Behind the Scenes Miracles

Behind the Scenes Miracles

Soul-full Movie Behind the Scenes

Healing from Racism and an Amazing Faith Story

Oh, this is a God story for sure. You must read it. A surprise around every corner.


In April of 2009, Randy, a friend of mine, said he had a new photography gig to take production stills for a local independent film production. He was in a precarious position since he had just severely broken his arm and would find it a challenge to handle all of the equipment. So, I asked if he would like some help. I had always had an interest in theatrical work and wanted to be a part of something like this. So he took me along as his “roadie”.

I had no idea what I was in for, but from the beginning of this project it was apparent that there was something in this for me if I would just go along for the ride. So I began carrying camera bags, back-drops and lighting accessories for Randy. I remained quiet and just observed the process. It began with several days of taking pictures of the people who were auditioning for parts in the cast.

The film was primarily built of an African American cast and took place in a lower income, inner city setting referred to in the film as “The Hood.” The plot included a story of a young man who’s life had turned upside down from his dad going missing and his mother’s death. An older white friend of his mom’s became his foster dad. The story builds as he pursues his desire to be a hip-hop artist and gets involved in some pretty challenging dynamics and relationships.

Since they needed an older white man to be a foster dad, Randy was cast in the film as “Big Jack”. He had not acted before but was up for the challenge. The other cast members were also primarily on their first gig with acting and, as a matter of fact, this was the first film for the screen writer and most of the crew as well. So Randy and I were in good company.

After a couple of rehearsals Randy told me that they needed another “white” guy to play his cousin, “Officer Mike”. Since I had always wanted to try  acting, I pondered the opportunity. I was a little timid about stepping right out there to ask for an audition for the role so I waited to respond to Randy’s suggestion.

They had not filled the roll of Officer Mike, so at one rehearsal I offered to read the part. It seemed that was my call to play the role, so I just moved into it without any official communication from the director. I was now, by default, “Officer Mike.”

So, a filming schedule was set and the first scenes were scheduled to be done. Since I was still a “roadie” for Randy I just set aside my time to be present to help in any way I could. None of my scenes were scheduled for the first night of filming so I felt relaxed and ready to observe our first film set.

We arrived at a very seedy place in town where there were lots of condemned properties and some crazy neighborhood activities going on. The scene was an alley with overgrown brush and vacant buildings. As the crew got set up I began to feel very uncomfortable with the surroundings to say the least.

At this time in my life I was beginning to build Grace Rivers Ministry and write a book on relating to the world around us with the gospel in mind. As you might imagine, I had a culture crash that night. Having spent the majority of the previous 25 years of my life segregated away from these types of surroundings this was all quite a challenge.  I might add that the director for the film at the time frequently used very rough language and smoked pot most of the time. He was later dismissed from the film production crew. Since he was the director this added to my level of discomfort as well.

Then I heard something inside me speak quite firmly, “John, if you are so self righteous and uncomfortable here, how will you ever relate to people in this world?”

I thought, “this world is not “G” rated.” Then I was reminded of the scripture where Jesus says:

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. John 17:15-16

My perspectives were completely reoriented right there. As we began to film, the director stopped everyone and said, “We are not taking one more step here until we have prayed together”. I don’t know if I was more shocked at the pot smoking or the request to pray! So, he asked a young lady there to pray. She prayed for the lordship of Christ over the production, the safety of the cast and for Jesus to bless our work. Little did I know at the time how that prayer would be answered. I felt even more confused but trusted that God was hearing my heart and hopefully the heart of those who were there who knew Him.

After filming the first scene the director announced we were going to do a scene that I was in. Oh, my gosh, I was not ready for this. Anxiety entered my heart and I was being asked to step into a role immediately that I had not prepared for. I stumbled through it and I am sure I frustrated the other actor in the scene to no end. What else could I have done? It wasn’t on the shooting schedule. The next day I worked hard at memorization and learning my parts. I didn’t want to go through that again.

The shooting schedule took a turn and we were going to spend the next week or two at the home of the screen writer, Baby Dre. As we entered his home early in the morning it was filled with wonderful aromas; bacon, eggs, muffins, a full breakfast fare had been prepared by Dre. As his wife and children attempted to move around all of our equipment we were greeted by Tina with tremendous grace and a welcoming spirit.

