The Worst See’s Candies Experience of My Life

I just had the worst See’s Candies experience of my life.

Once in a great while, I’ll pop in to buy one piece. Just a small treat. Of course, as everyone knows, it’s more of a buy-one-get-one situation since no one leaves without free candy. And if the line is long and you have to wait? You get another free piece.

They just give the candy away like that. It’s enticing. See’s Candies is the creepy guy in a van of candy stores.

The line was long today. I had been waiting for five minutes already when the cheery lady behind the counter came out with a tray full of what looked like vanilla cremes. Everyone behind me got one. I was denied. I really like vanilla cremes, but she didn’t care.

It was a sign, and I should have heeded it.

I ordered my candy. I had been in the line so long I’d talked myself in and out of many wonderful choices. Apricot Delight won out in the end, maybe the worst possible option.

Anyone ever go for a nice, juicy apricot? No, that is literally a thought no one on Earth has ever had. Apricots are the “I guess that exists” of fruit. So, why did I embrace the ‘cot and take a flying leap towards “Put it in my candy!”? The world may never know. I sure don’t.

The moment arrived. I’m opening up my wallet and the cashier reaches under the counter. She brings her hand back up, smiles, and says “Here’s your sample.”

And on the counter before me is…another Apricot Delight.

I walked out the door with three Apricot Delights (there’s two in a cup), none of which I actually wanted.

I had eaten them all before I’d even arrived home.

This was my worst ever See’s Candies experience, and the worst thing to happen to me today.And if the worst thing to happen to me today was getting free candy (of any sort), I guess that makes it a pretty good day.

I Have COVID-19 and I’m Not Mad. I’m Just Disappointed.

I’m not mad. I’m just disappointed.

I’m sitting here, my head all stuffed up and my body aching with fatigue, and I’m looking over at my wife who is feeling the same way but worse (she always gets it—whatever it is—worse than I do) and I’m thinking: How did we get COVID-19?

And I know the answer and it’s a simple one and I’m going to tell you and I’m also telling you, right now, I’m not inviting your opinion or your debate. Not on this one. What I’m doing is telling my story, my perspective, and what I know in the hopes that it can do some good. Maybe it won’t, but I’ve got to try. And in trying, I’ll do my best to not scold or make anyone feel bad, but I also can’t guarantee that won’t happen. Because:

I’m not mad. I’m just disappointed.

We have COVID-19 because not enough people have gotten vaccinated. That’s it. That’s the truth. That’s the reason Erin and I are currently locked up in our house together, coughing for the first time in 18 months, nose dripping for the first time in 18 months, and head swirling and sinuses draining for the first time in 18 months.

You might be thinking, “Well, that doesn’t sound so bad.” And you’re right, it’s not that bad. Any other year, I’d have thought it was allergies or a head cold, but a test yesterday proved otherwise. We have COVID-19. It finally got us.

We locked down in March 2020. We did the full year and change of staying away from family, friends, restaurants, and public spaces mostly for the sake of our middle daughter (who is immuno-compromised), but also because it was wise and we could do so without suffering economic hardship. Believe me, I know how fortunate that makes us, and I’m grateful to and understanding of those who showed up to work during that time anyway.

So, why and when did my family finally come out of isolation? Once we were vaccinated. Two shots.

That’s why our symptoms aren’t that bad: we’re vaccinated. Fully. Have been for a while. What a miracle that vaccine is. We still obey the CDC protocols and mask up when necessary and restrict our contact with the unvaccinated (particularly for the sake of our youngest, who is not old enough to receive the vaccine quite yet), but it has been nice to return to something resembling normalcy. A prophet of the Lord, Russell M. Nelson, who leads the Church I belong to, said this:

“With approval from our physician, my wife, Wendy, and I were vaccinated today against COVID-19. We are very grateful. This was the first week either of us was eligible to receive the vaccine. We are thankful for the countless doctors, scientists, researchers, manufacturers, government leaders, and others who have performed the grueling work required to make this vaccine available. We have prayed often for this literal godsend.”

