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An Interview with Vic Armstrong & Paul LaLonde

The movie Left Behind is based on the bestselling serries by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins.  The story is inspired by the biblical rapture and has sold more than 65 million copies.

Cast and crew recently sat down and answered some Left Behind questions. Here's what director Vic Armstrong and producer/co-writer Paul LaLonde shared with INFLUX Magazine.

INFLUX Magazine: How did this all come to fruition?

Paul LaLondeThe first thing I’ll say is that Left Behind has been a dream of mine to make this movie for probably 20 years.  It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, which is the big theatrical release of the story of the day of the Rapture. I’ve had the pleasure of making eight movies so far in my producing career. All of them have been based on various elements of Bible prophecy. We did do three LEFT BEHIND movies back about 10 years ago now, but those were very limited budget, straight-to-DVD movies. And what had happened was we had the first book in the LEFT BEHIND series, which is really quite an enormous book and we tried to do the whole book in one movie.

And, it really didn’t do justice to, especially the rapture, but also to the whole book, because there was no time to get to know the characters and no time to really appreciate the enormity of the event. So, that’s why I’ve always wanted to make this movie where we could just focus on that one day. Basically, the movie is based on 25 pages of the first Left Behind book. So it’s really a remake of about 3 minutes of the first LEFT BEHIND movie. It’s a whole different thing, but we wanted to keep it focused, we wanted to spend time getting to know the characters, and of course we wanted to bring A-list talent to the project, which we have done. So, the first step in all of it was going out and finding the right director who we thought could really bring this thing to life and that’s what led us to Vic Armstrong. Obviously we were extremely excited when Vic read the script and liked it, and agreed to direct the movie. So that was a very big deal to me. I’ve been aware of Vic and his work for many years.

And, you know if you go on IMDb and look up Vic Armstrong (www.imdb.com/name/nm0002184/) you’ll think he’s faking his resume. He’s been part of some of the biggest movies that there are. And it’s just unbelievable, it’s just, you know, movie after movie after movie and you’re thinking, ‘Wow!’ I was actually a little intimidated when I met him the first time, but he’s a great guy and a great addition to the movie. He’s exactly what the movie needed and he didn’t disappoint me. So that’s my intro to Vic.

Vic Armstrong: Thank you very much. The check’s in the post, Paul. Thank you. (laughing) I was absolutely thrilled when I read this script. I read 3 or 4 scripts a week when I’m not working and I guess, as you know, my background is pretty heavily action-oriented. And, I have to tell stories with visual action. To read this script and see how character-driven it was and what a fabulous story-line it had was a thrill to me.

When I first met Paul LaLonde, he came around the house and the first thing I said to him was, ‘well I’ll tell you what, I love the script so much I can’t see a word in it I’d like to change.’ And normally on a script, you take them, you’d break them down, you’d take this out, you’d throw this away and put this into it. But this had everything you see on the screen written in that original script. I was blown away by this fact. Funny-enough, during the process, we thought ‘well maybe we won’t have enough time to shoot it all and what could we lose if we lose anything’ and we’d take some little part out, immediately putting it back in because it just upset the flow of the whole movie. So, I was thrilled to have such a great script to start with and to be able to show my talents as a director.

The next step was, of course, getting the great cast together and a crew. As Paul said, we’ve got an A-list cast. Every single one of them gave a sterling performance and I’m so excited for all of them. Every time I look at it, I’m so ecstatic about how they translated their parts into the storytelling. It’s not only the cast - you need a good crew to make a movie and I got Jack Green, one of the greatest cinematographers there’s been in the last few years. He’s done all the Clint Eastwood stuff, - he was nominated for Unforgiven. I only see things big in film worlds, in film visions, and I wanted to shoot this wide-screen and Jack was my man and was on-board with that.

We covered everything so easily, it just seemed no problem, wherever we put the camera down was a wonderful frame and we didn’t go in for all the crazy tight close-ups and things. We shot it to give the characters breathing-space and we shot it with enough time for them to establish their characters and tell their stories. We had a wonderful production designer, in Stephen Altman, Robert Altman’s son, who did fabulous work on it. So, for me it was a labor of love. It’s been absolutely phenomenal - even when we got to the locations, everywhere we turned. The house we found for "Chloe’s" house, “Rayford Steele’s” house. Everything was absolutely brilliant how it didn’t need changing inside. It was serendipity - everything just fell into place. So, I feel blessed, and all the stars aligned, figuratively-speaking and reality-speaking. (laughing) I could not be happier with it, I must say.

INFLUX MAGAZINE:  Paul, you were quoted as saying, “The balancing for us lies in the fact that our villain in Left Behind is really the chaos caused by an act of God. It’s as much a disaster film as it is a prophecy film. And for me, the key to effective drama is that even while depicting trying circumstances we’re keeping the focus on people who are managing those circumstances. Our heroes can’t defeat a monster or a comic book villain. Our heroes have to defeat their own fears, their own weaknesses, and ultimately their own deeply-held beliefs and convictions. That idea will be carried throughout the films of this franchise.” Any additional thoughts?

