Movie Producer Alex Carroll dove into the film industry with two friends after graduating from Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. They wanted to engage with other people and challenge them to “ask the right questions” about life.” Their latest movie, “Believe Me,” released this month, makes people laugh while challenging them to face tough questions about truth and the choices we make.
The New York Times has a review of the film Here.
War Cry: How did you get into the film industry and form Riot Studios?
Alex Carroll: I saw Will Bakke’s first documentary, “One Nation Under God.” He made it with Michael Allen while they were in college. We have been friends since high school. As a young entrepreneur, I was learning how to spot talent. I saw the talent in Will and Mike and just said, “Man, I want to be a part of that.” We’ve been in the film industry now for 4 ½ years. We just wanted to spend our time on stuff that we feel matters. We want to tell good stories and make compelling art that challenges people. It would be terrible for us to spend three years on a movie that didn’t mean anything and didn’t go deeper.
WC: Your earlier film, “Beware of Christians,” consisted of your crew traveling through Europe and asking people what they thought about God and religion. How has working on that movie and “Believe Me” influenced your views on contemporary Christian culture?
AC: It has made me question why more people don’t ask more questions. Working on “Beware of Christians” and traveling around the country talking about the film and getting to converse with high school students and college students about Jesus, about our faith in God, made me realize that we are not asking the right questions about why we believe what we believe.
WC: What was your role as producer for “Believe Me?”
AC: To oversee, manage and pick and choose people for different positions within the film. I was involved with the script while Michael and Will were writing it. Then we planned how to shoot it, and how to raise the money for it. We had made enough money by the grace of God through “Beware of Christians” to justify raising the amount we needed. Then I had to figure out who to work with to cast the film.
WC: What do you hope the movie will accomplish?
AC: First and foremost, I hope it makes people laugh. We wanted to tell a great story about four guys in a comedy of errors. Second, when people walk out of the movie, we hope they begin a dialogue about what Sam should do as the movie ends. Tell the truth? Come clean? Cover it up? Something that can lead to deeper, meaningful conversations. I think one thing “Believe Me” does well is to challenge the idea of platforms. Alex Russell, our lead actor who plays Sam, is a good–looking, charismatic guy. When you see him preaching you don’t really question what he’s saying and where his heart is. You just listen to him because he’s on a stage and he’s got great production value and it looks and feels good. Do we believe because someone stands on a stage and sells something to us, or do we believe it because it is truth? Taking classes in college like The Problem of God opened up so many questions about the authenticity of the Bible, like “Why should we believe what they’re saying? How do we know all of these things are true?” I think it’s really important for believers to keep challenging what they believe so they can understand it better.
WC: What compels you to probe those deeper questions?
AC: Our understanding and our relationships with Jesus. Your voice can come through the script in a lot of different ways, in the way that we treat our crew, the cast, the people we employ. I love making film. We’re fascinated by the film industry, we’re fascinated by all of these actors, just the whole process in general. We’d never done this before and being able to come out the other side with a pretty good movie is very exciting for us.
WC: “Believe Me?” questions Christian stereotypes, and suggests we look beyond them to live more honestly. In movie land, people are all about playing roles and wearing masks. We all do. How are audiences reacting to such honesty? What do you think they are looking for in such movies as yours?
AC: Our primary intended audience is young adults who either grew up in the Christian culture or have an understanding of who God is. The millennials in general don’t process message–driven or unauthentic media at all. If the director in the film has an agenda, people can see right through it. The success of “Beware of Christians” came from us being authentic in front of the camera. When you’re authentic and you are true to the characters in your story and in your script, that goes down better than anything else. Since I am 25 and this is my first feature film, I can’t say I know what audiences want, but one thing that helps with younger audiences is pacing. Because of social media, smart phones and technology, people’s attention spans are so much shorter now. We took a two-hour film and cut it down to 89 minutes. You have to cut out every single piece of dialogue that isn’t perfect for the story. And it is so much more fun when you’re sitting in a theater and people are able to laugh out loud.
WC: How did you come to faith?
AC: I came to faith my senior year in high school. I was brought up in a church home but my parents didn’t force me to go church. When I turned 16 they said I could do whatever I wanted on Sunday. I began to realize that life wasn’t about me. And like everyone I wondered, “How the heck was I here?” “Who created me?”
WC: What stories or writers inspire you?
AC: Books like Crazy Love and Forgotten God, and people like Tim Keller and Francis Chan.
WC: Recently films about Christianity and faith have attracted a lot of attention. Do you see signs that the revival might be sparked in part by Hollywood?
AC: Honestly, I think the only reason Hollywood is interested in Christian films is because these movies are bringing people out of the woodwork to buy movie tickets. Agents and studio sales want to get in on the action.
WC: I understand you have a unique way of marketing “Believe Me.”
AC: We’ve implemented this new system where we just pay our fans and consumers to promote the film. You just put in your email address at believemefilm.com, and once you confirm your account we give you unique links. Every time you share that link on Twitter and Facebook and say something like, “check out this cool trailer for the film and someone clicks on it, you get paid .10¢.
WC: How do you maintain your equilibrium and not let the pursuit of success and the trappings that go with it infringe on your goals?
AC: It’s not very hard now. It’s not very cool to spend a bunch of money and be in debt at a young age. We’re just nerds trying to make movies. That stuff can get in the way, but we have a balanced work life and social life. Michael and I are both married, have amazing wives and are active in our churches. You have to realize where your priorities are and what’s most important in life. It’s definitely not all wrapped up in the success of “Believe Me.”
WC: Is there anything else you want us to know?
AC: Go see “Believe Me” and if you like it and want us to make another movie, we will be able to do that through your support of the film. The wave of the future for some in the film industry is developing a brand and a fan base around the type of voice people want represented in the film world.