My Story and How it Relates to the Film Experience
My earliest perceptions of God and the Bible was what I absorbed from my parents, the church, and friends, as well as the American societal experience back in the 50’s. As a seven year old, after coming back home from seeing a re-release of Disney’s Peter Pan at the theater, all I wanted to do was act like Peter Pan, and get my three other brothers to act like other characters in the film. We loved acting out what we saw at the theater. Our parents were typical movie-theater-goers in L.A., living near tinsel town itself, Hollywood. Our dad would take his family out to a downtown family movie about once a week. In a way, I still admire my dad and take after him in his nobler attributes. You’ll understand why I say “still” when I relate a little background.
Our dad was an American Baptist, and our Mexican mom was Catholic. They had quite a romantic experience when they first met. Dad was a historian and researcher of sorts, who also studied and learned to speak and write very proper Spanish. He also had an eye for Spanish women. He started pen-paling to a certain Hispanic young lady he had seen in an article somewhere. They happily exchanged letters for about a year, then he just went down to Mexico, unannounced, to ask her parents to marry her. At this point I have to tell you, it was one of those live or die situations. You see, dad was living in a poor ranch with his father and mother. Although he had a job, it was hard to put together the gas money to drive all the way down to Mexico City. His sweetheart’s dad was Chief of Police for the city, and her brothers were his lieutenants. Her dad also owned the largest toy store in the city. Dad found her family residing in a magnificent hacienda, sitting on several acres. Needless to say, they were wealthy. When he appeared at their door mom’s mother answered and was shocked. None of her three daughters were allowed to see or write to men until they finished their college. When one of the daughter’s in the past had expressed at the table that she liked a certain young man, her brothers would seek out that young man and beat him up and threaten him not to see her again. So, as dad stood at the door, all four of mom’s brothers came out to see who had thwarted their guard. They all wanted to kill the American, had not their father intervened. Mom’s mother was angry at her, but her wise father was gracious to the American suitor. After entertaining dad, to mom’s delight her father made a speech at the table announcing his blessing on the lovers, which ended the rants of her brothers and the ravings of her mother.
Dad then brought mom back to California, to a little brick home he had made for them on his parent’s property. For the love of her husband she learned to live without the benefits of her wealthy lifestyle and culture. Since she was a praying person, and he was a Bible reading person they felt that their home was truly Christian and their love, the truest. Soon they had the first two of their five children.
Even after two of their babies were born, and mom had the incident that almost brought all but her husband to a fatal end, dad was a good husband and father. Dad had gone to work, and mom had covered up all the cold drafts of the home with towels, and put the pot on the stove to boil and went to sit down a bit. She soon fell asleep and there was no flame under the pot. Dad came home for lunch to find the home enveloped with gas, and his wife unconscious. He immediately opened the windows, rushed to the babies’ room, carried his two sons outside, then carried his wife outside. He rushed back in to make the call to the police. His sons had survived due the door to their room being closed, but mom was pronounced dead at the hospital. Although Dad considered himself a studious Christian, for some reason he wasn't often seen in prayer. But this time he had to pray, with everything he could muster in himself. God has a curious way to deal with each individual, because He doesn't do special things for everybody. Dad had his Baptist minister and a priest give the last rites. He agonized over the loss of his wife as David agonized over the loss of his child.
Dad ordered an autopsy, even though he knew why she ended up that way. As the doctor conducted the autopsy, he began to cut into the flesh, and the body jerked. Attributing it to rigor mortise the doctor began to cut again. This time she screamed and sat up. The frightened doctor ran from the room. Dad saw that God had marvelously answered his prayer. The hospital put her in a rack, much like a rotisserie, that had to be turned every four hours. She was weak, but could talk, and was glad to see her husband and the babies. Dad was still teaching her English, so he would visit daily, bringing a book for her to read. In a few months she was able to come home.
