The music is blaring, the lights are low and hundreds of young people are on the move, filling their nights – and cups – with crazy, “harmless” fun. It’s a typical night in the life of a college student… right?
Not for everyone. Stephanie Rodnez saw scenes like these when she entered college six years ago and felt a stirring in her heart when witnessing many of her friends falling away from their relationships with God. So many students who had been committed to Him gradually took their hearts back to engage in “college life”- consisting of everything from getting drunk and partying hard to being promiscuous – and anything else movies and TV deem is normal.
Nearing graduation Stephanie felt God telling her to change her career plans and use her talents to glorify Him. Despite initial hesitation she heeded the call, and her independent film company Christ Effect Entertainment was born. The company presents Christian media for young adults that encourages them to stay firm in their faith no matter what the culture and media throws at them. There are two films already in distribution and plans to expand into television, books, and even a nightclub.
Now finishing up her graduate degree in business at Nova South Eastern University in Miami, FL, Stephanie is rallying up other young people with a passion for God to battle the messages and lifestyles bombarding young adults today. With her warm, joyful personality and creative, youthful productions Stephanie draws others in to see the truth of God’s love, and she’s striving to make a mark for “Godlywood” one young audience at a time.
In Take 1 of the interview Stephanie chatted with Dream in Soul about how and why she got started with Christ Effect Entertainment, the growth of the Christian film industry, and about the work she hopes has a powerful effect for Christ in this generation:
Dream in Soul: Hi Stephanie, thanks for speaking with me today. I wanted to first ask you when did you feel the calling to make films?
SR: Ah, well it’s actually really cool. I was 14 or 15 and was in love with journalism, in love, in love, in love… I didn’t want to do anything else. I did this internship at the Sun Sentinel (a local Florida newspaper) for six weeks, and I fell even more in love with it. So I’m like alright Lord, this is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life, I’m going to write stories for newspapers.
One day I’m sitting in front of my TV screen at home in the summer, and I was just flipping through the channels and I was like wow, there’s not a lot of stuff here for young adult Christians. I heard the Holy Sprit telling me – that’s what I want you to do.
I was like, I am not doing movies. I already have a job lined up at the Sun Sentinel and I don’t even like making movies that much. I was like no way, Lord if you want me to do this, you have to make me love it. So when I got back to school in the fall I started working on my own film and I fell in love with the whole process. And the rest is history (laughs)! He put me on the path, He taught me what I needed to know, and now, praise God it’s everything I’m passionate about, and I love doing it.
Watch Stephanie in action as she’s planning her upcoming movie “Youth of Christ,” in this webisode from her day-in-the-life of an indie filmmaker series:
DS: So how did it go from making the film to starting your own business? Tell me about Christ Effect Entertainment.
SR: Christ Effect Entertainment started as Starstruck Entertainment when I was 16 years old. That’s the original name of the company, but when I started to get closer to graduation (I knew that I wanted to start after college) I Googled the name Starstruck Entertainment and it already exists. So I knew that’s not going to work. A friend of mine had already came up with the name The Christ Effect for the first documentary and the logo I already designed when I was 16 was an “S” with a star. I was like wait a minute, Christ Effect, C-E, Entertainment C-E-E. I changed the S into a C and came up with Christ Effect Entertainment… “Helps people to ‘CEE’”. So praise God that’s how it started… After graduation I signed all the papers, paid a lot of money, and the company became official.
DS: What would you say is your mission and goal for the company?
SR: Christ Effect Entertainment’s mission is to bring quality entertainment to the young adult age group. I think our generation has been grossly underserved when it comes to Christian Entertainment. It’s not Christian entertainment’s fault- well their audience is mainstream church-goers who are active in the Bible, – which is great. But we’re a generation whose getting attacked on every side by all this media and it has nothing to do with Christ. So our goal is to bring Christian Entertainment to young adults to a generation that competes with what the world puts out there, and that inspires us to live for Him and to walk for Him and to see Him in our everyday lives. That’s what we want to do with every single film we put out.
DS: That’s awesome. I met you when you were majoring in film at the University of Miami in Florida (go Canes;). How did that prepare you for making your own films?
SR: At UM I majored in film and I majored in religion as a double major. The film program at the University of Miami is absolutely incredible. The thing about it is that you get out of the program what you put into the program. So if you go to the program and you’re lazy and you don’t do anything you’re not going to get anything out of it. But when I got there we had film equipment, we had cameras, we had tape we had tripods, we had all this stuff.
As a freshman I was like, “Lord there’s all this equipment here give me an idea for something to make for you while I’m here.” Two days later He gave me the idea for “The Christ Effect”. I honestly don’t think I would have been able to do that film at any other program.
UM had professors that supported me. They had teachers that had the experience of working on documentaries. They had students who wanted to be on camera, who wanted to work behind the camera, they had editing labs… It was just incredible. The reason why “The Christ Effect” and “Lamb of God” got made it was because of that program. I’m so grateful to God that He sent me there.
