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I knew we would have to crowdfund it—and we did via Kickstarter. I knew I would have to recruit my film school buddies. I knew I would have to bring in my production partner in a few months before shooting to pave the way for the production. I knew we would have to get really lucky and find "undiscovered" talent in the Kentucky region who would be willing to act for free. And beyond this, my wife and I knew we had to write something incredible that could be shot on essentially one location.

With our shared background in Pentecostalism, and my fascination with cult leaders, we landed on setting our story in the world of a small doomsday cult. My interest was to simply use the setting as an external mechanism to communicate my experience with unquestioned faith. And beyond this, it was my attempt to deconstruct my own faith.

Some have said that our portrait of David (the film's protagonist) is dangerously sympathetic. But I wasn't thinking about this when we wrote it. I was simply trying to show how one could go move from certainty to uncertainty, despite one's sincerity and desperation. I was simply trying to make David feel what I was feeling when I started writing the script.

Chris Nelson in 'As It Is In Heaven'

Chris Nelson in 'As It Is In Heaven'

The film is complex; in a key scene that involves an altercation between two important characters, I found myself thinking that this scene could be read in several different ways, depending on what movie it was in. What makes this movie good, I think, is that it refuses to "tell" you how you should feel about anyone. How did you approach this sort of character development?

Thank you for saying that. It's exactly what I was hoping people would experience.

All the depictions of ceremony and religious experience were pulled directly from my past. Though the aesthetic is more formal, I wanted to approach the content as a documentarian might. Based on my experience with religious fanaticism, and my research into cults, I felt it was my responsibility to humanize the cult members. To chip away at the idea of "craziness," and ultimately replace it with "desperation." "Craziness" gives viewers the freedom to distance themselves from the characters and turn them into "others."

I did everything in my power to make viewers uncomfortable with the normality and sincerity of the characters, in hopes of creating an empathetic bond between with the characters and the viewers. For some, this may cause pity; for others, hatred. It honestly depends on the individual viewer. I did my best to find the humanity in each character, especially David.

What was the role of place in your filmmaking which (I think) was set in Kentucky, near where you were living when you shot the film?

I live in Baton Rouge currently, but, at the time, was in Lexington, Kentucky. It's a gorgeous place to shoot and the community was very supportive. We got crazy lucky and actually saw no rain during the 17-18 day shoot. In addition, our producer, Michael Grout, found a perfect location for us: a remote farmhouse located in Nicholasville, Kentucky. We were able to rent it for two weeks before principal photography began. The Production Design team, led by Meg Barker, repainted the entire house. It was an insane amount of work, but it provided complete control of the color palette and allowed us to maintain a consistent aesthetic throughout the film.

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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