Editor’s Note: This post is part of the Red Letter Book Club. It is an excerpt from Frank Schaeffer’s new book, “And God Said, Billy!.”
Sometimes I got mad at God because everything He does is just so needlessly complicated. Nevertheless June 18, 1988 was a great day. My heart skipped a beat as the Lord said, “Billy this is the day!” God’s voice was upbeat and cheerful like a car commercial announcer but even classier. He spoke just as I spotted the movie crew vehicles parked across the street from Image Engineering on Victory Boulevard. I’d been begging God to let me complete the task He’d set me in New Midian and allow me to return home to my darling little child before she grew up. After three years in New Midian, the place most people call Hollywood, I was on the verge of my big break.
They had lights on the street including 10-Ks, 2-Ks, even a Brute set up on the sidewalk next to a gun store. The grips were unloading dolly track. I felt that God’s Wonderful Plan for my life was about to happen at last, that I was where He wanted me at the right time and place of His choosing and that NOW I was finally on the last mile of the road back to my little daughter Rebecca!
I’d missed almost three years of her childhood because of my obedience to the Lord. Rebecca was three when I left home and now she was almost six! What I’d thought would take a few months had dragged out into years. So by that morning most of the time I didn’t let myself get too excited when good things happened. It would just mean that when things fell through as they had so often, I’d get that much more depressed. However on the glorious morning of June 18, 1988 I let myself imagine Rebecca’s little arms hugging me again. I felt so very close to getting the movie made that God sent me to New Midian to direct.
“Yes Lord!” I screamed as I pulled into the parking lot of a Toys R Us that the crew was using as their base camp. A production assis- tant or a PA — like we call the people in The Business who are really just interns running around not doing much more than bringing the important crew people coffee — tried to stop me like I was just some tourist. I rolled down my window and I said in an authoritative voice, “I’m here to see Guy Chesney.”
My sophisticated director’s smile that I’d practiced for hours in front of my mirror paid off. So did speaking in my coolest laid back confident voice. Whatever it was that opened the door to this new (and as it soon turned out decisive) opportunity my smile let that worldly PA wearing a tight torn-on-purpose pair of Levi’s know that I was only driving my ten-year-old Honda Civic because I chose to. My handsome “chiseled face” (like my wife Ruth called it when she declared that I was the handsomest man she’d ever seen), my long blond hair tied back in a ponytail, my using a Navajo handmade hair clip to hold my ponytail, made out of genuine sterling silver and real Sleeping Beauty Turquoise stones that I’d plundered three days before from a the Sharper Image boutique in Brentwood, let the PA standing in my way know that I probably had a new Mercedes someplace and was probably somebody important. That’s why I never washed the Civic and drove it dusty and trashed. I was stuck with my car but nevertheless I wanted to turn a debilitating vehicle challenge into an opportunity and make my disgusting little car help me look like the weird-but-brilliant movie director type. I wanted my decrepit excuse of a car to send the message that I was so “into my craft” that I didn’t care about what I drove even if (secretly) I was also a prophet of the Lord begging Him for a better ride and naming and claiming an abundance of good things, not to mention a way to complete His task, so that I could return to my wife and daughter.
So I had long since turned my vehicular weakness into strength by manipulating my car’s loathsomeness against itself and instead of covering up the decrepitude of my car accentuating it. I had to signal to everyone in town that the person driving this humble junker was sophisticated even if I was just a wannabe director who had not yet gotten his big break. That’s why I always kept the Matisse art book on my cracked dashboard.
The Lord had spontaneously delivered the art book plunder into my hands at a Boarders Bookstore when the girl at the checkout counter was momentarily distracted by a famous actress who had just walked in to do a book signing. At first I’d thought that God had led me to the store to meet the actress and that maybe that meeting would lead to my big break. When her security people wouldn’t let me near her God said that I wasn’t there to meet her but in order that I could plunder the store of several items that would soon be used by Him to further our cause. So the star’s walking in and the way everyone turned to watch her presented a God-given despoiling opportunity to grab a very expensive art book off the “New Releases” table and walk out. I even put post-it notes (also despoiled from that same bookstore along with three pens and a package of greeting cards to send notes to Rebecca on) throughout the book to make sure people would think I really was into classy artistic stuff like that.
