How One Filmmaker Relied On Faith To Create A Film About Christ

Written By Cazzey Louis Cereghino

March 5, 2019 7:36AM

Now this one I have saved for awhile.

Like with most projects which I work on here in the entertainment industry, I am not supposed to share any photos, videos or information about the project until either production gives me the go-ahead, or usually, until it releases. In many cases, we are not even allowed to have phones on set, to ward off the possibility that someone may leak pics or teasers early on.

But its time.

Today is the first premiere of this “Little Engine That Could,” project, and I couldn’t be prouder to have been included in it. It’s title? XL. Not Extra Large, but for the Roman Numeral 40, which is the amount of days that Christ spent in the desert alone, being tempted by Satan to give into humanly desires. Hence why we celebrate The Season of Lent with 40 days leading up to Easter by trying to give up something humanly that we desire.

The pic was taken during filming, when a young Jesus, played by Mateo, reaches out to embrace a lamb that his father, Joseph, played by some ugly dude, is carrying to be sacrificed. It was a nice balmy 118 degree day when we filmed this. Combine it with some thick period piece wardrobe and a heavy bag of wool on my shoulders who liked to “Baa” over my lines, and you’ve got the makings of a “Drink five gallons of fluid and still not pee once,” kind of day on set. But at least I had it far better than some of the other cast/crew, like Lucifer and Jesus, who had the most days in the hottest desert in North America in mid-summer. And yet, with such extreme temps and work days that would have set back most productions, this one went on.

Now, I want to take a few moments to tell you why I am so moved by this project. So if you want to tune out now, and come back at the end of the sermon, feel free to doze, and I’ll wake you at the end. Because, even though this is a Social Media post, it’s going to read more like a story.

By the account of St. Mark and of St Luke in their written gospels, Jesus once sat down near the offering tables at the temple. He sat and watched as many great people with plenty of money came and placed large amounts of tithing into the offerings for the church. As he watched them, he saw a lonely widow woman come forth and place two small coins into the offering for the temple. He called his followers over and he pointed out the widow and said that she had given the most. They were confused and argued that many folks had come and placed far more into the offerings than this woman—that she had only placed two measly small coins in there, worth no more than a few cents.

“Yes,” Jesus agreed. “They gave much. Out of their wealth. But she everything that she had to live on.”

Big studios can make big movies. Great wealthy producers can have blockbusters made. But this masterpiece was made because one man had the faith to give up everything he had to live on in order to make it.

As much as I know that Doug, the creator/director of this project, is an extremely humble fella’ and will give all of the glory here to his Father in Heaven, his father on earth, his soon to be wife, his family, to the cast and crew, and everyone else, this guy really did something remarkable in showing me a testament to faith. Through this project he has built mine. Whether you want to regard it as a faith in faith itself, in his career, his filmmaking, his devotion to his maker, to following a dream, or to just being obedient in what he felt he was being called to do, this man is a modern day Noah in my eyes.

Noah, for those of you who may not know, was a man told to do something by God. It seemed like the most daunting task, that no man could do. To build a boat. In the middle of the desert. An ark. But not just any ark. One large enough to hold a pair of every animal in the world. I think that if I were him, I’d wrestle with God’s request of me too.

Noah got ridiculed for it. I am sure, like Jonah tried to do, Noah probably wanted to run away. To just stay put in his normal and steady life. To be anywhere else, doing anything else, but slaving every day to build the world’s largest woodworking project. People told him that he was an idiot—building a giant boat in the middle of the driest place on earth. This put strain on his finances, his relationships, his job, his life. And yet, when the ark was all finished, God made good on his promise to Noah, that he would, most certainly, need that boat.And much like Noah, now that Doug’s project is done, I hope it floats too.

You see, this guy has a house. A mortgage. A family. A devoted woman by his side. A sweet little daughter, who, by the way, makes her screen debut as an angel in this film. He has a good job making a steady six figure income. Before God told him to make this movie, he had just purchased and refurbished his dream car. He had a great upbringing, parents that he speaks highly of, a bunch of siblings, and pretty much what you’d call, the American Dream.

But Doug also always wanted to be a film-maker. He has a real gift for it too. And I mean this, coming from someone who has worked in the industry for twenty years now. He is very talented. And I guess God knew this too. Because he made him. But he didn’t just make Doug to be a working stiff. Or to have a nice, steady happy life.

