Telling the Ragamuffin Story of Rich Mullins: An Interview With Director David Leo Schultz

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David Leo SchultzLast week, I wrote a review of the new movie, Ragamuffin, on life of Rich Mullins. I appreciated the honest look at Mullins, his music and his walk with God.

I had the privilege of talking with David Leo Schultz, who wrote and directed the film. David is an actor, comedian, writer and director. This was the first time he stepped into the role of director for a feature film.

Ragamuffin was a labor of love for David, and he was gracious enough to answer a few questions about the film and the legacy of Rich Mullins.

Trevin: Telling the story of a any man’s life in a couple hours would be a difficult task, but the difficulty is magnified with someone like Rich Mullins. There are so many different angles you could have approached. How did you decide what parts of Rich’s story to focus on and which parts to leave on the editing room floor?

David: One thing I learned from a church I used to go to is that a testimony shouldn’t make yourself the hero; it should make God the hero. If you are the centerpiece of your story, then it’s a biography. So, from the beginning I knew that in terms of doing a bio-picture, I wanted to flip the model on it’s head, and make God the hero of story.

Rich had a fascinating and recklessly ambitious life pursuing Christ, but I also wanted to explore how God was pursuing Rich. Like with Paul in Acts, we see how God pursued Paul. He blinded the guy. If God is after us, he will do whatever it takes to get a hold of and transform our hearts.

Jesus said “Come to me you who are heavy burdened.” Yet in the story of the the prodigal son (or as Tim Keller would probably say “Two Lost Sons”), we see a picture of the Father chasing the son. He was filled with compassion and ran to his son.

Rich was a follower of Jesus, yet he was also a prodigal in many ways, and we wanted to show the story of a God, filled with compassion, pursuing Rich. And for us through the research, once we discovered that it seemed God was chasing Rich through father figures to ultimately point to Himself, we decided, ”OK, that’s our story!”

Some people watch the movie and get really fussy because we didn’t show all the fun and funny parts of Rich, but it’s not so much a story about his joy, but about his pain. Ultimately, I believe his joy came from Christ, but sometimes you need to see the the pathway of pain that brought him to that joy.

Trevin: I thought it was interesting that you chose to include non-actors in the film who were close to Rich. (His brother, David, plays the radio interviewer, and his good friend Sam plays the role of Sam’s father in the film, his nephew plays Rich as a teen.) Why do you think the movie was enhanced by having friends and family of Rich involved?

David: At first, I felt like nobody would watch the movie. I just sensed I was supposed to make this thing, and was going to try to do the best I could with what I had. Like the old hymn says “my heart is prone to wander,” and for whatever reason, God has continually used the life, words, and story of people like Rich Mullins, King David, and my Grandma to draw my heart back to him. So this story, this movie, and ultimately the gospel of Jesus is important to me.

I made the decision to use non-actors for two reasons.

One, this wasn’t just my movie. I made the movie with Dave Mullins, his family, and some of Rich’s close friends, and I wanted them to be apart of it. I wanted it to be special for all of us.

Secondly, in terms of directing a small budget movie, finding great actors can be a challenge, so you just try to find the most honest people you can find. What I discovered is that sometimes normal non-actors have an easier times being truthful in their dialogue than the typical struggling actor looking for their next gig. I’m not bashing on those actors, though. (I’m one of them!)

I hope the film was enhanced by the friends and family being in there. But while I’m biased, I do think the film is stronger in a subliminal way, not in just being special for them. Because Rich’s friends and family were in it and a part of it, it wasn’t just me telling the story; it was “us” telling the story.

Hopefully, people can see it’s not just me as some crazy guy making stuff up, but it is actually Rich’s ups and down, vices and virtues, struggles and victories. These things are still remembered and they echo through the hearts of his friends and family, but the most important truth echoes even louder after all these years: Jesus loved Rich.

Trevin: Some of the Christians watching this film are going to say that you went too far in showing Rich’s sin and selfishness, while other Christians are going to think you didn’t go far enough. Why was it important for you to show the complexity of this Rich’s walk with God, a walk that displays both signs of spiritual life and signs of spiritual struggle?

David: Well, I was trying to follow the rules of storytelling (with the key word being “trying!”) that I learned in Scripture. God wrote the Scriptures and told the story of His glory through the lives of sinners redeemed.

The Scriptures don’t pretty the heroes up or give us a false picture of who they were. We see King David committing adultery, Moses committing murder, Peter cutting off a man’s ear, and Paul being a coat rack for the stoning of Stephen. Some of the saints in Scripture did some horrible things, and yet God left those details in there. Again, I think it’s because God’s the hero of the story.

I don’t know if it’s an American thing or the root of religion that makes us want to craft others into a flawless image, even when it’s not the truth. And praise God, because the more open we are that we have sin and need Jesus, the more God gets glory.

All that to say, we wanted to make an honest movie. No, we didn’t go as far as we could have, because we didn’t want to alienate everyone and hinder the message from spreading. Yet if we didn’t show any of Rich’s problems, we would have falsified his story. That would have caused viewers to ask why Rich even needs Jesus.

I fear we tend to gloss over sin in our faith-based movies. We’ve taken cues from Disney. We paint a picture of falsehood to satisfy viewers, but people want honesty. Interestingly enough, the most common compliment we have received is from viewers thanking us for making a Christian movie that is honest.

Trevin: Rich considered himself a “ragamuffin” – just a beggar at the door of God’s mercy. He also loved the church. One of the impressions Rich made on me when I first discovered him was his willingness to let the Scriptures stand over us and judge all of us. The grace of God both levels and lifts us. How did Rich communicate both his frustration and his love for the church in his music?

David: I’m not exactly sure how he did that. But I can tell you that in both of the concerts I went to and in all of the taped concerts I’ve listened to, Rich always talked about his love for the church.

On the flip side, he had no problem bashing people’s sacred cows. From what I’ve been told, he had this great ability to tick you off at the beginning of a concert, but by the end of it you’d come up and thank him for it because you needed it. You needed to see that all these sacred cows, somewhere along the way became idols, and you need to lay them down and worship Jesus.

In terms of music, Rich always encouraged his audience to return to the old hymns. This was in the 80’s and 90’s. He had a hard time with the modern worship music then. He felt it was just fluff, often theologically empty.

One of the reasons I love Rich is that he always challenged folks, even those burned by the church, to be in the local church community and not be a church hopper. He said, “Church is not a man made invention, it’s a God made invention.”

Trevin: For those who have never listened to Rich Mullins, which album would you recommend to start with? And just out of curiosity, what is your favorite Rich Mullins song, and why?

David: Good questions. For those looking to start listening, I’d probably say Liturgy, Legacy, & a Ragamuffin Band. But I’d also encourage them to not stop there. There is a gold mine of Rich Mullins songs out there.

My favorite would probably be “The Color Green.” It’s the first song of Rich’s I ever heard, and it’s been symbolic for a lot of what God has done in my journey. But right after that, I’d say, “Elijah,” “Creed,” “Hold me Jesus,” and “Peace,” just to name a few.

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