Award-winning producer Robert Fernandez joins Revelation Media founder Steve Cleary to talk about their new animated feature film, "Pilgrim's Progress," coming out April 18 and 20 in theaters nationwide. Based on John Bunyan's classic book, the movie follows Christian's journey as he travels from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City.
About the Guest
- The Pilgrim's Progress | Official Trailer (2019)
- The Pilgrim's Progress in theaters April 18 and 20, 2019. Official website and Find a Theater.
- The Pilgrim's Progress Movie Facebook Page.
- The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World, to That Which Is to Come is a 1678 Christian allegory written by John Bunyan, from Wikipedia.org
- The Torchlighters: Heros of the Faith
- Who Was Richard Wurmbrand? Pastor Richard Wurmbrand (1909 – 2001)
Robert Fernandez and Steve Cleary talk about their new animated feature film, “Pilgrim’s Progress,” based on John Bunyan’s classic book. The movie follows Christian’s journey as he travels to the Celestial City.
Bob: You may be familiar with the classic Christian allegory, Pilgrim’s Progress,written by John Bunyan. But Steve Cleary says that what most people don’t know is that we have that book today because John Bunyan chose to embrace suffering.
Steve: Bunyan wrote it in prison. He didn’t have to stay in prison—they offered him: “Sign this letter—you’ll stop preaching, and you can get out of prison.” And he said: “No. If you let me out, I’m going to preach.”
Now, think about it. If I was there with him, I’d say: “John, just sign the letter! Preach a little!” I didn’t feel overwhelmed by the suffering he endured. I felt overwhelmed by his choice to go there—my heart was saying, “Don’t set yourself up to endure all this suffering.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, April 12th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. We’ll hear today about a modern retelling of John Bunyan’s classic story that is coming to a theater near you. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. So tell everybody what we just did. We just went to the movies; right?
Dave: We went to the movies—and had popcorn! [Laughter]
Bob: We did!
Bob: Tell everybody what we saw.
Ann: We saw an amazing animated movie called Pilgrim’s Progress. It was amazing!
Bob: It’s going to be in theaters next week on Thursday night and on Saturday. It really was a great experience.
We’ve got the executive producer of that film with us today, Steve Cleary. Steve, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Steve: Thank you. Happy to be here.
Bob: And we’ve got Robert Fernandez, who directed and wrote the script. Although, I have to say you had pretty good source material you were working from as you wrote/as you adapted the story.
Robert: Kind of. [Laughter]
Bob: Welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Robert: Thank you.
Bob: This is a project you guys have been working on for about five years now.
Steve: Five years.
Bob: Take us back to the genesis of wanting to turn—what is the second most popular/most widely-read book in history, beside the Bible—Pilgrim’s Progress—to turn that into an animated feature.
Steve: Well, you know, it started as a dream; and it started as a legacy project. Robert and I were good friends, and we’ve worked on a lot of projects together. We were sitting in his office one night, and we were just dreaming. We talked about how we make a lot of films or do a lot of projects for other people; but what would we do if we could leave something to our grandkids? Robert was a new grandfather, and I am now a grandfather. We said, “What would we do?”—we’d make a movie.
We, literally, had $60,000 and three people to work in a kitchen—[Laughter]—is what we started with. It was a dream, and it was kind of a crazy dream. I remember calling Robert the next morning and saying, “Hey, do you want to start working on that movie?” He goes, “You were serious?!” [Laughter]
Ann: Why Pilgrim’s Progress?
Robert: You know, it goes back to my journey as—I came to know the Lord when I was 14 years old—through a radio rock station. People were doing interviews on Sunset Boulevard and kind of saying crazy stuff. Some guy got the mic, and literally—I think, in about a minute—he just gave a verse: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” That verse—I went to my room and I said, “Jesus, if you are real/if you’re here, enter into my heart; and show me why I exist.” That was my big question.
Bob: From one verse, in sixty seconds, on a radio station.
Robert: From one verse. I have to say that, obviously, God had been working in my life. You know, as a kid, I was—there was a lot of questions that I had. I had one of those experiences that I changed—I mean, literally, my life changed.
