by Sheri McMurray
Ever wonder who those people are living in your house under the age of 18 and older beyond their years? The ones you love with all your heart, but cannot have a sit-down conversation with? These are your teenagers, your pre-teens.
Who are those old, ancient people who drive you to school and provide shelter for you? Why is it that they have absolutely no idea who or what you are? And they have the nerve to tell you they were your age once—yeah, right! Take a bow, Mom and Dad. Being a teen or a parent of a teen today is not easy. We try so hard not to infringe on each other’s “space” that we tend to, sadly, loose touch completely. Mom and Dad are so wrapped up in making ends meet and providing the home everyone wants that much precious time goes by and before you know it those teens are gone off on their own, or worse still, have gotten themselves into trouble.
So much depends on communication and most families, even Christian ones, are moving so fast that they just assume everyone knows what everyone else is up to. Or, sadder still, we are self conscious—even embarrassed to discuss some very important, but overlooked subjects like premarital sexual relationships. And where does God fit into the picture? Most teens get their information from school (and the “safe sex” agenda is so NOT safe) or from other teens, which is the most unreliable advice on planet Earth.
I have got good news for you. Take some time out of your busy schedules and make a commitment to a family movie night. Parents and teens set your Palm Pilots for any movie night from September 9th, 2005 on. There is a film coming out this fall from New World Pictures that can help take the pressure off. If it doesn’t help initiate a discussion about celibacy, it will more than help answer many sensitive key issues.
“Echoes of Innocence” from award winning producer, writer and director Nathan Todd Sims is a movie which goes beyond First Corinthians 13:4-13 into the heart of God’s blessings to those who remain pure until marriage. Sims has lovingly shaped a movie about abstinence into a very profound statement that hit’s the hearts of teens and parents alike. “Echoes of Innocence” confronts some hard issues concerning virginity and doesn’t shy away from the real world of teens in today’s stressed out world.
I had the very great pleasure of discussing his debut as a feature film director, and further vision, with Nathan Todd Sims. He is no stranger to film as he has been in charge of more than 150 film and video projects over the past 15 years. He also has won numerous domestic and international awards for his short film and corporate video work. Mr. Sims most recently was elected president of the Dallas Producers Association in January. His humility and candor reflects his new film, “Echoes of Innocence” and accounts for the reason it’s realism is so striking.
Sheri McMurray (SM): I was so very impressed with this film. The quality of cinematography and realism in performance shows the cutting edge of today’s Christian film making. It is a film that can stand on it’s own against any Hollywood production out there today.
Nathan Todd Sims (NTS): That was one of the things I made a conscious decision about from the very beginning. I didn’t want to make the typical “church” film. Most of them seemed pretty dry, and I wanted more than that.
SM: Yes. Most Christian films just don’t have that “spark,” but your film is just terrific. I just can’t say enough about it! It also reaches the teen audience of today, especially the celibacy issue, because they all think that is so un-cool.
NTS: Right. That has a lot of meaning to me! My wife and I were both virgins when we got married and that was 16 years ago. Our anniversary is September 9th, our opening date of the film which is a very meaningful date for us.
NTS: So that is a message of our commitment today.
SM: Yes, that is wonderful. When I was a teen, back in the late 60s early 70s, that was the beginning of the “love generation” and I was a virgin when I got married too. I don’t know how I did it except to say that my Mother—although we went to church we didn’t really have a church “home”—instilled in me definite Christian values. If it wasn’t for my Mother’s guidance, I never would have had that Godly moral base. That’s why parents’ Christian involvement is so important these days, don’t you think?
NTS: Yes. In my opinion, especially when it comes to sexual purity, it has to be discussed very openly. I have heard a pretty funny other side of the argument that says “abstinence education is dangerous.”
SM: The public schools have such a narrow view on what safe sex really is and celibacy is the only answer and that’s what parents need to tell their kids, don’t you agree?
NTS: That’s right. That is the world and what I wanted to show in the film is that there is a real reward at the end. It’s not just waiting, but “what are you waiting for?” You are not only staying sexually pure, but you are waiting for the big payoff at the end. If you choose to obstain from sexual activity you’re not only doing that, but there is a real benefit at the end.
SM: That’s exactly it. That’s what’s great about your movie. There are so many movies out there today that ask questions, but they leave you with no answers, but you have given the kids answers. Even younger kids, 12 and 13, can discuss this and make a pledge—not only to each other like your characters did, but to make a pledge to God. In answering those questions they know how to go about making their promise to purity and it doesn’t make them feel self conscious about it. The film is open and honest and it’s in their language—they can embrace it.
NTS: I think it’s fun to watch. Especially for that age group. That’s the one thing I wanted to do—to make an entertaining movie. Something they would sit and watch on their level.