Let me give you another picture to ponder. Dre was not your average suburban husband and dad. He was a very dangerous looking guy. With long hair usually in a pony tail, body piercings, tattoos, a watch larger than my cell phone on his wrist and a full “grill” of metal in his mouth, Dre was another dichotomy of life. He was kind, welcoming, and kind of quiet as long as he wasn’t playing his gruff role as a drug selling icon in the hood. I felt curious and yet confused here too. Who are these people? What is their life really like? What I experienced was surely different than I has invisioned. Each day I found my life to be challenged to sort through my responses to all that I was experiencing.

Someone asked Dre if he went to church at a church near his home. He replied, “No, my wife is a minister at another church but I don’t go there either.” But he was obviously loved by his wife and two kids. This man was a forklift driver, a cake baker, a screen writer, and so many other things that just didn’t fit into a neat little profile that I had built up in my mind.

I learned my lines, became more comfortable with my role and found the process to be very interesting. But, the day came where we were going to be filming at a recording studio. They found one that we could use. Randy and I got all of our stuff together.  It was a Sunday afternoon and we had arrived at an empty office building heading for the basement. We entered a very seedy looking recording studio. The room was filled with smoke, some of it the pot smelling kind, and some really scary dudes working there. So, in we came with lights, cameras and preparation for action. Once again, I was a fish totally out of my own familiar water!

As I sat near the floor, weary of the smoke and questionable characters, I once again questioned what I was doing there. I was reminded of God’s challenge to me to consider the goals! I was to be in the world, but not to be of the world! It was very uncomfortable for me but with that in mind, I reoriented my goals and accepted the challenge in front of me, and the people, with as much grace as I could.  I wondered what they were thinking of me!  Here I was a suburban character who was not only from a different culture, but one of the few white guys anywhere around.  I was surely the odd man out.

The cast and crew we were working with were so friendly and accommodating. Here we were, two white guys from the suburbs coming into this movie set seemingly from out of nowhere. We were clearly the minority not only in color, but in culture and life perspective. But they accepted us completely. They were kind, and didn’t seem the least bit uncomfortable with us.

I began to soften and embrace them too. How could I not? With A warm breakfast fit for the gods, friendly welcomes, and encouraging words to help my lack of acting experience, I started to become endeared to these folks.

As the filming proceeded and the project twisted and turned, I began to experience something no less than miraculous. I believed God was at work deep in my prejudiced heart. He was rooting out racism, judgment, and fear.

Joshua (Trey) and John Smid

Joshua Boucher (Trey) and John Smid

After we were finished with the majority of the filming I was driving around Memphis and I noticed something remarkable. Racially divided to a major degree, black and white racial color is on most people’s minds every day in this city. But this day, something was deeply different for me. As I looked at the black guy in the car next to me or the black woman at the grocery store, or the black student walking home from school, there was something strangely missing from my mind and heart. I was not longer afraid of them. I am not talking about a fear that they are going to shoot me, rather the fear of difference. I had struggled for a long time with not connecting with black people out of a concern that I would offend them, or they would feel racism from my heart. But now, it was GONE! I felt strangly comfortable around people of color.

During a later shoot we were in a public park and two black men rode up on bicycles to watch. I went over to them, fear gone, and started talking with them. We laughed, joked, and felt connected. So much so, that when they left, we hugged! Oh my goodness, this is a real change in my heart. How did that happen?

It happened from me experiencing true human kindness and acceptance in a very challenging situation. It was the love I felt from people that were extremely different from me in color and culture. This wasn’t a polished, programmatic situation, it was doing life with people where we embraced and accepted each other. My heart was deeply changed from my interaction with Dre, his family, and the others in the cast.

When the filming was finished I called Dre and asked him if I could come and see him. So in agreement, I went to his home. I told him about my history in a white washed Christian ministry for so many years. I affirmed his hospitality and kindness, then I told him of my heart change regarding racism. His reply was interesting.

He told me that as he writes screen plays he has an underlying motive to work towards racial reconciliation. He was encouraged to hear my story about the racial healing that was occurring right in front of him in the movie production process. He also told me that my role was a last minute thought. He had not written it into the screenplay on the front end. I was amazed and wondered if God had led this man to write my part so that He could work deeply in my own heart something that needed to change.

