Lights, Camera, Gospel!

A look inside the grandiose cinematic dreams -- and genuine transcendent joy -- at Voice of Pentecost Church

In the theater's foyer, a group of guys rehearse a giant brawl that's been choreographed by Sunny Gazowsky. Two young men thrust a long wooden pole at an imaginary door, and their crouching opponents repulse them by toppling over a plastic garbage can. A man in back pretends to spray the garbage-can warriors with arrows from his toy crossbow. Off to his right, two twentysomething males engage in hand-to-hand combat with a fake wooden ax.

The actors wear earnest expressions of concentration, and a few are breathing hard from exertion. They've been at WYSIWYG for more than five hours already.

They came from all over the Bay Area; a few even flew in from out of state. Rudy DelGado, an aspiring actor and Christian from Arizona, heard about the production from a casting agent and jumped at the chance for big-screen exposure. One of the WYSIWYG staffers is letting him stay at her house while he's in town. "They seem to be a wonderful group of people," he says.

Sunny and Richard Gazowsky.
Paul Trapani
Sunny and Richard Gazowsky.
The Gazowsky Family: Richard, Misty Dejavu, Rocki 
Starr, Sandy, and Sunny.
Paul Trapani
The Gazowsky Family: Richard, Misty Dejavu, Rocki Starr, Sandy, and Sunny.

Thrown into the mostly suburban-looking mix of actors are several hipsters. One of the men holding the wooden pole in the fight scene, for instance, is a tall indie rocker, blond with long sideburns. Another guy has crazy, curly long hair and is wearing a funky patchwork leather jacket.

I assume these guys saw WYSIWYG's ad and came for ironic reasons. I'm wrong. They and a few other non-Christians were recruited by one of WYSIWYG's volunteer staffers, a former Dickens Faire producer who (à la Madonna) goes by a single name, Daktarri. A mysterious, ponytailed fellow who told me on one of the first days I met him that he "commutes from Maui," Daktarri wears sunglasses even when indoors and dresses entirely in black. He used to be "involved in the occult" before becoming a Pentecostal Christian and attends church at VOP in part because it is "nonjudgmental." He has availed upon various "freaks" he knows from Burning Man and the Renaissance and Dickens fairs to audition for Gravity.

One of them is the blond singer/songwriter, Eenor (also a one-name guy), formerly of Les Claypool's band, Fearless Flying Frog Brigade. His stunning, redheaded, longtime girlfriend and he decided to audition with their young daughter to fulfill the little girl's fantasies of being in a movie.

"These seem like very unorthodox callbacks," says Eenor. "My partner has done these before and said that they don't usually keep you for more than a few hours."

The leather-jacket guy is Dave D'Ambra, frontman for the San Francisco band Funky Beulah.

"Daktarri told me to come on down and audition and 'wear the craziest clothes you own!'" says D'Ambra. "'Just be the biggest freak you can be!' And I was like, 'GREAT! Be more freaky? Sure!'" He donned pants he'd made out of some old curtains for the initial auditions, and even though the WYSIWYG people seemed taken aback, they also, says D'Ambra, "seemed to appreciate it." He's not a Christian, but the fact that WYSIWYG is doesn't bother him. "I take it with a grain of salt," he says. "They're friendly, cool folks."

Though it's not required, others who've gotten involved have been saved.

Gravity's director of photography, Jens Klein, is a blond, urban-chic German filmmaker and one of the only WYSIWYG personnel with any professional filmmaking experience. He was living on the island of Malta, directing commercials and music videos, when Richard Gazowsky visited two years ago to shoot the opening scene for The Roman Trilogy. Charmed by Gazowsky and his epic movie plans, Klein visited San Francisco and stayed with one of Gazowsky's cousins. Then he came to church services at VOP, where he felt the Holy Spirit move inside him; tears began to flow down his face. Now Klein flies to San Francisco for several weeks at a time to volunteer his services for Gravity.

"What I like about WYSIWYG is it's more about people and relationships than just pushing a movie out," says Klein.

In the foyer, Sunny Gazowsky gathers the male actors around him. "Brothers, brothers, listen up," he says, gently. He motions for somebody to hand him the ax. "You gotta step up on him -- and then BAM!" He slams the ax on the floor near the actor's head. "You're not going to be able to kill him from far away!"

WYSIWYG has bought its cranes, cameras, lights, sound equipment, and other filmmaking odds and ends with donations from members of VOP. I was eager to see this generous congregation and get a sense of where it envisioned its dollars were going. On the Sunday before Christmas, I attend church.

Though Gazowsky holds a Bible study on Sunday morning, the bulk of the church members begin trickling in around 11, during the song and dance portion of the service. About 300 people of all races clap and sing in the old movie theater while VOP Musical Director Doug Lanza and several teens play rock 'n' roll Christian ballads onstage. A group of young people, including a few of Daktarri's Dickens Faire buddies and the two Gazowsky girls, dance at the foot of the stage, waving their arms above their heads, beatific expressions on their faces. Occasionally, Lanza throws a line into a song that's spoken in tongues, and others in the congregation break into glossalia at a tastefully low volume.

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