Forlorn over the death of his wife, lawyer David Frank thinks he’s lost everything — until a tornado consumes his house and his beloved dog. When he learns that the damages cannot be covered by insurance due to an act of God clause, David does what any good lawyer would do: He calls God to the stand. Writer and director, Mercer Island-native Stewart Schill, talks about the origins of the film and the joys of creating it with his brother, Scott, and childhood best friend, Alan Pruzan.
Jewish in Seattle: How did you and your brother end up in the film business?
Stewart Schill: We grew up on Mercer Island in the ’70s and ’80s, in that era when there wasn’t much to do. We started messing around with the 8-millimeter camera, and we got more and more serious. We called it BBA Studios. We did this all through high school up until college. It just occurred to me: People do this for a living. So I went to film school at Cal Arts. Cut to 30 years later, when we went to make Frank vs. God. I brought it to my brother and Alan [Pruzan], and we decided to do this as a BBA production. After 25 years, BBA was revived. An indie film is an odyssey and adventure, but doing it with my oldest friend in the world and my brother was the best part.
What’s the most memorable experience you’ve had in the business?
Frank vs. God was the first time I felt like a mature filmmaker. I was very aware that the story, from the moment it occurred to me, had a certain kind of flow. That film felt sort of magical. So far, it’s the highlight of my professional experience. Really, though, writing is the thing I work hardest at and respect the most and identify with the most. I wrote another script that I sold — it never got made — but it was about an astronaut. I made a leap and wrote something that was really beautiful, and I finished the script while I was on this trip on a freighter crossing the Atlantic. I remember just feeling: That was a peak.
Where did the idea for Frank vs. God come from?
We grew up culturally Jewish but not being members of a temple. We were never bar mitzvahed. When my son was coming of age, and his mother was not Jewish, suddenly I felt strongly that we needed to join a temple. He needed to know he was Jewish. I had all these undefined feelings about being Jewish. There was a lightning bolt moment: My wife and I were on a trip to Italy, and for some reason I couldn’t sleep for the first couple days. We were seeing all these icons and cathedrals, and this idea hit me: “act of God” as a legal term, the idea of prosecuting God, a kind of Job-like story. I liked the idea of it being funny.
Did you come to any conclusions of your own while working on it?
For one thing, it was an interesting process. Not only the research, but when we were shooting it, we had to deal with all the Muslim imams in central Florida and church groups. I learned a lot about different faiths.
What are you working on next?
I’m finishing a new feature script set in Seattle, but it’s kind of a “multiverse” romance. I didn’t want it to have anything to do with religion. But it deals with existential topics. People call it a love letter to Seattle.