Several years ago at the Truth Awards, The Last Appeal movie swept the awards ceremony. It was the first I’d heard of it, but I found the lead actress mesmerizing as she accepted one award after another. Soon after, I got to watch the film at the GloryReelz Christian Film Festival, and I was able to see for myself what all the fuss was about. It was unlike anything I’d seen before, and was one of those movies that stuck with me, keeping me thinking about it months later.

Trey and Ariel Fernald and their Eastern Sky Theatre team are the real deal. Not only are they extremely talented and dedicated artists, but they truly care about the lost and the hurting. Many Christian filmmakers talk about using faith-based films as ministry. Eastern Sky Theatre is actually doing it. 

What led to the founding of Eastern Sky Theatre?

Our team members were doing shows to build the local church back in the 90’s and early 2000’s in the Los Angeles area. By the grace of God, people were turning to Christ in the thousands after our productions. Our team was attracting professional artists from all over the L.A. area that just wanted to use their gifts for God. This went on for twelve years. After a lot of prayer and fasting, one of the pastors and some team leaders believed this kind of theatre needed to circulate throughout Southern California. They prayed over us, took up an offering and the rest is history.

What was your original vision for the ministry?

We have always had an incredible heart for Los Angeles. There is so much confusion, deception, greed and idolatry that creeps into one’s soul in this city. Yet God is passionately pursuing L.A. as if it was His favorite. Our past, present, and future agenda is to produce and present powerful, evangelistic shows designed to win the residents of L.A. County to Jesus Christ. Any additional project that extends past the borders of Southern California is just a by-product of our team pursuing Los Angeles first. Yes, we have productions circulating the world right now, but we work hard to possess that relatable / edgy approach to winning the “City of Angels” first.

 

What has been the greatest challenge with having a Christian theatrical ministry in Los Angeles?

There have been SO many rewarding and fulfilling things about illustrating God’s heart to audiences. We’ve been in awe of what God has done through our company members, but we have been challenged at times to raise the funds for our show budgets and ministry budget.

I’m sure many of us can attest to this challenge. When we are highly passionate about an artistic project but must stop to raise the necessary funds. It’s just a part of the package that Christian artists must engage in. Like it or not, we must ask for what we need. I look at it this way after years of fundraising, IF I really believe that God commissioned me to do a specific project, than the fruit of that faith is confidently asking others for help (people’s time, money, resources, connections, expertise and labor). Though this issue is a challenge, it has also toughened us up to kick doors open that were presumed closed.

Tell us about some of the places you’ve performed your live theater productions.

My word! It seems like yesterday when we debuted our first show titled The Last Appeal at West Angeles Performing Arts Center in the heart of Los Angeles. Since that exciting time, we have gone on to perform in theaters, correctional facilities, churches, schools (public & private), community centers and auditoriums each year. I am so thankful to have a team that remains flexible from one venue to the next. We’ve literally performed live for 2,100 people in a state of the art venue one day, then turned around to appear on a grassy courtyard for fifty juvenile offenders. Never a dull moment with Eastern Sky, but Jesus experienced the same thing with his teachings. It’s an honor to be sent to reach the “Whosoever”.

What led to the addition of film to your repertoire?

About five years ago we had to admit that our team can only pack-up and play to “so” many locations. There’s a limit to where we can take our full-length plays. As much as we’d like to, we just can’t travel to every island, region, continent and village with the kind of productions we have created. So our leadership prayed together and asked ourselves the tough questions. The mutual answer we received was to film our first hit play, The Last Appeal, and get it around the world via TV and theatrical.

Fortunately, one of our team members is a veteran / professional indie film producer and director. God is SO gracious! He was right there with experienced help when we made the big leap into film making. It was a beautiful process that our team will never forget. We have received the Lord’s direction for our next film, and now we’re back on our knees for a second trip to “the plate”.

How did you come up with The Last Appeal concept?

One particular Easter season, our team members were given the assignment to illustrate how “The hardest of hearts that make the gravest mistakes can still find salvation through Jesus Christ.” So we chose the world of death row where some men are extremely guilty for their crime, while others are actually innocent of their charge. Within this concept we purposed to show FORGIVENESS for the worst offense, BROKENNESS in the heart of the toughest man, CHANGE in the life of a man who was given an unchangeable diagnosis, and FAITH in the soul of a man who insisted that life must be described as “hopeless”.

