Written by Luke Barnett, Vincent Masciale, and Tanner Thomason
When our first film, an ultra-low-budget horror-comedy called Fear, Inc., got into Tribeca in 2016, we assumed we’d be doing a Marvel movie in no time. Or, at the very least, have a show on the air. Three years later, that was not the case.
Granted, we now had the coveted 4:30 p.m. meeting at every office in town (producers save the “drive to Beverly Hills in rush hour” slot for the filmmakers they really want to impress).
Enter: God’s Not Dead 3.
God’s Not Dead is a low-budget Christian film franchise made by PureFlix (the Netflix of Christian cinema) and starring Kevin Sorbo. The God’s Not Dead movies are not good movies, but the God’s Not Dead franchise has made $96 million.
We looked at each other and said, “We should just make a bad Christian movie, then use that money to fund our own projects."
That joke became Faith Based, an ultra-low budget comedy following two slackers who realize that all Christian movies make lots of money, and set off to make A Prayer in Space, the story of the first prayer ever to be prayed… in space.
We are three friends who have worked together for years, starting with short-form comedy videos for Will Ferrell’s website, Funny or Die.
Vincent Masciale directed Faith Based, Luke Barnett wrote and starred in it alongside Tanner Thomason, and the three of us produced it.
Faith Based would evolve from a no-budget idea we were going to improvise with friends, into an indie dream project that was hated by Fox News, featured everywhere from the Huffington Post to Late Night, and stars many of our heroes, including Jason Alexander, Lance Reddick, Margaret Cho, and David Koechner.
The following are five key takeaways we had from making Faith Based.
Write what you know
As indie filmmakers, we are reminded so many times to write “one location, few actors.” That’s good advice, but at the end of the day, writing a story you truly care about is what will come through in the script and, eventually, on screen.
We grew up in the quintessential evangelical church. We know this world incredibly well, so it was a natural and exciting backdrop to write a story for.
“Perfect, but impossible”
When casting Faith Based, we had an Excel sheet of actors we loved. One of our executive producers wrote “perfect, but impossible” next to Jason Alexander’s name.
One year later, Jason went on Late Night with Seth Meyers to promote the movie. So how did we get this cast on a small indie film? We should probably write an article dedicated entirely to casting, but one tip: offer people roles they don’t always get to play.
Lance Reddick is known for playing authoritative figures in critically acclaimed dramas and huge thrillers like The Wire, John Wick, and Bosch. So why would he want to play another cop in your no-budget crime thriller? But if he gets to wear a green screen suit in a weird little comedy, that’s at least going to get his attention.
Consider casting against type. Oh, and get good at begging.
Set a date
Our plan was to come up with $10,000 between the three of us and improvise the entire thing on iPhones. If things hadn’t organically grown, we would have absolutely done that.
Fortunately, the project happened to resonate with folks who read it, and thanks to some great producers we’d worked with before and a lot of incredibly generous friends, we suddenly had real cameras, a real crew, and real actors.
But being able to go to people with “This is happening, it starts on this date, are you in?” makes a huge difference.
Turn obstacles into opportunity
On our first day of shooting, the Hollywood Reporter announced the movie, and within an hour Fox News and Breitbart had taken the logline and turned it into multiple articles about “Hollywood making a Christian bashing movie.”
They didn’t know the story, the budget, or that the director is a Christian, but hey, that free press suddenly put millions of eyes on our tiny film.
We even made a trailer out of Fox News comments before our festival premiere.
Replace money with passion
Back in our Funny or Die days, no-budget filmmaking was the name of the game. When you don’t have a lot of money to help solve problems, it can either stress everyone out and ruin the shoot, or you can see it as a sign that no one on that set, from the PA to your lead actor, is there because of the paycheck. They are there because they believe in what you are making.
Passion starts at the top, and everyone on set can sense if it’s there or not. We treated every day like a Funny or Die video, and, in the future, when we’re making our $100 million Netflix movie, or at the very least, have a show on the air (we assume when your movie is 94% on Rotten Tomatoes that happens in no time, right?!), we will treat each day the same way.
Stream Faith Based for free today on Amazon Prime, or rent it wherever you rent movies. And if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.
Lastly, our crew was the best and we owe them everything. Hire them if you can.