The Making of Grace Unplugged
About the Guest
Sometimes, chasing your dreams leads you right to where you belong. Such is the storyline of Russ Rice and director Brad Silverman's new film, "Grace Unplugged." Russ and Brad talk about the making of the film, and Grace Trey, played by AJ Michalka, a young woman in the movie who leaves home seeking the stardom she's always dreamed of. Yet with each rung of the ladder she climbs, Grace feels more and more pressure to compromise her values. Will she reject her faith, or rediscover it? Grace Unplugged opens in theaters October 4.
Brad SilvermanBrad Silverman is a former comedian turned filmmaker turned theologian. Selfie Dad is his third Christian feature film, following No Greater Love and Grace Unplugged. Grace Unplugged won multiple faith film awards, including awards from Movieguide, Focus on the Family, and the Dove Foundation. Brad received Movieguide’s Epiphany Award, which is given to creators of the best wholesome, uplifting, and inspiring movies and TV programs.
Russ RiceRuss Rice is the founder and president of Coram Deo Studios and producer of Grace Unplugged. He and his wife, Carina, live in the Los Angeles area and have five children, four of whom now work for dad.
Russ Rice and Brad Silverman talk about the making of the film, “Grace Unplugged.”
The Making of Grace Unplugged
Bob: Brad Silverman is a screenwriter and director, whose latest movie, Grace Unplugged, is opening nationwide today. It’s a faith-based film. Brad says, “There is a tension between the faith-based element that he cares so much about and the need to make a successful movie.”
Brad: Obviously, we hold each other accountable. We try to keep a very biblical worldview. If we ever do anything that is Scriptural within our films, we try to make sure it is accurate. We are very adamant on that level. Once that is—we feel in place—Bob, I am trying to do everything I can to make the best possible movie.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, October 4th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll talk with Brad Silverman and with producer, Russ Rice, today about the challenge of making faith-based films and about their latest movie, Grace Unplugged, which opens this week. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Friday edition. We are going to talk about a movie today; but before we talk about the movie, we want to talk about your pastor; right?
Dennis: We do. The month of October is Pastor Appreciation Month. I want my pastors to know that I appreciate them; and I want pastors, all across the country, to know that we appreciate them, as well. We’re talking about full-time pastors, now. We’ve got an offer for pastors—in fact, it’s an offer you can’t refuse. It’s through the generosity of a family—we’re able to offer a limited number of Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway scholarships so that pastors can attend at no registration fee.
Bob, I’m excited about this because it gives us a chance to bless the Church. We’ve got a couple of dozen Weekend to Remember getaways left, here this fall. We want pastors to take advantage of these because, over the past 20 years, we’ve had about 75,000 pastors and their spouses attend the Weekend to Remember because of these scholarships. We really want to bless you, encourage you, and create a little bit of an oasis in your life, for a weekend.
Bob: Alright. If you want to find out more about how you can attend a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway and take advantage of the pastor scholarship, go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com; and click on the link you find there for the pastor scholarship offer. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. We do hope that there will be a lot of pastors who will take advantage of this—this month, next month, into early December. Let us know that you’d like to attend a Weekend to Remember, and we’ll make arrangements to get the registration fee all taken care of for you.
Now, I mentioned that we are going to talk about a movie on today’s program. This is a movie that our staff got a chance to see—
Bob: —back, a couple of months ago; but you were out of town the day that we showed the movie.
Dennis: I was. You had the privilege of introducing Russ Rice, who was the producer, and Brad Silverman, who was the screenwriter and director of Grace Unplugged. Our staff really, really enjoyed this movie. It’s a great movie. Frankly, Bob, I’m really encouraged by the movies that are being produced by men and women who really follow Christ.
Bob: This is a movie that is opening in theaters, around the country, today. We did have a chance to chat with the producer, the screenwriter and the director—that’s two people who filled three roles on this movie—Brad Silverman and Russ Rice. We thought you ought to hear our conversation with them.
[Previously Recorded Audio]
Bob: Well, we got a chance to partner up on a movie that you guys did—called No Greater Love; right—
Bob: —a movie that went directly to DVD.
Bob: This movie is coming out in theaters. I remember when you were here, and we were talking about No Greater Love. You already had this script in mind—
Bob: —almost done, at that point; didn’t you?