So when God gave him an idea for a film, and told Doug to go make it, Doug had a lot of reservations. Movies take money to make. They take immense amount of time. Effort. Planning. Sacrifice. And put great strain on your marriages, relationships and friendships.

So like many things in life, as we all do, Doug looked at this as a pipe dream, or a “Someday” kind of thing. But God kept getting in his head, and in his heart. And told him to make this film. He’d already given him the tools. The heart for it. The natural gifts as a filmmaker. And he reminded him that the story was already there for him to use. And it was free game. No one holds copyright on the scripture. It’s a great story that has held up for thousands of years. “So go ahead and use it,” God told him.

Still, Doug balked. As we all do. Undertaking the building of an Ark, or following a dream, or doing what you’re being asked to do isn’t just a weekend hobby and is never as easy to do as just deciding one day to do it. It a whole lifestyle change.

And from there the story gets sticky. From what I am told, Doug took up his cross and decided that he’d make this movie that God was asking him to make. But the beginning was rough. Much of it, because Doug wanted to make the film for himself. To become a famous director. Upon casting the Christ character, it started to become obvious that the actor also saw this as a chance for himself to become a famous actor too. Doug told me, looking back, he really felt in the beginning that he was doing it for the wrong reasons. Very selfish reasons.

In order to have the time and funding to make this movie, Doug would have to quit his job, and use his life savings to fund the project. Obviously not an easy decision, especially for a father and soon-to-be husband who is the breadwinner.

But, out of faith, he did what he felt he was being lead to do, and told his boss of his intentions. Rather than being supported, he was mocked. His boss ridiculed this life decision. Couldn’t believe that a smart, responsible and sound-minded young man could do something so reckless with his family, his life and his career.

Doug had to hire help. Get key players involved. Cast actors and actresses. Obtain period peice wardrobe.

Hire help for sound, lighting, pre and post production, food, everything. Production began, money started to burn up fast, and tensions between him and the star of the movie, Jesus, grew. They had been friends, but little by little, the project ate away their friendship. Creative differences started to go from business to personal. And when half of Doug’s life savings was gone, and by the time the friendship with the main character had also eroded away, Jesus number one walked away.

Doug was making a movie about Jesus being tempted to quit by Satan. And he too, felt his first temptation to quit. He’d already burned through thousands of dollars and much of his family’s safety net, quit his job and he started to realize that this was not going to be an easy task to make a full length feature film. That this project would be like building an ark. And if he wanted to complete it, he was going to have to put more faith in God that there was a reason bigger than his own possible future fame if he wanted to get this boat to float.

So Doug, now a wiser filmmaker and producer, picked himself up and dusted himself off. Realized that none of the footage he already had could be used, because his main character would now have to be replaced. So he had to think of this footage as a rough draft for him as a director, and he set out to cast again. This time landing a Jesus that he felt fit the role even better. Perhaps God had just been giving him a challenge to build and test his patience, his strength and his faith.

With this new Jesus, despite feeling very sad that he had lost a good friendship with loss of the first one, Doug felt that he had his rock that he could build a movie around. And with the money he had left, Doug felt that if they were very frugal, they could still get the movie made.

With the new lead, and the other cast in place, Doug set forth to shooting once again. Long days and nights in the desert. Driving long distances, sleeping on the ground and in cheap motels, carpooling, living on minimal Kraft services, PA’s and Wardrobe Stylists and Production teams that were all helping for the barest minimum pay. Hot scorching days and cold frigid nights. Most glamorous entertainers would have broken down and ran off. But Doug and his cast/crew stuck it out. The shots were looking beautiful, the project coming together, and Doug began to think that he could see the light creeping through at the end of the tunnel.

 

 

 

And then Satan decided to give Doug another temptation. Another reason to quit.

Doug was already nearing a zero balance in his bank account. He had already made movie posters, started promotion, created a website, and was YEARS into working on making this project a reality. Far over what he imagined it would take. The movie was three quarters finished with principal filming, and then it would just be up to him to edit it, and start pitching it to buyers. By this part of the process, he could go back to work and edit during his free time. He, and his family, could start seeing money coming back in again. Doug was finally feeling the weight of the world lighten up. He had been off work for months while filming and it was almost all finished. Until Jesus lost it.

