The Great Controversy Goes Full Hollywood


(system) #1

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

(Elaine Nelson) #2

Why tag it as a Christian film? Why not simply another of the same genre as Star Wars, and the other fictional space movies and let the viewer draw her own conclusions without selling it as another Christian film.] which could be a turn-off for many viewers? If done well, it would be more attractive to movie goers minus the religious identity and let the viewers contemplate the impression each receives rather than announcing it from the get-go?


(Rohan Charlton) #3

Yes, I agree. Let the film stand on its own merits. I hope that the message reaches many people!


(Thomas J Zwemer) #4

the book of Revelation is a message to seven church living under the cruel thumb of Caesar. the message is hold fast, the ultimate victory belongs to the lamb.You have the assurance that you can share in that victory, so hold fast until I return. There is no denominational message in Revelation. The true church is one that proclaims Christ’s victory not theirs. the message is similar to that of Patrick Henry --"Is life so dear or peace so sweet to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? " Tom Z


#5

I thought telling any story of the Bible is a “Christian film”? I dont get what you mean. We need to reach people using the tools of today. And I also dont get how you go Star Wars from this…

Star Wars has nothing to do with the Bible. The closest it comes to spirituality is its speaking about “the force.”

Is it because you feel they may use spaceships to tell this story? That’s fine, nothing wrong with that. And how do we even know how angles get around. Do they also have technology like us, just way more advanced? Possibly. Or, Brown, may decide to stick with giving angles wings, and playing with that idea. I’ve no idea.

The only thing I care about, is when story tellers get a little too creative, with their “creative licence.” Anyway, here’s a 6 min clip of what we just read above.


(Pagophilus) #6

I can see this becoming “Christian” entertainment, or even just plain entertainment with a pseudo-Christian film where people will barely even notice the Christian part and just see the characters, screenplay, costumes etc.

There are so many good vs evil films out there. Why will this one be special? How will you then take the audience onto the next step - Bible studies?


(Graeme Sharrock) #7

The story of the War in Heaven is the opening scene of the master myth of Christianity. As we know from several texts from the inter-testamental period and earlier, this tale long predates the Book of Revelation, which simply puts it into a Christocentric context. Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” the source for Ellen White’s adaptation, synthesized elements of the classic narrative in splendid English, giving Satan the best lines. Ellen’s version adapts it to mid-19th century America, for the generations after the Revolutions, with their concerns about freedom, law, sentiment and the perfectibility of human nature. Every retelling, however, is a new interpretation for a new generation, and so I am curious to watch how Delroy Brown tells the story for our time.

"“Better to reign in Hell, than to serve in Heaven.”

"For so I created them free and free they must remain.”

“A mind not to be changed by place or time.
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n.


(Frank Peacham) #8

I commend Brown for his sincere effort. Leaving the results to the Spirit I hope this will answer skeptics questions concerning the justice of God, in allowing misery to exist due to a conflict between God and Satan.

There is a broad consensus that all moves are fictional, even documentaries are be agenda driven. Although the GC theme is excellent, I wonder how much of the content will be imaginary? Good VS evil themes are widely used in successful secular movies, they entertain us as we eat popcorn and slurp soda. After credits roll, how much do we remember of a move?


(Thomas J Zwemer) #9

The Gospel Story is about how the Lamb of God achieved victory over the “Beast”. (in the three temptations and in the cross). The book of Revelation is about the “Beast’s” attempts to destroy those who believe that the victory of the Lamb is insufficient, or not worthy of pain and death. The first effort is an attempt at distortion, The second attempt is substitution, and the final attempt is threat of death. In fact, the Beast uses a distortion to create a variety of Cultic interpretations Dispensationalism and Adventistism are the most obvious. each claim a proprietary hold on the “unveiling” . Tom Z


(George Tichy) #10

Tom, I can clearly see the heresy of perfectionism included in this. For ages this heresy has been haunting the Christian Church, and trying to infiltrate into its barracks. Always with only a partial success, because there were always people defending the truth with Bible based arguments and defeating the heresy.


(Thomas J Zwemer) #11

George I agree, I thought I implied that in my reference to the Adventist hold on Revelation. Ellen White’s pen has distorted the entire Apocalyptic. Tom Z


(Tom Loop) #12

George
Do you think it is a fair assessment that there is a lot of stuff flying around out there, going in every direction, including these blog comments. It seems like every day there is something added to the mix. Doug Batchelor already put out a Star Wars type video on the great controversy between Christ and Satan. Now we have this guy taking it to Hollywood and Ben Carson running for Prez. Please spare me. It’s perfect all right, a perfect mess. The cross of Christ has been completely eclipsed by all
this stuff. We have forgotten Matthew 24:14 “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world, as a witness to all nations and then the end will come.”


