Genre, as it relates to movies and art, can be a weird thing. Films crisscross the borders of genres as often as pedestrians at a big city crosswalk, while devotees of a particular genre will often passionately argue the merits of their genre film of choice; or recite a litany of reasons why such and such title cannot be a part of their favorite genre. Either way, these hardcore genre buffs can be horribly dogmatic in their judgments.

I. "Inspirational Cinema", Mike Pence, Pete Buttigieg.

The recent evolution of film genre – and innovations in film as a whole which very much effect genre, like streaming – can be seen by examining a genre that is growing all over Hollywood, from indie studios to the big players: so-called "inspirational", faith-based cinema. Think movies like 2008's Fireproof (which grossed $33.45 million on a estimated budget of $500,000), 2014's God's Not Dead (which grossed $60.75 million on an estimated budget of $2 million), and 2018's I Can Only Imagine (which grossed $83.48 million on an $7 million production budget).  

This "inspirational" cinema is growing, whether Hollywood wants it to or not: yet, many have cast their lots with the genre in part because of their B Movie costs and the proven box office returns of the genre so far. The associated message with these films is (usually) "evangelical", "Christian" content and the attendant beliefs that most people believe come with that; some of which are paradoxically anti-Christian, getting far away from what Jesus actually said in the Gospels regarding subjects like homosexuality (the answer, by the way: nothing; Jesus said nothing on homosexuality). This also says nothing of the muddled quality of many faith-based movies – another hurtle the genre will need to surmount.

This has been in the news with hyper-religious (and hyper-conservative) leaders like Vice President Mike Pence, with his long history of homophobic sentiment and support of junk science like conversion therapy. The gay mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Afghanistan War veteran (Navy), and Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg has challenged Pence publicly on his anti-gay beliefs.

No doubt this will intensify as we get closer to the 2020 Election: yay for mud-slinging! (kidding: fuck politics).

II. It Doesn't Have To Be This Way.

There can be no doubt of the homophobia present in some popular strands of Christianity in the United States right now. So, if you are new to the "inspirational" movie market, you would be forgiven for thinking that those beliefs might bleed over into their movies in one form or another.  

Even as millennials flock from churches and evangelicalism in record numbers, the churches cling to their old beliefs, dogmas, and theologies on issues of personal morality like homosexuality, and sometimes give their members license to treat horribly (looking at you Westboro Baptist Church!) and judge anyone who may be gay.

It does not have to be this way – in the realm of theology or movies. There are more moderate and left-leaning Christians who believe in the Golden Rule, social justice, and living our faith by loving our neighbor as our self and never judging them; essentially, trying one's best to follow Christ and his essence (love) above all.  All are welcome at these churches. Gay, straight, trans-gender, immigrant – there is a place for you.

I firmly believe these types of Christians vastly outnumber the others: they just aren't as loud in the public sphere as the religious right.

Kevin O'Brien. Source: IMDb

III. At the End of the Day.

It is exactly this message of love that filmmaker Kevin O'Brien's dramedy At the End of the Day chronicles.

Stephen Shane Martin (Sleepy Hollow) plays a conservative, Christian professor who experiences a profound change when he finds himself planted in a gay support group to stop their plans to open an LGBTQ youth shelter in their small town.

The film really dissects the current station of young people in the church as they struggle with these very personal issues and with a hierarchy that is against them if they admit they are thinking and feeling these things. This should make us all ask, what have we done today to live the Golden Rule and help our neighbors who may be suffering in silence? Even just asking, how are you? For Christians: what have you done today to walk a little closer with Christ and live the greatest commandment of loving your neighbor?

Intense, clever, sharp and beautiful, At the End of the Day is one of a rare breed of films that will cause you to question yourself in all the right ways: to grow as a person after watching. O'Brien hits us with the two by four of the sad truth of what's happening to LGBTQ kids in these churches and then deftly walks us from a place of being unconscious in regards to the problems his film explores, to wake up in a new, slightly more enlightened, consciousness, that we may make the world a bit better by loving our neighbor as our self. Not many films can lay claim to that kind of incredible process and sublime experience for the viewer that becomes real change in the outside world.

The film is also proof that it isn't just one breed of Christianity that controls these "inspirational" films. More nuanced inspirational films like At the End of the Day will become a thing as long as good people support them. We can have a voice that is not drowned out by the hateful rhetoric of the religious right. Truth, love, and good will are powerful things: they will not be silenced as long as we fight for them.