Nice, right? “Godsend.” But then he took it a step further. The Church he leads donated $20 million to COVAX, a global campaign to provide 2 billion COVID-19 vaccines to people in low- and middle-income countries. That’s quite the endorsement. $20 million. Wow.

Then, he went even further. The same day he made that statement on his personal social media, the Church issued an official statement urging members to “help quell the pandemic by safeguarding themselves and others through immunization” because “vaccinations administered by competent medical professionals protect health and preserve life.”

Then, because perhaps a lot of people still weren’t getting it, on March 31 of this year, a change was made to the Church’s General Handbook, Section 38, where it reads: “Vaccinations administered by competent medical professionals protect health and preserve life. Members of the church are encouraged to safeguard themselves, their children and their communities through vaccination.”

Why do I quote all this? Because, number one, I’m so grateful to be led by a prophet of God, but also because I have a diverse friend group and I think it’s worth pointing out to some of my non-believing friends that while defiant churches get all the press, there are other churches out there that are a little more sober-minded.

And yet…still I know there is hesitancy. Even within the Church I belong to…even with all this unmistakable instruction out there…there is hesitancy. There are those who have not taken the time to get vaccinated.

And that is why my wife and I have COVID-19.

I’m not mad. I’m just disappointed.

See, there’s this little thing called “herd immunity.” It’s what you get when either a) a virus has worked its way through a significant portion of the population and antibodies are super present, or b) when you have enough of the population vaccinated that the virus can’t spread. Our grandparents understood this stuff way better. They beat back polio not by dying off, but by vaccinating.

“Hold up,” I hear you saying. “You’re vaccinated. What gives? Herd immunity is for the weak, right? For those who can’t get vaccinated? So how did you get COVID-19?”

Well, funny thing. When a population doesn’t have a vaccine or chooses not to get vaccinated, they’re giving the virus the very thing it wants most: time. Time to mutate. Time to develop into something more powerful and stronger. Time to become something that can resist vaccines.

Enter: The Delta variant.

Good ol’ Delta Variant. It’s a fighter, that one. Recent mutation. Stronger, faster, more agile. Able to penetrate even the double vaxxed in a single bound.

And boy, does it love YOU. You, with your mask under your nose or not on at all (same thing). You, with your conspiracy theories. You, with your busy schedule. You, with your politics. You, with all your reasons.

You, with your fear.

“Faith not fear.” It’s something I’ve heard a lot lately. You know, I can’t say I’ve been fearful even once in the past year and a half. I trust my God and I trust the experts He inspires. I know that the very worst thing you can imagine can happen at any moment, and I know that because life has thrown me that kind of curveball more than once. So, I don’t live in fear. That’s a waste of precious time between tragedies. I live in gratitude.

But I also put on my dang seat belt.

It’s not fear that motivates mask wearing and vaccinating. It’s common sense. Fear is resisting a thing that’s trying to save you because it might rewrite your DNA, give you 5G, put a microchip in you, cause infertility, or take a piece of your pride.

Remember Moses and the Israelites? They were plagued by venomous snakes. Moses created a brass serpent, stuck it on a pole, and told them to look at it. If they did, they’d be healed. If they didn’t, well…a lot of people died. They friggin’ died because they wouldn’t look at the thing. Can you imagine?

Of course you can. You live in 2021.

I’m not mad. I’m just disappointed.

I don’t pretend to know everything about the virus, but I trust the people who do. Steve Jobs died because he thought the opposite way about cancer. My favorite quote on this is from Bill Burr. He was a guest on the Joe Rogan Show, and he said this:

“I’m not going to sit here with no medical degree, listening to you with no medical degree, with an American flag behind you, smoking a cigar, acting like we know what’s up better than the CDC. All I do is I watch the news once every two weeks. I’m like ‘Mask or no mask? Still mask? Alright, masks.’ That’s all I give a f**k about.”