SM: That’s it. As each phase of the story went by I felt compelled to watch it. I wouldn’t put it on pause or go out to the lobby for popcorn because I really wanted to see what would happen next. I liked the characters and got involved in their lives. I wanted to see it through to the end and it has a satisfying ending.
NTS: That’s great! It has been interesting seeing how different people react to it. I have really been impressed by the range of ages that have embraced this movie. There was a 13 year old girl who came up to me in tears after a screening and said it was just what she needed to see and there was a 70 year old couple in Michigan who said that it is just what kids needed to see.
SM: By telling a great story you have helped kids, and anyone who goes to see this film, to drop their defenses and that has given you the opportunity to share a profound truth.
NTS: It doesn’t effect everyone in the same way. Some people really liked it and others didn’t. There was one reviewer that said that there was no pay off at the end. It has been interesting hearing how everyone has a different take on it. It’s all the way you interpret it.
SM: People should not look at it with a worldly view, but through the spiritual aspect. Seeing it from the spiritual standpoint is the way to approach this film. If you are looking for a pay off from the eyes of the world, the ending might seem soft, but that’s not what it is all about. It’s looking inside the characters and seeing the respect they have for one another. That is what really got to me—is how respectful it was.
NTS: The whole thing is really about faith and hearing what God tells you to do and then doing it.
SM: Do you feel this script is a reflection of your faith and experience? About you and your wife’s decision to stay faithful and pure?
NTS: Yes. There is so much in our lives that is a reflection of that faith. I have always been really fascinated with people of faith. Like Joan of Arc. When I was going for my film degree, I studied a lot about Joan of Arc, and I think she is a very interesting character. I think she did some pretty amazing things for her age, like leading the French army. It is also an amazing point in history.
You see, Joan of Arc believed that her ability to hear from God came from her virginity, just like Sampson not cutting his hair gave him his strength. I took the Joan of Arc character and put it in a contemporary setting and then have Sarah like her. Her faith gave her the ability to do those things. It gave her the ability to move when things had turned, the ability to fight the opposition, the ability to stand strong—her commitment to stand up for what she believed in. That, in my opinion, is what is the whole purpose for the ending. That is what God does for those who listen.
SM: When the Dave character said, “well, that’s a very puritan way to look at it,” Sarah said that she had made a promise to God. He asked her how she knows her special someone will come along and Sarah says she knows because she made a promise to God and He will be faithful to her’s, because God always keeps His promises. She had faith that God would give her promise back to her.
NTS: Yes, and when Dave makes the comment about being puritan, Sarah has a great come back—she says, “Call it what you want.”
SM: That was a good one! It shows her confidence that she’s doing the right thing and the fact she is not going to back off from her promise to God. Do you intend to explore more teen issues or that you will take on more projects like this in the future to help influence kids to make Godly choices?
NTS: Yeah. I’ve been involved in youth ministry for a lot of years. I got born again between my Freshman and Sophomore years and before I got born again I was pretty rough. I was into heavy metal and that sort of thing. Then when I got born again there were a lot of challenges that stem from that being in High School. I took a pretty radical stand in High School. Unfortunately, for a lot of kids that age, it is a passing phase because it’s not an easy decision at that point in your development.
At the youth camp where I got saved at, all these other kids, a lot of them fell away. Then I went away to college and I worked as a counselor and also as a youth pastor. So, from what I saw: what I wanted to do with this film is give something to the kids. If I had seen this film when I was in high school, it might have given me a little more encouragement to just keep walking, to hang in there, you know?
I have a 5, 7, and 9 year old so my next project is going to be a family film.
SM: Yes—so this is what you can give back to kids that age. Did you know your future wife in High School? Was she saved around the same time you were?
NTS: Yes, and she was born again. We went to the same High School. She was two years behind me and best friends with my sister, but we did not date. Actually we were good friends in High School. She wound up going to the same University that I was going to.
SM: A-Ha—that brings me to another one of my questions. These kids that are depicted here in your story have the time, and you take the time in your script, to have them be friends first. I think that is a pivotal part of what parents should tell their kids—not to step into a something too quickly, but to be friends first. Am I right?
NTS: Right! To form a real relationship not based on the physical because that is where almost all the relationship problems stem from. SM: Kids that are teen and even pre-teen can relate to all the issues going on and to each character in your movie. And to the character of Sarah because she’s cool. She talks like they do, she dresses like they do and they can respect her. Even though all of her friends know that she isn’t going to pursue the things of the flesh, like most of them do, they still think she’s cool. So it shows the kids watching the movie that they can be like that and still have the respect of their crowd, of their friends.