At the End of the Day also stars Danielle Sagona (Graceland), Tom Nowicki (Bloodline), Chris Cavalier (Pharmboy) and Susan Mulholland. Catch it On Demand now and enjoy the interview with Kevin below.

IV. Kevin's History.

Hi Kevin! Getting right into it, I was wondering if we could get an idea of your history with film. What led you on this path of endeavor?

Well, I found filmmaking a little bit later in life, not until I was late 20s, early 30s, when I was a creative director at a church. I mean earlier than that, growing up, I always loved film, I loved movies. But the way I grew up in the place I grew up, I wasn't even aware that filmmaking as a career option was an option. Movies were kind of this magical thing that appeared, that happened in this far out land.

So it wasn't until I was on staff at a church as a creative director and we would do some original shorts every so often, original short film pieces, and I discovered that I loved filmmaking. The entire process, I love the writing of it, the story of it, and the response, the way that it could move people to reconsider, sometimes to just enjoy and smile and laugh and sometimes to reconsider big things about their life.

As a part of that, I started a production company where we would create short films, and we have an online library where speakers and communicators would use our videos before they speak and kind of center their audience's attention and imagination. Once I got into that, I knew that I would eventually want to make a feature film, and was just kind of waiting or searching for the right thing that... I didn't feel like I had a story that deserved a full hour and a half, two hours worth of someone's time until I started to have a kind of faith shift and a evolution of re-examining my own beliefs. Part of that was the way that the church has reacted to and dealt with the LGBTQ community for a very long time.

Once my eyes were open to that a little bit and I realized that the church really needed to work on this and that there was some things that I could say that I think my voice could lend itself to. Yeah, that's when I knew that this was a thing I could do, and this was what my first feature would be about.

Stephen Shane Martin as Dave Hopper in this still from AT THE END OF THE DAY (2018).

V. Evangelicals and Exvangelicals: Winning Hearts and Minds.

Yeah. That's great, and that actually answers the next question I had which was what was the initial inspiration to the film? And I get and I totally agree with the film's ultimate message of "God is love". I'm curious though: what do you say to people who maybe still cling to those old ideas despite the power of At the End of the Day?

… I really haven't had a reaction like that yet. I'm looking forward to hearing responses… If they have come to screenings and they haven't agreed with it, they haven't spoken to me about it. So, not sure about that.

I know in the process, we had some test screenings and we had some table reads of the script and some people... And I tried intentionally to gather a diverse group of people of different faith backgrounds and politics, and I had a few responses. You know, it's funny, some people would say we're balanced and made all the characters honest and realistic, and some people would think that we went a little too far with specific characters, regarding the more conservative characters, and that they didn't feel like they had a character they could connect with as a more conservative theological person but holding a state of love for the LGBTQ community. I mean I would personally hope that they connected with Dave, with the lead character in the film. That's kind of who he starts out as. He starts out as thinking this response of this way of seeing the world and counseling youth and parents is the loving approach. And he kind of, you know, learns a different perspective there.

If someone watches the film and says, "You didn't give my point of view a fair shake or I don't agree with where things landed," I think I would just ask them some more questions about how they respond to these kids who are rejected and who have faced religious rejection and how that makes ... you know, in their conversations with those relationships, how they work through those things. I know everyone experience is different, but over and over again so many of the situations and story lines from the film, while they are fictionalized in the film, are heavily inspired by real-world situations that have happened with friends and family that our filmmaking community knows. I don't know if that answers your question or not.

Oh, yeah, that definitely does. Just to let you know kind of where I'm coming from, I consider myself a liberal Old Catholic, that's my background, and how I was raised (n a half Catholic/half Lutheran home). But, aside from theology,  I thought the movie was interesting for another reason. It definitely qualifies as, for lack of a better term, an inspirational movie. Yet, as we were talking about, it questions certain accepted things about the Bible.

VI. Not Afraid to Go There: Questioning the Orthodoxy.

And I would argue it's also a little bit more, I guess you could say racy. I was kind of looking for the correct adjectives as I was putting this question together. But like the ending of the opening sequence, which I thought was brilliant with that fast cut as the woman is speaking. But I was wondering, do you see a space for this kind of more nuanced type of inspirational film in the larger sector of these films that seem to be gaining steam in Hollywood right now?

Well I certainly hope so. I think there's a big desire for this kind of movie that deals with faith but also is not afraid to go certain places. I know that's the kind of movie that I am drawn to and that I would like to see, and that's why I made the movie like this. I know there's a large portion of people who have faith but are not fans of what the faith-based genre is and has become because of criticisms of being overly soft or not dealing with real issues, or having things be too simple or clear-cut.

