two –faced guy who seems like a mentor, running a company. But when you cross him, he’s got a backbone of steel and will use you for his own purposes. I sent Chad a photo of [Rhys-Davies] and asked him if he wouldn’t be perfect. I mean, he’s in Indiana Jones and Lord of the Rings, he’d never do it! But we reached out to the management team. He flew to Michigan from New Zealand and worked for three weeks on set. When he is on set, he’s such a showman. He really knows his craft. 

If someone offered you a blank check for the film of your choice, what would you make?

This movie is potentially going to premiere in seven hundred theaters across the country. They’re all one-night showing across the country where people have specifically petitioned to have it show in their town. But there have to be at least sixty-five tickets reserved to make each showing. Tickets have to be purchased online at

We feel so blessed that we were able to make Beyond the Mask. It really was the movie we felt moved by the Lord to make. It was a blessing that we felt like it was the film we were supposed to make and we catually got to do it.

We have four to five others in scripts, but as we pray through Beyond the Mask, we’re going to take some time to pray about what God would have us do next.

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