Brigham McNeely: Making a Heist Movie with a Redeeming Message (Part 1)

John FarrellBy John Farrell13 Minutes

John Farrell: Can you tell me a little bit about The Holy Heist?

Brigham McNeely: The Holy Heist was a concept I came up with way back in 2016. We shot a proof of concept for it.

I grew up watching heist movies, and I was kind of a wild teenager. Most people are; they go through that stuff. So, I loved heist movies. I feel like a filmmaker’s dream is to make a heist movie, especially to be able to make a heist movie that has a redeeming, wholesome message. It’s something that I feel like hasn’t been done. You can’t turn on the TV and find a heist movie that’s necessarily redeemable, if that makes sense, in a morality way.

I try to avoid the clichés in my films. We try to make them as realistic and relatable as possible, where it’s like real life because the Christian walk is not perfect. There’s gonna be ups and downs, and we always want to give people reality instead of this fantasy Christian facade, if that makes sense. We kind of went on from there.

I released Sacred, and that opened some doors for me to have financing for other things.

Actually, The Holy Heist was the last screenplay that I personally wrote. I’m just so busy. I’ll come up with a story and a lot of times just hire a screenwriter. A lot of stuff in the movie are things I have been through. I implemented them into the story, kinda like subliminally.

Nobody would know that it’s inspired by true events. Without giving away spoilers, like the mother getting sick. That’s a real-life thing. My mom set me down one day and said that she was in the early stages of dementia, and the mom gets sick in the movie. That was my way of expressing my feelings into the movie and creating the story for that.

Then there’s these three country boys. They were brought up in church. Back in the mid-90s, when I was a kid, I always thought that everybody went to church. I thought everybody was a believer. Everybody put on their suit and tie and went to church on Sunday morning. With that, we have the altar call at the beginning of the movie. We see that with one of the brothers there’s a genuine change. It looks like something really happened. For story reasons, that in turn pushes the other brothers. They kind of just do it because their brother did it.

Then we fast-forward 15 years and they’re living a life of crime. The mother’s still firm in her faith. A lot of things happen that push them to continue with the heist business. We have Bobby, he’s conflicted throughout the whole movie, and he’s the original one who has a genuine transformation as a kid.

We just show real-life. What someone is willing to do for family because things like that happen. I just really wanted to show people – and this is another big thing – what the life of crime will lead you to. It doesn’t matter what reason you’re doing it for, but sooner or later, you’re going to get burned. If you’re living on the wide path and chasing things of the world for whatever reason, it will never end well. That’s what we really wanted to show in the movie.

Not a lot of people but some people didn’t like the fact that James shoots his brother, but we got this young childhood friend who’s looped into the mix. She’s completely innocent, and James makes the choice. He’s finally like enough is enough. This has gone too far, and he takes the life of his brother to protect this innocent childhood friend.

JF: You mentioned that there aren’t many heist movies out there that have this type of redemptive message. Is that overall message you want viewers to take from the movie?

Brigham: There’s so many things in it. One specifically that I can think of is when James and Bobby go to prison. When we make choices in life, the Lord in heaven will forgive us, but that doesn’t make us exempt from the consequences of our actions here on earth.

They go to prison and Bobby becomes a preacher at the end. Then James finally starts coming around. It’s been several years. Hopefully, we implied it enough that James starts to seek what Bobby has – back to his roots. We clearly see that it’s the first time he’s come to these prison church meetings.

JF: I was wondering that. I saw Bobby’s reaction to James being there and it made me think it was his first time there, but I didn’t know if I was perhaps reading a little too much into it.

Brigham: Yeah, that was spot on. Even though they were doing things for the wrong reasons, we see the love the boys have for their mother. Regardless of their intentions and what they did, they did what they thought was right at the time to take care of their mom.

Jack is the type of brother – we see him kinda unravel throughout the movie – he’s a lot more irredeemable. He kinda loses it as the movie unfolds.

JF: In the film, the lines between right and wrong get blurred in the three brothers’ heads. They justify doing the wrong thing, even though it’s for a good cause – their mother. That’s something a lot of people in real life often face. How easy is it for someone to get trapped in that type of mindset? And then try to escape that mindset?

Brigham: So, I’m a believer, obviously, but I have lived a life as a criminal. Before I was 19 years old, I had been to jail four times. Yeah, my teenage years were wild.

I grew up in a Christian home. My parents did everything for me. I think it comes back to a heart issue thing with our flesh, even as believers. When it comes to a son and his mother, there’s just a special bond between a son and a mother. I feel like only a son and a mother can understand that and relate to that. I know for me, I’ve always been protective over my mom. Even when it comes to all aspects of her life. I’ve just always wanted to take care of her. I think we can sometimes definitely go over the top, even our thought process.

I don’t know if this is getting too personal, but my mother dated this guy for eight years and he did her wrong. I’m telling you, man, the thoughts that I had. I was furious, because when it comes to family period, I’m some super protective. I think sometimes we just have to try to forgive those people and move on because if we act off of our negative emotion, it’s not going to be a good outcome.

JF: The Holy Heist had such a unique angle for a faith-based film, blending that genre with the heist/thriller genre, which isn’t done often. So, with this film, how and why were the blending of those two genres so successful?

Brigham: There’s a great need for faith-based content, and me and my partners – producing partners and creative team – we’re like the audience is ready for something real. They’re ready for something new, because a lot of times faith-based movies are completely cliché and fantasy. They’re not real life and people just can’t relate to it. That’s why every movie we make is definitely raw.

The Holy Heist is not very preachy in terms of biblical doctrine. Now the next film that we’ll be dropping – it’s in post-production – is Airborne and there’s more biblical doctrine in it, while maintaining that rawness and real-life aspect.

But it was fun to be able to bring that to life because it’s something that’s not really been done. When I talked to my sales rep, he was like, “People love these heist-action movies, and they don’t make a lot of heist movies.”

If you look back over the past couple of years, even in the secular, there’s been Den of Thieves. That was probably my favorite one that’s come out in the past couple years, as far as a secular heist movie. But there’s not a lot of them.

Before I made this, I actually watched a lot of heist movies, even old ones like Heat with De Niro and Danny Trejo. It’s got a ton of people in it. It’s an old heist movie. I just wanted to do something fresh and new.

We did some interviews after the movie. The top-billed actor in the movie is Greg Kriek. He’s a South African Cape Town native based in LA. He said he liked that it wasn’t your stereotypical cookie-cutter faith-based film, because a lot of them are the same.

In life, even as a believer, it doesn’t always go the way that we think it’s going to go. There are times when we look up and we’re like, “For real? Are you for real?” We’re just kinda baffled at the outcome, but God always has a better plan for our life than what we think we want.