After the birth of three other boys (five total), mom had come to learn the dark side of her husband. One morning, after mom complained about the bills, dad remarked to Mom that he regretted having a “fifth wheel.” He meant his recent fifth son. Dad was out of work again and feeling desperate. He soon strangely built a medicine cabinet on the wall over the crib of his fifth son. Although it had doors, it was within reaching distance of the baby. One morning my mom found the baby hiccuping continuously. She found an empty bottle of aspirin in the crib. We all went to the hospital. They tried to pump the baby’s stomach, but he died on the operating table. In later years, my mother told me that she had suspected dad of killing the baby, but she carried that sting within her silently, fearing to accuse him. Upon receiving an eviction notice, dad packed his family into his Plymouth and we all began to live in that car for six months until he found a job. After finding a job, the family moved into an apartment and things began to return to the dysfunctional normalcy we had experienced before. Then dad started coming home later than usual. Women know what this means.
One day mom came home from work and found her children gone, and dad reading the paper on the couch. It was his day off. She asked where the children were and he responded that they must be at a neighbor’s house playing. After returning from calling out on the street for her kids, she asked dad to call the police. He didn't want to and told her to wait until nightfall. She called right then. The police came and gathered the information and promised they would do their best in trying to find them. Dad went to bed at 10pm since he had to wake up early for work. Mom couldn't sleep. She looked at her husband. “How can he sleep with his children not home yet.” In tears she went to the living room to pray. After awhile she went back to the bedroom. She heard dad mumbling to himself in his sleep. She tried to understand what he was saying. Then she heard a name that confirmed her worse fear. “Rose.” With broken-hearted tears she now saw a different man, a man who had betrayed his blessings.
She again sought her Lord, and silently prayed that God would somehow help her find her children. Then dad muttered something. All she caught was the name of a street. But it was enough, she thought. She stayed up all night, and just before dad woke she had prepared his breakfast. After breakfast he assured mom that the police will find their children, then rushed off to work. Mom then chose a picture with all four of her children in it and made her way to the bus stop. At the first bus to arrive she showed the name of the street to the driver. He promised to let her off there. Arriving at the street the driver said, “It’s all the way in that direction, and all the way in the opposite direction.” Mom intended to walk both sides of the street to their ends, going door-to-door, showing the picture of her children, and asking in her poor English, to all who responded, if they've seen them. She was only part way through the one street when she came upon a door, that when she knocked on it, the lady of the home opened the door, and just as quickly closed it. Suspecting that this woman knows something, she was impressed to go around to the back of the house. Not knowing what to do once she got there, she felt impressed just to call out the names of her children. Upon hearing our mom’s call we called back! Mom went to the neighbor and called the police. The police arrested the woman, who gave the name of “Rose.” In the woman’s anger she implicated our dad. The police informed our mom that the woman and our dad were involved with an underground child trafficking racket. Then mom understood how far into the dark side her husband had wandered. The police asked if she wanted to press charges. She said, “No, I only have him in this country.” At the trial he was released to go home to be with his family. He would later do the same womanizing twice more, and each time mom forgave him.
Because my parents were going through a contentious relationship, our mother often took her four boys to the movies. I believe it was so she could escape her unfortunate reality of a husband who was unfaithful in many ways.
My three brothers and I grew up with TV and movies as our main developmental influence. The first book I learned to read was the TV Guide at the age of six.
From that time my favorite books and magazines to read were on the subjects of science and science fiction, and realistic art as well, since I found I can draw faces and body proportions realistically. I won first place twice at school art contests, and could sketch, paint and sculpt. I also loved to write and by age ten I wrote two complete sci-fi stories. They were never published, and for awhile I gave up writing, because I overheard my dad laughing to Mom while he poked fun at the poor grammar in my first book, a sci-fi which contained color illustrations I drew for the story. Mom defended my writing and drawing ability to him, but he would not acknowledge that I had any talent. He was a talented artist himself, besides being an English and language expert, and he expected and accepted only exceptional artwork and perfectly proper grammer. He daily corrected his wife and sons whenever they said or wrote ungrammatically, and even taped papers on the hallway and bathroom of the proper way to say and spell things, of course in his perfect calligraphy. So when I overheard dad mock my first attempt at writing I took to heart everything he criticized and feared writing again. Since I was acknowledged at school concerning my drawing ability I continued to pursue that gift.
