- (Photo: Ruckus Film)
Preachy isn't the word to describe the upcoming movie "Blue Like Jazz," based on Donald Miller's bestselling Christian memoir.
Raw and gritty, yes, with a little bit of foul language, but not a typical Christian film, Miller described according to CNN.
The movie, directed by Grammy nominated recording artist Steve Taylor, is scheduled to release in theaters nationwide on April 13, but will premiere first at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas, which kicked off Friday.
Though it wasn't loaded with fire and brimstone sermons and moralizing messages, the film still hoped to reach audiences with its raw look into the life of a struggling believer.
"We hope that there's an enormous demographic of people of faith, and people who have walked away from their faith, who will find themselves somewhere in this story," Miller said.
Loosely following the premise behind Miller's semi-autobiographical book, which highlighted the author's authentic struggles with God, Jesus and his Christian faith, the "Blue Like Jazz" film hails a few Hollywood adjustments.
In the movie, a younger protagonist named Don, for example, is seen running away from his conservative religious upbringing in Texas by transferring to one of the most liberal college campuses in America.
Miller, in actuality, was older when he wrote about his experiences at Reed College where he audited courses. He also never ran away from his family. But he did however leave home at 21 to travel across the country, ending up in Portland, Oregon, his current state of residence.
Other differences were also present in the film adaptation, most of which was said to have been vital and necessary to make the movie flow. Miller knew that some changes needed to be made to make the book, which was mostly a collection of personal essays, come alive onscreen.
"[Ben Pearson and Steve Taylor] understood the book could not turned into a film as it was," the Houston native shared on the movie's official website.
"I mean it would be a series of slideshows, it didn't work as an overall narrative so we would have to fictionalize a story based on the essays that were in the book. So it would be thematic, and there would be some central characters."
Pearson, Taylor and Miller all worked together on the screenplay, which they said was a very moving and meaningful story, with spurts of comic relief spread throughout--something that Miller himself wanted.
"It's a little more gritty than a lot of films, and certainly any Christian film," the Searching for God Knows What author told CNN. "It's more raw and real life."
The movie is rated PG-13 due to its "mature thematic material" and is not considered to be a family movie, Director Taylor noted. "I made it clear to all our potential investors and/or heads of media companies, the vast majority of whom were fellow Christians, that this was not going to be a family movie."
"The reason was simple: How do you tell the story of a college kid who flees his Southern Baptist upbringing in suburban Houston to attend the 'most godless campus in America' without showing what that environment is like? And how can that environment be portrayed realistically in the context of a 'family' movie? Doesn't have to be rated R, but it's probably going to be PG-13, right?"
Taylor didn't want the film to "preach to the choir" nor did he want it to become a typical Christian movie.
He did however want the film to do what Miller's book did: get people talking.
"We wanted to do in a different art form what the book does," the former Baptist youth pastor shared with Tic Long of Youth Specialties. "[That is, get people saying] 'I want you to see this movie, I want you to understand where I'm coming from, I want you to understand that not all Christians are like your cartoon version of what Christianity is.'"
"The book had a really profound effect on a lot of people," Taylor said, especially among younger Christians in their 20s and 30s who closely related with Miller. He hoped the movie would do the same as well.
The popularity of Blue Like Jazz had in fact already extended towards the upcoming film.
When financing of the film had fallen through at the last minute, causing production to be put on hold indefinitely, two fans of the book--Jonathan Frazier and Zach Prichard--launched savebluelikejazz.com through Kickstarter.com, a site that allowed fans to support artists, hoping to raise money to fund the movie themselves.
"We submit that the funds for this movie should come from the people who the book actually impacted," the two shared. "It should come from the more than a million people who bought the book. It should come from the fans."
Their efforts combined with the generosity of more than 4,000 other fans who raised a total of $345,992, helped put the film back into production and save the movie.
According to Miller, the movie went from dead to front-page news overnight because of the fans, whom he sincerely thanked.
"You can't possibly know how many people you've inspired, how many people you've made smile over the last month," Miller wrote on his blog.
"I never thought I'd get to live through a story as great as this one. The best part is there was nothing any of us could do. Jonathan Frazier and Zach Prichard rallied the troops to rescue us. Those really are the best stories, when the group of protagonists are finished, and their friends come in to rescue them."
"Thanks for believing in us," he also said. "You've told us a great story, so now we are going to get to work telling one to you."
Now, after years in the making, the biggest crowd-funded movie is finally ready to make its debut.
"Blue Like Jazz" premiers first in Austin, Texas during the SXSW Film Festival on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and opens everywhere April 13.
It stars HBO's "True Blood" actor Marshall Allman, Claire Holt, Tania Raymonde, Justin Welborn, Donald Miller, Jenny Littleton, and Jason Marsden.
Taylor and Miller are currently on the road promoting Blue Like Jazz. Every day of the tour they will be screening the film for their Kickstarter backers as well as members of the press.
To learn more about the "Blue Like Jazz" film or watch the trailer, click here.