Unfortunately, Jesus number two was facing his own temptations from Satan. Literally. He began to become more and more paranoid as they did night shots in the desert, that he was seeing demons. This was to the degree where he started having visions and nightmares when he slept where Satan was coming to him, informing him that he’d kill him if he finished the film. It was much like Jim Caviezel, who has stated that there were all sorts of pressure from the devil to quit his role on “The Passion,” including nightmares, visions, injuries to his body that didn’t make sense, many scenes that were lost and had to be re-filmed and finally when he was struck by lightning while hanging on the cross in the middle of filming. He was even warned by many Hollywood elite that this role could ruin or even end his career. But Caviezel leaned on his faith and stuck it out, giving Mel Gibson his best Jesus until filming was finished.

But Doug’s Jesus number two was no Jim Caviezel. And with these signs of bad things to possibly come, he decided that he could no longer have anything to do with Doug’s project. And also with this, Doug was out of money. With no main character to finish the film, Doug was left with hours and hours of un-useable footage. He looked at his bank account, with zero dollars left in it, the mortgage payment that he’d need to make with the upcoming month, his daughter, who needed clothes and food and shelter, and realized that perhaps his boss had been right. That he was being reckless and irresponsible. That perhaps there is a reason that people leave making movies to studios and people with lots of deep pockets. That there is a reason that so many people stick with jobs that they don’t care for, and fulfill responsible, smart and steady lives.

But he couldn’t shake the fact that he felt that he was doing something for God, right? That God had given him the push to do this. So why would he lead him into destruction?

And that’s when God asked, “Did you do this for me? Did you make MY WORD, be the star of this film? Or were you doing this for you?”

Doug had to ponder if he, all along, was doing this for the right reasons. But still, was the sin of pride and vanity worth being financially ruined over? Perhaps losing a house, shelter, and losing everything over?

This is when XL, The Temptation of Christ, as the movie is called, became the Temptation of Doug. Even when it seemed that he had no choice left but to follow Satan’s plea to give up, Doug didn’t want to. He still wanted to make this film, but now as a gift to God, to say thank you for all the blessings. And when I heard this part of the story, I got very welled up. Because Doug, despite having been knocked down twice already, and now having no resources left to use to finish this film, and basically being forced to start all over again from day one of filming, got back up and THANKED God. Most folks I know would have quit. They would have cussed God out and probably got online and posted something in regards to how crappy their life is and how they get the worst luck. And that everything bad happens to them. But Doug took the approach of Job and said, “I don’t know why you’re doing this, but I must trust you in all things. That even if I don’t know why you’re doing this, that YOU know why you're doing this." We must not only thank God for our blessings, but for our challenges and turmoils too. He took a look around at the good things in his life. His soon to be wife, his daughter. The fact that he still had the house, his dream car, and if he went back and got a job, he could probably keep those things.

He decided that making the movie was perhaps just this, God’s way of reminding him how blessed he was, even if he never made a movie and became a known director, making films for God that everyone would see. That he already had it all, and that this was what God was probably trying to tell him.

So he went to Stephanie, his very patient fiancé, who has had to wait until Doug finished this movie to have any funding to have a wedding, and told her this. That he really already had it all. That perhaps just trying to make the film was what he needed to grow closer to God and realize some things. That perhaps just attempting to make the film was enough of a show that he had the faith to try it. And in finally letting go of this pipe dream of making a film for God would be good for their family, for their faith, and for their relationship. That he had tried it. And he could sleep easier now.

And that’s when God jumped in and decided that Doug was finally ready to really start making this film. That the first two attempts were just strengthening him. Making sure that he was the guy who God really wanted and needed him to be, if he were going to make HIS film. Not Doug’s film. Not an actor’s film. Not a vessel to get anyone rich, or anyone famous, but to make HIS WORD the star.

Because I fully believe that Stephanie had Him speaking directly through her when she looked at Doug and say, "No way." And objected to Doug’s proposal of going back to work.

When Doug came to her and told her that he was abandoning the film, she told him “No.” That if he didn’t finish this film, that he’d never be worth anything to himself, to his child, and to her. That he had a sincere talent as a filmmaker, and a passion for making a wonderful gift to give to God. That if he quit now he’d spend forever wondering and regretting. That this film was supposed to be about Faith, and if he wanted to talk of faith, then he had to live in it too.

Doug tried to remind her that they were totally out of money. That they were on the verge of losing everything. That his faith that this film would pay off had only led them to the verge of bankrupting themselves.

