What was the jumping-off point to make a feature film?
Tracy: In our business, we do weekly book meetings, and the sole purpose of these is to get a unified vision within the company so we're all thinking along the same lines. I focus on Romans 12:2 "Be not conformed to this world, but be renewed by the transforming of your mind." I don't want to call my group employees, because they're more like partners in business. But if I can help my people be thinking in the right direction, we can all be working in the same direction, doing the same thing in the business.
One of the books we were going through asked the question, "If money were not an object and failure were not possible, and you need to do something and knew it would work, what would it be?" If you just won the lottery, say, what would you do with the rest of your life? So we went around the room and I asked them this question. One would say, "I want to be a painter," and another would be "I want to be a photographer." These were all things that were passions of theirs.
So then I asked them what they were doing on a daily basis to make this dream come true. I got a lot of blank looks or empty faces, because many of us just exist, filling up time as we pay our bills and take care of our families. Of course, at the end of it, they came to me and said, "So, Tracy, now that you asked us this question, if you had just one thing in your life that you always wanted to do, what would it be?"
So immediately, I said, "It would be to direct a major motion picture. It's what I've always wanted to do my whole entire life." So then they said, "So what are you doing to get there?" and I said, "Shut up! You can't ask me that!" [I'm kidding] I actually said, "Nothing. I'm too busy running a business and raising a family, and doing all these other things." Of course, as I identified to them, they were all nothing more than excuses, so I had to change my thinking.
I took the next Christmas vacation down in Florida with my family and started to write. I had an idea about this movie. There's this thing called geo-caching. People hide things all over the world, and you can get online [one of the most popular sites is geocaching.com] and find different user groups. On Yahoo, each state has their own group, and depending on where you live, there are different things.
You can put your zip code in there, and find hundreds of geo-caches around your area. The items hidden in geo-caches could be anything: a pillbox, an old military box, etc. Sometimes you go and leave things, sometimes take things, and sometimes you just go and sign your name. But the whole thrill is finding it.
You get a set of coordinates that you can put into your GPS or your iPhone, and you go to that location and there's a series of clues. You follow the clues to find where the thing is hidden. Once you find it, you sign your name that you found it and take a picture by it. You go back online and chronicle your adventure. It's a lot of fun.
We were doing a show in Palm Springs and when we got done setting up, one of my guys said, "I'm going to go geo-cache. Does anyone want to go with me?" This was back in 2006, and I didn't know what it was. He explained it to me, and I thought it would be cool in a movie.
The original idea for the movie was about some kids geo-caching who stumbled across a pile of loot that someone had hidden from a bank robbery. But I wanted the movie to have some sort of spiritual implication, so then I went into this film. You meet two college students who are doing geo-caching as a sport. They do a bit of a hybrid where they'll hide a series of clues that lead from clue to clue. They keep trying to outmaneuver each other and bet money on their results.
We come into the movie where Paul has found one of Neal's geo-caches, and a third student Jesse wants to get involved. She's using it as a way to get closer to Paul, and the two of them go out on a hunt. While they're doing that, they stumble upon some clues that someone else has hidden, not realizing that it's not Neal's clue, but someone else's.
At the beginning of the movie, we meet a senator who's not very well liked because he's perceived as too far right (against abortions, etc.). He's opposing a bill that would make it illegal to post the 10 Commandments or any scripture-based texts in any location, public or private. Basically they're saying you couldn't have a scripture even in your own home because that would be infringing on someone else's rights. Sounds a little far-fetched, but I think we're headed that way. It's like that in other countries, and it's illegal to believe in the Bible or in Jesus as God.
During a rally to celebrate what the senator anticipates as a victory, a bomb goes off and the senator's son is kidnapped. The senator is contacted and he's told the ransom will be $20 million. Actually, the real motive is to get the senator to let the bill pass, but he can't tell the police that. So his dilemma becomes to lead the country in a certain direction or save his son's life. Either way, he has a hard choice.
