Brian Ivie has wanted to make movies since age 9. Accepted into the University of Southern California-School of Cinematic Arts, he saw an L.A. Times headline one day and dreamed that directing an unconventional documentary could be his ticket to Sundance Film Festival. Then God intervened… as the student began his film shoot in South Korea.
Instead of Sundance, Ivie now partners with Focus on the Family and his film The Drop Box has already achieved a noteworthy feat in the digital age: over 8 million trailer views online, showing significant audience interest in a documentary.
Following a screening of The Drop Box in Washington, DC, he shares his story of abandonment, rescue, disability, unconditional love… and why our culture finds it compelling. (Update: The Drop Box is now available via Netflix Instant.)
Bound4LIFE: In a recent interview, you said of your early years in film school: “Movies were god to me.” Tell us about that season in your life.
Brian Ivie: For me as a kid, movies were larger than life. Every summer, I would knock on doors and wrangle all the neighborhood kids together to film our own versions of The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, or James Bond. We didn’t mean for them to be spoofs, but they ended up being complete spoofs.
At the start, it was never really about the end product. We didn’t have a script. We found the story, kinda like a treasure hunt. But that was more of the point anyway. It was never about art. It was about adventure and getting caught up in a battle with your best friends. After we finished editing, we’d put on a screening with every family in the neighborhood.
My parents didn’t know it then… but I was planning to make that circus, the rest of my life. And that was a good thing, until it became an ultimate thing.
Photo: Arbella Studios
Bound4LIFE: You’ve shared often about the L.A. Times article on Pastor Lee, and how that led you to head to South Korea. What about that story inspired you to action?
Brian Ivie: I read that article over breakfast, about this man in South Korea who had built a depository for disabled babies. I couldn’t believe it. I was haunted by the image of this man holding a baby inside a box.
At the same time, I was compelled. The images got into my bones — the way the best stories did when I watched one movie per day in high school.
It was like I was seeing real courage for the first time in my life. Courage displayed on a battlefield that I actually understood: a normal neighborhood. Not Gettysburg, not Iraq. Just someone’s neighborhood. But the stakes were life-and-death, like this man had built a bunker for babies and was defending it with his life, saying, “No one dies here. Not in my town.”
Photo: Kindred Image
It was a story that actually made my food grow cold. I had to have it. In a selfish way, I had to use this story — maybe even use these people — to get where I had always dreamed of going.
A month later, I got an email from the pastor himself, which basically invited us to stay with him (though he didn’t know what a documentary was). On December 15, 2011, ten friends and I flew to South Korea to make a documentary about saving Korean babies. I had no idea that God was planning to save me.
Bound4LIFE: So you landed in the city of Seoul, South Korea. How would you compare it to California?
Brian Ivie: South Korea is like a place they built with Legos if they had lost the instruction manual: miles and miles of greens, blues, and orange-colored coffee shops, stacked one on top of the other.
Photo: Baron Reznik / Flickr
It was like a whole other planet to me at first, at least in the poorer parts. But that was mainly my fault. I never wanted to see the world; I had wanted to live near the things that made sense to me, that were comfy and cozy.
But Korea… Korea felt more alive, more real. Like people actually felt pain and went through the thick of it. It was even dangerous. I say that especially because our taxi driver was watching TV while he drove us to Pastor Lee’s house for the first time.
Bound4LIFE: Turning to what you encountered in that home, you really grounded the documentary of this unique rescue ministry in Pastor Lee and his wife’s love story.
Brian Ivie: Before making this film, I loved weak-at-the-knees Hollywood stuff. I loved love. But what I learned from Pastor Lee is that affection can never set somebody free from porn addictions or rage or abusive patterns. It has to be a higher love, a sacrificial love.
At the same time, I think part of my intention was to maintain the romance and gentleness of God’s love. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not skittish about hell, justice and wrath. I believe that I was running toward the fire and that Jesus saved me.
But God is also deeply kind. He’s deeply romantic, in soft ways and in tough ways. The Bible is the most romantic book in the world. And even on the frontlines of war, there’s always room for two people to look at one another, and smile.
Photo: Yogendra Joshi / Flickr
Bound4LIFE: You take it from that personal level to a bigger picture, featuring many leading South Korean voices on adoption. Were there common answers on how to solve this epidemic of abandoned children?