This film has been shown at film festivals and screenings in different cities, and I’ll tell you this with a little reservation, but I am just telling you fact, the real truth of what has happened: every time we’ve shown it we’ve had somebody come out of the movie theater and walk up to me and say that this is the best show they’ve ever seen. We showed it in L.A., we were actually at a national abstinence conference and we had about 300 in attendance, and there was this girl in the second row who raised her hand—she was shaking and just fighting back tears—she said, “This is the best movie I’ve ever seen in my life. This was exactly what I needed!” We’ve had people say that over and over.
SM: That’s what I wanna hear! It is so wonderful because anyone can watch it and relate to it’s message. It is a film for any denomination or anyone in the world. It testifies to anyone and they can relate to the ideals. It is truly a universal message.
NTS: That’s right. We’ve had Catholics who love it. We’ve had Pentecostals who love it, and everybody in between!
SM: Even though we may be at odds over some religious aspects, purity before marriage is a universal truth that statistics prove we all can agree on. If you can bring up anything to your teens, parents can testify this one moral aspect is something that we can agree on spiritually and for our own health—abstinence is positive all around.
SM: I know that you wrote this powerful script. Do you have any other projects for adults or along any other lines? Will you push towards the major markets too?
NTS: Yes! We have several different projects in development. I think the next one I have in mind is oriented towards young kids—a full family film. Rated more like a “G” or maybe “PG.” Our plan is to get our films into the major markets. It won’t be easy. When we were in negotiations (with “Echoes of Innocence”) we were struggling along, but God began to speak to my heart—I gave the whole project to God: to take care of it and it all worked out!
Making this movie has run parallel with Sarah’s faith and commitment—it’s not always easy—we are called to the narrow road. Sarah (and this film) walked the narrow path, but by doing that we’ve (and she) reaped the rewards.
SM: I would bet your wonderful, believable script and the high quality of actors you have chosen against anything a major studio in Hollywood can dish out. That is such a plus for your film, is that it is of such high caliber. The public opinion polls already show that people want more family type entertainment in theaters. The young talent that you cast in “Echoes of Innocence” were wonderfully talented. Did you have an open casting call or did you look specifically for Christian actors?
NTS: No, we originally had an open call, but it was pretty amazing how many talented Christians we actually ended up with. as well. Sara (Simmonds) is just phenomenal. She’s out in L.A. right now. I know that once this (“Echoes of Innocence”) gets out she will get noticed! Jake McDorman is a believer and I am almost sure he attended a Baptist school, I may have to check that, but I know he dropped out of regular school and was home schooled while he pursued an acting career.
And the guy who plays Alec, the really evil guy (Matt Vondvarka), who did a great job, is a very committed Christian also. And Benjamin Dane, who plays our Priest, is a committed Christian guy too. There were so many others in the cast like the drama teacher, Rolanda Brigham; all too many to mention, but such a wonderful committed group of professing Christians!
SM: I wanted to commend you for portraying the Catholic Priest so lovingly. These days Hollywood films seem to be making fun of the Priesthood or portraying them in dark horrible movies with scenes of desecrating the church. You have given the audience the real way that a priest would interact with love and Godly direction. Do you feel that because many of the cast and crew are professing Christians it will have an impact on people, to really know about God and be encouraged to get to know Him better,?
NTS: Yeah. Sara already has made that commitment to be careful in Hollywood and to choose her projects with more care. She is a bit older than her character of Sarah (who is suppose to be 18) and knows that now after she has done theater and has had a bit more exposure to L.A. life, she has more of a solid base to make her decisions (as far as projects) on.
Our society has a relaxed attitude towards dating around, and I’m not saying that’s wrong, but when you get serious about somebody and give your heart over to somebody even if there is no sex in the relationship, there is such an emotional bond it is so hard to stay pure. Especially if you have had sex and it doesn’t work out, then you get into a relationship and break it off and then another and break it off, then what is happening is you’re creating a pattern. Then when you end up getting married you’ve become used to that pattern of just hangin’ with someone for a little while and breaking it off, and it doesn’t mean enough to stay with that commitment.
SM: Yes. You’ve gained no reverence for a long lasting relationship and breaking up a marriage is as insignificant as those dating around rituals.
NTS: It depends on the people, but I like the idea of getting married when you’re younger. For example I was 21 and my wife was 19 when we got married. We had made a pledge to purity and we knew what that accountability meant. Frankly, it is very, very hard in our society to wait until we’re 25 or 30 to get married. It’s tempting to have a sexual relationship.
