Southfield Christian School graduate appears in religious comedy – The Oakland Press


Evan Koons, who grew up in Dearborn, has no fond memories of attending church camp as a child.

“I went there once and hated every second. I was in fifth grade. I was homesick all the time. I cried every day. I even tried to fake appendicitis, ”says Koons.

“I was terrified of the bathrooms, which were disgusting. I don’t think I ever used the bathroom while I was there. I was sure something was going to pull me out of the bathroom and take me away, ”he recalls, laughing.

This experience was not difficult for Koons to extrapolate in the independent film, “Camp Manna” – released October 15 on DVD and video on demand – in which he plays the uncool camp counselor Bradley Sommers. In the film, “non-believer” Ian Fletcher (Luke Klein) is sent to an evangelical Christian hinterland camp where he is forced to participate in the Games of God, a biblically-themed Olympiad intended to transform campers. as men of faith. The film is a religiously-tinged return to summer comedies like 1979’s “Meatballs”.

Filmed in northern Michigan as well as Chicago, “Camp Manna” is written, directed and produced by Michigan filmmakers Eric Machiela and Eric Scott Johnson. Koons is also a producer.

“They had been working on the screenplay for 14 years,” says Koons. “It was all of our collective experiences growing up in faith communities – the weird things, the stupid things, the endearing things. I loved the script from the start. After 14 years, it was ready to be made.

Johnson was inspired by good memories.

“For me, ‘Camp Manna’ is kind of a love letter to a strange and wonderful childhood,” he says. “It’s easy to criticize something for its flaws. I think it’s a lot more fun loving it, despite its imperfections. Our primary motivation is to entertain the public. When ‘Camp Manna’ first appeared as a short, we fell in love with the characters and the world, and it felt like it was something we had never seen on screen. previously. We thought it offered a juxtaposition of eerie aesthetic and cultural voyeurism that would stand out as unique. “

The filmmakers’ experience qualified them to explore comedy in religion without making fun of Christianity, Johnson says.

“Doing ‘Camp Manna’ was a cathartic experience,” he says. “We started writing the film over a decade ago at a time in our lives when we really needed to decompress our beliefs in order to identify with them. It could have been a very cynical process, but writing the film allowed us to treat our experiences with humor. Satire is often mistakenly called cynicism, but for us it was the opposite.

The only well-known actor in the cast is Gary Busey, who was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Buddy Holly in “The Buddy Holly Story” in 1978. The actor, who also appeared in “Lethal Weapon” and ” Silver Bullet, “plays Camp Manager Jack” Cujo “Parrish.

“(Busey) was a blast,” Koons says. “He always brought a lot of energy to the set. He’s very unpredictable and keeps you on your toes which was great when shooting a comedy like we were doing. He was so good at keeping everyone around and keeping the goofy tone, which was wonderful.

“When we were ready to ride, he would usually bark a few times and have a say – he was just making it up there on the spot. He once clapped his hands and yelled, “Okay, let’s rub two sticks of butter together and poop on a pumpkin!” … You shout “Action! and you are ready to run with this energy, intensity and wild spirit.

Koons and the directors say “Camp Manna” is as much a religious film as Adam Sandler’s “Happy Gilmore” is a golf film – faith is history, not the whole story.

“The characters and storylines play out the nuances of the world, but you don’t have to like golf – or the Bible, in this case – to enjoy the movie,” says Maciela. “Throughout the creation of the film, we tried to be mindful of the accessibility of humor for all audiences. It was a delicate balance.

Koons didn’t want to play Bradley at first.

“We were auditioning incredibly funny comedians from all over the country,” he says. “They were hilarious and better actors than me, for sure. Ultimately, they did not have a barometer for a denominational audience.

“I got to know where the line was a little better than them – like what was acceptable and where we could ruffle the feathers. The Erics were like, ‘We don’t know if these other guys are going to work the way. we need it to work. We feel comfortable working with you. We think you could fill this role.

But in the end, he was glad he did. “It was great. It was a blast,” he says.

Growing up, Koons attended the Dearborn Christian Fellowship on Donaldson Street. Today, he is an Orthodox Christian who attends church on a semi-regular basis with his wife and two daughters. After graduating from Southfield Christian School in 1998, Koons attended what is now Calvin University in Grand Rapids, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in film studies and journalism. But he felt torn by his dream.

“When I graduated, I thought to myself: what am I going to do with this? I live in Michigan. There are so many people in the world who are suffering and I want to make films. I thought I should be a social worker. For a year, I worked in a local agency, helping people with intellectual disabilities find employment. I just wasn’t good at it, ”he admits.

During a month-long seminar at Compass College of Cinematic Arts in Grand Rapids, Koons, he met Erics Machiela and Johnson. He became involved in the Grand Rapids film community for the next 20 years, directing corporate and commercial work, as well as independent films and documentaries. His first film was the documentary “Except for Six”, which followed four families through the hospice experience.

“The goal after that was to move to Los Angeles, but then we started a family,” he says. “We started our family here and I have always had enough work where I was happy. My wife was happy… I was working, and it was good. The community was great. Then the movie tax incentives came and Hollywood came here to Michigan. We’ve had the best of these worlds for a while.

These days, Koons auditions for various TV and film projects while writing. “I’m just trying to live the dream in Grand Rapids,” he says. “I have all kinds of side activities to make the dream work.”

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