(Bille) #13

After reading not only the blog essay, but also the first 12 responses, I am experiencing a whole bunch of conflicting thoughts as well as emotions that range all the way from ROTF laughter… ironic with more than a touch of hysteria… to deep… almost agonizing… sorrow… That such a basic Adventist doctrine could be so misunderstood, neglected, “folded, truncated, and spindled” to use an old “punched card” phrase… and just plain seemingly totally ignorant of the deep and wide (both time-wise and culture-wise) understandings, knowledge, and views on this Story of Cosmic proportions.

While those theologically Liberal denominations may indeed have relegated it to the ephemeris clouds of antiquated tradition and vapid myth, this is NOT so with a wide range of Christian denominations. And it has had wide resurgence in recent decades among non-SDA Christians. So much so that it sometimes seems to me a case of God Himself taking it from us and giving it to others. At least it has been true in the parts of Adventism and Christianity that I have been most exposed to that as our own view of The Great Controversy dwindled from being the over-arching Story of Cosmic History, that others have at the same time intensified and expanded their own views and uses of the complete Story.

I offer as one example, the massive two volume work by Gregory Boyd, who gives a more comprehensive view than does even Ellen White… though admittedly there are a few points on which they disagree. I would hope, however, that the makers of this new proposed film take into consideration the insights that Boyd brings to the forefront… especially as to the many sources which work together to build a more cohesive story than what we SDAs have ever put together.

But this is not all. Christian adaptations are not the ONLY sources of information about what we call The Great Controversy. There are traces of the same theme to be found in many primitive religions. I think specifically of a pair of SDA Frontier Mission workers who a little over a decade ago moved to a tribe with no written language of their own. Working with other Bible translators, they spent much time in exploring the existing religious beliefs of the tribe in order to use appropriate words and concepts to convey the Biblical message. One of the most basic was their ancient belief in a time before the evil spirits whom they “worshiped” out of fear came to dominate them when these evil spirits had rebelled against the Loving great “Chief God”. As their legends told the story, it was obviously the same Great Controversy theme as it had worked its way out in their history.

And beyond that there is the wide ranging beliefs of various “new age” cults… who claim to receive messages from “spirits” of one kind and another… including several “Luciferian Cults” who tell the story from Lucifer’s point of view. And what is of special interest to me in these sources is the way they so perfectly validates what Christian sources surmise and conclude about the rationale that drove Lucifer first to jealousy of Michael, and finally to rebellion against the whole of God.

One final comment… This may be the first time this theme has been taken to Hollywood under a frankly biblical form… but it is not the first time it has appeared there dressed out in sci-fi garb. And it is also not the first time that it has appeared in the world of entertainment as a frankly biblical “show”. For several years one of the major theaters at Pigeon Forge (near DollyWood) was devoted entirely to performance of the “War in Heaven” theme. Unfortunately circumstances beyond my control kept me away from the area until after it had finally closed. After at least a three year run of twice daily shows.

Ironic isn’t it. That Ted Wilson may actually get his “blanketing the cities” with “The Great Controversy”… but it will come, not by any efforts of his in promoting his truncated version of one segment of the whole Story… but by those who take the WHOLE story seriously and make the focal point of the story be the Love of God rather than the wrath of God…

Very interesting… could we call it a case of hushing the children so that the “stones had to cry out” ??? < chuckle >


(Bille) #14

No Tom. I have to disagree with your assessment here. Told rightly and completely, the Great Controversy Story IS the “gospel of the kingdom” that is to be “preached in all the world.” It is the story which Ellen anticipates in her comments about the last great message will be the “manifestation” of the LOVE of God. Take that “manifestation” to mean either that which is made evident in our own lives in the way we treat each other… OR as the content of the message that we give about God… presenting Him as a God of Love rather than one as a God of wrath and punishment… The Great Controversy Story is the vehicle that lays it all out in great detail, not only God’s love but also the evilness of those who rebel against Him in presenting Him as an evil God.


(Tim Horton) #15

I have serious concerns about Biblical “Productions”. Although I believe there is good intention behind it I do not buy into that the methods of the Church spreading the Gospel are outdated and that the new generation of reaching people is a Film Production where a combination of drama, special effects and sound effects are required and used to present God’s Truth.

E.G. White warned about media mania back in the late 1800’s and rightfully so. It also concerns me that fellow Seventh Day Adventist feel that more will be gained by presenting bits and pieces of the bible without scripture references, ( Version, Author, Chapter and Verse) to compare scripture with scriptures and verse to verses.

The Seventh Day Adventist Church is seeing more and more Media Ministries with Corporate Titles. I am not sure why but when I see a Pastor’s name and the Ministries following it seems to me to take away from the unity of the body and almost portray and independent church and fellowship. In other words, we have Pastors taking it upon themselves to presume what is produced will be acceptable to all.

