For “The Prodigal Film,” Executive Producer/Director, Michael Walters, interviews Dr. Diane Howard, who serves the project as its Dialogue/Acting Coach.
Here is a little background on Dr. Howard. She has been an actor, writer, and producer for over 40 years. Diane Howard earned a Ph.D. in Performance Studies from The University of Texas at Austin. She served as both a professor and head of Performance Studies at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor for 25 years until her recent retirement, when she began what is already proving to be the busiest chapter in her life. While at UHMB, Dr. Howard was known for beginning a paid, model internship program for her students with Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Dr. Howard is a well-known proponent of the Texas film industry, but she is even better known for promoting redemptive filmmaking. She is host of the Pro Films Facebook site, which provides exceptional guidance for filmmakers and casting announcements in redemptive filmmaking.
The Prodigal: Hi Diane, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to do this interview for The Prodigal. So many actors and filmmakers follow your work, and are learning much from your knowledge and experiences in the filmmaking industry. I want to begin by asking you to share a little background on your personal journey. When was it that you first decided to get into filmmaking and what initially drew you into it?
Dr. Howard: My students and I had been working with agents in Austin in feature films, industrials, and commercials for most of my career at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor (UMHB). In 2005, Professor Donna Teel, who taught computer graphics design and I designed a film program for the university. For this new film program, I taught Acting for the Camera, Screenwriting, and Pre-Production courses. Donna taught the Computer Graphics Design, Editing, and Post-Production courses. We hired cinematographers who were real-world directors of photography, who also had master’s degrees in film production, to teach and mentor our students. Our students wrote and produced original screenplays under our supervision and mentorship from 2005-2012. Further, they worked as cast and crew on real-world, feature films, especially in Austin. We encouraged our students to learn and practice skills in front of and behind cameras. They learned to produce original, redemptive screenplays from script to screen. Further, they learned how to package, market, and deliver their films to audiences.
The Prodigal: In relation to filmmaking what has been the single most challenge you have faced in your past career?
Dr. Howard: I have always been interested in producing excellent, artistic, redemptive productions. In recent years I have been focused on producing professional redemptive movies that are well-produced, character-driven, narratives. My biggest challenge has been gaining adequate support of some local faith-based groups (even though these include well-meaning, sweet people in most cases). This is mainly because these groups with whom I have much in common in terms of beliefs have sometimes had little understanding of, appreciation for, and knowledge in professional artistic production or its history. Therefore, I have in many cases partnered with others not from my local faith-based community. These have been people and groups who have understood and appreciated high quality, redemptive, artistic expression. These groups have included the following: educational institutions with high views of the arts, grant providers, military services, civic organizations, community artistic programs, museums, libraries and more.
The Prodigal: What challenges do you face today or forsee in the near future?
Dr. Howard: Challenges today and in the near future for professional redemptive filmmakers relate to lack of support, resistance, and even criticism by some faith-based groups who do not see the need for professionalism, authenticity, and honesty in redemptive filmmaking; who are more interested in message films than in narrative, character-driven, professionally produced films; and who take in some cases a more Pharisaical view of those who are trying to relate to all audiences in authentic, artistic ways to lead their audiences to think and respond without patronizing them.
The Prodigal: Diane, you have been one of the most visible proponents of redemptive filmmaking. First, please define for us some basic terminology. How do you define the term “redemptive”?
Dr. Howard: I use the term “redemptive films” broadly to encompass the following film contemporary categories: Christian films, faith-based films, Christian world-view films, family-friendly movies, family values movies and more. The distinction for each category relates to target audiences and degrees of realism, authenticity, and naturalism as the characters portray negative or positive role models. What they all have in common is an attempt to provide edifying, enlightening content that demonstrates the real consequences of choices and behaviors. The degree of realistic, natural language, violence, and intimate scenes varies by category and target audiences. Another variable relates to professional business standards.
I use the word Redemptive broadly for artistic filmmaking for all audiences. Something is “redemptive” when it makes something positive and worthy out of something or someone despite their former negative and perhaps even worthless states. Redemptive Films to me are ones that present realistic, naturalistic, and honest stories in which the characters go on ultimately edifying journeys that lead them towards positive results from that which was originally negative, toward reconciliation, and toward Truth. For me Redemptive Films have edifying stories that reveal universal ideas and lift viewers from negativism, cynicism, and/or pessimism to what is positive, renewing, and hopeful. Although, they present honest, difficult struggles, they turn what is paralyzing, degrading and debilitating to what is freeing, beautiful and eternal.
The Prodigal: What differences are there between a faith-based film and a redemptive film?