Robert: I knew that Jesus had died for me; I knew that I belonged to Him. Years later, after serving the Lord, and realizing that, when the Lord asked me to make Him Lord of my life—there was a lot more to that journey. To me—Pilgrim’s Progress—it sort of embodies that journey.
I do a series called The Torchlighters—an animated series. I’d done an episode on Bunyan when he was in prison. I knew what he was talking about—he didn’t write this in the comfort of his study. He wrote this—with whatever he was able to write—at least, it was in his imagination in prison. I felt that that message of: “Look, you’ve come to know Jesus,”—but then—“Your journey’s just beginning.” And that’s what Pilgrim’s Progress is all about.
Dave: I’ve got to say—sitting there, which is sort of weird—sitting there, beside Bob Lepine, with a bag of popcorn between us—[Laughter]
Ann: —sharing it.
Dave: We were sharing this. This is sort of strange—my wife’s like, “Can I get some?” “Oh, yeah; here you go.” [Laughter]
Seriously, the thing that hit me the most in watching the movie—which was really well, well done—it’s really the story of Pilgrim’s Progress—but that wasn’t the part that hit me—even Bob, when you said, “Hey, what do you remember the most?” It was like—when he got to the point, where you think: “Okay; now, he’s going to follow Christ, and he’s going to get rid of the burden. It’s going to be easy now,”—you guys made it so clear that it’s just the beginning—and all the temptation and all the struggle.
That’s what I loved about the movie—it was real. It was like: “That’s the Christian journey. That’s really—still/still very, very hard.”
Bob: It’s a provocative part of the original story that you’ve now carried in here; because Pilgrim comes to the door that says, “Knock, and it shall be opened”—and it’s opened. We would think, “Well, this is the point where his sins are forgiven.” Yet, what Bunyan’s trying to say is: “This is where he’s on the beginning of the journey. He hasn’t believed the gospel yet. He’s just in the process of pursuing Christ”; right?
Robert: It’s conversion that—it’s not necessarily an instant conversion—and even in my life, I know my life changed; but my conversion process continues to this day. And every single day, I have a choice. Even when I think I’m doing well, I’m still learning. You know, it’s a journey of the Holy Spirit, bringing us all the way to the Celestial City.
Bob: We are changed in a moment—there’s a point in time, where we receive the new birth, where our sins are forgiven—but there’s a whole life after that—that is the process of becoming more and more like Christ.
Robert: Right; it’s not always easy. It’s not always a pleasant journey—it isn’t. I think we, as Christians, have to realize that, especially in the West. I do a lot of work in Asia and in counties where Christians are a minority. They’re not exempt from suffering.
Robert: In fact, Christ uses suffering for good. I always tell people: “Look. The thing about being a Christian is—we’re going to go through the same things in life. You can either go without God; or you can go, accompanied by God.”
Ann: Do you guys remember the first time you read this book?
Steve: You know, I don’t. I grew up with it—in growing up, as a Christian. I think it became more and more real to me through my travels with Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, who wrote the book, Tortured for Christ. He became my spiritual mentor. I realized—exactly what we were saying before—there’s so much glory potential in suffering, and the trials that we face produce these amazing things.
I think my Christian life, being a journey—and I identified with The Pilgrim’s Progress—but I identified with it even more, working on the script and working on the film. If you think about it—Bunyan wrote it in prison. He didn’t have to stay in prison—they offered him: “Sign this letter—you’ll stop preaching, and you can get out of prison.” And he said: “No. If you let me out, I’m going to preach.”
Now, think about it—if I was there with him, I’d say: “John, just sign the letter! Preach a little!”
Ann: Right! “You could do more outside.”
Steve: “You could do more outside”; exactly!
I think Richard Wurmbrand spent 14 years in communist prison. I filmed his story last year—I filmed in his prison. I didn’t feel overwhelmed by the suffering he endured; I felt overwhelmed by his choice to go there, because he spoke up against communism. I’m behind the camera, going, “Don’t do it,”—my heart was saying, “Don’t set yourself up to endure all this suffering.”