So anyway, the point is that on THE BIG DAY that PA’s eyes flicked from the art book on the dash to my pile of fresh scripts stacked on the back seat and she shrugged. Then she pointed to the trailers parked in front of a Burger King and said, “Guy’s over there by the honey wagon I think.”
I was in! Yes Lord!
A honey wagon is Movie Business parlance for the truck with the chemical toilets in it used by the actors and crew on location. As I parked next to that toilet truck I named and claimed this Bible verse, “This day will the LORD deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee; and I will give the carcasses of the host of the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, ” 1 Samuel 17:46. Then I looked around for Guy Chesney for a while but couldn’t find him. So I just hung out and watched everyone working.
I didn’t know that this day would turn into THE DAY but I was already happy because I was on a set and that gave me a chance to ob- serve and learn. So I had a clear sense of leading and that something big was about to happen. Seeing at least thirty people and ten equip- ment trucks made me shiver with joy because if this was their idea of a “low budget second unit shoot” which was how Guy Chesney had described it when we met and he invited me to the set, and if my meeting up with the Chesney worked out, and if he introduced me to his producer, and if Guy’s producer read my stepping stone exploitation genre slasher script and gave me a deal and we made my movie and they hired me to direct it as my first picture, and if my movie did unexpectedly well, then I could count on a great fee package and maybe even some back end points of the profits. And then maybe that would open the door to a studio deal for making God’s Movie! And when that happened then I could go home to my family! So anyway, to get all this going I was there to meet Guy, the production manager I’d met by “chance” in a restaurant a few days before when I was cruis- ing for door-opening contacts and – for once – had actually met one.
The crew was shooting a car crash gag. A big black 1969 Cadillac veered off the road, across two lanes of traffic and smashed through a break-away sugar-glass window in the gun store location. It was an- other sign on that day of days! It was the same model of vintage car I’d decided I’d drive when the Lord blessed me: The front-wheel- drive 1967-1969 Eldorado. God had said He’d give me one (along with the new Mercedes I was asking for) just as soon as I made His Movie.
I had hung around a lot of second unit shoots trying to pick up hands-on knowledge to add to my screenwriting night class learn- ing curve to prepare me for what the Lord had in store for me. I’d noticed that stunt guys like to make a big deal out of what they do. The set was crawling with stunt guys. Stunt men are king on a second unit of an action movie. The stars are nowhere in sight. It’s only crew and macho stunt guys with eighteen inches of gut hanging over their Stunt Man Association of America belt buckles that are around when most stunts get shot. The bigger the ‘gag, ’ what they call a stunt, the more dangerous it seems, the more they get paid. That’s why every time there’s a fall into an air bag or pile of card- board boxes, a car crash, a slide off a motor cycle, or a full body burn, whatever, the stunt guys limp away. The other stunt guys play along even though the stunt men are the ones who talk the second unit director into doing the stunt in the first place. They say stuff like, “Hey! You only want me to fall sixty feet!? Shit! That ain’t nothin!’ Last picture I did with Burt I took a hundred and twenty fuckin’ foot fall.” They still complain about it later though and say that the second unit director was, “an asshole for makin’ me do it!”
The crew was checking a dozen or so remote cameras that rolled on the crash, along with one in the front end grill of the car. After the assistant director gave the okay a cheer went up. The stunt driver slowly climbed out of the crashed car holding his knee. Everybody went over to the craft services table to grab coffee, bowls of cereal and packs of gum, whatever. Movie people love to eat free food be- cause crews feel ripped off because the “above the line” important people on the set from the stars and the director to the producers are getting rich while all the crew gets is a paycheck like anybody else. Eating the craft services food for free is one way to get even.
I never did find Guy Chesney that day. But God led me to Solly Epstein instead!
