Oct. 9, 2020

The Appian Media Story: An interview with Craig Dehut and Stuart Peck

The Appian Media Story: An interview with Craig Dehut and Stuart Peck

In this episode I interview the two founders of Appian Media, Craig Dehut and Stuart Peck. They've put together three YouTube series exploring biblical stories in the Bible lands. Their first series, Following the Messiah, told the story of Jesus's ministry. They also produced a series telling the story of the United Kingdom (the times of Saul, David and Solomon).

Their website is at www.appianmedia.org. These are good guys doing good work. Take a look at how they're using digital discipleship to help spread Christianity.

Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/balancingthechristianlife)

Transcript
Kenny Embry:

In this episode of balancing the Christian life will talk to Video Creators Craig DeHut and Stuart Peck from Appian Media about how they use digital discipleship to spread Christianity. Welcome to Balancing the Christian Life. I'm Dr. Kenny Embry. We'll talk about how to be better Christians and better people in the digital age. Let's go. I will never forget the day someone told me about this little media hroup, which had made some high quality videos about the holy lands and told the story of Jesus. In my head, I started thinking someone had finally figured out the power of YouTube to spread the gospel. When I started watching the videos, I immediately recognized an old friend I used to work with at a small Christian College in Florida, talking with another guy about the story of Jesus in the places he lived and taught. Barry Britnell, my old friend, has become a true authority on the Bible lands in his own right. And the guy who was talking to Jeremy DeHut, was cleverly and conveniently asking all the right questions. I worked in television long enough to know the guys behind the scenes were smart in how they cast, directed and edited this online miniseries. The se two guys are my guest today. Craig DeHut and Stuart Peck were just good enough and crazy enough to figure out YouTube was ready to tell the story of Jesus without actors, but with experts. My dad told me that he appreciated my telling you how long the conversation was, and I think he's right. This conversation was about 45 minutes. And I edited it down to about 30. Just to give a little background. All three of us coincidentally worked at a small television station in Bowling Green Kentucky, although not at the same time. But I knew the moment we started talking. I like these guys a lot. I think you will too. Well, today, it's been a very great privilege to be talking to a Stuart Peck and Craig DeHut. They are two founding members of Appian Media. Appian Media is a really interesting project. They put together high quality videos for really bargain basement prices. But that said, they do high production value and they do some amazing things. So guys, I'm really excited to be talking to you today.

Stuart Peck:

Thanks. Glad to be here.

Craig Dehut:

Yeah, glad to talk to you, man.

Kenny Embry:

And in some ways, I kind of feel like this is a reunion of some WBKO ex employees. We all worked at a television station in Bowling Green, Kentucky called WBKO, which is filled with a bunch of amazing characters. But I gotta tell you, it still has a really warm place in my heart.

Stuart Peck:

Yeah, it does. Learned a lot there.

Craig Dehut:

Yeah, we were just talking about that earlier today.

Stuart Peck:

But there could be a whole podcast, WBKO ex employees podcast, that'd be an interesting one.

Kenny Embry:

You know, I have this theory that that most people at some point, spent some time in Bowling Green. I'm a big fan of what you guys are doing. I heard a little about how you got started. And I've read it on your website. I understand that you got together because you're both into video. And that you're interested in basically helping high school students understand what what's going on in Bible class, I see this as well, the first thing we tell them to do is put away your phones. What do you see as your audience? What What was your original vision for this?

Craig Dehut:

That's all you, Stu.

Stuart Peck:

Well, I think we both were seeing it. There definitely wasn't any, that we were seeing exactly what you said, Kenny, these kids that were going to school that were at home, watching and consuming media, all of a sudden would shuffle into the Bible class classroom. And we would tell them, Look, put it all away, we're going to pull out this dusty map. And we're going to write on this chalkboard from 1965. And we're gonna learn the Bible. Are you excited? And they would be like, sure. I mean, so it's kind of, it's kind of like, we were like, Why in the world? Are we trying to teach them this, this book, which is relevant and real and alive, but we're using technology and tools that, you know, our parents used, it just didn't seem to, they didn't connect and and so when Craig and I first sat down, that was really the the void, I think that we were seeing, and us both being in that video background, said, Look, here's where we can kind of fill the gap. We can make videos that are high quality, that are engaging to watch and take them and give them away to people so that way they can take him into Bible classes and say, here's the Bible. And here's how you're used to consuming the Bible.

Craig Dehut:

And you asked the question, what is our audience? It has become a different audience than what we originally started with. Because it was the youth that we were thinking of primarily High School. And we have very quickly come to realize everyone appreciates learning in this way. everyone appreciates seeing rather than just being told, and so it has gone from I hear of three year olds that are dressing up as Jeremy for Halloween, and you know people in their 90s, who say I'll never be able to step foot in that place. But you've now shown it to me.

