Dear guys, I had an interview with James Douglas Vail, the director of XL: the Temptation of Christ the movie. I did an article about this movie on 1 January 2020, right after midnight, you can check it out here (it’s in italian). Im probably the first in Italy to inform people about this movie. Im really grateful to have had this opportunity with mr. Vail. The interview, due to distance and covid19, took place via email.
Here my interview: soon I will publish the italian version.
A Q&A with James Douglas Veil
Interview by Fabio Arancio
©All Rights Reserved
Hello Mr. Vail, thanks for accepting my interview. Where did it all start? Well, I live in Ventura, California which is 40 minutes south of Santa Barbara. I am 36 today. At age 30 I was going through a personal crisis. I was a single father, working long hours in corporate America, and I had virtually no relationship with God. For me, this was a crisis of faith, personal worth, and self-actualization. I felt I was made for something more, but I didn’t know what. I was running my life my way and it was going nowhere fast.
When did you get the idea of making the movie? I began to develop this vision for Christ in the desert. Maybe I was in a desert period in my life. Unlike Christ, who is without sin, I was filled with sin, personal doubt, fear and regret. I felt the walls were closing in and I was depressed. I had lost my zeal and hope. I think the journey in the desert is something we can all relate to in some way. The moment in life when we come to grips with reality and spirituality. It’s a decision only we can make ALONE. I think the Temptation of Christ can resonate with us in terms of our personal walk with faith. It’s personal.
What made you decide to do this movie? At that time, all I had in the world was my daughter who I love so much. As a single father, spending time with my daughter made me so happy. But when she went back to her mother, I was sad and alone. This is before I met my beautiful and loving wife Stephanie Milan.I began to realize… it’s not our children’s responsibility to give us love or make us happy. I needed something more real, constant, and life giving. I commuted to work one hour each way 5 days a week. This equated to 10 hours each week in the car. I needed to make use of that 10 hours. So I did. I began listening to audio books and eventually I started listening to the bible. I heard the WORD of GOD and it awakened my Spirit. From there, I listened to countless sermons, Pastors, Priests and powerful debates on the subject of faith in academia. I became obsessed. Shortly after, I met my wife who took me to her Church. I added motivational podcasts to the mix and I was FULLY AWAKE and fired up. I could see the world differently for the first time. It’s like going from black and white to color. Everything became vivid, God became real and immediate in my life. I looked for Him everywhere and suddenly I could see His Hand in everything. I made peace with my past and felt at peace deep within. Then came a sincere gratitude that translated to this film, “A Love Letter to Christ”. I made the decision and didn’t look back. I reordered my life and changed my priorities. I was ready for a shift in my life because I had tunnel vision for God. It really was about making a routine that put God in the center and ordering my life around that. That structure was part of the game change in my life.
Did you get any hit from the Holy Spirit? (this question is serious, Nd) I believe my experience with God came through listening to the WORD. I am an auditory learner. I learn by watching and listening. So I essentially flushed out my thoughts of insecurity and replaced it with God’s Word. What Christ says about me. I believe this is how the Holy Spirit did a work in me. I took the subject of God seriously, almost academically. I had questions, I looked up answers. The point is, I took an active role in seeking and understanding my faith. This is most important. Pursue God and you will discover that God has always been pursuing you.
Did you have any difficulties in assuring the fund and the green-light? Yes, in every way. I am not a filmmaker by trade. I had no established community of people that could help me make this film possible. I attempted to crown fund the film using http://www.kickstarter.com but that failed miserably. With no background in filmmaking, no one would invest in me or my vision. I had no credentials. So I set out to make this film, with my own money, my way and with God. I think of this movie as my personal “LOVE LETTER” to CHRIST.
How was choosing the right actor for this role? It’s a challenge! We all have a visual of Christ in our minds eye. I chose Shayan Ardalan who is a trained and gifted voice actor. Voice acting was important because every word Christ speaks in the film is taken directly from scripture. I wanted his voice to represent the Word extremely well. I think Shayan has a great voice, so he was chosen. He is also Middle Eastern. This is rare. Many films that depict Christ do not cast a Middle Eastern actor. I wanted someone that came from the Middle East so Shayan was a wonderful fit.
