SCENE I: While he waits for his wife, Emily, to return home, Chris White talks about their new project, coming soon to a theater near you, he says. On their living room wall hangs a poster from “A Matter of Life and Death,” a 1946 film billed as “The Most Wonderfully Romantic Fantasy on Earth.”
The Whites’ story could be called a wonderfully romantic fantasy, too. After all, how many couples in the Upstate are soon to see their first big-time motion picture released?
“Electric Jesus,” which Chris wrote and directed, tells the story of a Christian hair-metal band in the summer of 1986, drawn from Chris’s Bible-camp days in Columbia, South Carolina.
The 107-minute picture is getting favorable comparisons to John Hughes’ coming-of-age films. Doesn’t hurt that Judd Nelson, famous for his role in Hughes’ 1985 hit, “The Breakfast Club,” stars in the Whites’ film. Brian Baumgartner, who played Kevin in “The Office,” is another marquee cast member.
“It was a fun script with the potential to have a close-knit ensemble,” Baumgartner says. “That’s what attracted me to it. The energy, commitment and dedication were tremendous. Everybody bought in.”
SCENE II: The backstory begins in 2009, when Chris was teaching drama and theater at J.L. Mann High School.
There, he asked permission from Rian Johnson to adapt the director’s 2005 teen-noir film, “Brick,” into a school play. Johnson, who later went on to helm the likes of “Knives Out” and “Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi,” agreed. He then appeared at White’s Mann production.
And Chris soon quit his job. “It was just being around somebody who is actually kind and talented and nice, and, like, yeah, man, these are the people I want to be making stuff with, and I think I could maybe do it.”
Chris and Emily married 10 years ago, their sights set on making films together, and Chris has since written and directed three feature-length pictures.
The Whites’ co-star chemistry is obvious. They agree he’s got the hands-on directing chops, and she’s the dealmaker. As producer, she raised the money for “Electric Jesus”; they declined to say how much.
“In a kind of weird and unique way, we match together,” says Emily, 41, a Greenville native who met Chris while she was teaching English and journalism at Eastside High.
Chris graduated from Furman University in 1992, and Emily graduated from from Bob Jones University in 2001. “Electric Jesus,” which Chris started writing in 2016, wrapped last year. They’ve also launched the soundtrack.
“I’m trying to find out if she’s the first Bob Jones graduate that’s produced a Christian hair-metal record,” Chris says. “I think she may be.”
They also believe they’re the only local filmmakers looking at a major distribution deal. While he says he can’t discuss pending details, he notes: “I mean, it’s going to be national, international. We will be bringing the movie to the world early next year, I can say that.”
Film Festivals and Awards
- Beaufort (South Carolina) International Film Festival, Feb. 15: Selected as Opening Night film. Nominated: Best Director
- Carrboro (North Carolina) Film Festival
- Fayetteville (Arkansas) Film Festival: Opening Night Film. Winner: Best Narrative Feature
- Footcandle Film Festival (Hickory, North Carolina)
- Image Journal Summer Stages (Seattle)
- Iowa Independent Film Festival (Mason City, Iowa)
- Nashville Film Festival
- Orlando Film Festival: Opening Night Film. Winner: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Brian Baumgartner)
- Portland (Oregon) Film Festival
- Red Rock Film Festival (St. George, Utah)
- SCAD Savannah Film Festival
- Tryon (North Carolina) International Film Festival
- Virginia Film Festival (Charlottesville, Virginia)
- Rome (Georgia) International Film Festival: Opening Night Film. Winner: Best Narrative Feature
SCAD Savannah Film Festival:
“Chris White respectfully places Christianity in front of reality while having fun with the premise. ‘Electric Jesus’ works despite being a religious movie because it is almost perfect on a technical level.”
“An otherworldly mashup of ’80s hair metal and vacation Bible school that wears its teenage protagonists’ hearts on its sleeve while rocking their socks off.”
Greenville Journal Review
Chris and Emily White offered a private screening on Sept. 29 at the Spinning Jenny in Greer, where about two dozen of the film’s 38 cast members showed up. Here are excerpts from John Jeter’s review:
Southern Evangelical Christianity makes an easy target for cheap, shopworn laughs. “Electric Jesus,” though, threads an expert needle between needling Bible-thumpers while threading its characters together with durable strands of Christian compassion.
The unreliable narrator, Eric, is the ultimate music nerd, who lands a gig as the sound guy for the band, 316. Next thing we know, Eric and the boys take off on a tour to bring their singalong-good rock to churches, skating rinks, fellowship halls and other temptation-free establishments.
“The only reason I’d ever do it is to make Jesus famous,” Eric tells us.
In the end, “Electric Jesus” is as much unselfconsciously heart-tugging as it is a story that stows away on the tour bus of your heart.
Notes on “Electric Jesus”
Judd Nelson discusses working on the film: “I am glad to be working for a guy like Chris. It’s great. He’s got great ideas, he’s open to other ideas. … I wish them the best.”
The soundtrack, on the Joyful Noise Recordings label, features 21 tracks, including “Commando for Christ” — official video here — the hit from the film’s starring band, 316. Wyatt Lenhart sings his part as the band’s frontman, Michael. Here’s the soundtrack promo.