As if Valentine’s Day didn’t have enough pink and red pressure of it’s own, for many people, Valentine’s Day 2015 will be colored Grey. The explicitly carnal “romance” movie, Fifty Shades of Grey, debuts on February 13th – making it impossible to escape. Curious? The Fifty Shades marketing machine is counting on the fact that humans are, indeed, curious.
Fortunately, Fifty Shades is getting enthusiastic competition from good old fashioned chivalry, in the form of an Indie Film called, Old Fashioned. A sweet, clever story of a reformed frat boy, Clay Walsh (played by Rik Swartzwelder), known for his lofty, outdated theories on love and romance, and free spirit Amber Hewson (played by Elizabeth Ann Roberts).
Rik Swartzwelder is no stranger to the entertainment business. As a college student in Florida he created Studio 13, a live sketch comedy/improvisation show that ended up playing to exclusively sold-out audiences for the entire two-and-a-half years he was its primary writer, director, and featured performer. He has an M.F.A. in Motion Picture Production from Florida State University, and more than 50 major awards for his work as a Writer/Producer/Director. Nearly ten years in the making, Old Fashioned is clearly more than just another project to Rik Swartzwelder – it’s his labor of love.
Valentine’s weekend moviegoers will be met with a reminder that “Love is Patient, Love is Kind,” and love is anything but Grey. Old Fashioned claims Chivalry is making a comeback! Contributor Soncee Brown Partida reports.
SCH: Is Chivalry truly dead, or does it just need to be resuscitated? Does it just need to be brought back to life?
RS: That’s correct! It just needs a resurrection. I think it’s there and I think there’s a real question right now because when it comes to issues of intimacy or sex, we are terrified of being perceived as judgmental. So we don’t want to make comments on anything, because we don’t want to be a joke on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. We don’t want to be a punchline or be written off as out of touch or just judgmental or condemning.
RS: Yeah…irrelevant! But the flip side, is we have young people growing up who don’t have the benefit of any kind of moral guidance. There are scores of 13-year-old girls and their first exposure to what intimacy can be will be Fifty Shades.
RS: If the Church is so afraid of being laughed at, or having to bow down and have pop culture sort of affirm us, that we’re can’t even offer an example for that young girl to follow, or that young man who’s growing up, then what’s the purpose of us even being on the planet?
When they first meet, Amber is definitely curious about Clay’s angle. Clearly, he’s not making a move on her – and for a modern girl, that’s confusing. Not only is Clay taking great pains not to be alone with her – or any woman, for that matter; he intrigues her when he talks with conviction about his theory that dating doesn’t “train us to be good husbands and wives, it just trains us to be good dates…it trains us to be skilled in the superficial.” For Amber, that sounds just a bit, well, Old Fashioned.
SCH: In the movie, your character, Clay has a line where he says, “When did treating women with respect become the joke?” Is there anything we can do to change that narrative?
RS: We can absolutely change the narrative: we control the narrative. The narrative is always shifting. This idea that we have to bow our knees to anything or it’s over, or that something is lost, I can’t accept that. History shows that it’s not true. The narrative is always being redirected and rewritten and shifted and it’s only true if we accept it. I think one of the tricky things about the Media is that, because of its resources – and especially now with smartphones and social media – you can get bombarded with messages so much, that a lie can start to become the truth.
Especially for young people. It’s a very rare young person who can stand up and push back against that tide. So, absolutely, I think we can change it. I don’t think we change it by boycotting, or censoring or trying to force others to do what we believe. We do it by changing our own hearts. We do it by falling on our knees. By saying, ‘God, let it start with me. Change what is inside of me to want what is inside of your heart.’ I absolutely believe it can change. Because it changed in my own life and I experienced that change.
SCH: Who is responsible for today’s perpetuating that narrative of disrespect toward each other? Does the blame go to men or women?
RS: I think they’re equally responsible! Especially with our tagline [to the film] where we say: Chivalry Makes a Comeback. Often times we think of the man being chivalrous toward the woman, but it goes both ways. I think in the film when Clay says, “When did treating women with respect become the joke?” I think men and women are both responsible for that.
Listening to Rik talk about Clay, it is evident that this part is more than just Clay v. Grey. In fact, since he began work on the project ten years ago – long before the existence of Fifty Shades of Grey – going up against Christian Grey wasn’t even in the picture. Being cast in the lead of his own movie isn’t something that Rik Swartzwelder takes lightly.
RS: I wasn’t really nervous, because I certainly didn’t have to worry about memorizing the lines.
SCH: Since you wrote them.