When the kids stumble upon the kidnapper's clues, the kidnapper makes them responsible to find the senator's son or else he will die. He also threatens them, telling them he will kill one of them if they don't go along with him.
Each one of these people is faced with their own belief systems. Underneath, it's about how we're all faced with situations in life where we've cried out to God, saying, "I need you to find me. I need Your help, Your guidance, or Your wisdom, something."
Jess really doesn't know anything about God. Paul is a new Christian. Matthew McIntosh, the senator's son, and the senator himself are very strong Christians. Jess was raised in organized Religeon but has no real relationship with God. These people have different walks in life and different relationships with God, or the lack of, and each one of them is faced with these things.
My end goal is that someone would walk out of this movie and say, "What do I believe and why do I believe it?"
We all believe different things about God, religion, politics and the church. Most of it is based on what somebody else has told us. But when push comes to shove, you're going to act based on what you believe. And many times, we don't know what we believe until we are forced to act on it.
If you watch the trailer, it might look like there's lots of violence because there are lots of guns. But there's no swearing, no sex, no graphic violence. Some people get shot in the movie, but it's always from a distance. I wanted to get across the seriousness of the situations. Personally, I like it when bad guys get killed, when righteousness is vindicated and the good guys beat up the bad guys!
You had an unusual approach to the production so you could get a lot done in a little amount of time.
Tracy: We were faced with a limited budget. I've been in the television industry for years, so I've gotten to know a lot of people in TV and film. When it was time to make the film, I sent out a call to all my friends and said, "Hey, I'm making a film. Can you help me with this?"
I had people come from Detroit, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Yuma, Florida, all over the place to help me make this movie. These are friends of mine that were willing to give me a week of their vacation and come help out. At one point, I had 20 people staying at my house.
I also work very closely with Teen Mania, so some of the kids who were down at the Center for Creative Media, which is the media school that is part of Teen Mania, where they produce the media contents for the "Acquire the Fire" events, came to help with the production. They brought some gear to shoot behind the scenes things, and one of the girls helped out with makeup.
They really helped fill in the gaps, and for them, it was an onset learning experience. It was very fun that way.
I hired many locals, and since I knew most of them, they gave me great rates. The camera equipment was donated, the Fisher dolly given to me at a great rate. It was nice because I had all the gear of a large production, but was able to stay in that small production budget. My AD whose name is Jason Stafford, has been working on movies for years, so he brought a huge amount of experience to the shoot.
If you had stepped onto our set, you would have thought it was a million dollar movie by the way we were doing it, because it was very efficient, very clean. Everybody knew their part and worked really hard. Everybody had a great time doing it.
Did you have a casting call for auditions, or did you already have actors in mind?
Tracy: We sent out notice on a Yahoo group called Oklahoma Movie Makers and said we were doing open calls for auditions. Word spread when we started doing casting and got into some local papers. We had a pretty good turnout. Probably 40 – 50 people tried out for the 24 parts I needed to fill.
There is a lot of non-professional talent, and two of my cast are very experienced. Brian Shoop, who just released Treasure Blind, plays the senator, and he's been in a lot of major motion pictures. Doug Bauer, who plays his son, has been on a lot of different television shows. They're both local guys.
Tyler Roberds (Paul) and Fiawna Forte (Jess) are both local, and Fiawna is a fantastic musician. When we were casting Jess, we thought we had the right girl (someone simultaneously elegant and tomboyish). When we mentioned the shooting schedule, she realized she had a schedule conflict. That happened Friday night. Two nights later, I went to a wedding and there was a girl there with an awesome voice singing.
I thought she had an incredible voice and had the look we wanted. I wondered if she acted. I realized I knew the family and that I'd known her since she was 13, so I asked her parents if she'd ever done any acting and they said she'd done a bunch of stuff and loves to act. I told them it might seem weird, but that I was casting for a movie and wanted to see if she'd like to read for the part.