Kenny Embry:

One of the things that I think you guys are really nailing those this, you're telling a story. Video tells stories better than anything else. And I think one of the things that you've hooked on really well with is the narrative of Jesus, the narrative of the kings, and what you're getting into now, which is the narrative of the seven churches. You guys are great storytellers. And I think one of the things that is refreshing is, you guys are no nonsense Christians who want to tell story number one without compromising production value, but also without compromise to truth. What do you think about that?

Stuart Peck:

Wow, I hope that's the case. I really do. I think that we wanted to just take our talents of communicating simply, and telling great stories, as you mentioned, and use them for God's glory, and use them to share the message of the Bible. We're getting ready to start our fourth video series. And we have several podcasts going. And we have workbooks. And we have all these different things. And the idea is, all of these things point back to Bible study, point back to the Bible point back to glorifying God and showing people the relevance of the Bible. And we hope that we're doing that by telling great stories.

Craig Dehut:

It's a sobering task. It's easy to tell a entertaining story. And if Stu and I were just working together to create fiction, I feel like our job would be a whole lot easier. Instead, we are trying to communicate truth, the truth. And so it involves a lot of prayer. It involves a lot of study, it involves a lot of asking God for direction, and asking him to to bless the plans that we lay or bring the plans that we have, that he doesn't want us to pursue, we say to kill it quickly.

Kenny Embry:

What's your mission? What are your core values? what's what's really important to you guys,

Craig Dehut:

I would say that we want to reignite people's interest in love of Scripture. And we have found a variety of different ways of communicating that one of these days, we'll get around to putting it in a single sentence and calling it a mission statement. But we hope that when people view our content, they don't have to guess at what our objective is.

Kenny Embry:

Part of your mission is to make all of the stuff you make free of charge available to everyone, you put it on a public website, YouTube, everybody can get at it. But free content isn't free to produce, you know that better than I do. And you've figured out how to finance these things in really creative ways.

Stuart Peck:

I think that's all you Craig, you're the mastermind behind Kickstarter. So

Craig Dehut:

it is interesting to see and think about the experiences that God has let us have, prior to this thing getting off the ground, WBKO was actually one of them. One of the experiences that I had had is I had helped to consult and create content for some Kickstarter campaigns, which is this crowdfunding mechanism. And I had learned what works and learn some things that did not work had been a part of a campaign that was very ambitious, and flopped, very spectacularly. When the idea came, that came from Stuart, let's try to create the first five episodes of the series. Let's travel over to Israel, it's very, very expensive. Kickstarter was how this thing got off the ground. And we did a lot of research. And we spent months trying to find out and think about the best way of communicating to people a vision that we had and a need. And really, I would say that's the most effective fundraising mechanism is getting potential donors to recognize that there's a problem, and that you have come up with a solution for that problem. We've already talked about it. The problem was, people, especially young people are getting disengaged with the most important document they will ever read. How do we fix that? How do we reengage them? We're going to do it this way. And it's not ever been done this way. We think that this will be effective. And I'm just blown away that Kickstarter campaign I still I watched it just a couple of weeks ago, the pitch video that we created. There's no video of Israel in our pitch video. Because Stu nd I had never been to Is ael. Only a small portion of ou team had ever been to Is ael, but we pitched an idea. Ov r to close to 200 people be ieved enough in That idea and sa the vision and helped us fi ance it. Our mechanisms for fu draising have changed. Since th n, we became a 501. c three we ve done. Internet fu draisers, we've done in pe son fundraisers, we've used pr ducts to promote things like th t. But in everything, it's he ping people identify that th re's a need and continues to be a need.

Kenny Embry:

