We are very excited to feature Stuart Lachlan Bennett. Stuart has a wealth of experience in the cinematic arts dating back over 30 years that includes productions on multiple continents for some of the largest and most successful studios in the world.
Stuart's most recent project explores the true story of Saint Nicholas, a man who was very much more than Santa Claus. The documentary is in its final week of fundraising. Learn more about Stuart and check out the project on Indiegogo today. - Editor
1) How did you get involved in the cinematic arts and why?
I loved painting and drawing in high school. As a child growing up in the northeast of England, I found freedom through music and art. My artistic abilities gained me entry to art school where I studied Fine Art, then majored in Graphic Design. But interestingly, during my second year in university, I was required to take an “Introduction to Film” class and my life changed forever. (This was even more earthshattering considering I grew up in a church where TV and movie-going was banned). I changed my major to film and never took up pencil or paint again! After graduating from Leeds University in England, I was hired as a trainee film editor with BBC Television’s film department. I got to walk the hallways and studios of the famous Ealing studios every day. It was an absolute dream. On my way to the cutting rooms every morning, I passed Alec Guiness’s dressing room. He was there for the filming of Smiley’s People.
Working in London in the film industry during those days was very exciting. The BBC was the largest film producer in the U.K. Everything was shot on film. They had over 200 film cutting rooms in London and many more around the country. I had the privilege to witness experiments with video; especially the integration of video into drama. A great amount of experimentation went into trying to match exterior film shoots with interior, studio video production. One of the earliest series that mixed film and video like this was Faulty Towers.
As much as anything, I think it was the total commitment to craftsmanship that was drilled into me during my training that gave me an appreciation for the cinematic art. I was given such great opportunities as a trainee editor. I worked in the cutting room on what was probably the best drama series on TV back then, The BBC’s Play for Today. I suppose that would be like working on Downton Abbey today. One of the films was called Blue Remembered Hills (1979) that had Colin Welland and Helen Mirren in the cast. The series cast was like a Who’s Who list of the British film industry.
After I moved to America I continued my profession as an editor, but I was encouraged to begin to produce and direct. Working with The Christian Broadcasting Network I was given the task of developing TV series that would open doors for ministry in many countries around the world. Two of the countries I most enjoyed working in were Russia and China. It was amazing to see how God opened doors to get TV programs co-produced and placed on national TV in those countries. But my love for dramatic film never waned. Five years ago, I went back to school and got an MFA in Screenwriting.
2) What project(s) are you particularly excited about (current or past) and why?
I’m excited about screenplays I am writing. Cause related films really appeal to me, and I think this is a special genre. This is an area where Christians have a place to influence. I wrote a screenplay three years ago about sex trafficking. It deals with the reality of a Christian teenage girl being kidnapped and exposed to that dark world. I produced a short film from that script which you can see on my website. I’ve been pitching that script and the business plan. It’s a film that needs to be made as a wake up call to the church that seems to think that our youth are somehow immune to such things. When I talk to people about this problem, the general response seems to be that trafficking is only a problem overseas. The reality is that it’s happening everywhere and our churches need to wake up and help to educate our youth.
I also love documentaries and that’s what I’m working on now. If I find out about something that grabs me, and if there is a story or angle that has not been seen before, then I jump right in. And that’s exactly what happened with my most recent film about Saint Nicholas.
My interest in the Saint Nicholas story was sparked in 2014 after I had been in Turkey shooting a documentary about the ancient city of Ephesus. The reason I produced a documentary about Ephesus is because this city played such a key role in history. It was a major city for the Greeks and became one of the largest cities in the Roman Empire. For Christendom, Ephesus became a focal point after the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The impact of Christianity upon this city was literally transformational. Two Thirds of the New Testament was either written to the church in Ephesus, churches within its region, or while the Apostles Paul and John lived in Ephesus. This legacy had never been fully explored in film. With the help of author, historian and theologian, Dr. Mark Wilson, I was able to produce this important work.
