“Pass the Light”
Screenwriter & Broadway Star Victor Hawks
Shares Vision Behind Film
But God had something else in mind.
Years later, after a long and winding trail, which he explained a little in my interview with him below, he found himself working on Broadway in a role that most actors can only dream about — Jean Valjean in Broadway’s legendary “Les Miserables.”
He also starred in Broadway shows like “The Producers,” and he played Stewpot in the Tony Award-winning revival of “South Pacific” at the Lincoln Center — to name a few.
But Victor, who is also a Christian, wanted to do something more.
So, in 2012, he established Vision Vehicle Productions with the goal of producing stories that “stir the soul, stimulate the mind, and have a big beating heart in the center,” according to their press. Victor is also currently writing and developing over eight films and 12 TV pilots.
I had to chance to speak with Victor over the phone about their latest project, the new feature film “Pass the Light,” which opens Feb. 6 in theaters around the country. According to the film’s press release:
17-year-old high school student Steve Bellafiore (Cameron Palatas) is determined to run for congress in order to challenge Franklin Baumann (Jon Gries), a confrontational candidate spreading harsh messages of exclusion and intolerance. As part of his campaign, Steve creates a grassroots movement called Pass The Light to unite his community, make a change in his school and spread a message of Christian love.
The film might be seen, from a certain angle, as controversial to faith-based audiences because it includes two homosexual characters who become the targets of ridicule by one (not all) of the Christian characters; and it deals with — in a general sense without diving into the specific political issues in America — how the church should frame the message of the Gospel in our complicated, divisive, and often contentious political culture that sees Blues and Reds feuding with each other like the Hatfields and McCoys. (I analyze the film in more detail in my full film review here.)
And I will say this right off the bat: Victor Hawks, and his film, is not bashing conservative Christians. It’s not that kind of movie. He says so himself, as you’ll read below. But it does challenge Christians to examine how we are framing the message of Christ. Victor gets into all of that and more in our interview:
You’ve had a really fascinating journey, just going from Chicago to Broadway to film making. As a child growing up in Chicago, did you feel like your life might end up in entertainment on stage and in film?
Well, you know it’s interesting. When I was first growing up, I loved sports. I played football, basketball, tennis, baseball, everything. My first dream was athletics, but God did not bless me with the athletic frame, so to speak. I found that entertainment kind of coincided with the sports. My mom was the director in her high school, and I was involved with the plays and the little stuff she did. I kinda caught the bug that way. As I really got into it, got more acclimated to the life, I really started loving it. Even through college, though, I was going to go home and be a part of my dad’s brokerage firm. I was going to be a stock broker. It was a very different journey. Then I got a summer job while I was in college in Mt. Washington Valley Theater. That’s where I really really caught the bug and really really knew that I wanted to do that, at least theatrically, and then writing came later while I was on Broadway. My first Broadway show I started writing when I was 25. It’s been an interesting journey and kind of all over the map, but my passion ended up being entertainment, obviously, first as an actor and now writing and producing, which I feel is my true passion. It’s been quite a journey.
It’s amazing how God will take us through all sorts of random hoops before we get somewhere.
Yes, He will!
How did “Pass the Light” come about? What made you want to write this film?
“Pass the Light” came about because my niece Carly. She’s a young Christian lady — 16 now. She said to me, “Vic, there’s not a lot of movies for me. There’s not a lot of things I can really grab on to and watch and sometimes, because there’s no content for me, I kind of feel alone, and I feel like no one is speaking to me.” There are a lot of things that young Christians deal with today that people didn’t have to deal with long ago. And I said, “I’m going to write a film that’s about youth empowerment, people getting out there, being able to make an impact and affect their world, affect the lives around them just by doing simple things like being kind to people and being better to people.”
She was the initial spark of the intention, and as I got to writing it I wrote the script in, I think, eight days. Literally. So it was kind of inspired and spilled out of me and I can’t quite explain it.
When she [Carly] saw it, it was kind of amazing: she just was crying and all “oh my gosh” this is the movie. It just really moved her because she really saw herself on the screen and people like her making a difference. That was something that really helped spark the creative process initially, and then the script just kind of took over for itself. The rest is history, or soon to be history, I guess!
I agree with her. When I was a youth it was hard to find stuff to relate to, you just kind of grab what you could and made the best of it. For our readers, what would you say, in a nutshell, what “Pass the Light” is about?
“Pass the Light” is about a young 17-year-old kid named Steve Bellafiore who runs for Congress in order to oppose the message of hate being espoused by the incumbent candidate Franklin Baumann. And what Steve does is rally the community and the people around him to create this movement, this “pass the light” movement, which essentially is just being good to one another, and the effect and power that can have in your community once it’s really sparked and motivated by a group of pro-active people.