And we thought it was very important from the beginning, that video content be free for people to watch. Because, you know, Craig has said it before, it's hard when you are teaching a Bible class when you are looking for good quality content. And you think you find something and then you come up against a paywall. It deters a lot of people from going any further. And we just didn't want that deterence, we want people to be able to find it and consume it. And on the back end of it go, Man, that was so so good. And such a good piece of content that I want to help support the future creation of content with these guys. So that was a big part of it. We do have products, we do have workbooks and DVDs and things that we sell to help raise funds to continue to make these videos. But it was just something that we thought that you know, the gospel is free to everybody. The Bible is free to everybody. We figured these videos about the gospel and about the Bible should be free as well. We've all had that couple that decided that they're going to take the trip to the Holy Land. And when they get back, they keep on telling you over and over again, this just changes the way I see the Bible. I understand things now. And really what you're doing is you're serving as that proxy for, okay, we realize most of you aren't going to go, let us bring it to you. And I think that's a really valuable thing for all of us. I think that's a huge gift. You guys have figured out how to create relationships, both with your donors, and also with your viewers. We originally set out with trying to motivate people who were already Christians to study. But we're quickly finding that folks that may not even identify with any sort of religion are finding us and saying, wow, this is really good. I want to know more about this, or people who are just in a dark place in their lives are finding it and saying, Wow, this was really helpful. Yeah, I would say our audience really is everyone who feels like they need the Bible more. You guys are really pioneers. I call this digital discipleship. I'm not the one who coined that that's been coined by other people. But one of the things you and I both know is, we are living in an age when television is dying, radio is dying, newspapers are essentially dead. And yet, people are reading more, they're watching more, they're listening more. And you guys are really kind of at the forefront of creating content that might not serve the audience's that ABC, CBS or NBC would serve, but are really serving a very specific audience. What do you see as basically some of the major shifts that you seen in digital media today,

Craig Dehut:

we had a conversation with someone earlier who talked about their first video that they ever created for their YouTube channel they did on their phone. I graduated from film school, it's now been almost 15 years ago, the idea of shooting compelling video telling a story with your cell phone. It was laughable. I mean, our phones were We were super excited. I think they were taking two megapixel pictures back then. To be able to have such ready access, the cost of entry is now significantly lower. If we had had this idea a decade ago, to travel to Israel and make a series of what are micro documentaries, the price tag would have been absolutely prohibitive. But the fact that we were able to use what was available, and do that for just over $60,000 to create over two and a half hours worth of content in a single two week trip. That is unheard of. And it's because the tools have now become much more available and accessible.

Stuart Peck:

And I think beyond that the tools are accessible. But we're also seeing a revolution in the media space with this move from television cable satellite to these streaming services pop up and YouTube. Because what it has done is it has taken out the middleman which is Hollywood and said, Look, if you have a good idea, if you have a good story, and you have the ability to create it, you can put it out there for the world.

Kenny Embry:

You've heard the old saying If you can dream it, you can do it. I don't feel like that's ever been truer than it is right now. You have big dreams. You have big goals, and they seem to me to be worthwhile goals.

Craig Dehut:

I have to kind of remind myself that there's likely a different perspective of Stuart and myself from the outside looking in, which is good. We have seen some incredible support and some early success for Appian Media. And God has blessed us in ways that we honestly could never have planned or anticipated. But things have not gone exactly the way that we wished they would when they would. That's been good for us. This isn't Craig and Stu's project, this isn't a resume padder for either of us. I used to get bothered by it. But now I don't mind at all. When people assume that Jeremy was actually the creator of Appian Media simply because he's one of the main faces of the series. There are some people who have no idea that Stu and I are even involved with this. And that's exactly the way that it should be. The content should speak for itself. You shouldn't pat the back of the the preacher and tell him how amazing he is for having presented the gospel, the praise goes to God, I am constantly reminded that this is in his time. And this will be accomplished in the way that he wills. And sometimes that means that we need to wait.

Kenny Embry:

You mentioned that you've had some failures. Do you mind talking about that? What have you learned?

Stuart Peck:

failure is definitely one of the best things for I think anybody because it teaches a lot of lessons, we've been able to look at the things that we've created. And I wouldn't necessarily say they're failures. But each time we create something new, we look at what we did previously and say, Okay, what would we not do again? And we find things that kind of come pouring out and say, Okay, let's do this thing better than before. And we look at trial and triumph. And we say, Okay, what are some things that we did on the last projects that we don't want to repeat, whether that's the stressful nights of editing to meet a deadline, or whether that's frustrations in the field, or whatever the case is, and we try and do that trial and triumph, it hasn't been a failure. Because you know, Lord willing, we will produce it this year and edit it over the next six to eight months. But it's just taken a lot longer than we were hoping we were really planning on churning out a product a year. And all of a sudden, we hit 2019 and thought up this product, and then 2020 rolled around. And so many things got shut down. And so that's kind of where we were it helpful for us to realize and remind ourselves that this isn't, in our time, we can put together great plans, but it's in God's time. And when God wants these things to be created, if he wants to created it at all, then he'll allow it to happen.