Obviously, Burr said this way before the vaccinations came about. I can only imagine what he’s saying now. (He cusses a lot; I don’t make a habit of listening to Bill Burr. But that doesn’t make him stupid. Or wrong.)

My wife and I have COVID-19 because we, as a society, have given refuge to a virus that has killed more Americans than WWI, WWII, Vietnam, and 9/11 combined. That virus has been allowed to grow and mutate into something that is spreading faster and farther not because we don’t have the ability to fight it, but because too many of us have chosen not to.

I don’t get it. I thought we were fighters. More, I thought that in this country we looked out for each other, not just for ourselves. I thought we were smarter and stronger than this. I don’t get it. I just don’t get it.

Okay, maybe I’m a little mad.

But I’m mostly just disappointed.

My wife and I are lucky. Our symptoms are mild and because we’re vaccinated they are not likely to last long. After 10 days of quarantine, we should be able to see our kids again. We just got back from Georgia, so that’s a total of 15 days overall. We’ve never been apart from them for that long. Worth it to keep them safe.

My wife and I are lucky. We’re vaccinated and though the Delta Variant got to us, it could have been far, far worse. If you’re not vaccinated and you’re not persuaded by the responsibility you have to us and to your fellow man, then please, please get it for yourself. Don’t make the foolish mistake of thinking you’re super healthy or you’ve already had it so you’re good—that’s not how herd immunity works with mutations on the rise, and plenty of people—some of whom I know personally—have gotten this thing twice. It’s not a hoax, it’s not an imaginary story. It’s real and it’s infecting new and younger and repeat people all the time.

My wife and I are lucky. We know we’ve been doing all we can. I may have COVID-19, but my conscience is clear.

Please, please clear your conscience if it needs that. I genuinely am not trying to make you feel bad and I will embrace you with open arms and a hearty “Good job!” once you do. I would love to do that.

If you’re reading this, you’re likely my friend. Please know that this issue—while important to me and one I have a lot of feelings and sinus pressure on (soooo much sinus pressure)—will not divide us. I won’t let it, for my part. I won’t trade one bad thing for a greater evil.

But, please, let’s do this together. Let’s look at the brass serpent and head over to the promised land together. I hear it’s awesome there.

We Did Everything Right and My Daughter Got COVID-19 Anyway

We did everything right. We’ve been quarantining since March 2020. We maks up when we go out. Sanitizer is always on hand. No in-person association with friends or family indoors, and six feet apart when we do see them outdoors.

So, how did one of our daughters get COVID?

We’ve been strict. Our middle daughter has special needs and is immunocompromised. We’ve been making adjustments to our lifestyle to accommodate Cami since she was born 16 years ago, so in that way we were better prepared than most to roll up our sleeves and say, “Okay, well, life is gonna look a little different for a bit and we’re gonna isolate. We can do hard things, so we can do that.” Cami trained us for this.

So, we knuckled down. Given the choice between what the CDC says and what that dude on Facebook who swears he knows better says, we went with the CDC. It was tricky, as everyone knows. Initially, we were pretty alone. I remember the first time I walked into the grocery store with a mask on and felt so conspicuous and foolish even though I was pretty sure it was the right thing to do. “Two weeks,” we were told back then. But not enough people bought into even the reality of the virus (much less the protocols) for that to ever be true.

Two weeks turned into two months turned into 200 days. Until that point, we celebrated as a family with an ice cream party or a movie marathon or service in the community every ten days to both mark the time and create our positive within the big ol’ negative that was 2020. After day 200, we pared our celebrations down to once every 20 days. Like I said, we’re lucky enough to be pros at this stuff. Hard to hit us with enough lemons we can’t find more new and delicious recipes for lemonade. (That’s not a challenge, God.)

And all the while we kept pace with the protocols. We did everything we could for the sake of Cami and I’m happy to say there hasn’t been any real complaining. Even our youngest daughter—who hasn’t played with a friend in person in nearly a year now—is on board because she gets it. This is what we do. Virtual schooling? Check. Not eating in restaurants? Check. Buying lots of board games and even resorting to puzzles to entertain ourselves? Check.

