INTERVIEW: Director Brock Heasley Talks About ‘The Shift’
The Shift is a thrilling new faith-based film from Angel Studios (The Chosen, The Sound of Freedom). Set against an imaginative sci-fi/dystopian backdrop, the movie takes inspiration from the Biblical book of Job to explore spiritual themes of hope and suffering (read our full review here). We had the opportunity to chat with director Brock Heasley about his inspiration and hopes for the film.
(Note: this interview has been edited for length and clarity. Watch the full conversation above.)
Daniel Blackaby: This has been a crazy week for you, but I appreciate you taking the time to chat about this film.
Brock Heasley: Of course. Thank you, Daniel.
DB: This is a fascinating film. Can you share a little about what led you to write this story?
BH: It really kicked off about nine years ago when my wife and I both lost our jobs within 24 hours of each other. I had a 15-year career as a graphic designer and an art director to that point and was not ever thinking I would get into the film industry. It was a daunting task, but within about a year of making that choice and making that pivot, I did.
I made a $500 short film called The Shift, and I approached it as kind of a lost Twilight Zone episode of a man versus the devil. I was interested in the point of view of a Christian. So that was the short film. When Angel Studios saw it, they were really intrigued by it. It fit tonally with some of the things that they were doing. They were like, “Is there more to the story?” And by then, I did have a few ideas for how to turn it into a feature film. It took a few years to build an audience and to help people understand what this movie is, because it’s not based on a preexisting comic, or TV show, or a book, or anything like that. It’s a brand-new story and it’s kind of a genre mashup. It’s a sci-fi movie. It’s a thriller. It’s a romance. It’s got this faith element. So, it took some time to get people to understand exactly what we were doing so that they would want to invest in it. Here we are eight years after that short film and the movie is out in theaters right now.
DB: There’s lots of Christian fantasy, whether stories or movies, but there’s just not a lot of sci-fi from a Christian perspective. What drew you to sci-fi for this particular story?
BH: I’ve always been a huge fan of sci-fi. That’s my favorite genre of film. And to be honest, it’s the world’s favorite genre of film. If you look at the top 10 films of all time, seven of them are science fiction films. When it comes to the kinds of stories that I want to tell, I’m going to gravitate towards the things that I love, and what I love is science fiction. At the same time, my faith is important to me. A storyteller should tell the types of stories that interest them and that are important to them, and so it seemed like a very natural fit.
There’s really nothing you can’t talk about through science fiction. Science fiction provides metaphors and allegories that are not available elsewhere. Star Trek is a great example. It is so great at tackling the social issues of the day. You can see issues like racism and poverty and things play out in this futuristic spaceship setting, and these things are tackled in a way that it brings everybody to the table across the political and social spectrum. And so, there’s no reason that we can’t talk about faith within science fiction and use those metaphors and use those potential for allegories. I don’t know why there haven’t been a lot of science fiction stories like this, but to me it makes a whole lot of sense to do it
DB: The Shift is a sci-fi, but it’s also very clearly inspired as sort of modern reimagining of the biblical book of Job. It’s a very unique book in the Bible, but also one that seems to deal with a lot of very universal human experiences of suffering and faith. What was it about Job that seemed like it was perfectly suited to sort of play around with and provide some new imagery for?
BH: As you just said, Job’s story is really our story. It’s universal. There’s so much there to pull from. We sometimes think of Job as this incredible tale of unimaginable and unrelatable suffering. I think it is unimaginable, but I don’t think it’s meant to be unrelatable. What really intrigues me about Job is that he starts the story as someone who is very faithful.
What we don’t know about Job is how he became faithful. How did he become a person with that strength of faith? We don’t really know. We can assume Job has probably been through some stuff in his life, even prior to the beginning of the story, because you don’t have faith that strong unless you’ve been tested and you’ve been proven. As I was thinking about my own life and the lives of people I know, that’s everybody’s story who is a believer. We believe and yet our lives are not just hunky-dory. It continues to be difficult, and we continue to grow and to learn.
And I think what’s been interesting in the response is that people are really hooking into that part of it. They’re seeing a world that is a little bit darker than the one we inhabit, but it’s familiar enough that I think it brings the story of Job into a new perspective and into a new space where people can say, “That guy’s not unlike me. This is my journey. This is what I’m dealing with as well.”
DB: Films that deal with faith can sometimes have the stigma of being preachy or just pushing messages. As you were making this film, was that a conscious thing, as far as how to explore these important spiritual questions in a way that doesn’t make the audience feel like they’re attending a church service?
BH: The primary job is to entertain. If you want a Sunday sermon, then I think you should go to church on Sunday. If we’re giving sermons and we’re being preachy in a movie, then we’ve missed the mark, in my opinion. We’re going to turn off a large portion of the audience. And honestly, it’s that portion of the audience that I’m trying to reach. I’m trying to reach the people who probably look at films that deal with faith through squinted eyes. They’re seeing what’s been available for years, the types of films that are a little more preachy, a little bit more didactic, a little bit more just trying to offer comfort and not really challenge that much, and they say, “Not for me.” Which isn’t to take away from the power of those films or the people that love them. I think there should be a variety of options for different moviegoers. Everybody has different tastes. But for me personally, I’m not gravitating towards it. It’s not speaking to me. I want to see stories that are more about provoking a conversation.
Not everybody wants to sit through a sermon, but they’ll sit through a great story. We’re dealing with some pretty big issues of faith, and God, and the nature of evil and suffering, and why are we going through these things, but my hope with The Shift is that we’re dealing with it in such a way that a lot of people can come to the table and say, “You know what, I’m not necessarily a believer or anything but I’m in for a good sci-fi story.” I’ve been really encouraged that we’ve heard from so many people who aren’t believers saying “I love this movie,” because they’re seeing it as analogous to their experience in life, and really at the core of it the movie is about struggle and hope, and everybody can identify with that.
DB: How has the response to this film been? Anything that’s surprised you?
BH: The response to this film, I think, has been about as unique as the film itself. We have people who are absolutely in love with this film. We’ve had an incredible number of reviews on IMDB and even Rotten Tomatoes from the audience who were just over the moon in love with this film because it is giving them something so different. I think that’s part of it. And the other part of it is that I think this film has ended up a much more emotional experience than maybe even we, the filmmakers, were anticipating. People are really having a moment with this film.
Surprising about it is how many people are seeing it more than once. I want a film that you have to talk about. And if I’m going make a film and spend eight years of my life on something, it better be something that doesn’t just come into your head and then leave and that’s it. And I think I overachieved a little bit in that respect because people are talking about this. It’s not letting them go. So many are going back because they feel like there’s more to chew on; there’s more that they missed and they want to see it, they want discover those layers. And that’s exciting.
DB: I know you’re in the middle of this movie coming out but any thoughts for what’s next? Will there be a second film? Is this where you feel God leading you or is this a one-off thing?
BH: I want to tell more stories. I’ve enjoyed this so much. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, but things that are hard are often very much worth it. I would love to continue. I’ve got another script that I’ve already written. It is also within the sci-fi space. It’s something I’m very passionate about, and very excited for. It is very different from The Shift, but it is a place I would like to explore for a little while and hopefully the audience is there for it. But I definitely am ready to keep going and hope to do so.
DB: Thank you so much, Brock. I really appreciate you taking the time to share from your heart about this film.
BH: Thank you so much, Daniel. I appreciate it.