RS: [laughing] Right! After 40 drafts of the screenplay, that was not a challenge. The challenge was just whether or not I could just be relaxed enough … Clay’s kind of a quirky guy. He’s very different around his friends than he is when he’s around Amber. So, I think, more than nervous, I was just very open to making sure that this choice had the affirmation and support of our producing team.
When we were casting, it wasn’t my original idea to play Clay. It was just a rare singular moment, where sometimes, something is just that personal. It is a unique role. The role of Clay and the whole story of Old Fashioned is deeply personal to me. It is not autobiographical in every detail, but it pulls a great deal to my own life to my own life and experience, and my perceptions and things that I hold very close to my heart.
Rik remembers the most autobiographical moment of the film comes when Clay and Amber are standing at a book shelves at his house. She pulls a Bible off the bookshelf and he tells her a story about how the Bible was a gift from an old girlfriend and that’s how he came to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
RS: I read the New Testament about a dozen times over two years. That’s really how I came to commit my life to Christ that way. That Bible on the shelf is that Bible that that girl gave me. That’s the real Bible.
SCH: This is the first time audiences are seeing you step in front of the camera. Did it ever occur to you to make your big screen debut with something a little easier than the leading man who’s opening weekend will be opposite Fifty Shades of Grey‘s, Christian Grey?
RS: Well, here’s the thing: when we were making the film Old Fashioned, back when I was developing the original idea and writing the screenplay and all of that, even going into production of Old Fashioned, and definitely when I made that decision to play Clay, we weren’t even thinking about Fifty Shades of Grey. The film wasn’t made as a response to Fifty Shades, or any other book or movie or anything like that. We were just really trying to tell a beautiful love story that sort of told a story that wasn’t being told – which was a lie to most of the singles I knew at the time.
So, in thinking how it sort of ended up being this David v. Goliath standoff – that wasn’t on our radar. We were making this little Indie Romantic Drama that we didn’t know what the future of it was going to be. We had already been talking to distributors, we knew there was interest, we knew we were likely going to have a theatrical but it was a passion project – it was a labor of love for everyone involved. We certainly could not have predicted this stage would have become as big as it became. So, had I known that, who knows! [laughing]
SCH: It would have been really easy not want to go up against Fifty Shades for opening weekend. To just say, ‘oh, I don’t want to get beat up…we’re not going to do that…” Tell me about that conversation. Who said, “You know, I think God wants us to do this.”
RS: I can tell you exactly when it happened: In January 2014, was our first really big public screening at the Kent State University at Tuscarawas Performing Arts Center. The film was originally supposed to come out in the middle of 2014, but what happened was, right after that, I was visiting my father in Florida, and I saw the announcement that Fifty Shades of Grey was going to release on Valentine’s Day 2015 – not as a niche film, or something edgy, but as a mainstream, romantic date night option.
It sort of just stopped me in my tracks a little bit. It was one of those moments when the skies part and you hear the choir of angels singing in the background and I really thought it was really for a moment such as this that the film was made – that Old Fashioned was made.
SCH: How do you armor-up to go through all that your about ready to go through: the Media blitz that going to happen with this. You have to be prepared for this: how do you armor-up with your own personal faith?
RS: I have actually reflected on this. We live in an era with the internet, where the gloves come off – there’s Anonymous. You just have to leave it in God’s hands and know that at the end of the day, all of our stories will fade. We are ashes to ashes, and dust to dust, all of our stories will fade. What’s truly going to last from this whole experience is God’s work in it: the hearts that are touched, the people that might be for some inextricable reason [pauses] … I just keep thinking of Field of Dreams “if you build it they will come.”
There will be people that will end up seeing Old Fashioned that have woundedness or damage in them or brokenness or a place in them that isn’t quite healed – and they might find a measure of that from seeing the film. I just have to trust God and the Holy Spirit to do the work that only God and the Holy Spirit can do and trust that God’s story will continue to be told. I’m surrounded by people that love me and believe in the mission. When I see the young girls write in to Facebook and say, “I’ve been waiting for this. Finally! Somebody is trying.”
Rik Swartzwelder is Old Fashioned. As Producer/Director/Writer and Lead Actor he is everything to the film, but he’s more than that – he’s the soul.
If you’re not careful, however, you’ll miss it: Old Fashioned is not about being juxtaposed to Fifty Shades of Grey; it’s not about light v. dark; it’s not about Clay v. Grey; it’s not really even all about chivalry; it’s about what Amber stumbles upon when she pulls Clay’s (Rik’s) well-worn Bible from the bookshelf. It’s about a healing heart-change – and there’s nothing old fashioned about that.