CFDb Interviews Greg Batiansila
What circumstances led to the production of ‘Leaving Eden’?
Two circumstances, one immediate and the other life-altering. On January 27th 2010, our daughter was called to heaven just a few weeks before her 2nd birthday. There isn’t a day that I don’t think of her and long for her. But in going home, Zoe gave her mom and dad a gift – a chance and a motivation to express and create with the gifts we’ve been given.
…which led to our first enormous project, a stage play at a 600-seat performing arts center. A play with a two-story, rotating set and an incredibly intense, physically demanding set of roles. Our success there spurred us to look ahead for other projects and opportunities. Because of my pretty extensive experience in the film and video world, I suggested we try creating something for the screen.
Tell us more about the ‘Leaving Eden’ series?
Smart people in the industry seem to be at odds – one faction telling creators to consider their audience, its tastes and interests, and create art for them. Tickle them where they’re ticklish, as it were. The other side of the experts says, do what you love, and love what you do. Write what you know and be passionate about it.
For our first project, we chose the latter direction. My father was a Lutheran pastor for over 30 years, and on top of that, a remarkable storyteller. I had written several scenes for what I had imagined would be a short film about a pastor, but we decided to turn it into a web series.
At the heart of Leaving Eden is the tension that exists in the very nature of being a pastor. The statistics surrounding the calling are startling: 50% of pastor’s marriages end in divorce. 70% of pastors battle depression. 78% of pastors have no close friend. 10% will retire a pastor. 1,500 pastors quit each month.
Too often, Hollywood storytellers take a character who is a priest or pastor and create tension by making him an alcoholic or a pervert. The true tension is just as powerful and far more subtle. What if a pastor got in a fight with his wife just minutes before he gave a sermon? What if a little boy dying in the hospital is demanding as much time as his own son who wants to throw the baseball?
In Leaving Eden, we look at a pastor, his family, and the new vicar (pastor-in-training) who has just arrived to change the world – and all the tensions, joys, and pains they face.
Do you have a favorite episode you’ve produce thus far? Tell us why.
Are you asking me which of my children is my favorite? I love all my children – and my episodes – the same, just differently. The ending of Episode 1 and Episode 2 – including the almost uncomfortable argument between Ben and his wife, followed by his sermon – were a hint of how powerful the story can be. I love, love, the iconic paper lantern scene in Episode 3.
Considering that I have now written and rewritten this answer six times, I’ll just answer “No.” Although I’m kind of leaning towards episode 2, 3, 5 or 8 because each scene has a text and subtext. There’s incredible acting going on. I truly think the big differentiator for this web series and any other is that our cast is just phenomenal.
What is your vision for this series?
Our vision is to continue to tell our story until we think it’s been told. We think the web series arena – especially for a mostly penniless independent – isn’t built for a single season. It takes patience, cultivation, engagement and interaction. We’re fine with continuing to grow and create and tell our stories, and hope that an audience continues to grow.
One thing I told the cast at our first table read – we’re not really interested in telling that story about the addicted pastor, the pastor who’s a pervert. We’re more interested in painting a picture with the limited palette of day-to-day life and tensions.
But we’re going to continue to have a high production value. We’re shooting with some pretty great cameras and treating and handling our product with the respect a broadcast video would deserve. Our music is the best anywhere, of that we’re sure. We hope that shines through.
Do you have any other series or Christian films in the works that you can tell us about?
It wasn’t until we received so many views for Leaving Eden – we are past 29,000 now – that we actually met and had a discussion about what is next. One thing we’re not certain of is if Christians really understand that art might not have a practical value, but just be beautiful. That it might not have a “grace moment” but still show grace.
What we are seeing is an art community that doesn’t really care if we’re part of it. The idea of a show about a Christian is enough to keep a typical web series audience away.
Our fear is we have created something that isn’t “Christian” enough for one audience, and too “Christian” for the other.
So…we’re not sure. We will continue to create and make films and series, and make decisions guided by our faith. We’re just praying for opportunities that allow us to express ourselves and the craft in an industry where there aren’t many Christians. And, we covet responses from the community. At this moment, we don’t know if Christians care if we keep creating or not or would support our efforts in the future.
Your site is the first Christian site to respond at all to us. For all of the bluster of Christian commenters bemoaning the lack of Christian media and Christians creating media, all of their websites, Twitter accounts, and Facebook feeds ignored our requests for a review, interview or even an offline discussion.
How can others learn more about you and your work?
We’re pretty active across the internet. We have a Google+ page, a Twitter page, and a Facebook page. Our website stays updated. We have email and we will always answer any emails, calls or other missives. Always.
If you can, write a review of the show at YouTube, blip.tv…we don’t care where, but we’d love to hear what you think. So far, our only review is from a viewer in Mississippi who used Yahoo as a platform, and a few folks who have written us directly. We’d love to hear from you.
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