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MMI student works on set the pro-life feature film “Unplanned”

“For the briefest moment, the baby looked as if it were being wrung like a dishcloth, twirled and squeezed. And then it crumpled and began disappearing into the cannula before my eyes. The last thing I saw was the tiny, perfectly formed backbone sucked into the tube, and then it was gone.”

Abby Johnson, once the youngest regional director of a Planned Parenthood clinic, witnessed an abortion, and her life changed forever. The above quote comes from her memoir detailing her life as she became a pro-life activist after seeing an abortion with her own eyes.

Johnson grew up in a pro-life home but began volunteering for Planned Parenthood in 2001 during her college days. She worked her way up and was eventually named regional director of the clinic in Bryan, Texas, until she resigned in 2009.

“Unplanned” follows her journey from pro-choice to pro-life advocate.

Released on March 29, 2019, “Unplanned,” a Pure Flix film, has already outperformed expectations, hitting number four on the U.S. Box Office chart during its first week and a 93 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Directors Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon have been working with Johnson on the film for over six years, producing and filming in Stillwater, OK.

One of ORU’s own students found herself on set with the title of Production Assistant, scrambling to help where she could.

Kayla Williams, a first semester senior cinema, television and digital media major, believes that if someone really wants something, they’ll go out and get it.

“Those who truly want to move up will find a way,” said Williams.

Williams had dreamed of working on a real feature film set since she was young, especially after watching the film and behind-the-scenes extras of “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”

After meeting a fellow ORU student, Ethan Norvell, who later worked on the “I Can Only Imagine” movie, Williams found her way into the feature film industry. She happened to meet the son of one of the co-producers on the film, Jason Stafford, through their mutual connection in Norvell and immediately asked for his contact information.

“I was like, ‘Give me your dad’s email!’ And he did. So I just nicely emailed his dad and said, ‘Hi, I’m from ORU. I want to help,” explained Williams. “I told him what my major was, what I could do, and I just told him, ‘Anything you need because I want to do this. Whatever it is—if it’s coffee, I don’t care.’ And to this day, Mr. Stafford has been absolutely amazing in pushing me into the feature film world.”

With this opportunity came hard work and long hours. Williams worked 12- to 14-hour shifts for as many days as she could fit in her schedule.

“I went out for about six days. For five days I was a production assistant, which might sound really amazing—it’s the bottom of the totem pole, but you gotta start somewhere,” said Williams. “To me, it was amazing. I had the best time these 12-hour days just watching what was going on on set.”

Williams was able to experience firsthand how a full-length feature film set operates.

“It’s a ton of waiting, a ton of asking, ‘What do you need me to do? Can I get you anything?’ It’s not a lot of sitting; it’s always being ready to do work,” said Williams. “You’re one of the first people there and one of the last people to leave. It’s not an entirely thankless job because a lot of people start out as PAs [production assistants] and work their way up. It’s definitely a long and grueling job, but if you love that, then you know you’re made for the industry.”

Her love of filmmaking was only reiterated by the long hours and tough tasks; Williams knew she was made for the industry.

“I think my favorite part is the Halloween scene. There was this cute, little 3- to 5-year-old girl who would run down the block in her little bumblebee outfit, complete with wings and face paint, and grab candy from somebody’s house,” said Williams.

Williams knows there is a stigma around “Christian movies” but knew while she was on set that this movie was different.

“A co-directed film was really interesting to watch—every now and then, they’d let me in the director’s tent, which I think was a God thing, being able to sit in there for a few scenes and watch what was going on. And then the real Abby Johnson is sitting right there in tears, crying because she is watching these pivotal moments and you know she’s reliving what happened for her.”

Williams had the opportunity to connect with one of the co-producers, Sheila Hart, over spring break in L.A. at a meeting they both happened to be attending. Hart told her that this movie was making waves and being requested. According to Hart, usually about 150 theatres will request a movie like this, Christian funded and made, but “Unplanned” has been requested by over 2,000 theatres.

“It’s not exactly a feel-good movie, but at the same time, you still leave feeling pretty good,” said Williams. “It definitely surpassed the expectations that I had for it. For me, I’m extremely thankful and grateful to promote the film and to do it from two different persectives, as both a viewer and a maker.”

The movie has also been met with opposition and backlash. It was given an R rating by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) for the few graphic scenes depicting abortion.

“We consider the MPAA’s current standards to be deeply flawed, insofar as they allowed scenes of remarkably graphic sex, violence, degradation, murder and mayhem to have a PG-13 rating, whereas our film, highlighting the grave dangers of abortion in a straightforward manner, is considered dangerous for the American people to view,” Solomon and Konzelmann said in response to the R rating.

However, the rating hasn’t deterred viewers, as shown by the box office numbers. “Unplanned” is now showing in theatres across the U.S., including the Tulsa area.

Though Williams’ own part in the movie may seem small in comparison to the hundreds of names listed in the credits, she knows God brought her this opportunity to be be part of a movie and a movement.

“I look at it and I’m like, ‘Wow, God, this is something I didn’t plan,’” said Williams. “It’s something that I have been trying to work to for years, and I think the most beautiful part about it is the fact that, for me, it was unplanned. It was something that was not necessarily on my radar, that I helped to bring to pass, but it was definitely a God thing that I couldn’t make happen. You know, I was a small part, but I’ve seen God get so much glory out of it already.”