Dr. Howard: Some faith-based films produced and targeted to churches use a great deal of volunteer labor, which can be seen in the limited acting and cinematography on screen. Other more professional redemptive films relate more broadly to all in audiences and display profession acting and cinematography. Another basic difference between some faith-based films and professional, redemptive movies based on a Christian world-view, can be in the degree of honesty and authenticity that seeks to engage all audiences.
The Prodigal: Let’s talk about the faith-based / redemptive film industry? Why the sudden upsurge and where is the genre heading?
Dr. Howard: I think there has been an upsurge in redemptive filmmaking in a broad range of categories because there is a hunger in our troubled country and world for entertainment that is edifying, ultimately positive, and redemptive. In recent years, we have hit the bottom of the barrel in terms of crude, violent, risqué entertainment with no redemptive value that does not leave audiences feeling edified, inspired, or uplifted. Throughout history, when entertainment has hit this kind of low level, new more positive, educational, elevating entertainment has emerged. This pattern can be seen throughout history, as I have presented in many of my publications and presentations.
I am hopeful for the future of redemptive filmmaking. I think it is improving in its many forms. I think that our movie will be a role model for redemptive filmmaking in terms of professional preparation, supervision, and delivery, as well as in terms of acting, cinematography, and distribution.
The Prodigal: In your professional opinion what do you see that is lacking in the redemptive/ faith –based film making industry?
Dr. Howard: A lack of professionalism can be seen in many faith-based films in the following: screenwriting, business practice, pre-production planning, cinematography, acting, post-production (especially with poor music), distribution and more. These films are often targeted to church-goers, who care more about the message than the professionalism and artistry.
The Prodigal: Let’s talk about The Prodigal. Why did you want to get involved in The Prodigal?
Dr. Howard: I was originally intrigued by the casting process and the skillful use of social media to create buzz about a movie that was based on the universal, redemptive, classic story of The Prodigal Son. I have come to see that this movie is already a game-changer. This film is already a role model in its pre-production process. The professional cast is large, diverse, and international. We have already become a cohesive family under the Executive Producer/Director’s, Michael Walters’s, open, team-building leadership. Not only do we have an excellent, highly recognized cast; but we have a legendary stunt coordinator and professional crew. Already the preparation for this movie has the highest of standards in every detail. It has been a pleasure to be a part of the professional pre-production process. I look forward to our filming, post-production, and being connected to this movie for years to come as it goes into international distribution.
The Prodigal: What makes The Prodigal different from other redemptive story films?
Dr. Howard: I appreciate the authenticity and honesty of this movie. I think it will engage audiences from the beginning on many levels, keep them keenly involved, and ultimately have a profound, positive, and redemptive impact on them world-wide.
The Prodigal: What were your thoughts on the script? Share with us some of your thoughts on its characters, their journey, character flaws and character strengths.
Dr. Howard: First, I like the characters because they are authentic and multi-dimensional. They have unexpected strengths, weaknesses, and character development. The movie starts intensely and builds in intensity in unexpected twists and turns. This epic movie will grab the attention of audiences and keep them vitally engaged to the powerful, unexpected final turning point and ultimate resolutions on many levels.
The Prodigal: I know we cannot reveal who all of the cast is publicly; but give us, Diane, some personal views on this cast.
Dr. Howard: I have been impressed by the experience and skills of our diverse, national, and international cast. Most importantly, I have appreciated their humility and team attitude, as new cast and crew members have been announced. They have warmly welcomed new members to our cast and crew. They have consistently shown support for each other and interest in facilitating each others’ projects and careers.
The Prodigal: What model do you think The Prodigal sets for other faith-based films?
Dr. Howard: Our movie already is a model in screenwriting, budget, and pre-production diligence. Further, I am confident that it will be a role model in the following areas: excellent cinematography, acting, editing, music, distribution and much more.
The Prodigal: What hopes do you have for The Prodigal once it is released?
Dr. Howard: I think The Prodigal will have a strong release and continue well into distribution. It will launch many in the cast and crew to new levels in their careers. It will be a boost for Texas filmmaking and a strong role model for other redemptive films.
The Prodigal: Diane, this has been a very informative interview, giving us all the benefit of your insights, knowledge and experiences in the industry. As we close this interview do you have any final comments that you would like to add?
Dr. Howard: It has been a pleasure to be a part of the pre-production process of The Prodigal Film. I look forward to the future with this movie and to being connected to it into the future. Most importantly, I am glad to be part of a professional redemptive movie that will have a positive, life-changing, eternal impact on viewers around the world for many years to come.
The Prodigal: Thank you again, Diane, for doing this interview. You are certainly a blessing to me and a treasure to the redemptive film industry.
Fans let me encourage you to support Diane by visiting her IMDb page.