Challenging your long unwavering beliefs, particularly in regards to spirituality, can be a surprisingly endearing process for those who are determined to find the reasons for their existence. While the idea of exploring new ideas can be a harrowing one to some people at first, the importance of finding acceptance and guidance in subjects they never expected can become a more fulfilling achievement for them than remaining content in their previously predictable environment. That’s certainly the case with the protagonist in the new comedy-drama, ‘Divine Access,’ which was co-written, directed and produced by Steven Chester Prince, and is now playing in select theaters and on VOD.
‘Divine Access’ follows Jack Harriman (Billy Burke) as he lives a simple life and uses the religious expertise he learned from his mother, Catherine (Adrienne Barbeau), to attract women. Keenly aware of Jack’s penchant for discrediting religious zealots, his friend, Bob McCord (Patrick Warburton), asks him to appear on the public cable access television show that he produces. While Jack initially expresses his resistance to discussing his thoughts about faith on the air, he soon becomes a local spiritual celebrity after he humiliates the current host of the show, the Reverend Guy Roy Davis (Gary Cole). Jack’s popularity grows so much that he agrees to embark on a multi-city speaking tour, on which he’s accompanied by Nigel (Joel David Moore), who’s a self-proclaimed catcher of overwhelmed believers. Along the way Jack and Nigel are joined by Amber (Dora Madison), a down on her luck call-girl, and Marian (Sarah Shahi), an enigmatic woman who challenges Jack’s beliefs and questions whether he has developed a deeper calling.
Prince generously took the time recently to talk about co-writing, directing and producing ‘Divine Access’ during an exclusive interview over the phone. Among other things, he discussed how the script was based on personal experiences he had as a child, when he went on a spiritual pilgrimage with his mother that’s similar to the one that Jack ventures on when he was younger. He also mentioned that becoming so intimate with the material as a writer, as well as having worked as an actor and producer throughout his career, helped make his feature film directorial debut easier.
The filmmaker began the conversation by explaining the genesis of, and the process of co-writing, the script for ‘Divine Access.’ The story’s “based on my life with my mother. When she and my father divorced, I was about 12-years-old. After that, she went on this spiritual pilgrimage, and I was a witness to it. I was dragged around, just like Jack was in the story,” the filmmaker revealed.
“Then about 15 years ago, my mother developed cancer, so I started thinking about our relationship,” Prince humbly revealed. “So the idea for ‘Divine Access’ came to mind, in her honor. I then put together the outline, and reached out to a great friend of mine, Michael Zagst, who’s an experience writer. He also played Lonnie in the film. So Michael helped me develop the first draft, and was also responsible for some of the great characters, like Guy Roy and the catcher.”
The director added that the initial version of the script “ended up winning a Santa Barbara screenwriting competition years ago. So we had a few opportunities to get it made, but nothing really came together. So I ended up putting it aside, and did a bunch of other things in the industry, including being an actor and stuntman.”
After pursuing other interests as a filmmaker for several years, Prince had passed the script for ‘Divine Access’ to Burke, who he’s friends with, to read. “He loved it, and basically said, ‘I’ll be a part of it anywhere, anytime.’ So he helped create more momentum to get the film made, once he decided that he wanted to play Jack,” the director divulged.
“So at that point, my current writing partner, John O’Connell, who’s a great writer, opened the script back up. We polished and modernized it, by adding cell phones and other things that weren’t really that relevant 15 years ago,” Prince also revealed. “We also got back in touch with Michael, and created the version of the script that we have now.”
Prince then began discussing how besides working on the screenplay, he also made his feature film directorial debut on the spiritual-based movie. He explained that he thinks working on the screenplay before he delved into helming the comedy-drama made the process “reasonable. I’ve done a lot of things in the industry for many years, so I think venturing into directing now is a pretty reasonable progression.”
The helmer added that “The fact that I was so intimate with the material over so many years as a writer, as well as having worked as an actor and producer, helped make directing easier. I’ve been around so many great directors,” which helped give him the confidence to step into his helming duties. Prince further explained that having previously worked as an actor offered him more clarity into what it took to transition into being a director.
“To be honest, the smartest thing I did was hire well,” Prince also noted. “The actors did a wonderful job, and had free range to come up with their own ideas, as long as they fit into the confines of the story we were trying to tell, and what we were trying to do. Offering them the latitude to make the characters their own actually also helped me quite a bit.”
