Heartland Interviews: BILL EWING

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A Film’s Mission? Captivate.

So says Bill Ewing, co-writer and producer of 2005 Grand Prize Crystal Heart Award winning film End of the Spear. Ewing’s been in movies for over thirty years, and he’s developed a keen sense for what makes a film a Truly Moving Picture. His credits as a production executive include AwakeningsA League of Their OwnStuart Little and Spiderman. He’s currently the president at Every Tribe Entertainment and found telling the story of missionaries who travel a world away and live among the savage Waodani tribe to be a journey in more ways than one.

“I’ve been to these remote rainforests in South America…you’re literally in the middle of 6,600 square miles of rainforest. It was our job to bring that world to the screen, to transport audiences to this environment that they’ve never experienced, that they might never know,” he said recently in a phone interview.

And to Ewing, filmmaking comes down to two things: the story and the journey. Among his most appreciated Truly Moving Pictures, Ewing counts Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life and Stanley Kramer’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? Filmmaker Josh Logan is an inspiration to him, as well.

“I’m paraphrasing, but I read something he wrote 20 years ago,” Ewing offered. “He said that in order to make a successful film, one of the principal characters and the audience must change in such a way that they are better off for having gone through the experience.”

Like George Bailey discovering how precious life is or the Drayton family learning to see beyond racial lines, End of the Spear is a story of transformation. Based on actual events, a group of missionaries travel to South America to make contact with the Waodani, a tribe known for their quick spears and ruthless killings. The majority of the film is the story of one warrior’s journey, and his quest to find the answers behind why the missionaries didn’t use their guns to defend themselves. His journey eventually brings incredible change to the Waodani and the missionaries; the two worlds not only learn to co-exist but to welcome each other into families and hearts.

“What’s so unique about this story,” Ewing adds, “are these two dynamic sides that are really very separate stories, but indelibly intertwined…The missionaries with their natural pioneering spirit, this desire to seek out what’s uncharted. And the Waodani, they go through this incredible transformation, from basically devouring each other to being surrogate grandfathers to missionary children.”

Though just a vehicle to tell a story much larger than any film, End of the Spear embodies all that Ewing values in film. “The first objective, once the story is in place, is to entertain. But I value films that captivate, films that captivate my imagination and my emotions. And ones that raise more questions, ones where I don’t have all the answers when I walk out but leave me wanting to know more.”

When asked to offer his advice to aspiring filmmakers, Ewing reiterates the driving force behind his own movies–the story.

“Ask yourself, what is the unique story that I as an artist am called to tell?” he suggests. “In Stanislovsky’s The Actor Prepares, he wrote ‘Love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art.’ Find that story that is in you to tell. That’s the first step.”

And what does Ewing see in the future of filmmaking, especially where Heartland’s vision is concerned? Dramatic change, he says. “Moving people emotionally, just as the name says, truly moving audiences emotionally is exactly what people are looking for.” He nods to Oscar’s most recent Best Picture, Crash, to make his point. That film cost only $6 million to make, which in Hollywood is far below the average cost. “If you are really delivering a great story with interesting and well-rounded characters, you can do it without a big budget. I think there are incredible opportunities ahead for filmmakers to tell these kinds of captivating stories.”

Ewing poignantly stated what legacy he hopes End of the Spear leaves with audiences.

“I would use four words to characterize the journey of our story: faith, forgiveness, transformation and reconciliation. Those are the strong messages of the film. Extreme faith of the missionaries, amazing forgiveness of the families, incredible transformation within the tribe and an unbelievable reconciliation between these two groups. That’s what I hope the legacy will be: faith led to forgiveness led to transformation led to reconciliation.”

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