Solly was following a PA lusting after her. I could see this by the way he leered upon her flesh. I admit that I leered a little too until I rebuked myself and claimed several anti-leering Bible verses like, Matthew 5:28, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”Obviously Solly had not read Galatians 5:16, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”
Solly was short, chunky and about forty five years old. He wore a white shirt and a cool Blues Brothers-type black suit but no tie. His shirt was open three buttons down and his chest hair was visible. He had a smooth round face the color of extra virgin olive oil. Solly’s lust for the PA was his sin but before the Lord she shared some of the responsibility (like she did for my leering) because of her immodesty. She was wearing an absurdly short miniskirt. As I walked past the PA she pushed Solly away and said “No way Sol!” in a flirty manner that reeked of loose living and lapsed morals of the kind that the whole country was suffering from ever since we had turned away from God and our Christian Founding Fathers’ vision for America. Solly sipped his coffee and saw me looking at him looking at her and he winked a very Hollywood Unbelieving Lapsed Liberal Jew-type wink.
“It’s her way of saying ‘yes, ’” Solly said.
“Hi, Sol, ” I said, pretending I knew him because that’s what the Lord said to do because I’d seen Solly’s picture in the Hollywood Reporter and I knew he was an important agent.
“We met?” he asked.
“Sure, ” I answered with the godly lie the Lord laid on my heart that very instant. “I saw you over at a wrap party at John Kohn’s.”
“John’s a mensch, ” Solly said.
“He said you’d like this, ” I said and held out my script instantly building the godly lie into a deftly constructed entirely fabricated back-story based on having read about that wrap party. “That’s why I came over. John said you’d be here.”
I had read about John Kohn in Variety and the Hollywood Reporter. He was an important producer with some good credits in- cluding “Racing with the Moon.” There was no question but that the Lord’s hand was on this “chance” meeting with Solly Epstein and the fact that I possessed deep background knowledge about just about everyone in town.
“Want to read my script before I send it over to Universal?” I asked.
“Universal my ass, ” Solly said and winked his leering Hollywood Unbelieving Lapsed Liberal Jew-type wink again.
“It’s a sexy thriller, ” I said.
“Yeah, sure, it’ll go to the top of the pile, ” Solly said and laughed and turned away with my script under his arm.
I called after Solly, “The production can be scaled down to meet a budget! There’s nothing non-negotiable in it. Where it says ten cars blow up on the San Diego freeway it can be one car in Texas or some other right-to-work state, even a motorcycle. We can shoot in Florida if we have to!”
And then the Lord gave me favor in Solly’s sight! He walked back over to me from the craft services table clutching a handful of dried figs and smiled a friendly kindly smile and said “Good for you. I get tired of writers married to their material.”
“I’m not just a writer Sol. I only write material I direct. I’m work- ing on something with John Kohn right now, ” I said.
“You DGA?” asked Solly.
“I can join the Director’s Guild anytime I want to spring for the nine grand. Right now I’m working non-DGA. There are a lot of independent producers out there looking for non-DGA directors.”
“John won’t get his picture made, not after what happened with ‘Shanghai Surprise, ’” Solly said. “Madonna and Sean Penn really fucked him over.” He stuffed a fig into his mouth chewed, swallowed the fig and lowered his voice to a friendly just-between-us conspiratorial whisper. “How do you feel about South Africa?” he asked. “How do you mean?”
“The boycott, you know, ‘Free Nelson Mandela, ’ ‘We Won’t Play Sun City, ’ all that political bullshit.”
“What about you?” I asked.
“Guess it would depend on how bad I wanted to make my first picture, ” he said. “Where can I call you?”
Moments later I was driving back over Laurel Canyon. I had a song in my heart and a prayer of thanksgiving on my lips! I turned left onto Hollywood Boulevard, parked and raced to my room to check for Solly’s phone call. On the drive I had named and claimed a message from Solly to already be on my answering machine. Who knows, I thought, he might even continue to represent me all the way up to and including getting God’s movie made.
