How A Famous Pastor Helped Save The Pilgrim’s Progress Animated Movie
Steve knew God had given him a special purpose to reach the masses for His glory, but Steve kept running into roadblocks. Right when Steve was about to give up, his phone started blowing up with calls. He looked at it in disbelief while God sent him a miracle as only God can. Steve couldn’t believe what was happening. This is the story of his Pilgrim’s Progress.
Steve and Debra Cleary, owners of Cat in the Mill Studios, knew God had called them to tell a story. The very important story of the soul's search for salvation found in John Bunyan's classic book, The Pilgrim's Progress. But as they sat across from each other at dinner, it felt like the end. Utterly crushed, Steve was ready to give up. But in that moment of despair, God used famous pastor Ray Comfort to send just the encouragement needed.
God’s Anointed Story
Written more than 300 years ago from a jail cell, John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress tells the story of a character named Christian and the many temptations, threats, and dangers he faces in his journey from "the wilderness of this world" to the glory of the Celestial City.
It’s an allegory for the struggle all believer’s face this side of Heaven — the battle to stay on the straight and narrow.
The story has what Steve Cleary calls a “timeless anointing.” The book has never been out of print, has been translated into 200 languages, and is considered one of the most influential books in the world, second only to the Bible. And it accomplished all of that while countries with hostilities towards the Gospel were doing all they could to suppress it.
“The underground church faced people wanting to beat them up, put them in prison or take their life because of their religious beliefs,” Steve explained in an interview with God Updates. “For the persecuted Christian, the story of The Pilgrim’s Progress became an amazing source of inspiration. It encouraged them to stay on the path, even if it meant they'd be put in prison, beaten or killed."
Read more about the controversial history of The Pilgrim’s Progress by clicking HERE.
Bringing The Pilgrim’s Progress Story Back
After surviving years of repression across the globe, the story is now being lost to the current generation. Our youth’s addiction to technology threatens to silence this important message.
“It’s not that the current generation isn’t interested in the story,” Steve told God Updates. “I think what's happening is that we have a generation that is, what some people are calling, functionally illiterate. They'll read articles, they'll read social media, but they don't want to sit down and read a book, let alone a Christian classic book.”
There was no way Steve and Debra were going to let this story simply fade away. The couple owns their own production company, Cat in the Mill Studios. And they knew God was calling them to revitalize John Bunyan’s timeless classic, The Pilgrim’s Progress, for today’s audience.
But, of course, doing God’s work in a fallen world isn’t always easy!
Choosing How Best To Tell The Story
Part of what’s kept The Pilgrim’s Progress so relatable throughout the years is the fact that it’s an allegory (a symbolic story, poem or picture containing a hidden meaning).
“In the Bible, every parable Jesus spoke was a mini-allegory,” Steve explained. “So, God obviously speaks in allegories. Allegories are a timeless way to convey a message of truth. God has ordained this story to reveal His message.”
Steve and Debra certainly aren’t the first to bring The Pilgrim’s Progress to the big screen. In fact, the 1978 live-action version is credited with launching Liam Neeson's career.
However, the movie versions available are all outdated and admittedly low budget. They certainly aren’t the type of films that today’s highly visual generation would ever watch.
And that’s how the Cleary’s settled on producing a high-quality, CGI (Computer-Generated Imagery) animated film.
“It wasn't only creating a visual presentation of the story, we had to create it in a medium — which we chose CGI animation — that the younger audience will want to watch. I think if we had not done it in CGI animation, we would still be missing the next generation with the story.”
Getting The Ball Rolling
The idea of producing The Pilgrim’s Progress animated movie still seemed somewhat crazy. It started with 3 people huddled around the Cleary kitchen table sketching out images. Then award-winning writer and director Robert Fernandez got involved.
Steve says Robert went away for several weeks to pray. When he came back, Robert had what he considers to be one of the most moving scripts he’s ever written — the script for The Pilgrim’s Progress animated movie.
Ordinarily, the next step would be to shop the story out to a major studio. But to do so would mean making compromises Steve and Debra simply weren’t willing to make.
A major studio would bring bigger budgets for things like special effects. But they’d also try to water down God’s message — something Steve absolutely refuses to do.
“The movie is the messaging. We would never trade the movie for the message.”
Additionally, Steve and Debra intend for this movie to belong to the church. There are already plans in place to have the film translated into at least 20 key languages (Mandarin, Hindi, Arabic, etc.). It will then be distributed for free to missionaries.
It’s something that simply wouldn’t happen if a big studio was involved.
“We believe that Christian movies should remain with Christians, and the churches. Our film will belong to the church,” Steve explained. “It will be available free to the missionaries and affordable to the family. That's our commitment. We're not going to sell out to another system that doesn't allow us to do that. Even if they bring money, we'll say no.”
So, over the course of two years, Steve and Debra put up one million dollars of their own money to get the ball rolling.
God Calls In More Help
Things continued to progress, and more and more people signed on to help. And they all did so because they believe God has anointed The Pilgrim’s Progress animated movie.
“None of the creative team is taking a salary. This really is a passion project that we want to work.”
Animators can charge as much as $120 an hour. But the animators working for Steve are doing so at roughly $10 an hour, completely committed to the project. It’s not about money. It’s about getting this important message in front of those who desperately need to hear it.