The film is about how people can be moved when they’re inspired by the abundance of God’s love. I think people forget the power they have. They forget and think they can’t make a difference. “No one’s going to listen to me.” “I don’t have the power to do this or that.” And “Pass the Light” teaches you, “yeah, you have the power; just be nice to the person next to you and they will pass it on to the person next to them.” It can be a chain reaction. You have the power to affect just one person a day, and then that can lead to a chain reaction — just the littlest thing, the littlest kindness, like, “Hey, I like your shirt,” and then that person walks around feeling better about their shirt for the whole day. It’s little things like that that really do make a difference.
Obviously, Steve does it on a bigger level, otherwise it wouldn’t be a movie if it was all, “Hey, I like your shirt.” [laughs] That’d be a really short, interesting film. Steve does it on a grander level, obviously, but that is the inception of it: God’s love is for everyone, and we all can be better to each other. Let’s give that a shot and see what happens. At a deeper level, that’s what we were going for.
It kind of reminds me of the verse, “Don’t despise the day of small beginnings.” Take small steps. Also Steve was very inspiring (and humbling) — almost made me wish I did more in my high school years.
[laughs] Well, you’re doing it now, you’re doing it now.
Exactly, a new beginning here. [laughs] Jon Gries (“Napoleon Dynamite,” “Taken”) is great in any movie he’s in. I’m a big fan of him. What was it like working with him?
He was great. The thing about doing a film on our budget, and a 17-day shoot schedule that we had, is we had to be efficient and we had to be tight. He was so gracious. We needed someone to come in and crush this part, and he was all “I got you.” Just as simple as this. He was coming off another film, and he made it work for us and he just has that professional presence that was everything. He’s just such a pro. I mean he’s been at this for more than 30 years. He came in and kept us on our toes and just helped us with the process. It’s a tough process. He was balancing another film with our really really rigorous 17-day schedule and never complained. He just played his guitar in his dressing room, chilled out, and was kind and good to everyone. He exemplified what it is to be a pro, which all the young people in our film could really look up to: “Oh, there’s the guy who’s been doing this for 30 years just doing his thing, never a bad word to anyone.” Just a really great guy, really great friend. We were so happy he could do it for us.
His character Franklin was kind of a lightening rod. A lot of other actors might have gone over the top with it, but he just had this restrained, in-control tone; it was a great performance. I could say that of all the actors, really, I was very impressed by the whole cast.
And speaking of the Franklin character, it’s hard not to feel frustrated emotions while watching his scenes because he does remind me of people I’ve met — that alienating attitude of people in the church.
But it’s ironic because I’ve seen other groups besides Christians kind of have a Franklin attitude too. I went to a very liberal college, and they had some very aggressive LGBT activists there, and they would use the term “war” a lot, like Franklin. I went to try to befriend one of them and just kind of engage them, and inevitably they would ask me if I was on their side on all the issues. When I respectfully disagreed with some of the points, I would immediately get attacked and chased away. So, I’m sort of asking for advice: how do we “pass the light” in hostile situations where we’re not going on the defensive necessarily, but when we state our beliefs in a respectful way we’re still getting attacked?
Interesting you bring that up, because the one thing we tried to do was to challenge in a good way. It’s meant to challenge in a good way and say, “Hey guys, there are a lot of points of view out here, and everyone’s doing their best.” [It helps] when you can understand, first of all, just the immense nature of God’s creation and just the diversity inside of it — just understand that we are all so different inside of this huge creative universe. There’s obviously a huge plan. I’m never one to know God’s intentions, I’m not that powerful or all-seeing, and I don’t think anyone is. I think the biggest thing you can do, as far as advice-wise, is to really just listen. Listen to what they’re saying. Listen to what they want. We’re never going to just agree with everyone, but we can always find a common ground.
It’s interesting, like the Jon Gries character, he represents, probably 5% of Christians, but they’re the loudest. Because they’re so loud about what they believe, the projection is that most Christians are like that. My friends who aren’t Christian, they kind of have a bad view of Christianity. No, 98% of Christians aren’t separatist like that, where they act like they’re the arbiters of God’s love, and they’re just doling it out to people as they see fit. That’s literally 2% of Christians I know. The rest are good God-fearing Christians who are open to everyone and say God’s love is for everyone. Most good Christians are quiet, humble people who speak out when they have to. But because the 2% get so loud it puts everyone in a defensive position. Everyone’s all of a sudden very defensive. Whether it’s the LGBT defending their position because of their experience that says, “You’re a Christian, you’re not going to listen to me.” Another Christian will say, “Wait a minute, I’m not like that, I’m trying to defend you.” All of a sudden we come to this place where it’s defensive. The minute it becomes defensive, the conversation is over.
