Belgium to shine on silver screen

‘SNL’ alum, former ‘American Idol’ contestant on set at St. Mark Church for filming of movie that was brought to village by Chamber director with connections

ST. MARK’S LUTHERAN CHURCH in Belgium was the site of a movie shoot last week. “Saturday Night Live” alumna Victoria Jackson (seated, center) pointed to actress Katelin Stack as Landyn Banx (right) posed. Megan Williams, 9, of Belgium, sat behind them next to her mother Tara. Photo by Sam Arendt
By 
MITCH MAERSCH
Ozaukee Press staff

The silver screen has come to St. Mark Lutheran Church in Belgium, bringing with it a former “Saturday Night Live” cast member and a former “American Idol” contestant from Wisconsin.

The cast of “Through Eyes of Grace,” a Christian film, shot scenes at a house in Hingham on Thursday, Nov. 4, and in the church Thursday and Friday, Nov. 4 and 5. The movie is set in Oostburg and based on a book of the same name by Sheboygan’s Dave Payton,  who is also acting in the film, playing a pastor whose teen daughter has gone missing. Payton is an actor from New York City who has toured the country and written plays, and also substitute teaches in Sheboygan. This is his first book.

“Why does God allow things to happen?” Payton said of the movie’s message. “It’s OK not to have all the answers.”

Belgium Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tara Williams had the connection to bring the movie to Belgium.

“It’s been on my bucket list,” Williams said of being in a movie. She landed a role as an extra along with her 9-year-old daughter Megan.

Williams is in a Facebook group with Payton, and when she learned he was looking to film in a church she contacted St. Mark’s officials.

Pastor Wayne King took the call.

“This is just a very unusual request we had,” he said.

The church council gave its blessing, figuring it would be good publicity. King  and the parishioners aren’t in the film.

“They’ve been excited. They’re anxious to see how this is all put together,” King said of the congregation.

The cast and crew, he said, have been helpful and courteous.

That’s one of the elements Victoria Jackson, who was on “Saturday Night Live” from 1986 to 1992, finds appealing about Christian productions.

“Here, people donate food. It’s like a big family. Everybody’s suffering for their art,” she said.

“Nobody says the F word like in Hollywood. There are no egos.”

When she was in Hollywood, Jackson was demanded to be sexy and skinny, she said. Now, nobody asks her to hold in her stomach.

Jackson, 62, lost her mother to Covid-19-related pneumonia a couple of months ago and in the movie plays a piano teacher who has dementia. She brought her own wardrobe and wears rings from both her parents.

“I love playing this character. I’m playing my mother, kind of,” she said.

In 1987 on SNL’s “Weekend Update” segment, Jackson sang “I’m Not a Bimbo.”

“I wonder if I’m old if I can still play a bimbo, and the answer is yes,” she said. “It’s called dementia.”

Jackson was also thrilled with her interaction with King.

Her mother was raised Norwegian Lutheran and was taught works get people to heaven, but Jackson was raised Baptist and learned grace through faith sent people to God’s kingdom. Jackson went right to King to discuss the issue.

“I interrogated the Lutheran pastor here,” she said, adding King’s response was grace through faith.

“I found out he believes the same as the Baptists. Therefore, we need more unity,” she said.

Jackson said she also loves Wisconsin’s scenery and took photos.

“American Idol” contestant Franki Moscato, 19, of Oshkosh, plays the teen daughter.

“She’s very spiritual and tries to promote kindness,” she said of her character.

Moscato, who uses her celebrity status to promote kindness, anti-bullying and to prevent teen suicide, said Belgium is a “beautiful little town” and “It’s a real blessing that I get to film in my home state of Wisconsin.”

The singer/songwriter and actress who attended Lourdes Academy, a Catholic High School in Oshkosh, said being in a Christian film is different than other films.

“It’s more focused on God,” she said. “Even the mental preparing is a lot different as an actor.”

She said she hopes a sequel will be made.

Mike Determan of Racine is directing his first film after spending more than 15 years as a cinematographer. It’s also his first Christian film.

“It doesn’t feel different to me as long as it’s a good story,” he said.

He loves the setting of a church in the middle of a neighborhood with empty land and beautiful, quaint terrain.

“Then something terrible happens,” he said.

Determan flipped roles with Randy Rambeau from Illinois, who is serving as a cinematographer for the first time after usually being director.

He has done short films and a horror series and said doing a Christian film is a little bit different, but production runs about the same.

“It’s going great. Every film production falls a little bit behind here and there,” he said.

At least a few cast members are either from Minnesota, have experience in horror films or work in education. Many found out about the film through Facebook.

James Wilsford teaches high school science in the Twin Cities area and just got done playing a cult leader that does ritualistic human sacrifice. He once had his arm cut off in a movie. This time, he is playing a sheriff and keeps all his limbs.

“These kinds of opportunities are pretty rare,” he said. “I’m just hugely grateful to be included in this.”

Landyn Banx of St. Paul, Minn., runs a podcast called “The Artist’s Journey” and is publishing a children’s book next year. His character gets yelled at by Jackson’s character.

“This is a great cast and crew to work with,” he said.

Diane Richardson of Appleton used to teach special education in Stockbridge and is now a traveling actress, and she has been accepted to Baron Brown Studio in Los Angeles, where Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington and Dustin Hoffman trained.

She just filmed “Honest to God” in Chicago with Larry Thomas, the Soup Nazi from “Seinfeld.”

This film, she said, is going well.

“Everybody knows what they’re doing. The extras are doing a good job listening,” she said.

Ryan Gilmer of Plymouth, Minn., a production assistant who has acted for a decade and done horror films, said the story is what matters, regardless of the gore, and that every part matters.

“In a movie, no matter how small the role is, everyone’s important,” he said.

Other aspects of Belgium are involved in the movie — Kyotes Bar and Grill catered lunch on Thursday — and some businesses can’t be mentioned without giving away the plot.

The cast and crew will return to Belgium to film the rest of the movie during 19 days in June.

The movie is slated to be released in a couple of years.

Payton said it is 80% funded. Donations can be made at the movie’s Facebook page.

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