I began my career at the age of 9, picking up rocks on a farm in a Mennonite community. Today, I make movies. On paper, I have no business ending up in the film industry, but God once spoke to me in a wheat field, and here I am. Really.
My father was a Mennonite Brethren preacher in a small town outside of Dodge City, Kansas, where I learned several other skills I considered mind-numbing, like harvesting wheat. As is typically the case when stuck doing something you'd rather not, I began imagining what I'd prefer to be doing. One day, as I fought a particularly arduous allergy attack amid the amber waves of grain, I heard that divine whisper of what I was to do: Acting.
Because television was generally frowned upon in the Mennonite community, I had very limited exposure to the arts growing up. My initiation came when a friend and his parents took me to see the movie "Grease" (including Olivia Newton-John in skin-tight leather pants, a sin I was sure I'd pay for later). I was instantly captivated. Then, in seventh grade, I was chosen to play Kurt in our high school's production of "The Sound of Music," which was a big deal as I was only in the 7th grade, but they needed a really short young looking kid, so.... For an hour and a half, I was catapulted into another life — another world. I was officially hooked on acting.
Fast forward about a decade, and I found myself without a clue where to start in pursuing my career. So I jumped on the first thing I saw that felt like me: an internship on a film in Chicago. I worked primarily behind the scenes, as well as the director's follow-up project, in which I had one line. At the time, I saw these experiences as a waste and high-tailed it to California, but I later realized how valuable they were.
I was 19 years old when I moved to L.A. and as confirmation that I had moved to the right place, within six months I landed a recurring character on a hit show, "Evening Shade," starring Burt Reynolds. I was on the show for close to four years.
During that time — which I call my 'milk and honey' years — I booked guest appearances on many TV shows did a bunch of commercials with the likes of the great Cindy Crawford and Jerry Seinfeld, and I was able to star in many faith-based films. After "Evening Shade" wrapped, though, work dried up, and I sunk down to the bottom of the pit. I found myself doing odd jobs to try to make ends meet — really odd jobs, including one particularly bleak stint as Barney the dinosaur at a 7-year-old's birthday party in South Central L.A. — and ended up losing nearly everything I'd worked for. Sometimes God pulls you out of the fast lane and puts you on a different timeline, but I'd soon realize He's not in the career-building business anyway. He's in the Kingdom-building business.
After a few years of some not great plays, some acting buddies and I decided to try our hand at producing, you know the old adage, do what you know, I knew independent faith-based movies, I had starred in many so I decided to get into producing with a director named Rich Christiano, who remarkably agreed to take us under his wing. Our second project, "Mercy Streets," was released in theaters nationwide, and even more significantly, inspired me to re-devote my life and dreams to God after years of squandering them.
In 2005 we established Pure Flix, one of the first Faith based production and distribution studios, now home to perhaps our best-known film, "God's Not Dead." There were plenty of ups and downs along the way, to the extent that my wife Andrea and I struggled to stay afloat financially at times to keep the doors open on our company, but we felt called to persevere. To date, we've released close to 100 films in the last 10 years, The unexpected level box office success "God's Not Dead" reached in 2014 was amazing but for me, mindful of that voice I heard in that wheat field many years ago, the most significant results though, have been the stories of people drawing closer and even coming to a faith in the God of the Bible.
And just to keep me humble and perhaps to show his sense of humor, God made sure that "God's Not Dead" finished at #5, just one slot behind the #4 film of all time in terms of most profitable films in cinema history based on the ROI (return on investment), a film you may have heard of called "Grease." Now that's irony.
My story hasn't exactly gone how I would have planned, but at the end of the day, it's not about becoming who I wanted to be. It's about listening to God's voice, and becoming who he wants me to be, even when that vision is as unlikely as a preacher's son in Kansas becoming a filmmaker in Hollywood.*
Want to bring David to your church or conference? Let us know here. We'd love to help make it happen!