Christian Movies: Rusty Whitener Interview

Rusty Whitener Interview with Fred Eichelman

We have sometimes heard of people in the entertainment world going into the ministry,  however Rusty Whitener was a pastor for twelve years before he felt he could best serve God by becoming an author, a screen writer and an actor.   His novel Season of Miracles has been made into a motion picture for which he wrote both the screen play and had a leading role as an actor.  It has had excellent reviews during limited theatrical release and is now available on DVD.

Fred: Rusty, there is one thing in particular I want to get to first. You had been a pastor for twelve years and then you made a change  to be an author and an actor. I have to believe there were things before your time as a pastor that helped point you in this direction.

Rusty: I always had a real love and passion for stories and for movies and for writing. I used to do a lot of stage acting before I became a pastor. I studied acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts as a young man in my mid twenties.

By the grace of God, I had come to faith at an early age. I went to Wheaton College and even in my twenties was conscious of the question, “What does God want me to do?” What is the call on my life? What do I enjoy doing and what should I do? What am I gifted to do? I always loved stories, books, movies. I had a passion for them, but then I also felt a call to go into the ministry. I had many turns in my life, and I also finished law school. I didn’t practice law, but I worked as a law clerk while in law school. I went to seminary as I knew that was God’s call for my work at that time. I was a pastor in Southwest Virginia in Pulaski, at PCA Presbyterian Church.

Toward the end of my twelve pastoring years, I definitely felt God calling me to write and then also possibly to act  in films. My wife Rebecca and I prayed, I consulted some people whose walk with the Lord I really trusted and they felt I should follow through with that. I was writing the Season of Miracles screenplay, an idea born at the Blue Ridge Christian Writers Conference.  A 60 age pamphlet by Barbara Nicolosi, who works with Act One a great screenwriting program, influenced me.

My Season of Miracles screenplay, then called “Touched,” won the Kairos Prize (First Runner Up) at the Movieguide Awards in Beverly Hills and First Place at the Gideon Media Arts Conference. My novel was one of four finalists in the Operation First Novel Contest with Christian Writers Guild.  On the strength of that, I got a publishing contract with Kregel (Grand Rapids).  I also started to get some roles in movies.  You’re right; it didn’t come out of the blue, this new calling in my life.  It was a confirmation of things God has spoken to me all my life. Rebecca and I were looking for was God’s confirmation. And there has been one confirmation after another. But I want to keep listening to God. I believe there are different callings in different seasons of our life.

Fred: Had you written any books before?

Rusty: No. It is my first published novel. I had written some short stories that I did not try to get published. I wrote pieces of stories which I laid aside. I felt I could write fairly well. But one thing I decided to do is sort of lay the fleece before the Lord. I went to the Blue Ridge Christian Writers Conference which is a big Christian writer’s conference in Ridgecrest, North Carolina.

My wife told me there was a contest for unpublished authors. For the contest you send the first three chapters of a novel. I felt, “Oh, I can write three chapters.” I was pressed for time and I wrote those chapters during the 48 hours before the conference deadline.

Since I had such a short time to write I decided to write about what I knew about and what I liked. I like baseball and I like kids so I wrote about kids and baseball. I got in my mind a kid at the base of a tree, not moving, looking almost lifeless. That was Rafer in the first episode in the book. I also entered something I had written about worship music, not fiction but expository writing. And I entered a third category, “suspense novel.”  All three of them placed, but none of them won.

Season of Miracles Interview with Rusty Whitener and Fred Eichelman

Fred: Baseball does interest a lot of people; however, you don’t have to enjoy baseball to enjoy the story. It is not a children’s book, though the focus is on the kids. It is for all ages.

Rusty: That’s true, I didn’t want to write a children’s book. Sometimes when you start writing something, a screenplay or novel, you start with extended scenes. When you write you are not always sure where the scene is going. That’s the way I am. A lot of writers prefer to make an outline, plot everything out from beginning to end, first.

For me there were the characters and the spirit and I just let it go. I just started with certain scenes and wanted to deal with deeper themes and not be a children’s story. I have nothing against children’s stories, I wouldn’t mind writing them. I love children, I love the way they think. I just didn’t want this to be only a long children’s story.

Fred: C. S. Lewis felt that children’s books should be written to appeal to all ages. His Chronicles of Narnia was an example of that.

Rusty: I think kids are very cool. Of course as characters in a book they deal with the same core emotions and even decision-making transitions that adults do. It is just in a different world. They even, I would argue, deal with them in an unvarnished way. They have real fears, but do not know how to rationalize it. As adults we develop so many secondary ways to handle our emotions and guilt. It is harder to step back from all the stuff that’s built up, much of which is sin. Children are very deep. They teach us a lot.

Fred: Another author has had a pretty similar philosophy. Ray Bradbury wrote a number of stories involving kids about the ages of the ones in your book and film.  Bradbury was once called “The Poet of the Pulps” and we can see poetry in your book.

Rusty: I see a lot of artistry in baseball. Even beyond the physical and material elements of the game itself, there are the quests that are involved in baseball. It’s very cerebral, in other words what goes on in the head of a player, a batter, between pitches, it’s a very deep game. I love baseball and I always have. I published a sequel novel to A Season of Miracles called  A Season of Mysteries,  which is now in pre-production as a movie; I’m honing the screenplay now.

