Editor’s Note: This is the first piece in a series about Will Bakke, a recent Baylor graduate who has created two films and founded Riot Studios, a Christian film company. The second piece ran on Jan. 31 and can be found here.
By Joshua Madden
“What I learned at Baylor is that you have to tell compelling stories,” says Will Bakke, a 2011 Baylor graduate.
It’s not just Bakke’s stories that are compelling. It’s his entire life. Despite graduating just over a year ago, Bakke has released two films, founded a film studio and toured the country promoting his work.
His first film, “One Nation Under God,” followed Bakke and friends as they toured the United States and asked people questions about what they believe. Over the course of the filmmaker’s trip, Bakke stayed with Muslims, atheists, hippies and Mormons.
“The four of us have grown up in a Bible Belt culture, and we never asked ourselves why we believed the things that we did,” Bakke said, speaking about himself and his fellow cast members.
While in New York City, he met and spoke with Scientologists speaking with both members of the religion and protesters outside of the Scientology building. Many of these protestors were members of Anonymous, a hacker collective. One member wore the group’s characteristic Guy Fawkes mask during an interview for the film and discussed involvement in Scientology before joining Anonymous.
Bakke felt called to create a film that asked tough questions about Christianity partly because his perceived lack of quality Christian films, especially those are directed toward college students.
“Today, we really don’t know very many Christian films that college audiences want to go to. While in college, I would ask my friends to name their top five Christian films and most of my friends probably can’t even name three,” Bakke said.
Kevin Cochran, Oak Park, Calif., senior and a fellow member of Bakke’s fraternity, Kappa Sigma, agrees. Cochran said he saw both films, including a final version “One Nation Under God,” at an early screening in downtown Waco and he saw versions of both of Bakke’s films at screenings on campus.
“What really jumped out to me is that for some reason I have low expectations of a film that’s labeled as a Christian film, particularly those made by students. In this case, I was blown away by the quality of the documentaries and the depth of the issues,” Cochran said.
The success of “One Nation Under God” led to the involvement of others with Bakke’s film work, including longtime friend Alex Carroll, who then was an undergraduate student at Georgetown University.
Carroll knew Bakke because they attended Highland Park High School in Dallas together, along with Matt Owen, who is also in the movie. Carroll said the group was all involved in ministry together, including Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which Carroll continued in college at Georgetown.
“I had never really had an interest in film until I saw what Will had created with ‘One Nation Under God’ and I just knew it was something I wanted to be involved with and approached Will about making another movie, which ended up being ‘Beware of Christians’”, Carroll said.
The desire to work together on a future film was mutual between Bakke and Carroll, who had retained their friendship despite attending different colleges.
“Alex Carroll was a buddy of mine in high school and heard about us doing a showing of ‘One Nation Under God’ and saw how much it was catching on and suggested we do another one,” Bakke said.
“Beware of Christians” was Bakke’s second film, but instead of traveling around the United States, the group went to Europe and spent five weeks touring the continent, asking European people about their view on Christianity. Bakke said one of the goals was to use this experience to compare their own views on religion with those that are predominant in Europe.
“I would say ‘One Nation Under God’ was us testing the water and finding our own voice within the Christian film realm, but it wasn’t until we made ‘Beware of Christians’ that we really knew our audience and how to talk to our audience,” Bakke said.
Bakke said “One Nation Under God” was made the summer after sophomore year and then “Beware of Christians” was made the summer after junior year through senior year.
Carroll graduated December 2010 from Georgetown. While Carroll was not involved in film groups at Georgetown, he stayed involved in film through his partnership with Bakke.
Bakke uploaded content onto a server so Carroll could see the footage and provide feedback, despite being half the country away.
“Bakke is so talented that I could just trust him completely and know that he was going to produce something that I could be really proud of,” Carroll said.
Finally getting to visit Baylor, where much of the film was produced, was a unique experience for Carroll after graduating from Georgetown.
“I thought it was really cool how the film was welcomed in Waco. I loved how the Baylor film department opened up their film studio for us to do shots. Overall I would give Baylor five stars,” Carroll said.
Bakke said this sentiment paralleled how he feels about Baylor’s film department.
“Baylor was incredible at providing a very hands-on environment. I was able to check out equipment and find studio time when I needed,” Bakke said, “They let me take an independent study to work on the films, as well as make themselves available to bounce questions off them at any time. It was at Baylor that I grew in my understanding of the current technologies as well as the importance of story.”
Ultimately, Carroll and Bakke agree on the importance of the Christian message behind the film.
“We don’t go into the film trying to force-feed people answers. We just bring up questions and explore them. You can watch the film and enjoy it without feeling like you’re being talked down to,” Carroll said.
Cochran said the emphasis on tough issues was part of the appeal of the film.
“It really hit on the harder issues. It wasn’t afraid to go there,” Cochran said.
“In terms of our theology, we all love Jesus and I guess you could say that we’re all somewhat non-denominational. We all went to different churches but we all still have the same understanding of Jesus,” Carroll said.
Bakke said this was an important focus when creating the film.
“Christian films sometimes shoot to show the way life should be, but that doesn’t resonate with an audience as well as looking at the world as it is. We struggle with Jesus every day but it’s worth it. That’s what makes this movie relatable. There’s something better at the end of the day and that is Jesus,” Bakke said.
For Cochran, Bakke’s current endeavors are just a continuation of how Bakke normally lives his life.
“He kind of reached out to me as a freshman and introduced me to a lot of people. He was always there to answer tough questions for me and served as a role model for me, especially in the fraternity setting,” Cochran said. “He’s obviously an incredible Christian guy.”
Watch for the next piece in this series in which the Lariat will explore Bakke’s development of his film studio, Riot Studios. For more information on Bakke’s projects or to purchase a copy of one of the films, please visit either BewareofChristians.com or RiotStudios.com.