I mean I certainly hope that there is. I know that the larger industry, I think, does not quite know what to do with this sort of film yet, but I know that there is a market of ... a large group of LGBTQ Christians or people of faith who have really enjoyed this film at the festivals. We've won Audience Choice Award at LGBT Film Festival in Tampa, and we are the first runner-up for the same award in Atlanta LGBT Film Festival. So they've definitely responded to it.

And then there's a large group of people who kind of consider themselves exvangelical who grew up in this Evangelical movement and power structure and still are looking for some sort of faith that they can call their own but do not want to be a part of the political power or the ways that the Evangelical movement has done, has kind of absorbed power and ignored people over what they consider truth. So yeah, certainly I think there is an audience for it. It's a little bit harder to find, and I'm excited for ... I think it's definitely a word-of-mouth sort of thing of finding the right audience, but I know they're out there because I know them and I am one of them, and I know there's a lot more of us out there.

That's fantastic.

Well I'm hoping that we are able to get... So we know we're self-distributing here in the States, but we have film agents working on other territories, so I'm really looking forward to the U.K. as a pretty big market 'cause I know this is a big conversation that's happening there as well.

VII. Challenges.

Most definitely. Getting into the next question that I had, what were the challenges like?

Well my first challenge was in the writing. You know, I'm a straight cis-gender white guy, so it was very important to me for these characters ... The biggest challenge right away was writing gay characters that felt authentic to the LGBTQ community, and just making something that kind of moves people ... you know, writing a story that moves people but also makes sense and has specific moments along that I really felt for the story.

So yeah, that was the first one. And then I felt every step of the way there's always a new challenge where you try to do things by the book, whether it's fundraising or getting investors or casting or shooting, every step of the way there are certain ways that there's some sort of industry standard, and usually those things don't work specifically for indie films, so you have to try those three ways, and once those don't work, you have to find your own way.

So, certainly fundraising was one of those where we ended up not finding any investors and we had to raise all the money through Crowdfunding and donations and our money to finish the movie.

Interesting.

The easiest part of the whole thing was the actual production, was shooting it. We weren't able to find investors to support financially, but we had incredible support of our community here in Lakeland, where we filmed it, for donating locations and donating their time and donating food, and picking people up from airports. It was an incredible community that rallied around us, so much so that when we had the local premiere here last May, we had 700 people in this theater, the Polk County Theater, and they loved the film. That was an incredibly magical night.

Cool.

Yeah, that was the most strenuous and exhausting but also incredible time was actually shooting it. And then the post-production, or the distribution, is an interesting challenge itself. We didn't have any recognizable names necessarily in our film. We did my first feature film so I didn't have any specific connections, considering it's a large festival, so we had to kind of make our own way, find our own audience, do our own networking to make as big of an impact as we can when we self-distribute it and get it on iTunes and Amazon and Google Play.

Well that's fantastic, especially with those numbers at the premiere.

Yeah, it was a beautiful night, amazing. I don't think I'll match that kind of night ever again, it was awesome.

Stephen Shane Martin as Dave Hopper in this still from AT THE END OF THE DAY (2018).

VIII. Heavy Moments: The Zebra Center.

Any funny or memorable moments that stick out from that process of filming?

Yeah, some fun moments were the house that we filmed for Aunt Patty's house belongs to this fantastic gay couple, they've lived there for 20 years or so. And so we were filming one of the scenes in Aunt Patty's bed on Valentine's Day… and  he snapped a picture and said, "You'd never think you'd see a woman in my bed on Valentine's Day." That was fun. I mean some other memorable... The most memorable, not from a funny standpoint, but from an emotional standpoint, was when the day that we filmed at the Zebra Coalition, which is an LGBT Youth Shelter in Orlando, that's an actual resource center that inspired a lot of the movie.

Cool.

And part of the story takes the lead characters to that real-world location, and we were lucky enough to have four of the youth that attend there and are served by the Zebra Coalition to tell us their real stories, and we were able to include those in the movie. We didn't know what they were gonna say, what their specific stories were, or necessarily how they would line up with the narrative, we didn't know if they would ... We were hoping that they would have these real stories, would have something to do with religion or have some sort of faith component, and as each of them spoke, we were just blown away, and I was the only one in the room with the person, everyone else was around the corner to give as much privacy as we could, and I was bawling the entire time.

