Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. started its life as a feature film script while writer and director Adamma Ebo was completing her MFA in Directing at UCLA in 2015.
She recalls, “The first draft of the feature was quite different but it always had Trinitie and Lee-Curtis Childs at the center and it was always about them trying to get their congregation back and the obstacles to that.” That former congregation had once attended the Childs’ Wander to Greater Paths church in their thousands but that was before a major scandal involving Lee-Curtis saw the number of parishioners rapidly dwindle.
The inspiration for the story came from the upbringing that Adamma and her sister Adanne - the film’s producer - had growing up in Atlanta during what they say felt like the height of Southern Baptist megachurch culture. “There was so much about it that we really connected to, like the music,” says Adamma. “But a lot of the time, the messages felt pretty backward and archaic. So we were constantly dealing with the actuality and then also the healing benefits of being part of this community, while then also feeling, quite frankly, like this community wasn't here for us. So we both spent time when we were divorced from organized religion, where it wasn’t a part of our lives anymore and we didn’t think it would be part of our future. But now we're taking the aspects of it that benefit us, that we find the most fulfilling and can use for our own personal growth and happiness while continuing to speak out about the ills of it and the things that we think can be done better.”
As Adamma continued to develop the narrative, she soon realized that making a short film of this story -while she had the benefit of UCLA resources - would be a smart next step, allowing her to create a proof of concept for the feature.
Before writing that short script, Adamma was home in Atlanta thinking about the story when what would become the title of both the future short film and feature suddenly came to her. “I'd seen someone on the side of the road with a sign that said, “If you want to save your soul, give a honk for Jesus,” she recalls. “It's pretty common in the South to see things like that but I think because I was actively working on this story, it just sparked something in me. I knew that this was the title of the movie.”
The short film drew immediate attention for its inventive mix of documentary, narrative cinematic style, satirical comedy, and drama as Trinitie and Lee-Curtis attempt their big comeback with a film crew in tow. One of the short’s champions was Issa Rae who included it on her Short Film Sundays YouTube Channel.