SM: That’s why I thought that scene in “Echoes of Innocence” where 12 or 13 year old Chris had it all planned out. He had their oath all ready and the medallions inscribed with “I Promise” ready to make that pledge. The kiss to seal their oath at the end was so sweet and innocent, yet you knew these kids had discussed it and were smart kids. Parents need to get involved to get this same discussion going with their pre-teens, because unlike the characters of Sarah and Chris, their kids won’t take the initiative on their own to do this. They need to learn it.
NTS: Right. Most kids are as smart as Sarah and Chris and that’s where most people get a real disconnect. Kids are people, they’re not “its.” And they can take a serious discussion about sex.
SM: Never sell them short. Especially if the kids start asking the questions first, parents should never shy away from it. The kids will understand and they will thank you for it later. The important part is they will know they can come to you with any question and they will get an honest answer.
NTS: We must respect them as young adults. If you respect a young person as a young adult and you are not looking down on them as those “bratty teens” they’ll learn to respect themselves. Then you can engage in a real strong relationship which will make them willing to open up to you.
SM: Do you give theater owners a screener copy to view before they decide to show the film?
NTS: Yes, but the great thing about that was that they got excited about it on their own because they see the potential of putting it out there. They said, “Todd, we think the public is starved for your product and has wanted something better.” Now that’s not Hollywood, but the individual exhibitors. That is what was interesting when we decided to self distribute the film on our own and we started approaching theater owners on our own.
SM: I believe that this film is something God wants to happen. Do you feel God has had His hand in this as things have progressed?
NTS: Oh Yes! It makes me think back to a time several weeks ago and we had been negotiating and we still didn’t have any official screens and there were a couple of days where I just felt down and depressed and I was really struggling with these feelings. Then God began to speak to me. I said, “I can only do what I can do, but I really feel that this is something we have to do.and if it comes to September 9th and we only have one theater then I leave it up to You, God, to take care of it.” Right after that things started coming together as we were stepping out on faith.
SM FINAL THOUGHTS: “Echoes of Innocence” is a very real view of teenagers today and all that they are facing in our complicated world of mixed-up moral values. We have to sit and watch it, (the poignant scenes in “Echoes of Innocence”) even if it is sometimes ugly or harsh because that is reality and the only way we will be able to teach our kids to fight evil is to face it. We have to be aware of what’s going on around us, we cannot stay too much in our Christian bubble. There will be hard questions, but we must help our kids to understand there are reliable answers with God. They might not know God or how to pray or maybe they can’t go to their parents, so my prayer will be that this award winning film will be the springboard to their eternal relationship with God.
NTS BRINGING IT ALL TOGETHER: I would like to add that I feel that this movie works as a parable. When I put the script together I was going with that. You can see that young Christopher represents the person of Christ, Sarah represents The Church, and “The Return” is represented at the end with the rescue of Sarah.
What has ended up happening, is: it has been real interesting to see how the Christian audience has embraced the movie on the spiritual level. They may not be able to define all that stuff, but they feel it and they feel the universality of it because it is very much a universal story. The metaphor: the parable is like when Christ said “The Kingdom of Heaven is like unto this.” to some people He was just telling an interesting story, but to other people it had a much deeper meaning—it opened up everything to them. I think that is what’s happening with the movie.
Believers are impacted on a spiritual level and the non-believers see it and have fun with it. Either way, the message is coming across there. They all are getting the message. And that was the purpose of Christ’s parables too! Some people may think it’s too dark, but this is the way it is.
We (our teens) are under true spiritual warfare. It’s intense and we might not like it, but we are under attack by the Devil and we need to be prepared to fight him. We must understand that there is true spiritual warfare and it is not pretty and we may not understand everything that is going on all the time.
Like Sarah says in the movie when Dave tells her some things are going on and she might not understand them, do you understand? She says, “No, not really, but I guess that’s normal for me.” In the end you stand up for your faith, you fight the good fight,
We’re probably not going to have one of those huge, massive opening weekends. We just aren’t on enough screens right now to take on the big Hollywood movies. But we’ll be out there—we really want the major markets to see “Echoes of Innocence.” It’s very important that we get people out to see the film that very first weekend (September 9, 2005)! We won’t be on mass screens and we don’t have the advertising dollars to get the word out like Hollywood has. We need viewer support.
SM: Is there something that our readers can do to help and support “Echoes of Innocence?”
NTS: Yes! We’ve got promotional packets through an email newsletter and you can sign up for it through our Web site: echoesofinnocence.com. I would encourage everyone to visit our site and sign up for the newsletter! They can also click our “tell a friend” button on the home page of the Web site. We will let you know what’s going on, if anyone is interested and keep you informed. That’s how we do it. I am convinced that once the word is out and people go to see it, they will love it. I feel very blessed that God has chosen to speak through this film!
“Echoes of Innocence” has already won these prestigious awards:
See our review of “Echoes of Innocence”