Due to some challenging circumstances after filming ended  it seemed that the film had been put away. I questioned whether or not it would ever see the light of day. I just chocked it up to a life experience and was thankful for all that I had learned through it.

But, there’s so much more to the story…..

Randy called me during the summer of 2010 to tell me some awesome news.

He said he had run into Dre and that he looked quite different from the last time we had seen him. His long hair had been cut and he had a new story. He said he had become a born-again Christian! He was going into the door of the offices of the church where his wife is a minister. Well, that was certainly interesting.

So, Randy reconnected with Dre and they arranged to get the film footage and continue the process of completing the film. As they worked feverishly together to edit the film it became clear to Randy that Dre was going through a transformation of faith.

When the editing was close to being finished, they decided to invite a group of young folks from the “hood” to view the film for their feedback. Mind you, the film is a hard story about a young man in the hood who gets wrapped up in drug running and a negative lifestyle. At the end of the presentation, they all applauded with enthusiasm. They loved the film!

During the question and answer review at the end,  one young girl asked Dre what happened to his wig from the film. His reply was, “Well, it wasn’t a wig.” So, he opened up to share how he came to cut his hair after he had given his life to Jesus. The event closed with Dre sharing the gospel with these young kids from the hood.

Who would have ever known that this would happen? A very low budget film created by a bunch of first timers who didn’t have a clue what they were doing, would be something that has already dramatically impacted so many lives, mine included.

Dre and John

Victor "Baby Dre" Chaney and John at the Premier

So, on this November night of 2010, we will go to see the first public premier of “Soul-full”. As I talked with Dre he was outwardly quiet and distracted as was typical fro him but explained that internally he was very excited to see his time and effort come to the big screen.  There was a pretty full theater and lots of interactive commentary throughout the presentation. That was a good sign since the audience seemed to connect with the film.

At the end the cast walked forward and Dre entered the picture.  He shared with the crowd about how he had always had long hair and how it symbolized his old life.  He said he had cut his hair that was tainted with the world he had come from and would grow new hair, fresh with the new life he was engaged in.  Easily speaking of becoming a Christian, the crowd applauded his story and the success of his first film being shown on the big screen.

God uses the simple to confound the wise. The confusion about this movie continues. I was confused about the pot smoking and the opening prayer. I was confused about the loving hospitality from the strong gruff man with the long hair, and now I remain confused about how God saw fit to change my heart though such a strange project.

We just do not fit into any box do we? God is at work through some very strange places in some very strange ways but in the end, He is doing it all for good. Our good.

Who knows what is next! There may be a “God” sequel to this article. I sure hope so.

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6 Responses to “Behind the Scenes Miracles”

  1. John Smid says:

    E-mail response

    I think it was clear that this was speaking to most of the people in the audience, bad language and everything — it was exactly “where they lived” — kind of the same way that “O Brother, Where Art Thou” speaks to white folk from the Rural South. It’s like everyone can look at someone in the film and say, “Yeah, that’s my Daddy, or my Brother, or Sister, or Mother, or Aunty.”

    Well done!

  2. John Smid says:

    E-mail response:

    Great story. Thanks for posting it. It illustrates what I call the “roundabout ways of God.”

  3. John Smid says:

    FaceBook Comment

    “Is there a schedule for the venues yet? Keep us posted! Great article…..I feel blessed in growing up in Atlanta during the late 60-70’s. Could relate to your experiences and so thankful I had that experience before moving on.” JF

  4. Susan says:

    WOW, John! What a journey – for you, for Dre, for the audiences! Thank you for sharing what God is doing in your life. They are mindful lessons for me to consider my points of view!

  5. Mike says:

    Goes to show we have preconceived notions of our journey and discover that we end up in places we did not intend to be. God never “works” tactically the same way…ever.

  6. Randy says:

    Quite an adventure we had and continue to have with the showing of this movie.

    Next showing Dec. 2, 2010. Same Theater: Studio on the Square.
    For tickets to this special presentation,

    For a three minute trailer:

    Come and be a part of this special presentation.

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