Monday, June 27, 2016

Meet filmmaker Sharon Wilharm: Writer/Director of Providence

Sharon Wilharm always envisioned a life of missionary service. Instead, God called her to writing and filmmaking, allowing her films to minister to individuals around the world.  She and her husband, Fred, travel the southeast and midwest promoting their movies and speaking at film and church events. 

Sharon's passion is encouraging individuals to listen to God and discover the unique path He has destined for them. 

Recently their film, Providence, won ICVM’s Gold Award for Best Drama of 2016 (under $250,000), as well as ICVM's Bronze for Best Picture (overall); Silver for Best Evangelistic; and Bronze for Best Youth Picture.

On your Faith Flix website, you wrote that “I never intended to be a filmmaker.” What got you started?

Fred always wanted to be a filmmaker and got his degree in broadcast communication, but at the time we started dating, he was a businessman with a chain of coin laundries and I was a school teacher. Then he started working on a local history documentary and before I knew what was happening, it transformed into a faith-based feature with me writing the script, directing, and playing the lead role. I didn't have a clue what I was doing so I hated it. I swore I'd never ever do another movie, but God had other plans.

You began your career as an educator (teaching elementary, middle and high schoolers). Did you teach drama and film from the beginning?

I started off as a 5th grade school teacher then when our daughter was born I homeschooled her from preschool through graduation. When she was in middle school I started teaching drama and film at her homeschool tutorial. I've always loved drama and directed my first children's musical when I was a freshman in high school. Through the years my primary ministry at church has been directing drama for children, youth, and adults.

What is the appeal of film? Why does this particular method of communication attract you?

Film didn't initially appeal to me. I much preferred live theater. But as I found myself involved in Fred's projects, it grew on me. Now I love it! I love the brevity and the simplicity of screenwriting. I love visual storytelling, especially incorporating costume, color, and composition to make for beautiful and powerful images.

Do you have any favorite filmmakers or films?

I like character driven films like Driving Miss Daisy, Because of Winn Dixie, and Legally Blonde that are distinctly feminine and funny but also reveal much about human nature. My favorite tv show is Joan of Arcadia. It is brilliantly written and shot and can have me pondering it for weeks afterwards. It incorporates a Christian worldview in such an artsy way. I hate that it only lasted 2 seasons. It has probably inspired me as a filmmaker more than anything else.

Your most recent film, Providence, has no dialogue. Why did you make this choice? Were any other of your films made this way?

Providence is our second silent film. Our first was The Good Book. We were trying to avoid the cheese factor and to literally show, not tell. At first, no one had a clue how to respond to The Good Book. But then it started doing well in film festivals and we discovered that we were better at telling a story visually than with dialogue. We didn't think it would be possible to do it again, but then when I started writing Providence, I quickly discovered that it lent itself best to visual storytelling as well. If/when we do another movie, though, it will be a talkie and I'll take all that we've learned from The Good Book and Providence and apply it to a more traditional script.

Looking back on your life why did you choose an education major when you were in college? Do you see any crossover into filmmaking?

I majored in education because I couldn't come up with anything better. I always saw it as temporary and figured it would be good prep for whatever more exciting work God had in store for me. And it has done just that. Perhaps the best skills I learned from being a teacher that has helped in filmmaking is the ability to organize and to quickly learn names.

Can you describe your filmmaking process? (How long does it usually take to write the script? Decide on location? Choose cast? Shoot? Edit?)

From initial idea to finished script generally takes between 4-8 months. Actually, the more experienced we get, the longer it takes because I've gotten more meticulous. Locations are easy since we film the majority of our movies in our house or locations in our small town. When I'm writing a script, it's written with our available locations in mind. Casting takes several months. Shooting several months. Editing, several months. Pretty much once we have a finished script, it takes us about a year to cast, shoot, edit, and get ready to release.

What’s your favorite part about the filmmaking process itself? What’s the most challenging?

Writing and planning is what I enjoy most, imagining all the possibilities and figuring out how to make it happen. Originally filming was my most challenging, but as I've learned and grown, it comes a lot more naturally now. Editing is frustrating for me because once I finish filming I'm ready to just relax and not think about it for a while, but I can't because my input is needed for the editing process. I tend to be pretty grumpy during the post production time because I'm just so worn out by that point.

Your films have won numerous awards, including ICVM's Gold Award for Best Picture 2016 (under $250,000). Do any of the awards stand out to you for their significance?

At last count we had accumulated 78 festival accolades, but each one holds some significance.  They each represent a group of people who appreciated our movie enough to make it available for others to enjoy. The true value of festivals is that they help attract new audiences and provide validation that this is a movie that is worthy of being watched. Now, getting back to your question, if I had to narrow it down, I would say Pan Pacific Film Festival was really special because it was in Los Angeles. So it was exciting to travel to L.A. and be a part of the red carpet experience. The greatest honor, though, was having Providence nominated for four Crown awards at the ICVM awards, including being up for Best Picture alongside War Room, Beyond the Mask, and Until Forever. That is just mind boggling to me that our little silent film could even be considered in the same breath as such incredible films. Isn't God amazing?

Can you describe how you and your husband Fred work together on your films?

When we first starting filmmaking together we tended to get on each other’s nerves a lot. We would each try to be in control and not listen to the other one. Then we'd get frustrated when the other did something different than what we wanted. But over time we've learned what our strengths and weaknesses are and we use that to advantage. We communicate a lot initially, planning the shots, and making sure we're each on the same page. Then we trust each other to each do our job and to do it well. Now by the time everyone else arrives on set, we know what we're doing and we work together to get it done.

Do you have any words of wisdom to offer for new filmmakers? Or those thinking of getting into filmmaking?

If you're thinking about making movies so you can get rich and famous, find something else to do. Filmmaking is hard work and little money. The only reason to do it is if this is what God has called you to do, and even then, you need to be on your knees in prayer the whole time because it's a tough business. If you go into it as a calling, as a way to minister through film, God can use you. But if you come in with a giant ego, that ego will quickly get deflated.

How can readers get a copy of/view your films?

All our movies are available online at Christian Cinema. Providence is also available at Faith Flix online and at LifeWay Christian Stores. The Good Book is available at most Christian retailers. Flowers for Fannie is available at some Family Christian Stores and online at iTunes and a number of other online sites.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

To learn more about our movies, visit our website at and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. In addition, each of our movies has a Facebook page and a Twitter account.

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