As part of my continuing coverage of Wild Faith, I’m excited to talk with Melissa Anschutz, actress and co-producer of the film. Melissa majored in theatre with a minor in literature at CMU and WMU. She’s performed in 26 films, five television series, and several commercials. I love that she produced her first theatrical show when she was seven. 

When did you first discover a love for acting?

I discovered my love for acting at a very young age. Honestly, as long as I can remember, I wanted to be an actress. I loved to make people laugh, cry, feel afraid, feel happy, I love to make people ‘feel’ anything. I loved to watch their reactions. I loved to tell stories. I loved becoming someone else and found it intoxicating to figure out the “who” they were. Human behavior has everything to do with the influences around us, who our parents are, where we grew up, what school we attended, what kinds of friends we had, etc., then we have our chemical make-up, hard-wiring genetics. I found it fascinating to dissect these elements in different people. It affects speech, thought process, moral beliefs, religious beliefs, body language, it affects every single trait. As the saying goes, you never know unless you walk in someone’s shoes. As actors we are gifted that ability, to walk in someone else’s shoes. As a human, I feel as though this has made me more empathetic to others.The confirmation of my suspected direction came for the first time when I was seven. I had organized a show for an audience which consisted of parents, neighbors and friends. When I watched them engage, I fell in love with the emotion in their reactions to the story we were telling.

What was your first acting role?

My debut as an actor was in the role of Sandy in Grease. I was seven. It was the role in the show I had organized and described in the above answer. My favorite part of playing that role was her transformation in the story and I loved the orchestration of the entire project.

What was the best acting advice you received while in college?

The best advice I have ever received in my acting life is to NOT act. Acting is a lie. There has to be truth, and truth can only be found in becoming.

Tell us about your role in Wild Faith.

There is a story behind my role in Wild Faith. I wasn’t officially cast in the role of Hester Thickett until 2 weeks prior to the commencement of principal photography. I was originally slated to play another role in the film. I co-produced the film, so there was quite of bit of work to accomplish, and I initially fought against becoming Hester due to my fear of the lack of time to prepare. The director, Jesse Low, and supervising producer, DJ Perry, also known as Ben Lily, called me to propose the idea. The thoughts behind it; I had a solid, intimate understanding of her already.  In addition, there was a great friendship behind the Ben and Hester characters, which was also true for DJ and myself off screen.

DJ and I had met after being cast opposite each other in a film titled 7 Stones years ago. He was a seasoned vet in the producing world, CEO of Collective Development, and I was a newbie hungry for information and education. At that time I had created, acted, written, and produced a made for television pilot, and I was trying to understand my next steps for it. DJ is incredibly thoughtful in his approach to the development of people in our industry. Basically, I sponged off his knowledge every chance I had. He brought me on as an associate producer and I worked quickly up the ranks to co-producing several of our films, which created a lasting friendship and respect along the way. Ben and Hester had a similar relationship and we decided to capitalize on that off screen friendship, which we felt would translate easily to the screen. Much like the friendship the audiences see in Emmet and Ben. Shane Hagedorn and DJ Perry also share a great friendship off screen and the genuine nature of that is felt through the onscreen performances.

What was the greatest challenge with playing the role of Hester?

My greatest challenge in playing Hester was being quiet. Most often I had played characters rich with dialogue, and as you can see from my above answers, I’m not lacking in the area of conversation. Hester is completely opposite. She is to the point with very few words, yet she speaks volumes, so much of Hester’s personality had to come through the subtleties of facial expression and body language.

I also wanted to make sure any Ojibwe references were accurate. I felt a great honor in representing their culture and I wanted to be certain I was respectful in my portrayal of it. My sincere gratitude goes to Austin TwoFeathers who helped me in this journey.

In addition to performing in front of the camera, you also work behind the scenes as a co-producer. How does being an actress affect your work as a producer?

Acting and co-producing are like having two very different brains share the same space at the same time. Producing is exhausting, stressful, frustrating and intense, yet also exhilarating, educational and exciting. It’s a job where you roll up your sleeves and go to work; similar to the planning of a wedding, one that happens every single one of 21 plus days.

Acting, on the other hand, is your escape; from action to cut you have the opportunity to become someone else, their past, their present, their future. Imagine truly escaping who you are for a glimpse. It’s like therapy. I believe being a producer has made me a better actor in the sense of understanding all of the aspects of film. I now better understand the art in front of the camera as well as the art behind it.

First of all my respect for the artists behind the camera has grown exponentially! I always respected their crafts, however now I’m fully aware that without them, there is no story. It also means that I have become far more educated in qualifying the productions in which I chose to be a part of as an actress, asking informed questions. What kind of camera will you be using? What kind of marketing plan is in place? May I see the directors reel (They wanted to see mine. If they are proud of their work, this should never pose an issue)? What kind of glass, (lenses)? How large is your crew?  Not that it’s a bad thing to have a small crew. On some occasions they run quick and lean. I just like to know going in, (for instance if the sound technician is also going to be setting lights, the scene is going to take a while to get set, which may present a challenge in capturing all of the needed shots, and rarely should those skilled positions try to be combined). I also ask questions like; what other projects has the production done, who is editing, can I see their work… a few examples of some of the questions I now know to ask because of my producing experience. Their answers will tell me if I want to jump on board, and I’m forever grateful for my producer knowledge.

Tell us about the other faith-based films you’ve been a part of.

I’m very proud of the faith-based films I’ve been a part of; Ashes of Eden, The Quest Trilogy, (Forty Nights, Chasing The Star, The Christ Slayer) as well as I’ve done a few smaller projects, one in Miami with Kingdom Works and one here in Michigan with Our Daily Bread.

Anything else?

I believe that about covers it I do want to tell you how much I appreciate your interest in Wild Faith and myself. There is quite of bit of work that goes into these projects, much longer time commitments with pre-production and post production than many people are aware, so my gratitude for people and organizations like yourselves, who take an active interest in what we are trying to accomplish, is beyond measure. I pray our heartfelt peaceful messages continue to be blessed. My appreciation, blessings, and most sincere gratitude to you for taking the time to interview me.

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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