I was only eleven when I and my older brother were baptized. I remember having to listen to a pastor reading to us and expressing some concepts that only adults could understand. He was preparing us to be baptized. Out of respect and the fear of being found out that I didn’t understand what he was saying I just said “yes” to the affirmation questions he asked. My brother did the same. Apparently, the minister was satisfied with our yeses, and a short time later he baptized us in the church. I understood that I was dedicating my life to God, but I didn’t understand who Jesus was. I later found out that a great many kids and adults in the church didn’t understand who He was either. I thought that believing in God was all that was necessary to be counted as a good person. Like most people in that state of detachment, I started wandering from God, while going regularly to church with our mom. However, mom had a certain inspiring spiritual influence in my life. She would only allow us to watch the black and white TV we had if what we were watching was episodes and movies that she approved, which she percieved had the prospect of teaching good morals. I early saw my mom’s intention, and so determined to watch TV and the movies with that purpose in mind.
It was the late 50’s, during a time that science fiction really jumped from the novels to the screen, and special effects was beginning to contend for itself at the Oscar ceremonies. By our teenage years the public schools began to show movies at noontime and at graduations. The height of Hollywood’s golden era had arrived and many a youth had a particular fascination with special effects in the movies, and I was no different. I wanted to learn to make movies. Mom bought for me my first movie camera, the one I wanted. It had the ability to change lenses, and I was able to earn money to buy attachments that would allow for effects work.
Dad took up reading about UFOs, which led him to loosen up on his Christian beliefs about our origins. He was fired from his job for talking about that to his fellow workers. Then he began to sympathize with ‘the rights of citizens’ movement and began reading Socialist books and magazines. Soon he called the Bible a book of Jewish fables, and a short time later joined the Communist party. I saw mom in prayer more frequently then. Mom came to me privately after one of dad’s sessions of reading Russian magazines to his boys, and said, “Don’t believe daddy. God is real and loves you very much. Daddy is just confused.” His womanizing increased, and on the second time leaving his family for days on end he left the family for a few years, to be with his new mistress. Mom just got a job and we became latch-key kids again.
I would go downtown to the immense city-block sized Los Angeles Public Library for purpose of studying everything I could about motion pictures generally, and special effects specifically. Our dad had earlier introduced my brothers and I to the fabulous world of books in that library, and I marveled at the abundant information on any subject that was available at that awesome majestic building. But in those days there weren’t many books on the subject of effects in the movies, and the ones that covered the matters well, were not only technically over my head, but were not easily obtained without a lot of money or a position in the motion picture industry. But persistence paid off and I was able to secure a lot of information on the subject. I joined the Screen Actors Guild as a supporting member (I've since let it go). I later designed a sci-fi video game for Activision’s game idea contest, on the last month of the contest, and won first prize (The following month’s Activision magazine published my photo and clips of the artwork I did for the game I designed).
My youngest brother joined me in the quest for effects information, and we began to plan a magazine dedicated to it. We had collected over a hundred stills (8X10 promotional photos) on movies with special effects for inclusion in the magazine. But we realized that we needed articles and interviews. For our first story assignment for the magazine we traveled around the Hollywood area to interview the people who did special effects. It soon became an obsession with us, which pulled us more and more into the dark side of the subjects of the special effects. First, it was the special effects that had to do with dinosaurs (which, when doing extensive research on that subject, confused our thinking about origins). Then it was effects that had to do with aliens from outer space (which, when we looked into that, confused us about the character of beings outside our planet). Next it was effects that had to do with ghosts (which, when we read up on this, really confused our thinking on the state of people when they die). And then it was the effects of the super-hero’s power, otherwise known as magic (which, when we read about that, wildly confused our thinking about the nature of witchcraft and sorcery). The Lord knew that if I had pursued each of these subjects long, with the same intensity I studied the technical side of the effects, I would be entirely lost to the saving spiritual truths of His Word.
The Lord knew that I had acquired from my father the desire to investigate a thing till I was satisfied that I knew it well. I had observed my father doing intense investigation with history and science. But I was puzzled when I saw my father studying the Bible while being an atheist. I was to shortly find out that he was only investigating it’s pages to see if the ancient book had a code left there by aliens long ago, that only he could discover. His heavy reading into UFOlogy was making his obsessional life dysfunctional and his family distant. I saw that God gave him opportunities to change, but when he began an intense study of the occult world, I saw him go from bad to worse, until at the end of his life he was supporting an avowed female medium. And I was headed in the same direction through different avenues, sci-fi and fantasy, from both novels and movies.