Soon, the project grew too big for the kitchen table and expanded into the Cleary’s studio in Costa Rica. But there was no way Steve and Debra could fund the film all on their own. So, they came up with a unique way to rely on God for the money they need.
Because this film belongs to the church, Steve and Debra decided to use the popular crowdfunding site Kickstarter as a way for believers to get involved in the film.
Check out The Pilgrim’s Progress animated movie Kickstarter page by clicking HERE.
But the Cleary’s are using Kickstarter in a completely unique way — to fund the film scene by scene.
This method of funding required a huge leap of faith on Steve and Debra’s part. And at first, Steve feared they’d made a huge mistake.
Steve was truly excited about inviting believers to take part in The Pilgrim’s Progress animated movie production. They launched their first campaign, and waited. . . and waited . . . and waited.
For two weeks, nothing happened.
“There's nothing more depressing than watching a Kickstarter campaign fail,” Steve says.
A few pledges rolled in, but they were mainly from Steve and Debra’s family. Debra kept providing encouragement, but Steve’s hopes just continued to plummet. He came home from his day job, feeling utterly defeated.
“I was really at my lowest point and considering canceling the Kickstarter campaign,” he recalled.
But God is good. He knew just what Steve needed in that moment.
Steve and Debra decided to grab some pizza for dinner. And as they sat across from each other, Steve’s phone suddenly beeped. And it just continued to go off — one beep after another.
Steve wondered who could be texting him over and over. But when he picked up his phone, he realized those beeps weren’t texts. They were notifications of pledges being made to the Kickstarter campaign!
“I'm like, ‘What in the world is going on?’ I just stared at my phone for an hour. And every minute, a pledge came in,” Steve told God Updates. “And I just couldn't believe it.”
Here Steve was on the verge of throwing in the towel, and just like that pledges start rolling in. But what changed?
God Calls On A Famous Pastor
As it turns out, in the same moments Steve was considering giving up, God was using famous pastor Ray Comfort to change everything.
“I find out that Ray Comfort came across our Kickstarter campaign, completely by chance,” Steve explained. “He watched the trailer, shared the campaign on his Facebook page, and it went viral from there. We had hundreds of pledges. And then we started building momentum.”
Ray’s support gave the campaign just the boost it needed. More importantly, it reminded Steve that God was behind this project. And if God is for something, nothing can stop it!
“That was the biggest God moment for me. It was that hour in the pizza joint, and I was completely depressed, and my phone just started going off,” Steve said. “I'm just thankful that Ray was obedient to God's nudging. If it wasn't for Ray Comfort, I might have given up. The funding that came from that wasn't enough to finish the Kickstarter campaign, but it gave me the motivation — it gave me the energy — to keep pressing forward. He pulled me out of the mud when I was stuck. It really gave me the hope to continue on in inviting individuals to be part of the film.”
Increased Support Of The Pilgrim’s Progress Animated Movie
Since then, Steve and Debra have received even more support from the Christian community. They’ve received endorsements and promotions by the American Family Association (AFA). Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family, and his son, Ryan Dobson, have supported The Pilgrim’s Progress animated movie.
And while Ray Comfort helped prompt the first big push, it’s believers across the globe — people like you and me — who are needed to keep things moving forward.
“We are dependent upon the support of other individuals to keep the project moving forward. It will not happen without people joining us,” Steve explained.
Staying The Course
With each Kickstarter campaign, the movie gets one scene closer to completion.
“Our Kickstarter campaigns have been small, but they've given people the chance to be part of the victory, part of producing another scene…and another scene…and another scene,” Steve told God Updates.
The campaigns have only run for a few months, but so far 1,500 people have gotten involved. And it’s not just big names in the church world. It’s every day people who want to see The Pilgrim’s Progress animated movie succeed.
“I get kids sending in their allowance money to make this film possible, and kids having garage sales,” Steve said. “Messages come in every day saying, ‘Thank you for letting me be involved. I want to pledge more. My kids don't know the story — I have to show it to them.’"
And with each pledge, social share, and prayer, what seemed like a crazy dream for so long is finally taking shape. And it’s all thanks to the believers God is using!
“We're already half done. God has brought us this far. Every single person who makes a pledge, any pledge, we think that's a big deal,” Steve explains. “Because that's another person who's talking about the film, who's praying for us, who has made a small investment. And we believe God will increase those gifts, those pledges, those prayers.”
And like Christian from The Pilgrim’s Progress, Steve and the team are staying the course.
“We're making progress — just taking small steps and staying on the path. We are just amazingly blessed by the 1,500 people who have wanted to play a role — and that's just so far. As much as this is our project, it's their project, too.”
Is God Calling You?
Steve and Debra remain confident God will continue to provide for all of the film’s needs. God willing, The Pilgrim’s Progress animated movie will be completed by 2018. And once it is, it will be a victory and a celebration all supporters can join in!
“The film is because of them — they paid for the scenes,” Steve says. “They paid for the film scene by scene by scene, all the way until it's completed.”
And that’s what gives Steve the encouragement to keep going!
Want to join in the celebration and help make The Pilgrim’s Progress animated movie a success? You can start by donating or following the movie's progress on its official Kickstarter page. You can also raise awareness for the film by sharing it on social media. Every Tweet, Facebook post, Instagram share, Email, or conversation with your friends can bring this project closer to completion. Together we can build a powerful tool for the Kingdom!
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