By Jacob Sahms
Wes Miller accepted Christ as an eight year old but discovered his love for filmmaking when he received a Pixel 2000 tape recorder/camcorder. Shooting black and white films with his friend across the street, he discovered his love for telling stories. Real world decisions kicked in and his love for film temporarily took a back seat to law school. But in his twenties, Miller realized that God had something in mind for him that took him back to his childhood. Having grown up watching Perry Mason, and having binge-watched episodes of The Practice and The Verdict in law school, Miller knew God was calling him to make a film about faith in the courtroom. Christian Cinema caught up with Miller as he unveiled the first film that he both wrote and directed himself, Prayer Never Fails.
In 2013, Miller’s first attempt at writing a screenplay, Beyond Justice, told the story of a lawyer set to defend an innocent client with no curse words and strong faith elements. But things did not go exactly as planned and he became frustrated by the process. “It taught me that if I’m commissioned to a certain task, I need to control the process, so that the message of Christ isn’t diluted,” he admitted. “But it did teach me to make a movie from script to screen with a responsible budget.”
Lily Grace, in 2015, was an opportunity to direct, but Miller never felt like the direction of the film allowed him to infuse the spiritual elements he expected. “It was originally designed to be the character study of a man who has lost his father and is trying to come back from that,” Miller shared. “Jesus said he was the father to the fatherless, and I saw that there.”
“But regardless of what happened, I believed I was supposed to take any chance to direct. Sidney Lumet said that,” Miller told me. “In the process, I had learned the basics of storytelling, but I wanted to tell a story that edified my beliefs from inside the church and let the world see our values in a non-judgmental way,” Miller explained.
With Prayer Never Fails, Miller tells the story of a young coach and teacher who ends up suing his school over wrongful termination. When one of his players, wrestling with his relationship to an alcoholic father (played by Lorenzo Llamas), asks him to pray, the teacher is rejected by the school administration. Miller, who grew up without a father and has coached various groups of young men, told me that the sports aspect was important to telling his story.
“I remember being an athlete without a father,” he reminisced. “One of my strongest memories is of my baseball coach staying late and helping me work on pop flies. I remember being told I was good at something, and that arm around my shoulder encouraging me.”
“Sometimes, kids on these teams are from broken homes and the coaches fill a void.”
But Miller warmed to the subject of prayer in schools, especially in light of recent events. “You can listen to rap music with a student, or read questionable content with a student, but you’re going to be fired for praying with them?” Miller asked. “That’s not acceptable.”
When Aiden finds himself fired and his players confront him about how he’ll respond, he realizes that if he’s going to live out his lessons to them, he must stand up.
“As a Christian, do we fight or give up?” Miller continued. “Aiden isn’t sure but the Lord knows he has a soldier. He becomes a witness like Paul or Moses. He’s taken some of the wrong steps but he has a powerful faith. If he doesn’t fight, he doesn’t meet Michael Brown. If he doesn’t meet Michael, Michael doesn’t end up on his knees. God has a greater calling for Aiden.”
In the process of making the film, Miller scouted out actors he felt hadn’t been given a chance to show their range lately. Corbin Bernsen signed on as the prosecutor, and Clifton Davis signed on as Aiden’s legal counsel. Miller said that Clifton was impressed by a damaged character with questionable character and depth who didn’t have to curse or act inappropriately. “Clifton is very aware of his responsibility as a pastor,” Miller shared, “so that sort of limits him in what roles he can take.”
Miller’s own responsibility, his desire to edify and share the gospel, have drawn him to this place and time. Now he’ll sit back and wait for audiences to embrace his story and see the power of prayer that never gives up.