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The Sympathetic Doomsday Cult Leader
Chris Nelson in 'As It Is In Heaven'

A week ago, I saw As It Is In Heaven, a low-budget, Kickstarter-funded, gracefully-shot independent feature film about a doomsday cult somewhere in the American South.

I was pleased with what I saw. Others were, too: the film earned positive reviews at RogerEbert.com, The Hollywood Reporter, and The New York Times, where it was named a Critics' Pick.

Most of us have never been the leader of a doomsday cult, I presume (I haven't), and we generally don't hear their stories, instead believing that such a person is a megalomaniac, mentally unstable, or just plain evil. David, the leader at the center of this film, is certainly some—if not all—of those things. But there's something more to him: a deep desire to live the right life, to find meaning in the world and even, after a fashion, to serve God as best he can. David is not a good leader, but he is a true believer.

Not only is the story suspenseful and engaging, but it acts like a mirror: these characters have characteristics and wants and motivations that find their reflection in us. And so while you may never have thought about joining a doomsday cult, you might discover that you see yourself up there on the screen.

After all, who among us—even the most faithful believers—hasn't wondered, while praying, if anyone was listening?

As It Is In Heaven was directed by Joshua Overbay, who co-wrote the script with his wife Ginny Lee Overbay and shot the film near where he was living in Kentucky, where he was teaching at Asbury College (he's since relocated to Baton Rouge). He was kind enough to answer some questions about low-budget filmmaking, tackling his own ego and doubts, complex characters, the problem with "Christian" filmmaking (and how to make it better), and more.

How did this movie get made? What was the budget, and how'd it get funded? How did you cast it? You wrote it with your wife—how did that happen?

This was born out of another project falling through. My production partner, Isaac Pletcher, and I were working on a horror film for over two years; the script was locked, some cast and crew were in place, but there was no money. We had a lot of momentum going into the summer of 2011, but then we had a couple failed investor pitches and suddenly all progress grinded to a halt. We were trying to raise $1 million and it was simply out of our league. (I reference this in my article about being a micro-budget filmmaker on IndieWire.)

'As It Is In Heaven'

'As It Is In Heaven'

It took us a few months to come to terms with the fact that this project was not going to happen, and that's when I decided to reconsider my approach to making movies. I had been too concerned with establishing myself as a marketable director and less concerned about making something genuinely meaningful. I had neglected my responsibility as an artist: to tell the truth, to be honest, and to consider the impact my film might have on its audience.

Instead, it was about "breaking in" and "getting my name out there." For As It Is in Heaven, I decided to look within, to be more personal, and to use my film as an opportunity to confess something I had hidden: my doubts.

As a first-time director, I knew the project would need to be made on the cheap. I knew I would have to depend heavily on the students and grads of Asbury University to serve as cast, crew, and Kickstarter promoters. Three of the producers/executive producers, in fact, were former students of mine: Michael Grout, Aaron Holmes (who also served as the camera operator), and Nathaniel Glass (who was the 1st Assistant Director and Post-Production Supervisor).

Watch This Way
How we watch matters at least as much as what we watch. TV and movies are more than entertainment: they teach us how to live and how to love one another, for better or worse. And they both mirror and shape our culture.
Alissa Wilkinson
Alissa Wilkinson is Christianity Today's chief film critic and assistant professor of English and humanities at The King's College in New York City. She lives in Brooklyn.
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The Sympathetic Doomsday Cult Leader