It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness and Stan Foster is a Christian artist doing just that in Hollywood. Foster began his multi-faceted career as an actor in CBS’ Emmy winning war drama, Tour of Duty. He later produced sitcoms, dramas and reality shows for CBS, FOX, MTV, Comedy Central, USA networks, UPN, Disney, and Discovery Channel. He went on to write and produce the powerful film, Woman Thou are Loosed (from T.D. Jakes’ book). Foster is a courageous writer, who has tackled the heart-wrenching issues of sexual abuse, addiction, domestic violence and other human maladies in his scripts. While Foster’s writings spotlight these evils they nevertheless assert his own ultimate hope in forgiveness and redemption in Christ. His latest offering in this genre is Preacher’s Kid.
Preachers Kid is a compelling and sometimes edgy retelling of the Prodigal Son. Letoya Luckett (formerly of platinum selling Destiny’s Child) stars as the daughter of an overly protective pastor (Gregalan Williams) who leaves home to experience romance and fame in a traveling Gospel musical. Durrell “Tanks” Babbs stars as Devlin, the man whose good looks and charisma lure her away to join the show. Delight turns to desolation as everything falls apart for her. She loses all that she belatedly discovers mattered most in her life: her father, her true love (Sharif Atkins), her self-worth and most tragically her faith. This is a Christian film, but it is not a children’s movie. There is some strong language, and there are sexual jokes in the movie. However, this is a great film for adults to watch with their teens. PK would be a perfect springboard to discussions on temptations from the “devil, flesh and the world,” consequences of bad decisions, and how God’s laws for us come from His love for us. Also, especially in the “traveling show” part of the film, there is excellent acting! The demanding but soft-hearted show manager, Ike (Clifton Powell) and the lively and straight-spoken, Peaches (Essence Atkins) are wonderful supporting characters and almost steal the movie. The music and singing are amazing. With its message, acting and original music Preacher’s Kid delivers a creative rendering of Our Lord’s parable that will be greatly appreciated by teens and adults.
I had the opportunity to speak with Stan Foster about the extraordinary stepping out in faith that led him to Hollywood and the same strong faith that inspired Preacher’s Kid.
Christi Derr: You have an amazing story on how you first came to Hollywood. Can you share your journey with our readers?
Stan Foster: I had no idea I would even be in this business. I was studying at Ohio State, heading for law school. One day I found myself depressed at the thought of being a lawyer so, I prayed to God for guidance. I had never heard God’s voice before but I heard it that day – telling me to go to California. What is that Scripture that says, “In all your ways acknowledge Him and he will direct your path”? There is no way I could have done this on my own. I came to California. I had never acted in front of anyone before, never did a high school play, didn’t take drama, didn’t have an agent, nothing! I went through the yellow pages looking up theatrical agencies. On about the fifth call (to an agent who kept hanging up) I say, “You are making a big mistake. You are going to be known as the agency that let Stan Foster get away.” He said, “Ok, Big Mouth, come back tomorrow and we’ll see what you’ve got.” I went in to read for him the next …after I was done (reading through a script with him) he picks up the phone and calls the casting director at Universal and says, “I have in my office the most amazing African American dramatic actor.” That is the truth and that was the start of my acting career. A couple of years later I was cast in CBS Tour of Duty and the rest is history. It is almost like make-believe. My grandmother used to say “can’t nobody but God do that.”
Derr: So here you are a successful actor but then you pushed yourself further to write and direct. What was it that inspired your move to script writing?
Foster: You know, I get this feeling — it’s an uneasiness, like I am in the wrong place. I felt “the season has come and gone for what you have been doing.” I started to write and give scripts to the people at the network I was on. They said they liked the stuff but no one was buying anything. Here’s an ironic story. I went to a meeting at Sony television and the guy tells me that he read my script and that basically I couldn’t write. I go to Church that night and there is a man I had never seen before who travels across the country prophesying. He is saying all these different things and I pray, “God if this is for real — I want a word just from you.” The guy comes to me, touches my shoulder and says, “Thus says the Lord ‘there is a writer in you.’” That gave me the confidence to continue writing. Fast forward to a number of years later and Woman thou art Loosed is now in the theaters. I am at a meeting at a major studio, and the CEO of the studio tells me that he loves my writing, loves Woman thou art Loosed and wants to do a movie with me. Ironically he is the same guy who said I couldn’t write before. Who are you going to believe, God or man?
Derr: Wow! It is this hope and faith of yours in Jesus that animates both Woman thou art Loosed and Preacher’s Kid. Do you intentionally make your work “missionary,” to preach the Gospel, or does your faith life just spill over into your writing?
Foster: You know, it is interesting. I never intended to do faith based movies. I got a call one day from a friend who said he had an in with (Dallas Pastor) T.D. Jakes, and that we should do something with him. That’s how I did the stage play and later the film, Woman thou art Loosed. Preacher’s Kid just sort of happened the same way. This is how I sold it. I go into to Warner Bros. and a friend of mine told me, “Don’t pitch your faith-based movies to him. They are not interested in this kind of stuff. They want to do prequels and sequels and remakes.” I said, “Okay, this is your friend you know him.” So, I am in the executive offices and I am pitching all this stuff, Training Day 2 and that sort of thing. The Exec looks bored, he is looking out the window and says, “That Tyler Perry is amazing, got anything like that?” Smiling, I said, “It just so happens I do,” and gave him the script of Preacher’s Kid and they loved it! If that’s not God, who is it?
