Interview: David Leo Schultz on directing the Rich Mullins Movie (text version)

This is a big couple of weeks in both the Rich Mullins and Rich Mullins movie (Ragamuffin) camps. Last week Rich Mullins got inducted into the Gospel Music Associations' hall of fame (see below for the video) and this Tuesday, May 6 the Ragamuffin film is being released onto DVD and BLU-Ray exclusively at Wal-mart. In light of that (and in light of not being able to find someone to publish it!) I'm releasing a print version of the interview I did with David Leo Schultz, the film's director. My original interview was in podcast form and can be listened to here. You can also read my review of the film here. The interview has been shortened just a bit from the actual recording (you can't imagine how long it takes to type out an interview--oh the tedium!)

Chris Marchand: So the name of the film is Ragamuffin with the subtitle "the true story of Rich Mullins." Am I getting that right?...

David Leo Schultz: That's not really our subtitle but was actually an art mistake. So it kind of got out there and it's not actually what Dave Mullins [Rich Mullins' brother and producer on the film] or myself wanted. And so we've actually retracted that. It was supposed to be "based on the life of Rich Mullins." The thing is Rich Mullins had a large fan base in the "ragamuffin" culture—those of us who like Brennan Manning and The Ragamuffin Gospel, but he also had a whole set of fans who knew nothing about the "ragamuffin" thing. So we needed to find a way to have Rich Mullins' name on the title. The original idea was to take one of his quotes that was in the movie, but for me there was no one quote of his that summed him up. When we did the trailer what we eventually came up with was "his life was a whirlwind, his music was honest, and his faith was reckless." We were trying to hit chords for people who just knew his music and also hit with those who knew that whole "ragamuffin" vibe.

What we've been experiencing, from literally everybody who knew him to fans, is everybody had the Rich that they knew. But Rich had such a vast life—I kid you not, literally every week I meet somebody who tells me "You know, I was one of Rich's best friends," and I think that that was really legitimate. I'm not trying to take away from anybody that says that. What I gather—because again, I didn't know him—but I think he was probably somebody who made you feel that way.

CM: So before we get into the movie give us a little background on yourself—where you came from and how you've built up to this point in your life. Is this your first time directing a film?

DLS: Yeah, [it's] my first time directing. I think when I first got started even some of my close friends were like "Why are you directing a movie?" And often what I've said to people is if somebody was supposed to direct it they would have directed it by now. And I don't mean that in a jerky way—it was something that I felt passionate about. In the special features to Braveheart Mel Gibson—who was originally approached just as an actor for Braveheart—said "But I kept seeing the movie in my head." Now myself I was never looking to make a movie about Rich Mullins but I kept seeing the movie in my head purely out of daydreaming.

CM: So I saw on you IMDB that you tried out for MadTV and that you've done comedy. Is that basically your background?

DLS: Yeah I think it's one of my main passions or dreams. Growing up I just wanted to be on Saturday Night Live. Back then we didn't call it "ministry", we were just kids who loved Jesus and wanted to tell people about him, but I started a comedy Christian drama team and named it "The Color Green." I did it through jr. high, high school, and college, even throwing in some standup routine in there. But I mainly did it as a means to an end because I was primarily passionate about preaching the Gospel and preaching God's love. I met this worship leader one time doing a convention and he asked "What are your dreams and passions?" And that was a hard question for me because my dreams were to be on Saturday Night Live but my passion is Jesus; my passion is to preach the Gospel. And I honestly had been conflicted my whole life--and not in which one is the more righteous path. But I was like "OK, God you've designed me in these ways..." But what's been nice—and I saw this after being on the road with the tour for a week—was actually being able to preach the Gospel again in small doses. So for the first time in a long time I feel like all of my dreams and desires are coming to fruition.

CM: Before we get into the movie itself, tell us how you came to meet David Mullins, Rich's brother but also about how the movie got financed. How does a independent film like this get made?

DLS: As I was day dreaming about what a Rich Mullins movie would look like and as I was doing the Color Green stuff I had a gig at a church in Indianapolis where I found out David Mullins was a pastor. And at the time it was just more of I wanted to meet him and it was an afterthought that I would mention making a movie. The only person who would constantly say you should make a movie about Rich Mullins was one of my best friends Jesse Bryan—who's a great filmmaker—and he would always say when we were struggling artists in L.A., "You should try to get the rights to make a movie about Rich," and I didn't even know what that meant. But I met David, basically through happenstance. We met in a Mexican restaurant and at the time I was dumbstruck and didn't even know what to say, but it's odd to think about that now because when I see or think about Dave I don't even think about Rich anymore.

CM: From what I've seen they have a lot of similarities—especially in their passion—but he's still his own guy.