During my trip to Turkey, Dr. Wilson began to tell me about other projects he has researched; one was the factual account of Nicholas. We decided to visit the town of Myra together where Saint Nicholas was bishop. Upon seeing the well preserved church built on Byzantine ruins with beautiful frescos, the exquisite Lycian and Roman ruins nearby and the ancient port of Andriake, I knew immediately there was so much we could explore in a film. But also by digging deeper, I soon realized that much of Nicholas’s story has never been told. For example, he was Bishop of Myra during one of the worst periods of religious persecution in history. In addition, he was one of the bishops called by Emperor Constantine to the Council of Nicea, and Nicholas was a signatory of the Nicean Creed. Just as was the case with the film about Ephesus, there is a great deal to discover about the legacy of the real person we know as Saint Nicholas.
Although other films have been made about Saint Nicholas, most seem to concentrate on how we got Santa Claus. Even well researched films seem to have missed critical points. For example, a TV program produced by the Smithsonian Channel details the reconstruction of Nicholas’s skeleton and pathology results reveal that he had a fractured nose, but no theories were proposed as to how this may have happened. The documented facts regarding the persecution of Christians during Nicholas’s era therefore are highly significant. No film has documented the fact that Nicholas was one of the senior bishops attending the Council of Nicea held in the palace of Constantine and that Nicholas was a signatory to the Nicene Creed. While other productions have investigated the life of Nicholas and legends that are attributed to him, none have actually fully told his story. Therefore, I sincerely believe I can produce a unique film that is historically accurate and up to date, that acknowledges Santa Claus, but is fully focused on exploring the authentic story of Nicholas.
3) How does your faith influence your cinema making?
My faith gives me an anchor that pivots my point of reference. I’m not a great philosopher, but believe that all decisions we make are based upon presuppositions. Mine are rooted in a belief in God. As artists, it’s only natural that our consciousness will be influenced by a belief that we can draw upon our relationship with God within the creative process. It’s not unusual for me to pray while I am writing a script and ask God to give me insight into characters, to help me expose darkness in hearts, and to find ways to bring hope and light. I certainly spent a lot of time in prayer while I was writing my script about sex trafficking. Unless we can develop real character driven screenplays, we’re just blowing more smoke into an already polluted society. We don’t need more propaganda – we need heartfelt reality that opens people to the possibility that they can be loved – even by an eternal God.
More information about Saint Nicholas – The Real Story
This documentary will appeal to a wide audience, but especially to anyone interested in history, art and culture. Dr. Adam English is the author of the book The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus. English says, “Documentaries have been made on Jesus, Mary, Peter and Paul, but not on Nicholas who is the most popular non-biblical saint in all of Christian history. We are not talking about a minor saint, but literally the most well loved saint throughout history. It is truly astonishing that a historically attested and solidly researched film has not been made about him at this point.”
Two important facts contribute to the importance of this film. First, the complete and accurate narrative of Nicholas’s life does not exist in a single film. Second, new translations of documents by Father Gerardo Cioffari shed great light on the authenticity of Nicholas’s life and existence. This documentary therefore, will have great significance for people of Christian faith, but will also provide a reliable historical account for educators. By providing an accurate portrayal of Nicholas it will provide an understanding of why this celebrated man became so famous throughout the world. For the first time, audiences will be able to appreciate this man’s commitment to Christ, his legacy and also bring a new perspective on his real contribution to Christmas. The documentary will not diminish the legend of Santa Claus, but instead it will illuminate the spirit of hope and goodwill that is represented in the character we know today.
Saint Nicholas –The Real Story is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non‐profit arts service organization. Fractured Atlas will receive grants for the purposes of the Saint Nicholas documentary project, provide oversight to ensure that grant funds are used in accordance with grant agreements and provide reports as required by the grantor.
The Christian History Institute will release the film on DVD.
Further information about Stuart Lachlan Bennett
Stuart earned a BA (honors) in Film and Television at Leeds University, England and an MFA in Screenwriting from Regent University, Virginia Beach, Virginia. He is Vice President (voluntary) of the Board of Directors of ASSIST News Network, an international news organization. With a career that spans over 30 years, he is a veteran entertainment executive with a solid background in television and film production. He began his television career in England where he worked as a film editor for BBC Television and graduated from the BBC training program at Ealing Film Studios in London.
As a writer, producer, director, Stuart has many film and TV credits to his name. He has written, produced and directed reality, documentary, magazine and drama productions for international networks such as Chinese Central TV, Russia’s Channel 1, Japan’s NHK and has also worked for companies in the USA such as The Discovery Channel, ABC and The Christian Broadcasting Network.