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Testimonial from Dwain Deets

Heart of the Beholder, the movie, as well as the making of the movie, are stories that should resonate with the core values of most in the Freethought community.  I had the opportunity to experience these values up front and in person…as a financial supporter, as an actor, and as a beneficiary.

That I became an actor in this movie is a story in itself.  I'll bypass this story for the moment, and pick up on the fact that through a series of unexpected circumstances, I found myself with a speaking role in the movie.  Admittedly, a very short role, and even though I had no previous acting experience, had not even witnessed the making of a movie, I had this role.  I was the judge, Judge Dalton.  I was the only non-union actor, all within the established rules of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), rules that give directors a tiny bit of discretion for very limited use of non-guild actors.

Rather than going on about my experience as an actor, it’s more pertinent to tell how I arrived at that point.  It all has to do with the integrity of the producer, Darlene Lieblich Tipton.  In her early efforts to raise production money, she sought contributions mostly from within the Freethought community.  The story line, based on a true-life ordeal back in the mid 1980’s, had a theme that should resonate with secularists having growing frustrations today with the pursuit of power of the Religious Right.  As she urged people to donate to the cause, Tipton made a promise that she would return all monies if they failed to reach a minimum of $500 thousand in contributions. Her reasoning was that any amount less than this minimum would be insufficient to produce a quality movie.  Furthermore, she offered as incentives to the top contributors, small acting roles in the movie.  I contributed some money to support the cause, but I had no thought that my rather small amount would land me on the list of top contributors.

Some while later, I received a check in the mail, with an explanation from Darlene that the funding campaign had fallen short of the $500 thousand minimum for the production budget.  It wasn't much under, but it was under. (They raised just over $437,000) I was quite astounded that the money would be returned.  That seemed to be integrity beyond the call of duty.  All my real world experience told me that a Hollywood producer would fudge things a little and press on with the project.

Darlene continued on in her letter to say that the production company, Beholder Productions, was pursuing a different approach.  The company was now asking for personal loans, for pay back in two years at 25% interest, compounded daily.  If the company was able to pay it back earlier than two years, then the interest would be as if it had been borrowed the full two years.  If the loans were held longer than two years, the interest would continue to accrue at this same rate until it was fully paid back.

I viewed this request for funding entirely differently.  No longer was it an appeal for donations, but rather an opportunity to invest.  I felt reasonably comfortable with the risk, particularly having had the experience of the contribution money being paid back as it was.  A clear example to me of Darlene making good on her word.  I was convinced from before that the project was for a very worthy freethought cause, I made a sizable loan, ten times the amount of my original contribution.  Later, I attended a talk to a local freethought group given by Darlene which made me aware of an urgent need for a rather large additional loan.  Again, I thought of this as an investment rather than a donation, and for a worthy cause, so I sent in one more large check.  By this time, the total loan had reached $15,000.

A short while later, I was notified that I was one of the top lenders, and therefore among the small group that would be given a small role in the movie, that of a courtroom jury.  Astounded, I searched my memory for any recollection about this “being-in-the-movie” perk.  All I could remember was back when Darlene was trying to get large contributions, part of the incentive for the top contributors was a bit part in the movie.  It wasn't long before I heard that Darlene had planned to honor her earlier commitment all along, even though these were now loans rather than donations.  In my mind, I chalked this up as one more example of notable display of integrity.

Once the day came for this group of top lenders to go to Hollywood, and play their roles as jury members, I was among that joyful group of soon-to-be bit-part actors.  Some time during the visit, I was pulled aside and asked if I was interested in playing the role of the judge, rather than being in the jury.  It would be a speaking part, with one line.

I said, “Sure, sounds like a lot of fun.”

As I was filled in on some of the background, the writer/director, Ken Tipton, had decided long before that they would pick one of the top lenders to play the role of the judge.  For whatever reason, they picked me for that role.

It turned out to be a much bigger deal than I could have imagined.  According to the SAG rules, I had to be a paid at the prescribed rate for non-union actors in independent films.  I had to become an actor in their system, be given my own official script, and of course I had to receive my paycheck.  (I did contribute the amount of the paycheck back to Beholder Productions as a matter of principal).  I also had to submit a resume detailing my acting career.  (Since I had none, it was more than a challenge to draft an honest statement that at least gave the impression I had some acting experience.)  The culmination of this whole exercise was when I received a letter from SAG inviting me to become a member.

If this little experience gives the impression the movie is an amateurish operation, then I have totally misled you.  The movie is professional all ways. The cast is excellent, with Matt Letscher and Sarah Joy Brown as the male and female leads.  The story is compelling, and reviews have been very good.  So far in the several film festivals it was entered, the movie has received more feature movie first places than any other independent film, ever, five!

So why isn't it showing in the theaters?  Mostly because of efforts from the religious right.  I don't know specifics on these people, or what organizations they represent.  But, there has been a constant barrage of resistance during the entire time.  Successful interference that derailed signing of prominent actors, letter-writing campaigns to film festivals putting the movie in bad light, cyber attacks against the Heart of the Beholder website, and on and on.  Potential distributors are understandably leery of taking on this added risk of these determined adversaries.

Fast forward to this first week of January 2006.  21 months after I sent them my last loan check.  I received two checks back from Beholder Productions.  One for the amount that I loaned them, including the amount that I had considered a contribution when I returned my actors’ pay.  The other, a very big check for the interest, 25% per year, compounded daily.  Over two years, even though the time period was less than two years, this amounts to a 64.84% of the loaned amount.

Others that had contributed money have passed the word they have received two checks each, as well.  Darlene had announced shortly before we received these checks that all donations would also be considered to have been loans, and would be paid back in full, plus the 64.84% in interest.

When I think of the repeated examples of this unusually high integrity, all while Darlene and her company were the target of underhanded efforts by religious-right detractors trying to derail her efforts, I see many parallels with the story line of the movie, itself.

The main characters, Mike (Letscher), and his wife Diane (Brown), were people of high integrity.  They stood by their beliefs that his video rental business should have the right to rent videos to their liking of their customers, and their business was going to make these movies available.  The self-proclaimed protectors of moral values (i.e. these censors from the religious right) were not going to prevent them from running their business as they saw fit.  Integrity persevered, despite all the efforts of the self-proclaimed censors, and the corrupt governmental officials that tried to shut down their business and ruin their lives.

We in the Freethought community have an opportunity and a challenge to help this movie make it though these rough times.  The movie tells a story that needs to be told, and represents an integrity that should serve as an example for others.  We ought to talk it up, promote it on our websites, and get ready to celebrate when the movie becomes a topic of conversation among the public at large.

And as Judge Dalton, I say, “I find in favor of Beholder Productions.”

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