The Lord in his mercy spared me from that kind of life. I thank Him for my praying mother, who early saw in me a spiritual potential.
Mom depended on my older brother and I to take the responsibilities of the home. When we both received the government letter calling us to be drafted into the Army, mom was in anguish. We prayed that God would help us when we would appear before the draft board in L.A. and try to get the government to drop our induction calls. They ignored our pleas, but when they tested my older brother they found that he had asthma, which at that time disqualified him from entering service. I was glad that at least my oldest brother stayed home to help mom. Although at first I didn't like that interruption of my ungodly pursuits, the forced change of attention soon broke my obsession with the dark realms.
At the draft board, I was faced with the decision of whether or not I would carry a gun. I felt at the time that I had only my father’s opposition-to-violence stand to ponder for that decision. Fortunately, although my father was an Atheist by then, his background of being a conscientious objector helped to justify my feelings about not taking the life of anyone, not even enemies. Yet I didn't want to be indifferent to my public-school nurtured patriotic feelings either. I wanted to serve my country in some capacity, other than killing. Although I thought that God wanted everyone to be patriotic, I later found that I couldn't support all of the ideals my country pushed.
While in boot camp in San Antonio, Texas, I received a letter from my mother that she had divorced my father. I was glad for that letter, because my brothers and I had too long witnessed our remarkably intelligent father turn from a faithful Baptist to a mocking Atheist, and from a pure man to a pornographic voyeur, from a loving husband to a womanizer, from a loving father to attempting to sell his own children to an underground child-trading black market.
In my forced circumstances, I had time to meditate and pray. There I recalled my mother’s faithfulness in her trying to teach us the Bible from a commentary she purchased from a door-to-door religious book salesman. I also recalled the many times I saw my mother in tears while praying at her bedside. I remember also the time she found out from a neighbor that my father was on TV, shown as an example of a man sent to jail for dealing illegally in the pornographic market, and the times she found out that he had gone with other women. At last, I felt a great relief that she was free from the man that had caused her so much misery. Yet I still had a pitying love for my father. I so wished he had not changed from my childhood father.
I remember my Catholic-raised mother reading to me from the Bible the story of young Solomon choosing wisdom over riches. I was a child then, but I remember feeling the awesomeness of that story as my mother told it. It totally captured my heart. And I remember praying to the Lord, and pleading with Him that He would never let me be deceived like my father was. Yes, even children recognize when their dad is off point. I asked God to give me the gift that my mother told me was the greatest gift you can ask of God, the gift of wisdom. When my mother explained that gift as better than having x-ray eyes, and as giving its possessor power to know the difference between truth and error, between what is really right and what is really wrong, and thus making God happy, I desperately craved to possess that gift, even more than anything in life. I began to pray every day for that endowment. Somehow I knew that God loved me and was guiding me. The combination of comprehensive investigation, which the Lord had me focus on in my admiration of my father, and the faithful prayer life of my mother, had worked their way into my mind’s operating system. From that time I knew I would not become an unbeliever, ever.
During the medic training I also was trained in the usual military exercises, without a weapon. However, I was also constantly being coerced to train with a weapon. While I saw my CO (Conscientious Objector) buddies give in and finally pick up and train with a gun I could never bring myself to do so. I was eventually relocated to barrack with those who would receive training to become medics. I was trained in a 15 week course to be a medic, from treating any type of injury on the field of battle to delivering babies.
While there, I met two young men who really lived their Christian faith. They were medics as well, and they also had chosen not to have anything to do with weapons. I befriended them and found that they had committed whole portions of the Scriptures to memory and knew how to explain the many subjects and lessons that it contained. I then determined to apply my thorough investigative skills to learning the Bible’s concepts. As I understand now, that impression was orchestrated by the Holy Spirit. I became passionate about studying God’s Word in order to have a firm foundation for the all the misunderstandings out in the religious world. God was preparing me to see through deceptions that would later be presented to me.
While studying the Bible, I found and crossed over the deceptive path in which my father had stumbled and fallen. Through its readings I realized that my mind could so easily be duped, and selfish pride could easily puff me up to think of myself as better than others just because of the knowledge I was acquiring.