I recently caught a film on YouTube and one of our Seventh Day Adventist Pastors, Pastor John Carter who’s media name I believe is called “The Carter Report”, had taken it upon himself to hire and actor who came to the Pastor’s Podium dressed as a Catholic Bishop and in essence laid it out about changes to the Bible that had been made up through the years and when the actor had finished and was stepping away from the podium the Pastor thanked the actor calling him Bishop. To top it off it appeared to have been a production approved by 3ABN. Now, what was stated by the actor was accurate but the actor was acting and portrayed his role with arrogance and disrespect to Protestant Christians, at least that was my take. It got my blood boiling so I can imagine how a Catholic took it.

All I am trying to say is there is no interaction with media except emotional. If it is not word for word from the Bible then now we have between tABN,he line fillers happening. I agree with E.G. White and many of those that comment here. It was Jesus who delegated how evangelism was to be done. It is said that the message is important not the messenger. However, there is no question a huge theater screen and a Dolby sound system is going to have impact! Will it be lasting impact and could there be misunderstandings? Thanks but no thanks, I will stick with the method our savoir commissioned us with and that is personal witnessing. God Bless All, Brother Tim


(Thomas J Zwemer) #16

Bille I have great respect for your take on Adventist theology. here I think you miss the thrust of both the book and Ellen Whites views, particularly in the final chapters of Great Controversy. the 100% of the remnant is not the final true adherents to Adventism. Tom Z


(Elaine Nelson) #17

Milton’s Paradise Lost was simply rewritten by EGW as literal, while for Milton it was poetic license.

If there was war in heaven long before the book of Revelation was written, why is it that in the book of Job, Satan was not seen as an adversary by God, but an agent, told to do what he wished with Job? They were essentially partners in destroying all that Job held most dear. Doesn’t sound like they were battling each other but cooperating.

Where does the idea of a cosmic intervention in the world originate? Is it not simply another Christian myth as Graeme mentioned? Are there invisible forces outside our human capability that are fighting over our lives? This is medieval
thinking just as are witches and “Devil’s Brew” and the terrors of hell preached for most of Christian history. Yet there was no Satan or hell in the beliefs given by God to the Israelites; these were much later inventions learned by the Jews from the Babylonians during their Exile ca. 500 B.C. All the Bible which was written during that time reflects this influence which was neither Jewish nor Christian but as it began to be seen in later Jewish writing, it became even more influential in the NT writing. Christians in the late first century gave the name of “Lucifer” to Satan; but in classical mythology Lucifer is the bright Morning Star, or “light bearer.” It was Jerome, in translating the Hebrew Bible into the Latin Vulgate who rendered it Lucifer, Isaiah’s metaphor of the fall of the disobedient archangel.

This is the evolution of mythology entwined in the Bible.


(Bille) #18

Thank you, Tom. I also have great respect for your experiences with various types of “Adventist Theology”. Thus I think you possibly missed the most important points I was attempting to make.

  1. The book , The Great Controversy, is only one very small segment of the whole Great Controversy Story of Cosmic History. It focuses on only the history of the church after the close of the Biblical Canon. Further, because of the Biblical principle of “conditional prophecy”, the specific details of end time events as given by Ellen White, should not be considered as any more than examples of how things could have worked out from a 19th century perspective.

  2. In contrast, the whole Great Controversy Story of Cosmic History. takes in all of the details of actual cosmic history (both good and evil) from the time before sin first arose in Lucifer’s mind until after the re-creation of the New Earth, as partially described in the last chapter of Revelation. Unfortunately, Adventists have tended to completely skip the lengthy period of time between the time Lucifer first sinned and the time when he appeared as a tempter in the Garden of Eden. This not only is unfortunate for this doctrine, but IMO seriously impinges or even negates several other important theological beliefs.

We agree totally that the final “remnant”… (those who will live to see Jesus come)… is not limited to anyone’s speculative construction of their opinions as to any part of the descriptive phrase “the final true adherents to Adventism”.


(Richard Ludders) #19

Elaine, one explanation may be that the surrounding nations and cultures were polytheistic. These deities and gods required appeasement to show favor to their subjects. This was also the case with their kings. One reason God did not want Israel to have a king was the concern they would adapt to the ways of the pagan cultures that surrounded them which included appeasement and the servitude required by kings.

Also if God had introduced Satan into the mix the Israelites would most likely have considered Satan as another god to be worshiped as did their polytheistic neighbors. This is the reason God took responsibility for both good and evil with all the risks that might entail. He wanted to be their personal God who wanted nothing but the best for Israel. A God who does not require appeasement.


(Elaine Nelson) #20

How to explain why the books of Samuel and Chronicles differ on who wanted to number the Israelites: in one, it is Satan (1 Chr. 21:1) , in 1 Sam 24:1, God is angered against Israel and told David to take a census of Israel?

When did God “introduce Satan” or was it the foreign influence that caused the Jews to write about Satan only after learning of him from others?