Bright Spots in Home Schooling

January 30, 2009  

Families Make Historical Epic Movie

By Natalie Harris

Unaware that it’s impossible to film an epic movie on a micro-budget, the Burns family did it anyway. Although everyone contributed, the vision and work was driven by the cousins of both families.

The Northern Burns Family
Northern Burns family: Back row, left to right: Aaron, Nathan, and Andrew Burns. Front row: Marilyn, Tracey, and Shannon Burns.
The Southern Burns Family
Southern Burns family: Back row: Ray and Adriane Burns. Front row, left to right: Chad, Peter, Nick, Sara, and Lisa Burns.

Twenty-six-year-old Chad Burns and his siblings and cousins have succeeded in filming, producing, and now promoting Pendragon: Sword of His Father with only $80,000. According to the Motion Picture Association of America, the average cost of an MPAA film was $106.6 million in 2007.

Pendragon is about Artos, a young British warrior who must defend his native Britain against invading Saxons in 411 A.D. To do this, Artos must escape Saxon slavery, his own despair, and treachery.

The cousins had made movies before for fun, but with Pendragon, they wanted to get serious. They worked on the story for a year before presenting it to the family.

“They said, ‘We think this is what the Lord wants us to do, and here it is,’ ” Chad’s aunt Tracey said. “ ‘While the moms sat in stunned silence, the dads responded, ‘This is going to cost a lot of money. Where are you going to get the money?’ ”

Eventually, the families became a cast and crew. Chad directed. Nick, Marilyn, and Aaron acted and managed various tasks. Lisa, Sara, Peter, Shannon, and Nathan took on jobs such as photography and blog maintenance. Moms Adrianne and Tracey hosted. Dads Ray and Andy acted and advised. Everyone pitched in.

“The faithful support of many other Christian families, most of them homeschoolers, was what made it possible,” Chad said.

“The first big answer to prayer was the horses,” Tracey said. Unexpectedly, the Burnses received an email from the Atherton family who heard of the project and volunteered their horses. They even taught the Burnses to ride.

They were the first of many volunteers who sewed costumes, acted, and built sets such as the hill fort. One homeschool graduate turned cardboard and coat hangers into axe heads and spearheads, held together with glue and spray-foam insulation and finished with spray paint. About 450 people served as extras.

But what’s a movie without an audience? The Burnses were working on promoting the film long before they released it in November 2008. The movie premiered at Oakland University with standing room only for the 300 people attending. On January 24, Chad said the Burnses have sold 1,937 DVDs, though the Burns families have only spent $2,000 on promotion. They have received as many as 100 DVD orders in a day. The Burnses want to use the proceeds to promote the film and get the project out of the red. To do that, they will have to sell 20,000 DVDs. In the meantime, they have several distributors lined up to sell the film, and the Burnses hope to have Pendragon in 500 bookstores this February.

Without homeschooling, the Burns families don’t think the movie could have happened. Adrianne and Tracey agreed that homeschooling prepared their children for the world’s secular influences. At the same time, it gave the Burnses a desire to impact the world through film.

“To me, the measure of success is that they’re doing their best to walk in the truth and please God with their lives,” Tracey said.

Throughout the all-night film shoots, brutal retakes, and hours of editing, Chad and others kept going because of their mission statement: “Impacting history by inspiring young people to embrace the vision God has for their lives.”

“There are many dark days that happen along the way,” Chad said. “If we hadn’t felt that the Lord had led us along this path, it would have been difficult. I don’t know that we would have made it through to the end.” Chad’s advice for other homeschoolers interested in filming is to pray and to make sure the project is God’s will.

To find out more, visit the Burns’ website.