The filmmaker also praised the crew he worked with while he was filming the movie on location in Austin, Texas. “I was well taken care of when I was working with the crew. Also, the producers at (one of the movie’s production companies,) Traveling Picture Show Company also made the filmmaking process so much easier,” Prince noted as he expressed is appreciation. He then also praised Julie Kirkwood, who served as the comedy-drama’s Director of Photography. “If there was anything I wasn’t sure about, Julie would step up and point me in the wright direction.”
Continuing the discussion on the hiring process, Prince then discussed how he decided how he was going to cast ‘Divine Access.’ The director noted that the casting process “started with Billy. Once he got on board, there were about four or five parts” whose casting was also essential, as they directly tied to Burke’s character.
The director described his casting director, Michelle Lewitt, as being “amazing. She brought in wonderful talent, including Adrienne Barbeau, Joel David Moore and Gary Cole. All of these actors came in because of her connections and understanding of the material. I knew who all of those actors were, and what they’re capable of. But we basically got on the phone together because they wanted to know who I was and what the film was about. I also wanted to get their take on the material.” Prince also praised the local Austin actors who played supporting characters in the comedy-drama, and noted that “There wasn’t a bad performance in the film.”
Further speaking of the process of filming the movie on location in Austin, Prince noted that the city “is my hometown, as it’s where my mother and I lived when it was just her and me as I was growing up. It’s also where I wrote the script, and where the movie takes place. The fact that we were able to shoot the film where it happens is wonderful.”
The helmer added that he still has contacts with Austin crews from when he lived there. He described the people he worked with as “A-list crews who work on all of these wonderful projects that film in the city. For a low-budget indie film like this one, we got a top crew and talent.” Since Prince knows many people in Austin, he was able to have his choice of what locations he wanted to use for the film. “All of my old friends now own bars and restaurants, so it was great to be able to utilize a lot of different and interesting locations that didn’t cost the production too much money.”
Besides co-writing and directing ‘Divine Access,’ Prince also served as a producer on the independent movie. The filmmaker delved into the process of producing the comedy-drama, calling the experience “so great. I had a couple of great guys from G-Men Media, including Jeff Way and Clay Glendenning. My main producers were my partners from Traveling Picture Show Company, including Carissa Buffel and Kevin Matusow. Early on, we all worked as a team.” But the closer they approached the start date for the film’s principal photography, and the more directorial duties Prince had to take on, the less producing he did. “There were still a couple of things that I had to consider along the way. But Kevin and Carissa made it easier for me the further we went along into the true prep.” The writer-director added that his main background is in producing, as it’s his day job, but his co-producers were extremely helpful in allowing him to mainly focus on the directing during the shoot.
Once production on the comedy-drama was completed, Prince was happy to share the final product with audiences at film festivals around the country. “The film festival circuit was wonderful. We started (at the) Sarasota (International Film Festival), and then hit about five or six other festivals. We knew we were going to get the film out to the mass public, so we were fortunate enough to be accepted into a few festivals that we targeted,” Prince revealed. “We were also accepted by the great folks in Houston, Dallas and Newport.”
The filmmaker added that he started bringing his movies on the film festival circuit when he was an actor, so he feels like it’s “a great way to get a sense of how people are receiving the film. Across the board with this film, we didn’t receive a negative response. We’ve had a few heated discussions about the subject matter, but they all came from a place of curiosity. People just wanted a few clarifications on a few things. But more importantly, they enjoyed the film’s humor and sweet elements. So I was very happy with the response we received.” Prince added that he loves the independent film festival circuit in general, because “people usually attend festivals to enjoy films. So it’s a good starting point, as people go with the intention of liking your film.”
After finishing it’s film festival run, ‘Divine Access’ is now playing in theaters and on VOD, which Prince is happy about. He noted that he thinks showing the indie film on both platforms is beneficial in helping it reach a wider audience. “I’m thrilled with the marketing team. The folks at Freestyle (Digital Media) and Concourse (Film Trade) have been amazing, and they see value in the film.” The director then mentioned the fact that there’s so much content that’s available to audience, particularly in the independent film world, that “to be able to differentiate ourselves, and receive the type of deal we did on such a small film, is such a testament to everybody, from the producers to the cast. It just takes a few people who have access to the level of distribution that we received to really see the value in the story that we’re telling, which helped us get our momentum.”
Prince added that word-of-mouth buzz that the film has received so far “has really driven people to these outlets to watch the film. I couldn’t be happier that we received a theatrical release in a few key areas that are important to the film, like Austin, Dallas and Los Angeles, which are places that I know that people are anxious to see it.”
Watch the official trailer for ‘Divine Access’ below.
Written by: Karen Benardello