John Farrell: How does your character, James, play into The Holy Heist’s overall plot and help drive the movie’s narrative forward?
Brigham McNeely: As the movie starts, there’s a lack of biblical morality within him. When my fiancé watched the movie for the first time – she’s not a filmmaker, she’s a teacher – she thought James was angry the whole time. It does come across like that for the majority, but we do see these little moments between the brothers.
He’s basically the leader of the brothers. Even as kids, he was the leader of them. They followed him. They stuck together all those years and followed his counsel and what he did. That’s all they knew. That’s how they got by. That’s how they made money.
But James cares about his mother. He loves his family. That’s why it’s such a big moment when he shoots Jack because we clearly see that he cares about his family. We really wanted to show that aspect.
This is something else as an add-on. Greg Kriek, the actor who played Jack, had never been to North Carolina. We picked him up at the airport. He was just mind-blown at the Southern hospitality because you always hear the stereotypes that everybody’s a redneck. But he was here for two weeks, and he was just so surprised at the Southern hospitality. People think that people that live in the country are a bunch of hicks. Even where we shot the film. That’s where my family actually originated from. So, that was sentimental to shoot there. My grandpa even went with us location scouting because the town is crazy small
JF: Where in North Carolina did you film?
Brigham: The majority of the movie was shot in Casar, North Carolina. I don’t even know if they have a stoplight. The grocery store is Dollar General. But it was cool. We even shot in some of my family’s homes. So, it was sentimental to film there.
My grandpa was really proud of it, and my great-grandpa lived there. He lived in that town. As far as I know, that’s where the McNeely side originated from. It was all so sentimental. There was a lot of meaningful things with that movie.
I’m really happy with the outcome and it did amazing on IMDB TV when we dropped it. It was in the top most popular movies – in the top 1000 at the #82 spot for weeks. That flipped me out because we’re here shooting movies on pennies, competing against movies with huge budgets. And it’s still driving. I get the reports of the numbers and it’s unbelievable the people that are still watching it.
JF: Well, it’s a great movie with a great message. And as we’ve talked about, it’s something that hasn’t been done that often. Where in North Carolina are you from?
Brigham: I’m based in Morganton. It’s a small town. It’s really cool to be shooting around here. I can really do anything. We can pull off anything. But The Holy Heist was the first movie where none of it was shot in Morganton. Most of it was surrounding areas.
For continuity purposes, we had t-shirts on when we shot the takedown scene at the bank, but it was 17 degrees. There was one actor out there trying to say his line and his mouth literally froze. He couldn’t speak. It just came out like some unknown syllables.
But we had a good time. The shoot was just like a family. I looked forward to going in every day. Sometimes I wish we could go back and do it again. Even though it was exhausting, it was a great experience to bring that to life. A lot of people in that area were super-pumped for a movie that will receive national distribution to be filmed there. We really had a great time with it.
JF: You wore many different hats for The Holy Heist. You were not only an actor, you were the producer, director, casting director, writer, and even a stunt performer. Of all the roles and capacities that you took on for this film, what was the most challenging and what was the most rewarding?
Brigham: People come to me, trying to pick my brain, asking, “How do you do that? How do you juggle all those hats.” I should encourage them in a positive way, but I don’t encourage to do it. There’s so much pressure.
I’m running the show. I’m having to stay in character because most of the time I take a method approach when I play a character. So, I’m having to channel that while also running the show, paying attention to performance notes – what everybody else is doing. That’s why we really take time in pre-production so I can do less directing on the day, and we can get some of the kinks worked out during the reads beforehand.
I’ve always been able to be intuitive because as an actor, it’s all about listening. People think it’s about having the lines memorized, but it’s listening to the other person, which in turn, I’m able to act and direct because I’m gonna know if it’s what I’m looking for in the moment. We take a lot of time in pre-production trying to get kinks worked out so I can focus on those things. But I ain’t gonna lie, days that I don’t have to act or be in the scene, it’s like, “Yes, I can focus on directing.” Or, it’s one less thing. It is always more enjoyable when you wear less hats, but I’ve always done that.
I’ve personally produced three features. We have another one that’s coming up. I’ve done that in every one. I’ve acted and directed. As I move forward, I’m trying to stay away from wearing as many hats. It’s not a control thing, it’s just what I know.
I don’t have all the answers. Making a feature film is a collaborative effort. One-hundred percent. I’m open to suggestions. When it comes to the actors, I like to let the artists have creative freedom with the character. If they’re on the money, then I’ll let it roll. Perhaps I’ll tweak it a little bit. I like to see what they see in their head – the choices they make before I actually give them notes. Unless it’s something very important that has to be in there, like the pronunciation of a word or something we want emphasized. I’ll throw that in there first just to save time.
As far as the most rewarding thing, this is a pipe dream for people. I’m able to make the movies that I want to make without overhead studios trying to control what I want to do. Even when you involve distributors and stuff – I hate to say this, but I will – they want to remove the faith-based aspect.
I can tell you firsthand that I’ve had people say, “I don’t think it’s going to do well. We should recut this because the faith-based aspect will probably hurt the film.” When it comes to that, I’m not going to waiver. I’m not going to waiver on that to make a buck. Yeah, maybe we could make more money and release it as a more secular movie, but I’m not gonna change something from the way it was originally intended to be.
That’s why it’s really nice to be able to financially do this and not have studio overhead because they do want to control things. That’s just the way it works. When you have studios and different producers and big time financiers, they just want to have control. It’s nice to be able to have the freedom to make these movies and do it to bring people to and inspire the people of the Lord. That’s really the end game for me.
I want to make movies that inspire people and bring people to the Lord. Any kind of glory that God can get out of it, that’s the reward for me.
Watch The Holy Heist on Inspiration TV on Demand.
Stay tuned for Part 3 of Brigham McNeely’s Interview
John Farrell is a Digital Content Writer / Editor of Inspiration.org.
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