Brad: I don’t know if it was done; but we definitely had the idea of this film, yes.
Bob: The story—and just give us a synopsis. What’s the story, as you describe it?
Brad: Well, it’s good. I’ll do the story, and Russ can do the heart behind it. Basically, a former rock star gets saved. He’s a one-hit wonder from the 80’s. He gets saved—becomes a music pastor. He has one daughter. She grows up. She’s following in his footsteps. She’s a brilliant singer, performer—herself. She wants to kind of go off and do her own thing. Dad is just scared to death of that—for everything that he experienced. So, it becomes a father/daughter struggle—which, hopefully, is a very universal story that a lot of parents and teens can relate to.
Bob: It reminded me a little of Luke, Chapter 15. You know what I’m talking about?
Russ: Yes, the prodigal.
Bob: Yes. Yes, was that part of the heart of what you wanted to communicate here?
Russ: Yes—I’ll try to do this without crying. The germ of the story came—[Emotion in voice] I said I wouldn’t do this. The germ of the story came from my wife and my personal situation with our daughter, who ran away. It’s been six years, I think. As we were going through this, we really had a burden for parents that have gone through this—but even greater—the burden that we have for young people. We see so many young people who profess faith and, then, they leave the church.
We wanted to do something that was entertaining—and we tried to do good quality films—but at the same time, really, we look at ourselves as ministers. Part of that was, “How can we minister to the body of Christ?” God uses those personal situations, a lot of times, to really give opportunity for other people to really realize that there is hope out there. There is hope for my daughter. She is not dead, and there is hope until she dies. We just pray that God would do that work in her life.
Bob: She’s got to know that Dad is making this movie about this prodigal daughter; doesn’t she?
Brad: It’s been a big topic as to what level of personal-ness we should make this, Bob. This is something that Russ and I have prayed a lot about. We’ve prayed—our wives have been praying about—and collectively—“Just to what degree does Russ even share his personal story?” You know? You asked the obvious question, “What…”—the last thing we want to do is make things tougher, in terms of reconciliation.
Russ: When we were making this movie—I’m just hoping that tonight, somewhere, wherever she is, that she will walk into a theater—[Emotion in voice] and walk into a theater, and see this film, and God would use it to bring her to Himself. So—
Bob: You know, I remember, Brad, when you were talking about the germ of this and that the whole idea—I think I said to you, “So, it’s the Katy Perry story, or it could have been the Lindsay Lohan story, or the”—I mean, we can just kind of go on and on.
Bob: You’ve been in this industry long enough to know that what you are putting on the screen is actually fairly tame, compared to what really is going on behind the scenes—
Bob: —in the music business.
Brad: Well, it’s interesting, I spent a lot of time in the music business, researching this—just in the secular, belly of the beast—and just trying to get just an authenticity. At the same time, we wanted this to be a PG, family film.
Brad: So, deciding what struggles—you know, there could be a myriad of struggles that this girl could go through. Obviously, a boy had to be some part of it but to what degree? We take that—and obviously, trying to create a realism while still keeping it PG. I don’t know if we hit that mark, but that’s certainly what we strove for.
Bob: Yes. I want to ask about the acting side. Everybody is always curious about the different performers who are in the movie.
Bob: You’ve got a lot of folks who have been in some pretty big Hollywood films. Kevin Pollak—who was in this movie—was in A Few Good Men—has been in a number of other films. These are not necessarily folks who have a personal faith—
Bob: —but they’re in your movie and were excited to be in the movie. Tell me about how folks responded—in terms of being on the set. It had to be a very different feel for them being on this set.
Brad: It was incredible. We probably have stories for—specifically, the actors—everyone—we have some type of ministerial story. I don’t want to say anything too personal. AJ—the lead—I mean, she’s just the sweetest—
Russ: She’s a darling.
Brad: —godly girl. I mean, here’s a girl who was relatively famous. She and her sister—I don’t know if you guys have heard of Aly & AJ. Yes, they were Disney® stars, back in the mid-90s. They are kind of reinventing themselves, as adult, young ladies. She is a—as Russ was talking about—in her case, she absolutely wanted to do it for the purpose of the message of the film.
