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Stonington's Sean Dinwoodie behind the movie camera

By Kristina Dorsey

Publication: The Day

Published October 11. 2013 4:00AM   Updated October 11. 2013 2:43PM
RGM / Kayvon Esmali
Jeffrey "Ja Rule" Atkins as former drug trafficker and new church-goer Miles Montego in "I'm in Love with a Church Girl."

Since Pawcatuck native Sean P. Dinwoodie headed out to Hollywood a year after high school, he's been involved with an expansive range of projects.

He was production manager and cinematographer on some short films that aired on Showtime. He was a camera man for "Good Morning, America." He did some camera work, too, for the Style Network. He travelled the world as director of photography and producer for music videos for the Persian market, helmed by one of the top directors in that arena. Dinwoodie held those same responsibilities for the U.S. Racquetball Open Championships for several years.

And he just worked on his first feature film.

Dinwoodie, 39, is a producer of the independent Christian film "I'm in Love with a Church Girl," which will be released Oct. 18 in more than 500 theaters.

Its cast features Ja Rule, Adrienne Bailon, Michael Madsen, Stephen Baldwin and Vincent Pastore, and Steve Race directs.

The script, by Galley Molina, was inspired by his own story. Miles Montego (actor-rapper Ja Rule) was a drug trafficker who has since left that world and found a rewarding career in music. But he still lives under the shadow of his past, with the DEA pursuing him. He falls for a religious woman (Bailon, who was one of the Cheetah Girls), and his life changes.

"There's a lot of ups and downs, hurt and pain - things we all go through that challenge us," Dinwoodie says of the tale.

Casting the film was a bit tricky, since some actors feared that being in a Christian film might turn off certain fans, Dinwoodie says.

The key was when Ja Rule signed on.

"Once he got onboard, we were able to get other people to look at it. ... Now, (actors) started taking it seriously - 'Well, okay, if he's doing it, there's got to be something about this material that makes it interesting," Dinwoodie says.

The film gave Ja Rule his first lead role, and it also give him a part to which he could relate. The performer, who got out of prison earlier this year after serving almost two years for illegal gun possession and tax evasion, told the Associated Press, "I've done a lot of films that all have been pretty edgy. I played thug characters, but with this character, even though I play a thug somewhat, he's really a guy going through a transition."

Screenwriter Molina certainly went through a transition, too, from being a former drug trafficker who served time to now being a pastor. He was one of the film's producers, as was Grammy-winning Christian music star Israel Houghton. The two are guiding forces in Reverence Gospel Media, whose debut film project is "I'm in Love with a Church Girl." Reverence Gospel Media deals with a variety of media - music, TV, events - with the goal of creating "God-glorifying, life-impacting projects."

Dinwoodie says, "I wouldn't say myself, personally, I've been necessarily evangelical, but I've always been very strong in my faith. I've always been a strong believer."

Indeed, he was a communicant of Christ Church in Westerly and a camp counselor at the Episcopal Conference Center in Pascoag, R.I. This is his first Christian project.

"There's certainly a demand for more wholesome family content with a positive message. ... The Christian fans are extremely faithful and supportive of the product which is God-honoring," he says. "That's also what we're taught as Christians, to go out and spread the gospel. Why not use movies? Why not use music? Why not use all the mediums available to us now?"

For "I'm in Love with a Church Girl," he worked as second unit director, director of photography, and post supervisor, in addition to being a producer.

As far as his producer duties, Dinwoodie says, "There was probably no part except for the financing side that I wasn't involved in - hiring and working with all the crew, the cast, the casting, talent negotiations, equipment, working with other producers and the directors on the whole look of the film, going over edit notes, changes, then going through the whole production side of it and getting the stuff off our little edit bay and onto the screens."

Dinwoodie says he got interested in filmmaking when he was a middle-school student, joining with a friend to do a cable-access variety show on Storer Cable. He always loved the arts; he did theater and took tap lessons. He sang in the high school chorus and was Music Honor Society president.

After graduating from Stonington High School in 1992, he considered studying opera at The Hartt School and filmmaking at Emerson College but decided instead to try to delve right into the movie world.

"I wanted to get into filmmaking," he says. "Out in Hollywood, it's very hard. It's very competitive. So it's been a long road of baby steps, kind of climbing from project to project. ... I'd still like to direct my own feature some day. Maybe that might be still in the future."

He returns to southeastern Connecticut at least a couple of times a year. His mother, Patricia Dinwoodie, still lives in Pawcatuck, and his grandparents, Warren and Alice Rowe, are in North Stonington.

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GETTING THE 'GIRL'

To try to get "I'm in Love with a Church Girl" screened locally, residents can go to "Demand the Movie," submit their zip code and request to have the film screened in town. If the total reaches a critical mass, the distributor knows there is a built-in fan base in a given area. The requirement is 250 votes for a single special screening in the area, 500 for a week-long engagement.
Visit http://iminlovewithachurchgirl.demandthemovie.com.

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