Last March, Adventist News Network (ANN) featured a story about The Mysterious Note, a unique movie produced in partnership with the North American Division (NAD) Stewardship Department. Richard Aguilera, also known as Guide Magazine’s “Mud Guy,” and the creator of One Mustard Seed, a multifaceted youth ministry, was the driving force behind the concept. He also wrote the screenplay and starred in the film.
Aguilera has been producing children's resources for the NAD Stewardship Department for years. One day, John Mathews, the department director, was looking for a fresh idea on how to teach kids about stewardship principals and the movie idea was born.
For a long time Aguilera has been anxious to explore this method of teaching because in today’s society, movies are an extremely popular method to connect with the culture. Storytelling is a tool that Jesus used to perfection. He used stories to reach people were they were, using concepts they understood. Aguilera believes movies would be the 2019 equivalent. He says, “I believe we are being foolish by not taking advantage of using this platform to the max, considering there are almost 6000 cinemas in the US and millions of people that watch movies at home and on their devices.”
The Mysterious Note is a story about a Chicago family completely caught up in a self-serving lifestyle. When the businessman father brings his family along on a business trip to a small town in Michigan, an unexpected turn of events unfolds when he clashes with a store owner that manages his business using biblical principles of stewardship. In the meantime, his mischievous son befriends a couple of local kids and they discover a mysterious note that catapults them into a four-day adventure of mystery and self-discovery. Biblical principles are subtly weaved throughout this fictional story, teaching us that we should trust God with everything that has been given us to manage.
The movieopened for limited release to churches that would specifically use the movie as an evangelistic tool by showing it in their communities, and to Pathfinder and/or Adventurer clubs that wanted to use the movie to raise funds for their trip to the international Pathfinder Camporee in Oshkosh, Wisconsin this year.
Aguilera says, “We officially released the movie on October 22, 2018. To date, dozens of clubs across our division have used the movie in a "Movie Night Fundraiser" to raise tens of thousands of dollars. We've heard reports that some clubs have earned over $3000 in one night using the movie. Since they are the only groups allowed to screen the movie right now, that is the only way to see the movie until it is released on DVD and streaming in May 2019. We are also exploring the possibility of having a limited theatrical release of the movie, prior to the May DVD release.”
ANN asked Aguilera what the response has been to the movie.
RA: “As the movie expands its reach we have only received excellent reviews to the story, the (volunteer) acting, the adventure and comedy. It's no secret that we had a very limited budget but we have gotten many wonderful comments of appreciation. During the fall of 2018, we entered the movie into several Christian film festivals, earning nominations as official selections in each of the six festivals. The movie has earned one festival award so far. We are happy to see that the Christian film world is also appreciating our efforts.”
ANN: Is the movie limited to only North America or have you received feedback from other countries?
RA: “The movie is intended to reach worldwide audiences. Currently the movie has been dubbed to Spanish and Portuguese for audiences in South America and we are currently working with a few other countries that have expressed interest in dubbing it into their own languages. We are also working with other English speaking countries such as Australia and the UK to help the movie reach audiences there as well.”
ANN: Why is this project so important?
RA: “I think one of the reasons we've been having an excellent response to The Mysterious Note is because of the film’s genre: a comedy-adventure-family film. If you stop and think about it, this is a rare project because the great majority of Christian films produced today target youth/adult audiences, not kids.
Ten years ago Christian films had a very broad appeal and movies like Facing the Giants were
enjoyed by both kids and adults, even though the movie was made to target youth/adults. I wrote The Mysterious Note to specifically target families, both kids and adults, which is a genre that is almost completely vacant. You may have noticed that in the last several years most of the Christian films being produced are thematically heavier and more dramatic, intense and even violent, dealing with darker and more complex subjects that are less and less
So who's making Christian movies that are both fun and teach a Christian message, and appeal to kids and families? They are extremely difficult to find. As a parent, this bothered me. It is a huge market and practically no one is filling it. I feel called to serve this need and reach kids and families through Christian storytelling, copying Jesus' own model.
Each year in North America, 1.32 BILLION people buy a ticket to see a movie in a movie theater. It is the number one entertainment destination by far in America. People are paying to go and receive a message. We need to explore and take risks with new avenues of reaching our culture through one of the largest and most popular platforms in the world.
For ten years I have been wholeheartedly committed to producing excellent materials for our Church, but it has been a dream to expand beyond our Adventist borders. We recently partnered with a large Christian distributor that will supply this product to Christian book stores all over the world, as well as countless online retailers, content streamers, Amazon, Pureflix, iTunes and dozens of other outlets that are popular in our society. This will allow us to reach deeper into the Christian and secular world.”
ANN: Do you have any other upcoming projects?
RA: “Making a movie means taking the project all the way through distribution. We are still very busy distributing the movie to Pathfinder clubs all over the world and working out the various distribution details for the DVD/streaming release. Once everything quiets down I would very much like to consider another movie project. I already have a story idea brewing in my mind. I'm praying for the opportunity to use all the amazing knowledge I gained making The Mysterious Note and use it to produce another story to reach audiences all over the world for Gods glory.
Our ministry (One Mustard Seed) launched a new app last year because we concluded that apps are where most kids consume content. I'm working hard so I can reinvest in an interactive game I wrote for our app. If you search through the app store, no one is making exciting Bible games for kids. All the Bible game apps are quizzes and trivia. Why hasn't anyone made an exciting interactive role-playing Bible game? If no one else is doing it, I will.
I am not apologetic for doing everything in my power to take chances and try new methods to reach people for Jesus. I invested two years working for free to produce The Mysterious Note because I believe our Church needed to see what the potential was and how media is a new relevant tool we can use to connect with our communities. Would anyone else out there like to join me in taking a risk to try something different to see if we can connect with our culture?”
For more information on using this resource in your church, Pathfinder club, or small group, please visit themysteriousnote.com.