So, how in the world did Elora, our oldest daughter, get COVID?

The short answer is: I have no idea. It makes no sense. She did everything correctly. We did everything correctly. It is one of the most unfair things to happen to us in a while now.

And yet, it isn’t at all. It does make sense. It is not unfair.

I’ll come back to that.

We knew something was up when Elora started complaining of “feeling sick.” None of us had had even an inkling of illness since February 2020. We took her temperature. Sure enough, she had a fever. How?

How!?

It didn’t really matter. We sent her to her room immediately and did not see her again for two weeks. For two full weeks, her only company was her turtle, all her meals were brought to her, and, I’ll be honest, there were days we kind of forgot she was there. It was harsh, it was cruel, and it was possibly unnecessary.

The day after sending her to her room, Elora went and got a local rapid test. Sure enough, COVID. So, we were all exposed. Her symptoms had only just manifested, but how many days had she had it now? Three? Four? A week? The damage, to all of us, had probably already been done. Crud, we knew of so many families where COVID-19 just rolled right on through the whole house. It was basically inevitable we would now all get it.

So, why isolate her?

Because we can do hard things. Because that’s what the CDC recommends. Because we don’t live in fear.

There’s a certain confidence that comes with knowing you’ve done everything you can. It’s not a confidence that everything will be alright, but just a peace in being able to say, “I’ve done what I can do, it’s up to God now.” Was there a moment of panic when Elora got her results back? Of course. But knowing we were acting responsibly on the knowledge and light given us meant a greater possibility of being blessed. Of having our diligence rewarded.

I don’t know about you, but the thing I’m afraid of most of all is regret.

The good news was: we truly had no reason to fear at all. None of the rest of us developed symptoms. Cami stayed safe. There was a day there when it seemed like every random tingle or small ache we might otherwise ignore was an indication of symptoms and that was weird and kind of maddening. When Erin’s allergies acted up and she couldn’t shake the thought it might be more, she went and got her own rapid test. Negative.

We all stayed healthy. Elora’s symptoms only lasted a couple days, and two weeks later she emerged. I’m telling this story for the first time now with her permission. While she was enduring her extreme isolation it was too lonely and too difficult emotionally to have her business out there. But she has things in perspective now. There’s no shame in getting COVID. She did everything she could to not get it, and even more once she did. Boy, are we grateful for her sacrifice.

So, are the protocols bunk? Everyone who knows us say that if they were to choose someone to hang out with during a pandemic it would be us. Because who else do they know who is more careful?

No one. And one of us got it anyway. So, the protocols are bunk. Stupid.

Right?

The reason COVID came to our house is the same reason why some children are born even though birth control was taken or a condom worn. You take what precautions you can, but eliminating all risk is impossible. The protocols are in place to give us the best chance at not getting this virus; they are not a guarantee.

But not being a guarantee is not the same as saying the CDC protocols are bunk. The same protocols that failed Elora also kept the rest of us—and, more importantly, Cami—from getting sick. How much worse off would we have been if we’d just said, “Eh, forget it. Elora, let’s party?”

I have no idea. And that’s the point: you don’t know what will happen, you only know what gives you the best chance. And that way…

That way lies no regret.

***Because this is the online world and I didn’t fill this little essay with a million caveats, let me just say here that this is not a political post. I mean, I hope that’s obvious, but I’m pretty sure you can post a cat video these days and be accused of being political. However, I do take certain things for granted that, for some reason, are political for some. Things like: COVID-19 is worse than the flu, COVID-19 kills a lot of people (see: “pandemic”), and wearing a mask is just the neighborly thing to do. So, just FYI, my goal here is not to engage in any of the debates of the day; I’m just sharing in the hopes it might be helpful to someone. That’s it. I learned in Kindergarten that sharing is cool. So, let’s be cool, okay?***

Will You Stay Home This Christmas? Please?

Will you stay home this Christmas? Please?

