To talk to Delroy Brown, the creative mind behind an ambitious animated film project based on the Great Controversy motif, it's not hard to see why top talent in Hollywood would be drawn to work on the project. Brown is affable, and he exudes contagious enthusiasm for his film. However, to hear award-winning animators and voice actors talk about "Heaven | The First War," it is clear that the screenplay Brown wrote was what sold them.
Brown is not a Hollywood fixture, nor is he a writer, per se. His background is in web development and coding. Brown is more conversant in Linux and Apache than in writing for the Silver Screen, but if "The First War" makes it to theaters, Brown's writing will be the film's backbone.
Brown spoke with me by phone from his Florida home to explain his vision for the film.
Nine years ago, Brown became a Seventh-day Adventist while living in the Cayman Islands. He and his wife were Pentecostal, but like many converts to the Adventist faith, a combination of Bible studies, interactions with Adventists and Ellen White's writings won them over. And while today, evangelistically-motivated mass distribution of White's The Great Controversy to unsuspecting urbanites has generated substantial controversy of its own, Brown cites that book as inspiration for his becoming Adventist. Clearly, White's writings have played a significant part in Brown's screenplay. The About page on the "First War" website uses Ellen White's words (unattributed) to pitch the project:
There is to be no stone left unturned to lead souls to find the treasure, the hidden treasure of Bible truth.” The moment I read this I knew I would never forget it. As Christians we need to leave nothing undone that could be done before we leave this earth.
After Brown became an Adventist, he grew restless. "Sitting in the pew wasn’t enough for us," he said, "we wanted to be more active." Inspiration struck in the midst of an online video-watching binge.
"One Sabbath I was telling my wife and four daughters, 'We can’t just be on YouTube doing any old thing. It’s holy time.' I had started watching C.D. Brooks sermons on YouTube and ended up watching Fox News blooper videos."
That video marathon mishap led to an idea. "We wanted to convert people and provide Adventist content," Brown said. Using his web-building skills, he created 3AngelsTube, a YouTube-style Christian video hosting site. "I was a developer and realized I could develop something for people to watch on Sabbath where all content is Sabbath appropriate," he said. After attracting an audience, Brown built in upload functionality, then added live-streaming capabilities as well. The site now reaches 20-35 thousand viewers a month, but Brown says he isn't satisfied with the audience size.
That's when the idea of a feature-length, animated film began to materialize, Brown said. What better way to reach wide audiences with the story of the origins of Good and Evil than on the Big Screen?
Brown said that while he has not made his livelihood writing, it is nothing new. "I've always been writing since I was younger. I didn't have anything published, but I wrote lots of short stories and got told, 'This is awesome!' 'I can’t wait to see this in movie form.'"
Sarah Asaftei, who has signed on as the project's chief public relations officer, issued a press release that identifies the film's central theme:
Heaven | The First War portrays the biblical story of the first war in heaven, the fall of Lucifer, the battle between forces of good and evil, and the impact of sin’s origin on the human race.
“I’d never seen anyone tackle the story of how the relationships in heaven were originally broken through Lucifer’s actions,” says Delroy Brown, screenwriter and executive producer. “The screenplay’s message is that God is loving, He’s just, and He is merciful.”
The portrayal of the film as the biblical story of the origin of sin caught my attention for three, intertwined reasons: First, most biblical scholars I'm familiar with consider the biblical text to be agnostic (that is, unsure) about the actual origin of sin and evil, or ambiguous at best. Second, the idea of a war in heaven comes from the Book of Revelation, a work of highly symbolic apocalyptic literature, raising questions about the choice to treat this portion of Revelation literalistically. Third, Ellen White in her "Great Controversy" and the "Story of Redemption" (which Brown also mentioned by name) goes well beyond the biblical account to paint a picture of the origin of sin and evil and the cosmic conflict between Christ and Satan. I put the question to Brown: Will this film be both a creative and biblical? Is it primarily Brown's take on White? Brown answered by noting that he could have simply taken artistic license to tell the epic story, but instead wanted to use a composite sketch from the Bible. He sent me a list of texts he drew from to write the screenplay:
Ezekiel 28:13-19 Isaiah 14:12-15 Revelation 12:9 Luke 10:18 2 Peter 2:4 John 8:44 Matthew 25:41 Revelation 20:1-3 1 Peter 5:8-9 Genesis 3:14 Ezekiel 28:14-17 Job 1:6
However one treats the biblical texts concerning the origins of sin and evil, it is clear that this film has the potential to be a blockbuster. Thematically, it sounds similar to "The Record Keeper," another Adventist-made Great Controversy film, but without that project's denominational entanglement. Brown says that "The First War" will resemble Disney's "Tangled" or "Frozen," but in terms of production value and visual quality, it will be closer to DreamWorks Animation's "The Croods".
The film's potential comes with a hefty price tag: $40 million. That's the budget Brown thinks he'll need to get the film into theaters. It will cost $300K to create a theatrical trailer that Brown will shop around at film festivals looking for major financial backing. Brown launched a thirty-day Kickstarter fundraising campaign to raise $300 thousand from the public. At last check, it has only raised $3,200 and change, but that doesn't phase Brown. He told me by phone that two financiers have pledged the amount needed to produce the trailer, and talks are underway with other potential donors.
Based on the strength of the screenplay and the possibility of being part of an overtly Christian animated feature-film, so far a rarity in Hollywood, several highly talented Christian artists and crew members have signed on, mostly as volunteers so far. The project's website lists 18 key positions filled, and extends an invitation to others. Many members of the team list credits with Disney, Pixar and other major motion-picture studios, including work on “Fox & The Hound,” “Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs,” “The Chronicles of Narnia,” “Frozen,” “Planes,” “Wreck-It Ralph,” “Monsters, Inc.,” and “UP!” Some of the crew are Adventist--most of them affiliated with Southern Adventist University's film department. Others belong to various Christian denominations.
The "First War" website paints the project as unapologetically Christian:
We are a group of Bible-believing Christians who understand that producing studio quality films will allow us to better reach the world with Christian ideas and thoughts. For far too long now we have settled for the mediocre in terms of the level of quality we put out there when it comes to Christian films. We are dedicated to getting the job done and spreading the gospel to every nation kindred and tongue. We hope that you will see value in this project and help us to move it forward in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Brown says that with the film, he wants to tackle the deepest questions of the human soul: "How did evil begin?" "Why is there heartbreak if God is supposed to be good?" "Why does the conflict between good and evil still affect people today?" "By the film’s end, you’ll be asking yourself, 'Did that first war ever really stop?'" Asaftei wrote in a December 2 press release.
Brown hopes to see the film hit theaters in Fall of 2017. If it does, I'll be among the first in line!
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6468