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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

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June 16, 2024

Aggie co-founded Riot Studios releases first film: ‘Believe Me’

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PROVIDED Sam Atwell, played by Alex Russell, stars in “Believe Me.”

Filled with satire and quips about modern-day Christianity and philanthropy, the film “Believe Me” seeks to provide the audience with an honest approach to faith, while challenging the audience to ask themselves why they believe what they do.
“Believe Me,” which was released in select locations Friday, is the first narrative film from Riot Studios, a thriving Austin-based production company comprised of a small team including two Aggies — Michael Allen, Class of 2009 and co-founder of Riot, and Henry Proegler, Class of 2009 and director of marketing.
Riot Studio’s first documentary film, “One Nation Under God,” gained notoriety, but it was the success of its second documentary in 2010, “Beware of the Christians,” that sent Allen and the director of all three films, Will Bakke, on a nation-wide screening and speaking tour, where the idea for the next film was generated.
The film chronicles protagonist, Sam Atwell, played by Alex Russell, and his struggles losing his scholarship during the last semester of college. In order to stay in school, Atwell, along with his fraternity brothers, construct a Christian charity scam, which continues after Atwell receives the money he needs.
“I guess our ‘twisted’ sense of humor made us think what would happen if someone took this world that we found ourselves in, speaking to churches and ministries, and just totally tried to take advantage of that for selfish gain,” said Allen, who co-wrote the script. “It was kind of funny, a little bit dark — it’s an interesting story that explores deeper topics.”
Allen said since he and Bakke began writing the script post-college, it was somewhat reflective of the stage of life they were in at the time. Allen said the film was shot in 19 days in the Austin heat of last summer.
“It just made sense,” Allen said. “We were able to form a nice little conflict around Sam Atwell losing his scholarship and not being able to graduate and move forward with his life plan, in which is a situation I had kind of gone though myself at A&M. It just made sense and luckily it does tie in to the audience we do want to reach.”
Proegler, who launched The Wells Project at A&M, went to work for the non-profit Living Water International after college and still coordinates the organizations’ “10 days” event.
Proegler said one of the reasons he felt compelled to work on “Believe Me” was its portrayal of fame and how Christians may navigate their faith after gaining visibility through a particular platform.
“You know, we live in this world where everything is super visible, posting to Twitter and Instagram, and you kind of see this real desire to be known and I think that’s another kind of storyline in our movie — the subtext of fame,” Proegler said. “We have this great character Gabriel, the Christian rock star, and [the film] just kind of is helpful as a mirror to kind of the same stuff we do as people.”
Anna Cook, an education freshman who went to the Friday showing, said she was interested in the scenes that suggested some comical nuances of Christian culture that may not often be vocalized.
“I think at that one point where [the characters] were talking about the worship — I think a lot of times of instances in my life where people were like, ‘I guess, should I raise my hands? Is that what I’m supposed to do? Questioning other things like that,’” Cook said.
Brett Boehler, economics senior, said the film couldn’t really be compared to other Christian films or even be placed into one classification.
“I think it’s just showing you how to think in general,” Boehler said. “You shouldn’t base your actions on what other people make out of it. Just do it base it on what you truly believe in and feel.”
Allen said the film wasn’t necessarily designed to make a grand statement about Christian culture, but rather to provoke questions.
“It asks a lot of questions about whether we are holding up a culture around a belief more than were holding up the actual belief,” Allen said.
Allen said he was excited to have had a talented cast who arrived with varying perspectives, including smaller roles played by outspoken atheist Nick Offerman and Christian rapper Lecrae.
“The cast itself is sort of a picture of what we want to draw in the audience,” Allen said.
Allen said he felt lucky to be working with the same partners he worked with in the first two films.
“We’re like brothers,” Allen said. “We’ve gone through a lot with each other and we all have a common bond that unites us — we’re workaholics and we’ve learned a lot and we’ve really kind of built a beautiful sort of harmony.”

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