This isn’t a condemnation. This is a plea. Opinions on this virus are as varied as my friends list and I’m not trying to debate or engage with any of that. I know there are many who have probably already stopped reading and tuned me out and believe me, I’m not here to convince you. I don’t think I can and I won’t try. I love and respect you despite our differences on this issue. Feel free to move on.

I’m here for those who might be on the fence. For those who are feeling the pressure from family to join together or have been invited to a party and really want to go but maybe, in the back of their minds, there’s a voice that’s saying, “Well, maybe I shouldn’t.”

To you I say: please, stay home. You are not alone and I and many others support you. Cancel that party. Tell your parents, your grandparents, your aunts, your uncles, your children, and your friends that you love them and don’t want to upset them, but this virus is really bad right now and hospitals are overwhelmed. If we repeat the aftermath of all the traveling and togetherness of Thanksgiving it’s only going to get worse.

I genuinely don’t know what worse will look like or how we will accommodate that. For example, where I live–right now–there are no beds in the ICU left. And Christmas hasn’t even happened yet.

There are many who have been sacrificing all year to help stall the spread. It’s time to join them. It’s not just about how you or I personally will be affected by the virus. Odds are in your favor and mine that we will live through it, no doubt about that, but a virus is just that–it’s viral. The less we associate with others, the less it will spread. It’s not just about whether or not you personally will get through it, it’s about slowing that spread by minimizing contact. Please, even if you feel healthy, don’t go to a place where you are cooped up with people you don’t live with. In a very real way, people you don’t even know (and maybe some you do)–the future temporary residents of E.R.s and hospital hallways and rooms and ICUs–are depending on you for help.

I’m with you. My little family has been living a strict life of isolation for over 280 days, since March. The only other person who has been in this house since then was a handyman who came over to fix a broken sink. We all stayed on one side of the house while he made the necessary repair. Other things broke this year that we can live without. They remain broken. We will get them fixed later. When we do venture out, we mask up. We socially distance. We get takeout. We haven’t had a sickness in our house–not even a cold–since February. But even given that, for the week and a half leading up to Christmas, we have doubled down on our isolation and are not venturing out except for walks. Why? Because we’re giving our kids back their Grandparents for Christmas. They’ve been doing the same–zero contact with anyone on the outside world, not even with masks and social distancing–for 10 days as per CDC guidelines. To ensure we are all virus-free. And if you and your family are taking similar measures, then by all means, enjoy this time of year together.

But if not, please, stay home.

I’m not looking for a gold star here. I’m not telling all this because I want credit for “doing my part” or whatever. That would be dumb and I don’t care about that. I’m only speaking specifically of our efforts to encourage you and demonstrate that you would not be alone should you choose to isolate this Christmas. And it’s not just us, I have many friends who are making similar efforts, quietly and reverently with a sense of duty and purpose.

I’ll say it again: You would not be alone if you do this thing with us.

Please, let’s help keep the numbers down and give the hospital back some beds, together. Let’s stay home Christmas morning. Let’s skip the parties and family meals. Let’s do what we can not just for ourselves, but for others. It’s a sacrifice, and I get that, but you’re probably used to that, if you think about it. That’s what being a person of faith or a responsible citizen of the world is all about, right?

Huh. Sacrifice and Christmas. Can’t get much more in the spirit of things than that.

Merry Christmas, everybody. Let us pray–and do our part–for a Happy New Year.

Why I #GiveThanks

Recently, Russell M. Nelson, the Prophet and President of the church I belong to, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, issued a challenge to the world to spend the next week giving thanks each and every day, and post our expressions of gratitude on Social Media.

Millions of people took up the challenge. What happened was a week of almost total positivity on social media feeds and it was an incredible (and needed) change of pace.

Here, then, are my contributions:

Friday, Nov. 20

Stepping up to the challenge to #givethanks this week. I am eternally grateful for my wife who, in every other, more likely alternate universe probably ended up with someone else. I don’t think there was any ball during our pre-marriage gamesmanship I did not fumble. How she saw through my bad plays to the devastatingly handsome and athletic husband I mostly became, I’ll never know. But it fills me with gratitude. (Also, she has the best smile in the world. I should take lessons.)