DS: That’s awesome. Tell me about “The Christ Effect” movie. Where did the idea come from and what’s it about?
SR: The Christ Effect is a documentary about the struggles of being a Christian during college. The purpose of it is to educate incoming college freshmen, and Christians who are already in college, about the struggles they can expect to see as a Christian when they get there and also to teach them how to deal with those struggles effectively.
When I got to college almost all of my really close friends were really strong Christians and everyone was like, “Oh I want to go to church, blah blah,” and all this stuff. By the end of four years – no. Hardly anybody was going to church, hardly anybody was reading the Bible, a lot of people were sexually active. A lot of people were into clubbing and drinking and hooking up and getting drunk… I feel like that only happens because we weren’t prepared for what being a Christian in college really takes no one really told us how hard it would be. Praise God some people stayed true, some people found a church home and stayed in the Bible, but more people than not ended up straying. So “The Christ Effect” is trying to prepare people for that struggle – so that when they get there they don’t get overwhelmed. They can say I knew this was going to happen, I’m going to be prepared for this and I’m going to stay true to Christ.
The Trailer for the Christ Effect
The Christ Effect: A documentary about the struggle to be a Christian during college, “The Christ Effect” follows the lives of 9 college students as they struggle to live for Christ while still living up the college experience. The primary purposes of this film are to educate students about the struggles that come with being a Christian college student and to provide solutions to the struggles Christian students can face. Created by Christian students for Christian students, this film offers a unique perspective that is a great tool in helping students figure out how to be an effective Christian on campus while still enjoying their four years.
DS: Ok, and what kind of responses have you gotten from those who were in the film and people who’ve seen the film?
SR: When I first made the movie I was so nervous. I was like it’s horrible nobody’s going to like it, no one’s going to learn from it and I was just terrified. But the more that people are watching it the more confident I’m getting about it because everybody whose watched it so far has learned something, even non-Christians who’ve watched it have learned from it and I just think that’s incredible that God can use it like that.
I actually met with a director of a huge organization for youth groups and he told me he watched it. He looked at me and said “Stephanie, this is the content that youth pastors need, because this generation is losing the most churchgoers. You know they’re going off and they’re not coming back. This is what we needed to start opening up these doors to star discussing these issues with young adults.” I was like “Yaaay!” I got a Facebook message from a youth pastor who was like “I saw your trailer and this is definitely what my students need and I’m so excited to order it for them.” Other people at my church who’ve seen it were just really blessed by it.
I met this woman who is actually another director in the film industry, I gave her a copy for free since she’s a fellow filmmaker. She watched it and was like I have one word for this – it’s amazing. She went online and ordered a copy from Amazon and sent it to her daughter, even though she had a free copy in her hand. I was just like praise the Lord for that, God has just been amazing and has been speaking through many people.
Christian Vs. Secular?
DS: Wow, that is awesome. I wanted to ask you why you decided to make Christ-centered films. I’ve heard discussions among Christians about being a “Christian artist” versus an “artist who is Christian” where one makes films that are specifically about Christianity and the other makes films that could be considered secular. How do you feel about this, do you think you’ll ever make more secular films that don’t have a Christian theme but are still positive?
SR: There are so many different studios and different filmmakers who are already doing that, that I feel like if I did do that then I would be disappointing God. I believe that the reason that God gave me this task is that He knew that Stephanie would not stop. Every single film that Christ Effect Entertainment makes should be spiritually uplifting, should have Jesus’ message inside of it, should represent Him to the fullest. Every single film.
I’m working on the script for my third film right now and I gave it to my co-worker and he’s actually an atheist and he read it for me and he told me Stephanie this is a great “slasher film” but you’re trying to force religion on it and it doesn’t work. You need to just get rid of the religion in it and you’ll have a great film. I was like, listen even if this film would earn me billions of dollars if there’s no spiritual message in it then there’s no point in my company. So I was like it’s going to have a spiritual message, I just may need to rewrite it and rework it, but it’s going to have that spiritual message.
Actually after debating with him for about half-an-hour, he actually gave me a great idea that turns it into a spiritual message that’s a great slasher film. So God works through everything and in everything. God-willing every single film that CEE produces will have a spiritual message.
DS: That is a great goal and vision. What do you think of the current Christian film industry? Do you think anything needs to be improved in the quality or types of films or how they are marketed, and do you have any favorite films or filmmakers that inspire you?
The current Christian film industry (called “Godlywood”) is growing stronger and stronger each and every year! We’ve got Tyler Perry and Sherwood Church (“Facing the Giants,” “Fireproof”) with films out there that have grossed HUGE in the box office! Now, New Song Productions is adding their Christian movies to the mix with their release “To Save a Life” (currently in theaters).
