Open the curtain on confessional films

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The story of the actor’s genesis and the family streaming service that produced ‘God’s Not Dead’

“Our goal is to make films that uplift and inspire the human spirit, which ultimately bring people to higher levels of understanding who God is and his purpose for their lives.”

This is the mission statement of Pure Flix— the production company and on-demand streaming service behind the “God’s Not Dead” film franchise — as one of its founders, actor David AR White, told The Epoch Times.

It’s been a long journey for White, who after years of odd jobs as a struggling actor, founded Pure Flix in 2005 with two friends. For years, the shadow of financial uncertainty loomed, but the big break for the business came in 2014, with the hit movie ‘God’s Not Dead’. Produced on a budget of $3 million, it grossed over $65 million at the box office. The demand for inspirational, family and religious films was loud and clear.

Since then, White has starred in all four “God’s Not Dead” movies, and early 2023 will see filming for the fifth installment, which will star White, alongside Dean Cain, Isaiah Washington and Cory Oliver.

White is currently starring in the new film “Nothing Is Impossible” (streaming on Pure Flix), with Harry Lennix (“The Blacklist”), Nadia Bjorlin (“Days of Our Lives”), Stephen Bauer (“Scarface”, “Better Call Saul”), and country singer/songwriter Stella Parton. White plays Scott Beck, a janitor who gets a second chance at life and love.

“Everyone has a past and Scott Beck is no exception. It’s an inspiring film about how our past doesn’t define us and how we can learn from failure in profound ways. That goes for life and love – we see Scott confronting past mistakes with his high school girlfriend, Ryan. It may be a movie with basketball, but it’s also about love, relearning to trust and find purpose in failure,” White said in a press release.

Mennonite education

White was born in Dodge City, Kansas, the son of a Mennonite preacher.

“I grew up conservative. We didn’t drink, dance, smoke,” he said. “I saw a movie in the cinema the first 18 years of my life.”

When he was 8 years old, unbeknownst to his parents, a friend’s family took White to see “Grease”. After seeing Olivia Newton-John’s wardrobe at the end of the film, he concluded, “I of course thought I was going to hell.”

“Entertainment didn’t really exist in the Mennonite Church,” he says. “Apart from the music. Music was very important.

Television was allowed in White’s home, but viewing was restricted.

“They didn’t let me watch ‘Dukes of Hazzard’,” he said, although all of his friends were allowed to watch. It didn’t make the young white man happy.

Movies fascinated White, and after graduating from high school he “wanted to explore” entertainment. He attended college at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago as a communications specialist.

“It was the closest I could get to entertainment,” he said. “They had the radio!”

All the seniors in his family had graduated from Moody’s and had also met their relatives there.

“After a year, I basically called my dad and said, ‘Dad, I want to quit Bible school and I’m going to Hollywood to be an actor,'” White said.

Actor-filmmaker David AR White. (Courtesy of Pure Advertising)

Early beginnings

White landed in Venice Beach, Calif., and crashed into the apartment of another actor he had met. He worked a few odd jobs, including as a baggage handler for US Airways at Los Angeles International Airport and as an event server at a Marriott.

Six months later, White’s big breakthrough came when he was hired as a background artist (called “extra” at the time) for the 1991 prime-time sitcom “Evening Shade.”

The series starred Burt Reynolds, who was a household name from the long list of feature films he directed, including “Deliverance.” The supporting cast included several other accomplished actors, including Marilu Henner (“Taxi”), Ossie Davis (“Do the Right Thing”), Hal Holbrook (“All the President’s Men”) and Charles Durning (“Dog Day Afternoon”) . .

“I had no idea who they were” at the time, White said.

While rehearsing a scene, he noticed what he described as a “dead point” in the dialogue, and he improvised a line.

It was a dangerous move. He was hired as an extra, and extras don’t talk in the movies. Once an actor has a line, their daily salary increases. Some directors, producers, and lead actors aren’t interested in ad-libbing extras, so it’s a way to get fired.

Still, it worked.

The line was kept in the episode, and White remained as a recurring character. But that wasn’t the only result of his bold move.

Reynolds quickly became a mentor to the inexperienced White. Now that White had a spokesperson role on the show, he had to join the Screen Actors Guild and pay the $800 initiation fee, which the 19-year-old didn’t have.

The first thing Reynolds did for him was to ensure that his pay rate for the episode was increased to a “three-day week”, which covered the cost.

“He was a great role model for me early on,” White said of Reynolds.

Without prior formal training as an actor, he would lean on Reynolds for reviews after the scenes were filmed.

“He was like my Hollywood dad in a way,” White said.

Epoch Times Photo
David AR White (R) as a young actor in the 1990s, with his mentor, Burt Reynolds. (Courtesy of David AR White)

Sitcoms are almost always shot in front of a live audience. One way producers get audiences to laugh is to introduce actors minutes before filming, to put them in a good mood and make them more likely to laugh at the jokes.

In one particular episode, the teens in the community (including White) put on a play in which they took on the roles of the adults.

White’s character was playing Reynolds’ character.

White was made up with a black wig and mustache, to resemble Reynolds’ recognizable look. Then he had an idea.

“I thought it would be funny if I stuck a big pillow in my belly for the accent,” White said, as Reynolds had recently gained weight.

“At that time, I had a repartee with Burt. I thought I was on solid ground,” he said.

White asked Reynolds if he could do it, and he replied, “Sure, kid. Sure.”

Reynolds introduced the cast to the studio audience, saving White for last and calling it his “discovery”.

White came out with a wig, mustache and “the biggest pillow” he could find, looked at Reynolds, looked at his lower torso, slapped him, then imitated Reynolds’ laugh.

“He’s smiling, but it’s this weird smile,” White said. “He ends up flipping all his rings around, putting his arm around me and punching me in the ear in front of everyone as they clap and laugh.”

They shot the episode and Reynolds even added a line about the size of his waistline.

“And then I got fired,” White said.

Creation of Pure Flix

In her early twenties, White began acting in faith-based Christian films. They weren’t feature films; these were short films for organizations such as Focus on the Family, Youth for Christ, and Concerned Women for America.

By the late 1990s, the market was booming enough for production companies to make direct-to-video feature films. In his late twenties, White and a few pals raised $87,000 to fund a feature film for that market.

When White was making his fourth faith-based feature, he met commercial producers Michael Scott and Russell Wolfe. They decided to form Pure Flix, which would be both a faith-based film production and distribution company.

Production and distribution are not cheap. Pure Flix needed to raise enough capital to make the movies and then get them seen.

“The most important thing when fundraising is finding people who will also believe in your vision,” White said.

They found these people.

Pure Flix has evolved into a streaming, video-on-demand service that is the distribution half of the business. On the paid site, monthly or annual subscribers can view original features and TV series, which White describes as “religious and family content.”

As The Epoch Times reported in June, the hour-long end-of-life drama “Going Home” is one example.

For another Pure Flix production, White needed someone to play his father. He emailed Reynolds and offered him the role. (White had apologized for his stunt more than 20 years prior.) Reynolds accepted the offer, and White spent three days with him in Jupiter, Florida, recording his voiceover.

All was forgiven. Reynolds died about a year later in 2018. Wolfe died of ALS in 2015. Liz Travis has since joined Pure Flix as a partner.

In 2020, Sony/Affirm acquires Pure Flix and finances its ongoing productions.

White credits the 2004 feature film “The Passion of the Christ” with illustrating the public’s “great thirst for religious content”.

“I really think there’s a need and a desire for these films.”

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