Saving "Blue Like Jazz: The Movie"

My affection for the book, Blue Like Jazz continues to grow. Part of this comes from the desire to continue learning what it means to be a follower of Jesus. I could not have loved this book back when I felt I had nothing really left to learn. But now that I have grown a little older and seen the dark underbelly of ministry (which looks a lot like the dark underbelly of every other vocation) in our culture, well, the stories in Don’s books are helpful. This is a great book for the disgruntled but hopeful.

A few month’s ago I wrote this on my blog about Don Miller and his book, Blue Like Jazz. Because of how much I have enjoyed and benefitted from the book and Don’s blog, yesterday I decided to give $10 to help support the production of this film. I’m an old fan of Steve Taylor and a new fan of Don Miller, so I’m glad to be a part of this. If you would like to donate, it is really easy. Just go here.

From Don Miller’s blog:

Four years ago, Steve Taylor, Ben Pearson and I sat down to write a movie. Steve and Ben flew out to Portland and we spent hours in my living room, plotting out a story on a white board. It was the most exhilarating writing experience I’d had yet. We threw ideas around the room and entertained each other as we added to the story. And we laughed. We laughed so hard we fell out of our chairs. There were also somber times, when we realized one of our principal characters had been abused, and we had to bring it out in the story. There were times when we literally cried as we wrote a scene. It’s a very strange thing to talk about, but sometimes fictional characters become real, and it’s a trick in the mind that you love them as though they were your friends.

We knew we had something special. We hoped we had a story that could change everything, that could, as David Dark says, increase the talkability of the issues the average American evangelical deal with. We knew we had a good story.

We wrapped up the screenplay and began raising funds. But this was right at the beginning of the recession, and nobody was investing in movies. We’d hear somebody was interested, and then they’d back out. People would promise us they’d invest on a specific day, sometimes the next week, and something would change at the last minute. It was a difficult time for all of us.

Imagine writing a song that nobody would be allowed to listen to. Or a book nobody would be allowed to read. Imagine discovering a great piece of music, but you could only listen to it when you were alone, and you’d never be allowed to share it. Imagine creating a piece of art in your mind, but not being able to afford a canvass on which to paint.

Art becomes even more beautiful to it’s creator when they share it with others. It’s like God, as He goes to prepare a place for us. Creation is best when it’s purpose is to move somebody else, to love somebody else, to enlighten somebody else.

The time came to call it quits. After two years, and having written a book about writing the screenplay (all the time thinking the book would come out with the movie) we had to face the truth. The movie was dead. So on September 16th, I wrote a blog stating we would not be filming Blue Like Jazz.

What you don’t know is just before I wrote the blog, Steve Taylor and I had a long conversation in which we talked about the fundraising effort. We talked about how much heart we’d put into the film, and even how much heart I’d put into the book, but the fundraising story wasn’t nearly as magical. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I told Steve we needed a good fundraising story, something as meaningful as the story itself, something that invited people to be part of the story. And that’s what happened. The only catch was, Steve and I didn’t have anything to do with it. What happened next played out like a miracle.

My friend Randy Williams called and said he had a couple friends in Nashville who had an idea. His friends were Jonathan Frazier and Zach Prichard. Their idea was to crowd source the movie. We needed hundreds of thousands of dollars, and we honestly didn’t believe we’d get anything close. We set a low goal at $125k, but we only did this to be realistic. We had another investor, so technically, we could get a very low-budget movie done with that money, but we certainly needed more.

Ten days later, the movie was alive. When Kickstarter topped $125k, we were shell shocked. Steve immediately ramped up production, and every day, as the kickstarter campaign grew, he was able to afford a better camera, or better set design. Production companies heard about the campaign and offered their services at a discount. Locations began to offer their building for free. Each of the three writers waved our compensation. And as the total continued to rise, we sent offers to more and more talented actors. Amazingly, after being pronounced dead, the movie was alive and well, and even making the news.