Craig Dehut:

When we were in Israel on our third trip shooting for searching for a king. We were at the excavation of Shiloh. And we got some great content, and had an archaeologist show us around. And the last thing on the docket for the day was to get the drone up and get some shots. And we look in the production vehicle. And I thought Stu had grabbed the drone. Stu thought I had grabbed the drone jet. You know, who's got the drone, we've forgot it. It was sitting at the hotel, and we didn't have a drone. And you know, you don't have time to drive back to Jerusalem and then come back to the site. And we likely were not going to be able to come back in the trip. And we got no drone footage from Shiloh. However, once we returned, we found out that the archaeologist himself and his team had actually recorded some amazing drone footage. While there were actually active digs happening. They ended up having footage of it active and working and some incredible stuff. And it worked out better, even though at the time it felt like we had failed. The funding for trial and triumph began last summer, early summer in 2019. And we wanted to raise everything we needed for the entirety of that project and another lessons from the land the Gospels, and we didn't hit it. We got enough to do enough. We're thankful for that. And I look back now and go This actually has worked out well. But it took me 18 months to see that. Sometimes God needs to slow us down or redirect us. And we need to be willing to see that and willing to accept that at times.

Stuart Peck:

Yeah. And I sit here and think about that, Craig and I think about what would trial and triumph look like if we had created 18 months ago and I wouldn't dare say would not look anything like what we're imagining it now. While it was discouraging at the time to see us not hit goals and not be able to book travel for production and whatnot. We look at it now and go This project is going to be even better because of us being told to wait.

Craig Dehut:

And I know we say this with every project. But Kenny, let me tell you, this is going to be unlike anything we have produced thus far. It's going to be and, you're right Stu, way better than have, if God had allowed us to travel in the summer of 2019. I can't wait to get over there to shoot it, to get it in front of everybody, because this thing is going to be pretty special.

Kenny Embry:

Well, you kind of made some reference to the pivot. And I gotta tell you, one of the things is really exciting to me is you guys are YouTubers. You guys are video producers. And when you decided to pivot, you became podcasters. What have you learned?

Stuart Peck:

We've learned that people like podcasts, we've, we've, we've got a couple different podcasts offerings already out there. And then another one coming online, hopefully later this year. But Barry Britnell, who is been on camera for us, and it works on a variety of ways behind the scenes, I think, you know, Kenny, he was actually drumming, the podcast drum long before any of the rest of us. Eventually, we said, Yep, let's get on board with the podcast, because we need to be able to go to where people are, in whatever space they're coming to. video was our bread and butter. That's what we knew. That's what we were comfortable with. But we knew that there were people out there that needed the gospel that may never come across our videos, but may listen to a podcast every day of the week. And we said well, why are we not talking to them as well. And so we just took what we knew from video and from creating high quality content and said, Look, if we're going to do podcasts, we're going to make them as high quality as we possibly can. Because we don't want to just be another podcast, we want to be something that kind of rises to the top and people go, Okay, that's really good quality content. Because whether it's podcasts, whether that's videos, whether that's workbooks, whatever it is, we just want to be quality, because we know that people judge books by their cover, if it's not good quality, they may not even open it up and take a look at it.

Kenny Embry:

What are some of the lessons you've learned because you know better than I do. These are two different mediums. They really do draw different audiences with different expectations.

Craig Dehut:

It is interesting, and again, I mentioned at the beginning of the podcast, how God has used some things, in our previous experiences to prep us for this. My first job in high school was working at a radio station, I walked in to apply for their receptionist and I walked out with a weekend show. And I thought that was fun. I got paid to play on the radio in my late teens. And almost 14 years later, that skill set would come in handy when we started thinking about what else can appian Media provide to people, we talked about going to the the city squares where people are already gathering in order to proclaim the gospel. And man podcasts are a well populated city square, we were able to when we finally pulled the trigger on it, jump right into it pretty quickly because of experience both that I had and that Stuart had and jet himself. You never know what skill set you may need later. And so I've learned to just be willing to, to accept any job be willing to work at any task, because you never know how God may use that.

Kenny Embry:

You mentioned Barry Britnell now, I'm an old friend of Barry's. I've known him for a long time. But here you've got one guy who's acting as the every man and Barry as the sage to teach us about things. How did you land on that formula? Because that is a classic formula for storytelling?

Stuart Peck:

Well, I think Craig tells the story way better than I do. But he and I were researching that first trip. And of course Barry's name came up quite a bit. And when we started talking to Barry, we said, Look, we need to have him on camera. And it just fit I think he and Jeremy they're very different personalities. They know a lot of the same stuff. Having Barry kind of be this tour guide for Jeremy as who you said is the everyman guy was just kind of the right format. You know, is it a format that we're going to use all the time? No, but it really worked well with seeing some of these sites in Israel that pertained to the life of Jesus and into the United Kingdom of Israel. And I think we could all put ourselves into Jeremy's shoes and be shuffling around with Barry leading us. And then on top of it Barry has this very warm fatherly feeling to him when we put them into the role of lessons from the land, which is a children's series. It just kind of made sense that here's a guy that I think children could feel really comfortable listening to talk about the Bible.

