“I’m always inspired by dreamers and doers. Anyone who is thinking differently about how the world should work. Or anyone that is living out a common grace vision for their work. Creating good works that serve others and that last for more than a season or a weekend.” — Erik Lokkesmoe, founder of Different Drummer, on what inspires his work.
At an early screening of Last Days in the Desert, the new movie starring Ewan McGregor, Executive Producer Erik Lokkesmoe told the crowd that there were two types of faith films that were “winning” right now: those that promoted conversations around belief, and those that promoted causation around belief. Last Days in the Desert, he said proudly, was one of the former. And after listening to him talk further about the film, and noting the list of projects he’s been involved with, you get that the deep, thoughtful conversations around belief are what he’s most passionate about making happen.
A former political speechwriter and communications director, Lokkesmoe and two friends founded the marketing/distribution company Different Drummer in 2008 to partner with studios, networks and filmmakers to create custom strategies for releasing content and reaching audiences. The small company has promoted more than 150 blockbusters, award-winning indies, best-sellers, and top-rated TV shows. Some of the projects they’re most proud of include National Geographic’s Saints and Strangers and The Story of God (with Morgan Freeman), Selma, The Tree of Life, and Calvary. Lokkesmoe and his team clearly care about elevating the conversation around faith in the arts by producing “smart films for soulful people.”
With Last Days in the Desert just a week away from opening (May 13), we caught up with the producer and marketer for our Patheos 10+1 Interview Series, in which we ask the same 10 questions of Christian game-changers and thought-leaders who are inspiring us today. Erik’s responses are below.
What, in the broadest sense, is your work in the world?
My colleagues say I’m the hurricane and they are FEMA. I like to make things happen. It’s the drug of the entrepreneur. Whether in politics or now entertainment, I want to disrupt the status quo, the old guard. I’m a rule-breaker. If you’re about “doing things the same” you are likely on my hit list. Ultimately, I want the best art and entertainment to be popular and profitable.
What are you most energized by at the moment?
The rise of the “middle space” audience and artist. Audiences, in particular, are pushing back from the mass and crass, on one side, and the teach and preach on the other. It’s an aspirational audience that wants stories that linger long after the chapter ends, the gallery closes, the song ends, or the credits roll. It’s head, heart, and soul totally alive. Gritty. Honest. Relatable. The veneer is over. I think this audience is tired of poorly-told truths or well-told lies; they want well-told truths.
What’s inspiring your work right now?
I’m always inspired by dreamers and doers. Anyone who is thinking differently about how the world should work. Or anyone that is living out a common grace vision for their work. Creating good works that serve others and that last for more than a season or a weekend. Specifically, places like Fuller Seminary and The King’s College, people like painter Mako Fujimura and advocate David Kim, classical thinkers like G.K. Chesterton and Francis Schaeffer.
What’s the last book you read?
The Age of Gold by H.W. Brands. A history of the greatest migration of Americans who traveled through Panama or over the Rockies to the foothills of the Sierras. It was the first time a man or woman’s life could change in an instant simply by digging a shovel into a riverbed. That mentality remains embedded in the foundation of California and America. One shovel away from riches. That changed everything about how we view our work, our calling, our community.
What’s something few people know about you?
I spent two years in the Siskiyou Mountains of Oregon. My dad was a forest firefighter. We lived in a tiny ranger station, had an organic garden, and went to school with 25 total students where each grade was organized by a row in the classroom. It’s where I first encountered Christian environmentalists and the Jesus Movement. I saw people wearing Birkenstocks and drinking home-brewed beer long before it was the hipster thing to do.
Why are you still a Christian?
Because I live in a perpetual state of desperation. And the upside-down, untamed, wild world of Jesus is the only thing that makes any sense.
What’s your favorite theological word?
Abide. I’m naturally a striver — I will naturally break down doors, force my way in, fight to get a place at the table. I’m competitive. Only when I “walk in the unforced rhythms of grace” do things really work. Not that they work in my favor or the way I want. Things just work better, more true and restful. It’s releasing the grasp on things that ultimately don’t matter or don’t give you joy.
How do you pray?
What’s a guilty pleasure?
I’m on a world-wide search for the perfect cinnamon roll. But don’t tell my wife.
What’s one cause you’d like more people to know about/support?
BeUndivided. It’s the story of church people (who can be a crazy bunch) showing up at a failing public school and simply asking, “How can we help?” The unique partnership between church and school can turn things around for students, parents, teachers, and administrators. Without agendas. Without wearing religion on their sleeves. Simply because it’s the right thing to do. It’s the best example of how the community church can revolutionize a neighborhood through love.
You’ve said that your movies are for “Christians who drink beer.” Can you say more about that? What do you hope your films reveal about faith and specifically our relationship with God?
It’s from a book written 15 years ago by professor William Romanowski. I think it’s the perfect description of an audience that believes that God is glorified in the power of a major league picture, the symmetry of a NYC skyscraper, the preparation of a great meal from ABC Kitchen, and the voice of a Broadway performer. It doesn’t have to be labeled “Christian” or “faith-based” to be a deeply true and good and beautiful thing. In fact, I find that those who don’t share my faith are making things far more “Christian” than those who claim that title. Because they bring wonder into the story. The “Christian Who Drinks Beer” embraces God’s world as something that is both beautiful and broken, and can live in that tension without fighting culture wars or stockpiling Slim Jims in their backyard bunkers. I guess I’m a Christian Hedonist through and through.
For more on Lokkesmoe and Different Drummer’s latest project, Last Days in the Desert, visit the Patheos Movie Club here!