The journey for me has been: “God uses suffering.” I don’t wish suffering upon anybody, but what does God do with the trials we face? And that’s what the story means to me—it’s not—a lot of people say they read the book every year—and that’s what I love, because they feed from it. It’s like Scripture kind of tossed into a different story we call an allegory—maybe, it’s a big parable. It’s just something that has to be experienced for me.
Bob: My experience with the film was that, about every five minutes, I wanted to push “pause” and just reflect on what we had just seen Pilgrim go through; because it’s one spiritual nugget after another—that’s true about the book, but it’s true in the movie.
Dave: You almost wonder if—after the film’s out and people see it—they do that very thing. You know, when they can take it home, they use it as a tool, even with their neighborhood—people never understood the book/never seen it: “Let’s watch a scene; and let’s hit ‘pause,’ and let’s discuss spiritual matters”; because it’s right there.
Steve: I mean, that’s really our dream; that’s our hope.
Robert: Yes; I think, for a lot of the projects we’ve worked on, we always take into consideration two things: One is for the believer—that it becomes something that would aid in conviction. Then, for the non-believer: “What about the person that walks in, and doesn’t quite get it?”
Doing it in an animated format, you see the journey of this man; and a lot of what goes on in people’s hearts is placed on a screen. I think there’s a real—there are layers of depth in the story, and in the film as well. I think, eventually, turning it into something like a study guide or something—you could do that. You could do it with a book, where you stop and let the Holy Spirit speak to you about legality, or worldliness, or taking the easy way out—or the Flatterer, which is when this guy shows up and just begins to tell them how he just admires how spiritual they are. And before you know it, Christian and Hopeful are, “Yes; well, actually, I did fight Satan”—[Laughter]—you know?
Dave: “It was tough, and nobody ever did that before.”
Robert: Before you know it, it just leads them into a trap.
One thing that’s really great from the film, that I really liked, is that—close to the end, when the Flatterer comes—and one of the Shining Ones, which is like one of the angels, comes and says, “Didn’t the Shepherd give you a map?” And Christian says, “Well, He gave us instructions, but a map He didn’t give us.” And she says: “The King’s instructions are a map. Didn’t they tell you where to go and where not to go?”—stuff like that—it’s just—it’s deep. You go back and go, “This is the Word of God.”
Ann: Those are life lessons, right there. What’s funny—when our kids were little—not too little, but elementary school—I remember reading this, out loud, with them; and stopping in those moments—of those great teachable moments—and talking about: “What does this look like in your world/in today’s world?”
Now, to have this animation to go along with it. I think for this generation of adults and kids will be great in terms of talking through this.
Bob: I’m thinking about next week—and people going to theaters on Thursday night or on Saturday for the matinee—which, again, the only two times it’s showing next week—Thursday night and Saturday. It’s in about 700 theaters. You can get more information—you can go to FamilyLifeToday.com, and we’ve got information available there about how you can find the movie in a theater near you.
You might not want to take your five- or six-year-old, especially because of some of the intense parts.
Ann: My granddaughter would be afraid of some of that.
Bob: Right; but if you’ve got older elementary/if you’ve got middle school—even your high school kids, who are like, “It’s an animated movie?”—I expected that I might get a little restless, because it’s two hours long of animation; right? I didn’t get restless at all, watching this film, because the spiritual truth being communicated is so powerful and so profound. You are just caught up in this story—you guys have done a great job.
Robert: Well, thank you. There’s a lot of highs and lows in the story. There’s parts that are—I think there’s a lot of depth in the whole thing—but there’s also a lot of action and adventure; because that’s the way Bunyan wrote it as well. You’ve got the epic things with the dragon, and the big fight, and the Valley of Humiliation. You’ve got the creatures, which were actually the demons that work with Apollyon—there’s all kinds of things like that. Then, you’ve got the fantasy issue of Vanity Fair.
Robert: There’s a lot to it—it’s enjoyable, but it’s also deep.
Bob: When you were writing a screenplay, you’re adding to what Bunyan wrote. You’re adding dialogue and stuff.
Bob: Did you kind of feel like, “I can’t mess with Bunyan here!” [Laughter]
Dave: “It’s the canon!—[Laughter]—the canon of Bunyan.”