DLS: Well, because I didn't know Rich I can't really comment but a lot of people say, and I think Rich used to say this too, David was a lot steadier in his faith. and so in some ways Rich actually looked up to Dave.

CM: And so he gave you his blessing?

DLS: Well not then. We had this whole talk and I said I want to make this movie about your brother but I'm sure Rich wouldn't have wanted that and he said "Yeah you're right, but why do you want to make a movie about him?" And I said I didn't know Rich but I was an audience member to his life and God used him to change me, especially when I went through my darkest times and was on the verge of saying to God "If I wasn't so convinced of you I wouldn't want to be a Christian." And this had a lot to do with legalism in the Church and being shipwrecked by people's judgment of me. But guys like Rich Mullins and Brennan Manning stood out and said, hey, wait a minute Christianity can look like this, which I think is what the Gospel is really all about--our righteousness is brought about through what Jesus did for us on the cross.

So I shared all this with Dave and he asked "What would it look like?" And if I hadn't been daydreaming six months before I wouldn't have had anything. That's where you look back and go God's hand was on this thing. That was kind of it, but then he said "Hey, do you want to take a drive with me?" So I dropped anything about the movie and thought "I'm hanging out with Rich Mullins' brother!" But years later, because this whole process has been over four years, Dave said that if I didn't say yes to the drive he wouldn't have let me make the movie. I think knowing Dave more now he was investigating a bit; trying to figure out if this guy was trying to make a buck off my brother's name or is this a real person. Because we were both sitting there looking at each other going, "I don't have any money and you don't have any money and the family doesn't have any money so this is kind of a nice fairy tale."

So to tie it in with the money stuff, I had no money options. I really felt like God, you're going to have to work a miracle here, because I didn't know who to ask.  But basically a few months after I met Dave, I get this random call from a guy I didn't know and he said "I was involved in some of the financing on one of your last films. Do you have any more projects coming down the pipeline?" And I threw out a few ideas in terms of comedies but I also said there's this one thing I'd really like to do—it's more of a dream project. So I pitched it and he really liked it. Then I called up Dave and told him I'd still really like to do the film and do it with sustenance and meaning, even though I'd probably do another stupid comedy one day. And then he told me "Let me talk to the family and I'll get back with you." Sure enough Dave calls me a few weeks later, really calm and collect[ed], "Yeah man, I think we'd like to go forward with it." And that's where I basically had nothing to say: "What—what do you mean?" I was just amazed.

But it wasn't a done deal, as far as the investor goes. He was like "Hey, I'm not handing you money, but I know some potential investors who might be interested."

CM: Now I assume these guys are Christians?

DLS: Yeah, I think every guy who invested was a Christian. There were a few companies who tried to [invest] at some point and those didn't work out. There were some companies who were like, "We'll give you a million dollars if you do this and this," and we just weren't willing to compromise.

CM: On the story itself?

DLS: I don't want to comment too much 'cause I don't want to throw out names or give too many clues, but enough to say it felt like a hijacking situation. And we said, "You know what, we don't need to do a movie. If we're going to do this we really want it to be a God thing; we really want it to happen in its own timing." There were several times when we could have had the pie in the sky, but we thought "we came this far, let's not compromise in any way."

I always wanted the normal life [as an actor]. I just wanted to audition for things and get jobs. And a couple of those things have worked out, but mostly things have worked out where I really had to work my butt off to make it happen.

Once I was hanging out with Brennan Manning when I met him in college. I kind of threw it out to him, "Hey, I'd like to go out on the road with you." It's so silly to think about it now—I actually did the same thing to Rich through a letter that I handed to Mitch McVicker [singer-songwriter and touring partner with Mullins]. It was one of these attempts where, man, I'd love to be a vagabond evangelist like you. With Rich it was like, "I can't do music but I'll be your roadie." And I remember that politely Brennan Manning basically told me to get a job. But what he said is, "If God has given you vision for something you have to work real hard to make that happen." But I feel like with this, you don't just show up and start making a movie. I mean this: it's a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. I remember once where I cut myself really bad on set and I went, "Well there's the blood," because I had already had the sweat and tears many times over.

CM: Some of the questions I have been dying to ask about the film surround some of the details of Mullins' life, such is where is Beaker at [AKA David Strasser, one of Mullins' closest friends, touring partner, and co-writer on numerous Mullins song, most notable "Sometimes by Step"], and who are the record execs in the films because I know those aren't the real names of the actual people that signed him. My guess is that you tried to contact Beaker but he probably said "Eh....no thanks." And you also deal with Mullins' girlfriend. I remember as a kid always wondering why Rich Mullins wasn't married and then later finding out he was with somebody but it didn't work out. But you, you've put this up on screen. Can you give us some insight into how this works because it's touchy when you're dealing with people's lives?