These stories were so intimate and powerful and heartbreaking, and also this crazy resilience that these youth had. So that was definitely the most memorable moment. And it was really cool that when we... One of the film festivals we did was the Orlando Film Festival, and so the youth were able to come to that screening, we were able to see them again that night after a year and a half later to see how their transitions had continued and how confident they were in themselves was a really magical, magical thing.

Yeah. I was just thinking about that part in the film as you were talking about that, where they're at the Zebra Center.

Yeah, it's one of my favorite moments. And it's funny 'cause, you know, that's their real stories, so it's the part I didn't write, but it's one of my favorite moments for sure.

Definitely powerful. And getting into a question I like to ask everybody, what films and directors would you consider most influential on you as a filmmaker?

The first movie I ever saw that I knew something bigger was going on than just an entertaining movie, you know, that I think like really moved me was Glory. And while that was an incredibly violent, and I probably watched it too young, an incredibly violent and horrific story that happened, but it was also one of hope and resilience and courage. And so that movie always sticks out to me as a defining moment for me that I knew, that I kinda started understanding the power of film. And, you know, a powerful story with incredible performance and amazing score behind it, all of that. That's always one that sticks out to me.

That is a great film.

One of my favorite directors is M. Night Shyamalan and definitely some of his early stuff, I just remember being so enthralled with the way he was able to lead you in one direction with the story and kind of flip it around and have it be a very fulfilling story at the end. So some of his early stuff was really inspiring to me.

And then one of my ... I mean more recent film that I just absolutely love and I feel like is very underrated is Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium. Completely different kind of movie, but that movie, like the magic and the way that that movie deals with things like grief and death and sadness, I just find incredibly inspiring as a goal to be able to do something, to take a topic like that and make it into this magical thing that appears to be just a lighthearted kids movie, but hits you with so much wisdom and so much truth. Yeah, that's one of my favorites for sure.

IX. What Makes a Great Film?

Absolutely. And one other question that is kind of a big question, too, that I like to ask people. What makes a great film?

Oh wow. ... That is a tough question.

Yeah, it certainly is.

I feel ... Yeah, let me have a second here-

Sure.

To figure out how to say that. ... So I don't think that a great movie has to ... Like in order for a movie to be great, I don't think it has to be this incredibly moving drama. I don't think it needs to be, you know, of life or death stakes. I think it does need to move people in some way, but that's not ... I feel like a lot of times people, when you think of moving you, it's thinking of like tears or emotions, that sort of thing. But I feel like great movies move you in one way or another, whether it is joy or laughter, or sorrow, or despair, or hope. Whatever that is that as you're watching it, you forget that you're watching a movie, and you become a part of the story.

I mean that's, I guess, how I would answer it, and I hope that I'm able to make films like that throughout my life and into the future. But I think that's where it is, when you're able to be absorbed into the film. So a part of it is crafting a strong story, but then another part of it is getting rid of as many distractions as possible so that people don't remember that it's a movie. Like there are certain things that can happen that remind you that you're watching a movie, so trying to get rid of as many of those distractions of things that don't work as possible.

That's a great point. That's something that it's always important for me too, is am I able to properly suspend my disbelief when I watch it.

Yeah, and sometimes it's in crazy ways that you can do that. Sometimes it's, you know ... I mean when you're watching Avatar, somehow you're able to go along on this ride that these people ... Like you don't ... That, you know, when you're able to ... When the questions don't matter ... Or like you're so enthralled in the story that you don't necessarily think of how ... some of the questions that you should be thinking or some of what people might be considering plot holes, like how technology works or how this whole system is working together, but you're just in the story. And you know, it's certainly different for every person, different for every genre, all of that.

X. What's Next?

Oh yeah, most definitely. And getting into our final question, what's next for you?

I've got two ideas I'm working on right now. One is involving immigration, migrant working families and some of the dynamics of that and the complications, and kind of humanizing that whole issue. The other one is that the other thing that's really intriguing me and got me curious right now is a bit about missionary work, some of the ways that the Evangelical Mission Machine has, whether intentionally or not intentionally, kind of disrupted the way the world works. Yeah, there's a whole lot. That, I feel like, I would love to do a whole series, not just a movie, on that. But I don't think I'm at the point where I can do series quite yet. But yeah, those two things are where my mind is at, that's what I'm working on right now.

Follow At the End of the Day on Twitter and like the movie on Facebook. Check out the associated podcast as well by heading here.

Follow the Zebra Coalition on Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram, and like them on Facebook. Donate here to help the Coalition help the LGBTQ youth who are facing homelessness, bullying, isolation from their families, and physical, sexual and drug abuse with individualized programs to guide them to recovery and stability.