'People want to know if I find it difficult to hold to my faith in the TV industry'

Simon’s story | How an Emmy winner helps build Jesus’ church

“I came to Christ when I was in high school, as a teenager. I was reading Matthew 16:13-18. Jesus asked the disciples who they thought he was … and Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus then told Simon that he would build Christ’s church. The question resonated with me. I believed in Christ and I remember thinking I wanted to respond, and build his church.”

“Back then, it seemed clear to me that some roles do that easily, like preachers and pastors. In my zeal, I joined them. I started to coordinate the youth group and I became the worship pastor.

“But I was always writing. I wrote 10,000 pages in my journals. I played in a band and became the lyricist. I joined a writers group and I regularly submitted my work to competitions. I felt like there were a lot of doors and I was running through all of them. But then after a while, God said to me that I needed to wait on him. He would show me the right doors.

“In 2015, I took a traineeship in screen writing. I spent a few years working on Safe Harbour. It’s about a group of friends sailing to Indonesia. They meet a fishing boat of asylum seekers and it changes them. I submitted the script to Matchbox Pictures in 2016. They had 700 submissions that year and they chose mine. We spent a lot of time in the writer’s room. There were six of us working on it and you get laid bare, always trying to find the authentic, deep voice – a way for the characters to speak that resonates.

“Only one of the other writers was a Christian. The show aired on SBS in 2018 and we won an international Emmy in 2019.

“People want to know if I find it difficult to hold on to my faith in this industry. Not really. I’ve never been ridiculed for it, although I’m not overt about it. Recently, I met a producer who’d done 40 feature films. We started chatting and I was pitching ideas to him. Then he stopped and he said, ‘Wait a minute, are you a born-again Christian?’

“He’d just picked it up from my responses. There was nothing overt about what I said, but he could tell from my values. Then he said, ‘In that case, you might be interested in this idea…’ It was a work based on magical realism, with a restorative theme.

“Whenever I work on a show, it has to have a reason, or a thematic heart. In Safe Harbour, it was about immigrants. God loves the foreigner and the outsider. There has to be redemptive qualities. Even in a genre like horror, I want to put glimpses of hope underneath. I ask myself how to bring that redemptive quality to an audience that only ever sees the dark stuff. It’s often in the reflective characters, or in the ‘campfire scene’ that you find out what’s really going on – the wounds, the needs. And then you keep working on surprise.

“These days, I still want to build Christ’s church, but I think it’s broader and more mysterious than I knew before. There are paradoxes. Everyone has their part to play. It’s not just the preachers and the pastors, it can be the screenwriters. And I’ve come to embrace the questions without letting go of the core, Christ. I think it can be easy to hold on tightly (to your faith in Christ) when it fits neatly in your hand. But God doesn’t always fit neatly in my defined categories.

“So in the years ahead, I want to keep asking the questions. I want to embrace the greys and keep telling the stories. I also want to show grace and mercy to those in different stages. One of my favourite quotes is by CS Lewis in The Screwtape Letters: “God, help me to see you as you truly are, rather than as I currently perceive you.”

Simon’s story is part of Eternity’s Faith Stories series, compiled by Naomi Reed. Click here for more Faith Stories.

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