With his debut feature film My Son under his belt, Jarod O’Flaherty talks about being a newcomer to the entertainment industry, as well as the development process of My Son and the controversy surrounding the movie’s R rating.
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How did you get involved in Christian filmmaking?
Having never attended college, my filmmaking journey was a gradual process over many years as a hobbyist “video guy.” What started with home videos eventually turned into music videos and a documentary film. I am a follower of Christ before anything else, so making a Christian film was the natural next step in the journey.
Who are a few of your role models in the Christian entertainment industry?
Like many others, the idea of Christian filmmaking was brought to my attention by the films from Sherwood Pictures. The Kendrick brothers have certainly led the way for others in the Christian film industry, but I have also been somewhat disappointed by their lack of support for aspiring filmmakers. Even with that, I still believe their formula of making “God movies” instead of “Good movies” is one to be emulated.
Is My Son the first scripted project you’ve produced?
Outside of a few “weekend short films,” My Son is the first scripted project I’ve been involved with. It was very much a learning experience for me throughout the process.
Where did the inspiration for this film come from?
The inspiration for the film started with the question, “How would a wide range of church members respond in the middle of a tragedy?” From there the film transformed into a much larger story, where the original question played only a small role in the overall plot. The original inspiration is still there, just in a limited form.
Do you think a lot of viewers will be able to relate to the story?
The film has a wide range of characters from various age groups that play a role in the story. While the plot itself is unlikely to be something that many viewers have experienced, I think the characters are very relatable. Many audience members have pointed to specific characters and said, “I know someone just like that.”
Has developing a feature-length film been what you expected?
The process has been pretty much what I expected, but I never expected to personally take on so many roles within the process. Directors and actors get much more credit than they deserve when you consider all that goes on “under the hood” to make a film.
What were the most rewarding and most challenging aspects of making this movie?
The most rewarding aspect of making this movie was observing the effort and sacrifice that comes from the heart of a volunteer working for the cause of Christ. I really don’t know how I would feel about working with professionals whose efforts were only for a paycheck. It was very inspiring to see the dedication and passion of many people working together for a greater cause. The most challenging aspect was trying to take the work of good intentioned volunteers and turn it into something we would all be proud watch!
What sort of budget did you have to work with?
Our budget came from donations made by members of Retta Baptist Church in Burleson, TX. For a small country church with about 300 active members, you would be accurate in assuming it was not a multimillion dollar budget!
In the closing credits, there’s a list of eight writers who had a hand in creating the script. How did the project grow to include so many writers?
We started with a team of 5 volunteer writers who were interested in contributing to the film. They were each given scenes to write or specific characters to develop. Due to time constraints and script revisions, additional writers contributed to the script over time. Believe it or not, some scenes in the script were written during the filming process. Obviously, this may not be the ideal approach, but for our situation it was sufficient.
There’s been a lot of talk about the film’s R rating. The MPAA’s official reasoning is because of “drug use and some violence,” but you’ve said in other interviews that you believe it’s because of the strong faith-oriented messages conveyed in the plot. If that’s the case, why do you think more Christian movies aren’t rated R?
We’ve always believed that My Son is a strong PG-13 movie. A vast majority of Christian movies do not venture into the dark areas that our film chose to explore. However, when you compare the content of our film to any number of Hollywood films that are PG-13, most reasonable viewers would agree that our content is less graphic. The question then has to be raised of why My Son was rated more harshly than other films with more graphic content. We feel that the message of faith in Jesus for salvation certainly may have played a part in it.
My Son has started to receive a lot of national attention, in part because of its MPAA rating. How soon after the rating was announced did the publicity begin, and how did it grow so rapidly?
The day after we received our MPAA rating, a television station in Dallas-Fort Worth did an interview with our executive producer, Chuck Kitchens, about the film. That interview was the first time we publicly shared the rating. At the time it did not receive much attention, but as others in the national media came across the story, it began to grow.
Do you think the film’s rating and controversy will entice more people to see it?
The movie’s rating has generated attention for the film that most indie filmmakers can only dream of. We have been accused of “stirring the pot” by some people, but the truth is that we had no control over the rating. If anything, we were afraid that our supporters would be discouraged by the rating. However, the overwhelming response has been that for our purposes of reaching people outside the church walls, the R rating was a blessing.
Is My Son slated for a wide theatrical release or limited?
The film premiered September 20th in a single theater and did over $10,000 in ticket sales the first weekend. We are currently working to secure a distribution partner for a potentially wider release. We also have an agreement in place with a theatrical screening company that will allow us to show the film anywhere in the US.
Are you currently working on any other projects?
Right now the dust is still settling from My Son, so it is the only project I am involved with.
How do you think Christian movies can attract larger audiences?
When Christian filmmakers realize that the terms “Christian movie” and “family-friendly” are not required to be synonyms, they will open the door to larger audiences. This does not mean that filmmakers should compromise their values. It simply means that not every Christian film MUST be appropriate for a 10-year-old.
What sort of changes would you like to see take place in faith-oriented films, and how are you helping to make it happen?
Faith-based films are notorious for being filled with cheesy inspirational plots that always have a happy ending. It is the biggest complaint that I hear from people about these films. My Son was our attempt to do something different and show others that a message of faith does not always need a smiley faced container.
Any words of advice for aspiring faith-based filmmakers?
Lean not on your own understanding.