Recently I had the unique opportunity to sit down with cousins Aaron and Chad Burns, producer and director, respectively, of the new movie Beyond the Mask, to discover behind the scenes insights on this newly released film. In this second of a three-part series, the cousins talk about their hope that this film will help lead people to church to find answers to life’s most challenging questions.
Who am I? Why am I here?
The Bible answers such identity questions as these: God created you. He made you for a reason. He loves you and invites you into His family.
Cousins Chad and Aaron Burns first learned these truths at home during their growing-up years, and what was taught in the home was reinforced in the church.
Of course, for those who don’t have the benefit of growing up in a Christian home and being rooted in a Bible-believing church, their search for answers often finds them turning to culture—perhaps the latest movie will offer some answers.
Perhaps it will. In fact, “identity” is at the heart of Beyond the Mask,
a new faith-and-family friendly action–adventure movie that recently opened in theaters nationwide.
It’s the second full-length feature from Burns Family Studios. The first, Pendragon
, is set in the Dark Ages of Britain. This new film is set in Colonial times, with the likes of George Washington and Ben Franklin making an appearance. It’s a solid story—fine entertainment—yet it also gives moviegoers much to ponder.
“The theme of this movie revolves around something God was teaching us,” says Aaron, the film’s producer. “It’s this concept of answering the questions, ‘Who am I? What makes me okay?’ All of us wrestle with this.
“Culture pressures us to ‘be your own person, do your own thing, create somebody for yourself,’ and that’s a very, very high demand,” says Aaron. “So as you look inside for the answer, what do you find? I find a lot of brokenness, a lot of regrets.
“The easiest thing most of us do is put up masks to cover that,” he says, “and try to do enough good to build ourselves up to fix our problems.”
In light of their own upbringing and how God has been working in their lives along the way, the Burns cousins aim to partner with the church to help people find their identity in God through Christ—to go beyond the mask and discover the truth that truly sets free.
Even Christians can wear masks, says Chad, the film’s director. “I grew up in a very Christian home and was saved at a young age,” he says. “I did a lot of very ‘Christian’ things, which was a good thing.” Yet Chad says his efforts to build God’s Kingdom in his teens and early 20s would prove instead to be “both building my own kingdom here and then trusting that God ‘owed’ me a blessing for what I was doing for Him.”
Chad says it all came crashing down when the cousins finished Pendragon
. “We thought God owed us a distribution deal and some other things that did not come through. We had prayed earnestly and sought Him on these matters. Then it was silence. For about a year it looked like that movie was a complete disaster. We were broke, in debt, wound up having to go back to school and get jobs just to pay the rent.
“Then, in that season, the Lord met us,” he says. Chad moved in with some men on staff with a campus ministry, and one came alongside to disciple him—to help him grow as a Christian, deal with his brokenness, come out from behind the mask. God used this “season of renewal” to help him better “own” his faith.
Aaron can identify. Looking back, he says, “There’s a moment in my life that I was pretty close to jumping off the bus. It was neat to see some of the things that God brought around me to make this faith that I grew up with something that wasn’t [merely] something my parents or pastor believed, but something I experienced through relationship.”
Aaron says God drove all this home with a key Bible verse: “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).
“It’s not a lesson that I’ve learned and I’m done with,” adds Chad. “It’s something I think about on a regular basis. And it is easy to slip back into that mode of doing, performing, working, and running and all—He wants our heart.”
The fact that God wants a person’s heart is central to this movie, in which the lead character comes up against the truth that only an authentic commitment to God can enable him to step out from the mask he’s hiding behind—but will he? Among supporting materials families and churches will find on the film’s website is a free download titled “Who Are You? Explore Your True Identity”
from Focus on the Family.
“There are some movies that are a little ‘mediciney’—we see them because we need to see them,” says Chad. “Beyond the Mask
is in a little different category. It’s a fun movie, it’s an adventure movie, it’s the kind of movie you go to see because you want
to go see it.” It’s not just for youth, he adds. It’s a “four-quadrant” film, which appeals to young and old, male and female.
Chad offers a final word of encouragement to pastors, church leaders, and all who would recommend this film: “You’re going to be a hero!”
Dean Ridings is communication director and a representative of Navigator Church Ministries. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Click on the titles to read the additional two blogs in this series, "Hollywood and the Church" and "Quest for a Moral Compass."