Derr: That story leads to my next question. So many people in America are believers, and though there are some exceptions, overall I think I think audiences feel like there is a disconnect between what they are getting from Hollywood and what their lives look like. Are you trying to fill that void or is this again just unintentional, is this just the work you are doing?
Foster: You know, at some point, you have to realize the path and the journey that you are on. Even if you don’t know how you got there in the beginning. At some point it starts to take shape and take form and you say, “Oh, I see where this is headed.” Once I went on some of the play/movie websites and read some of the comments, people telling their stories after watching Woman thou art Loosed. One story in particular stands out in my mind: a grandmother, mother and daughter were in the theater watching Woman thou art Loosed and they are all sobbing. It turns out they choose to admit at that time that they had all been molested and none of them had shared that with one another before. I thought, “Wow there is a reason for this.” I believe that I have a calling to be a voice. I just want to follow whatever God wants me to do in this genre.
Derr: Preacher’s Kid is another powerful film in this genre. What inspired you to write it?
Foster: I met a “PK” and later I was watching Fantasia Barrino (American Idol) on TV and thought that is the girl for this story. I sat down and wrote it in about a week.
Derr: A Week? Wow! That’s something. There is so much depth to the movie, the characters…
Foster: Thank you, but when God [inspires] it — all you have to do is type. (Laughs.)
Derr: So why did you pick Letoya Luckett for the lead role? She has an amazing voice but she had never acted — that must have been a risk?
Foster: I wrote the script for Fantasia Barrino(American Idol). She had to drop out. Warner Bros. suggested all these other people for the role but I remembered Letoya’s audition. She had started crying and said, “I am crying because I am really more like Angie than Desiree, the role you have given me. I can play Desiree, but I know this girl, Angie.” I told the studio, “I got the girl.” Letoya never once read for Angie. I just gave her the role and she nailed it!
Derr: The supporting characters in the film have received a lot of attention and praise from critics — especially, Peaches (Essence Atkins) and Ike(Clifton Powell). Do you have a lot of fun writing these types of characters into the story?
Foster: Its fun to write but its more fun to see great actors execute. They just brought something to the characters that was really special. As much as I would like to take credit for the writing, those two are perfectionists. When I was about to direct the film I called some veteran directors to ask for advice and they said that 75 – 80% of your work is done in casting. If you cast it right the rest will take care of itself. I cast it right!
Derr: The music is such an important part of Preacher’s Kid? Do you use songs at times in place of dialogue because music can reach us where words alone do not?
Foster: Absolutely. I found the perfect guy named Tim Miner who wrote all the music. Tim is a pretty prolific song writer but ironically had never written music for a movie before. I met Tim in Church and he was so soulful. I had a good feeling about him. We would go back and forth on the songs. I would write some dialogue when I needed a character to convey something and move the story along. Tim would just take it from there and make something great out of it.
There is one particularly powerful song that I was most impressed with from Tim. I wanted a song, a trio. In the movie, the stage play that Angie is in mirrors what is happening in her own life but she is the last to realize it. I wanted this song where the father character in the play and the daughter character in the play, and the suitor who represents a guy who really loves Angie in real life, all sing. It starts out as a solo and then turns into a duet, and then a trio. Tim never got this song layout because of some miscommunication with a music manager. So, Tim flies out to Atlanta and I am expecting a song he doesn’t even know about. He says, “That’s not a problem, give me a second.” He starts to work on a piano, keep in mind he’s not even in his own studio; he is not even familiar with this place. I am watching Tim, and he is just hitting some notes and then says, “Ok, I got it.” He goes into the studio and sings the first part in the low voice of the father, and then Letoya sings her part, and then he sings the suitors part. It is an amazing song and I could really see his brilliance in it.
Derr: I think your choice of telling the parable in terms of running away to make it big in music is such a great idea. So many young people can relate to that dream — just look at American Idol’s popularity. Are you speaking to young people in this movie? And if so what would you like them to take away from the film?
Foster: Well, so much of our lives when we are young is shaped by our peers, and sometimes to see choices played out…we get some insight. Our parents can instruct us. We read the Bible and say, yeah I’ve heard this. I know I’m not supposed to do that but all the fun is happening over there. Then you get over there and see it is not so much fun. In this film they get to live out the story of the prodigal from their perspective and I think the film resonates with young people for that reason.
Derr: Finally, you write on your website “God is ultimately in control”, where do you see Him leading you next?
Foster: (Laughs.) If I knew that, I would put that on my website! Wherever it is, it is a good place because He is leading me there. I will just be obedient and walk in the path He sets out.
Preacher’s Kid is available on DVD. It is rated PG-13 for thematic material involving sexual content, violence and brief drug use. It is recommended for mature teens and adults.