But yes, there was a lot of evangelism—a lot of times off set—heated discussions with some of the actors and some of the cast. It was just a tremendous opportunity for people—some to recommit themselves. It was really incredible, Bob.
Bob: It seems like the industry—the film industry—is more open than it’s ever been for faith-based films.
Bob: And all of a sudden, we’re starting to see like one a month come out. It’s—is that just a: “Hey! If there’s money here, let’s go get it,”—or is there more to it than that in the studios?
Brad: I don’t think there’s anything more to it than that.
Brad: I mean, I wish I didn’t sound so cynical as that; but if it didn’t make money—I don’t think it’s a movement toward God in Hollywood.
Bob: At the same time, it’s got to be a compelling story—I mean, a faith-based film with a weak cast and a weak story—Christians don’t want to go see that. Christians have a—there is a discernment meter—in terms of quality. You guys have to be conscious and aware of that, as you go about your craft. You recognize we can’t just pander to this audience. We’ve got to put out something that’s going to be a compelling, moving story.
Brad: Well, I mean, look—
Russ: We just had that talk yesterday.
Brad: Yes. We talk about it all the time. I think there was a time that—and this maybe is what was almost a springboard for me as a writer/director to even get in to this as a believer—when I heard a radio interview—I don’t remember who it was or where it was, but someone had made a comment that—a film maker made a comment that—and I know the name of the film. I’m not going to say it to embarrass them—this was years ago.
They had said “Well, we made this film. It honors God, but nobody came out to see it.” I thought: “Well, I saw it! I thought it was horrible!”
Brad: And that—so, I think, obviously, we hold each other accountable. We try to keep a very biblical worldview. If we ever do anything that is Scriptural, within our films, we try to make sure it is accurate. We are very adamant on that level. Once that is—we feel in place, Bob—I am trying to do everything I can to make the best possible movie.
Russ: Yes, that’s part of the whole thing, too. What’s beautiful about that is we get the beauty of, hopefully, raising the bar. Each time, we want to raise the bar on ourselves—but the whole industry—I think, for the Christian film industry—is Christians want good quality films. If we’re Christians, we should be trying to make the best quality.
It is hard because we don’t get the $50 million budget. So, if they give us a couple million, we are trying to do the best we can. At the same time, Hollywood isn’t dictating what we do either. We—they don’t push back on us. They are like: “Hey, if it’s going to hurt the Christian core audience, don’t take it out,” or, “If it’s going to offend them, take it out—if there is something that’s offensive.” So, we’ve been able to make the films on our terms and not on their terms. That’s been—that’s been really gratifying. We’ll use their money to make our Christian films—
Russ: How does that sound?
Russ: Sounds good to me!
Bob: Russ, there’s a scene in the film where Grace has left home—she’s out in Hollywood. Mom and Dad are still wrestling. Dad kind of comes to the point where he recognizes, “I’ve got to just give her up to God.” He and his wife embrace, and they just have that moment of surrender. I’m just imagining you, on the set, the day that that got—that scene was shot.
Russ: And every time I watch it—for the last thousand times I’ve seen this film—it was interesting: When Brad and I were working on developing this story for this film, we’d go out to lunch for a couple of hours. I’d sit there and cry, like a baby. I’d be like, “This is what the dad feels like.”
You know, you feel—I’m going to tell you the truth—there were nights I didn’t sleep. I wanted to get in my car—and there were nights I did get in my car and drive aimlessly, trying to hope to find her car somewhere to see what’s going on with her. It can consume you if you have a child that runs away. I think a lot of that was portrayed well in the film. Brad took a lot of that experience that I went through and was able to use a lot of that for this. And something like this—that happens in this film—could put a wedge between the parents. [Emotion in voice] If you are out there, right now, and you’re in that situation, get on your knees, with your spouse, and make that commitment that that situation is not going to separate you. In fact, it’s going to make you closer.
[Emotion in voice] My wife and I had a lot of nights where we just cried, and kept committing our daughter to the Lord, and trying to give her over—like in the movie—to Him because, at the end of the day, you can’t save your kids. There is no promise in the Bible that your kids are going to be saved. It’s His work. I have four kids that are following the Lord right now, and I thank the Lord for that because I don’t deserve any of my kids to be saved. So, four out of five is more grace than I ever deserve.
