Unlikely Beginning, Unexpected Film
This photo is like a tricked-out voodoo mirror! When I see this production still (above) from the set of Small Group the movie, I imagine it as a scene from Back to the Future. As if, in this photo, I’m interacting with a younger version of myself — to be precise, a version of myself from 7 years ago.
In at least one major respect, the journey of Small Group‘s lead character is my own. As a result, I felt honored to be part of this amazing production from director Matt Chastain.
Watch an exclusive clip + bonus features from Small Group the movie, revealing dramatic scenes not advertised on TV.
It’s kinda crazy. On the right side of the frame is the real me, actor(??) Phillip Blume, playing the role of a smug, overly spiritual, totally goofy small group leader. On the left side of the frame is (infinitely more talented) actor Sterling Hurst playing the part of R. Scott Cooper, a documentary filmmaker and the movie’s leading role. As you watch the movie’s plot unfold, you’ll see Cooper travel to Guatemala and document an inspirational organization that serves children in one of the world’s most violent slums.
That non-profit organization — both in the movie and in real life — is Engadi Ministries Intl. (Keep that name in the back of your brain for a minute!)
In real life, I’m not a professional actor. I’m just a photographer and small-time filmmaker. But in 2011, my wife and I actually did travel to Guatemala and created our very first documentary film, telling the story of Engadi Ministries’ amazing work in the Zone 18 slums. Our low-budget documentary was called Lost Boys of Paradise, and the process of creating it started me on the crazy journey that led to becoming part of Small Group, this acclaimed new feature film you have to see!
Small Group hits screens across the SouthEast first, beginning Friday, Oct. 19. Special releases across the USA continue this winter 2018-2019. Click to buy your tickets now!
Now it wouldn’t be accurate to call Small Group a bio-pic. This entirely fictional, off-the-wall funny, original script is not the story of my life. It’s the brainchild of talented screenwriter and director Matt Chastain.
Watch the theatrical trailer
In 2011, long before I knew Matt, he happened to see a screening of our Lost Boys of Paradise film. That initial connection was a small miracle in itself, because our amateur documentary had no big theatrical release. We only showed our film at churches, universities, and a couple film festivals — wherever we could get in to raise awareness about the kids in Zone 18, Guatemala. Though we never hit the “big time” back then, our effort did help share those kids’ stories in over 30 U.S. states and began to impact the lives of the children we cared about!
In making Lost Boys, we learned that anyone — even those of us who feel superbly under-qualified — can learn to make a positive impact on the world. We just have to be bold. Take action. Trade our selfies for something self-less! Then let the chips fall where they may.
It was the story of Engadi’s mission, not our amateur documentary, that inspired change. And it struck a chord with Matt!
For one thing, Matt immediatley recognized the primary subject of our film, Engadi founder and Guatemalan-born missionary Nathan Hardeman. Of all things, Matt and Nathan had joined the same church small group together years ago, when Nathan briefly moved to the U.S. and attended the University of Georgia.
In 2014, Matt completed his first draft of the script for Small Group. According to Producer Christos Hines, “it was excellent!” So excellent, in fact, that within just four months of developing the final script alongside Producer Dale Wheatley, they were able to raise over $1 million from investors to begin production of the movie.
In Matt’s experience, a church “small group” is an environment ripe for great storytelling. Inside these intimate groups of people outside the formal church walls, emotions get raw, humor gets edgier, and people become authentic.
Above all, Matt didn’t want to create a stereotypical “cheesy” faith-based film. He wanted to make an honest film. A film for everyone.
Matt fled from the pressure to hire “known” Christian actors (like Kirk Cameron or others), who are generally believed to make faith-based films more “marketable.” Instead he built a cast and crew based on talent suitable to the story, regardless of their portfolio within the faith-based genre.
You may recognize lead female Emily Dunlop from her appearance in YouTube Originals’ Cobra Kai and other productions. Actor Nelson Bonilla, who plays the director of Engadi (real-life Nathan Hardeman’s role), is from Ozark and upcoming Oscar-promising First Man. Our lighting tech did great work with Tom Hanks on Sully, and the set designer did American Made with Tom Cruise among other films.
See the full cast and crew on IMDb.
To raise the stakes even higher, Matt didn’t write a script with Christian characters as the lead roles. In fact, R. Scott Cooper’s original mission is to infiltrate the church and create an undercover documentary that reveals the dark underbelly of evangelical Christian culture in America. In some respects he even succeeds, in so far as Small Group doesn’t pull many punches when addressing the modern Church’s shortcomings.
As one critic wrote, “It’s one of the most complex Christian films I’ve ever seen. Small Group balances hilarious true insights into Christian subculture with an intense reflection on the human condition, including suffering and forgiveness. If you’ve ever been in a small group, you’ll see yourself and your friends — the good, the bad, and the funny — in Matt’s ridiculously beautiful film.”
In short, believing and non-believing characters alike in the film are portrayed.. well, believably! They all have redeeming attributes, human failings, and noble aspirations.
So… Small Group is a movie within a movie. It’s not “our” movie, and it’s definitely not our 2011 documentary. It’s a new 2018 Hollywood-style film that hits theaters Friday, Oct. 19, whose plot follows a fictional filmmaker who turns his camera on our real non-profit partner Engadi Ministries. (Is that about as clear as mud?!)
Anyway, we couldn’t be prouder of Small Group — both as cinematographers (we filmed some footage for the Guatemala portion the movie) and as an “actor” in my big screen debut.
We’re especially excited Small Group gives you a close-up look at work we’re doing now in Guatemala’s most violent slums. Yeah, bring some tissues to get you through that part of the film.
Your ticket will help change lives! The better Small Group does in theaters, the more its ticket proceeds will also help Engadi serve children surviving amid gang violence, thanks to generous donations from producers. So take your small group to see Small Group!