Kenny Embry:

He's somebody who's just sharp, and you get that. And yeah, and the other thing that you get really fast is, he doesn't feel like they need to use the 50 cent word. He explains things simply and fully. And I think, again, you just think about your audience, I think about who he's talking to you guys started off talking to high school students, he nails that he's so good at that.

Stuart Peck:

We do refer to him occasionally as the walking Bible encyclopedia. So

Kenny Embry:

I'm guessing you guys would disagree with me on this. I'm gonna say it anyway. You guys are influencers? And you guys did not become influencers from nothing who influenced you?

Stuart Peck:

The term influencers is kind of one that I would Yeah, like you said, we would disagree with you, because I would never see us as influencers, at least myself, Craig may have an audience that I have no idea about that. But I think we've kind of been influenced by various sources, both within the Bible and within Hollywood, I mean, we look at a lot of the stuff that Hollywood is doing. And we go, man, the production values there, the talent is there. We take bits and pieces from different movies and different documentaries we see on Netflix or wherever. And we say, Okay, I love that, let's use those elements. But then we also look at folks that are in the Christian media space, who are doing great things, and say, Okay, let's take their sentiment, we had an interview with a big Christian director, who makes big budget movies. And he's so humble in the way that he gives God the glory for all of the things that he's been allowed to do. We talked to an actor who said that he turned down roles, because he wasn't comfortable with the content that was being talked about in the movie. And it's like, those are the people that I think are influencing us. And as you mentioned earlier, in the podcast, we need to stand firm on what we're going to do and what we're not going to do.

Craig Dehut:

Yeah, you should hear the three, four of us production people sit around and go, have you seen such and such a movie? They did this thing with the camera that okay, how can we do that? So that's certainly part of our conversations. You know, like Stuart said, in addition to the things that we would read in Scripture, there are attitudes about David and about Paul, and obviously Christ Himself, that are influencing the way that we make decisions. There are also people in my life that both of my parents encouraged me to pursue this crazy camera love that I had, that started with ridiculous movies shot in the backyard. But when I came to them and said, we're thinking of funding a production trip to Israel with Kickstarter, neither one of them were like, sorry, what they both were like, That's amazing. What's Kickstarter, they didn't fully understand it. But they were fully supportive. And I also I regularly come back to this, this influence that I had in film school, his name was Mr. Bentley, he was a professor of mine, and he was a grumpy, grumpy guy. But he was so adamant that we learn to create things with excellence on time, according to specifications, with no excuses to the best of our ability. And beyond that, and he would put up with no less. This guy worked for television studio, just like we all did, right back in BK, Oh, you were not late. 10 seconds was the difference between keeping your job or losing it. And that has gone with me with with everything that we produce is, I want this to be the best that we have ever made.

Kenny Embry:

What does success look like for you guys? At the end of this,

Stuart Peck:

I would say it's changed for me. For me, when we started this success was being the biggest and the best and doing things for me. And as I've grown more mature, and had a couple of kids along the way, I've learned that it's not about me, it's about what is the best for God. And so I think success is, look, if one person finds this, and it changes their life, and they study their Bible more diligently. That to me is success, not how many subscribers can we have? Not how many followers not how many dollars we can raise? If somebody finds it and is able to use it for God's glory, then that to me is successful. Yeah.

Craig Dehut:

To me, I want to be able to get to heaven and meet someone for the first time and hear that they're there because of something that they watched or read or consumed from appian Media

Kenny Embry:

the way and my podcasts, as I say be good and do good. What is good?

Craig Dehut:

Well, there's this book. It's got to distinct parts, the Old Testament and the New Testament. And it's it's whatever he has deemed good.

Kenny Embry:

Alrighty guys, I'll let you get out of here. I really appreciate y'all doing this. This was fabulous.

Craig Dehut:

Absolutely.

Stuart Peck:

Yeah. Thanks, Kenny. We really appreciate it. Yeah.

Kenny Embry:

I hope you enjoyed meeting Craig and, Stu, if you didn't make this connection in the conversation, Craig and Jeremy, the guy who appears in the videos are brothers. If you haven't checked out their stuff, you're missing some excellent content. Their stuff is at appian media.org. I'll put that in the show notes so you can find it. They are primarily video guys, but they have two excellent podcasts as well. You should definitely listen to them. Also, at the time of this recording, the guys are in Turkey recording their new series about the seven churches in Asia. Safe travels, guys, you're doing good work. So until next week, let's be good and do good.