The story of Nate Phelps, son of Reverend Fred Phelps - how he overcame abuse and learned to love those whom he was taught to hate. Read more
This project's funding goal was not reached on July 7, 2014.
About this project
"Not My Father's Son" will chronicle Nate's story from the years of physical, emotional and mental abuse he suffered at the hands of his father from a young age through his journey toward healing to his subsequent and current fight for justice and equality for all people.
Statistics indicate that as many as one-third of children who are emotionally, mentally or physically abused go on to become abusers as well. Parents are the alleged perpetrators in 80 percent of reported child abuse cases, with the number of child abuse reports in the United States reaching an unprecedented 3.1 million in 2013. Of child abuse cases resulting in prosecution, a startling 43 percent of those charged cited various forms of religious teaching concerning the disciplining of children in their defense.
Nate's father Fred was the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, prior to his death in 2014. The church is known worldwide for its stance against homosexuality, and is defined by its trademark slogan, "God Hates Fags." Nate's escape from the abusive and hateful environment in which he was raised coupled with his quest to break the cycle of abuse and hate for future generations create a poignant and powerful theme for the film.
A Message From Nate
Not long ago, I was in Windsor, Ontario, for a speaking engagement. Following my talk, a group of us gathered at a local restaurant for dinner and conversation. It was there that I met a man who shared with me about his mother who had recently passed. He spoke about growing up with the knowledge that being gay was bad. I assumed and subsequently asked the man if his mother was an outspoken religious type, and he replied that while his mother was a church-goer, she never preached hate to him.
I was a bit embarrassed that my assumptions were incorrect and decided to simply listen as the man explained how he learned that gay was bad.
"You just…understood it. It was her facial expressions and the odd comment now and then. She wasn’t comfortable with the topic, and you knew she didn’t like them," he explained.
"I get that," I replied. "That’s actually how most people pick up prejudices in their youth. It’s not the radicals screaming from the pulpits so much as the masses picking up the sensory virus and passing it on just as subtly."
The man went on to recount a conversation he had with his mother many years later. He was watching TV with his mom at her home, and the program contained a discussion about equality for gays. To his surprise, his mother said, "I don’t see anything wrong with gays being married if they love each other."
He continued, "I think it was when she was sick with cancer. Several of her nurses and assistants were gay. When she had a personal experience with someone she assumed was bad, she felt something different."
"It changed her heart, Nate, and then it changed her mind."
When I saw Brad Johnson’s vignette about his mother’s coming out experience at the age of 52, I knew he understood this dynamic. When I met them a few months later in Lawrence, Kansas, and they asked if they could do a documentary about my story, I knew they were the ones who would do it right.
Because they get it.
When I watched the trailer they’ve created for "Not My Father’s Son," I was reminded again…they get it. I am so grateful for the opportunity to work with them and the remarkable team they have assembled to get this message out…the cure for bigotry of the brain is to inoculate the heart with loving connections.
In addition to my sincere thank you to each of you who are investing in this project, I make this commitment: This investment will not return empty. We will change hearts and minds. We will save lives. We will secure a better future for the coming generations.
Why Make This Film?
Like Nate, I also grew up in a very religious
household in Kansas, just 50 miles away from Westboro Baptist, where missing
church on Sunday mornings or youth group meetings throughout the week was never
an option. I also suffered the pain of having an abusive father, so I suppose
it was natural for me to feel a connection with Nate so quickly. But there's an
even deeper reason I am driven to tell his story through this film.
I was lucky enough to have a very strong mother who had the courage to leave an abusive marriage. She had no job, no family in Kansas and no support to help her if she failed. I grew up knowing that Mom loved me deeply, and as I grew older we became more like best friends than mother and son, That's why I was so frightened at the prospect of losing her at the young age of 52 when she finally came out of the closet and told the truth about her sexuality.
Her conservative Southern Baptist upbringing brought decades of shame, guilt and hiding because of her sexuality, and I've seen the pain she has gone through firsthand. I know how close I came to losing one of my best friends in the world, because I know how close Mom came to taking her own life because she feared telling me and my siblings the truth. Even now, our family remains divided on the issue, with religious beliefs being the underlying factor.
My desire to work on this documentary together with my mom has deep roots beginning in part because I wanted to try and help her through her process of self-discovery and self-acceptance, and I was consumed with the idea of her meeting Nate. A friendship between the two of them was forged immediately, and he has been an endless source of encouragement and joy to her. I want to bring Nate's story to the world because there are millions of families who are affected by abuse of any type – physical, emotional, mental or sexual. After watching how much Nate’s story has helped my own mother, I knew that there are millions of hurting people just like her who also need to hear this powerful story as well. The film will speak directly to the issue of child abuse and its lasting cycle of devastating effects on society. I want to tell Nate's story to help break that cycle, to save lives, to eliminate hate, and to inspire hope for a brighter world to those who are suffering right now.