It was like everything I’d done had led to this moment, every detail including screenwriting night class. My stepping stone scripts might only be stepping stones to making God’s movie but they followed the rules. Each of my scripts got better. I was so green when I first came to New Midian. Now I was a real writer. I’d learned that there always had to be something “really important at stake in a script” just like my writing teacher Hal Busby, said. These things “drive the character’s quest.” There are always “obstacles that make for conflict, ” and that “this is the heart of drama.” Before I started to write stepping stone scripts I had “somewhat naively, ”like my friend Molly called it, sent God’s script out to just about every producer in town. Before I left home Molly had been my co-music director at our church. We were close friends.
The Bad Jews and other Secular Liberals, Humanists, Homosexuals, Socialists, Agnostics and assorted Atheists (even some Communists) said the movie I was led to make was going to be a “hard sell.” Mostly they never returned my calls. The few who did read God’s script laughed at me and of course that meant that they were unknowingly mocking God too for which they will answer during a long hot eternity. The one or two producers who talked to me said that I needed to make what they called a “genre film, ” as a “first step picture, ” in other words a “stepping stone to better things.” This might be a “slasher flick” or a “horror picture” or even a “sexy thriller.” Whatever it was it would be low budget and something to “break in with” before trying to direct a major motion picture like “The Calling.” That was the title of God’s script that He’d laid on my heart to write and direct. It was the reason I had left my family and come to New Midian. In screenwriting night class our teacher, the world famous script doctor and writing guru, Hal Busby, said, “Horror and exploitation films almost always turn a profit if they’re brought in at the right budget and they’re a good starting place for filmmakers. Sometimes small stepping stone pictures lead on to big- ger things like John Carpenter’s ‘Halloween’ that was produced on just a $320, 000 budget but grossed over $80 million worldwide.”
Like I said it was Molly who talked me into listening to the people in New Midian who told me to make a stepping stone movie first. Besides getting Words of Knowledge from the Lord and other prophetic utterances Molly was a very kind woman and just a few years older than me. I was in my 20s and she was in her 30s when I’d left home. Molly wasn’t like everyone else in our church because I never felt she was judging me or keeping a sharp eye out for any backsliding I might be doing. And Molly was straightforward. If Molly didn’t like something I said (or later after I’d left home that I wrote to her) she just said so and didn’t say stuff like “I’ll pray for you” the way most Christians do when they’re really putting you down but doing it by pretending they love you. Molly was so normal that it was like she wasn’t even saved. But because she was so nice too and a really great music director Pastor Bob (and mostly everyone else) let Molly be. And besides being generally liked Molly some- times spoke in the Heavenly Tongue or interpreted other people’s prophecies during worship. So everyone assumed she was close to the Lord in her own way even if she seemed somewhat worldly at times. Besides all that Molly was married to our youth pastor and he was very popular—at least for a while before he split our church.
The people in our church who weren’t Real Christians left along with Molly’s husband. Long before this split happened over the inerrancy of Scripture, our pastor, Pastor Bob, who later expelled Molly’s husband, had started a new denomination. Pastor Bob was led to name our new church “The Reformed Charismatic Full Gospel Word of Life Church.” Pastor Bob was the only Reformed Calvinist leader in America who also practiced the Full Gifts of The Spirit. So we got “the best of everything, ” like Pastor Bob said, “Solid Reformed teaching and uplifting Pentecostal worship!”
At first I rejected the idea of making a stepping stone movie. I wanted to direct God’s Movie then race home to Seabrook, New Hampshire to my little girl Rebecca and to my wife Ruth, not build a career in the Movie Business. “I only came to town to make one movie!” I told Molly when I wrote to her. Molly helped me see that making a stepping stone movie might be part of God’s Plan as the way to learn my craft so that when the door opened to make His movie I’d be ready and that the stepping stone movie might be the way to get that door open in the first place. So Molly was why I had finally written several profane, godless and downright worldly scripts and resigned myself to the fact it would take years longer to get God’s Movie made than I had thought. And that’s why I was on the set that day trying to pitch one of my stepping stone scripts to the production manager I’d met.
