The movie Ragamuffin, a film that tells the complex story of beloved Christian singer-songwriter Rich Mullins is now available on DVD after making the rounds at film festivals, colleges and churches this past spring. JFH staff writer Alex Caldwell talked with Mullin's brother David and film director and creative force David Schultz individually about the process of seeing the film come to life, and their reflections on Rich Mullin's life, death and legacy. Part 1 is an interview with David Mullins, the younger brother of Rich. David served as a behind-the-scenes consultant for the film...
JFH (Alex): The 'fixing the tractor' scene with young Rich holding up the light for your dad to see. That one was rough to watch because my own Dad, as wonderful a man as he is, had a temper problem and moments like that happened in my childhood as well.
This interview took place on: May, 2014.
JFH (Alex Caldwell): The first thing that came to my mind, and I suspect to many viewers, as I watched the film was 'this must be hard for the family to watch'. And not just because of the accident scene, but all the early moments with your father and his tough relationship with Rich, and the rough moments in Rich's adult life. Was it tough to relive those moments? Particularly because you were on set and had to go through those scenes time and time again.
It was tough, there's no doubt about that. Sometimes you feel like you are "over something," you know what I mean? That you have a handle on a particular experience, and then it comes up all over again. The scenes with my dad were tough. Mel [Fair, who plays Rich and David's father] was concerned that he might be playing my father too rough. He asked us if it was too much, too much yelling, too much intensity. He was concerned about it. But we told him he was right on, to keep it up. Yeah, there were some tough moments.
That scene was one I had to walk out a few times during the filming.
JFH (Alex): I guess that leads to the next question. In watching the film, I was struck with how honest the portrayal of your family life and Rich's substance issues and sometimes odious behavior was. Was there part of you that wanted to cover that up a bit, wash over it for the sake of the CCM world and Rich's fans?
That was a decision that we as a family made early on when we were in the early discussions with David [Fair] about making this film. We didn't want to do it if wasn't honest to who Rich was in all of his complexities. If you are going to talk about Ragamuffins, then it's important to portray them as honestly as possible. My family life was far from perfect; it's important to show that. But it was tough at times, sure.
JFH (Alex): Some viewers might have expected a neat wrap-up in the storyline about Rich and your father, but instead there is a devastating moment where contact is almost made between the two after a big fight, but ultimately there is no resolve shown in the film before your father passed away. Was there a thought to bringing some sort of 'warmer' resolve to this relationship as portrayed in the film?
I understand the desire for that with the viewer. My family and I even talked about it at length. We decided that if this were solely a film about my dad then we should show more, but it's a film about my brother and the resolve that he found with the Heavenly Father. It was tough, but choices had to be made with time and characters.
JFH (Alex): Rich's connection and unhealthy relationship with alcohol is shown prominently in the film. This might be a tough question, but was Rich ever an alcoholic?
You know, I honestly don't know. There were moments when we as a family were aware he was drinking too much.
JFH (Alex): So how did the film come about? How did the process start?
Well, David Schultz and I crossed paths at a church in Indianapolis, and he asked me if we could go out to lunch. He said "your brother's life changed my life and I'd love to make a movie about him." He and I clicked right away and that was, let me think... four years ago this spring. It's been a long process.
JFH (Alex): I think Michael Koch did a great job in capturing the essence of Rich in the film--his mannerisms, his unique way of communicating from stage, the way he delivered a few key songs. Was there a moment when you thought that he captured Rich Mullins the man? Maybe a time when it almost seemed like Rich was there?
Oh yeah! I can't remember any specifically, but there were a few moments that were maybe... a little eerie if you know what I mean. Michael did a great job. It wouldn't have worked at all without him.
JFH (Alex): You probably get this question all the time, but what is your favorite song of your brother's?
It changes from time to time. Really, it's hard for me to pick one. But I loved "Elijah" from the first moment I heard it. I was still a kid and Rich was just starting to play around the Cincinnati area and that was one of his first songs. I sort of got to hear him create it, and I've always loved it.
JFH (Alex): Which version do you like best? The original from Rich's first album, or the re-recorded version from the greatest hits album?
I like the version I heard in those small churches in the 70's.
JFH (Alex): That's a really good answer.
JFH (Alex): When I saw Rich in concert, he said several mildly controversial things, and he was known to do this almost every night. Do you remember anything in particular that he said when you saw him play that sticks out?
*laughing* Yeah. One time at this concert I was at, Rich had just flown in from somewhere the night before, and his plane had been stuck on the tarmac for hours because President Clinton was in town, and he had decided to get his hair cut, and that put the whole airport on delay for a few hours. When Rich was telling this story, he ended with the line about Clinton, 'we can always pray for plane crashes right?' and you could hear a pin drop in that auditorium. I remember thinking "you can't say stuff like that, Rich!"
JFH (Alex): Speaking of concerts, was there ever a time you were in one of Rich's and had a spiritual moment so to speak? When you were convicted or moved about something in that way that happens at Christian concerts, and you realized that 'this is my brother who is making me think and moving my heart. I knew him back when he couldn't use deodorant or drive a car yet!'
I know what you mean, but you have to understand that Rich was my older brother, and he was always doing this to me. I grew up looking up to him in a major way. He frustrated me at times, sure, because he was always trying to get me to think bigger. But he was always convicting me. He was a great older brother that way. My parents would take me to his small shows when he was starting out and I was just a kid, and I always felt this way about him. So it was sort of just a common occurrence to be inspired or moved by something he sang or said from stage.
JFH (Alex): That's so great to hear. Thanks for taking a few minutes out of your day to talk. Good luck with the film going forward.
No problem. God bless.
The film Ragamuffin is available now to own now!