We Need Your Help!
We have done a great deal of filming with Nate, but the majority of the film has yet to be shot. Funds for the project will be used for expenses incurred for additional filming costs, including, but not limited to:
- Story-boarding and scheduling shoots across the country
- Filming interviews, supporting footage and additional b-roll
- Travel budgets to Canada, California, and internationally
- Filming of key cinematic recreations of events
- Archiving footage on multiple hard drives
- Basic editing costs
- Sound design
- Titling and credits
- Pay for our wonderful composer Sam Billen
IF we exceed our goal of $55,000 through your generous support, additional funding will be used for the following:
- Increasing the production value of the film, and the scope of interviewees
- Increasing the speed in which the film can be produced
- Increasing the production value of the film's score and soundtrack
- Public relations and marketing plans
- Negotiating a wider scope of theatrical distribution
Where Will It Be Seen?
We want this film to have the broadest reach possible, which means your support is so vital, no matter the pledge amount. The more people who like our Facebook page, share the video to their families, friends and co-workers on social media, and the number of people willing to spend at least one dollar will help us prove to distributors the broad desire to see this film. We would love to have our film shown not only in theaters across the nation and internationally, but in middle schools, high schools and universities to speak to children and youth, on PBS and Netflix for universal access, and VideoOnDemand menus in a variety of markets. Spreading this message as far as possible is in your hands!
Please be sure and check out the rewards we are offering based on the level of your donation. From wristbands to t-shirts to a Skype session with Nate to tickets to the premiere of "Not My Father's Son," there are great rewards for any budget. ***All rewards will also be shipped to Canada, despite being marked US only.***
We have received a lot of inquiries regarding international shipping. and after looking into things, the easiest way to do this is on a case by case basis. Send us a quick message with the reward level you would like, along with the city and country it's going to and we'll send you back a shipping quote to include in your pledge.
Brad Johnson – Co-Director, Director of Photography
Raised in the Midwest since the age of two, Brad has always been fascinated with stories involving the heartland. After several encounters with protesters from Westboro Baptist Church, the idea of filming a documentary about the church grew into a deep desire to tell a different story - it wasn’t the church that caught Brad’s heart, it was their victims. As an accomplished Director of Photography and Post Production Manager, Brad has the perfect combination of talent and discipline to tackle a story of this magnitude. As a Director of Photography, Brad has worked on multiple television shows including the currently runniny Showtime documentary series The Years of Living Dangerously, in addition to national commercials, local advertising campaigns and awarded documentaries.
Jason Badgett – Co-Director, Director of Sound Production
Jason caught the documentary bug while studying film production at the University of Kansas. Being fascinated with the way religion interacts with people, Jason also studied religion at KU and incorporates the subject into many of his projects. It was in film school that he met Brad, and the two quickly forged a friendship and production team. Jason has worked on multiple feature films as a sound mixer and engineer including Destination: Planet Negro, and Jayhawkers, as well as several television programs, short films and commercials. He is also very active in the local arts community and is constantly involved in theatre productions.
Terrie Johnson – Co-Director, Creative Director
Terrie’s story is
difficult to condense into one paragraph, but as a well-known public speaker,
she has the unique gift of establishing an immediate connection with her
audience. Within moments of meeting Terrie, people say they feel like they’ve
known her their entire lives. Her sense of integrity, coupled with a genuine
love and concern for others, causes people both young and old to open up and
share their lives and their stories with her. As the Senior Editor of a
nationally recognized advertising agency in Kansas City, Terrie has been
involved with media production in all forms for more than 18 years. She is the
author of two books and writes a daily blog that has a large and growing
readership base. This is Terrie’s first step behind the camera as she directs
the interview sessions.
Sam Billen – Composer
Sam is a hometown Topeka native and has been writing, performing and producing music since his early teens. With his brother Dan, he co-fronted a touring indie rock band called the Billions for 12 years before venturing off into a solo music career. He now releases albums under his own name (Sam Billen) and runs Primary Color Music out of Lawrence, Kansas, composing for film, video games and advertising. Sharing Topeka as a hometown with the Phelps family and Westboro Baptist Church, his first memories of them were as a child, seeing them and their neon picket signs popping up around town. Over the years, they began to picket Sam's schools, concerts and other events he attended, and even his church. Sam has worked on several projects with Brad and Jason and is very excited to help tell Nate's story through this film.
Follow Our Progress!
Contact us: NotMyFathersSondoc@gmail.com
Risks and challenges
It is unlikely that Westboro will pursue any sort of legal action against the film; however, we have precautions in place to ensure they will be a non-factor in obstructing the production of the film.
The biggest challenge we face is funding. We are asking for only the bare minimum we need to finish the production of the film, but additional funds will need to be raised to ensure a successful festival run and guarantee distribution upon completion.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
Have a question? If the info above doesn't help, you can ask the project creator directly.
- (35 days)