Robert: There’s one thing about the process of writing—it’s always a bit of a—it’s like a fight with the devil. It’s like going into a room: “Okay; I’m going in here for a couple of weeks, and I’m just going to really fight it out.” And with Bunyan, of course, I was really praying, desperately—I had a lot of people praying for me as well.
The main reason we had to add a few things is because the book, itself, begins with Christian already with the burden on his back. There’s a lot of discussion about: “What is this burden?—is it his sins, or is it conviction?—is it…? You know, what’s causing him to feel this burden?” because he’s actually reading the Book. The Book is like the Bible/the Word of God.
In the story, there’s—he has a strong desire to get to the Celestial City. We wanted to make this also relatable to people that he wanted to get to the Celestial City—not just for himself/not just because: “Oh, I’m going to save myself. Forget everybody else.” To me, when God does something in our lives, He always turns us back around. He never lets us keep the blessing. He always turns us around to the people behind us/the people around us. He points them out and He goes, “Now, what about them?”
With Christian, just following the journey—even of Bunyan’s life—it was always for others. And so we tried—we embedded this in Christian’s personality/in his character—that he wanted to go—he wanted to prove the Celestial City—he wanted to see it himself; but once he got there, he wanted to go back. This is where the story kind of takes a twist, which I’m not going to say what it is.
We had to add some of that—we had to add some of the background of the City of Destruction, which is in the book—where it came from/how it originated. Why did he want to leave?—there’s a few little things like that—but they’re all true to the spirit of the story.
Ann: You guys, what’s the dream? If you could paint a picture for us, what would your dream for this movie be?
Steve: I really want it to be shown on the mission field. We made it with that in mind—a film that would translate. I’ve travelled to a lot of countries; and I’ve been to a lot of countries, where this story is known. We’ve committed we will give it away to every mission—every missionary/every mission society. Our goal is to translate the film into 100 languages. It’ll make it the most translated animated film in history.
Bob: You’ve already got it translated into Farsi. What were you telling me about—
Steve: Farsi, Mandarin, Spanish. We’re working on Korean.
Bob: It’s going to be on TV in Iran?
Steve: It’s going to be on Iran Alive, on satellite. We’re projecting six million viewers—these are two million secret Christians, and four million Muslim seekers.
Ann: That is amazing!
Steve: So, for us, it’s not about—yes; we’re not going to give it free to Amazon. We hope to honor the commercial side and the people that have invested with us. We will never—we maintain control of the film, because it has to be free to the missionary; it has to be free to missions.
Robert and I are excited to be here, and to go to the theater, and be on your radio program; but this is not our story—this is John Bunyan’s story. We did everything we could to be faithful to the story first. Sure, we worked on a limited budget for the animation, but the team did the best job they could with the resources they had. We are so proud of them. We had three percent of an average studio animation—that was our budget.
Bob: So anyone, who goes Thursday or Saturday, to see this in theaters—in addition to being encouraged by what they see, and being challenged, and I think loving what they’re going to see—they’re also helping to fund the distribution of this film all over the world.
Dave: You know, I’ve got to add this—because, Robert, when you told how you came to Christ, here’s what hit me—first thought was this: “You were listening to radio. It’s easy, sometimes, to sit here and not even realize God’s going to use these words to touch a young boy, or woman, or husband, or wife—you never know—in a powerful way. It could be just one little verse, like for you.”
Then here’s what else hit me, which you already know—but I just thought: “Wow. How powerful. You’re doing the same thing, now, that somebody did for you.
Dave: “Some guy gets on a rock station and quotes a verse; and he probably has no idea you were led to Christ and are going to impact the world. Now, you’re using a medium—animation—with a powerful script. It’s going to, literally, change legacies; because you guys committed to Jesus to use the medium of film.”
I’m sitting here, almost emotional, thinking, “All around the world, what you received is going to be passed on, just like Christian in the movie.” You know, he has this other motive: “It’s not just about me; it’s about through me.” Thank you. I just can’t imagine how many millions of people are going to be led to Jesus through you guys committing to use this medium to get the message to them.
Robert: You know, the power of the visual of creation—like the Lord God is creative—and He constantly does things to be able to bring people to Himself. This reminds me of the story—I worked in Asia for a long time. There was this one gentleman that I spent maybe about 12 months, trying to explain the gospel to him, over and over. He would never get to the point where he would come to the Lord, but he’d always want to talk to me; so I would always go see him; you know?
