Several years ago, back in the 90’s, Richard Gazowsky (a Pentecostal minister) went out to the wilderness and had a vision. God wanted him to make a epic sci-fi movie. Really.
He came back to his San Francisco congregation and proposed this…and the congregation went with it. And that is when you start to wonder if you’ve been sucked into the Twilight Zone. They start a company called WYSIWYG Productions, and then the fun starts.
At first, it looks possible. I do not mean this in any sense sarcastically. The wardrobe people, comprised of the Preacher’s family and members of the congregation, seem pretty competent and knowledgeable about what will and won’t work. Gazowsky does not listen, routinely ignoring and steam rolling over anyone who tries to explain why what he wants may not be possible. One young woman even explains that she sees him as her spiritual father so if he says to do something-even if she knows he is wrong-she will do as he asked, waiting for God to correct him.
Richard talks much, along with the conceptual artists, of creating creatures we’ve never seen in their sci-fi version of Joseph and the coat of many colors(called Gravity:The Shadow of Joseph). The plans for this film are large. They are even hiring outside people for cast and crew. They are flying to Italy to film. This is no small production. The church is transformed into a fully formed production studio.
It’s in Italy that things start to take a turn. Cameras don’t work, people working on the film get stressed, and three days into filming, there has not been one second shot. It is unclear when any filming is happening at all. But what is clear is Richard gives great speeches regarding God, God’s will, what God will do for them as long as they stay focused and remember that their endeavor is to make this movie for an Audience of One. As you may suspect, that audience of one is Jesus.
Gazowsky is passionate and sincere, there is no doubt, but one seriously starts to question his grasp of the situation, as crew seem to realize that maybe there is trouble brewing. When they return to San Francisco, things seem to look up. The Church rents a large studio space from the city, a seeming blessing…until they fall behind on paying their rent. This results in more more impassioned pleas, including Richard telling about how he went to tell the city that they were behind on the rent but the money is coming. When the city asked for some proof, he told them that his word should be enough, and that they just need to believe because that’s what God wanted them to do. The money will be there, the city of San Francisco just needed to believe.
Yeah, they shut off the power.
The film’s real strength lies in it’s sympathy to these people. It doesn’t try and decide everything for you. Admittedly, towards the end, as Gazowsky lays out a ten (eight?) point plan for the church that includes multiple Christian television networks and colonizing other planets (I am not kidding) he states that it is either God or he’s just crazy… it is not hard to side with crazy.
Director Michael Jacobs has made an entertaining and fascinating character study with Audience of One, and I recommend checking it out.