By Sharon Miner | Published The Upbeat Reporter Spring 2023
On December 1, 2022, What Remains premiered at the Amarillo Globe News Performing Arts Center. Filmed and produced in Amarillo by the new Sharpened Iron Studios headed by Sean Doherty, founder and CEO. Over 800 people gathered to watch this thought-provoking film, leaving the audience with deep contemplation about faith, trust, truth and the complicated intricacies of relationships.
Sometimes when we think about people who are in the acting profession, we limit ourselves to what we know about them based on the characters they have brought to life. But behind every character is a true story about real people with families, beliefs, and struggles, living everyday lives.
At the press briefing for What Remains, The Upbeat Reporter sought to dive deeper and discover the hidden nuggets God placed in the personalities of the cast of What Remains. In doing so, it became clear they are God’s people, doing God’s work, in the genre God has chosen for them.
Writer and Director
The Upbeat Reporter wanted to know why Nathan Scoggins decided on this particular project and how he tackled the weightiness of the subject. Nathan is a master storyteller and he shared his thinking behind the movie and how his faith plays a role in his personal and work life.
He wrote the vision.
“My father was a pastor and the subject of faith has always been of interest to me. I don’t think of myself as a faith-based filmmaker, but I think of myself as a filmmaker who likes to explore faith,” Scoggins said.
“I had been ruminating on family for a long time. I’m a father and a husband so family matters to me. I have always been interested in the intersection between honesty and loyalty. What are we loyal to? What do we overlook because we want to be loyal? When do we tell the truth and risk losing a relationship? So, when my wife asked what I would write if I didn’t have to ask permission, What Remains was created in six weeks. I wrote a scene between a father and son where the son asked the father ‘whose side are you on’ and when I wrote that scene, I knew I had to make this movie,” remarked Scoggins.
Scoggins continued, “My faith is my life. I am fueled, provoked, and challenged by my faith. I can’t write a movie that isn’t about faith, because faith is me. So, when people ask me if this is a faith-based movie, I don’t know if it is but it certainly grapples with faith. Bono from U2 once said, ‘People think that because he is a believer, he has all the answers. Actually, as a believer I just have a different set of questions.’ That is what I think I bring to my work. The questions What Remains is asking, I was asking 15 years ago and they are the same questions I’m asking now which are rooted in my faith. Hopefully faith brings us to some answers, and hopefully it brings us to more questions. And, ultimately, I get to tell more stories.”
Cress Williams is no novice to starring roles. In What Remains he plays a small-town pastor who is confronted with forgiveness, truth and the power of a father and son relationship. The Upbeat Reporter sought to understand why Cress chose the role of Marshall and how this character has affected who he is today.
He heard from God.
“A lot of the times as an actor, you read a script because someone has said this is the character they want you to play or you are anticipating an audition. Nathan (the director)
is a friend of mine, so I initially was reading the script as a friend which allowed me to read it without focusing on any specific outcome. As I read the script, I was struck by the unresolved ending that leaves you stuck in a great way. I connected with Marshall, the choices he had to make and the circumstances he found himself in. I felt like I knew Marshall and understood from a fatherly perspective, why he does what he does. I knew I was hearing God for this role,” remarked Williams.
As we listened, Williams continued, “One of the things I love about making films and doing TV is the mixture of people. In a 12 to 14 hour span you rub elbows with every type of person from millionaires to teamsters. Creative conversations take place, and because it is such a mixture it can be very dysfunctional. What Remains taught me that they don’t have to be dysfunctional. There is a way to do film and television that is fun and healing. It opened my eyes and changed me in a way, that I can identify and see situations that are going to be great, and the ones that may not be great.”
“What Remains is a tough story. My past life experiences helped me with this character and my faith is part of who I am. Through this project I learned how to lean back, let go, trust God, and know that He has me,” said Williams.
Playing a character in a movie can be extremely challenging. But playing a character that is totally opposite on the spectrum of your core beliefs takes a unique ability to channel something you may not be familiar with. Kellan Lutz steps into the role of Troy who commits a crime in What Remains and finds himself struggling with forgiveness. Kellan shared with The Upbeat Reporter what it took to master the character of Troy.
He relied on his faith.
“One of the things I love learning about myself is, learning about myself. Faith is the biggest part of my life. I am such a faith filled person. It Is a spiritual gift and I believe wholeheartedly in forgiveness. So, when a role like this presents itself and I play a character that is so outside of who I am at the core, it is probably the biggest challenge I feel comfortable playing. I jump at the opportunity because I get to learn and dive deeper into my beliefs, said Lutz. “The character of Troy solidified my belief system and it helped strengthen my faith. It made me look at who do I need to still forgive because forgiveness is such a release and unforgiveness is a poison to your own soul.”
Lutz continued, “There is only one other role that comes to mind that I really had to do a lot of work mentally that challenged me. It was a character that dealt with hopelessness. He had lost all hope and that is such a depressing place to live. It is bad enough for a character, but I know people who have lost all hope. That is why I am so grateful for my faith.”
“As an actor we live in an industry of no, but if you don’t have anything outside of yourself to believe in, to give you hope when you aren’t enough, you will never make it,” Kellan expressed with passion. “You can’t let it be your identity. When you put on different coats of characters, sometimes it takes a little while to take them off. This role was just a challenge because it is so outside of my normal day to day. I live a very joyful life - 2 kids, happy wife and a happy family.”
Creative strength can be found in the characters actors portray. Stelio Savante brings a light side to the character of Scott. It was important to know how an encounter with a script could grow Stelio internally and emotionally. What Remains played a small part in releasing him from past struggles.
He learned to trust.
“Nathan and I have been friends for several years. When I read and deconstructed the script, it felt like a very considered piece of art in writing. I have lived on 4 continents and in parts of the world where faith is not a hobby. It is how you survive. At times in American films that deal with issues of faith, there are characters I can’t identify with or understand because they are flawless people. What Remains was a courageous script. There were characters who were narly. They were real people and as a storyteller you want to show the real person. There is an element of trust that gets established early in the movie between Scott and Maureen played by the wonderful Anne Heche. As the movie progresses, their level of trust increases and that was attractive to me. It was something I could explore because in my own life my parents, specifically father had trust issues with me,” said Savante.
“I started out in improv 30 years ago, but I didn’t like the way comedy and improv made me feel because I was in my head too much instead of just listening and being. The first scene we shot with my character Scott, Nathan said to me It’s okay to give yourself permission to have a little fun. Levity is not easy for me as an immigrant as a person who has traveled a lot and having a difficult childhood. But the levity I embraced early on with Anne’s character was a great learning experience for me because I allowed myself to go somewhere I may have been fearful of. Being able to employ that and sit back and trust it was a wonderful and rich experience,” commented Savante.
What Remains is a great inaugural movie of Sharpened Iron Studios. Sean Doherty said he
wanted to turn Amarillo into the Hollywood of the High Plains. With God’s help, I think he
just might do it.