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Erica Galindo
Celebrating Food, Faith and Family
Last edited on: August 26, 2015.

If there’s one place Levi doesn’t want to go, it’s home.

He’s been drifting from town to town, looking for shelter from the dark memories of where he grew up.  Now, with his father dead, Levi can no longer avoid the burned-out wreck of his old life.  Will coming home bring him the closure he needs to find true jubilee?

This was the story Shawn Thomas knew he wanted to capture when he began his journey with the 168 Film Festival.  He and his team tackled the challenge of creating a ten-minute film in just 168 hours based on the theme of “Freedom” a randomly assigned Bible verse.  In Shawn’s case, the verse was Leviticus 25:10 – “Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan.” From this command to return home and remember family roots came an intensely personal story of pain, forgiveness, and hope.

'Jubilee' grew from the imagination of multi-talented artist Shawn Thomas; Photo Courtesy of Shawn Thomas.

‘Jubilee’ grew from the imagination of multi-talented artist Shawn Thomas; Photo Courtesy of Shawn Thomas.

Shawn Thomas grew up in the sleepy beach town of Oceanside, California. He learned guitar from his dad and always had a knack for drawing and making people laugh. He studied Music and Visual Art at Biola University, and is currently working on his Master’s at Talbot School of Theology, studying how people are wired as creative beings, and the connection between theology and art. Shawn performs as a solo folk musician and has starred in the web series Jake and Jay, along with a number of commercials and stage plays in Orange County. You can find his eclectic artwork on the walls of Orange County studios and churches and on the tops of surfboards.

Sonoma Christian Home spoke recently with Shawn Thomas about his experience with the 168 Film Festival and creating ‘Jubilee.’  Entertainment Editor Jonathan King reports.

Check out Shawn’s acting reel below:

SCH: How did you get involved in 168?

ST: This is my first time doing the 168 Film Project.  I found out about them a long time ago, and I did one of the their acting workshops.  It was a really positive experience, like a breath of fresh air, especially being a Christian in the film industry.  I went to school with a group of close guy friends who I’m still connected with, and we’ve been involved in creative projects.  I figured I’d like to make a film with 168, and I had two friends in particular I wanted to be my co-producers: Andrew Morehouse and Nate Bell.  I asked them and we all pitched in and signed up for the project.

SCH: Talk me through the process of creating a short film for 168.

ST: I and a friend of mine, Margot Cuero, were the actors in the film.  I’ve done a number of drama ministries and some commercial work and other small things up in the LA area, but I’ve never been on the production end of film.  Andrew and Nate are more versed in that sort of thing, and they were such a great resource.  I knew the story I wanted to tell, and Andrew worked out the screenplay for us.  It was challenging finding a location, because we wanted a desolate place out in the middle of nowhere.  It was interesting communicating with the county government and trying to find other actors.  But it all fell into place. Like in any creative process, my friends and I had to negotiate some desires, like, “I really want to showcase this,” or “This would be an ideal location.”

The 168 Film Festival gives filmmakers like Shawn a chance to showcase their talents and bring their message to a larger audience; Photo Courtesy of 168 Film Project.

The 168 Film Festival gives filmmakers like Shawn a chance to showcase their talents and bring their message to a larger audience; Photo Courtesy of 168 Film Project.

I work with Biola University, a private Christian college in Southern California.  We have a film department there, so I was able to rent out some top notch equipment.  We had a Red Dragon camera and some really nice sound equipment.  We had pretty minimalist dressings for the set, and we had to use natural lighting, because we were out in the open.  It was a three day shoot.  At one point, we lost some of our footage, but we were able to wake up earlier the next morning and recap and get back into it.

It was a challenging experience.  I come from a creative arts background, so I definitely value portraying struggle and conflict.  That’s something I wanted to portray because it’s been meaningful in my life.  I’ve gone through difficult periods, but I try to be transparent about it and find healing in that.  So it was neat to portray that in a film and go through that process as a crew.  We struggled to figure out what we wanted and then bring it to fruition.

SCH: What inspired you to tell the story of this particular struggle?

ST: I grew up in the church, and I value my experience, but I learned how to create a façade and mask hurt feelings.  It was big for me in my life to learn how to deal with that and open up.  So when we got Leviticus 25:10, the verse of Jubilee, I knew I didn’t want to make a movie about a party.  Good art needs conflict and struggle and character development.  I knew I wanted something more dramatic, something to exercise my skill as an actor and to push myself.

Shawn values portraying true emotion and real struggle; Photo Courtesy of Shawn Thomas.

