Tidbits of Producing HomesickBy Charles and Ginny Lin
In February 2017, Pastor Huang Mingzhen, minister of Taiwan Prison Fellowship, attended the premiere of our short film One More Game in Taipei with 15 other Prison Fellowship staff members — including several who were formerly incarcerated.
After watching our movie, Pastor Huang asked if ERS could make another movie as there were many amazing testimonies within the fellowship. The Prison Fellowship is well-known for receiving former gangsters and criminals for rehabilitation as well as fostering an environment where they could experience salvation.
At the end of September 2017, we visited pastor Huang to discuss potential stories for a future film. Pastor Huang then introduced us to brother Zhang Yu-ming and invited him to share his testimony with us.
Growing up, Yu-ming had been in and out of the prison system several times. One of these occasions, he had wanted to come out of hiding to visit home, only to discover that his family had already reported him to the police. After being released again from prison in 2013, Yuming chose to not go back home and instead, resided in a transitional home provided by the Prison Fellowship. While serving in this house, he became intrigued and deeply rooted in the Bible, growing his relationship with God.
The following day, we attended an award ceremony hosted by the Prison Fellowship. This ceremony recognized:
- Volunteers who had regularly cared for the current inmates
- The former inmates who had chosen to turn away from their previous lifestyles,
- The victimized families who were willing to take steps towards forgiveness.
We were deeply moved by the testimonies from the repentant former prisoners and those volunteers who spent endless hours to visit or attend people in jails. Returning back US, we read the autobiography “From Death to Life” written by Zhang, Ruo-ming, Yu-ming’s brother, which story touched our hearts so much, so we decided to adapt it into a new short film.
ERS decided to fully take on the task of fundraising for this project to support the transitional house. Never did we know, it brought us to a journey full of surprises.
Camera Equipment Provided
The first surprise was how God supplied us with all the camera equipment for the film. Amazingly, after we arrived in Taipei, our first visit was to a director friend who gladly lent us a full set of equipment including cameras, lens, recorders, tripods and microphones at no cost! This was truly a remarkable miracle as this equipment would’ve cost us over $30,000 USD. This was only the beginning of God’s many blessings on this project.
A Sound Mixer from Hollywood
Prior to leaving for Taiwan, we were connected with Rebecca Chan, a professional production sound mixer who is currently working in Hollywood. Rebecca also happened to be available during our time filming in Taiwan since she had planned to visit her family there for vacation. She told us not to worry about her compensation as she considered this assignment to be an act of service to the Lord. She ended up bringing various advanced audio recording equipment with her to Taiwan from the United States. As a result, we were able to elevate the sound quality of this project to a whole new level.
Prison, Police, and Inmate
Finding the right cast to portray the roles of inmates and officers had its own set of challenges, not to mention we are using inexperience actors for a desperate father, a disabled mother, and people addicted to drugs.
Additionally we needed access to a hospital, an emergency room, an old house, as well as a prison that would be willing to let us film inside a cell. For props, we needed police uniforms, handcuffs, batons, and narcotics.
None of these challenges were in our range of experience to handle. However, we put all of our faith in God and prayed that he would pave the path as we walked.
We first began to see God’s answers in our selection of actors. Ruo-ming’s brother, Yu-ming, was chosen to be the main actor as he had spent his time in jail and was also rejected by their parents. The rest of the actors were mainly found by recommendations from the Prison Fellowship, the Angel Tree Ministry, and the Adullam Drug Rehabilitation Center.
Next, through one of the Prison Fellowship’s connections, we were able to secure a prison that was willing to let us both use its facilities and shoot inside the cell.
Finally, a retired police officer who happened to be Ginny’s elementary classmate who hadn’t seen each other in 40 years, agreed to play the role of the police officer. He was also able to provide the knowledge and experience needed to obtain the necessary props and to film the arrest of the narcotic users.
God’s Financial Support
In almost every Taiwanese prison, there would be volunteers who would minister to the prisoners. They would call them “Mom”. So many prisoners’ lives have been changed through these prison moms, and Ruo-ming, the author of From Death to Life, was one of them whose life was changed by Luo Ma Ma (the prison mom Luo).
When we filmed outside the prison, Ruo-Ming was there taking pictures and sent it to the daughter of his Luo Ma Ma; he asked her to share the good news about this film was under shooting. Two months after returning to California, Taiwan ERS received a surprising donation from a foundation ran by Luo Ma Ma’s daughter.
Most of the actors in the film look just like ordinary people, but in reality, many of them have decades of criminal records.
Former gangleader, Lin Rong-si revisted his past to play his character during our production — even casting his own lines on the spot. Rong-si had stated that after leaving his former life, his primary focus is to now share his testimony to help others like him.
Gu, who played the criminal superintendent, took us in his Mercedes to the filming location at the prison. He shared that he used to be locked in solitary confinement as he was so violent that he posed a danger to the other inmates. When we entered his car, he was playing a TV interview show he had watched several times over, yet it still consistently brought him to tears. The interview is about a homeless person who had become famous not only for his excellent singing voice but also for teaching himself English. In the interview, he said, ”I can not change my past but I can for sure influence my own future.”
Thank You for Coming to See Me
In the Bible, from the book of Judges, there was a story about a son of a prostitute named Jephthah. Due to his illegitimacy, when he grew older, his half brothers drove Jephthah out of the family. He fled from his brothers to a foreign land where he formed a gang of bandits. Eventually, Jephthah would become a mighty warrior, fighting to save his own country and people.
The Jephthah Fellowship, created in 2012, has become a similar gathering place for many former inmates and gangsters. When we visited the Jephthah Fellowship in 2017, we heard the song “Thanks for Coming to See Me.” during the worship time.
Thank you for coming to see me,
Accompanying me through life’s path,
Even through the darkest paths,
Thank you for caring about me,
Giving me love, giving me strength,
Giving me your heart,
Giving me your love,
Maybe you don’t understand,
The importance of your love,
Accompany me to the ends of the Earth,
Maybe you don’t understand,
Maybe you didn’t know,
Your love melt the loneliness in my Heart
As we watched, a group of people marked with criminal records, several with tattoos all over their bodies, opened their mouths wide singing loudly. This scene of immense passion was imprinted on our hearts.
This song, written by Mingtang Cheng, would go on to become the theme song for our movie “Homesick”. When we found Ming-tang Cheng on Facebook to request the copyright permission for use of his song. He told us that he had considered remixing this song, since he wrote the song long time ago, yet haven’t had a chance to do it. So after a couple of weeks, we got this new remixed song.
We are immensely grateful for having had the opportunity to participate in this film. We hope God will use this film to represent those that are often misunderstood by the world.