By Jacob Sahms
In 2011, Jason Mac left Sumter, South Carolina, for Atlanta, and then Los Angeles in 2011, aimed at becoming an actor. It wasn’t the career his father had planned for him, but it was the career Mac chose, so his father supported him. Even more than that, Mac calls his late father one of his “guardians.”
“He wanted me to be a banker,” Mac recounts with a chuckle from his L.A. home. “‘Go to LA from South Carolina? That’s a different world.’ But I knew I could pick up the phone and he would do whatever he could for me. He loved me, and wanted the best for me.”
Over the years, Mac would hear stories from others who would share how Mac’s father was talking about his son’s roles in film and TV. “He was rooting for me. He couldn’t envision the life I’m seeking so most of the time. What you wish for people is your vision of success looks like.”
Mac’s understanding of his father’s love is what drove him to write A Father’s Legacy. He wanted to tell a story that tells about the complicated themes of masculinity, fatherhood, and faith, as a tribute to his father and as a reflection on his own thought process about the life he’s living. But this isn’t a message movie, driven by an agenda. Instead, Mac plays a young father-to-be named Nick who ends up on the run after a robbery, and crash lands in Billy Ford’s (Tobin Bell) isolated cabin while he tries to evade the authorities. In the process, the two men begin to unravel their complicated pasts, the moments they lost sight of their fathers and the moments they failed to be the fathers they should have been, with faith in between them.
“It’s a story about how the flawed people help the flawed people,” explained Mac. “No matter how flawed you think you are, you can impact someone and change their life. There is no one who believes he’s as flawed as Billy Floyd.”
While Mac never went to film school, he pursued a different educational route to a spot behind the camera. He grew up playing tennis, earned a degree in finance, and honed his film education through conversations on sets of network television shows and feature films, and watching films and TV himself.
“I’m always asking, ‘Why doesn’t that affect me when I watch something?’ It’s like the difference between a comedian trying to make you laugh and you don’t really want to laugh, versus the one who is up there acting like he doesn’t care and you totally get sucked into it. If it doesn’t fit the story, it’s gotta go.”
A Father’s Legacy is distinctly faith-influenced without being preachy. Mac says that the story became the lens through which all of the individual shots were seen, and some of the more in-your-face elements ended up on the cutting room floor because they were extraneous.
“The story comes first,” Mac shared. “I’m a storyteller first. Any message after that has to make sense for the story and the people. Sometimes that gets flipped, and you look at it differently – it becomes a message film. I want to make a film that was relatable, about people you could meet in the hardware store.”
“I didn’t want to make the Sunday Christian film, where we’re in the pews and going to the altar. I wanted to make a Thursday Christian film. I grew up in church but I think there are a lot of conflicting things culturally and societally that I’m still trying to reconcile. The older I get it doesn’t get easier, but it’s about boiling it down to the essence. The God I believe in who sent Jesus? I think the essence is unconditional love. That doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences in what we do or say, that we don’t have to pay for my mistakes.”
“We had to trust our audience. It helps when you have Tobin Bell living and breathing on set.”
The film was shot in Sumter over fifteen days on a shoestring budget, with Mac and members of the crew staying at his mother’s house. Given the speed of the shoot, there wasn’t much left over that could be used after the final edits, so Mac has recorded a conversation with a pastor for the Fathom Event coming before Father’s Day. They discuss the themes of the film, like the way that younger generations and older ones wrestle over how much emotion to show or how deeply they should reflect on their own internal questions and beliefs. It’s still the theme that Mac finds himself wrestling with months later.
“I think one of the biggest killers of men is shame,” he mused, “because we take this thing and we shove it deep down so we never have to deal with it, but you think about it all the time and eats away at you. The old man [Bell’s character] has the shame of the son he never knew and the younger man [Mac’s character] has the shame of having a father he never knew. Was he unworthy? Or not good enough? Or unwanted? We have to be honest and open to grow as people, men, culture, Christians, as institutions. There’s power in that.”
Mac has gone all in, gone for broke, betting on his story and himself as an actor. He says it’s a blend of courage and stupidity, a desire to avoid looking back on his life with regret. He wants to know that he can impact people for good, like his father did as the provider and guardian of his family, even after he was laid off as the vice president of a company he had helped run for years.
“I don’t know if I can control my narrative. Just this morning, I prayed, ‘You lead me, Father, and I feel like you always have. I don’t think I’ve gotten to this exact moment, this second, by accident,’” Mac shared, reading from his journal. “It’s not like I have an amazing prayer or meditation life, but I truly believe God’s hand has been in my life the whole time.”
“Telling the story makes me feel more alive than anything – only comparable to impacting someone in a positive way,” he continued. “Working as a physical trainer, you tell someone you can see changes in their body over time. It’s easier to leave them better off than you found them. You’re not just telling them but you’re figuring out what they need.”
Now, Mac hopes his film will help others see themselves clearly and ask big questions of themselves, so that they can grow in their lives and in their faith.