by Madison Pitsch
SEWARD, Neb. — Phil Grothaus is a man on a mission. The junior business administration major is on a mission to make a better kind of media, a kind of media that everyone wants to watch, a kind of media that is good for society and for the soul. His first step on this journey is the production of a short film called Under the Sun.
His mission started at a young age. He recalls making his babysitter write out the content of his cartoons as he would draw the story. But being a film director was never on the radar for him, Grothaus said. He was never surrounded by people who made him think that being a film director was feasible.
“I was surrounded by people who wouldn’t necessarily crush my dreams but just say things like, ‘Oh, that’s impractical,’” Grothaus said. “It’s discouraging because I’ve never really been the person to take risks, I’ve always tried to play it safe.”
Grothaus is a living example himself of playing it safe: a business administration major with an emphasis in accounting and a minor in English. He argues this is “playing it safe.”
“I’m a business major to get a job,” Grothaus said. “I might apply to some film schools, but I don’t see film school as something you have to have to be in the industry. I want to be in the industry, even if that means not the lead director on a motion picture, even if I’m just on production.”
Grothaus put off developing his filmmaking plans because of all the people telling him how impractical his dream was. It was a lot of “not knowing how to use his God-given talents.” But that changed when he met Michael Winkler, a fifth-year CUNE student, and Adam Christiansen, also a junior at CUNE.
“It was an accumulation of not knowing where God wanted me to be, and not knowing how to use the talents God gave me to serve him. And I guess this sounds cliche, but I got to the point where I couldn’t avoid it anymore,” Grothaus said. “I realized for so long I made excuses, for example I don’t have a camera, I don’t know anyone who would want to do this, I don’t really know how to do this. And then God threw Adam into my life, he told me how he wanted to do camera work. And I thought, well, there go my excuses. Let’s do it.”
Adam Christiansen is a junior at CUNE, majoring in Journalism and Public Relations.
“Since it’s a short film organized by college students with little to no budget or experience, I’ve learned from the project that it takes a lot of work for a project to be realized,” Christiansen said. “More people have to be involved than I would have thought. There are many moving pieces and just a couple people can’t do it all.”
Michael Winkler, a fifth-year DCE student, was also instrumental in helping Grothaus realize his dream. Winkler helped Grothaus discover the reason for the mission. The two named their group “Shema,” which is a Hebrew word meaning “to listen,” not just to hear but to deeply and wholly listen to God
“With this inspiration we hope to create Christian-based content on all forms of media: film-making, storytelling, blogging, podcasts, photos and so on,” Winkler said. “This ultimately forces consumers to think, but to do so they must first shema, that is, listen. We hope to ultimately bring that to the masses in a way that doesn’t tell people what to think but messes with them enough that they must listen and hopefully with the help of the Spirit come to conclusions on their own. To put it simply, we want to invite people to discover what matters with us.”
Further elaborating on his vision, Grothaus said, “Filmmakers without standards leave people without options for good entertainment. I want to be that city on the hill.” He’s talking about the Bible verse Matthew 5:14, which says, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.” While Grothaus does draw inspiration from the Bible, he does not intend on making “Christian” media. He argues that filmmakers use the “Christian” aspect as a reason to produce low quality movies.
“They (Christian filmmakers) use it as a sermon rather than a story,” Grothaus said. “The real goal for me is to cause people to think. I want to make movies in a way that honors God. Not directly Christian, but rather high moral— quality entertainment you don’t have to worry about.”
Grothaus, Winkler and Christiansen don’t plan on launching Shema until at least next August. While the launch date is months away, they are starting their work now. Grothaus and Christiansen began working on Grothaus’ short film, Under the Sun, three weeks ago. While Grothaus admits that they will not use many of the shots they got in their first filming session, he says it was a big learning experience. It was the group’s first time working together as directors, producers and actors. His inspiration for the film comes from Ecclesiastes 1:14, “I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind,” and will be an in-depth look at how temptation looks and manifests itself in different lives and different situations. The film will be about seven to 10 minutes long.
Keep your eyes peeled for Shema, set to make its appearance in August of 2019.