DLS: These are fair questions and if the tables were turned and you were making the movie I'd be asking the same questions. I'll start with this: when I was 9 years old I had a second cousin who was like a dad to me. I was 9 and he was 28 and he committed suicide, and what I always tell people is that if you came to me on a Monday and said "Hey, I'd like to make a movie about your cousin," I would say no. But if you came to me on a Tuesday I might say yes. So, if people were involved or not involved with the film I don't look at it as a good thing or a bad thing but a personal thing.

And so, I have never actually verbally spoken to Beaker, but I reached out a few different times. I exchanged some very friendly Facebook messages with his wife Julie. What I've heard, and I hate speaking about him not knowing him personally, but what I've heard is that after Rich passed away he chose to not be involved in any Rich Mullins project. And I just have to go, whatever people's choices are, good for them, because like with my cousin analogy, it's a personal thing.

Now, when I first started out researching I thought I might have to interview like 50 people, but if I chose not to make the movie until I interviewed everybody, I don't think the movie ever would have gotten made—and I don't think that's an exaggeration. There's just so many people.

We named the romance character in the movie "Jess", because what I learned after starting out was that there was actually more than one "Jess". And as a fan you hear the romantic story from Rich where he says "The woman I love married somebody else". And we kind of learned the same thing about Beaker. But let me say I do think Beaker was his best friend. Sometimes people have asked, "Man, why don't you reach out to Beaker," I just go, "He was the first person I reached out to."

CM: So the character "Justin" in the film who tours with Mullins—is he a composite character?

DLS: Well what I learned is—and it's the same thing with Jess—the friendship character we named "Justin" because there was more than one Justin. There were several other friends at other different times that he was trying to get to come on the road with him. Going in I wanted to do everything as accurate[ly] as possible but at the beginning the script was so erratic and long because we were trying to fit everything and everybody in. So what you quickly realize if you've never made a movie is you have to focus on what is the main story you're telling. And when you look at anyone's life you realize there's not any one story—there's stories upon stories upon stories. And so what we tell people is this isn't the main story [about Rich Mullins] it's one story based off of my eight months to a year of research. And what always stuck out to me was this father/son story. What I felt like was there was this father issue present in all his struggles, that even in all these relationships he's looking for a father. What I saw was that God kept sending him father figures ultimately to point the way to himself.

Now, I'm basically the president of the Nerdy Rich Mullins Fan Club so the last thing I would want to do is leave stuff out or paint him in a false light, but a part of why he is my hero is that he was the dude; he was the one guy in the 80's and 90's, who at least had the largest platform, that was like "Hey everybody, let's be honest that we're sinners. We have brokenness, we have pain, we have struggles." If you go back and just read his lyrics all of it points to this darkness and this struggle. So when people tell me "I'm really sad that you painted Rich this [negative] way," I still watch the movie and go "this is my hero. He's still my hero." Because isn't this the good news of the Gospel: that our righteousness is found in Jesus and the cross?

CM: So do you have any idea of what's next for you?

DLS: Jim Smith, who wrote An Arrow Pointing to Heaven [a biography of Rich Mullins] he wrote a book called Room of Marvels--you should read it because there's a Rich character in there. It's a fictionalization of his life. We're talking about making that into a movie. And then I have the rights to make a movie about Brennan Manning. But I don't know, my technical day job is to write movies even though I haven't done that for a while. We're talking about doing a comedy, Sundancy type pursuit, kind of like Little Miss Sunshine. But you never know because you could honestly spend 6 months working on something and then go "Oh no! This is horrible! Let's start over."

But let me say this, to everybody who's supported us or whatever: all this is is a movie. Some people say "Oh, it's a Christian movie," and I laugh at that because what I've learned from smarter men then me is that products can't be Christian. A movie can't be baptized, or take Communion, or follow Jesus. So for us it's a simple story of God changed my life through Rich Mullins' story and we wanted to give other people that same opportunity for a whole new generation who has no idea who Rich is. This was never supposed to be the end-all be-all. The best part for us is when we hear people go "Who was this guy? I want to go look him up and get into his music." For us that's what it was about. When people say to us "Why did you do this or why didn't you do that?" I go, "Man, I just did the best I could, and if you're mad at me, I get it. And if you're not mad at me, well, maybe you should be!"

Other Links:
PostConsumer Report Podcast interview with David Leo Schultz

Buy Ragamuffin on DVD and BLU-RAY at Walmart

Finally, you can go here to see Michael W. Smith's, Matt Maher's, and Dave Mullins' speeches about Rich Mullins as he was inducted into the GMA Hall of Fame.

1 comment:

Ilya said...

That's not an easy thing to do. Rich was admired by many.