HEAVENQUEST: A Pilgrim's Progress will release exclusively on the official Heavenquestfilm.com website for a special limited time 48 hour digital premiere launch starting on October 25, 2019. During the digital premiere, viewers will have the opportunity to watch HEAVENQUEST three months prior to its traditional worldwide release on all platforms starting January 2020. The project was ignited by visionary filmmaker Matt Bilen who approached Executive Producer Darren Wilson with a grand idea for a faith-based, fantasy film.
HEAVENQUEST is a new, reimagined fantasy universe inspired by the world and characters of John Bunyan's timeless masterpiece The Pilgrim's Progress, but modernized and adapted for today. This film is an imagined prequel to Bunyan's original text, exploring the origins of the character The Evangelist (renamed Vangel in this world) and how he came to be a wise sage, and it sets the stage for the journey shared in Bunyan's beloved allegory, but recasting the events against an expansive new world ravaged by a war between good and evil. Bunyan wrote The Pilgrim's Progress in 1678 while he was in prison for holding religious services. Considered the first novel ever written in English, the book has never been out of print, it has been translated into more than 200 languages, and is considered the second most-read book after the Bible.
The film is a true experiment in filmmaking. Bilen has achieved the impossible in creating his feature-length directorial debut: he made a faith-inspired epic fantasy film with only micro-budget; a few crew members; a diverse international cast; extreme outdoor locations with The Revenant style time of day natural lighting; and no script other than a working treatment.
We are honored to catch up with visionary filmmaker Matt Bilen for this exclusive interview.
Q: Thank you for doing this interview with us! Matt, let's start with yourself: what's your role and involvement in this new movie HEAVENQUEST?
Thanks for having me! I was a producer and director on this film. I've been apart of everything from story to casting to location scouting to visual effects to distribution. In addition to the producer / director duties, of course.
Q: Very briefly, what is this movie about?
This is a story about a judge named Vangel (Evangilist from the Original Work) and his arrest, escape, and journey to a fabled Northern Kingdom with a good and noble king. It's a journey story filled with heroes, villains and creatures. Some who are trying to kill Vangel; some who are trying to help him. Ultimately, it's about Vangels change from evil, twisted, self centered judge to a person who is changed and redeemed.
Q: How's this movie connected with John Bunyan's classic "Pilgrim's Progress"?
The original is written very modularly, moment by moment, almost separate from each other. It's as if each section teaches a lesson to the reader, which was the intent all those years ago, it was an evangelistic tool in some regards but written in pure allegory. We went though SO many versions of script ands treatments, but ultimately, decided on a backstory for a major character from Pilgrim's Progress. The thinking was that the actual Pilgrim's Progress would require a very large budget to do well, even possibly 2 movies, so we told this intimate little world building story about Vangel (Evangelist). It fell more within what we could do and handle. And it created an overarching story that could thread through multiple films. So, essentailly, same world, different point in time, and following a different character on his journey to salvation.
Q: Who are some of the actors involved in this film?
We decided early on to cast with diversity in mind. Our world was expansive and we wanted a cast to show it. Also, it reflects our producing team which is also very diverse. To me it was so cool to bring all these languages, accents and cultures together. And it just works and added a richness to the film. They would ask me if they should do "English accents" and I said, "no way, go with your native accents!" We had 2 actresses from Mexico, 2 actors from Korea, a Danish actor, a British actor, an Australian actress, and a few Americans too! It's one of the things I'm most proud of. And they were excellent!
Speficially, Patrick Thompson, a local theater and commercial actor, model, from ChicagoAlan Powell who has appeared in some faith based films as well as the show Quanitco Cha In Pyo - Korean Movie LegendRicky Kim - Korean Reality and TV starKaryme Lozano - Legendary TV and film star from MexicoFernanda Romero - Very Well Known TV and Film star from MexicoAsger Folmann - Danish Voice ActorEric Tiede - British Actor and Talented Voice ActorPeta Sergeant - Well Known Australian Actress of TV and Film
Q: The cast is fascinating. How did you choose the actors? How did they feel about the challenges that you faced with the film.We decided early on to cast with diversity in mind.
Our world was expansive and we wanted a cast to show it. Also, it reflects our producing team which is also very diverse. To me it was so cool to bring all these languages, accents and cultures together. And it just works and added a richness to the film. They would ask me if they should do "English accents" and I said, "no way, go with your native accents!" We had 2 actresses from Mexico, 2 actors from Korea, a Danish actor, a British actor, an Australian actress, and a few Americans too! It's one of the things I'm most proud of. And they were excellent!
Q: And the actors helped write their lines? How was that experience?
We worked from a treatment, not a true script although we did have some scripts along the way. The project was sort of dead in the water, and I felt strongly the Lord showing me to try something different, get back to simple, don't use a script, allow actors to be heavily involved in the direction of the story. It didn't turn out exactly as planned, but true enough, actors had a lot of input, but it wasn't necessarily improv. Truly, because we weren't working off a script, there was a moment when the Director of Photography was like, "Matt, you may have a 45 minute movie..." Yikes, but it all worked out great. Out first cut was almost 2 hours.
Q: Do you have a favorite scene in the movie? And if so, why?
I really like a scene where Vangel (Thompson) and Ezera (Sergeant) meet in this beautiful rocky canyon and she nurses him back to health. I like the way it was shot, the way it looks, the moments, and for me, it was just a good shooting day, so I remember it fondly. It gives us a glimpse of this warrior and how she treats people that aren't very nice. She's just a helper and a healer.
Q: In the movie, Vangel gets to meet many people and travel companions in his journey, who are some of your favorite characters? And why?
Outside of the main stars, I love Wiles Pratt (Worldly Wiseman from the Original Work). He is SO smooth and such a great con man. I wish we had him in the film more. He was such a professional actor, Eric was, and he jus nailed what we were looking for!
Q: What does this movie have to teach us about God and our faith?
The whole movie is a giant allegory about what a Christian experiences in life. Sin, Fear, Lust, Doubt, Hope, Faith, Salvation. It's all in there as well as the Trinity being represented in terms of 3 characters who all play a role. We couldn't get it all in there, but there's no big hidden mysteries or hard to find symbolism. It's all there. But it doesn't "preach" or bang you over the head with message, so it might be more watchable from a wide variety of people and worldviews.
Q: How has the making of this movie deepened or challenged your own faith?
This movie was a gift from God in the for of an idea and a huge leap of faith for me. It took 4 years to get made and out from original conception. When I would doubt along the way, I would go back the original desire God put inside me for this project. It kept me going even in some dark moments. I feel like it was a promise to me that it would get done if I could hold on and keep the faith. It's a bit cliche' but it was very real to me-that this vision never would have been so strong if it wasn't supposed to be made and find a home with audiences. But it was tough and took huge amounts or perserverence!
Q: What's next for you?
I've been writing a lot, and I would love to do some sci fi. I've written several treatments, started a few meetings, and that is my current passion. Something with some thriller elements but more contained to 1 or 2 locations. I'm not doing the 14 locations things again unless I have a larger budget!