Kevin O’Brien is an independent filmmaker who recently finished his first feature film. At the End of the Day tells the story of an evangelical Christian young man named Dave (Stephen Shane Martin) who, after losing his wife and counselling job, gets a position lecturing at a conservative religious school. One day, he attempts to infiltrate an LGBTQ support group to try to stop them from launching a youth homeless center. But after spending some time with the members of the group, he begins to have a change of heart.
The movie is currently available on iTunes and it’s definitely worth seeking out. It’s funny, touching, genuine, and has a nice message about acceptance. I recently spoke with O’Brien about his film. Let’s see what he had to say.
How did you come up for the idea for the movie?
I kind of landed on the conflict before I had the specific plot of the movie. The conflict of the evangelical church and the LGBTQ community has become increasingly more talked about over the past 10-15 years or so. And in that conversation, I’ve had a shift of belief. I grew up in a Christian conservative Pentecostal home. As my faith shifted, I met people and expanded my view of love, God and faith. Once I started to see a bigger understanding of that, I knew that was something that could be explored in a way that hasn’t been done before, just from a specific tone, angle and voice.
As I grew up, got married, lived, and met people who were queer, there was just a lot of relationships I found that didn’t line up with the way I was taught about sexuality, life, and God. It was kind of shattered.
So is the main character based on you?
I say that the idea of his faith and the journey he takes is based on me. But the actual character is not, just the kind of evolution the character goes through. It’s one that I have gone through and that a lot of people like that have gone through. But the actual plot and story, that’s all fictional.
That’s kind of becoming a common transition for people that grew up in my generation, that grew up in youth groups in the ‘80s and ‘90s in these churches and were taught a very narrow view of sexuality and right and wrong. As we’re rediscovering what faith means to us, that’s a pretty common thing. Usually, that grows out of relationships we’ve built with people, listening to their stories and adjusting our worldview based on that.
So do you still consider yourself religious?
That’s kind of a tricky question. A popular phrase now is “spiritual but not religious.” My family and I don’t go to a traditional church. But we meet every week with a group in our home where we work through spirituality and discuss trying to become better people and what we believe about the world and God. My faith right now is much more social justice-oriented and I feel like that’s kind of the crux of the intention of faith, or what could be the intention of faith, much more than anything about getting to heaven.
You funded this movie with through Kickstarter. Tell me about that.
We had three crowdfunding campaigns. The very first one failed. I set our goal too high for our network and for how big our influence was at the time. So we followed that right back up with a smaller Kickstarter because Kickstarter is all or nothing.
The way we did it was to decide to film a pitch trailer. We took parts of the movie and just filmed a bunch of those different scenes and moments in one day. For the Kickstarter, it looked like we had a finished movie. I don’t know if that helped us or hurt us. But we were up front about it the whole time. It was also an interesting that we didn’t use the final cast. Crowdfunding is a gruelling 30 to 45-day process. Actually, it’s even longer than that because it takes a little while to get it going. If I never have to do another one, I’ll be happy.
We did our third crowdfunding campaign after we shot the movie to raise a little more money for post-production. That one was through Seed&Spark, a crowdfunding platform specifically for filmmaking. Post-production costs just as much if not more than shooting the actual movie when you consider all the elements like music and festival submission. The rest of the money from after the crowdfunding campaigns were out of our own pockets.
Why this subject matter? What does it mean to you personally?
The reason I did it was because as a straight, cisgender person, I feel like it’s my responsibility to call attention to this issue. It’s not just something we can let the people in the LGBTQ community talk about and fight for. It’s something that we have to fight for as well. The specific thread of the movie’s story deals with LGBTQ youth homelessness. 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ.
A lot of them are homeless because of religious rejection. It’s not just parents kicking them out of their home, but also just not feeling safe in their home based on emotional abuse, spiritual abuse and sometimes physical abuse. That’s why this specific story was so important to me because I feel like a lot of Christians are operating out of what they think love is and they’re not listening to the results of what they call love is producing. I thought this would be a great way to bring attention to that.
Were you ever concerned about any controversy with the subject matter? If so, how did you get past that?
I was concerned initially, but not necessarily about how it would be received. But more on a personal level, like how this would affect our friends and family, here locally. We live in Lakeland, Florida. This film was written for and filmed in Lakeland. I grew up in a community that this film kind of speaks against, or least challenges to re-examine a lot of things.
My initial concern would be that it would be hard to raise money for it given the topic. And that proved to be true. We didn’t end up getting any investors. We had to go with other routes. But I’m also learning that’s the truth with any independent film. Unless you somehow happen to have access to deep pockets or know very influential people, it’s a very expensive and hard industry to get into.
As far as actually facing any criticism, there was only one time. We live in a very conservative area. The city was very supportive of the whole process. I often wonder sometimes if they knew what the movie was exactly. But there was one instance where I was trying to get some help for the 5k scene. I was looking for a local running club that would set up some of the timers and the start gates. And this guy was excited about helping out. But then when I told him what the movie was about, he kind of shut down. He went on this little rampage about how that’s not what the Bible says and that the Bible will never change. He said, “Me and my group will never have any part of that.”
Other than what you already discussed, is any of the movie based on any real people or experiences?
So much is based on or inspired by actual stories. One of the most heartbreaking moments in the film, a story about a character’s brother Ryan, was based on an actual story here in Polk County. Some of the details were changed, though. Also, when the story takes them to the Zebra Coalition, that was the real place. And that wasn’t written or acted out. The four youths were real people sharing their real stories. Then there was the character Aunt Patty, who was based on my late mother-in-law. The whole situation at the college is also not an uncommon thing. It’s happened to several of my friends (getting rejected from religious colleges or churches).
Was there ever a concern that the main character would be unlikable?
What’s funny is that I didn’t realize how terrible I had written him until I was shooting and editing this whole thing together and it was like “Holy crap. Who have I written here?” I was definitely aware of that. But he’s not the hero of the movie. He’s the lead character, but the hero is the support group. We’re following him but I want him to be unlikable a bit. Because I feel like a lot of people are in that situation where feel like they’re doing a loving thing but they’re not aware of how their actions are impacting other people. It’s just one of those things where you don’t really know how people will respond to it until they see it. But I know some of my favorite movies are definitely with unlikable lead characters.
What’s the main thing people should take away from this film?
I hope that after watching this film, people first have a sense of appreciation for those closest to them regardless of anything about their sexual orientation or gender identity. But specifically, I hope people will be inspired to listen more. In politics, we focus so much on being right that we don’t listen to other opinions. White straight dudes have talked plenty. We can stop talking for a while, ask some questions and listen. We should value their responses and stories as much as we value our own.
Why should people see it?
I would say, I think it’s for two different audiences. The first is the LGBTQ people of faith who have grown up in a lot of these situations and have been rejected but have held onto their faith. A lot of them have experienced some form of conversion therapy even if it wasn’t the official kind of “go to a camp” conversion therapy. But any sort of “let’s pray this out of you” is a form of conversion therapy. People have experienced this kind of rejection most of their life and still held onto their faith, which is amazing to me. So I think they should watch the movie because hopefully, it will help them feel loved and hear a voice that is different from the usual. I’ve heard lots of my friends in the LGBTQ community say that this is their story and they’ve connected with it on that level.
Then there are people who are straight or cisgender, they should watch it because the heroes are the LGBTQ characters, and their perspectives are important to listen to. They don’t get centered a whole lot. So if you want to be challenged toward empathy, love and compassion, I think you should see this movie. Also because it’s funny and you’ll laugh and cry.