After a long and successful career as an actor, Kirk Cameron is now making his debut as a producer with his new project, “Monumental: In Search of America’s National Treasure.”
I was able to catch up with Cameron after his presentation last month at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and ask him a few questions about his new film, set to debut in theaters nationwide tonight.
Kevin Williams: How has making this film changed your outlook on the future?
Kirk Cameron: Aw … You know what is interesting, especially for a guy who has made apocalyptic “Left Behind” movies about the end of the world and how we have nothing but destruction to look forward to as the “Left Behind” stories go … it is very interesting to me to have learned that our forefathers were Bible-believing Christians who had a very hopeful and optimistic view of where the world was headed. Because they believed in the ultimate victory and freedom and liberty that came through Christ and his death and resurrection. So, making this movie has definitely opened my eyes to other perspectives on… not just inner freedom and spiritual liberty, but also a real-world physical freedom and liberty like here now.
Williams: That’s a positive outlook.
Cameron: I’ve got a lot more optimism and hope for the future of this world, I would say, then I did before I started on this filmmaking journey with “Monumental.”
Williams: How has making “Monumental” been different for you, being a filmmaker this time rather than being an actor?
Cameron: Well, obviously I’m not just acting. I’m involved in the creative side of things and editing and producing. So, it’s a lot more work. It’s really hard. It’s a lot more work. But it’s interesting, and it gives me a chance to put a lot more of my thumbprint on the film. So when you see the movie that comes come out, there’s a lot of me and my sensibilities in there. Not somebody else’s. I’m not just playing a part.
Williams: How was making the adjustment from narrative filmmaking to documentary filmmaking?
Cameron: I guess the big difference is that as an actor, I’m used to playing make-believe parts or roles in something like “Fireproof” or “Growing Pains” or whatever. But a lot of the things that I do nowadays, they are educational and ministry-oriented. So, I’m not playing characters, I’m just teaching. I’m teaching on marriage. I’m teaching on faith. I’m teaching on these things in schools and in churches. So, from that perspective, it is this just a really big exciting, dramatic, cinematic, glorified teaching on some compelling material. So, I was kind of prepared for it.
Williams: Did you write all the narration yourself?
Williams: How was that? Because that can be one of the most difficult things for a documentarian.
Cameron: It wasn’t that difficult, but it was time-intensive. But really what it is [in our film] is kind of a video journal of just me talking about the things that I’ve learned and connecting the dots between events and discoveries that we’ve made along the way of this journey. It was time-consuming, but it was really rewarding.
Williams: How long was the production period? How long did the whole project take?
Cameron: Well, we’ve been at this for about two years. The shooting time was several months with everyone’s schedules. And I met with a lot of experts and historians, politicians and people in Washington, D.C. and in England, Scotland, Holland and Los Angeles, Boston, Texas. So to get everyone’s schedules to line up, it took quite a while to film and editing it all together has taken a long time, too.
Williams: It was amazing to see, in the trailer, all the different places you are taking the audience that we haven’t seen before in this way, like Plymouth, Mass. With such a personal film like “Monumental,” did you have to consider how personal you really wanted to make it at the end of the day?
Cameron: That’s a good question. I think that there was a challenge in not wanting to be so “my family-centric” that people felt that this is a movie just about me and my kids. Or my family or my concerns. It’s really everybody’s story. It’s the story of our country and our future. And all of our families and where we’re headed. So there was a challenge in trying to tell my personal story and journey, but in such a way that other people feel like I was really taking them on their journey as well.
Williams: That is the one thing from the filmmaking perspective, particularly for documentary, when you are part of the film … when do you decide how much of the film should be your personal information or your personal relationship to the subject versus what the audience is going to take in?
Cameron: Well, what I did is I said, “Look. These are my questions. I’m going out on a journey to find some answers and then we go out on this adventure together.” And every step of the way, I’m sort of explaining here’s what we just saw, here’s what we just learned, here’s what happened. Then, let’s go to the next step and we kind of go all the way through. And then I give kind of a wrap-up and a conclusion on what this means to me personally and the challenge to other families. To pick up the ball and run down the field with it.
Williams: Did being an actor help you in the process of writing and performing the narration for “Monumental?”
Cameron: Definitely. I think 30 years as an actor definitely gives you some experience and some comfort level of being in front of the camera and being able to talk. It is amazing how many people you can talk to who can stand in front of thousands of people or have a tremendous amount of knowledge, but you stick a camera in front of their face and suddenly they freeze up. And you just feel so self-conscious. I think that was a real bonus for me to be comfortable in front of a camera and still be able to be natural and just talk from the heart.
Williams: And I guess coming from narrative filmmaking, having an ear for a good line probably helped…
Cameron: Yes, but I’ll have to tell you how it turns out. (Laughs).
Williams: At the end of the day, what has your previous experience as an actor and being in the entertainment industry helped you with completing this project?
Cameron: I think just being in the entertainment industry and around films and movies for the last 30 years, since I was ten years old, a lot of this stuff is just tucked away in my memory banks. So, I think when you soak up enough experiences … it starts coming out your pores later on. When you don’t even realize it. I never wanted to be a director or producer, but now it just sort of comes out. So you end up producing things out of just a desire to want to get something done instead of waiting for someone else to bring you a project.
Williams: You’ll be spending a lot of time over the next year trying to get “Monumental” out into the world. Anything on the horizon that we should look out for?
Cameron: Well, I’d like to continue making documentaries and do other films like “Fireproof” … about subjects I care about. Marriage, family being at the top of the list. I love the ideas of looking back to historical heroes to give us inspiration on how we can be today’s heroes to move forward in the future. So guys like … William Bradford and William Wallace, the Bravehearts, the Patriots, the Pilgrims. There are so many of those people throughout history … whose stories have just never been told.
Williams: One last question… with the entertainment industry, there are a lot of folks that I find out want to become filmmakers and don’t know how to do it. Particularly folks who may be of faith or a different political perspective … do you have any advice on taking that first step and getting a film done?
Cameron: I would suggest a couple of things. One, be intentional about trying to find other people who think like you do and create a team and make some things together. Find creative people who are like-minded and partner up and pool your resources and your talents and make something. And the second thing is, don’t just talk about it. Do it. Lots of people talk about it. “Aw, this is great, I’m going to get the script together. Once we find the funding!” They talk and talk and talk about the problems in the entertainment industry and how the good films aren’t being made. That those with the right values have such low production values … blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Get out there and make a film. If you’ve got ten bucks, make a movie. Make it two minutes long. Make it 30 seconds long and then begin to increase it. Get some experience and get some things done. Pretty soon, you’ll show enough of your work to enough people that someone will say “hey, you’ve got what it takes. I want to invest a half a million dollars or a million or ten million and I want you to do my project!”
Williams: Thank you very much and good luck with your new film, “Monumental.”