By the grace of God, my next movie will be released in theaters sometime next year, and every single day God has me meeting a new Christian filmmaker whose desire is to make movies for the Lord. Yes, the quality of Christian films overall do need to go up, but this will happen in time. What matters now is building a unity in the body of Christ that demands Jesus be glorified in film, and this is what is happening now! Sherwood Church and Tyler Perry are HUGE inspirations of mine, and the story of New Song Productions is so beautiful and touching! I pray that God uses me even a tenth of how He’s using these other Christian filmmakers to inspire the body of Christ, and I can’t wait to collaborate with them!!
DS: I saw on your site your second movie is “Lamb of God”. What’s that about?
SR: Lamb of God is a feature-length film about Jesus coming to earth as a college student. We get to see Jesus’ message as it applies on a modern-day campus. The purpose of it is to remind young adults that you’ve still got to represent Christ even today, a thousand years later, His message is still as relevant today as it was when He first came.
DS: Did the movie “Lamb of God” debut yet?
SR: It did premiere the day after my graduation at UM, but it will come out on DVD in March 2010 as an Easter movie.
DS: Cool, so what was the response for that, what did the people who saw the premiere at UM say?
SR: People at the premiere were all my friends so I wouldn’t trust their opinion too much (‘laughs’) but they all loved it and they all thought it was great. Everybody inside the film was a student actor, so they all loved that these people worked so hard without getting paid anything. They love the message of the film. It was a good response, but again they all knew me so… I love the response of people who know me it does a lot to me, but I love more the responses of people who don’t know me, because I know they’re not lying – they genuinely mean it.
DS: That’s true, but I’m sure it was pretty good. What film are you working on now?
SR: Right now, I am currently developing my company’s third film entitled “Youth of Christ.” It is a feature length, SUPER fun film about four teenagers putting on a youth revival at their church. The film is being shot April 12th-21st mainly at the First Baptist Church of Plantation, and almost everyone on the cast and crew are volunteers from God’s church community who want to see Jesus’ kingdom advance in the film industry! I started writing a blog about the entire process, and I’ve started a Facebook group called “Youth of Christ-The Movie,” so that the volunteers in “Youth of Christ” can follow what we’re doing. I’ll be uploading weekly webisodes on our Facebook group page showing us as we make the movie.
Right now I am in the final semester of my M.B.A. program at Nova Southeastern University (praise the Lord!). I’m also still working and am producing “Youth of Christ.” Life is super busy right now, but I’m having SO MUCH FUN praising the Lord in all He’s given me to do!
Here’s another webisode of her behind the scenes series where Stephanie introduces locations that will be used in her film “Youth for Christ.”
DS: How else do you want to expand the company and what are your long-term goals?
The overall goal for CEE is to be the leading multimedia corporation for young adult Christians in the entire world. I want to be able to compete with MTV, BET, all of them. I want to be right up there with them. So as profits come in I want CEE to work completely off of profits – what we make is what we use. So as the profits come in definitely we’ll expand into television, into fashion, into magazines, into books, music, even into a nightclub. In the business plan I already wrote about a nightclub on South Beach for young adult Christians, open on Friday nights, Saturday nights and on Sunday mornings for church. Young adult Christians would be able to come in and dance and praise God and still be on South Beach and still hang out. It has a hot name I’m not going to tell you now because it’s not copyrighted yet, but it has a really hot name. So I want CEE to be huge and to be the primary source of entertainment for young adult Christians.
SR: This is going to sound crazy but I actually want to make billions of dollars so that I can push it all into Haiti. That is actually my long-term goal, that’s where I want to end up. (Note: This part of the interview was done before the recent earthquake in Haiti.) Building schools there, building condos, starting up commerce, feeding and educating the people, that is my ultimate goal. I believe that’s why God called me to do this, because He knew that eventually once the capital was there I could ass off the company to somebody else He has called so that I could go to Haiti and do everything I possibly can, everything He could use me for to help the country. That is my long-term goal. I didn’t realize that was it, He kind of kept putting it in me and I realized – ohhh, that’s where you want me to end up.
DS: Yes definitely, Haiti needs people like you to do the work of God there. How can people find out more about your films and to support and purchase?
SR: The film is available to purchase on Amazon.com, log into the site and search for “The Christ Effect,” or you can visit www.CeeChrist.com, and under the news page there’s a link to the Amazon page.
There’s also a PowerPoint presentation and study guide that was created based off the “The Christ Effect” that is available for youth pastors so if they want to hold a Bible study for their youth group they can download it for free online.
DS: Great, wow you have everything they may need.
SR: Praise God, He’s raising up a whole army of young people to do something big for His name, and I want to say that by the grace of God Christ Effect Entertainment is going to provide great entertainment for young adult Christians so that they can “CEE” and be enriched and so that they can bring their non-saved friends too and be a witness to them.
In the next part of the interview Stephanie will give tips on following your calling, staying focused on Christ, mistakes she’s made in starting her business and also inspiration for other young filmmakers.
To connect with Stephanie Rodnez and Christ Effect Entertainment visit the website www.CeeChrist.com or join her “Youth of Christ” Facebook page. You can also read her blog at http://godlywoodgirl.wordpress.com.