CENTRAL — Southern Wesleyan University rolled out the red carpet Saturday for alumna Dr. Laura Tossey Austin and her husband, Chris Austin, producers of “Turned Upside Down,” a story about a man who looks back at a rough time in his youth when nothing seemed to go his way.
Laura answered the call of writing and producing Christian films, plays and dramas in 2011. Her husband, Chris Austin, directed and Laura wrote their first live drama “The Judgment” in 2011 that included on stage acting and video portions based on the testimony of six church members. Their projects include multiple “human videos,” where characters act out situations from the lyrics of popular Christian songs.
Laura and Chris answered the call of directing, producing and writing Christian films, plays and dramas in 2011 when their pastor approached Chris about doing a play with “flashback” video parts.
Throughout the many steps of creating a video, Laura and Chris pray frequently for God’s direction and they call on friends to join in prayer for decisions about actors and production details.
“I write the script, Chris reads it over and he helps with ideas for edits. Then, Chris does the storyboarding and I give input to any scenes that God showed me while writing,” Laura said.
Laura’s interest in drama dates back to her high school years as a member of the drama team at her church. She admits she has struggled with writing, but added that God “pours the story” through her and she writes down the lines.
Laura came to Southern Wesleyan University after winning a scholarship from America’s National Teenager Pageant. Reluctant to leave Texas at first, Laura visited the campus in Central and began to feel that God was calling her there.
“There is definitely a spiritual covering at SWU that I took for granted at the time,” she said. During her visit, she met Joy Bryant, then in the university’s admissions department and now SWU’s executive director of alumni and constituent relations. She also met Dr. Walt Sinnamon, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. While attending SWU, Laura was a member of the Lady Warriors softball and soccer teams and performed in a musical ensemble.
Laura graduated from the Pre Medicine/Pre Dentistry program at Southern Wesleyan, then went on to earn a master’s degree and a doctorate in physical therapy from Texas Women’s University.
Laura met Chris during a period when she had fallen away from God. Chris was a regular customer at a bar where Laura waited on tables. He was also a high school friend of the bartender.
“He happened to sit in my section one night and I charged him full price when he typically got a significant discount,” she said. Two of Chris’ friends dared him to ask Laura out after work. She agreed to his offer and the rest is history, as they say.
In 2009, Laura rededicated her life to the Lord. Chris became a Christian in 2010.
Chris became interested in cameras at an early age and developed a lifelong interest in photography. He began taking classes in high school that taught about editing and
working with cameras and continued taking film classes as a University of Southern California student.
Ultimately, Chris earned a Marketing degree, but he kept being pulled into media-related jobs.
“I applied for jobs doing anything media related since I had no experience or degree,” Chris said. “My résumé had been given to the owner of a TV studio in Dallas called Big Fish Films and the director/owner gave me a call. Two things about that are rare – nobody passes around résumés for entry level people and owners of studios never call people.”
Chris took the job, going from sweeping the studio floors to becoming production manager during the three years he was there.
Chris started Ohana Productions in 2010, intending to do wedding photography and gain photography and video experience while bringing in extra income.
“After a while of shooting weddings, I felt ready to start working on Christian movies. I’ve done a few short movies but my main two would be “Turned Upside Down” and “Thrive.”
Chris sees exciting opportunities ahead for Christians seeking to make inroads into the entertainment industry, thanks to the availability of better-quality digital video cameras and editing software to ministries seeking to make an impact, though limited by a tight budget. He points to recent successes of movies that include “Courageous,” produced by Georgia-based Sherwood Pictures.
“We want to see people come to know Jesus through what we produce,” Laura said.
On Oct. 26, Laura shared her experiences during Homecoming Chapel including a matinée showing of “Turned Upside Down” in Ellenburg Lecture Hall.
Southern Wesleyan University is described as a Christ-centered, student-focused learning community devoted to transforming lives by challenging students to be dedicated scholars and servant-leaders who impact the world for Christ. For details about degree programs, go online to swu.edu.