FEBRUARY 15, 2018
'SAMSON' MOVIE HAD ITS BEGINNING IN COFFEE SHOP FOR AMARILLO SCREENWRITER
*NOTE FROM JASON: From beginning to end, the screenplay was a collaboration with co-writer Zach Smith*
Jason Baumgardner has obviously already seen the movie “Samson,” which opens this weekend in Amarillo and across the nation. As a screenwriter, he doesn’t have to stand in the popcorn line with everyone else. He had two thoughts as the movie ended.
“As the credits went up, one of the most emotional parts for me was seeing the credits and all these jobs that were created from me sitting down at a coffee shop and putting words on a page,” he said. “As far as the characters and how the story is set up, it’s pretty much ours.”
Baumgardner is a 1996 Amarillo High graduate. Filmmaking has been — ahem — his focus since doing some video projects for a class at Crockett Middle School. He graduated from Texas Tech with a computer science degree in 2001, but his love has always been film.
Since then, he’s earned a film production degree from Chapman University in Orange, Calif. In the last nine years, he’s produced, directed and wrote first a web series, “The League,” a fictional look at the dark side of fantasy sports, and a documentary, “The Perfect Lineup,” on the daily fantasy sports craze.
This, though, is different in scope and reach. It’s a breakthrough in Baumgardner’s career. That’s his idea for a script and movie that is now on the big screen, a 1-hour, 50-minute film from Pure Flix, an independent Christian film and TV studio.
“I’ve always had this idea — and this was even from film school — but to adapt this big idea to a movie,” he said. “I wanted to do this ‘Braveheart’ Biblical epic that has never really been made. Samson came to mind.
“Really, it’s the 6-year-old boy in me. Superheroes are a big deal right now. If you believe in the Biblical narrative as I do, he was this real superhero who actually lived.”
When you think about it, taking the jawbone of a donkey and killing a thousand Philistines, I mean, no Marvel super hero could do that.
Samson is the Biblical Hercules, a man of strength and tragedy. He is the last of the major judges of the Israelites but is not the ideal role model.
Baumgardner began writing “Samson” back in 2012 while still at Chapman. There were days sitting at his favorite California coffee shop writing the script, getting a feeling, he said, “this is really what God wanted me to do that day.”
The story of Samson had been written several thousands of years previously, likely not in a coffee shop or a laptop. It’s over three chapters in Judges in the Old Testament. There’s also a 1949 movie, “Samson and Delilah.”
During the writing process, Baumgardner, who lives in Huntington Beach, Calif., reached out to friend Zach Smith in the film industry in Dallas. Together, they honed the script, playing off the strengths of each other.
“It follows the Bible closely,” he said. “It’s something we really focused on. If this is a true story — and we believe it is — it should be told in a compelling way and get inside the head of Samson and why he made the decisions he did. I really had to go with my gut on some things.”
Eventually, the script made its way in 2015 to Pure Flix, which wanted to option it. But the movie was still a bit of a darkhorse. Baumgardner and Smith had some new marching orders — don’t make it an R rating. So they rewrote and dialed it back, perhaps leaving Delilah a little more to the imagination.
“With that new draft,” Baumgardner said, “that put us at the top of the heap.”
Production was in February 2017 near Capetown, South Africa. Taylor James stars as Samson. The cast includes Billy Zane, the jilted lover in “Titanic,” Lindsay Wagner from “Bionic Woman” fame, and veteran actor Rutger Hauer.
As Baumgardner already knew and was confirmed with “Samson,” there are many creative hands in a movie. Things are changed, tweaked, removed, added. Baumgardner was brought back on production to help with different scenes, but at best, after a studio gets it, it’s a collaboration.
“Once you get something out there, you just have to let it become your own thing,” he said. “You just have to enjoy what you did and pass it off to them. There are things I didn’t think of in there that work well. I will say, though, it’s turned out to be a fun ride.”
Jon Mark Beilue is an AGN Media columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com or 806-345-3318. Twitter: @jonmarkbeilue.