The hero of this story is you.

But what you did was more than save a movie. You made history. This is the first American film to be crowd sourced. It certainly won’t be the last, but it will always be the first. How cool is it that all 3271 of us (on the final morning) are the first people to ever do something in all of American history? Blue Like Jazz will always be remembered as the first major release American movie that was crowd sourced.

If you’ve not yet joined us, please do. There won’t be another chance after midnight tonight.

WE are making a movie. WE have already made history. WE are telling the world a better story.

Today you are giving to us. Tomorrow we will start giving back.

Forever grateful,

Donald Miller

Going ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ on ‘Blue Like Jazz’

Update: Don actually contacted me through Twitter and thanked me for the post. He was very gracious, which is not surprising. My goal was not to have contact with him but to truly apologize to him and get a little closure on something which had haunted me. His kind reply did the trick, for which I am thankful.

(The following should be read in light of yesterday’s post…)

“Crap, I’m going to have to apologize to him. Publicly.”

My particular sin of choice is to be wrong, know it and then not want to admit it. Call it insecurity. Call it self-protection. I am not sure what it is besides that ancient fortress of the human soul, pride. I hate everything about it. Well, not everything. There is that liberating moment of admitting when I admit I am wrong. You know, when you finally say it out loud. Wait. That feels pretty good and really awful…in a John Cougar “Hurts So Good” kinda way.

All the young people I had discipled in youth ministry were reading Don Miller’s Blue Like Jazz. Them and their parents. Their Dentists and their Hair-Stylists. And everyone for that matter. I could not go anywhere without hearing about this book. This could not be good. Because he was not endorsed by those I read the most, is how I knew, thank you very much. So I decided I did not like this book long before I even set my eyes on a physical copy.

The first time I saw a copy, I was spending some of my book budget on Bob Dylan’s Chronicles, Vol. 1. As I walked up to the cash register at the small independent bookstore in the small Mississippi town in which I lived, there it sat.  It sat there in all it’s best-selling non-Reformed, wishy-washy theological glory. Without a doubt, it’s proximity to the cash register would cause unsuspecting shoppers temptation to spontaneously buy such claptrap.

So I bought it.

Why did I buy a book I had already gone “Green Eggs and Ham” on?  I couldn’t very well write a negative review of a book I had not read. So I had to read it. And then put it on my “bad book” shelf. I can actually remember the guy who sold it to me, asking me if I had read it yet, and though my answer was “no,” I wanted to make sure he knew I was not interested in how much he liked it. I was also mad because I loved the cover and the title. But Hell’s Bells, Brian McLaren defaced the back cover with his recommendation. How could I, for the love?

So I read it, having already decided to hate it. Green eggs and ham, man. Green eggs and freaking ham. But deep down, even as read it and found reasons to not like it, a seed took root. I could not ignore how well-written it was. There was so much to like. Full of humor and honesty and great sentences, I read it quickly. If I had been fully honest, I would have admitted how wrong I was. But I decided to blog on it, anyway.

Sadly, I do not remember everything I said. More sadly, the internet and the ‘2nd most popular blog among Christians’ do remember the salient points. Go ahead. Take a look…. Hopefully everyone thinks that Matt Redmond is the worship leader.

Humility-coated arrogance wants me to think it does not matter. He probably has not seen it and even if he did, he would not care. But the fact is I committed a grave error doing what I did. And the error/sin is no less real even if no one ever saw what I thoughtlessly wrote. I not only prejudged him and his book, I also reviewed it for anyone and everyone to see after doing so. What is worse is that I never acknowledged the seed. Deep down I knew it was a good book and have known so after years of thinking about what he wrote. I have grown to like it a lot over the years though it was just 2 days ago I picked it up to read again.

The only way Don Miller would know I exist is most likely by reading that post. But here it goes anyway…

“Don, I am sorry. For all the reasons above, I apologize. Please forgive me.”

There. Now I feel better. In a John Cougar sort of way.