Believe's Ryan O'Quinn on Transforming Culture & Raising a Family

Ryan O’Quinn majored in theater and government at the College of William & Mary. After toying with the idea that he might become a lawyer at the wishes of his parents, he spent time on the legislative staff of Senator Chuck Robb. But during this time, he also traveled through Virginia, participating in theatrical and cinematic opportunities like the ones he had begun as part of Improv Theater (I.T.) Six months after moving to Washington, D.C., O’Quinn recognized that he needed to move to Los Angeles, so he loaded up his car and found an agent in 1995.

Participating in episodic television through 2003, O’Quinn also made a name for himself doing voiceovers or Additional Dialogue Recordings, matching voices with the likes of Billy Bob Thornton, Jason Alexander, and Jack Black. Still, he felt a call to ministry, first considering seminary and later recognizing his ability to make people laugh as a gift from God.

“I could identify all of the ‘big’ Bible stories on a felt board,” O’Quinn remembered with a chuckle. “But at the age of eighteen, I made the humble, logical, sober, radical decision as an adult to follow Jesus. I searched my heart and recognized the truth of God’s grace.”

In 2003, O’Quinn formed Team Word Play, using his comedy to make a ministry that traveled around the country. He also became a contractor for Lifeway, touring as part of Xfuge, emceeing for the speakers and musicians like Casting Crowns, Big Daddy Weave, and Starfield. But in 2013, he realized that he’d been on the road for one out of every three days of the year, and that his three kids (all were five or younger at the time) were not getting enough of their dad.

“I came home and I was going through the regular nightly routine, with prayers and kisses. My five year old sat up, and we hadn’t been talking about this or anything, and blurted out: ‘Why do you think it was God’s plan to allow the baby Moses to be thrown into the water?’ It was such a gut punch because I realized if she doesn’t hear the answer from her Daddy, she’s going to hear it somewhere. I walked into our bedroom and told my wife, ‘I’m done,’ it’s time to get off the road.”

“If I don’t raise my kids to love the Lord, I’m not fulfilling my Biblical responsibility.”

O’Quinn finished out his schedule and then ‘retired’ from traveling fulltime. He filmed the viral video by Dad Dudes on Frozen; he committed to making films and projects that he could watch with his five year old and his ninety-year old grandmother, “with no need to fast forward and no need to explain afterward.”

The creative team at Calvary Community Church needed a creative arts director, and O’Quinn segued to doing the same thing he’d been doing, but only three exits away from his house. At a Night of Comedy event he organized at CCC, he caught the eye of Emmy-nominated director Billy Dickson, whose wife worked at CCC. The two quickly teamed up to make commercials and a series of short episodes. And then Dickson brought a script, Evidence of Things Unseen, to O’Quinn in a stack of scripts to examine.

Fast forward several years… and Dickson cast O’Quinn in the lead role of a movie now called Believe, scheduled for release on December 2 in theaters across the United States. They moved the story from rural Pennsylvania to southwest Virginia where O’Quinn grew up, using parades from his hometown (Grundy) and nearby Bristol to shoot scenes involving the critical Christmas festival in the film. It became a family affair for O’Quinn - his son even has a non-speaking role where he receives a candy cane, earning praise from the 2500 extras on set that day. O’Quinn has made his impact on culture paramount … next to raising his children the right way.

“My kids are familiar with the Hollywood industry,” he admitted. “One day recently I took them to Hollywood Boulevard and we had ‘the talk.’ Everyone says, ‘but they’re so young,’ and I say, ‘No, not that talk.’ But they saw the red carpet and I explained why I moved to Hollywood. I explained that things which impact culture are made here, and that I want to influence culture with a chance to produce and greenlight projects that are important.”

Now, Believe is just the beginning. Calvary Community has recognized as a whole that the congregation is full of people whose lives are situated in the heart of Hollywood, that many people who attend are involved in the industry. They’ve launched Calvary Collected to pray for people in the industry, and for each other; hundreds of people showed up for the first meeting. As we wrapped up our interview, O’Quinn was preparing for David A.R. White to present the message on Sunday morning, because the co-founder of Pure Flix goes to Calvary, too, and he’s presenting the story about how the church can impact Hollywood.

This is just the beginning of something new, and powerful, a faithful movement within Hollywood.

If people would only believe.