Certainly by orchestration of the Lord, I was taken off the posted final list (on a big wooden sign board) of those going to Vietnam. I later learned that the General I stood before for classification, was the one who ordered my name to be removed. I remember that he asked why I didn't want to carry a weapon. I told him that it was because of my belief in the value that God has for His creation. He then revealed to me his deaconship in his church and that he also believed in God. He also asked me what my hobbies and interests were. I told him that I was interested in filmmaking and that I was shooting effects shots with a super 8 camera. After my name was removed from the board I was called into the Adjutant General’s office to explain why only my name was taken off the board. I didn't understand what was happening to me then, but as I've said, I was to later discover that it was all the loving orchestrated plan of God. I was given orders to report to the U.S. Army Motion Picture Branch in Washington D.C. (on the Walter Reed Army Hospital grounds. After the Vietnam war it was demolished). There I received training in various aspects of the Army’s motion picture company. And there I was to witness, through the incoming photos and film reels, the real horror of war, the desperate wickedness of man’s heart in his cruelty toward his fellow man. I saw things that no film had shown to that time, and that I would still not recommend be seen and dwelt upon (because such atrocities tend to lessen or desensitize one’s trust or compassion for their fellow man).
Upon my Honorable discharge from the Army I went to a private College (now a University) and took up Theology and Commercial Art. While living near the College, I designed a float for the city’s annual Christmas parade. It won first place. I was asked to design a float for the next two annual parades, which both also took the first place award. Although I was confident about my artistic ability, I really wanted to help people get acquainted with their Maker. I thought that meant that I should become a pastor. I took a few classes in the summer before I began the full load of classes. I ended up being one of the two highest ranking students in the theology track at the time, but my heart was unsatisfied with a career that had the people come to me to hear about Jesus.
Sad to say, I didn't finish college. I had married in my first year and soon had to get a job. Against my good sense and conscience I exchanged a college degree for a pre-mature marriage, one that would later end in divorce (She divorced me over incompatibility issues). I was to marry again and be divorced again before learning that it was my strict attitude that I had retained from my father that was the problem. Fortunately, I became friends with both of my former wives. The first wife passed away not too long ago, and was happily married to a loving man. I had a son with my first wife, and I acquired a step-daughter with my second wife. The last one who divorced me doesn't want to remarry. I've come to realize that God has given me a work to do, and time to do it.
In 1988, I took the Producer course offered by a community television company in Maryland. I Passed, and was certified in 1989. During that course, I had learned what it takes to make a proper and quality production. Then I began to include in my prayers to the Father a plea to show me what He wanted me to do with the knowledge I had gained. I felt that His answer was, “Wait.”
The rest of my journey through life was marked with trials and victories that come to every struggling child of God. Yet over and over again I have found comfort and peace in resorting to God’s Word. The more I read the more I felt closer to Him. I especially loved the passages which promised that Jesus will return again and take us to be with Him, forever. I thought that hope was the most important meditation one could have. When I finally studied the prophetic books of the Bible, I was ecstatic. I felt, “Somebody’s got to dramatize the climatic last day scenes of the Lord’s coming!” I began to have dreams of scenes, as in a movie, of faithful Christians in trying situations in the last days. The scenes were so vivid that I actually thought at the time that I was in a theater watching a movie of those scenes. After I awoke from such dreams I attributed them to my mind’s ability to create scenes based on my exposure to the capabilities of motion pictures. Yet they were so vivid and left a great impression on me.
The more I studied God’s Word I became more interested in teaching people what I had learned from the Bible, and soon became a Bible Instructor. During the time I was teaching the Bible to people in my home and church, in 1995 my church sent me to India to hold a preaching crusade in the villages. The Lord moved upon 84 souls in my crusade to dedicate their lives to Christ. I still can’t forget the scenes of poverty and disease amid the grandeur of the natural surroundings. And I still recall the many thatched and tin makeshift dwellings with a satellite dish above them.
In 2008, my church again sent me overseas to preach, this time to Brazil. While there I saw similar situations of poverty, however in a country a bit more developed. I saw that most villagers had or had access to a VCR and a TV, and were watching either purchased or pirated movies. The thought occurred to me, “Most poor countries have most of its citizens glued to a TV, mostly watching, not regular TV, but movies.” I wished that somebody would take advantage of these situations and put out a full dramatized movie of the second coming in order to educate and hopefully persuade multitudes to prepare for their Maker’s coming. I secretly prayed for this while preaching to the people.