Saturday, Nov. 21

Today, I #givethanks for the girls who turned my world upside down in the best possible way by making sure the second half of the life I’ve lived so far is the extended gender studies lesson I probably needed. I would do anything for them.

Sunday, Nov. 22

Say what you want about a pandemic, but DO NOT knock week-in-and-week-out church attendance in pajamas. Grateful for my Creator. Grateful for billowy pants that feel like they’re barely there. #givethanks

Monday, Nov. 23

Today, I #givethanks for hair. Not because I have any, but because I once did and I didn’t appreciate it enough at the time. Hair really is the whipped topping on the marvelous sundae that is our bodies. Or maybe the cherry. Or the nuts. The point is: my sundae stops at the ice cream now and I’m grateful for the time when I got to have toppings.

Tuesday, Nov. 24

I have to #givethanks for creativity. I went from wanting to be a banker or a lawyer as a kid, to creating comics, writing books, and making movies as an adult. I don’t know why I always seem to walk the wrong path first, but the brush clears away eventually and I am happy to take off running.

However, I don’t run alone. Many, many people support these efforts and have either helped or currently are helping me get these works made and out into the world. And so, I am grateful also to my creative partners: Th3rd World Studios, Cedar Fort Publishing & Media, VidAngel, Stellar Lense Productions, Tremendum Pictures, Pen Name Publishing, Oops Doughnuts Productions, Samaco Films, and the many, many individuals within and without those organizations who are so talented and with whom I am so fortunate to work.

Wednesday, Nov. 25

No matter how brilliant the light—the fortune, the love, the joy, the strength, the blessing, the peace—we can never truly comprehend or appreciate it without the dark—the poverty, the hate, the sadness, the temptation, the trial, the conflict. One without the other is meaningless, so I #givethanks for both.

This may seem like some weird, not-great stock photo, but I actually took it in Venice, Italy about 4 years ago.

Thursday, Nov. 26 (Thanksgiving)

Finally, I #givethanks for faith and science. For that which can give us confidence we will see an end to this pandemic, and for that which tells us how.

#givethanks for the many inspired women and men who are working tirelessly to heal and to prevent. My hope is that they are properly supported and that the rest of are making the small sacrifices necessary–masking up, social distancing, taking time away from family and friends (especially during the holidays), and prayer coupled with fasting–to stem the tide of this thing and be rid of it once and for all.

There are spiritual laws and there are natural laws, and He is the master of them both. I am so, so grateful for that understanding and the peace that comes with it. 

I gotta say, I super enjoyed doing this. I make it a point to be grateful every day, but thinking harder about it and all putting these things out there like this gave them even greater resonance and importance. My contention is that even in the most dire of circumstances we have much to be grateful for, and if we can focus on those things, we might not find our burdens changed, but they will be lifted.

Set Visit: The Chosen

I had the great privilege of spending the past two weeks on the set of The Chosen at the invitation of the show’s creator, Dallas Jenkins. Dallas, of course, recently signed on as the Executive Producer of my feature film, The Shift, and this was a chance to not only see him at work and see a production on a scale unlike anything I’d experienced before, but also an opportunity to sit at his feet and learn (well, not literally “at his feet” [which I’m sure are fine and never smell]—more like on the couch next to him).

The days were long, as they always are on a production. We were out the door by 6am most mornings, and then didn’t return until around 8pm. The set, built by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is more incredible than video and pictures can capture (though, as you can see, I tried). It’s the detail of the place that got me. There’s no corner that would not stand up to the tightest closeup; the feeling of immersion as you walk the streets and dart in and out of the synagogue and dark alleyways is total. It’s hard to believe that under most of the stony facades is dense Styrofoam.

