Steven Spielberg began making 8mm home movies at 12, starting with filming wrecks of Lionel toy trains. For young filmmaker Joshua Carroll, it's not trains, but LEGOs, and instead of wrecks, he's looking to build up the Body of Christ.
The child of missionaries, Carroll lists his home as Uganda on Facebook, and says he started high school in 2015. In his free time, though, he uses LEGO toys to create Scripture-based short movies. Two of them, The Passion: A Brickfilm (2018) and The Exodus: A Brickfilm (2019), are available this month on the UP Faith & Family streaming service (homepage here). They're also posted at Carroll's YouTube channel (click here)
I recently sent some questions to Carroll about his films, and here's what he had to say (lightly edited for style and clarity):
How did these projects begin?
I made my first movie when I was 11 years old (2012). My older sister, Hannah, had taught me to use the video camera on my iPod Nano, and I realized that, through this little lens, I could tell huge stories. I had no idea what I was doing. Growing up as a missionary kid in Uganda, I had little exposure to filmmaking besides the behind-the-scenes bonus features on our DVDs, and so I had to entirely teach myself.
I’ve always loved to create things, though, and so, I enjoyed the challenge of trying to find better ways to tell stories with the limited resources I had at the time. Every Friday night was "family movie night," and I would try to learn something about filmmaking, so that I could apply it to my own projects. Film was never something I thought would develop into a career. I knew deep in my heart that I wanted to serve Jesus with my whole life, and I didn’t think that I could do that with film.
Years went by, and I continued making movies. From 2011- 2014, I created over 100 short films (most of them Bible stories), and, with each film, I grew to love filmmaking more. Even though I enjoyed it and was increasingly good at it, I wanted to do what God wanted me to do. I wanted to obey Him, and not just pick a career based on what I liked. I told people “Filmmaking is just a hobby because I want to serve God with my life and be in ministry.” I continually prayed that God would reveal His plan for my life, whatever that plan might be.
In 2014, I posted my first full-length movie (an early version of The Passion) on my YouTube channel. To my surprise, after only two years, the film had received over 300,000 views! Comments poured in from people of all ages, sharing how God impacted them through the movie. Then it dawned on me. Making movies was a way I could share the Gospel! At that moment, I clearly felt like God was calling me to be a filmmaker for His glory, and now it was time to obey and walk in that calling.
After I clearly knew this was the path God had for me, I began to intentionally hone my filmmaking skills as well as search for ways to use my giftings for God’s glory.
In 2017, I felt a strong calling from God to remake The Passion. I was seeing a lot of fruit from my first Passion movie, but the filmmaking was so terrible that I felt it needed to be redone. That’s when production on The Passion: A Brickfilm began. My plan was to post it on YouTube to replace the old Passion, but God had other plans.
I was able to acquire global distribution through Bridgestone Multimedia Group, which connected me to amazing platforms like Up Faith & Family, in order to make the films available to even more people. It’s been amazing to see how much the Lord had His hand on the project, and just how many people it has touched. It truly is humbling to see how God did much more than I could have ever imagined with it.
After seeing the impact, the new The Passion movie had, I wanted to do something that would push LEGO filmmaking to the next level and reach even more kids with the Gospel. The next step in that was Exodus, which I filmed concurrently with The Bible (an upcoming movie that will tell the entire story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation). I began shooting Exodus early 2018, while I was wrapping up post-production on The Passion.
What was the negotiation with LEGO?
When it comes to negotiations with the LEGO Group, it is complicated. LEGO has a loose definition on copyright "fair play," and our research team has carefully researched the legality behind the films. This said, while we don’t have explicit permission or endorsement, they have been informed of what we are doing, and we are acting within their rules.
Since LEGOs are playthings, how do you strike the balance between the visuals and such serious subject matter, both for The Passion and Exodus?
This is such a good question. I am not going to sit here and pretend these movies are not controversial – they really are. There is a lot of blood, a lot of violence, and it is going to get even more intense in The Bible.
Though The Passion and Exodus are made for kids, I never want to sugarcoat the truth. Any movie about the Cross that is comfortable to watch is a waste of time. If you can watch any depiction of the Son of God being tortured on our behalf and not be disturbed, then there is a major issue with that depiction. My goal with The Passion was that it would have a similar effect on kids that Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ had on me. Seeing the blood, seeing the torture, that Jesus went through really opened my eyes to the reality of what Jesus’ sacrifice really entailed.
I have heard countless testimonies of kids who watched The Passion: A Brickfilm, and [said that] for the first time [they] really realized what it means that Jesus died on the Cross for them. Often kids are disturbed by the movie. They should be. My desire is to make the movies realistic enough that it reveals the true power of the story. Some parents will decide that my movies are too intense for their child, but I believe it’s important to make them in a way that clearly communicates truth.
How has making these films impacted you – and any of your collaborators – on a spiritual level?
I have grown so much spiritually through making these films. The amount of time spent meditating on Scripture, the dependence on God for provision and inspiration has drawn me and my entire family closer to God.
My dad and I spend countless hours researching for the script, and the more we studied the Word, the more powerful these stories became. My understanding of the Cross deepened significantly as I spent hours filming and editing the crucifixion scenes. In a strange way, though they were toys, I feel as if I got to be there and see those events firsthand. It was powerful.
Another way it has impacted everyone who worked on it was the responses to the film. This has been such a family project, and to be able to share emails and messages everyday about how this kid gave their life to Jesus, or this ministry is using it for an outreach is just so humbling and beautiful.
What was the most challenging thing about making this film?
One main challenge is simply that many people don’t understand what we are doing. When I say I make "LEGO movies," most of the time I get, "Oh, that’s cute," Or "That’s kind of fun; my cousin does that, too."
It’s hard to explain to people that these are actual studio movies and that these films cost thousands of dollars to produce. This ties in to financing, because almost no one wants to get behind what at first seems like a kid doing stop-motion in his basement. It’s a struggle to convince people that this is a worthwhile and impacting ministry.
Another challenge was to balance work on these films with my high-school workload. I was often working 8 to 12 hours a day on the film, and then trying to complete high school at the same time. Many nights I wouldn’t get to bed until 4 a.m., because I was editing, and then I’d be up at 7 for school. It was worth it, though.
Who is your target audience, and what do you hope they most take away from The Passion and Exodus?
Our target audience is kids between the ages of 8 to 12, but, LEGOs appeal to fans of all ages. I have heard testimonies from kids as young as 6, but I have also seen the films impact people in their '40s. In many ways, the LEGO genre appeals to a much looser, wider audience than other genres. When it comes to content, we choose it with a younger audience in mind.
We simply want people to know Christ. I hope that by watching The Passion, the viewer will come away with a deeper appreciation for the work Jesus did for them on the Cross. Through Exodus, I pray that audiences understand God’s deep desire for his people, and that he is faithful no matter how many times we stray away from his love.
'The Passion and Exodus are now available to watch on UP Faith & Family. Below find the trailers for both, so you can judge if you want to share either the streaming or the YouTube versions with your family.
Image: Bridgestone Media Group (screenshot)
Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager and blog editor at Family Theater Productions.