A Shot Seen ‘Round the World: Toy Gun Films – A Discussion With Brent Green

Toy Gun's most recent release, "Paper Flower," is a film about "compensated dating," a social issue with widespread implications in Japan.

This is not a movie scene:

Nine years ago I was sitting in a small office with my boss, next to a young Columbian.  He was interviewing to become our Latino community service coordinator. His white shirt shone against his olive skin, he answered questions passionately and smiled often. He had raised the issue of “family” and mentioned he had many brothers and sisters. Jokingly he was sharing a story about his mother and his father who lived in his home country, and then his sister who lived in Oklahoma. He mentioned his older brother was a role model to him. One of us followed up with a question: “What is it about your brother you admire?”

The smile left his face. An indiscernible emotion took its place, and he began to tell us that his first brother had been “promised to the Church” and had become a priest. One day he was talking with his brother on the street, a gang ran up to him, and shot him point blank in the head. I’ll never forget this young man’s face when he said with his Latin’ accent, “There…you, you could see his brains.”

This young man sitting in our office had witnessed his eldest brother’s murder in cold blood. And then he said, “But it was a mistake. They thought he was someone else in the church.”

This is a movie scene:

…from “En Tus Manos,” a movie produced in Bogata, Columbia by Toy Gun Films.

A church service is taking place, a gang walks in and interrupts their worship. The priest, knowing full well what is about to take place, is unwavering in his efforts to stay true to his faith and do what he can in front of his parishioners. Without much of a thought, however, he is shot in the head and the resulting impact is a neighborhood terrified, a gang grown stronger, and a Church who is basically faced with ordaining priests for suicide missions.

But there’s a chance for a change, and if you’d like to see how that chance unfolds…you may now watch it on Hulu here.  En Tus Manos was produced for the purpose of creating culture change through educating the Latin public about their ability to make peaceful choices when dealing with their own neighborhood gang warfare. It’s hard to watch, but because of extensive work from the Toy Gun Films owners, distribution is taking place and this film is being shown…and those who watch it are given the chance to think. This year over one million have seen the film.  Next year?  Two million could see it. Or more.  The Toy Gun mission is for as many who can see their films, do see their films.

But En Tus Manos was made in 2010.  C0-presidents Brent Green and Jeff Goldberg reviewed scripts, scouted locations, cast the movie, shot the movie, and finished their film going through all the necessary production steps. Then they moved on to the film festival circuit.  You can see their awards they picked up on the official movie site.  And you can tell by checking out Paper Flower, their 2011 film, they have long since moved past their Columbian project…on to their next shot to be seen ’round the world.  This time in Japan.

This is not a movie scene

Fifty-five university sophomores are sitting in their desk, many are leaning forward with hands raised or just throwing out comments during a heated discussion.  The course is Human Sexuality and the Family.  The topic: “compensated dating.” A young redhead wearing a dark brown “Earth Mother” hat artistically draped asymmetrically on her head insists, “I don’t see how materialism could ever be powerful enough to make teenagers feel coerced into actually going on dates or providing sexual favors for compensation.  Who would do that?  Why is STUFF that important?”  Another student chimes in, “They don’t have a chance if their parents are giving them straight up or mixed messages that it’s okay.  Maybe status and power is more important to their family?” Many students shake their heads, others wonder what’s so wrong about the whole notion.  They in turn get targeted by a group who can’t believe they think that way.  The debate rages, the bell rings…and they file out of their class.  End of discussion.

This is the plot of Toy Gun’s latest movie: Paper Flower

Asuka and Michi are childhood friends growing up in Tokyo where a casual form of prostitution known as compensated dating has become a disturbing trend. When they each experience heartbreaking losses, they are forced to decide how much of themselves they are willing to give in order to find true love.

And these are real facts: About twenty percent of all high school girls in Japan engage in some form of compensated dating, and about thirty percent of the total population approve of the practice.  Coercion, exploitation, prostitution and child prostitution…the practice has a range of moral punctuations on what seems to be an ongoing debate.  But the bottom line is, if 30 percent approve, then there are 40 million Japanese citizens who may be contributing to this phenomenon in some way, even if only by attitude or conversation.

Paper Flower is another opportunity created by Green and Goldberg to influence yet another international concern.  And, another way for possibly millions (what if it were 40 million?) of people to think about the stress or strain young girls go through when considering the pay-offs and the costs of entering into a compensated dating agreement.  Their next premier is the Beverly Hills Film Festival, being held on April 8th.

 

Jeff Goldberg (far left), Brent Green (center) and the crew in production for Paper Flower.

***

I had a chance to speak with Green a few weeks ago.  Hearing his voice again brought back memories.  He was one of the students I taught over a period of eight years at Oklahoma Christian Schools in Edmond.  He had just gotten off a plane, and judging from his schedule and a few things he said, it seems his travel load is pretty heavy.  There are a few things from that conversation that struck me about Green, his partnership with Goldberg, or the Toy Gun Operation in general…

1) He and Goldberg worked together initially with a project of Brent’s father: End of the Spear.  This movie has had a respectable degree of success in the faith community, and is similar to the two produced by Toy Gun thus far in that there is a moral undergirth throughout.  A chance to really consider the issue of forgiveness.  It’s interesting to hear Brent talk, however, because it’s as if this moral undergirth is so much a part of his psyche or character that he doesn’t focus on it that much.  More, he simply talks about the mission of growth and development – – their work to release the films in the appropriate places, the funding it takes to raise to do this work, and the various operations involved.

2) He mentioned that he is more of the “on the set” person and Goldberg is more of the “production and technical” person.  Those are not his words.  I wasn’t recording the phone call and was thinking so quickly I’m only paraphrasing (sorry, Brent, I also do this poor-vocabulary-thing with sports).  However, the point I wanted to cover is that a strong company takes leaders knowing what they can do well, and what others do well.  It seems that Brent is keenly aware of what and who it takes in order to do things right.

3) When asked about his involvement with the Oklahoma film circuit, Brent downplayed his role a bit because of the particular focus of what they do.  However, he did say that with the emergence of the various film festivals and with the talent pool in Oklahoma gaining more visibility, he sees that there is a strong possibility for rapid growth to take place.  Soon.  He mentioned that the governor is putting together task forces or committees currently to continue to develop this area for Oklahoma which is a positive sign for the state.

When I hung up the phone with Brent I smiled.  Although a great deal of effort and public relations goes into the back-side of film production, and they are heavily involved in promoting Paper Flower currently, his personality had not changed.  Brent’s demeanor is humble, his conversations thoughtful, and his approach is trusting.

Oklahoma is a better state because of Brent, his co-president, and Toy Gun Films.  But, so is the international community.  They’re already well into the planning stages for another “shot to be seen ’round the world.”  We’ll let you know about it when we find out the where, what, who, etc.  Until then, good luck, Toy Gun.  And…thanks for all you do!

[kelly]

Brent Green, Co-President of Toy Gun Films and Director of "Paper Flower."

 

Jeff Goldberg, Co-President of Toy Gun Films, and writer for "Paper Flower."

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