The reverend behind this fact-based film explains how it can show us the power of working together.
The Reverend Michael Spurlock wasn’t happy the first time he saw “All Saints,” the story of his humble Tennessee church’s revival.
Spurlock says he was “hyper-critical” of star John Corbett’s performance, for starters. Then Spurlock turned to a trusted friend who saw the film along with him who said, “boy, did he nail you!”
Seeing oneself on the big screen is disorienting for many, Spurlock included. What the soft-spoken pastor doesn’t question, then or now, was the providence behind the new film.
“God sent the right people [to make the movie] from the beginning until now,” he says.
“All Saints” follows the remarkable turnaround of the All Saints Episcopal Church in Smyrna, Tenn. The congregation’s puny flock wasn’t its biggest problem. The church’s debt made closing the building the only possible option.
What changed? Spurlock and company embraced members of Karen (pronounced ka-REN), Asian refugees from Burma whose needs far outweighed their own. Together, they revitalized the fertile land surrounding the church and the congregation as well.
Spurlock admits he ran through the expected emotions when Hollywood first came calling. He spent long hours getting to know both director Steve Gomer and screenwriter Steve Armour.
They talked, and talked and even met each other’s respective families. Slowly, Spurlock grew more comfortable with an “All Saints” project. So why did it take six years for a story this dramatic to become a reality.
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Spurlock is hardly a Hollywood insider, but he answers that question without taking a beat.
“Money,” he says.
That delay ended up serving the story better, he adds. The creative team spent time delving deeper into the community surrounding the church. They met the refugees who played such a vital role in All Saints’ resurgence.
All of that made the finished product better, Spurlock says.
Even more providential in his eyes? How the story deals with refugees at a time when the issue is burning brightly on news casts and social media channels.
FAST FACT: Ye Win, a Burmese immigrant whose story is crucial to “All Saints,” immigrated to the United States in 2004 after years of escalating action from the Burmese government toward his fellow freedom fighters. Nelson Lee plays him in the movie.
“All Saints” gave Spurlock an education on filmmaking in more ways than one.
- Corbett graciously offered to shave his thick locks to more closely resemble Spurlock. The studio suggested he keep his hair as is.
- He didn’t meet Corbett until the end of the production, which confused him. Wouldn’t the actor have questions only he could answer? Corbett’s on-screen wife, Cara Buono, helped explain the decision to Spurlock. She told him they wanted to capture the “spirit” of the characters rather than imitate real people. “It’s a very legitimate approach to me,” he says now.
- The film’s creative team didn’t include some of what Spurlock calls the “miracles” that helped the church’s revival happen. He was told “no one would believe it’s a true story” if they added them in.
Today, Spurlock is on the clergy staff for Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue in New York City. It’s his second time living in the Big Apple.
“My first ‘tour of duty’ wasn’t an easy one,” he says. “New York needs a certain amount of cannon fodder,” he says. “I was one of those the first time around.”
He’s much more at ease this time.
“It’s a remarkable experience here … the diversity, the unpredictability of being a minister in the city with its beauty and some of the sadness,” he says. “The privilege I have to bring Jesus into the midst of all that … that’s just wonderful in a different way than my ministry at All Saints has been.”
The film’s release timing may be as fortuitous as the protracted development schedule. We’re living in deeply divided times. One political party sees people as part of individual groups more than America as a whole.
The “All Saints” story offers something different.
“We were better when we were together,” he says of the All Saints community. “We complemented each other beautifully.”