She came in to audition, she read the part, and nailed it. She and Tyler both worked so hard rehearsing. We spent hours going over and over things. I even took them to the actual locations where we were shooting to rehearse. At the end I told them I knew they were probably tired of the rehearsal, but when it came to shooting the film, they'd be glad we had put in the hours. When we were done shooting, they both said they were grateful for the rehearsals because they felt they could just walk into a scene and get it right.
It was great to have all that rehearsing and blocking done because when the crew showed up for production, we knew what we needed to do. We had only nine shooting days, so to shoot 114 scenes in those days, we had to be that prepared. Everything had to be ready; props, costumes, lighting, blocking, etc. The preparation is what made shooting 114 scenes in nine days possible. Otherwise, we couldn't have done it.
I think the shortest shoot I've heard of for a full-length film is 20 days, and that's pushing.
Tracy: Were I to do it again, I'd get more days. That was one of the major things I learned from this.
What was the major factor in determining shooting length?
Tracy: Mostly crew. A lot of these guys were volunteering, and I couldn't ask them to give two weeks of their vacation and be gone from their job for two weeks. Another factor was money. A lot of the crew was paid, and I only had so much money, so to go longer would have been too expensive.
Where did the expertise for planning all this come from? Where did you pick up those skills, because that's a pretty unique skill set.
Tracy: A lot of it comes down to the production I've done for television. I've done talk shows, sitcoms, live productions, concerts, seminars, etc. It's really the same kind of thing, the same logistics involved.
I've got to have these people and this piece of gear at this location and this location has to be ready to receive it. When we get to this location, here's where the power is, here's where the bathrooms are, here's where the parking is. I've done all these things for other shows; I just had to pull it together for this one event.
So how much time did you spend in preparation?
Tracy: I started working on it in March and we shot in November September was a show in Florida; in October I took my wife on a cruise for our 20th anniversary. Then there was a Teen Mania event in Hamilton, Ontario. I got back and went to California for a week for a seminar that I produce and then came back and we shot Find Me. So I was still doing other productions, planning for our production, and leading rehearsals when I was back in town. So the pre-production is really what made it work.
Normally when I'm going to shoot, I do so many things. This time I wanted to focus only on directing. That's when I brought Jason (Stafford, production manager) on. I had Greg Price as my DP (director of photography). I surrounded myself with guys who knew more about their parts of it than I knew about it. I do shoot. I can edit and gaff. I'm not the best at it, but guys like Brad Boaz and Pat Flanigan, local guys in Tulsa, are just fantastic at lighting and painting a scene. And they're quick. We'd walk in, go over the scene, and they'd go "Got it!" and I'd walk away to work with my actors. When I came back, they'd say, "Set's hot. Ready to go." It looked great, and I didn't have to deal with it.
Normally in other shoots, I have my fingers in all of it. On this shoot, I wanted to focus on nothing more than directing. Really, though, I was producer/direct, because if there was an issue with something, I was the guy that knew the most about what was going on, so I'd have to give an answer. That was pretty minimal once we got going, so it was great to be able to focus on the performance of the actors.
How many locations did you use?
Tracy: Altogether, I think there were 15. We shot at the OSU (Oklahoma State University) Tulsa campus for three days. Then we shot at a warehouse for three days. We shot at a bed and breakfast for one day, then over three days we shot over multiple locations and became pretty mobile. There's a bank, office building, prison, parking lot, etc.
Once again, because I have a production background, as I was writing, I was thinking about getting in and out of a scene without 42 people. How can I do it with a camera, sound guy and a couple of reflector cards? I picked locations as I was writing that would be easy to get in, light, shoot, and get back out. That way we wouldn't kill ourselves.
Did you do the editing?
Tracy: For the first edit, I've got a couple of kids that have done some really good short form stuff and just let them have at it. I did it for two reasons. One, because they haven't been told, "That's not how you do it" yet. Two, I want it to be fresh, and I don't want to get my fingers all over it until it's time to just tweak it. I know what I'm looking for, but is that really what's best for the movie? If these kids come up with something that's really fresh, I want them to do it.