How does The Last Appeal film and the play compare?

No comparison in terms of audience reception. Obviously, the film and the play are the same script, but the way an audience absorbs the play cannot be compared to the way they absorb the film. With the play, our characters have the advantage of being in the same room as the audience. The live character has access into the heart of an audience that is not available on the silver screen. It’s handled differently in film. We get to go home with the characters in film and see their fears, their values and even what they de-value. A good film will illustrate as many necessary pieces of information as possible for an audience to completely understand the character’s direction. Its approach is a more visual illustration than the play. So if the play is a “Jeep Ride Across The Country”, then the film is a “Train Ride Across The Country”. Both are fun, nice and different.

What has been the response to The Last Appeal?

We are so grateful for the response. It has been God orchestrated. Around the world, people have been making decisions to follow Jesus Christ, or re-dedicate their life to Christ or the “light bulb” has gone on for veteran Christians, where they say “I get it! Unforgiveness is hurting ME, not my enemy. I’m pleasing God and freeing myself if I forgive.” Through multiple TV networks, digital platform, and theatrical presentations we have been able to present The Last Appeal on every continent. On the flip side of the coin, we have been given positive feedback from professional film people. It’s quite clear that The Last Appeal is a play shot for TV, but still orchestrated for an effective viewing experience. In a nutshell, we have been edified with the full understanding that we need to grow from this.

What advice would you offer to theater companies interested in branching out into film?

Sounds crazy, but give yourself a couple of years to raise the money. This will give you time to create funding packets, comprise a live promo to help generate support, possibly shoot a short film clip to generate support, build a veteran team that knows film and reach out to your pool of resources to generate support. IF the money comes sooner, then great! If not, then at least you gave yourself ample time while honoring your theatre priorities. And if your top priority is still theatre, but you want a great experience with film, please wait, wait, wait, then wait for a seasoned, professional film maker to take some of the reins. It will bless you tremendously and save a lot of your time. You want a person who truly knows the ins and outs of getting a solid film made, NOT just someone who appreciates your vision. We waited an entire year for our film maker friend to be available after declaring The Last Appeal must become cinema. Thank God we did.

What advice would you offer to filmmakers interested in using film as a ministry?

Within the context of “the Great Commission”, I want to first say BRAVO to anyone who has said “YES” to such a mission. It is absolutely beautiful, impactful and adventurous. God is so blessed by artists who make any kind of specific decision for the purpose of ministry! (Matthew 13:34) You can do it! My advice is simple but tangible. Every single day from this point forward the world, your flesh and the devil will present a reason not to use your gifts for God. You will see worldly films that people applaud while you travel down the “narrow path”, you will be fundraising at a time when someone else is “laughing all the way to the bank”, and what seems to take years for you to produce appears to be the amount of time for another to crank out 3 projects. DO NOT BE FOOLED! You are the one changing lives while others are guessing about their self-worth. You are the one that is fulfilling God’s divine purpose. You are the one that has almighty God backing your project and must supply accordingly. You are the one who will have a harvest year of impact / appreciation / & effective ministry when your film is released. And you’re the one God will trust to move to another level afterwards.

Anything else?

Eastern Sky Theatre Company is excited to premiere a brand new Christmas show this December! THIS IS CHRISTMAS will debut December 9th in North Hollywood, CA, and they are joining forces with renowned dance company WORD IN MOTION to present this powerful story. For details go to www.easternskytheatre.org (click onto “Events”).

Written by Sharon Wilharm

I'm a female filmmaker, blogger, and speaker with over a decade of industry experience. I'm passionate about visual storytelling. I know firsthand that you don't have to spend a fortune to make a good movie, and you can tell a powerful story without ever saying a word. My desire with Faith Flix is to educate, inspire, and encourage my fellow filmmakers. I know that Christian filmmakers can make better movies, but it takes education and hard work. I'll help with the education and leave you to do the hard work.

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