Brent Gudgel, partner in Deidox Films, was a speaker at the Presbyterian Women’s (PW) fall luncheon. He told the group of about 100 women about starting Deidox Films and shared some of his documentaries with the group.
It was 2003 when Brent and now-Deidox partner Dave Mahnaes were showing a film at a mission conference in Florida. On the flight back to California, Brent and Dave talked about the experiences they’d had. While the two enjoyed the work they were doing, the organizations they were working for dictated what the video would communicate.
“We were meeting all these amazing people and seeing their faith and we couldn’t just tell their story because the organizations we were working for had a different goal,” Dave said.
“We had a heart-to-heart,” Brent added. “We were really struck on how God uses stories; how He uses them to speak to our hearts. We asked, ‘Would it be possible to just tell stories about how God is at work without an agenda? Could we make a living making stories about God working in the world?’”
The two prayed about it on the plane and when they landed, Brent had a voicemail from Saddleback Church. The church was looking for filmmakers to go around the world asking what the Lord is doing.
So both Brent and Dave started traveling around the world, getting glimpses of God’s work. In fact, they produced more than 250 short documentaries for causes, ministries and clients like Saddleback Church, and others – the International Justice Mission, the Crisis Pregnancy Center and many more. “In the process, we were struck by how impactful and powerful it was for our own lives,” Brent said. “We wanted to share it with our families.”
With the help of friends and family, Brent and Dave took a leap of faith to start their own film company. Initially, The Chronicle Project was a for-profit video production company. Later it became the nonprofit Deidox: “Dei” is Latin for God; “dox” for documentary.
Two big things were happening with technology as company was getting started in 2008. Cameras were changing and Vimeo was the first video sharing sit to support high definition video, which made Internet distribution viable.
“It was when DSLR cameras were starting to be able to do video, image quality was better and we could be more low-profile. We were literally the first people to shoot video with a still camera and upload to Vimeo. Our initial tech test went viral because no one had tried to do it before,” Brent said.
That tech test caught the attention of an early supporter, who viewed the video and consequently helped fund Deidox for a year. “I think God just had us at that place at that time,” Brent said, adding, “I’m a film geek, so I was trying to figure out ways to make better films without spending a lot of money. But that’s just someone trying to problem-solve. God did the big things.”
Today, the Deidox team is made up of three “media missionaries.” Drew Hayes joined the team, and he was a natural fit.
“You can tell when someone has been trained or is gifted in telling stories in certain ways. When we saw Drew’s stuff, it was obvious he knew how to put scenes together. When we talked to him, we learned about his heart,” Dave said.
The team has traveled to more than 30 countries and more than 2,000 churches have used Deidox films during worship services.
Brent met Covenant Senior Pastor Thomas Daniel when taking the new member class. Thomas said he’d used Deidox films in his worship services. “Often pastors don’t know what to do with us because we don’t fit into any normal ministry boxes. Here, the pastors and staff have been so encouraging,” Brent said.
Deidox has its office at Covenant, and is making videos for Covenant. The affordable office space helps the Deidox team focus on making films about what God is doing. The group still takes on some contract work.
“After we started doing short films, other Christian filmmakers started contacting us,” Brent said. “One was Chris Sinclair. He filmed the Free Burma Rangers for over five years and had more than 30,000 video clips. He asked us to help him put a film together.”
Free Burma Rangers, or FBR, is a multi-ethnic humanitarian service movement working to bring hope to people in the conflict areas of Burma, Iraq and Sudan.
“It’s super daunting, but exciting,” Brent said, explaining that the Free Burma Rangers story is so big that the Deidox team started praying about doing a feature. The team has been working on the film for three years, and anticipates that the finished project will be a 90-minute feature film.
Until recently, Brent said, Deidox was “basically volunteering” on the film. “We didn’t know how we were going to pay our bills at the end of the month,” Brent said. “We said, ‘God, what should we do?’ “
Again, God showed up. Deidox put up a webpage and received $200K in donations in seven weeks. “Now, we can do the film at the highest level possible. We have 15 people in Hollywood working on this film. We can get the best color and sound. It’s so humbling, and we are so grateful.
“It’s overwhelming and exciting, which is probably like many great things in faith. All we can do is take the steps day by day, and do our best,” Brent said. “What a unique opportunity to share the gospel with audiences that normally don’t hear it.”
While the team is continually asking the question, “God what are you doing in the world today and how can we document it?” they felt called to ask a different, more specific question. “God what are you doing our own city?”
“It’s easier to think about God being at work when it’s in other places. It’s harder to think he’s at work like that in our own city, on our own streets,” Dave said.
“We’re committed to being faithful in whatever steps God lays before us in this thing,” Brent said. “We pray to do a video blog about a story in Austin every other week. We don’t know how it will happen. It’s like scripture; the people were up against a wall and the Lord had plan and they took steps.”
When asked about their favorite films, it’s hard for the Deidox team members to answer because, they say, it’s very personal. “A film impacts other people in ways that it hasn’t impacted me,” Brent said. “We don’t really pick favorites, it’s not about one film; it’s about a lot of stories.”
Dave said, “The big win for us is for people to understand Deidox Austin – the vision and the hope. Each video has such different lessons learned when we do them. It’s easy for our faith to become stale and inward focused. When you can get out and experience where God’s at work and be part of just observing that, you can’t walk away and not have something stick with you for a while.
“Our goal is to show that God cares about your everyday life and is doing meaningful things through everyday people,” Dave said.
Brent agrees. “I think the world needs to see and remember that God has a story that is unfolding that is so much bigger than this. It's about Him and what He's doing and how we can be a part of that.