The inspirational film 23 Blast (starring Stephan Lang, Alexa PenaVega, Mark Hapka, and Max Adler), releases in the cinemas on October 24th 2014. The family friendly film is inspired by the true story of Travis Freeman (centre in the above picture), who became blind at an early age, but still overcame his fears. He played college football, and graduated from university, also gaining his Phd and his Masters of Divinity, and this film has just an uplifting and encouraging message for anyone to be inspired by. I had the privilege of interviewing Travis recently, and here we talk about his thoughts of his life being played out on the screen, the inspiration and challenges he faces daily being blind, as well as his faith being strengthened because of his blindness!
1. Congratulations on the release of 23 Blast, which drops to cinemas on October 24th; can you highlight to us your emotions as the day comes closer and closer? How do you plan to celebrate the film airing in the cinemas?
I am really excited about the approaching release date on Oct. 24. I am a little overwhelmed that this day is actually happening. When someone comes to you and says that they want to write a screen play and make a movie based on your life, you don’t really think that it will ever happen. But it has, and I am humbled by the opportunity. I am humbled that people felt my story was worth telling. I never thought I was doing anything special. I was just living my life, and doing what most boys in Corbin do, play football. It’s been a long journey, and I am ready for the big day to finally arrive.
I am trying to take the process one experience at a time. I want to enjoy every step of the journey, and take it all in piece by piece. I will be attending the premier in New York City, as well as the homecoming in Lexington, KY. On Oct. 24 and 25 I will be at local theaters signing copies of my new autobiography, Lights Out: Living in a Sightless World, which released last week.
2. I’ve watched the film and it is a very emotional, poignant, honest portrayal of one young man’s journey of overcoming the fear that he has when faced with adversary, in this case blindness, that he’s not good enough to play football, or do anything meaningful in life. Obviously as this is based on your life, I am sure the film resonated with you very much as you were reminded of the struggles you went through adjusting to life without sight; what does the movie mean to you personally, and if there is one thing that viewers take away from the film, what would you want it to be?
I never will forget the first time that I watched the movie. I was overcome with emotion as I watched a movie that was loosely based on the events of my life. At many times in the movie, I relived the moments in my mind. I was confronted with the reality of what happened in my life. I am so appreciative of how Toni, Dylan, and Gary handled my story. They captured the spirit of my story. That is something that people need to realize. 23 Blast is not the Travis Freeman story, but it captures very well the spirit of my story. That spirit is the message of overcoming. I want people who hear about my story, whether through the movie 23 Blast, through the book Lights Out, or just through hearing me talk about it, to come away in spired to overcome the obstacles that they face in their lives. I want people to understand that disability does not equal inability. We all have disabilities in our lives, things that we have to overcome, but those obstacles or disabilities do not have to define who we are. Through faith, family, hard work, and determination, we can overcome anything that we face.
3. For me this film reminds us that God is in control, and that His plans are higher than our own, and that there is always a silver lining amidst the clouds- that whatever plan we have for our life can easily turn on its head, but God is still the same yesterday, today and forever, and because He is God, His plans are trustworthy. Can you briefly tell us how you were approached and asked if a film can be made about your life; and also your thought processes when you were pitched the idea, and your experiences with meeting the people who were acting as yourself, your friends, and your family?
My parents and I were approached several years ago about doing the movie. Toni Hoover, who wrote the screen play, lived in Corbin when I played football, and her son played on my high school team. She came to us and said that she was going to write a screen play, and she wanted my life to be the basis. We did not think anything would ever really come of it. A few years later she called and said that she had a director and a producer and that they were coming to Corbin to film a movie. So, in April of 2012 they came to Corbin and filmed 23 Blast in 23 days. It was a great experience and I am glad that people are going to be able to finally see and enjoy the movie.
4. Usually if a movie is based on true events, the actors and directors involved may have some artistic licence if they want to dramatise the movie and make it appeal to a wider range of audiences. Did you, through the production of the movie, have any active input into how Mark Hapka portrayed you on screen and how him and other cast members (such as Stephen Lang, Alexa PenaVega, Max Adler etc) were chosen for their roles in the film? Did you meet any of the actors, and the director, and did you manage to share the gospel with any of those on the set who are not/were not Christians?
I had no input into how they portrayed me on the big screen. I was around the filming of the movie, and was able to talk with Mark quite a lot, but I had no direct influence on how the movie was filmed. I did get to know the cast and crew during the filming. Again it was a great experience.
