Chris Stewart, a 15-year-old home schooled student, wrote, directed and edited the short film based on a moment in the life of 19th Century Evangelist Sam P. Jones, a circuit-rider preacher for the North Georgia and Tennessee area. Jones, who is credited as a principal influence on Will Rogers, was considered one of the most celebrated revivalists of his day.
Youths from 10 states participated in the national festival in Branson, Mo., and 11 entries were in the narrative category that Chris won. The vision behind the award-winning film was to create a movie involving an historical person from the area that would make an impact on the faith-based community today, according to Chris.
“We wanted to do something that happened around our area and Dad suggested we do a circuit-rider from the area,” Chris explained. “Mom, who is like the ‘Google-meister’ from the area — can find anything on Google. She found the story of Sam Jones. We liked the message about not just doing something, but doing what the Lord wants. That’s how I chose him for my subject.”
Stewart said he researched Jones and tried to capture his winning personality and passion for God. He used historical documents from one of Jones’ memorial services to provide a large portion of the film.
The film, which took nine months from actually writing the script to the postproduction wrap, was a family affair for the owners of S.C. TreeHouse Productions, in Benton.
While Chris wrote, directed and edited his film, his sister Susan, 17, was the film’s costume designer and seamstress. Jonathan Stewart, 13, was the film’s sound operator, while Gideon Stewart, 11, worked behind the scenes and made a cameo appearance in the film’s opening scene. Their father also made a cameo in the opening and closing scenes of the film. Riley Peak, a 16-year-old Ocoee native, portrayed Sam Jones in the film, while Polk County and the surrounding area provided 54 of the 55 extras for the film.
The family of six traveled to Missouri to enter the film in the National FilmFest 4-H contest, and returned with their first award on Aug. 6, for “Boo!”
Chris, whose all-time favorite films include the Western Classic, “Shane,” and films by his favorite independent director, Alex Kendrick, (“Flywheel”), said he is partial to the independent film industry whose arthouse projects appeal more to his own.
“I like the smaller, independent directors,” he said. “The big directors have all the money, so they pretty much do whatever they want. So the smaller directors I feel like I can connect more with, because they have to work around money shortages and a lack of people.”
Chris said his award-winning film has already had an impact on his life, from giving newspaper interviews to making new friends.
“I’ve learned a lot from this spiritually, as well as advancing my knowledge in filmmaking,” he said. “We made a lot of friends.”
Penny, his mother, added, “That’s one reason this will always hold a special place in his heart, because he developed some really great friendships from this. As a matter of fact, his best friend developed out of that. Spending seven months filming when we thought it would take only two or three — all those late nights and really cold nights and mornings — we developed some really close friendships with a couple of families.”
One of the conference leaders, Mike Haviland, of BOSS Productions in Kansas, called “Boo!” “A great film with a great message,” adding, “I was very impressed. It was clearly the frontrunner of all the films submitted (at the festival).”
When asked what’s next for the novice filmmaker, Chris said his dream is to do a trilogy about King David, of biblical fame, and call it “The Knighthood.”
“That would be bigger than anything we have ever done,” Penny admits.
Because the production will require a bigger budget, with more extras, costumes and props, Chris said his parents want him to focus on raising funds and perfecting a script before engaging in any preproduction casting or filming.
FilmFest 4-H was co-organized by the Missouri Film Commission and brought in several film professionals from all over the country to lead workshops for those in attendance.
For a copy of the DVD, contact the Stewart family at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.sctreehouseproductions.weebly.com.