Have you ever thought of Jim Caviezel? I absolutely adore Jim Caviezel. I remember when Mel Gibson’s Passion came into theaters in 2004. It was the first film I went to see alone. I sobbed. I had such an emotional response to that film. I also learned that motion picture can have a lasting effect on people. If done carefully, it can move people in the direction towards God. I felt inspired by the film which is why I wanted to be close to the epicenter. I moved from Philadelphia, PA to Hollywood, CA at age 20 shortly after watching that film.
What is the highest goal that you are trying to achieve with this movie? To know God and make God known.
Filming and telling Jesus on screen must be a delicate process. The subject is not a random historical character: it’s the Son of God in person! What was the biggest challenge in making this project? In scripture, The Temptations of Christ are written in less than 400 words. We are making a 98 minute feature film. I think the biggest challenge was maintaining reverence with the sacred text while pushing a narrative forward. When it came to directing the actors, I closed my eyes much of the time and listened to the performance. If I heard the truth, we moved to the next shot. If I didn’t we would work on it. The setting was intimate. The actors were very talented, and they truly followed and trusted my instincts which I appreciated.
How you worked about representing His behavior, in terms of acting? Were you like “Im directing Jesus… it must be as it was”? Shayan and I had many long and thoughtful discussions about Christ. Shayan took the responsibility of portraying Christ very seriously. When it came to directing, it was organic. I prayed a lot. I sought inspiration in the desert. I needed to feel something out there with Shayan and I did.
Are you satisfied with the final result? I feel personally delivered by God. He knows this was in service to Him. It was a personal promise I made. So now the film is done and that feels very satisfying to promise something to God and deliver on that promise. In addition, I never made a movie before. I never marketed or distributed a movie before. I have no background in motion pictures and here you and I are discussing my film all the way from Italy. I think the world is learning about it. That is very cool.
Did you just do whatever you had in mind? Well since it was an independent film and I was the executive producer and director of the film, much of what this film became is largely influenced by myself and the creative team I built around me. My wife and Reed Lackey, the writer of the film, worked closely with me in developing the vision.
Was there any interference from the studio? This was not a studio film. And frankly, I think it’s better that it wasn’t. When it comes to films like this, I think vision and intention can get lost. But in this case, it was a small group. It was faithful followers of Christ determined to make a film that brought people closer to God. I think we achieved that. The reviews we are getting are telling us so.
Are you sure that your movie is totally faithful to the Scripture? Like I said, The Temptations of Christ are described in less than 400 words in the Bible. And we tasked ourselves with making a 98 minute feature film. When it comes to every scene with Christ, every word that Christ speaks in the film is from scripture. But we took some creative liberties when it came to the other characters in our film.
During the production of the movie, were you thinking about a particular Christian denomination as target audience? Do you think your movie will satisfy all of them? Our film has had very strong responses in many churches during test screenings. We had standing ovations in Catholic Churches, Protestant Churches, and even Mormons applauded the film. I think we made a strong depiction of Christ that most can agree on.
What would you say to a Christian guy who is uncertain whether to watch the movie or not? I would say that it’s important to understand the difference between the Word of God, and art. That’s not to say that we didn’t approach the subject with reverence, but in the end it is a film, it’s art. The fact that we made a 98 minute film based on 400 words described in scripture lends itself to some creative liberties. However, many of the viewers who have watched the film had positive reactions to it. They can see what we set out to accomplish. We not only depict The Temptations but we explain who Christ is and what He came to do and why it’s necessary for all of us to know Him. In that way, the film serves as a tool that can work alongside the church and facilitate prayerful and ideological discussion.
How hard is it to make a religious movie today? There are many major studios that completely ignore this specific category of movies. They just do not want to have anything to do with Jesus. I think it’s important that followers of Christ support these films. They are extremely difficult to make and the financial resources are just not there. The kind of movies that make money in the box office require themes that are opposite of the values and teachings of Christ. This is just the way of the world. Human nature. We are riddled with sin and we gravitate to things of this nature. However, making movies about Christ can be done. We did it. And I do expect to do more. So I hope you’ll take time to watch this film and if you have a good experience with it, please let us know by contacting us through our website at http://www.faithworkspictures.org. We’d love to hear stories like this. It keeps us encouraged as we work harder and harder to bring more stories like this to theaters near you.
A huge thanks to James Douglas Vail!
Many thanks and best wishes to Faithworkspictures!
You can watch the movie on vimeo.com 🙂