The theme of this year’s 168 is Freedom, so instead of a happy-go-lucky story, I had the idea of someone finding freedom and jubilee out of a difficult situation.  And themes of father-son relationships have always struck me as very poignant.  Not to sound like a total nerd, but it’s like Star Wars with Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker.  On a grander scale, you have Jesus coming to Earth as God’s Son and being forsaken on the cross.  We have Oedipus and the story of the Prodigal Son, these archetypal father-son stories.  Those stories have always appealed to me as being rich with content.  That was in the back of my mind as I wanted to present this story.

So when my co-producers and I came together, I presented this idea of heritage.  The verse talked about Jubilee in the fiftieth year and coming back to your ancestral land.  But the scope of a short film is too compact to portray a people group, so the thought occurred to me: “What if it was a man returning home to a place he didn’t value, that was a symbol of struggle and conflict instead of freedom?”  We then juxtaposed coming home to a place of strife with discovering something that sets him free.  We cobbled and etched the story out of that basic idea, and we wanted to bring in a second character to give my character someone to bounce back and forth on.

Photo Courtesy of Nathan Morgan.

The 168 Film Festival shines a spotlight on up-and-coming Christian Filmmakers; Photo Courtesy of Nathan Morgan.

SCH: What were some of the challenges you faced creating Jubilee?

ST: Onstage, you have an opening night, so there’s something of a timeline.  But for film, to only have a week to write a story, get a location, get actors, and tell something cohesive, that was challenging in and of itself.  At one point, we had a beautiful location, but it was four hours away from us, which was impractical, so we had to settle on somewhere closer.  It turned out to be great, actually; we found a really cool plot of land.  Andrew connected with the land owner, so we were able to secure that area.  I really think it was God-ordained.

The time to develop a story was a struggle.  Over the course of a couple of days, we were able to flesh out our characters with nonverbal reaction.  It’s a lot like improv, which was interesting to me because when you’re working on a performance piece, there’s a lot of trial and error, but it’s trial and error behind closed doors.  On this project, we had a finite amount of time, so we had to do things on set a lot.  Andrew, the director and writer, was flying by the seat of his pants.  He knew the scenes he wanted to capture, but there were a few times where he and Jonathan Lavey, the cinematographer and another good friend of mine, had to talk out, “How are we going to film this practically with the big heavy camera?  What kind of shot do we want ideally?  Okay, that’s not possible because of lighting.”  And then for me, “I’m in the zone right now, so let’s start shooting.  Oh, but the light’s not good.” Those were some of the challenges.

Shawn and his team had to face plenty of challenges to finish 'Jubilee' on time; Photo Courtesy of Shawn Thomas.

Shawn and his team had to face plenty of challenges to finish ‘Jubilee’ on time; Photo Courtesy of Shawn Thomas.

But it was cool because John Ware, the Founder and Executive Director of the 168 Film Festival, and his team were communicating with us via email.  He was encouraging us, “Pray for your situation.  You’re going to have spiritual attacks.”  I really appreciated him letting each team know before they started filming to bring this to God in prayer.  It occurred to me in the midst of our conflict that we need to involve the Holy Spirit into the process because we don’t have the strength on our own.  We’re human, we’re fallible, we can make mistakes.  So I valued that sense of care the 168 people extended to us as they reminded us, “Let’s be prayerful for our situation.  Let’s get our families and communities involved to pray for us and support us.”

SCH: What did you love most about being part of 168?

ST: Being able to tell a story that was meaningful for us and having the freedom not to have to make a cookie-cutter simplistic faith-based film.  As creative people, sometimes we experience a faith-based piece and say, “Oh, that’s really cool and powerful, but I wish it would have gone further and portrayed this a little more raw.”  I feel like 168 gave me and my friends an unprecedented platform and permission to create a piece that was genuine for us.  Also, I loved being able to work with my friends in a collaborative project on a larger scale.

'Jubilee' premieres at the 168 Film Festival at LA Live August 29-30; Photo Courtesy of Wendi Kaminski & NBAE.

‘Jubilee’ premieres at the 168 Film Festival at LA Live August 29-30; Photo Courtesy of Wendi Kaminski & NBAE.

SCH: What advice do you have for the next generation of filmmakers?

ST: For artists in general, whether it’s film, painting, or music, you need to create, create, create.  Make things, and listen to the Holy Spirit.  I believe that He speaks to us clearly, especially for people inclined to be creative.  If you have an idea that pops into your head, don’t lay it aside or be afraid that it’s too grand, too big of a scheme, too daunting to express.  If you get a word, write down the word.  If you get a picture in your head, sketch it out.  Involve other people.  Try and make it happen.  Practice your craft, whether it’s on your iPhone or your top-notch camera.  Make creating a habitual thing.


Find out more about Shawn Thomas at his website: Shawn Thomas Art.

You can see Jubilee and more great faith-based short films at the 168 Film Festival!

Don’t miss these other great posts on 168:

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