While attending grammar school in Arizona, a young Dean Wright was given a writing assignment. A lover of movies, Wright asked if he could make a short film instead, and the teacher agreed. He received an A. Wright thought, “Is this really work? I can do this!”
Thus began the career of the 51-year-old director of “For Greater Glory,” the 2012 film starring Andy Garcia that told the story of the 1926-29 Cristero War in Mexico.
Wright’s initial plan was to be an actor, but in high school he modified it.
“I realized that for every person in front of the camera, there were 20 — today, 50 — behind it. I knew there would be more jobs creating rather than being in movies,” he told Our Sunday Visitor.
Wright has worked in visual effects on big-budget Hollywood films such as “Titanic,” “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” and “The Lord of the Rings” film trilogy. He was also an executive in charge of special effects for Disney. While working on “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” he had the opportunity to do second-unit directing (without principal actors).
Wright is also a Christian and a family man. In 2008, he was in the process of developing “Kingdom Come,” a $100 million budget film that uses state-of-the-art visual effects to tell the story of Jesus Christ’s three-year public ministry.
“Everyone loved it; it was like ‘Ben Hur’ meets ‘Lord of the Rings.’ We were going to use visual effects to create things like angels and demons, Jesus walking on water and Jerusalem in the first century.”
Both Paramount and Warner Brothers were interested in the film, he said. However, the 2008 financial crisis took its toll on filmmakers. Wright said, “Some of the people financing our film lost half their net worth overnight. They suddenly became risk-adverse, and film financing dried up.”
Opportunity to direct
Wright began traveling worldwide to meet with potential funders to revive “Kingdom Come” when a group of Mexican businessmen told him about their desire to create “For Greater Glory.” It was a dark period in Mexican history, they said, and largely unknown, despite the fact that the war killed 90,000 Mexicans.
Knowing he was a Christian with a successful career in Hollywood, they offered him the opportunity to direct. He eagerly accepted. The film had a budget of $12 million and drew some exceptional talent, both in front of and behind the camera.
The film broke even at the box office, which Wright considers a success because it was an independent film.
“This was a story that the big studios in Hollywood had no interest in making,” he told OSV. “We made it, against all odds, outside of the system.”
Wright said he learned much during the filming, including the importance of collaboration and humility on the part of the director, and the value of faith. He said, “During this project, my own faith got me through the toughest of times.”
Connecting with audience
Wright is working on several other projects, chief among them “Kingdom Come.” His goal is to create pro-faith, pro-family films that audiences want. The success of films such as Mel Gibson’s 2004 “The Passion of the Christ” and “The Bible” miniseries demonstrates that there is an audience for such films, he believes. “We’re a devout nation, but our entertainment doesn’t reflect that,” he said.
Wright currently is seeking support for “Kingdom Come” from Christians who share his viewpoint on entertainment, which will help “turn the tide” away from anti-Christian, anti-family movies.
“The audience is there, and the trend can be reversed,” he said. “It starts with those of us already working in the industry, doggedly working to get good films made.”
Jim Graves writes from California.