Paul LaLondeWell I think the quote pretty much sums it up. The thing about this movie is that, for people who are Bible-believing Christians and who truly believe this event could happen any day, it’s a wonderful story in the sense that they’re seeing it as a true story. And, they’re getting to see it in advance and that’s a great thing. But, for the people who don’t necessarily either believe in the rapture or even believe the Bible is true at all, it’s still a wonderful movie because it allows you to ask yourself, ‘OK what if it did happen?’ I mean, half the people in the United States believe it’s going to happen, so what if it did? And I think the opportunity that you have in this movie is to sort of experience the world of the people who are LEFT BEHIND, the people who didn’t believe any of it.

Just to get a sense of what it would be like on that day. That’s really what the focus of the movie is - what if it did happen? What would it be like that day? I think Vic did a great job and the cast obviously did a fantastic job because it’s not an easy movie to do. It’s certainly not an easy movie to act and these are difficult circumstances, and difficult roles, and everyone was just wonderful.

Vic Armstrong: Yeah, for me I felt like I was walking a tight-rope with telling a great story, because you just read it as an adventure story full of wonderful characters, fabulous performances, and great look. You still have the other side of it - the Rapture. You have the believers, the followers of LEFT BEHIND and I felt very, very, very conscience of the fact that they were trusting me to deliver what they wanted to see as well.

So, to me it was a fine line to not upset those people or do it wrongly for them, so I was just so pleased to have Paul LaLonde on the set all the time because any time I had any questions, Paul was a fountain of knowledge in that respect. That fact helped me a little bit, but I was very nervous in that respect. If there was anything I worried about with the movie, it was upsetting the people that were trusting me to tell their story. But as I say, I still wanted to tell a great yarn, a great character piece.

INFLUX MAGAZINE:  Having made three previous Left Behind movies, why was now the time to do it again?

Paul LaLondePart of it was that I had always wanted to turn this particular story into a big movie because it just cries out for it. It’s so fascinating. It’s like a Twilight Zone episode. It is a wonderful event to build a movie around. But the primary reason to reboot this franchise 10 years later is to try, as I had just said, to take the movie out to a wider audience, to open this up beyond the choir, outside of the Christian world. And the first time we made LEFT BEHIND, it was made for Christians. People showed it in their churches. T

hat’s what this whole thing was about - a Christian movie made for Christians which almost all faith-based movies are. But, they don’t reach out beyond the choir. So people get very excited when they see that there’s Christian movies coming out in the theatres. It’s still Christians watching them. And, so the fact is, I wanted to create a movie that could go out to a much broader audience and nobody’s going to walk out of there thinking, ‘wow, I, I just got preached at for two hours.’

Paul LaLondeNow obviously, I should add, part of that also is that I wanted to make a better movie. That meant we had to go spend a lot more money. We had to spend a lot more time writing the script for this movie, compared to when we wrote the first one. But, also just in the production value, in going out and getting Vic and going out and getting the cast we did, we worked very hard to make sure that every single role was filled by somebody who can really be compelling and really be wonderful because we really wanted this to be a big Hollywood movie even though we’re not a Hollywood studio, and we don’t have a Hollywood budget. We really wanted to make it look like we did.

So part of this too, was to go out and make this thing as good as we could possibly make it and I think as all Christian filmmakers, or faith-based filmmakers, everybody needs to raise the bar. For so long, the Christian movies have all been, you know, low-budget, church-basement movies, with maybe one or two decent actors in them and then a lot of people who really weren’t up to the task.

INFLUX MAGAZINE:  How have Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye been involved?

Paul LaLondeWhen Jerry Jenkins, who actually wrote the LEFT BEHIND books, visited the set, he met Nic Cage, and he enjoyed it very much. Once we had an early cut of the movie put together, I invited both of the authors to come to a screening in Los Angeles and that was probably the longest two hours of my life. Sitting there waiting to see what they would say because it’s always hard to take an author’s work and then adapt it. What are you changing and what are you doing differently and what are they going to think of this?  But, they both came out of this extremely excited as did their families and we’ve had full support from both Tim and Jerry ever since. And they’ve been on board and they’ve spoken about it publically.

Tim’s a little older now, so he doesn't travel as much, but Jerry has been going around and actually doing screenings, doing speeches, doing TV appearances, promoting the movie. That’s been wonderful and Tim LaHaye’s grandson, Randy LaHaye, has also been doing that on Tim’s behalf. So, we actually have the authors out there supporting the movie. That’s been wonderful.

INFLUX MAGAZINE:  Vic, did life as a stunt director prepare you for this film?

Vic Armstrong:  Well, as a stunt director, you’re still telling stories. In some ways I think it’s even harder because you’re trying to tell stories with ‘mime language’ if you’d like. The only reason stunts are in a movie is to progress the storyline and the movie itself so you have to adhere to storylines. I learned very, very early on that it is a case of storytelling and putting things together. I’ve been directing for a long time and I did Joshua Tree 20-odd years ago and Young Indiana Jones with George Lucas and such, and if you get a good script it’s very, very easy.

Good script and good actors and a good DP, it is just an absolute joy and a pleasure to come on the set and to tell the story. The other thing that you learn from the stunts is that the background of working in movies is the politics, the trying to think ahead, allowing for things that could go wrong and things that don’t turn up. It’s just learning the basic art of directing, art of working in movies, the art of actually making movies that you learn over the years that I think I’ve been very blessed to have also worked under some fantastic directors, from Spielberg to Scorsese to David Lee and Paul Verhoeven. You you can’t help but watch them shooting and get ideas and little things stick in the back of your mind so it’s, it’s been a learning curve all my life really.

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