Later that week, before preaching in the evening, I was talking to my heavenly Father about my coming back to the minimum-wage job when my preaching work was done in Brazil. I asked Him to please find room in His pasture for me to work more directly in His cause. I was sad and felt that up to that point I had nothing to offer of my life that could recommend me to a direct work in His cause. It then came to my mind what I had heard, “When wondering what is God’s will for you in life, Jesus asks, What is in your hand.” I was depressed at the thought, because at the time I could see nothing in my hand. The next day I had a stroke, which left me paralyzed of the right side limbs, dysfunction of my left eye. darkening of my right eye, and the total loss of my speech, and even all sound (I couldn't even make a grunt). And my right hand was paralyzed; the hand that God had blessed with artistic ability. But the night before I had failed to remember that He had put in my hand the capability to do great things for His soul-saving cause. The doctors said it was because my cholesterol was high. I knew right away it was because, although I was a vegetarian, I was still eating junk food, frying almost daily with oil, and not exercising enough. But I was to find out later that my lack of obedience to His natural health laws was not the only reason God allowed that to happen to me. He was answering my prayer of working for Him more directly.
In my paralysis I humbly prayed, it seems every moment. I later learned that my family and friends prayed for my recovery, and many who only heard of me prayed for me as well. In three days my right side leg and foot were restored to normal. I could make sounds again with my mouth, but not words. With only my right arm and hand still paralyzed I was returned to the States to finish my recovery. Both my eyes returned to normal, and I could make garbled speech. I soon received strength in the right arm and hand, but not the tips of my fingers in that hand. Both my fingers and speech continued to improve.
It was while I was recovering at home that the Lord gave me the same scenes as He did before, of dramatized portions of the events just before the Lord’s coming. I now saw what I had in my hand, – the little knowledge and experience with film and other media that was to lead me to the work He was guiding me to do. I approached people in my church about doing a short video on gospel work. But I found that the youth were more interested than the adults. So I sought to train them to act in scenes for the video. Yet after I had convinced the church to allow me to hold rehearsals with the youth in the church’s fellowship hall, I began being impressed to do a larger film. I knew then that it would be economically prohibitive to do so, and that the wiser thing to do is to make a short film first to build more experience and reputation. Yet the impression was insistent.
I began writing out an actual movie script in January of 2009 titled THE LAST MESSENGERS. I was in constant prayer while working on it. I believe that the Holy Spirit guided me in writing the plot structure, even through the script has gone through many revisions. I announced in my church that the Lord wants me to produce a full-length drama to be released at the theater. All the youth were excited. Most of the adults, understandably, were not. They were seeing financial and manpower obstacles and impossibilities. Yet, I remained undaunted, because I knew that this was not my idea and project, but God’s, and that He would equip and provide for what He calls people to accomplish for Him.
Soon the Lord made it possible for me to purchase some production equipment and software needed to prepare and get organized for a film company. I also kept myself in vogue by reading the trade journals, as well as buying and reading quite a few books on the many aspects of film production and its financing and legal issues. In 2011, I was able to register my film company as an LLC, and began gathering people to help me with it.
I had a lot more trials to go through, a lot more refining in the time since then, but just knowing that my Lord was with me through it all has only strengthened my closeness to Him.
And now, my production team and I continue the huge amount of work a Christian film company does toward planning and producing films that help to prepare people’s hearts for our Lord's coming.
Currently, we're casting for our film's trailer, to attract funding. I believe that our Lord knows who to impress to invest in this very special production, --the first quality motion picture to show, in spectacular photo-real visual effects, the Lord's coming, with his millions of angels! And this is within a warm story of a group of Christians and an Atheist heroine, risking their lives to warn the people of a government plot. It asks the question, "What if a very popular U.S. President convinces Congress to pass a major law that enforces her brand of Christianity, which virtually takes away religious liberty?" - www.3angelmedia.com
Name: Dan F. Merrill
Lives in: College Park, Maryland
Company: 3 Angel Media
Unique traits: Screenwriter, Director, Producer