Ben Rosa wouldn't seem to be the logical choice to direct a Christian film.
His background is in animation, and his only film was a short about an abused child who escapes into fantasy.
And even though Rosa is a Christian, his taste in films didn't lean toward the religious.
"It's not really my genre," Rosa said. "I like horror."
But for some reason, when the writer and the producer of a Christian film called The Message saw Rosa's work, they decided he was the director they wanted.
The Message, which was filmed entirely in the Tampa Bay area with a mostly local cast, premiered at an invitation-only screening at Muvico Centro Ybor on Jan. 10. But you're not likely to see it in theaters or on TV any time soon.
At least for the moment, it's being marketed to Christian organizations, especially churches.
Rosa said he's happy with the film, even though severe budget restraints and his limited experience as a director sometimes made the shoot challenging.
"We had to figure out how to do the things we wanted to do as we went along," he said.
He filmed at local businesses and featured shots of their signs in exchange for food for the cast and crew. Except for the two leads, his actors were just plain folks who had never acted before.
"I actually don't like working with stage actors, because they're concerned with everything technically right," he said. "If I use inexperienced actors, they're more genuine."
The Message follows a self-absorbed computer tech who's about to be married. He's not religious, but his wife-to-be is Christian.
A photograph from a pivotal day in his life starts showing up on computers he's fixing. It's a picture of his family at the beach. Eventually we learn that it was taken moments before his father drowned and that he hasn't spoken to his mother and sister in years.
The photograph starts appearing more often. At one point, dozens of laptops in an office turn themselves on and display the photo when there's no one else around.
He thinks someone is playing tricks, even when he gets instant messages from God. But eventually he's led to the Openwater Church on Race Track Road, where the pastor helps him come to some realizations about his life.
The film's writer, Joe Navarro, approached Rosa with a shorter version of the script after a screening of Gisela's Closet, Rosa's short film that took home top honors at the Gasparilla Film Festival in 2008.
Rosa fleshed out the script, and helped to gather a cast of locals to make their acting debut in the film. Among them are Arlane DiGiovannie, Pastor Billy Brown, Pastor David Towner, Rachel Spears, Cindy Miller-Ray and Mollie Anderson.
Miller-Ray, a State Farm agent in Seffner, and Anderson, who works for Allstate in Sun City Center, have starred in a number of community theater productions in the Brandon area.
Even though the film was shot entirely in the Tampa Bay area, the locale is never mentioned. Except for a few shots of local businesses, there are virtually no local landmarks.
One exception is a stone staircase at Philippe Park in Safety Harbor. The cast and crew of The Message were filming at the park, not even realizing that the staircase — which, in the film, looks almost spookily out of place in the midst of a wooded beach — was there.
Rosa made it the setting for a pivotal moment in the film.
"I came across that and it was perfect, and I said, 'Whoa, I just have to use this,' " Rosa said.
Marty Clear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.