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Lights, camera, action: Liberty campus, students star in new film

July 13, 2012 : By Drew Menard/Liberty University News Service

Liberty senior Stephanie Bettcher acts on camera for the new film "Finding Faith."

Lynchburg, Va., has become the epicenter for the upcoming faith-based film, Finding Faith, and Liberty University is right at the heart of the project.

Finding Faith aims to educate families on the importance of Internet safety through a powerful drama based on the real-life story of a girl who was abducted after falling prey to a skillful online predator. It stars Erik Estrada, a Hollywood legend and activist best known for his role on the 1970s and ’80s television series CHiPS. The film is set to release in early 2013 after a nationwide screening tour later this year.

From shooting to editing and post-production, all stages of production are taking place in Central Virginia with Lynchburg as its hub. Liberty has become a vital source of support for the movie, providing locations, housing, and equipment, as well as a deep talent pool from which the movie has drawn much of its cast, crew, and support staff.

“We have been tremendously blessed,” said Christina Day, co-executive producer and production designer. “The community has really rallied around the film.” Day also works at Liberty in Student Accounts.

Liberty University provided its state-of-the-art film equipment for use in the new film. Here, the crew prepares a shot on campus, with Arthur S. DeMoss Learning Center in the background.

Over 90 percent of the people involved with the film are affiliated with Liberty in some way (as alumni, students, faculty and staff, etc.), said alumnus Jason Campbell (‘93), Finding Faith’s executive producer and executive director of the Safe Surfin’ Foundation, which is backing the film. The movie has 12 volunteer teams involving more than 400 people and a cast and crew of over 200.

“Without Liberty’s assistance, we would not have reached production,” Campbell said. “From LU’s new film school donating their high quality film equipment, to locations for filming, to the immense talent pool the university offers, Liberty’s support shows its commitment to help educate more children on Internet safety and possibly save lives.”

Liberty was so important in the lives of the individuals who are creating the film, and has been such a vital support partner, that the script was re-written to incorporate it. Nearby Liberty Christian Academy and Thomas Road Baptist Church are also providing immense support and are highlighted in the film.

Liberty’s new Zaki Gordon Cinematic Arts Center uses the industry’s best film equipment, including RED camera packages, and Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr., has allowed the film’s crew to utilize this state-of-the-art equipment free of charge.

For film students, Finding Faith provides an opportunity to gain hands-on, professional experience. Austin Lewis, who will enter Liberty’s film school in the fall, was hired as a gaffer, working as a camera assistant and lighting. He hopes to work in Hollywood one day as a director of photography for family-friendly movies.

“Liberty has impacted my life in ways greater than I expected,” he said. “While attending Liberty, I have learned that a career is secular only if you make it to be so. I am excited to be able to say that I am a filmmaker, and a champion for Christ.”

The film crew sets up a shot at Liberty University School of Aeronautics.

In April, Finding Faith held auditions at Liberty. Several Liberty students, faculty, and alumni came out and many landed roles, including a number of students of Liberty’s Department of Theatre Arts.

Jamie Cloutier, who plays Elizabeth Cote (a youth pastor’s wife) in the film, recently graduated from the theatre department and said her classes prepared her for this step in her career.

“(We learned) how to be on camera, how different it is from the stage, how minimal you have to be with your face and your voice, and the etiquette of how to act when you enter, who to look at, whose hand to shake,” she said.

Stephanie Bettcher, a senior Worship major at Liberty, landed the role of the film’s title character, Faith Garrett.

“I feel very blessed and excited to be a part of this film … this role is a new and exciting challenge for me,” she said.

Bettcher said sex trafficking and Internet predators is a real and widespread problem in our country and she is “thrilled to be a part of a movie that will spread a Christian message and truth that by having faith in Christ, hope and peace can be found even when the world seems like it is crashing down.”

Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. meets with Hollywood actor Erik Estrada, who stars in the film.

The film is spanning generations, uniting the Liberty family for a common cause.

Alumna Kim Miller (‘93) fell in love with her husband and the Lord while she was a student at Liberty. Her 12-year-old daughter, Ellie, is playing the role of Faith’s sister, Samantha.

“It is really exciting to see Liberty really become such an international presence and just grow and thrive,” Kim Miller said. “What I am seeing on the set is (the film’s) message resonating with the cast … It’s been pretty inspiring.”

Ellie said it is exciting to be in her first film, but more importantly play a part in getting the message out there.

“I think it is important that kids do know what is going to happen if they put their whole life on the Internet,” she said. “And (through the film) they are going to see how it hurts their families (when) you are hiding stuff from them.”

With many cast and crew coming in and out of town, Liberty has provided three of its Campus East residence halls for housing and storage, serving as a “base camp” for the visiting professionals. Liberty also provided a motor home that had been donated to the university for Estrada to use on the set.

From the Campus East fields to roads on Main Campus, Liberty’s facilities have served as valuable locations for filming. The film also utilized Liberty’s School of Aeronautics and its jet for shooting a scene.

On Thursday, July 12, Estrada visited Falwell at his office and personally thanked him for all of the support and told him that with all of its resources and facilities, bolstered by its strong values, Liberty has the potential to become the “Christian movie capital.”

He also shared his passion for spreading awareness to families about the dangers of Internet predators.

“I enjoyed speaking with Erik and was impressed with his sincerity,” Falwell said. “I believe Sheriff Mike Brown and Erik Estrada should be commended for raising awareness about the dangers of the Internet to children.”

Falwell discussed with Estrada his excitement for the expansion of Liberty’s new film school and its potential to impact Hollywood with filmmakers who have been trained as Champions for Christ.

The film is inspired by the experiences of Bedford County Sheriff Mike Brown, who headed one of the nation’s first Internet Crimes Against Children task forces. Through its gripping narrative and powerful message, the film shows how faith can pull families together through tragedy and celebrates the challenging work and accomplishments of Virginia’s law enforcement, especially in regards to Internet crimes.

“The Lynchburg region is blessed to have what I call the world’s best sheriff, Mike Brown,” Falwell said.

Under Brown’s leadership, the ICAC has maintained a 100 percent conviction rate through strict attention to rules and procedure.

“To the sexual predator, we are the wolves,” Brown said at a press conference announcing the film in April. “We have in a number of ways set the bar for other task forces, I am very proud of them.”

Campbell and the production staff are working hard to ensure the film reaches as many people as possible. They are currently discussing a theatrical release strategy, and have already planned a screening tour at churches, beginning with a premier night at TRBC in December. The church is also helping to develop a supplemental youth study guide, “Caught in the Web,” that will highlight the film’s message incorporating segments of the film.