We have to stay strong. We have to make sure that we stay one with our spouse during these times. It is so easy to start blaming each other. And I love that scene where—don’t want to give too much away in the movie—but Johnny is packing to go find her. Michelle, the mom, comes out. She says: “What are you going to do? You going to go hunt her down and bring her back? She’s 18.” Michelle says, “If you weren’t so hard on her, maybe, she wouldn’t have run away,”—and just to realize it’s so easy to attack each other. That’s not what we are called to do. We are called to be one. We are called to be united and to rest in God’s sovereignty.
God is sovereign. He allowed this to happen to my daughter, to your situation—whatever your situation is. He will be glorified in that. At the end of the day, He’s going to be glorified in that. Whatever your situation is, just be faithful to the Lord.
Bob: Russ, talk about why it’s important that everybody go this weekend rather than waiting to go next weekend to see your movie.
Russ: Because opening weekend—a lot of people don’t realize this—but opening weekend is the most important weekend of a film’s life. We need you out there, supporting this film this weekend. Based on these opening weekend numbers, they will expand this film into other theaters. They’ll keep it longer if we do well this weekend, but we need a whole fleet to spread this wonderful message.
We’ve got some great materials, too, that are out there—the Own It book. There is a soundtrack. There is a youth Bible study curriculum that we worked on. But it’s just an entertaining movie, too. Hopefully, you won’t be embarrassed to even take a neighbor. Grab a couple of extra tickets, at the theater, and take the neighbor. Use it as an evangelistic tool because Brad and I really tried to make a film that you don’t have to be embarrassed by.
Bob: You can go out this weekend. Part of what you are doing—when you go out this weekend—is you are voting to see the next movie you want to make, really, because how this movie does opens or closes the door on the next movie. And what is it that—you are looking at starting to shoot in January on a new film; right?
Brad: That’s right. That’s right.
Bob: Tell us what it’s about.
Brad: We have a couple of working titles. So, I’ll leave the title off, right now; but—
Russ: I thought it was about a radio host.
Brad: That’s right. [Laughter] We did promise you a cameo; didn’t we?
Bob: I don’t know if I can wait for this!
Brad: Man, yes. So, I’m going to write something tonight—
Brad: —and I’ll have it for you tomorrow.
Bob: Send it to my agent, if you would.
Brad: Yes, exactly, exactly.
Russ: Oh my! He costs us too much money—
Brad: Yes, that’s true.
Brad: “We can’t afford that Lepine.” [Laughter] You know, it deals with—I don’t want to take the weight off Grace and the emotion we’re at, right now—but it deals with just a topic that was also very dear to Russ and me, just as what we were struggling with—dealing primarily with: “What has God promised?” It is a very American story, in that sense: “What has God promised us? Has He promised us the Gospel or the American dream?” It was something that we both—
Bob: Wait! Wait! Wait! Do that again.
Brad: That was pretty good.
Brad: Yes, I keep forgetting Grace Unplugged. [Laughter] In 2015, be ready because—but isn’t that something? It was something that both Russ and I were independently thinking about. It was one of those—I came to him and he came to me—and we’re both like: “Wait! We both thought of it.” In all fairness, if we both come to independent—
Russ: “We’ve got to do a movie on this concept.”
Brad: —conclusions, it is sort of like confirming—not that we are over-spiritualizing. We’re saying: “Gosh! It’s on both of our hearts.” As I was looking around—at my friends, at my family, and then, at my own heart—I realized: “Huh? Have I replaced the Gospel”—however subtly, however deceptively—“with praying for my own comfort?”
Brad: “I’m sick. Heal me, God.” “I’m out of work. Get me a better job.” With this attitude of—
Russ: “I need that new car.”
Brad: Yes, “I lost my job. Therefore, God has a better one for me.” Now, we all believe Romans 8:28; but does that mean a higher-paying, better-dental-benefits job? I think that’s what we subtly believe sometimes. So, it was on that—that is the heart behind the story. So—and then, it’s packaged—I won’t bore you with what the packaging is, but it’s a lot of fun.
