LEESBURG, Fla. (BP) – Florida pastor Cliff Lea never envisioned being portrayed on the big screen by Dean Cain of Superman fame.
But Cain plays Lea in a leading role in “No Vacancy,” a true story of God’s miraculous power at First Baptist Church of Leesburg where Lea is senior pastor.
“I knew that it was the Lord’s hand, and I thought to myself, what a very unusual thing for a church, and what a blessing,” Lea told Baptist Press of the miraculous story.
No Vacancy unfolds in 2008 during the Great Recession and housing crisis as First Leesburg attempts to buy a blighted motel adjacent to its downtown campus, hoping to help homeless families rebuild their lives.
Area property owners objected. First Leesburg didn’t have the funds. Hundreds of thousands of dollars had to be raised within weeks. Government boards had to approve the project.
That’s when resounding blessings unfolded, beginning with the community-swaying news coverage by Orlando Sentinel reporter Brandi Michaels, who was yet to be saved.
Longtime First Leesburg Executive Pastor Art Ayris, an award-winning screenwriter and CEO of Kingstone Studios, wrote and produced the movie showing nationwide Monday, May 9, in most locations for one night only. A few theaters plan a four-night run, Ayris said.
No Vacancy “is 90 to 95 percent just absolute accurate with everything that happened,” Ayris told Baptist Press. “If you just want to tell facts, you do a documentary. But if you want to tell a story, you know you do a movie.”
Except Michaels’ brother, who’s fictional, “they’re all real characters you can touch and poke all on, except for Cecil, who’s with the Lord. But it’s literally … 90, 95 percent just totally true.”
T.C. Stallings of the Kendrick Brothers’ “War Room” fame portrays Cecil, an emotionally haunted drug addict whom God restores and positions to lead a First Leesburg ministry until his death in 2019.
Sean Young, who has starred or co-starred in more than 50 movies and multiple TV episodes, portrays Michaels in the role, chosen after a casting call drew 1,400 applicants for the female lead, Ayris said.
Cain has starred in several successful films including “God’s Not Dead,” but perhaps is best known for his portrayal of Superman in the 1990s television series “Lois & Clark – The New Adventures of Superman.”
With Katrina Cook Katz as casting director, Ayris followed Hollywood’s “three-star” formula.
“I’d done another movie before, and I’d done a documentary, and I’d produced some television,” Ayris said, “but I’d realized I can’t make another movie unless I’ve got talent in it. There’s something in Hollywood – it’s called a three-star formula – that you really need to have three bankable stars, really, that can carry the movie.”
Among Ayris’ writing and producing awards for film and television are Hollywood’s Next Success Best TV Movie, Florida Film & Television’s Best Feature, and Angel Awards’ Best Feature. He’s a prolific writer of comic books, including “The Last Convert of John Harper,” “Babylon,” “101 Questions about the Bible” and others.
Ayris made the movie for just over $1 million, estimating that normal production costs for a comparable feature would be $2.5 million. He took no salary for his work.
The production that began in early September 2021, survived unscathed the outbreak of the Delta strain during the COVID-19 pandemic, weathered several petty break-ins at its production trailers and finished the project within months. No Vacancy was filmed onsite in Lake County.
“This is lightning fast,” Ayris said. “That’s another reason we feel like God was really in this thing. … This is very quick, and I’m rejoicing in the Lord.”
“I really want to give hope to churches, my fellow Southern Baptist churches, to stay on mission in their community and in their area,” Ayris said. “There’s like three stories within the story, but one of the stories is this church staying on mission in their community.”
No Vacancy “is literally about a Southern Baptist church. Obviously, I want a lot of Southern Baptist churches to support the movie and tell their people about it,” Ayris said, “but I really want to encourage my brothers and sisters, in the context of their church, just to stay on mission and see what God will do.
“And this is a story (where) we stepped out on faith and God did a miracle.”