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Nothing Strange about Cincy Filmmaker’s Brand of Movies

Actress Rebecca St. James on the set of 'A Strange Brand of Happy'
Actress Rebecca St. James on the set of 'A Strange Brand of Happy'
When you land on Rebel Pilgrim’s website, the first thing you notice is that the Cincinnati- and Las Vegas-based production company has a slew of films in the pipeline. Not one or two. More like 10.

To any independent filmmaker trying to make a mark in an industry littered with big-budget, CGI behemoths, it’s a pretty impressive slate to behold. Makes a fella with a digital SLR and Adobe Premiere wonder how he can make that happen for himself.

The trick, it would seem, is to tell stories that people want to see. For Rebel Pilgrim, those are stories of hope and redemption that the whole family can watch together.

Which doesn’t mean make cloyingly sentimental films, either. Just ask Joe Boyd, president and managing partner of Rebel Pilgrim. Boyd, an entertainment veteran and ordained Christian minister, founded Rebel Pilgrim in 2005.

“There's nothing wrong with darker or less-than-hopeful movies, but that's just not what we want to do,” says Boyd. “I think movies are a way to escape, and I'd prefer to escape to a good place. It doesn't me we shy away from the hard stuff. We just shot a movie about suicide. But we want hope in all we do. We want people to feel better after the movie than they did before.”

Rebel Pilgrim also doesn’t shy away from the funny either. Boyd’s first feature, Hitting The Nuts, was a sizable indie hit. And the company will release its biggest endeavor to date, A Strange Brand of Happy, written and directed by Rebel Pilgrim’s Chief Creative Officer, Brad Wise, in September. The film stars Shirley Jones, Rebecca St. James and Joe Boyd.

Midwest Movie Maker took some time to ask Boyd a few questions about Strange and his mission as a Midwest-based filmmaker.

'A Strange Brand of Happy' director Brad Wise
'A Strange Brand of Happy' production manager/
producer Isaac Stambaugh
Midwest Movie Maker (MMM): Tell me a bit about A Strange Brand of Happy. What’s it all about and what can audiences expect when they go to the theater?

Joe Boyd (JB): It's an indie comedy with a bit of romance. Our theatrical distributor, IMA, called it Office Space meets Napoleon Dynamite. Not sure that's totally accurate, but I'll take it.

MMM: How did you come up with the idea? Or better, why was this story begging to be told? What drove its creation?

JB: The idea really came out of the recession, when a lot of our friends were getting laid off and realizing they didn't really like the jobs they had in the first place.

We felt like there is something to the idea that people often feel trapped and sometimes a blessing in disguise is getting a fresh start. That's the basic plot of the movie. 

MMM: What sets this film apart from others like? What makes it different? Why will viewers love it?

JB: The movie is a little quirky - very indie comedy with an indie soundtrack and even some fun animations throughout. It also addresses some issues of faith in God. It's not a religious movie, but there's some tackling of life's big questions for sure. 

MMM: Tell me a little bit about Rebel Pilgrim Productions. You have quite a few films in the works, all centered around inspiring hope and faith. How did the production company come to be?

JB: I've had a weird dual career as a pastor and filmmaker, so the faith stuff just naturally bleeds over in some of our movies.

Not all of our films are faith-based though. A few years ago we did a poker-themed comedy called Hitting The Nuts that did well.

MMM: Tell us a little bit more about your journey from pastor to filmmaker. How did you get into film?

JB: I was a pastor. Left Ohio to start a church in Las Vegas. In Vegas I discovered improv comedy by studying and performing with The Second City and eventually became a full-time comedic actor on the Strip. That lead me to L.A. and eventually from acting to producing.

MMM: Who are some of your influences?

JB: I'm an improv guy so my favorite director is Christopher Guest. Waiting for Guffman is my favorite movie of all time. I like to say that at film festivals to freak out movie snobs. But it's the truth. 

On the set of 'A Strange Brand of Happy'
On the set of 'A Strange Brand of Happy'
MMM: Talk a little about faith and family movies, especially for film goers who might pass up a film because they consider it to “faith-based.” Why should those folks take a moment to reconsider?

JB: Yeah, that's why we said faith-friendly in this one. Some faith-based movies are very "insider" for evangelical Christians. I would imagine they aren't that appealing to others.

We aren't making movies just for that audience. In this one, we are just trying to say that faith can be a normal part of life.

The majority of people still believe in God, but the movies tend to focus on the extreme zealots or anti-religious folks or both.

There are a lot of people in the middle and we like to tell their stories. 

MMM: How did A Strange Brand of Happy come together? What did it take to get it out of pre-production and have actors in front of the camera?

JB: This one in particular was a bit of a struggle to get financed. I think it took 18 months to raise the money. Once we were funded, it moved along pretty easily into production.

MMM: Do you shoot most of your films in the Midwest?

JB: We are all Midwest people. We love having our offices in downtown Cincinnati and shooting in the region anytime it makes sense. We just wrapped a movie called Hope Bridge that shot in Lexington, Ky, starring Booboo Stewart (Twilight) and Kevin Sorbo.

A Strange Brand of Happy is special to us because from script to post-production, it

was made 100 percent in Cincinnati. It is also set in Cincy. This is a great place to make movies. We hope to shoot here again in 2014.

For us, it's home. So it was awesome to shoot here. We slept in our own beds, hired local talent, called in some favors and developed some great partnerships with local Cincinnati businesses like Dewey's Pizza, JTM and Graeter's Ice Cream.

We also partnered with Vineyard Cincinnati, our home church. They provided a lot of the meals for cast and crew.

MMM: Can you talk a bit about the professionalism of cast and crews from the region?

JB: We have top notch professionals here. We hope to continue to give people a reason to stay in Ohio to make movies. We shot a lot in the Cincinnati neighborhoods of Norwood and Hyde Park - as well as West Chester and Northern Kentucky

MMM: Where and when will see your film?

JB: We have a limited nationwide release in theaters on Sept. 13, 2013. Lots of Midwest cities - Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Indy, Pittsburgh, Naperville, and more.

MMM: What one piece of advice would you give an aspiring filmmaker from and living in the Midwest?

JB: Just make a movie. I have a friend who made a feature film on his vacation for $2,000. It's not perfect, but it's good. Work begets work.

MMM: Any final thoughts or things you’d like our readers to know about the film or filmmaking in the Midwest?

JB: Please check out the movie website at If you can reserve your tickets early there for select cities we have a much better chance of getting better times and screens. We all need to support each other to see more movies like this come from the region.


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