“Believe Me” is a new film from Riot Studios, whose producers are Will Bakke, Michael Allen, and Alex Carroll. The film is the story of a college senior (Sam Atwell) who finds out he can’t graduate due to a problem with his scholarship money; he has to pay a $9,000 tuition bill in just a couple of weeks. Sam’s solution? Take advantage of the gullible Christian market by making up a fake charity, having a fundraiser, and keeping most of the money for themselves. They agree to give a small percentage to a real charity so they’re not totally lying. At the fundraiser, they meet a guy who drafts them for his Christian youth rally tour and they take the whole show on the road.
This is the first narrative film for the trio, who previously produced two documentaries, “One Nation Under God” (2009) and “Beware of Christians” (2010). The guys got the idea for this movie when they were on tour for their last documentary. They were totally immersed in the Christian subculture — Bakke says they “mastered it” — and asked themselves, “What if? What if someone came into this world (the Christian subculture) and tried to scam them?”
I had the opportunity to have a great conversation with Will Bakke about faith, filmmaking, and Christian subculture.
KL: So, why this particular story?
WB: We wanted to tell an authentic story with authentic characters. As young guys who have really wrestled with our faith, we have spent a lot of time trying to figure out what we believe and why. We wanted to write a story that brought that struggle to life in an authentic way.
KL: So, “Believe Me” is a faith-based movie that —
WB: “Believe Me” isn’t a faith-based movie; you won’t find it in Christian bookstores. We didn’t want to make a “Christian” movie, that’s part of the reason we didn’t take out the language. We wanted to make an authentic film about authentic characters. Christianity is just a backdrop for telling the story. “Believe Me” is different. There’s not a message or an agenda being pushed on you. With a lot of faith-based films that have come out, we found they were movies we couldn’t take our friends to see, because they could sniff out a “message” in the first five minutes.
Sam believes that truth is relative. He sees truth as a business opportunity. But throughout the story, he interacts with other people who don’t believe that, who believe that there are some things that are absolutely true. And he struggles with that, and has to ask himself what he really believes. We wanted to tell a story about a non-Christian character that was really honest, where the character was believable and likeable. To show that we know that atheists aren’t miserable people just waiting for someone to approach them about God.
KL: Why did you choose the charity in the movie to be about clean water?
WB: My roommate in college was raising funds to go to Africa, to dig wells, so it was on our minds. And we have a friend who has worked with Living Water International, so we try to partner with them as much as we can.
KL: One of my favorite parts of the movie was the social commentary on the Christian subculture, where you kind of poke fun at it. What were you trying to say with that? Have you had any backlash from it?
WB: “Believe Me” is a satire. It’s very tongue-in-cheek and has a lot of comedy, some of which is particular to Christians. There may be some jokes only Christians will get. We didn’t want to offend anybody. We tried very hard not to point a finger, but to hold up a mirror to Christian subculture. To make us look at ourselves the way that non-Christians often see us. We were very careful to only make jokes about Christian subculture, not about the Gospel. We really haven’t had any criticism about that; it hasn’t seemed to polarize anybody. Christians who have seen it have found it to be true and funny, not offensive. And unbelievers have been able to identify with it. We tried to be fair to both sides (Christian and atheist) and people have seemed to appreciate that.
KL: Who are some filmmakers that you admire, and how are they reflected in this movie?
WB: Oh, my favorite movie is “The Graduate.” If we could make anything close to that good… Also, David Fincher. A lot of the look and tone of our movie was influenced by “Social Network.” Dark and funny. And Wes Anderson, of course.
KL: Those are mostly films that appeal to younger audiences. Would you say your movie targets millenials?
WB: Yeah, it would probably appeal more to young adults, but older audiences would like it too. To older audiences, I would say, be bold! Come see a film that looks at Christianity in a satirical way and see if it makes you think differently.
“Believe Me” opens in theaters September 26. Be on the lookout for a review from The Layman on September 26.
Believe Me Official Theatrical Trailer (2014)