"Old Fashioned," a film about a traditional kind of love that has positioned itself as the Anti-"Fifty Shades of Grey" Valentines Day flick, is hoping to stage a coup as it opens this weekend in theaters across the United States. The film used a traditional-values, faith-based guerilla marketing campaign to seduce viewers looking for a romantic alternative to Hollywood's latest lust story.
When the idea of creating a movie based on old-fashioned courtship came to director/producer, writer and actor Rik Swartzwelder, "Fifty Shades of Grey" did not yet exist. He never expected to stage an epic Hollywood vs. Indie Film showdown, or that his film would get coverage from Time, E! News, Fox and Friends, Variety, or Yahoo Movies. Swartzwelder did not anticipate that his less-than-a-million-dollar film would be a festival finalist and the winner of several awards. But despite his modest intentions, "Old Fashioned" has already exceeded all expectations, and it is only opening weekend.
"Old Fashioned" tells the story of Clay Walsh, a former frat boy turned devout man of God. He has left his past life behind and now runs an antique store in a quaint Midwestern college town. There, he meets Amber Hewson, a “free-spirited young woman with a restless soul." The two attempt to leave all modern notions of dating behind, and instead choose to engage in an old-fashioned courtship rooted in respect, commitment, and godly love.
The film stands in stark contrast to the Hollywood buzz-maker, "Fifty Shades of Grey," based on a best-selling book about the erotic love affair of Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey. The fictional pair spend the majority of the novel experimenting in violent dominant/submissive sex play. The movie had a working budget of 40 million dollars and is expected to do well at the box office.
Although "Old Fashioned" was not written to compete against 50 Shades, the identical release date is no accident.
“The original idea for the film…came to me more than 10 years ago. There was no Fifty Shades novel back then,” said Swartzwelder in a Q&A released to the press. “The theatrical release date, on the other hand, was a deliberate decision to position Old Fashioned in contrast to Fifty Shades. That move also allows churches to use Old Fashioned strategically in communicating to their congregations and wider communities on opening weekend.”
Although it is an independently-created film, "Old Fashioned" has strong ties to the Seventh-day Adventist community. Two of the three preview market screenings took place in Adventist hot spots: Silver Spring, Maryland, near the Adventist World Church headquarters, and Grand Rapids, Michigan, near Andrews University. Many people working on the crew were Seventh-day Adventist, and Swartzwelder himself went to Silver Spring to promote the film and share some behind-the-scene stories about the the movie. The event was highlighted on the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists official Facebook page.
From left to right - David George (Director of Photography), Rik Swartzwelder (Writer/Actor/Director), and Chris Stiles (“A” Camera 1st AC) prepping for a shot.
Southern Adventist University professor David George joined the crew as the film’s director of photography. More than ten years ago, George met Swartzwelder at Sonscreen Film Festival, an annual NAD-created film festival aimed at Christian young adults interested in using film and video for social awareness, outreach, and uplifting creative entertainment.
For years Swartzwelder has visited SAU’s film production department to offer workshops to students. When George heard about Swartzwelder’s "Old Fashioned" project, he knew he wanted to be a part of it.
“It provided a unique opportunity to shoot a dramatic feature film with a theatrical release–a chance that doesn’t come around very often,” said George in a phone interview. “And it was also a great learning experience for me; it really enhanced the way I could share what I learned with my students in the classroom.”
George described the atmosphere on set, working with Adventists and non-Adventists alike:
It was a hybrid crew, and it gave me the opportunity to talk with my students about working with both Christian professionals and secular professionals. Production can be a messy business…it’s in the way you approach those things that you have the opportunity to make a statement about what you believe in.”
Southern Adventist University student Chris Stiles took a semester off from school to work on the film in the camera department. He was joined on the crew by several SAU alumni.
Southern Alums Bryan Fowler (“A” Camera operator on left) and Chris Stiles (“A” Camera 1st AC on the right) are working on the camera as David George (Director of Photography) lines up a shot.