The point is that Ruth, Molly and I had had a close spiritual brother-and-sister-in-the-Lord-type of relationship. Molly was like a second mother to my little Rebecca. My chaste platonic attitude about Molly should have been because she was my sister-in-Christ. But to be honest the fact I didn’t lust for Molly (like I admit I some- times lusted for several of the other women in our church) had more to do with the way Molly was so close to my Rebecca than because of biblical absolutes and family values. Molly took care of Rebecca when my daughter would go over to play with Molly’s three kids or when all our children were playing together in church while Molly and I rehearsed the music for Sunday worship. And since everything to do with Rebecca was sincerely, genuinely and completely sacred and pure as new-fallen snow to me it just didn’t feel right to ever look at her favorite person — Molly — with lust in my heart. And besides all that my wife Ruth was absolutely by far and away the most beautiful woman in our church and always had been. So I had no excuses. And Ruth was warm and friendly in the “bed depart- ment” like she called “that aspect” of married life.
However Ruth was so very godly that I just never wanted to disappoint her by being too bold in disclosing just how tough it was out in New Midian, or about how hard I struggled sometimes when I felt far from the Lord. So it was a relief to be able to write sister-in- the-Lord-type stuff to Molly I’d never dare tell anyone else, not even to my super godly gorgeous good-in-bed wife Ruth. So after I was living alone — very alone – in New Midian I wrote to Molly at least once a week just like I wrote to Ruth and Rebecca once a week too. But in my letters to Ruth and Rebecca I stuck to uplifting cheerful anecdotes about the doors God was opening for me. With Molly I told her the truth. And Molly confided in me too.
So I told Molly about what they were suggesting in screen- writing night class. I told her that it felt like making a so-called stepping stone movie would be a “compromise with Satan.” I wrote that I felt like I would be “lying about God’s power and that if I have enough faith I should be able to make God’s movie right away just by naming and claiming His blessing.”
Molly wrote back, “Billy, you need to do whatever it takes since God called you there. Don’t worry about your ‘stepping stone’ movies being a ‘kind of lying’ like you put it. Even if it is a kind of lying remember that it’s lying for God. Rahab the harlot lied to the king of Jericho about hiding the Hebrew spies ( Joshua 2:4–5) and was re- warded. Paul says that, ‘By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace’ Hebrews 11:31. Her faith demonstration was to tell a bold godly lie and it was as good as accepting Jesus would have been if He’d already come and the godly lie led to her salvation. So just make your stepping stone movie already! Even if you think it’s a ‘lie’ to do that it’s really just a godly King David-type trick to get the secular producers to let you make God’s movie…”
Standing in the hall outside my room I checked to see I had my key in the right lock. The light bulb was broken in the socket hanging from a foot of wire below the ceiling tiles. I kicked at the loose edge of the carpet in frustration when my key wouldn’t open the door. A nasty urine ammonia smell came out of that carpet.
I didn’t need to read the “Come to the office” notice taped above the handle of my door. I already sensed God was about to test me. See, each door in the Mayfair Estates had two locks. The tenant had one key and the management had the other in the office. When they wanted to get anyone’s attention about missed rent payments they locked the door with that second lock. They did this to everyone. The lower halves of most of the doors in the hall were almost kicked to pieces. There was man from India and his wife in the office and they never were really asleep even if it looked like they were. They’d scream at me before I made it halfway across the floor to the box with the keys.
So I lifted up my problem before The Throne. I knew I was not alone in that dark hall. I could sense that this was a satanic attack that God was allowing as a chastisement, though I wasn’t sure what He was punishing me for. So maybe this was just one last test to prepare me for my big break because at last I had an actual agent interested in my work and I couldn’t even get to my message machine!
But rent or no rent, back home in Seabrook I wasn’t forgotten. In her letters to me Ruth always said that I was “held up unceas- ingly” by Pastor Bob and all the Spirit-filled brothers and sisters who shared the burden of my missionary director-for-Jesus call. So I joined my voice to theirs and prayed, “Oh Lord! Thou who hast led Thy people faithfully, Thou who didst impute faith to me and even righteousness please lead Solly to call me that I mightest fulfill Thy call to make it in The Business in order that I might be able to reach America for Thee, Oh Lord! So just open this door for me or just provide for me the three hundred dollars I need, as Thou provided the five smooth stones for David so he could slay Goliath, Oh Lord, I just beseech Thee!”