The first few days I was there, I hung back. My only purpose was to observe Dallas, invading his space while also trying very hard not distract or be a nuisance. I was a little too successful. Thanks to my reticence and the face mask I (and everyone else, of course) wore constantly, no one noticed I was there at all. The most interaction I had with anyone was when Yasmine Al-Bustami (who plays Ramah) said she liked my Baby Yoda hat and Shahar Isaac (Simon) gave me a big end-of-shooting-day hug. He probably thought I was someone he knew, but I received the hug gladly anyway. Oh, and I stole Noah James (Andrew) away for a moment to tell him how much I enjoy his (seemingly—I know better) effortless, kind, and genuine performance on the show. My usual policy with actors is to leave them alone. They are so used to being accosted and the focus they must have is total, so I don’t want to disturb that, but Noah was just kind of wandering around by himself between setups and no one else was around.

I finally switched over to Production Assistant on the fourth day, and the crew were shocked to learn I’d been in their midst the entire week. Face masks really do render you invisible, though I wouldn’t recommend betting on that and trying to sneak onto set. Security and COVID protocols being what they are (I was tested for the virus 6 times over the course of the two weeks), you would not be successful.Production Assistant is a crucial position the production depends on to prevent a slide into chaos, but it’s not the most creative or active position. At least, not as a volunteer. As a Writer/Director myself, it doesn’t exactly take best advantage of my talents, but it’s a great vantage point from which to see all working parts of the production, and that’s what I was most curious about so I was happy to serve. I worked in the Assistant Director Department, under 1st A.D. Adam Drake and 2nd A.D. Mitch Hudson. Alongside me (or rather, I was alongside them) were P.A.s Willie Mellina, Jordan Roby, Gwendelynn Martindale, and Avery and Larsen (additional volunteers whose last names I didn’t catch).

What I saw was a crew designed to support Dallas in every conceivable way, to the point where he isn’t bothered with the small things and focuses almost entirely on his primary job: directing. This may seem like how it should be—and it is—but coming from the indie filmmaking world with a couple short films under my belt and some producing credits, I know it’s very easy for a director’s day to be almost entirely about anything BUT directing.

The Chosen creator Dallas Jenkins and me.

I was fortunate enough to stay with Dallas at the rather large house where he and a few of the other people on the production were staying, which afforded us plenty of opportunities to talk outside of the set where things are quite a bit more relaxed. I found Dallas to be a forthcoming mentor, willing to answer any questions I had and share insights on casting, directing actors, working effectively with the Director of Photography, etc. that are going to serve me REALLY well as I prep and shoot my film. Perhaps the biggest takeaway is the importance of a solid team that works well together. Dallas has been in the game long enough he’s been able to assemble a group of people at all levels that work incredibly well together, without the personality clashes and occasional bad apples you’d normally and understandably find in a group this size. From the Production Office to the Art Department to Wardrobe to Catering to the actors to, crucially, the team that immediately surrounds him on set day-in-and-day-out, my close observations didn’t turn uncover any weak links. I’ve worked on some great, friendly sets, but this seemed to me to be on another level.

Word slowly got out about who I was, and I even got recognized a few times by some on the production and a few extras thanks to all the livestreaming I’ve done and my dumb face being out there so much. The Shift does not have near the fame and online presence The Chosen has (…yet?), so that was nice. Not that being known is a goal of mine (I’d rather be behind the camera, thank you very much), but The Shift’s message is important, something I feel led to create, and a movie a lot of people believe in, so getting it out there and known is crucial to its success. I’ll be the vessel if I have to be, reluctantly but also gladly. I would like to have a team that works as well together and is as highly functional as Dallas has, and connecting the community of professionals who create The Chosen with me and The Shift is no small thing. It’s fair to say I’d be happy to have the opportunity to hire a bunch of them. Can’t think of a higher compliment than that.

I admit I was a bit nervous to go to Utah. Living and working with a group of people I’ve never met for two weeks is high on my list of anxiety-inducing events, and I’m sure those nerves exhibited themselves through a few awkward interactions here and there, but I figured the pay-off would be worth it. I was not only correct in that assumption, but I made friends and, in some cases, solidified existing relationships along the way.