Now once you actually talk, you probably find you have a lot of common ground. You’re probably going to say, “Look, here are some things I can get behind. God’s love is for everyone.” There’s got to be a way that this is inside creation. With my particular experience with LGBT, obviously, I was on Broadway for years. A lot of people around me were homosexual people, and some of them are great friends, and they are some of the most wildly creative, insanely kind, compassionate people. I can’t believe, when I see those qualities — when I watch that talent and those things — I can’t believe that God’s not working through them in some way. What a lot of people do, the 2% do, they like looking at a picture and they look at one corner of it, and then they claim that they know about the whole painting. Well, you don’t. Look at the whole picture.
Going back to your point, the advice would be this: stop trying to defend so hard. Just listen and open up to people. Be a catalyst to conversation, which is kind of what we hope “Pass the Light” will do, and that’s why we made it and why we made some elements of it challenging. That’s the nature of the conversation. When Baumann put his arms around Trevor and Billy and says, “It’s people like you that are this community” — if you didn’t know they were gay, you would just think they’re real good guys doing their thing. But all of a sudden this slant gets put on it.
So it was meant to challenge. It was not meant, in any way, to bash conservative Christians. It’s not like that at all. My parents are conservative Christians. I love that. I don’t know if I’m a conservative Christian, but I’m certainly a Christian for 30 plus years, and it’s definitely inside of me. What I’ve tried to do with people who are different than me is that I always try to listen before I get defensive because then there’s no more conversation left and I’m trying to be right and you’re trying to be right, and then no one’s right in the end.
When you were talking about that it just kind of set off the idea in my mind of dominoes — like someone has to start the dominoes by listening first and then hopefully that will spur more listening. The escalation of listening instead of attacking. Were there ways that people would “pass the light” on set during those 17 days?
Oh yeah. It’s interesting. The group of young people we have. When you’re on a 17-day shoot and it’s crazy, the best way you can “pass the light” is to do your job and be respectful to everybody. Do you job, be respectful. But the great thing about this film and the message and what it did to kids — I say kids but they’re almost 20 — when the film was over people wanted to keep the energy of the movie. We got a big group of people together and did the L.A. homeless walk. There are things we’ve done as a group to keep the message alive because it meant so much to people. The vision was carried on after the movie, which, to me, is the best way to pass the light; they are living it.
One of our young stars, Rachael Kathryn Bell, she does so much for the people around her — and Alexandria DeBerry and Cameron Palatas. We had a young girl on our Facebook page talk about how Cameron has helped her. He didn’t know her, but he took time out of his day, and you know Cam is an up-and-coming Hollywood guy, and he has a lot of people emailing, talking to him. But he took time out of his day to really address this girl and for all intents and purposes he effectively saved her from really terrible thoughts. Little things like that. We had these young people in this film who carried the vision after the film, which to me is a much better thing. During the 17 days it was heads down, do your work, be respectful, be kind, and they all were. But after the film I saw the actual notion of “pass the light” affect them in their everyday life, which is really great.
Sounds like it really was contagious, even just talking with you I can feel the same sort of excitement about passing the light and getting involved out there. What’s next for you as a writer and creative person? What’s on the horizon for you?
We have a lot. We’re developing so many films, so many television shows. We are doing another Christian film that is coming down the pipe that I’m writing. We write for both the secular and Christian side. It’s interesting for me, being a man of faith, I didn’t know I would write something like this. I was very personal about my faith and my beliefs. I wasn’t someone who advertised. That just wasn’t me. I held it back. I pray I’d do these things, but I wasn’t someone that was overt about it. “Pass the Light” inspired me to be more of a Christian with more of a voice for my faith community. I’ve been blessed with the capacity to be heard, essentially. As a result of that — just as you’ve been blessed with the capacity to be heard — being blessed with that capacity to be heard just inspired me to create more for my faith and to always be the kind of writer that challenges a little bit. I’m not a preach-to-the-choir kind of person. I never have been. I’ve always been the guy that said, “I like it, I love it, but have we thought of this?” “Let’s take a look at this” — which “Pass the Light” is. We have in development several TV shows and films. People keep getting me to try to go back to Broadway, but I’m not doing that just yet. I still get the calls from some of the people. On IMDB you’ll be able to follow us and visionvehicle.com. We have a lot of great up-and-coming projects, but we are going to create that arm of our company, Vision Vehicle Productions, so we can always keep the pursuit of God and His love alive in our work — all of it — and have Him be present more in our professional life as well because I think it’s important to do that.
PASS THE LIGHT stars Jon Grise (NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, TAKEN), Cameron Palatas (ZACH STONE IS GOING TO BE FAMOUS), Alexanderia Deberry (ANT FARM), Charlie DePew (AMAZING SPIDER MAN), Lawrence Saint-Victor (THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL), Milena Govich (FINDING CARTER), Rachael Kathryn Bell (SUITE LIFE ON DECK) and Colby French (CHANGELING). PASS THE LIGHT will open exclusively at Carmike Theaters beginning February 6.