Q&A with documentarian Brian Ivie of The Drop Box
The Drop Box may have been released in theatres near you for just a few nights recently, and if so, you were sure to hear about the many tears it caused people to shed. This documentary set out to capture the heartbreaking story about newborns being abandoned, literally left to die, in Seoul, South Korea. Pastor Lee, a native to South Korea, felt God tugging at his heart to give his life in order to save the lives of as many of these children as he could. In order to do so, he installed a baby box in their church a few years ago. This was a place where parents could anonymously drop off their babies. This ministry has grown, been written about, and now Brian Ivie has captured this Gospel-love story in the form of a documentary.
I was so encouraged to hear that Ivie actually became a believer during the making of this film. Christ’s love shown through this story simply could not leave Ivie unchanged. He recently shared a little bit about the movie making process with us, as well as his time living with the Lee family, and life in the movie-making industry now, as a follower of Christ.
Tell us about your personal background and how you came to know Jesus.
A few nights ago, a little 8-year-old kid asked me what my greatest mistake in life was. A little shaken up by the question, I paused before answering. But after a few pregnant moments, I told him that my greatest mistake in life was thinking I was “too good” to need God’s forgiveness.
So that’s really my story.
It’s the story of a normal kid seeing his spiritual brokenness in the physical brokenness of disabled kids. It’s the story of a seeker seeing God’s sacrificial love in a compassionate pastor.
It’s the story of a sinner, coming to the understanding that Christians aren’t “the perfect people,” but the ones who know perfectly well that they’re not even good.
But even greater than that realization about myself was the realization I had about God through the life of Pastor Lee. In short, that man was living proof of a loving God to me. He helped me understand that the Father still wanted me, even though I’d spent my life offending and insulting him. A lot of people preach the gospel that we are all these cute little orphans, waiting to be rescued. But God died for his enemies, for people that live their lives in opposition to him. That’s why God’s love is unique. He gave his life for those who could only offer sin in return.
The same goes for Pastor Lee. The world sees him as a hero now, but he wasn’t born that way. Trust me. God saved him out of a gutter of alcoholism, abuse, and rage. Before becoming a Christian, Pastor Lee didn’t care about anyone but himself. I was the same way. But when I saw what God had done in the life of this skirt-chasing, booze-guzzling dude, I saw proof of new life. The life that Jesus died for. The life that the Bible promises for those who would surrender their own.
How has your relationship with Christ changed the way you view your art, movie making? Does knowing Christ make you a better director and moviemaker?
To be honest, I watch way fewer movies than I ever have. I also care way less about movie making. There are just more important aspects of life. Even on set, I care more about how I treat the grips than how impressive the set ups are. I know that seems strange at first, but being good at filmmaking, let alone masterful, requires some level of idolatry. That’s why so many faith-based films are so mediocre. It’s not because Christians are setting out to make bad movies, it’s simply because making movies is supremely hard. Being a great director means that you have a handle on up to seven different art forms and that you know how to finesse, conduct, weave, and stretch them simultaneously.
The greatest filmmakers who ever lived had some level of innate ability, but also became great at the expense of things that most Christians struggle to give up. Greatness can cost you your soul, we all know that. To make matters worse, I find the Christian life is much more about service, humility, and hiddenness. It’s the upside-down kingdom, right?
At the same time, of course, I am more passionate than ever about creating great art for the sake of others. I know God, which means that I want other people to know him. And when it comes to giving the world a visual representation of that reality, I want it to be the most authentic and beautiful picture possible. So I wage this war inside of me. I fight for excellent art, while fighting against the worship of excellence.
It’s not as schizophrenic as it sounds.
You lived with the Lee family for a while in order to get to know them, the children, and their stories. What was it like living with a family who pours out so much of their life, time, and energy into others?
Well, honestly, living with them made everything else in my life seem fake. The Word of God says that we know love by understanding that Jesus died for us. In other words, the most complete version of love is the sacrificial and scandalous kind shown by God, Jesus, dying for his enemies, us.
So, when you see that kind of love on display in the lives of people, the Hollywood, weak-at-the-knees affection that many people long for totally pales.
Romantic love doesn’t complete us. We’re not made for that. We’re made for God. Sorry, Jerry Maguire.
What was your most memorable or your favorite memory from your time working on The Dropbox?
The first time I prayed with Pastor Lee. He was up at 6:00 a.m., somehow, praying for all the children. He was on his knees in the kitchen, and I was up as well because we had a sunrise shoot up on the roof. I remember just kneeling next to him and basically copying him. Not the Korean part, just the posture. Earlier that morning, I had been annoyed with some of the children because they’d kept me up all night and were messing with all the equipment. I don’t like talking about those ugly feelings, but I think it’s just part of being a broken man. You can put on a really good show, but even the cutest kids can prick you and make you mad.
So there I was, praying and mimicking Pastor Lee, praying loudly and reading the Bible just like my spiritual dad. And when I opened my eyes, I realized that Pastor Lee was looking at me. He was smiling and just gave me a big thumbs-up, accompanied by a gentle laugh.
As soon as I went downstairs, I pulled one of the kids close to my chest and held him. I had more love for him than ever. And folks, that’s what God’s love does to you. You can only love as much as you are experiencing love, and I had just experienced the Father’s embrace.
Since I’ve become a Christian, I still get annoyed sometimes, but I love better and more completely than ever before.
Do you have any future projects in the works?
Yes, this year I’m starting a script about the Jesus Freaks of the 1960s. It’s about people who were lost and finally found an everlasting hope. People like me.
View The Drop Box trailer here. And for more of Ivie's transformative story, check out his book, The Drop Box: How 500 Abandoned Babies, an Act of Compassion, and a Movie Changed My Life Forever.