2006 Southern graduate Melody George served as the film’s production designer. She was responsible for creating the aesthetic look of the movie, selecting the settings and style to visually tell the story. She hopes that "Old Fashioned" will give people the chance to see two people endeavoring to have a godly relationship on the big screen.
“We all go through the dating process, on an emotional and spiritual level, few things impact us more than our relationships and our sexual choices,” said M. George. “Here we have a film that believes and depicts relationships in a healthy, godly way.”
Although "Old Fashioned" has been thematically pitted against "Fifty Shades," in terms of budget and media exposure, there is no comparison. Nevertheless, Melody George believes "Old Fashioned" can have a profound impact on those who make the choice to see it.
To some degree you can’t compete with [Fifty Shades]. But I know there are people who are longing for something different, something more meaningful and more lasting than what is found in this culture of one-night stands, casual sex, endless divorces and heartbreak. This film believes that if we approach our relationships with a little more intentionality and a little more discipline, it's possible to change that. My hope and prayer is that the people who need to see it will happen across the film somehow.”
Although working on a film with such a modest budget was difficult, Melody George said it was possible because of the overwhelming support of the New Philadelphia, Ohio community where the film was shot.
“We especially relied on the community to help provide some of those things we needed. I remember we would literally post on our Facebook pages asking for different props: ‘We need a men’s suit in this size.’ And it worked—people responded!”
The crew was made up of between thirty and forty individuals, and filming wrapped in November 2011, after about six weeks of shooting. Although the film is not about Rik Swartzwelder, he has said that many portions of the film were inspired by his own life. SAU’s student paper, The Southern Accent, reported that key parts of the film came from Swartzwelder’s realization that many people have a skewed view of dating:
The story grew out of director Rik Swartzwelder’s examination of his own dating experiences and asking people what they look for in a partner. Responses included ‘faithful, kind, reliable, good with children.’ But when he asked what they look for in a date, the answers were different: ‘Someone who is attractive, exciting, sweeps me off my feet – sexy.’”
Many faith-based films face the challenge of coming across as feeling stilted or cheesy. One way "Old Fashioned" creators tried counter the potential pitfall was to focus on a strong storyline.
“Faith based films, like any other genre have to go through growth. Like any other genre, there is room always for improvement,” said the film’s producer Nathan Nazario. “For us, it was all about a story and the message that is embedded into the story. Our goal was to create a powerful story that addressed young people and millennials who are navigating their faith in a hypersexual culture.”
Nazario came to "Old Fashioned" not only as an experienced producer with 20 years under his belt, but also as a Seventh-day Adventist. He believes the movie has the potential to cross over from faith-based groups and become relevant to anyone.
“Old Fashioned has played at several film festivals—secular film festivals—and received awards. There is a need for love, a wanting to find love that is unconditional and beautiful. That is a universal need, not just a faith-based need.”
So far the film has enjoyed a positive reception among moviegoers. "Old Fashioned" came in at $13,000 per screen average at pre-release showings, and as of this article's publication, boasts a 91% "Liked It" score on Rotten Tomatoes. However, film critics have been a lot harsher. The movie's Rotten Tomatoes critics' score was a dismal 27% rating. Still, early indicators look positive. “For Hollywood studio films, [$13K per screen] is good number,” explained Nazario. “For an independent film, that is a very, very good number.”
The success of the film greatly depends on the number of people who choose to see it during opening weekend. Cast and crew are encouraging everyone to “vote” for films like this by going out and to see it Valentines’ Day weekend. Supporting Old Fashioned will help open doors for more faith-based films in the future.
“We understood that if we opened up on the same day as Fifty Shades of Grey that we would create an opportunity to widen the conversation of what true romance is,” said Nazario. “Is romance pursuing selfish pleasure, or is it honoring and respecting one another?”
Click here to find a theater showing "Old Fashioned" near you, and check back soon for a full review.
Rachel Logan is a writing intern for Spectrum Magazine.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6631