When Film Threat last touched base with Tommy Lee Thomas, he was positioning himself to be a new action hero. A handsome and versatile screen presence, he had already starred in and produced a trio of rough-and-tumble features – “More Than Meets the Eye,” “Proverbial Justice” and “Con Games” – and he seemed ready for to move forward in that genre.
However, things turned out quite differently. Thomas is back, but not as the 21st century answer to Jean-Claude Van Damme. Instead, he is announcing a new and ambitious project: a nonprofit Christian film ministry. Yes, the journey from busting heads to saving souls seems quite unusual.
Film Threat revisited Thomas at his Dallas home to talk about this unlikely but intriguing change of plans.
When Film Threat last saw you, we were expecting you to blaze trails in the action/adventure genre. Now we hear you are focusing on Christian-oriented films. What brought about this cinematic road to Damascus?
Phil, it is really great to visit with you again! As you say, my film background has been in action/adventure movies for many years now. To answer your question, I am still involved with the production of action movies, as I just finished working on a deal between Emmett Furla Films and one of my good friends, Fuminori Hayashida to where we plan to produce three movies per year for five years. I am sure that some of these movies will have a lot of action in them
But that being said, in the last few years especially, I have felt called into a different direction with my film making efforts. This is to say, that as it goes with my personal film making projects, I have a distinct calling to make films that glorify Christ and that share with people, all people how much Jesus Christ loves them and that He died for them so that they may have eternal life through Him. This is now my mission statement as it relates to making movies that I am personally called to create and make as a story teller, if that makes sense?
Amen, brother. Keep it going.
This is why my wife Mindy and I have recently started our own nonprofit filmmaking ministry, Restoration Pictures, which is sponsored by Kingdom Power Studios under The Full Gospel Fellowship, based near Dallas, Texas. Mindy and I want to make movies that make a direct impact on the mass audiences of the world to share God’s love for them through our films and television programs. We are very focused on this effort and plan to go all out making as many as three to four movies per year once we really get going!
Okay, so what type of Christian-oriented films are you planning to create?
Through my very good actor friend and a producing partner of mine, Jody Nolan, I was introduced to Aaron and Chuck Norris last year in Dallas. We have since been working on developing possible faith-based film projects that we can produce together with the Norris brothers.
Mindy and I are currently working on a movie project called “6 Minutes in Hell” with our writing friend, Michael Toay, whom we have known from Los Angeles for more than 10 years now. “6 Minutes in Hell” is a movie that depicts what it is like if a person dies for a few minutes, actually goes to Hell, sees what it is like down there, and then comes back from the dead. This guy, who was not a believer in God at all before he dies, now he can’t get this crazy hellish memory out of his mind! He cannot forget that he actually saw people screaming in agony – no sleep, no light, no air, no peace – forever!
Gee, that sounds like my last day job. But I digress. Please continue.
The smell that this guy encounters while is in Hell is the worst smell he has ever experienced, worst than a thousand sewers all combined – again, no breaks, no peace, just torment. The guy is so troubled that he cannot get rid of these horrible thoughts – he has to get rid of them, but he can’t. Then his wife, who is a believer, suggests that he go with her to Church. Finally, with no other option in his plagued mind, this guy gives into his wife’s suggestion and goes to Church. There, this guy just breaks, literally and gives his life to the Lord. He begs for mercy and forgiveness, anything that will ease his mind from this torment!
Whoa, what a concept. What else is in the works?
These movies will be primarily feature films. We will concentrate on making movies that have a God-centered message, whether that be a comedy, dramatic movie or a Christian Action movie! We will make many different genres, but first up is “6 Minutes in Hell.” This movie could be considered a horror film, since it will scare the Hell out of you!
Okay, three Hail Marys for that bad pun! But, seriously, will you be starring in the films, or working behind the camera?
The plan right now is to make movies more as a producer or story teller and then, if the script itself calls for a part that I am right for, then I would plan to also act in the movies. But at this point, I am primarily interested in producing the movies and seeking actors to be in the movies that are right for the part, if that is me, then great, but if it is someone else, then fine as well. My goal is to bring the best performances for each movie in all areas of each facet of the production.
What is the U.S. market like for Christian-oriented films?
I think that the Christian market for faith-based and/or Christian movies is extremely strong especially right now, but I think that filmmakers have to be very careful and mindful to not spend too much money on their productions with the thought in mind that it will make a ton of money, just because it is a Christian film. There have been many people who have made Christian movies who have lost millions of dollars in the process. From what I understand, in some of these cases, it was more an issue of mismanagement from the production company’s standpoint than a question of whether the market is still strong enough for Christian content.
Then there are those rare exceptions where filmmakers like Alex Kendrick comes along and makes a movie, “Facing The Giants” for $100,000 and it goes on to make almost $30 million back. These type of success stories are far and few between, but they do exist and can happen. We simply want to make movies that are part of this Christian legacy and since Restoration Pictures is set up as a nonprofit organization, we are not concerned about whether or not our films make a profit, we want our movies to be seen by as many people as possible – to get out there to as many different countries as we can get the movies out to and be seen by.
With that being said, we want to make our movies for less than a million each, initially, so that can keep our fundraising time to a minimum and stay in production. Once the movies become known and they are successful, like I believe they will be, we will entertain the notion of entering into larger budgeted productions.
And is there an international market for this genre?
I think that with movies like “The Passion of the Christ” and “The Chronicles of Narnia,” I would believe that there is definitely a strong, stable international market for these movies. If the movie is good, then I think it will be successful, no matter what the genre is.
Why are you working out of Dallas, as opposed to Hollywood?
I love Hollywood and one day I plan to have a home there, and one in Dallas as well. To be candid, that was always my plan even before I moved to Los Angeles originally after I graduated from SMU in 1995. But, a couple of years ago, while my wife and I were still living in Los Angeles, we decided that we wanted to relocate back to Dallas for a time being and reconnect with some of our family here. We also wanted to have a family of our own and this past September 25 we had our little baby girl, Charlotte Elizabeth Thomas, come to be with us!
We also knew that Dallas is a city that tends to support people of faith, perhaps more than the average city, so knowing that we wanted to make Christian films and at the same time, be closer to some family, we made the jump from LA to Big D!
When can we expect to see your new film work?
We are in development right now on “6 Minutes in Hell” and plan to start shooting later this year. We plan to film the movie here in Dallas. Look for this movie to be released in early 2009.