By James Johnson
For Fayetteville-based filmmaker Jeremiah McLamb, the world of film production is one of organized chaos. It is a constant juggling act of balancing art and business, passion and obligation and spirituality as well as entertainment.
McLamb, however, wouldn’t have it any other way, as he says he owes his entire filmmaking career to his spirituality, after having first been introduced to it as a teenager by his church, Northwood Temple.
“Since kindergarten I always went to school there and went to church there. Ever since I can remember, they always did these big Christmas and Easter productions, which always fascinated me. Buck Hodge, who is Director of music at the church, was always a mentor to me, and so, he kind of started mentoring me a bit. I watched him and observed him. In fourth grade, I started writing my own little scripts, which were like miniature Star Wars movies, and then one year, during my freshman year of high school, I was approached by John Wright (band director at Northwood Temple Academy) to write and direct the high school production,” McLamb explained.
“I was super excited by it, but also super terrified. It was an incredible experience, so I did that every year, and during my junior year, John Wright handed me a little handy-camera and asked me to incorporate film in to our stage productions … They were really my big inspirations that pushed me and encouraged me, until I could figure things out on my own.”
From there, McLamb’s love for filmmaking was cemented, but it wasn’t until a friend asked him to film their wedding that he realized he could turn his hobby into a business, with commercial value. In 2006, McLamb officially formed JerFilm Productions, a locally run production office that would allow him to do both commercial work, as well as feed his artistic passions.
“Ultimately, the goal was always to be a filmmaker. It was to be able to create feature films, and the commercial aspect was, well, not a means to an end, because I love doing that as well, but it just puts food on the table,” McLamb said.
Since officially founding JerFilm, McLamb appears to have more than met his goals, landing local commercial jobs with Methodist University, Ford, Campbell University, Cape Fear Valley Health, and his old stomping grounds, Northwood Temple Academy. Just as McLamb had hoped, he has managed to do passion projects between commercial shoots, finishing a number of short films, as well as a full-length independent feature film titled Masquerade in 2009.
Masquerade follows the story of a high school girl, reaching out to a peer who she believes is hiding a troubled home life. Currently, McLamb is in post production for his second full length feature film, Restoration, due out later this year.
“This guy (Ken Stewart), he comes to me and says he wrote this script that he wants me to look at. I have known him for a while, so I say ‘Okay,’ and he hands me this 300 page script,” McLamb said.
“That’s like three movies right there. An average script is maybe 90 pages … I read through it, and saw that it had this great potential.”
The two of them spent the next three years rewriting it, and finally got to the point where they said they were ready to make the movie.
“We are hoping to have a trailer by June,” McLamb added.
Like Masquerade, Restoration is a story about redemption and spirituality. In it, a mechanic named C.K. Erwin (played by Restoration story writer Ken Stewart) loses his family and is driven to the brink of suicide. Erwin gets a new lease on life after befriending a family which needs him as much as he needs them.
“Ken preached the idea that God is in the ‘re’ business. He restores, he rebuilds and [the characters] find that place that leads to God and [they] find healing through that,” McLamb said. “Pretty much everything I do has that faith-based bent to it, even though I think my films tend to be darker and more realistic than some might expect.”
Faith-based films like those produced by McLamb have garnered far more respect within the film industry than they have in the past, thanks in no small part to success stories like 2014’s Pure Flix-produced God’s Not Dead, its 2016 sequel, God’s Not Dead 2, the ongoing success of Kirk Cameron’s Left Behind film series or last year’s wildly successful War Room, which made $73.7 million in the box office, despite only having a budget of $3 million.
For McLamb, the success of these films has meant that potential investors see his work as less of a gamble, even if he himself draws more inspiration from Mel Gibson than he does from Kirk Cameron.
“My favorite film is Braveheart, actually,” McLamb said. “ … I think that, you have the Pure Flix stuff, which kind of came out of what Sherwood Baptist Church did. (Note: Sherwood Pictures is an American independent Christian film production company in Albany, Georgia.)” “It was out of left field, and they had this huge hit, but it was very much a low-budget independent film. They are good films, but they aren’t my cup of tea. I am more of the serious-drama kind of guy. But they paved the way for faith-based films … They proved that these films could be successful. Especially this model. A lot of Christian films, as compared to Hollywood films, are made on these small budgets, and when a film made for a million dollars makes 100 million on return, that is, in a way, a higher return than some of these bigger Hollywood films … but at the end of the day, even if the film makes no money, it is about the message we are getting across.”
No official release date has been set for Restoration, though McLamb is hoping to announce one soon. To learn more about JerFilm Productions, go to www.jerfilm.com.