FaithVillage was recently given the chance to attend a pre-screening of the movie Blue Like Jazz. The film is based on the autobiographical book of essays by Donald Miller. The book became something of a phenomenon, spending over forty weeks on The New York Times best-sellers list.
But even with the success of the book, the movie almost didn’t get made. On September 16, 2010, Donald Miller posted on his blog that in spite of having a great cast and script, the movie would have to be put on hold indefinitely due to lack of funding. What followed was one of the biggest Kickstarter campaigns in history, raising $345,992 by October 25, through a website called “Save Blue Like Jazz” and with the help of droves of loyal fans.
Originally, we were going to review the movie, but the filmmakers have asked that there be no reviews until the film is “officially” released. So instead, we have something better, an exclusive interview with director Steve Taylor.
Taylor was at the screening and spoke a few words before the film began. If you think his name sounds familiar it’s because he was a huge Christian music artist in the 80s and early 90s. Now he’s fifty-something and looks cooler than I can ever hope to.
Q&A With The Director
FaithVillage: What was it like collaborating with Donald Miller and how challenging was it to take a series of essays and turn them into a movie?
Steve Taylor: Don is exactly the guy you’d hope he’d be after reading his books. Turning a book into a screenplay is tricky enough without having the author in the room, particularly when you’re fictionalizing large chunks of the author’s real life. But Don really got into it, and the three of us (including co-screenwriter Ben Pearson) had a blast. Nobody finishes reading Blue Like Jazz and thinks, “I can see the movie in my head,” so that removed some of the inevitable pressure that comes when adapting a well-loved book. Our main goal was to bring the spirit of the book to the screen.
A Visual Film
FV: There were so many great visuals in the film. They really moved the story along and at times reminded me of a music video. How does the use of costumes function in the story?
ST: A lot of the ideas came from hanging out at Reed College (in Portland, OR where much of the film takes place) and taking notes, particularly during the Renn Fayre party at the end of the school year. It’s such a bizarre spectacle, and we could never do it complete justice. But our wardrobe designer Amy Patterson tried to emulate as much of it as our minuscule budget allowed, and our background talent was equally inventive, showing up for key scenes dressed to party.
FV: Before the movie began you mentioned that the film earns its’ PG-13 rating. Talk about how mature issues are used in the movie and your response to critics who say it glorifies the “searching/wandering” part of Don’s story.
ST: We began with the assumption that if this was a story worth telling, it was worth telling truthfully, and our audience would expect nothing less. There are people who, for very valid reasons, don’t attend PG-13 movies, and I respect their convictions. This is not a movie for them.
FV: It seemed like the movie desperately wanted to be authentic and genuinely deal with questions of faith. How did you avoid the cheesy religious clichés that have plagued some Christian films in the past?
ST: It’s hard to visualize a spiritual search – it’s almost an oxymoron – so I’m sympathetic with the degree of difficulty involved. We all knew what we didn’t want this movie to be, so we were pretty hard on ourselves in the writing. But that’s only part of the challenge; so much hinges on the acting, and we were blessed with a really strong cast that brought it all to life.
FV: Why was it important to bring out the fact that each character, religious or not, seemed to have echoes of religious experiences from their past?
ST: People seldom accept or reject God based on purely intellectual grounds. I think personal experience has a lot to do with an individual’s perception of Christianity, and since the book deals with similar themes, it felt appropriate.
Blue Like Jazz is coming soon to a theater near you.
Originally posted August 11, 2011