On TV, the question is routinely asked: So you think you can dance?
In the mind of Kevin Mounce, the question nagging him was: So you think you can write a movie?
Well, heck, yeah.
The Towanda native and 1992 Normal Community High School alum had spent several years as a small-church pastor, authoring weekly sermons with a beginning, middle and end ... just like in the movies.
"During the process of me writing sermons, that really sort of introduced me to the script-writing process," he says. "That's where I really fell in love with the process of writing."
For drama's sake, "Being a pastor, you see a lot of stuff that goes on behind the scenes ... the tension between the good things in church and the nasty things in church."
That experience lasted only two years (2002-4). But it was enough to provide a firm dramatic foundation for his first produced script more than a decade later.
It's called "The Little Vagabond," filmed with local talent this past summer in Towanda and surrounding locations, and now in post-production, hoping for a local premiere in the months ahead.
The art-imitates-life premise: A small-town pastor finds more Christ-like behavior going down in a nearby bar than he does in his own congregation and decides to start a church there, with drinks between prayers
The bar is played by downtown Bloomington's Six Strings; other locations on view include the First Baptist Church Of Chenoa, Bloomington's Fort Jesse Cafe, Normal's Carl's Ice Cream, his brother's business Mounce Automotive and several Towanda-area residences.
Unlike many entries in the recent run of faith-based films, which includes another locally made effort several years ago, "Hoovey," "I don't know that 'Little Vagabond' falls into that category ... this is not a glowing review of the church. And for a lot of people, that may be a turn-off," confesses Mounce.
"There is no warm, fuzzy-feeling ending."
At the same time, he feels it is truer to life in its up-front honesty about the ways Christian good will can travel, in and out of church.
Speaking of good will: Another of Mounce's key inspirations was the movie "Good Will Hunting," which, "in my own ignorance, I thought was good but not that spectacular."
In other words, if those actor kids Ben (Affleck) and Matt (Damon) could write it, and win an Oscar along they way, so could that Towanda kid Kevin (Mounce).
"It put writing a movie into the realm of possibility," says Mounce.
"Of course, that was before knowing anything about what goes into the process," he adds with a laugh.
In 2006, Mounce and a friend collaborated on their first script, usually between 2 and 5 a.m. daily ... so as not to disturb their respective loved ones.
That premiere effort, "The Water Tower," about two guys who dream of going to Hollywood to make it big and who regularly climb their hometown (Towanda) water tower for inspiration sessions, was deemed "self-indulgent ... a terrible, horrible script ... it was part of our film school, and we were just proud of the fact we finished it."
A second script, "The Brews Brothers," was deemed better, but stalled at the phase of interesting investors.
In 2011, Mounce quit his analyst job at Bloomington's Country Financial and headed for Los Angeles, where he linked up with a producer, raised $25,000 and, to make a long (2-3 years) story short, got burned in the deal.
Thus, his decision to do things from here on out his way by forming his own company, No Man's Land Productions, and putting his next script, "The Little Vagabond," into production back home on a budget of ... nil.
"I took my phone, and my mom (Cindy Mounce) helped me get the audio/lighting equipment," he says.
Among the local talent involved was B-N-based Jennifer Feaman, looking to get her son Austin cast (he was).
The wife of an old Mounce school friend, Fealy soon became his partner-in-filmmaking, assigned the role of assistant director, producer and casting director (or, pretty much everything that needed to be done that Kevin didn't do).
Mounce is headed back to the area from his current Los Angeles base (day job: supervisor in the human resources department of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center) to begin work on his second movie, "Christmas Crashers," again to be shot locally.
This time, it's all feel-good comedy, pitched at the PG-13 level, about a Christmas-loving couple who routinely find themselves separated during the holidays and decide this year it's going to be different. That is, until a meddling mother and two ex's show up on their doorstep.
To get the ball rolling again, he and Feaman are holding an open information session at 2:30 p.m. Jan. 14 in Bloomington's New Lafayette Club.
The session is open to anyone interested in performing either in front of Mounce's camera or behind it in some other production capacity ... without dreams of financial glory.
In fact, without pay period.
"One of the many things I love about doing this is that everyone is so appreciative of the chance to do something like this," Mounce says.
Feaman agrees, and sees no problem in attracting folks who want some quality screen time, not a paycheck.
"It's an amazing, rewarding experience. We bonded and became a family on the first movie," she says. "It's all about making peoples' dreams come true. For them, just being involved is a really big deal."