It does not have anywhere near the baseball themes in it that “Miracles” does, but it does include some deep themes that baseball’s design conjures.  The quest to get home, to be home.  Not to be out, but to be safe. And why do we need to be safe? Does that imply there is some danger out there we are not often aware of? I do believe there is a very real evil force in the world.

Fred: Now this first book has already won some awards.

Rusty: Yes, it was awarded the 2011 “Book of the Year” Gold Medal Award with Foreword Review and was nominated in two categories for the Christy Award, “First Novel” and “Contemporary Fiction.” I didn’t win, but I was really very happy and thrilled to be nominated. It is a real blessing from the Lord and from people who apparently appreciate the work.

Fred: Who approached you about the first book being made into a film?

Rusty: Actually, I approached Dave Moody even before the novel was published. I had a script. When you go up to a movie producer and say, “I think I have a great script” and can add, “It’s a published book too which will be out soon,” that really helps. The fact that it is a book can draw immediate interest. Dave and I met at a lunch organized by Torry Martin in Nashville.

Fred: We know Dave Moody and his son Josh started Elevating Entertainment Motion Pictures in Nashville, Tennessee.   Point North Tidings wrote up their first film, Praise Band  after being introduced to it by Dave’s father Dwight Moody at the Western Film Fair in North Carolina.   They have since produced the movie No Limit Kids and now your film.

Rusty: The movie was shot in the Summer of 2012 and is releasing this October, when it appears in Walmarts, Best Buy, and Target nationwide. It is also enjoying special screenings in various locales like the Charlotte and Nashville areas, and Mobile, Alabama, as well as Radford, Virginia near where my wife Rebecca and I live in Pulaski, Virginia. It was also selected to screen at the Dixie Film Festival in Athens, Georgia.

Fred: You have a role in the film. You’ve proven yourself as an actor with key roles in films like Decision.

Rusty: It has been a wonderful blessing to work over the last three years as an actor in some good movies.  Decision was shot outside Nashville. Natalie Grant, the Christian singer, has the female lead and there are two male leads, myself and Mike Rosenbaum. Mike played a fifteen year old though I think Mike is at least twenty.  His mom is played by Natalie Grant and I play Natalie Grant’s estranged dad. GMC-TV aired the movie as their Movie of the Week that September.  Natalie Grant is of course a well known singer and performing artist. She really loves the Lord, and that was obvious on the set.

Movie sets are different. Sometimes you can share your faith openly and sometimes it’s a little trickier.  I just finished a lead role in a movie called Love Covers All, shot in Flowery Branch, Georgia, and directed by Kyle Prohaska with Praise Pictures. And God has given me some good roles in other movies like Lukewarm, Undaunted, A Matter of Time and Season of Miracles Undaunted is the story of Josh McDowell’s very difficult early years. I play a very bad guy; it’s a very tough role. But it was great to meet Josh McDowell and hear him say he thought I did a great job with some very difficult scenes. He is a wonderful man of God.

Fred: It seems a lot of good films are being made outside of Hollywood.

Rusty: Yes, there are good opportunities for filmmakers to put out good stories, told visually, that will impact a lot of people. I think it is wonderful that more and more people are finding something they want to pour their work energy into. And even if those manufacturing stories are not believers, God’s truth bleeds out. I believe all truth is God’s truth.

If writers and filmmakers tell stories with integrity, no matter what they believe about God, truths about God will come out. I have recently contracted with producer Chuck Howard ( to write the screenplay for his upcoming feature film Promises to Keep.”My screenplay is an adaptation of Ann Tatlock’s award-winning novel of the same name.

Fred: One last thing we have to mention. You have a part in a film made both in Virginia and Tennessee, Alone Yet Not Alone. Our friend Jenn Gotzon has a major role and we know a number of young people who were involved as extras. We have heard it is in post production.

Rusty: Yes, I look forward to seeing the movie on the big screen.

Fred: We’ll urge readers to stay tuned to the movie site and your sites and

Rusty: I just want to add that people can order the DVD Season of Miracles and the book at or  In addition to what I have already told you, this is the story of how an autistic boy changes the lives of his friends on a Little League baseball season one Summer in the early 1970s.  My sequel novel, A Season of Mysteries is also available at and my screenplay of that novel is in pre-production with Elevating Entertainment to be shot as a feature length movie in the months to come.

Fred: I have to add that the screenings of Season of Miracles I have seen have been very successful and I felt  the acting was superb.  Not just the kids, but the adults including Nancy Stafford, John Schneider,  Sandra Williams Van Natta and  of course your own work.  We’ll be looking for future news about the sequel.

Picture Notes: Top photo (L to R) - Rusty & Rebecca Whitener, Season of Miracles Poster, Rusty Whitener receiving award from Movieguide. Article photo - The Rockin’ Robins team from Season of Miracles John Schneider to the far left, Rusty to the far right.

Dr. Fred Eichelman About Dr. Fred Eichelman

Dr. Fred Eichelman is a retired educator and one of the founders of Point North † Outreach, a Christian media organization. He is the editor of its publication, Point North † Tidings. For information about this organization or to subscribe to receive it free on-line, contact: or visit: