Member Spotlight: Chad and Angela Burns of Burns Family Studios

Marcia Krahn  ·  Feb 01, 2015

Mechanical-engineer-turned-film-producer Dr. Chad Burns makes movies that point people to Jesus Christ.

Chad’s filmmaking began with family and continues with family. Chad’s father and uncle got their families together for holidays, and the nine cousins inevitably ended up working on some kind of project. One year they built a log cabin. The next, they wrote a movie script and acted it out using the cabin as their set. Then came a Civil War movie. All this time, Chad thought of movies as a family-time hobby. For a career, he dreamed of becoming a rocket scientist employed at a lab run by NASA.

During grad school, the Lord redirected Chad’s focus. “The Lord revealed that Christ cared more about my heart and my affections being toward Him than He did my performance, or what I was doing for Him,” Chad says. “He wanted me first.” The Lord used Chad’s changed spiritual focus to change his career direction from mechanical engineering to filmmaking.

Another welcome shift in Chad’s focus occurred when he met Angela, now his wife, who shares his heart for Christ. A realist oil painter, Angie understands “the highs and lows that come from being a professional artist.” This empathy has helped her support Chad in his creative film work. Angie now stays home with their daughter, Eve, and continues to paint part time.

When Chad decided to pursue filmmaking as a career, he began looking for a business partner. His cousin Aaron was a natural choice. Aaron had a similar spiritual experience in college, was getting his master’s degree in business administration, and had worked with Chad acting in and producing previous family movies.

In 2008, with Chad as director, Aaron as producer, and other siblings and family members filling key roles, Burns Family Studios was established “to point people’s hearts toward what will give life, and that is Jesus Christ.” Through film, Burns Family Studios strives to “represent Jesus Christ in as real, in as compelling a way as we possibly can.”

They chose the action-adventure film, with its hero story, as the genre that most clearly conveys their purpose. “Everyone longs for a hero, someone who will sacrifice himself for his friends, who will put others first. We want to believe that person exists,” Chad says.

Action-adventure movies, while being a challenging genre to film, have great potential to touch lives with the truth of the Gospel message and illustrate that the true Hero everyone longs for exists in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. When people watch a movie, they enter into the world that movie creates and become “emotionally vulnerable” to what is touching their heart and shaping their thinking. According to Chad, “film is the language of our culture.  If we want to reach people with a message today, one of the great ways we can do that is through a two-hour feature film.” Burns Family Studios has produced two feature films that are a delight to watch.

The first official film was Pendragon: Sword of His Father, which features Chad and Aaron in lead roles. Set in medieval times, Pendragon is the story of young Artos, who chooses to “follow God’s impossible call on his life” when barbarians destroy his village. Artos discovers the truth that “what God calls men to do, He gives them the grace to accomplish; that following God, no matter what the circumstances are, is never futile.” Pendragon has received 14 awards and recognitions from national and international film festivals and can be purchased at Amazon.com and ChristianBook.com.

Beyond the Mask, their current project, keeps Chad “overemployed” by Burns Family Studios. He finds dedicating long hours to filmmaking is “arduous, with many, many disappointments and defeats along the way.” Filmmaking calls for flexibility, coupled with faith, for Chad must “wear a different hat” in each step of the long process.

Step one of the process for Chad and Aaron was deciding the theme for Beyond the Mask. Based on what the Lord was impressing on them, they chose to convey that a person’s hope and identity is found only in Jesus Christ.

With that crucial step determined, next came building the business plan (a major role for Aaron), and drafting the necessary legal documents, followed by securing financial resources.

Chad understood the need to hire skilled craftsmen, professionals in each field, to produce the quality film they hoped to achieve. After developing the story concept, they hired Paul McCusker, best known for his Adventures in Odyssey scripts, to write the screenplay. Stephen Kendrick from Facing the GiantsFireproof, and Courageous also contributed to the screenplay and offered counsel throughout the filmmaking process.

Once they had a script, Chad and Aaron worked on planning the locations for shooting, building sets, mapping the action, scheduling, and recruiting the cast and crews for everything from lighting to cooking.

During production, Chad directed a cast of 30 actors with 60 crewmembers. Every leading role is played by a professional actor. Andrew Cheney plays the troubled fugitive Will Reynolds, who strives for a new identity, with Kara Killmer as the demure, but daring Charlotte Holloway. John Rhys-Davies, best known for his roles in the Indiana Jones and Lord of the Rings films, is Charles Kemp, a ruthless businessman for the East India Company. Chad says working with so many talented people all at once created “an intense outpouring of energy.”

The fervor diminished when the actors and crew went home, but the finishing touches brought an excitement of their own. After editing the film with Los Angeles-based Mike Wech, Chad and Aaron hired a new round of professionals for the film’s musical score, visual effects, audio mix, and color grading. Composer Jurgen Beck researched Colonial-era music and created an authentic score using period instruments such as the zither and field drums. The sound was mixed especially for the big screen theatrical experience in Burbank, and Roush Media in Los Angeles did the color grading. Concerning the entire process, Chad says, “Most people don’t realize what a large team is involved in making a feature film. I’m really humbled to have worked with so many amazing people.”

After three years in production, Beyond the Mask is now in the distribution phase. Burns Family Studios is releasing Beyond the Mask through GATHR, an innovative strategy for showing new films in theaters. People who want to see the movie can set up the theater, date, and time they prefer through Beyond the Mask’s website, beyondthemaskmovie.com, and then ask others to join them for that screening. If enough people sign up (usually around 65), the screening is on. If they fail to meet their goal, no one is charged, and the screening is cancelled.

With the release of Beyond the Mask in sight, Chad is giving more thought to future projects. Burns Family Studios will continue its commitment to theme-driven, Christ-focused hero stories in the action-adventure genre. Their choice for their next movie is undecided, as “each effort presents its own challenges,” but Chad hopes to find a period-piece story that has already impacted our culture.

One of the hardest lessons of faith and flexibility in making Beyond the Mask occurred when the funding wasn’t coming in fast enough to begin shooting on schedule. First the January deadline “cruised by,” then the mid-February deadline. Still insufficient funds. Chad and Aaron set an absolutely final, “stop-the-movie-get-real-jobs” deadline of June 15. Chad says, “We had worked so hard for so many months. It became clear to us that if the Lord did not move on people’s hearts and start to open doors, it just wasn’t going to happen.” On the evening of June 15, a few hours before the deadline, the final necessary amount came in.

Seeing the Lord provide was a significant moment in Burns Family Studios’ history. Since then, whatever the struggle, Chad reminds himself “not to see difficulty as a sign to give up, but as a challenge to overcome, because the Lord has already clearly led in the path.”

“The single most important dimension in filmmaking is the sense of God’s leading,” Chad says. With that sense of God’s leading, and by God’s grace and strength, Chad keeps “blasting his way through.” During the challenges, he is learning to say, “Lord, this is Your movie,” and to “just turn it over to Him.”

Movies produced by Burns Family Studios give Dr. Chad Burns the opportunity to reach people’s hearts for the Lord and speak truth into their lives. His heart’s desire is to make movies that “point people to a meaningful, life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ.” And that focus makes the ups and downs of filmmaking all worthwhile.