On the night of the Oscars in 2014, Lakeland resident Kevin O’Brien made a personal goal to write and produce a full-length feature film. That night, he bought a website domain and wrote a blog post committing to do something every day to bring him closer to his goal. The product of that initial dream, a movie titled, “At the End of the Day,” has become a piece of a larger conversation surrounding the LGBTQ and Christian communities.
The film featuring Stephen Shane Martin, Danielle Sagona, Tom Nowicki, Chris Cavalier, and Susan Steele Mulholland, follows 30-something Dave Hopper who has just lost his wife and counseling practice. He lands a position as a part-time professor at his Christian college alma mater. Conflict ensues when the dean of the college wants to develop a piece of property that was left to an LGBTQ support group. The support group want to open an LGBTQ homeless teen shelter if they can raise the money for the property in time. At the dean’s behest, Hopper goes undercover as a gay man in the group in an attempt to halt their progress. “The awkward and emotional experiences that follow lead Dave on a journey of truth, revealing that life and love are not as black and white as he first thought,” reads the film’s synopsis.
Since its premiere in the summer of 2018, “At the End of the Day” has received acclaim from film festivals globally.
About the Writer/ Director
O’Brien moved to Lakeland from Virginia to attend college at Southeastern University. Growing up in the Assembly of God church is part of the reason O’Brien attended the university – to become a youth pastor. He described church as a big part of his life, reflecting on his previous career path, “Looking back on it now, I think that was the only option I could see for my life.”
He found filmmaking in his 30’s. Until that point, he wasn’t aware that filmmaking could be a viable career option. He joked, “Movies were just this magical thing that happened somewhere else and showed up at Blockbuster.” He fell in love with making movies and knew that was what he wanted to do with his life. For the last ten years, he’s been taking steps to make it his full-time profession. For the last 8 of those years, O’Brien has been making some 150 plus short films with his company Journey Box Media.
A Change of Perspective
Through his twenties and thirties, O’Brien began reevaluating his religious and political stances. Relationships he and his wife had formed within the community and the process of adopting their three children were catalysts for this reassessment of his views.
On the adoption process, the father of three said, “The whole experience educated us so much on the world we live in and people in our own backyard, how our society works and functions, and misconceptions we had.” He continued, “As they were getting to ages where we’d want to explain things to them and talk about faith and life and what matters – we thought, ‘What do we even believe and why do we believe this?’” Around the same time, he and his wife were friends with a newly engaged lesbian couple at their church. The O’Briens knew they wanted to celebrate their friends and struggled with why their religion historically wasn’t affirming of their love. This, coupled with viewing “For the Bible Tells Me So,” a documentary following five families with openly LGBTQ kids, evaluating the homophobic stance of the conservative Christian church and how these families are affected, added to the shift in O’Brien’s thinking.
“Both of us were so heartbroken at the end of that documentary. It struck me in a way that I hadn’t been before,” said O’Brien.
The rejection that many of the individuals faced in the documentary really spoke to him. That night, he told his wife that he didn’t know what the story would be yet, but that he was sure this was the conflict he wanted to explore in his film.
Making the Movie
He landed on the storyline in the summer of 2014 and spent 3 to 4 months outlining it.
He shut himself away in a lake house for three weeks and wrote the movie. He came back from writing, launched a website, began raising funds for the project and sought out feedback on his script. It was filmed in the early months of 2017 and premiered in June of 2018. Throughout the making the film, O’Brien and his family immersed themselves in the local LGBTQ community, joining PFLAG of Polk County. “They really kind of became our family,” he said.
With this new found family beside them and the support of the Lakeland community, “At the End of the Day” came to life. “We were blown away on the big scale of Lakeland and how much support there was for the movie,” said O’Brien. In support of the movie and its message, people allowed them to use filming locations for free and a whole team of people donated food every day for the cast and crew, along with others donating time and energy to the film in different ways.
Around 700 people turned up for the one-night premiere of “At the End of the Day” at Polk Theatre. “It was probably the most magical night of a screening that I’ll ever experience,” he recalled.
Joining the Conversation
Seeing the film from conception to the big screen was a significant personal accomplishment for O’Brien. “I forget that. If you asked me ten years ago, I would have never imagined that I would have a movie – that I made, wrote, directed, and produced.”
Aside from his personal filmmaking dreams, O’Brien wanted to join the ongoing conversation that led to his own reformation. “I don’t think any one story, any one thing like this will do it for anybody. It’s years of ideas and relationships, thoughts and questions and then maybe something catalyzes that,” he said. He continued, “That’s definitely what I wanted to do in the movie was show the story of someone whose ideas about the world shifted and allowed people to ask the questions that they can’t.”
To watch the movie or host a screening, check out the website, www.endofthedayfilm.com, where you can also find a podcast of the same name continuing the Christian/ LGBTQ conversation.
“At the End of the Day”