5. Can you tell us briefly about how you became a Christian, and how being blind as brought you closer to God? In the film it depicts that you were a teenager, but you were actually 12 when you lost your sight; can you tell us a bit more about the similarities and differences between the film and real life?
I became a believer at the age of 11. I was attending a children’s camp the summer before I lost my sight. While at the camp, I came to the realization that I was a sinner separated from God, and that I was in need of a savior. That was the summer before I entered the sixth grade. During the next school year I began having a daily devotional when I would read my Bible and pray. As I look back on that time now, I see that God was preparing me for something. He was working in my life, preparing me for what was coming my way the next summer. Because when I lost my sight, God blessed me with an amazing attitude about it all. I never questioned God. I never blamed God, or felt sorry for myself. I accepted from the very beginning that God had a plan for my life, and that he was going to use my blindness. And this movie and the book Lights Out are 2 ways that he is doing that exact thing.
The movie is loosely based on the events of my life. Many of the things that happen in the movie actually happened, just maybe in a slightly different way, or at a different time. They made me a much better athlete than I actually was, and they had me playing running back which never really happened. Like I said before, this is not the Travis Freeman story, but it captures the spirit of my story.
6. You also acted a bit in the film as a pastor, describe what you were feeling when you were acting- was it a script or were you just talking from the heart?
That scene was something that Dylan came up with just before they started filming. He had listened to a sermon of mine, and took what I said in the sermon and developed a script that fit with the movie. It was a great experience. I had a ton of fun filming that scene, and it was actually filmed at my home church. I was glad that the people who have supported me through this entire journey were able to be part of the movie.
7. An uplifting story, where the film ends is just the beginning- you continued to play football, and you received your Phd, your college degree and your Master of Divinity, and now you are a pastor; that’s pretty cool that God has guided you along the way to your calling. Can you tell us who you look up to, either as a spiritual mentor, or someone you ask advice from?
I have had a lot of people in my life who have supported me and challenged me through this process. I am grateful for my family. My parents and extended family have been a huge support system for me. I have had pastors and church leaders who have poured into my life. The list would be too long to write them all down. Coach Farris is someone who had a great impact on my life. He believed in me before I ever knew to believe in myself. He is not a believer, but God used him in a mighty way in my life.
8. For anyone who is reading this interview and is feeling discouraged or down, either because of something in their life currently or something spoken over them, what can you say to them?
I would say – do not allow your circumstances to determine what you think about God, but allow God to determine what you think about your circumstances. When you find yourself in those situations, you must look beyond them to a bloody cross and an empty tomb. Look to the gospel and see there that God loves you and cares for you. Our circumstances at times will leave us thinking, does God care? In the gospel we see that beyond a shadow of a doubt that God does care. So look to the gospel and do not allow your circumstances to define who you are.
9. Is there anything in your life that keeps you grounded and places things in perspective as you travel, preach and share your story with people? Is there any song, or Bible verse, or even famous quote that reminds you about why you do what you do and why you chose to be a pastor as a career and ministry?
Actually, I am not a pastor of a church. I am a college professor at the University of the Cumberlands. I teach New Testament and Old Testament classes in their missions and ministry department. I am an ordained minister, and I do a lot of traveling and speaking and preaching to various churches and groups.
My faith and family keep me grounded. I have parents and friends who do not allow me to think more highly of myself than I ought. Also, I just have to think back over my life, and that will keep me grounded. I just have to remember that I should have never walked out of the hospital some 21 years ago. That thought has a tendency to keep me humbled and grounded.
The story in the Bible that I cling to the most is that of Joseph. I love reading it and seeing how all the negative things in his life worked out for God’s purpose. God had a specific reason for bringing him through all of those unfair trials. God was at work in every step of his life. This story reminds me that no matter what happens to us, God is always working. He has a perfect plan, and even what seems evil and wrong to us is still inside of God’s purpose for us. This reality should give us hope to continue on with life, no matter how bad things might seem.
10. Is there anything else that you would like to add that hasn’t been covered in this interview yet? Any parting words, and encouragements that will impact the readers of this interview, either from your own life or from others around you? How can fans stay connected with you via social media?
I think I have covered everything. People can follow me on twitter by searching the twitter handle @tfreeman63 or by looking up Travis Freeman on Facebook.
23 Blast hits the cinemas in a few days. Be sure to check it out, and you can read our review of the movie in a few days also! Be sure to let us know what you think of the review and the movie! And you can stay connected to all things connected with the movie on the 23 Blast official website, facebook, twitter, instagram and youtube!