“Save the Date” won the Audience Choice Award at CWVFF 2019. Recently, Director Stephen Dysert took some time to share with us his journey as a filmmaker and how he created this film.
What was your background in filmmaking before directing this film? How did this project help you grow as a filmmaker?
Every year, senior cinema students at Bob Jones University produce their own short films as the final requirement to complete their degree. They must write, direct and edit the films themselves, while volunteer underclassmen fill the rest of the key positions. After three years of working on other students’ projects, “Save the Date” was my turn. It’s easy to criticize other directors’ mistakes, but once you step up to the plate you realize just how many jobs you have to do. For a student project, everyone knew this was an exceedingly ambitious script to attempt. The special effects had to work. One actor had to play three different characters and keep them all straight from take to take. We had to learn how to light a restroom. We had several key scenes with child actors. And it was supposed to be funny. Tackling all these challenges one by one with the help of a truly wonderful crew was an incredible growing experience.
How did you work to honor God in the process of making this film?
Sometimes filmmaking is incredibly slow and tedious. Sometimes it’s frantic nonstop chaos. As a director I’m responsible for helping the crew survive this process. I recommend you pray on set, not only to ask the Lord for help but to remind yourself that you represent Christ so you had better take care of your crew. Sometimes it was little stuff, like serving Chick-fil-A to a bunch of students tired of Little Caesars. Sometimes it just meant showing extreme patience and respect. If you ever want to film with kids this is especially crucial.
Had you attended CWVFF before making this film? How did it encourage your journey as a filmmaker?
I attended CWVFF for two years before creating this film, and each time was a huge blessing. The Guild introduced me to a larger network of Christian filmmakers. I have notebooks full of wisdom from the sessions, and through the scoring competition I met Connor Mahoney from Florida and Philip Steele from Ireland, who both went on to collaborate with me on this project (shameless plug, everybody go check out their music and pay them lots of money). Last year when “Save the Date” won the Audience Choice award, I was thrilled that almost my entire crew was able to walk up on stage with me. That kind of fellowship doesn’t happen at just any festival.
Why are you passionate about the message of Save The Date?
Although “Save the Date” presents it in a fun way, the sad truth is that many of us today don’t love the way we should. We focus on our own desires over everyone else’s. At its worst this leads to wasted lives and broken homes. I grew up in a wonderful home where my parents loved God and made sacrifices for each other on a daily basis. They always took care of their family no matter what, even as I watched my friends’ families fall apart. My hope is that “Save the Date” can reveal a glimmer of the joy that comes when people stop worrying about their own pleasures and fears and put others first instead.
How can people view “Save the Date”?
The film is finishing up its run in festivals but won’t stay private much longer. Find me on Facebook or Instagram and you can be the first to know when it finally goes public.
What advice do you have for other aspiring filmmakers?
Whether you get training in film like I did or learn as you go in the field, be sure to find a mentor who knows more about film than you. We reshot, redesigned, and rewrote so many things all because my amazing professors made it clear when something wasn’t working. I think it’s especially a shame to see people spend thousands of dollars on mistakes that could have been fixed in the script.
And finally, as a friend once told me, filmmaking is too much work to not have fun. Even if you’re telling the darkest story ever, find ways to help your crew relax and enjoy the magic: they’re making a film! And if you dare to try, I’d love to see you make more comedies. The good ones have more power than people realize.
Thanks, Stephen for giving us a glimpse of how you created this film! For all of us as filmmakers, this is an encouragement to seek wise mentors and show Christ-like leadership to your crew in the filmmaking process.