Matt Wilson always knew he loved movies but as a student at Biola University, he discovered that screenwriting was his passion. In his first year at Western Washington University, he experienced a call to filmmaking, so he left school, moved to Los Angeles, and enrolled at Biola. He has since returned to his hometown of Seattle, but he’s applied his LA education to work with the arrival of The Pastor and The Pro, a surprisingly hilarious look at a pastor who develops a relationship with the prostitute who lives in his apartment building.
“Prior to my studies at Biola I didn't really know much about the various industry jobs, and I discovered that writing is where the storytelling really happens,” remembered Wilson. “For a long time after that's all I wanted to do - just write screenplays. After college I started working a 'day job' in the industry (first at Lionsgate, then later at Disney) and wrote as many scripts as I could. That was a formative time for me because I was writing all the time and also talking with people in the industry about what makes a good script.”
With professional credits on Krypto the Superdog by age twenty-three, Wilson was on his way, writing for several cartoon shows… and then the assignments dried up. He wouldn’t get another animation writing gig for over a decade, so he turned his attention back to original work that God would direct, including a Christmas comedy about neighbors in a Christmas light decorations contest, that was picked up by a manager who was known for finding scripts and making movies.
“That was another great source of validation for me as I was starting to wonder if I had heard God wrong somehow,” Wilson shared, “and maybe I wasn't supposed to do this since things didn't seem to be going that well. But Mason's vote of confidence got me excited again and I wrote script after script.”
But none of them sold and the doubts began to creep in, until the Amazon Studios system allowed him to test out some of his ideas. Wilson dusted off some textbooks from his time at Biola and shot his comedy about a major league baseball player doing community service as an umpire called The Umpire. After winning the Amazon contest of the month, Wilson’s confidence was bolstered by the production of the feature length movie.
“That demystified the filmmaking process for me and I knew I wanted to do it again. I made another 'test movie' later that year, for a script I wrote called Speak to Me in Poetry. It didn't win any contests but it helped me develop more as a filmmaker.”
Audiences can watch the movie Wilson made next, The Virgins, which broke genres, telling the comic story of a honeymoon night, not the dating prior or the marriage which followed. Because it wasn’t a clear genre filler, studios did not know what to do with a story about sex from a Christian perspective so Wilson made it himself.
“I had hoped that I could find an independent company who would want to make The Virgins, but when that didn't happen I started to think ‘What if I just made it myself like I did with the Amazon movies?’ So I moved back to my hometown to shoot the movie there and distributed it on iTunes and Amazon the following year. I was pleased with the reaction from people who saw it. The word 'surprising' was used several times in the reviews, and that was definitely what I wanted. But I was surprised, myself, at how little money the movie made. I was going into it blind, having never seen any numbers on digital distribution, but I thought making just enough to live on would not be too hard. I was wrong!”
“I would love to get to a place someday where I can just make the movies and not worry about getting other jobs to make ends meet, but even if that never happens I'll keep making these. Making movies about Christian characters is something I always wanted to do but thought I couldn't until I had reached a certain level of industry success. But looking back I can see how God orchestrated the events of my life so that I would realize I can. I can make these movies. I can keep telling stories about the Christian experience that will hopefully point people to Christ.”
The following year would be the most miserable of Wilson’s life: he was broke and living with his parents. He moved back to Los Angeles to try and get more writing assignments, and at the same time, Amazon started using The Virgins as a movie listed in the suggestions section under other movies. Prime subscribers started to watch it for free, and before long, it had received fifty-five thousand views, or as Wilson said, the equivalent of filling up Dodger Stadium. If that many people would watch The Virgins, Wilson figured there was an audience for another Christian film he had in his head: The Pastor & The Pro.
Written, directed, produced, edited, and financed by Wilson, the film is another story about Christian characters with humor and deep meaning that Wilson has thrown himself into completely, even if the studios still aren’t ready. “Comedy is a difficult thing to analyze because crafting comedy is hard work,” he admitted. “When I'm writing a script, I spend the majority of the time thinking about the story structure. Individual moments will only be funny if there's a structure to support them. And there's also the added difficulty of finding ideas that not only 'work' but are also original. The best comedy is always surprising. No one laughs at jokes they've already heard, and people can tell when comedy is derivative of something that's already out there. That's why I think there is so much potential in comedy about Christian characters, because so little of it has been done.”
Wilson’s pursuit of comedy also allows him to delve into another underutilized topic in Christian films: sex. Both The Virgins and The Pastor & The Pro are about sex, but also not really about sex. Wilson explained: “America is a rather sex obsessed culture, so stories about sex can be quite attention grabbing. I hope to grab that attention as well! And I hope that people are pleasantly surprised when they realize the story is about something more meaningful than sex. Our longing for union with each other is actually a symptom of our broken relationship with God. Just coming out and saying that probably doesn't make a lot of sense to people, but I think telling a story that shows what that looks like can help people understand.”
In The Pastor and The Pro, Wilson connected the narrative to the Genesis narrative around Jacob and his two wives, Leah and Rachel. He aimed to reveal what he believed about life and relationships, while connecting his message to characters that people would connect with and appreciate. If they laugh and find themselves drawing closer to Jesus, then he will have succeeded.
Oh, and if the Nickelodeon folks are reading this, Wilson still wants a crack at Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Everyone knows eating pizza and chasing bad guys is fun, too, in between sharing about life, love, and the beauty of the gospel.
Stay up to speed at Wilson's page for the film.