There was Dallas, of course. With so much on his mind and plate, I was grateful to have a good portion of his time and attention. Turns out, he puts his pants on one leg at a time, just like everyone else (note: I did not personally verify this; I’m not a creeper).

Me and Composer Matt Nelson

Composer Matt Nelson, who along with Dan Haseltine, creates not only the score for The Chosen but will also be doing the score for The Shift, visited the set for a few days (Dan was supposed to come, too, but he was busy with his “band” or something…musicians, amirite?). After all our conversations online it was a pleasant happenstance that Matt and I turned out to be kindred spirits with a shared love of good ice cream and discussing the intersection of politics and faith. No one was listening, but I’m pretty sure we solved the world’s problems in the space of about 30 minutes.

Associate Producer Justen Overlander and Me

Associate Producer Justen Overlander is another person I connected with immediately. While his endless lobbying for playing the part of ‘Satan’ in The Shift feature film did begin to wear me down (NOT in the good way, Justen!), he proved to be as kind and personable as anyone who has seen his numerous behind-the-scenes videos for The Chosen imagines he would be. Just as an example: on my first day he found me eating alone in the on-set cafeteria during lunch and came over to sit with me. A small gesture, but my inner 4th grader who was sure the entire cast and crew was snickering at him was grateful. I made no secret of wanting to work with Justen someday. And play board games together. Turns out, it’s a shared past time.

Jesus (Jonathan Roumie) hanging with the apostles between takes.

Jonathan Roumie (Jesus) and I have exchanged a few emails over the past year and there were several moments during my first week I wanted to go up and say hi, but he’s an intensive and intentional performer and I never wanted to break his concentration. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered he was not due on set at all during my second week. I’d missed my chance, or so I thought. Jonathan actually stopped by on his day off, clad in jeans and a baseball cap and a face mask, but nevertheless I recognized him and took the opportunity. We compared notes on coming up through the entertainment industry (he worked for several years behind the camera, including as a P.A.) and promised to keep in touch. A gracious man I’d be more than happy to cast in just about anything I do.

VidAngel CEO Neal Harmon and Me
VidAngel Moderator Guru Brad Rhees and Me

From VidAngel, I was able to connect with both Neal Harmon (CEO) and Brad Rhees, my undercover brother-in-arms during the Shift crowdfunding campaign and secret moderator on all the livestreams. Aka, “Batman.” Again, it was a true meeting of minds and hearts, with all of us sharing not only a love for The Chosen, but also for what I’m doing with The Shift and beyond. I hope to have a partnership with VidAngel for a long time to come and I can’t wait to see where they go from here. The Chosen is just the beginning.

(Look, I’m not trying to be annoying and sickeningly Pollyanna about how nice and supportive and positive everyone was, but it’s simply the truth. For me personally, I’ve fought for a long, long time to get to a place where I’m working with people who share my passions and who believe in me and the kinds of stories I want to tell, and for a good while there I wasn’t even sure that was possible. Now that it’s happened, I’m going to celebrate that…and them.)

Taking a two week break from my life and my family to go visit the bubble world that is the set of The Chosen (seriously, it’s like a Fort Knox against the coronavirus; congrats to the entire COVID team) was not easy for my family, so special mention must be made of my wife, Erin, for making this all possible. All I can say is: it was worth it. I learned SO MUCH (only a tiny bit of which I’ve revealed here), and it made me even more excited to get going on my own project.

There is a wave of good—genuinely GOOD—Christian/faith-based entertainment coming, and The Chosen is ground zero. Hollywood is going its way, so we’ll go ours, but we have to be as good as or better than them, artistically speaking. To get just a tiny peek at those who actually ARE doing it better was an amazing thing. It looked and felt exactly as I’d hoped. I’ve been saying since I first saw The Shepherd (the Chosen pilot) that The Chosen—the quality, the depth of characterization and storytelling, the high production values, etc.—is what I aspire to, but now I have such a better idea of how to hit the target.

Just happy to be here

A big thank you to Dallas and the entire Chosen team.