That aspect of filmmaking has always fascinated me: there's a writer and a director creating the story, then the film is handed over to someone else to make a cohesive story out of the whole. That seems like a lot of trust.
Tracy: It is, but a good director will trust his editor. The editor has a fresh set of eyes and can sometimes see things the director didn’t. You shape a movie by the editing. This movie will be a good movie because we edited it correctly. If we were to just shoot it straightforward without any editing, it would probably be boring. Instead, we're putting a lot of effect, fast cuts and weird angles in to keep it fresh. When it's done, I want people to be wanting more instead of wondering how much longer it's going to last.
What was the book you were reading that started this journey?
Tracy: I'm not sure I remember. It was 2 ½ years ago. One book we read and that my company hands out to new customers is called The Traveler's Gift, written by Annie Andrews. We send them a letter explaining that these seven things are what our company is about, and that gives them insight into who they're working with.
One of the things we've talked about in these meetings is that if we can change the lives of our customers, we can help them change their business. I can do one of two things; I can sell them director mail or I can help them have a better life. If I help them have a better life while I'm selling direct mail, I'm helping them at a deeper level. I don't think I get too spiritual with it. When people ask, I talk about the Lord, but it's more about what I like to call "The way of the giver."
My newsletter is more about self-help than direct mail. We have advertising in there, but it's more about how to improve your lifestyle. That comes down to changing your thinking.
In the Bible, Paul talks about taking every thought captive, and that's usually associated with the sin in your life. But I think it's more about keeping thoughts in your life, because then they become part of your subconscious. When put things into our life and our body, we subconsciously start to think about it. When I started to make a movie, my thoughts were all on making a movie and I started making contacts and deals. It wasn't that everything changed overnight, but I was focused on making a movie. It's the same with marketing the film now.
As your employees saw you working on the script and the film, what was their response?
Tracy: They're 100% behind me. They're totally into it and help in any way they can.
So what is your marketing plan, and how are you going to reach your audience?
Tracy: We have three markets. Geocachers are first, and we're mostly going to reach them online. They're huge online, and the latest count is over a million geocachers in the U.S. So we're getting involved in all the associations online. We're talking about the movie in online forums, not trying to sell it, but inviting them to check it out on Facebook, on the movie website, etc. I'm looking for it to go viral by getting people excited about it and behind.
The second market is the Christian market. I don't want it to be labeled as a "Christian movie," but a good movie with a very good message. The movie doesn't ask you to bow your head and ask Jesus into your life. It deals more with bitterness and forgiveness. You find out the kidnapper's back-story and learn what he holds God and Christianity and the Senator responsible for. He's faced with the choice to forgive.
The third market is Ron Paul supporters. I'm a big supporter of Ron Paul, and I hid eight things in the movie that are Ron Paul: bumper stickers, pamphlets, T-shirts, a mug, etc. I want to use it as a fundraiser for his Campaign for Liberty. There will be a contest on our website tied to serial numbers and spotting the eight things. If it's sold through Ron Paul contacts, they'll get a $5 donation from the sale.
That's available to any non-profit organization. I'm going to offer it to others to use, so if anyone is out there looking for ways to raise money, I'll talk with them.
I believe in the industry and this market, we are at a tipping point. Low budget ($300 – 500,000) movies can be made with good quality: good acting, good directing, even effects, used in a character-driven story with good locations. They can turn a profit in a faith-based or family-based market. That market is growing and the quality of production that can be done with the gear available now (editing software, etc.) is steadily improving.
I think there's a lot of headway to be made, and it's going to continue to grow. So now is the time to get going.
Do you have your next film ready?
Tracy: Yes it will be a Christmas movie. I am writing it with Candace Lee. She is a great Writer/Director and was the 2nd AD on Find Me. We'll be shooting next January for a Christmas 2010 release.
I am also working with Chad Gundersen on this project. He's produced many movies and will produce this one. Most recently he worked on The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry with Rich Christiano.