Shades of Grey

An exclusive interview with Rik Swartzwelder, writer-director-actor, whose independent feature film Old Fashioned will be released in theaters over Valentine’s Day weekend 2015.

Your film, Old Fashioned, is poised to release when the film Fifty Shades of Grey does. Was this intentional?
Absolutely. We actually held off on the release of our film to make that happen. This is a unique opportunity to broaden the cultural conversation on the topic of love and romance.

The messages of each movie couldn’t be more different. How would you compare them?
Ironically, the stories are more similar than one might expect. When we were deciding to market our film as an alternative to Fifty Shades, I took it upon myself to read the original novel. Both stories actually deal with protagonists who are damaged, isolated, and have problems with genuine emotional intimacy. The stories differ in how the protagonists deal with their brokenness. Our main character, Clay Walsh, does so by—to a fault—pursuing God and righteousness; Christian Grey does so by pursuing . . . other things.

Old Fashioned MovieOld Fashioned is a story about two very broken, flawed human beings who try to figure out love and life and God in ways that make sense for them and make room for their own damage and experiences. The choices the characters make in the film are right for them. I’m not advocating for—neither am I judging—the choices they make. Nor am I saying anyone has to agree 100 percent with the choices Clay and Amber make.

How would you characterize your movie’s main message?
From what I’ve seen at the various preview screenings, the answer to that depends a lot on what someone brings to the film. We’ve screened at some mainstream festivals (of no religious persuasion at all) and for many faith-audiences as well, and the discussions vary quite a bit. As with most films, people draw their own conclusions and take away from the film what they wish. I’m not here to enforce any kind of particular interpretation of the film. But if I were to even attempt to sum up its message, I would quote Clay’s Aunt Zella when she simply says, “You are loved, oh, my child, you are.”

What happened in your life to inspire this script?
It was birthed out of a time when I was hanging around a bunch of singles of a variety of faiths, most in their early 20s to mid-30s. We were just a regular bunch of guys and girls who were trying to figure out love and dating and finding someone with whom to share life. We also were concerned with God being part of that process . . . and trying to understand what that looked like in a modern context.

That group of folks also happened to love movies. Somewhere during that time, we all had the conversation about how there never had been a romantic comedy or romantic drama that really told our story on screen— a romantic story concerned with being funny and emotional and engaging, but that also made room for the idea that modern love could indeed be something sacred.

Is there any similarity between you and Clay Walsh?
Clay goes further in both directions — before and after his conversion— than I ever did, but the basic arc of his character is very familiar terrain for me. As I was growing up, my moral compass was greatly shaped by pop culture, and I had to fight my way out of that—fight to discover what true virtue could be. Like Clay’s, my pendulum definitely swung from one extreme to another. His journey back to balance and a deeper understanding of God’s mercy and grace is an autobiographical strand as well. It’s not my life story, per se, but thematically, in a sense, it is.

How does your movie speak to singles struggling with the concept of purity, or who feel sexual expression is an important part of the dating process?
That’s the kind of question that both Clay and Amber struggle with, albeit from rather different starting points.

Having lived a rather promiscuous life before becoming a Christian—and seeing the wide variety of damage that can lead to in the lives of many—I’m a little surprised that sex outside of marriage between Christians is becoming so widely embraced and left unchecked by Christian singles and their pastors. I’m a filmmaker, not a theologian. But I’d say Old Fashioned acknowledges that the pursuit of any kind of integrity or righteousness in a relationship isn’t easy in the least and is rife with potential risks. The film holds up a standard— without apology— but it does so fully acknowledging our frailty and humanness. And it doesn’t heap guilt upon those of us, such as me, who have made some mistakes and carry some real regrets.

Why did you select Old Fashioned as the title to your movie? Unfortunately, today that term connotes prudishness, puritanical thinking, an unwillingness to change with the times. Were you concerned this might be a turn-off to potential moviegoers?
To be honest, I wanted to play with their expectations a bit. The film surprises people with where it goes, and I liked the idea of a title that flips the audience’s expectations upside down. Sure, titling it this was a risk. Does the film take place in the 1800s in Amish country? What’s it about, exactly? I think the marketing team has done a good job of messaging us outside that box.

I also love the challenge of trying to give the expression new meaning; it doesn’t have to be a negative to glean wisdom and grace from those who have gone before. And bottom line, the kind of love we’re talking about in the film is a little countercultural; it’s different. And that’s okay.

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So what is your definition of “old fashioned”?
It’s about mutual respect, a sense of honor, a recognition that love can and should be sacred. The past was in no way perfect. But some of what we’ve abandoned from “the way things used to be” has been done at our own peril.

Skeptics might say this old-fashioned approach to love and romance isn’t going to fly in our overly sexualized, hook-up culture. How would you respond to that?
I know people who are doing this, so I’d have to disagree. Life is not merely what TV or a computer screen or a social media meme tries to tell us it is.

What is your main goal for this movie?
First and foremost, to provide an entertaining time at the movies. I hope folks laugh a little, cry some good tears, and are taken out of their lives for a couple hours.

In addition to entertaining the audience, I hope like-minded people might realize they are not alone in longing for more, that some with regrets from previous relationships might find a measure of healing. And for a few, I hope Old Fashioned will help them challenge the status quo and raise the bar in their own romantic lives.

Is your main target for this movie women?
I wasn’t thinking that way when I was working on the script. And now that I’ve seen the film play with a wide variety of audiences, I’d say that the target is definitely broader than that.

By and large, what I’ve witnessed is that in men and women, both church and unchurched, the people with whom the film connects most deeply are those who have some relational wounds from the past that aren’t quite completely healed. I’ve talked with many who have experienced a measure of healing and wholeness from watching the film. That’s a powerful thing.

Rik, are you married?
No, I’m not, but I am in a committed relationship and both of us take seriously many of the ideas explored in Old Fashioned.

Has God take you any lessons throughout the writing and making of this movie?
Above all, God has taught me patience. Just as the promise of a child to Abraham and Sarah came many, many years before the birth of Isaac, the journey of Old Fashioned from idea to screen took many years— more than ten. Along the way, there were delays and detours and hurdles that kept things from happening on my timetable. Now that we’re about to release in theaters nationwide on the same weekend as Fifty Shades, I no longer believe all those “delays” were merely allowed by God. I believe they actually were designed by God so our film could find its way to the public arena at just this moment.

I wouldn’t change a thing.


See Old Fashioned this weekend!

Copyright © 2015 Jane Johnson-Struck.