Russ: It’s great. It’s set in—a young man who wants to be a race car driver—and the neglect of a father, who’s so consumed with his business, that he doesn’t take the time with the son. We don’t want to tell you anything else because we want you to go see that one; but we know you won’t because you’ll have us come back and show it to you for free. [Laughter]
Bob: I was wondering, “Where does the radio deejay fit into this story?”
Bob: That’s just what I—
Russ: We, actually, thought you’d be the stock car driver. [Laughter]
Bob: Well, we’re praying that the film does well and praying that God will use it in the lives of teenage daughters, and their daddies, and families, and maybe, open up some conversations—
Bob: —and maybe, some phone calls and some reconciliation out of this. So, hope folks will go out and see it. And thanks for making great movies that we can enjoy and take our friends to.
Would you thank these guys? [Applause]
Dennis: Well, we’ve been listening to the producer and screenwriter/director of Grace Unplugged and Bob Lepine, shamelessly, trying to find a way onto the big screen.
Bob: [Laughter] One of these days!
Dennis: Let me tell you something, folks [Laughter]—he fits as the stock car driver. I’ve been in the car with him, and it’s real. [Laughter] It’s real.
Bob: Typecasting, at that point.
Dennis: I did not have a helmet, and there was not a roll bar. It was—it was a rental car—a rent-a-dent—and he ran over the curb!
Bob: It is encouraging to see guys who are taking risks, and who are going out and trying to make great movies that you can take anybody to—that have a redemptive message—that present the Gospel clearly in them.
Dennis: Yes. And I think these are the kinds of movies, certainly, that the community of faith—followers of Christ—ought to support as it comes to your community. Invite some friends—some families. Go see this movie. You’re not going to be disappointed. It’s got a great message—a great theme.
Then, use it like we did our movies—our kids would roll their eyes back in their heads: “Oh, Dad! We’re not going to go get a Coke® and a pizza, now, and talk about the theme and the worldview: ‘What are they talking about? What does it represent?’” You did the same thing, Bob.
Bob: I did. You’re right.
Dennis: I know you did! [Laughter] Absolutely; but take them out and talk about that. It’s a great family night out and an opportunity to teach some great biblical truth into the lives of your kids through a modern-day parable.
Bob: You can find out more about the movie, Grace Unplugged, when you go to our website at FamilyLifeToday.com. Click on the link for “Grace Unplugged”. You can watch a clip from the film—that you can’t see anywhere else. Again, the website: FamilyLifeToday.com.
We also have copies of the book, Own It. It’s a book that’s featured in the film. It’s a book about making your faith your own, written by our friends, Michael and Hayley DiMarco, who have been with us this week. You can get a copy of the book, Own It, when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com, as well; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to order—1-800-358-6329. The name of the book, again, is Own It. We’re happy to send a copy out to you.
We want to say a special word of thanks to those of you who make FamilyLife Today possible. We are listener-supported. What that means is that the costs we incur for producing and syndicating this program—which, by the way, is significant—those costs are absorbed by folks, like you, who pitch in a little bit here and there to help make this daily radio program possible. You make our FamilyLife Today app for your iPhone® possible. You make our website possible. All that we do, here at FamilyLife, is made possible because of folks, like you, who help support this ministry. And we do appreciate it.
Today, if you can support us with a donation, we’d like to send you a thank-you gift. It’s a book by Jennie Allen called Anything. It’s about the prayer that she and her husband prayed together that she says was one of the scariest prayers she ever prayed. It was the prayer, “God, we will do anything.” You can read about that prayer and about how God answered the prayer when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com and make an online donation. Click the button that says, “I CARE”, to make your donation. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. You can make a donation over the phone. Just ask for the book, Anything, when you do that. Or you can mail a donation to us and request the book, Anything. Our mailing address is: P. O. Box 7111, Little Rock, AR. And our zip code is 72223.
With that, we’ve got to wrap things up for this week. Thanks for being with us. Hope you have a great weekend, and I hope you and your family can join us back on Monday. We’re going to be talking about a movie again; but this time, it is a little different twist. It’s a movie, out this weekend, called A.C.O.D.: Adult Child of Divorce. We don’t recommend the movie—which is a comedy—but we are going to be talking about some of the challenges that face adults, whose parents split up. We’ll have that conversation Monday. I hope you can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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