Brian Ivie: It’s clear in the film that we don’t believe building more boxes is the solution to abandonment. It’s obviously an act of compassion in a desperate situation. Many people, of course, made other compassionate suggestions, such as increased welfare for mothers and sex education for students that could curb the problem.
However, no matter the political stance, every person agreed that the solution would be found in building a culture of life. Not just for children, but also for unwed mothers.
Bound4LIFE: It’s an idea we’re seeing take root in the pro-life movement: “To end abortion, the adoption movement must grow.”
Brian Ivie: That’s spot on. The Drop Box is the story of one man who did more than tell women not to abort or abandon: he actually offered to embrace their suffering. He actually adopted their disabled kids.
Embracing mothers, especially by making ourselves available to them — even to the point of taking the difficulties upon ourselves — is the only way forward. Otherwise, our screams and Facebook posts and marches feel like big empty promises.
My hope is that this film would unify the pro-life movement underneath that same banner of promise. The one that reads, “We love you and we’ll suffer with you both.”
Photo: ReSurge International / Flickr
Bound4LIFE: Your journey to knowing God has encouraged so many people. Were other film crew members impacted?
Brian Ivie: Well, my brother also became a Christian after making the film with me. He was the closest thing to an atheist our family has ever had. At 18, he told my dad that he could make his own decisions, and was therefore deciding to leave the church.
After seeing Pastor Lee, I think that started to change.
Bound4LIFE: Now it’s difficult to make a documentary, but that must be multiplied with the language barrier. What was the process for producing this film?
Brian Ivie: Even after 5 separate trips to Korea, I speak essentially no Korean. It’s rather embarrassing, but it just goes to show how this movie was made blindly.
I had no idea whether any of my questions were resulting in good answers. It’s hard enough to draw out emotionally resonant responses from subjects when you share a common language and culture. It’s another thing entirely to try and guide an interview via a translator, who may or may not be providing the nuance, emphasis, and empathy necessary to make the subject feel comfortable and safe.
All that to say, this movie was made on faith. In my mind, whatever we missed wasn’t meant to be in the final piece.
Pastor Lee Jong-rak with The Drop Box director Brian Ivie (Photo: Kindred Image)
Bound4LIFE: There’s buzz building online about your next project, partnering with the Erwin Brothers who directed October Baby and Moms’ Night Out with Sean Astin. What’s the scoop?
Brian Ivie: So, in 1971, Jesus made the cover of Time Magazine. It was a hippie Jesus, mind you, with a purple mane.
But Jon Erwin handed me that magazine several months back and said he wanted me to tell the world about it. Through a movie. So right now, he and I are writing a script called The Jesus Revolution. It’s a true story about how God used legitimately messed-up people to do legitimately loving things. People like Jon and me.
That’s the next story and it’s not going to be corny, obvious, or fake. Because neither is God.
Bound4LIFE: You’ve gone from a film about working towards a culture of life, to one about spiritual revival. Are the two connected?
Brian Ivie: Yes, they are. I tell stories about Jesus because He goes where laws can’t go: into the hearts of men. When we’re talking about abortion or abandonment or sex slavery, the greatest victory wouldn’t be only that laws are overturned, but also that clinics are empty, drop boxes close down, and pimps ask for forgiveness and become new men altogether.
Jesus goes where diplomacy cannot go and revival is about Jesus doing just that in a group or even in a nation. Revival is first and foremost about heart change, which leads to culture change.
The gospel has always and will always have the greatest long-term impact on the most heinous crimes and tragic issues of our day.
Bound4LIFE: Why is it important for pro-life advocates to get out to theaters on March 3, 4 and 5 to see The Drop Box?
Brian Ivie: In a throwaway culture, underpinned by abortion on demand, I know this fight can be disheartening.
But what this story offers, without the distraction of political language, is a precious insight into what it would look like if one family embraced the suffering of its neighbors and asked that no one get thrown away… even kids with serious deficiencies and disabilities… even kids that are inconvenient or unplanned.
It’s doesn’t write the world an easier story. But it does write a better one. To me, the only way forward is by showing these moms that we’re willing to suffer for them, not just scream at them.
I’m willing to suffer for a better story. Are you?