And this is where God’s grace spoke right through her.

Stephanie told him right then and there that she would do anything. Drive Ubers, work three jobs, go without sleep, do anything and everything to pay the bills while he finished the film. She would later, even jump in and do some of the wardrobe and make-up on the film in between her jobs. Where most women would have left and reckoned this guy was just bound to be a loser, or thanked her lucky stars that her man had finally decided to stop living in a dream world and would start working and making them money again, she instead stepped in loved him most when he was at his worst.

When Doug told me this part of the story I sobbed, just as I am sobbing now trying to write it. Because this is such a dying thing in relationships these days. This woman, who was holding off her own wedding, her own future, having a house and children, so that this guy could use all that money to make a film, thought nothing of herself, nor of her desires and creature comforts. Instead, committed to her man, his dream, and to her faith by offering ALL THAT SHE HAD. Much like the widow in Christ’s parable, she didn’t have millions of dollars to offer Doug to make this film. But the few coins she did have was the biggest offering of all.

And with all that, how could Doug fall to Lucifer’s temptation and quit now? Just like before, he got up and dusted himself off. This time he went to God and said, “You cast someone.” And God brought in Shayan. Shayan is an Iranian born guy with a commanding voice. And as Doug tells it, when he heard this voice, it was like a light went off in his head. That this movie isn’t about what you can see on screen nearly as much as THE WORD. The word is the star of this movie. He takes the story right out of the New Testaments and follows it as closely as possible. And Shayan’s dialogue is the same word that comes directly from the text that is thousands of years old. And when Doug made The Word the star of the show, things started rolling along much smoother.

That’s not to say that there weren’t still challenges. By this time summer had come along. Now we were filming in the hottest desert in North America during the hottest time of the year. Even hotels out there had shut down for the season. Doug was still out of money throughout the whole process of the third Jesus. But like in scripture, on the third day, Jesus rose again. And on the third Jesus, Doug’s movie rose again too. Sure, there were still a lot of problems, as there always is with any production. I mean, come on, he was having to deal with a prima donna with his Joseph character, who kept eating all the Kraft service himself—literally eating Doug out of house and home. But during this time, everyone stepped in to contribute where they could. I was amazed at the amount of folks that wanted to jump in and do jobs that weren’t theirs, just to be of some help. And when the last day of filming came along, Doug had the footage he needed to go home and edit.

 

He said his thanks to the Heavens, and went back to work at a new job that has brought money back into his bank account, given him time during nights and weekends to edit the film and some money to work on promoting it. And through it all, he has made something that has strengthened his relationship with Stephanie, made him a better father and a man his daughter will look up to with higher reverence, made something that he can share with his friends, and something to offer to God and say, “Here. I made this for you,” and now truly mean it.

Today is the first premiere in San Francisco. And I am pretty stoked to see the finished product on the screen. I am excited to sit with Lucifer, (Sabastian) the boy who plays my son, young Jesus, (Mateo Garcia), My wife, Mother Mary (Sophia), John the Baptist, Amelie the Angel, the producers, the rest of the crew, Jesus (Shayan), Doug and Stephanie, and most of all with Jesus himself. (Not Shayan, but the real one.) And be able to say a great big thank you to Him, and to Doug/Noah, for allowing all of us to help him build his masterpiece—his ark.

In case any of ya’ll want to get excited about the film, and want to see the trailer or read more about film, here’s a link:

https://www.faithworkspictures.org/

It doesn’t have a release date yet, but since it is having a premiere in the theater tonight, hopefully it’ll be soon. When it does, I’ll be certain to let ya’ll know. More than any other project that I’ve ever done in the past 20 years in this industry, this is the one I am most excited about. Probably because it’s about one of my two favorite subjects. Like I told Vin Scully, the long-time announcer for the Dodgers, “Baseball and God. Those are my two favorite subjects. And if you can talk about both, then you and I have enough to talk about until He comes back again.”

So all that’s left now to is watch the rain. Because, as we can see, it’s been one of the wettest years ever on record. And as it keeps coming down, it does leaves me to wonder......Will Doug’s ark float? Something tells me, that if God had him build it, then he's gonna' give him the way to move it too.