He takes a trip to Italy. He comes back and calls me, “I need to talk to you right away.” I go over to his office. He goes, “I went to Italy; and I was in this chapel, where they had a replica of La Pieta”—which is the one where Mary is holding Jesus; Jesus is dead and is draped in her arms. He goes: “This particular place—I walked in; I was just really moved by the beauty of this sculpture. There was this light coming down from the ceiling right on Jesus and on His hands. It was—it was this hole—like from a nail that was missing—that landed right on His [hands].” And he goes, “Right there, I understood what Jesus had done for me.”
He had a conversion experience. He didn’t have it with me—I mean, God used whatever our conversations were.
Bob: You had sowed seeds.
Robert: Yes; yes, I know; but at the moment of conversion, it was between him and the Lord. So you never know what a picture, an image, a thought, a musical note—how God can use it in the life of somebody—not only now—but over years to come.
Bob: Would to God, that there would be, in the seeds of this movie, there would be, as you said, millions of believers and of missionaries, who are launched as a result of seeing this film.
Guys, thank you for sharing the film with us, and thanks for being here.
Steve: Thank you.
Robert: Thank you very much.
Bob: And again, if you’re interested in finding out more about the film—where it’s going to be showing in a theater near where you live—go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. There’s a link to the trailer and the site that’s got all of the information about the upcoming movie. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com to find out more about The Pilgrim’s Progress movie. It’ll be in theaters next Thursday night and next Saturday afternoon.
If you’ve got kids, ages eight and up, they will enjoy this film. As a matter of fact, if you don’t have kids, this is still a film you will enjoy and benefit from seeing. I mean, I went without any kids. I thought it was a great film—very thought-provoking. Again, find out more at FamilyLifeToday.com.
The President of FamilyLife®, David Robbins, is here. You didn’t get a chance to see the movie, but—
David: I did not on that day, but I look forward to it.
Bob: You’re planning to go.
David: Pilgrim’s Progress. I love Pilgrim’s Progress and the incredibly powerful story that it is that God has used through the centuries. I love that we have a new way and a new genre of being able to view it and to watch it with our kids and have conversations about this powerful story that it is.
You know, Bunyan, in the story, personifies the value of enduring and choosing personal suffering for the sake of others. My mind went to two places when I was thinking about Pilgrim’s Progress. One, it reminded me of Dennis and Barbara Rainey—how much God has done through them. We have heard their highs throughout the decades; and we’ve heard—they’ve invited us in, with honesty—to many of their lows over the years and the ways they have endured with faithfulness. They really have modeled perseverance through trials—not just endurance for the sake of endurance—but endurance for the sake of others, and the good of families, and for the gospel, and for God and His glory.
And I think, if the Raineys were in the studio today—the other place my mind went is something I think they would be bringing up is—I hear them say, often: “We were only following what Jesus modeled. Anything that points us to Jesus’ endurance for our sake—we should be thankful for.” This film, I believe, will certainly do that; because the story is so powerful. It’s one of the—really, the reasons I’m looking forward to seeing it.
Bob: I hope you enjoy it. Again, it’s Thursday night or Saturday matinee this coming [weekend]. There’s more information, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. Thanks for stopping in here.
David: Thank you.
Bob: This is a big weekend for us, here, at FamilyLife. We have one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways happening this weekend. Are you ready?—Anaheim, California; in Chicago in the northern suburbs; Columbus, Ohio; Des Moines, Iowa; Kalamazoo, Michigan; Lake Tahoe; Portland, Maine; San Francisco; and Seattle—actually, out in Bellevue.
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And we hope you have a great weekend. We hope you and your family are able to worship together in your local church this weekend. And I hope you can join us back on Monday when we’re going to talk about the season of life when we are not yet married. If you hear that, as a single person, and think, “I don’t like being called a ‘not yet married’ person because that may not be who I am.” Well, Marshall Segal will be here to explain why he uses that phrase. We’ll talk about the challenges singles are facing in our culture today. I hope you can tune in to that on Monday.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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