Finding Our Own Voice

Sitting down in front of a computer to write a screenplay is a daunting task. Directing and producing a feature film is a mammoth undertaking that can take years to complete if it ever actual gets done at all. Writing/Directing duo David Alford and Joseph Stam know this first-hand. The team co-write the 2020 film “Found.” and co-directed the 2022 project, “Royal Ashes”. CPP’s latest project “Searching for the Elephant” is the first time they have co-written and co-directed a project together. So, what’s the difference? Everything. “Writing is such a personal experience,” Alford explains, “I often go away for a few days and lock myself up in a small space to write. I wrote most of ‘Royal Ashes’ while in quarantine with Covid that’s how singular an activity creating a story is for me. Writing with someone else didn’t come easily at first. It required a great deal of trust and mutual respect that took years to cultivate. We have to be able to be honest when things aren’t working. It can be bruising when Joseph or I have written something on our own and the other person has to say that the scene isn’t working. There is no room for egos. There are so many times when we have to admit the other is right and let it go. However, there are some many occasions when I get stuck on a moment in the script, and I’ll just hand it to Joseph and ask him to look at it. He’ll take it and come back with a much better answer than anything I could have written. It’s a win-win.”

So how do two directors carry out a singular vision for one story? “It’s surprisingly easy, by the time we’ve ground out a script, the story has for the most part been told. It exists in its fullest form. How to visualize it and conceive it is the task at hand. Joseph takes a strong lead in the visualization of the film. I tend to steer the story telling and preserve the characters. He innovates and I regulate. Between the two of us, a beautiful tension occurs where Joseph pushes all of the boundaries of what can be done, and I help steer the overall shape of the story and how it is told. Oddly, we never really fight or get upset with each other. We occasionally disagree about things and debate the pros and cons of decisions, but there is enough experience in the room that whoever feels the most passionately about the decision usually gets his way. In the end, we can’t even remember who wrote what or who’s idea it was in the first place. It’s all about serving a story.”

Serving the story is one of the most difficult aspects of the job. So how is “Searching for the Elephant” different from CPP’s other projects? “I have three kids and each child has his/her own DNA and although they have a great deal in common, they are each very different. With film projects, it is the same way. Each story grows into its own being. Our jobs are to get our own agendas out of the way and let it grow into what it is it meant to be. ‘Searching’ has been a surprise in that it is grittier and bleaker than our other stories. At the same time, it is deeper and richer in its breadth of life. And we’ve grown as storytellers, so we have more confidence now to let the story be what it is without worrying about what how the faith-based film industry might perceive it.”

Alford was involved in the Christian music industry in the late 80’s and early 90’s. He saw first-hand the growing pains that tried to hold back that industry when Christian artists stopped worrying so much about what other thought of their work and started taking artistic risks. “I remember the huge outcry when Amy Grant’s music hit the top of the secular music charts, and I was there answering phones when DC Talks rap albums hit the Christian music airways with a very unique sound that hadn’t been heard in CCM up to that point. There was a wave of concern and resentment from a large number of listeners, but on the other side was a tsunami of responses from people saying thank you for the honesty and making Christian music that says what I’m thinking. I think it’s time for the Christian film industry to do the same thing. I understand the financial risks are a lot higher in filmmaking than record-producing but playing it safe isn’t doing the industry any favors right now. Until we reach out to the general public with our own unique voices and stop trying to look and feel like the project next to us. we might not come across as genuine as we would like to be.”

Stam agrees, adding “Uplifting and inspirational entertainment has its place in filmmaking and is prevalent in the Christian Film Industry. That said, I feel the Christian Film Industry, as of now, is lacking the fundamental need to challenge the viewer through our films and art. Diving into uncomfortable aspects of life and asking difficult questions from a Christian Worldview, even if we don’t have all the answers.”

Alford continues, “Until we are brave enough to ask the tough questions and look to our God who is more than able to give answers, we will not tap into the hearts and minds of the general public in a meaningful way. As filmmakers, it’s time we reach out beyond the borders and find audiences outside the safe little niche we have created for ourselves. To do that, we have to create compelling stories with original voices that ring with truth and shine light into a truly troubled world that we all find ourselves.”

“Searching for the Elephant” is in pre-production and will be shot this July. To keep up with everything on this project check in here regularly or follow us at @searchingfortheelephantmovie or on Facebook at Searching for the Elephant.

David Alford

David Alford

Founder of Cross Purposes Productions