About The Author | Cazzey Louis Cereghino

Cazzey Louis Cereghino is an American actor, novelist and singer/songwriter. Besides being recognized as one of the "What's in Your Wallet?" Capital One Vikings, he has also appeared in more Super Bowl commercials for more different companies than anyone else in history. Outside of hundreds of commercials, notable characters on TV and in feature films include Harold "Big" Johnson on Grimm, Tiny on "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" and Moses on "Battles B.C." on the History Channel. He has also made appearances on children's shows such shows as Nickelodeon's "Henry Danger," and Disney's "Just Roll with It." Other appearances include roles on TNT's, Animal Kingdom, Jimmy Kimmel Live and the television series, "Lethal Weapon," as well as playing Joseph of Nazareth in "XL: The Temptation of Christ."

He was born in Milwaukie, Oregon on April 24, 1979, where his family has run a family farm since 1908. Cereghino has published 12 novels, and a non-fiction collection of short stories. In 2015, his novel "116* Days With Dad" was published by Black Hill Press,which was loosely based on his experience as a commercial fisherman on the Alaskan fishing vessels.  An earlier publication of Cereghino's eleventh novel "A Time To Lie" has been his best seller to date. Since 2004, he has also been a contributing author to the Chicken Soup for the Soul Series of books, appearing in publications of Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul IV as well as being included in the top 101 Chicken Soup for the Soul stories of all time in the book, Chicken Soup for the Soul:Christmas Cheer.  Later in 2015, his novel, "Kiki's Angel" was published by same publishing house as "A Time to Lie."

Director's Statement

My name is Douglas James Vail and I am the executive producer and director of “40: The Temptation of Christ”. When my finacee and I set out to make this picture we had no idea we were embarking on a three-year journey. The experience of making this motion picture was one of the most spiritually enriching and personally satisfying accomplishments of my life and I am extremely grateful for everyone that joined us to help its completion.

 

The pre-production was a long process. I could sense the film required a higher level of authentic and spiritual direction that I had to prepare for. I spent a lot of time in prayer getting emotionally and spiritually ready. Trying to envision this story was a huge undertaking. Fortunately, the writing of Reed Lackey helped us produce a beautiful portrait of this sacred time in the desert.  As I stepped into production I felt the obligation to give something back to God and to share something new with his people. We are all his people.

 

It is important to me that our film brings a deeper understanding of Christ and a healthy awareness of Satan. We explored the mission of Christ and the opposition that worked tirelessly to stop Him. We know Satan is an extremely powerful and seductive force. We also know only Christ could overcome Satan. No man has a chance. This is important to understand. This material required careful handling. It was a challenge producing a natural, gritty and artistic re-telling of Christ in the desert but hopefully, the audience will discover why we all need the Good Shepherd to protect us.

 

This film represents my journey with God and it serves as my love letter to Him. I made this picture in service to draw closer to Him and to inspire non-believers to know Christ and what He came to do. I believe God knows us better than we know ourselves and I want everyone to learn about His undying love for us.

 

 

Douglas James Vail

FaithWorks Pictures | Executive Director

The Personal Jour

 

My name is Douglas James Vail and I am the executive producer and director of “40: The Temptation of Christ”. When my wife and I set out to make this picture we had no idea we were embarking on a three-year journey. The experience of making this motion picture was one of the most spiritually enriching and personally satisfying accomplishments of my life and I am extremely grateful for everyone that joined us to help its completion.

 

The pre-production was a long process. I could sense the film required a higher level of authentic and spiritual direction that I had to prepare for. I spent a lot of time in prayer getting emotionally and spiritually ready. Trying to envision this story was a huge undertaking. Fortunately, the writing of Reed Lackey helped us produce a beautiful portrait of this sacred time in the desert.  As I stepped into production I felt the obligation to give something back to God and to share something new with his people. We are all his people.

 

It is important to me that our film brings a deeper understanding of Christ and a healthy awareness of Satan. We explored the mission of Christ and the opposition that worked tirelessly to stop Him. We know Satan is an extremely powerful and seductive force. We also know only Christ could overcome Satan. No man has a chance. This is important to understand. This material required careful handling. It was a challenge producing a natural, gritty and artistic re-telling of Christ in the desert but hopefully, the audience will discover why we all need the Good Shepherd to protect us.

 

This film represents my journey with God and it serves as my love letter to Him. I made this picture in service to draw closer to Him and to inspire non-believers to know Christ and what He came to do. I believe God knows us better than we know ourselves and I want everyone to learn about His undying love for us.

 

 

Douglas James Vail

FaithWorks Pictures | Executive Director