Affirm Films and Columbia Pictures releases Paul, Apostle of Christ nationwide on March 23rd, 2018.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How important is it for you as a filmmaker to ground Paul, Apostle of Christ in humanism?
Andrew Hyatt: I grew up in the church and ended up walking away from the church for about 7 or 8 years. I asked myself, "What was going on there?" As a filmmaker and storyteller, I realized that I didn't understand the humanity behind the figures. I didn't understand that these were real people that lived and breathed and that there's a historical context as much as a theological context. When I tell these stories, I'm much more fascinated in, "Who are these people really? What's the emotion and humanity behind them?" Because then I think that a much more relevant story comes out.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How did you decide how much of the violence to show and how to show it without going too far?
AH: There were many conversations about it because there is this sort of bar set by Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ. In a way, I think that he had to do it that particular way dealing with that particular story. We wanted something that was more accessible. Because of Paul's closesness to the church and Paul is one of the most well known figures of the Bible, it's so accessible to people, so maybe they didn't want to see the violence and gore. Certainly, it existed because we're dealing with 1st Century Rome and Emperor Nero and these terrible atrocities like Nero's circus and blinding people on the streets of Rome. We just felt like that this is something that you'd want to take your 13 or 14-year-old teenager to and to introduce them to a different element of the bible and to the humanity that we were talking about.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How did you decide how much to assume that the audience knows about Paul and his story?
AH: A lot of the core audience, the Christians around the world, are extremely familiar or maybe overtly familiar with Paul's story. The reason why we tackled this particular time in his life is that it's actually a little bit more of a question mark. It is in the scriptures, but I think that it's less known by core audiences. You want to explain enough without over-giving information in order to be a good film. You want people to discover things and to let things unfold, so I felt that that text in the beginning was just enough to get you into the world and to understand the context. From there, you can let the story take you. Mostly, going back to accessibility, I didn't want to make a film that's just for the fans. I hope that it's a great film and a great story that anybody can sit down and say, "I get that he's a bible character, but this is also historical." This is a historical drama that's taking place in a real time and place. Sometimes I think that the audience forgets that.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What do you think is so iconic about Paul?
AH: We all struggle. It doesn't matter if you're Christian or not. I don't think that struggle is a Christian issue. It's a human issue. We all struggle to feel loved. We all struggle to figure out whether our past defines us. Are we just that? Can anybody change? That's a very hard question in 2018, but I think that we seek it out in different ways. Paul's story is so amazing to me because if you take all the theology out of it, he's a man that was a violent, brutal person who, because of love and mercy, changed everything in his life. We're all looking for these kind of stories and inspiration. I think that Paul's story is a very authentic one.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How were you able to get the running time down to below 2 hours?
AH: It happened during the developing process. It's a 10-part miniseries if you try to capture it all. I thought, "What's the essence of Paul? What would give the audience a glimpse?" Being able to keep it in a reasonable running time and to focus on this part of his life really kind of shaped it for me. We also only had 24 days to shoot, so there's not a ton on the editing room floor.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What questions would you ask Paul if he were alive today?
AH: I'd ask him if I got the story right. [laughs] He seems like he's the kind of guy I wouldn't want to run into in an alley and to upset him in a certain way. I would ask him if we faithful offer a glimpse of him to the audience because that really matters to me. With any biography whether it's of Lincoln or Churchill and these amazing historical figures, you just hope that you offer the real historical truth and a real glimpse of who this person is. A young audience today that isn't as familiar would be able to say, "The medium of film is a great way to introduce me to Paul! That's really cool! Now I'm interested in learning more!" That's really important to me.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What was the process like to decide on which actor to portray Paul? James Faulkner really disappears into his role.
AH: He's a longtime actor. He's worked on Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey. He's a longtime British actor. He's a shape-shifter and that really does help because you don't immediately realize that it's him playing this role. He really embodied the transformation into Paul so well. One of the things that we were looking for when we were casting is, often in a Biblical film and especially Christian inspirational films, everything is sort of vanilla and it's hard to believe that these people were doing what they were doing. One thing that we really wanted to get right is, "Can you really believe that this man did what the historical figure, Paul, did? Can you believe that he was shipwrecked twice? Can you believe that he was stoned to almost death twice? Do you believe that he was put in a prison on and off for certain years and beaten non-stop? Do you believe that he has that grit and that authenticity and that rawness to really embody that?" James did such a great job. You really can look at him onscreen and say that you totally buy that this guy did those things.
NYC MOVIE GURU: It's amazing how you go the beards right in Paul, Apostle of Christ. If beards look fake in a movie, it often ruins everything.
AH: [laughs] You're not wrong. It's a very glorious beard. [laughs]
NYC MOVIE GURU: Would Paul, Apostle of Christ work in black-and-white?
AH: Wouldn't it be cool to do like a Dreyer's Joan of Arc or something where you put it in black-and-white and let it have an limited run in theaters? I love that kind of stuff.
NYC MOVIE GURU: It's rare to see a film like Paul, Apostle of Christ isn't fast-paced and lets audiences absorb the scenes. How important is it to know when to trust an audience's patience?
AH: I'm hugely influenced by Andrei Tarkovsky. I'm a massive fan of his films. One of the things that he does so right is to allow contemplation within the film, to allow characters to breathe and to really live inside the film. I also love Pasolini's Gospel According to Matthew where there's a lot of scenery that just lets the actors breathe. I know that it's very rare today, and I hope that many more filmmakers make films like that because I miss that. I miss being able to experience something while watching a film instead of just being dragged through the story.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Would something be lost by watching Paul, Apostle of Christ on the small screen?
AH: Yes, I think so. There's something beautiful about this story in the presence of others. There's a community element and I've been able to watch it at screenings around the country. There is something really special being in that community. That's why movie theaters began in the first place: being amongst a community and experiencing something together while laughing, crying and other emotional things with other people around you. That's something that's very non-American at the moment. We want our privacy and the big screen TV at home is very comfortable, but I would encourage people to see it at a movie theater. There's something beautiful about going out and experiencing the film with others.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Francois Truffaut once observed that "A truly great film ought to have a perfect balance between Truth and Spectacle." Do you agree with his observation?
AH: I love that quote and I think that he's totally right. Especially now, Spectacle is something that we've all seen before. We've seen the grand scope of CGI and Spectacle. Now what a lot of people are longing for is the humanity and the humanism---to be emotionally engaged. It's rare to be emotionally moved by a scene because it's not where filmmaking has gone this last decade. What the great filmmakers of the past cared about was leaving audiences with a thought or emotion or an experience instead of just taking them on a crazy roller coaster ride of visuals for 2 hours. So, I agree with Truffaut completely.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What film do you think would pair well with Paul, Apostle of Christ in a double feature?
AH: It might not be what other people want to see, but I would pair with a Andrei Tarkovsky film so that people could sit and reflect on an amazing human character. If you watch Paul, Apostle of Christ with The Sacrifice, you'll get a deeper look into humanity and that humanism and realism that we were talking about. The truth of the matter, though, is that people would probably want to see it with something like a Marvel film afterward.