Then, in one of the most direct leadings I ever had and almost as sure fire as the time I was led to write down God’s first draft of “The Calling, ” God sent me a vision of Arab women by a swimming pool. He put the details into my brain directly right down to their rolls of slick brown fat hanging over their bikini bottoms. God showed me that they were sitting by the pool at the Oakwood, by day, week or month furnished apartments over in Burbank. I knew that there, in the purses the Lord revealed to me in the vision — clear as if they were actually floating in that dark stinking hallway — that there would be that day’s milk and honey.
God even gave me driving directions. It was revealed to me that all I had to do was drive down Hollywood to La Brea, turn left, then right onto Franklin, go up Highland, past the Hollywood Bowl to Barham and pull in the gate, with my old Oakwood Resident sticker prominently displayed on the dash. I had lived there the first month I came to town when I thought making it would be easy. That’s why I still had the sticker. So the Lord even used the fact that I never cleaned out my car. I couldn’t afford to live at Oakwood very long and got my much less expensive room after the seed money the church gave me ran out.
After showing me those handbags God had said, “Billy, be My Gideon today!” So I did just as the Lord instructed me by laying this passage on my heart, “And the LORD looked upon him, and said, ‘Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?’” Judges 6:7-14.
When I got to Oakwood to do what God’s servant Gideon did to the Midianites the Iranian security guard, the same one as when I was living there years before, glanced up from his little portable black and white TV, saw my old Oakwood sticker — Yes Jesus! — and waved me in. But no Midianites were by the pool! Then, in a flash I remembered that there were two pools. One God plus one believer is always a majority in any fight! “I will be with you” God told Gideon. And that’s all that we should ever need to know.
The pool I was standing at was down at the lower end of the twenty-building apartment village. The other pool, sun deck, Jacuzzi and fitness center was on the other side of the complex at the top of the hill. The Midianite women were there! They were wearing lots of jewelry, the kind they sell on the Home Shopping Network, little glittery chains like women from India wear when they walk around the Beverly Center with red demonic Hindu dots on their foreheads. The Midianites had purses with initials all over them. I knew the rent was in those handbags like God said.
“Lord You have brought me to this promised land of Oakwood, just help me cross over to it on dry land! Just deliver these daughters of Hagar into my hand!” I said.
He did! He showed me what to do down to the smallest detail.
The upper pool area was empty except for those three Arabs who lay oozed out like melting chocolate. One was face down, her worldly brown bottom bulging above and below her depraved copper-colored way-too-small bathing suit panties. On top her straps were unhooked. The two other Midianites were face up. I trusted Him to keep their eyes closed. I had to name and claim them closed. I couldn’t see their eyes behind their rhinestone mirrored sunglasses. By faith alone I picked up a garden hose on the shady side of the pool next to the staircase that led to the fitness center. I pointed it at a bush, turned it on full blast, adjusted the nozzle from spray to a powerful stinging jet and waited for the water to get icy cold. Then I whipped around and blasted the three Midianites like God said to.
If they had thought it was only a joke the Midianites would have just run to the end of the pool screaming Arab curses. By yelling what God placed in my heart, “Death to Arabs! ISRAEL LIVES!” I convinced them to not just scream Arab curses but to also run all the way around the pool into the lower hall of F building.
Then I dropped the hose, ran around the pool and grabbed up the Midianites’ Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Yves St. Laurent purses and dashed through the underground parking garage under Apartment G and ran on out to the parking lot and jumped into my Honda. The engine started right away which it never did so right there it proved I was in the Lord’s Will. “Praise you, J-e-s-u-s!” I screamed and I made sure not to accelerate too fast. That would have made the Iranian look up from his TV and maybe take down my license number. But when God’s Hand is on you everything works out fine and the gate guard didn’t even turn his head.
This post is excerpted from Frank Schaeffer’s new book, “And God Said, Billy!, ” currently featured on the Red Letter Book Club.