A former investment banker finds purpose in a more creative pursuit with a higher calling.
One year after leaving Beijing, China, and a career in global emerging markets investments to embark on a personal journey around the world, Tyler Zacharia (MBA ’16) found himself in Indonesia with his wife Katie (’07, JD ’11) after feeling a pull on his heart to defer business school to explore a more personal calling.
The Zacharias had spent the last eight months backpacking around the globe and were one week away from returning to the U.S. when the Graziadio School of Business and Management alumnus received a phone call from Dale Brown (’64), one of the investors in his previous firm’s global activities. He had heard that Zacharia was returning and asked if he would be interested in managing a new film fund.
“I said I don’t know a thing about investing in films, but I have always loved movies, so I’d give it a shot,” says Zacharia, who had spent the last six years of his career investing in small businesses around the world as vice president of Schulze Global Investments. Soon after, he found himself sitting in Martin Scorsese’s living room discussing a film that was over 25 years in the making.
Just five months prior, Zacharia had moved to Los Angeles to meet with industry contacts and talk to everyone he could, trying his best to decipher the business side of film and build an investment platform that met the fund’s goals. When Zacharia first learned of the Silence project, he and Brown, a member of the Pepperdine Board of Regents and a leader in real estate, oil and gas, technology, and construction sectors, planned on only being financial participants in the film. As they proceeded, certain production issues called for them to take over the business side of production with another partner.
“I went from being a financial participant to all of a sudden dealing with actors’ agents, distribution deals, and budget questions … that was a learning curve!” Zacharia says. “My prior investment experience certainly helped on the business side, and thankfully the creative side of the film was left in the hands of Scorsese and a team of the industry’s most accomplished professionals.”
In Scorsese’s New York City home, Zacharia learned of the prolific director’s passion project that was threatened and derailed several times due to lingering legal issues. There he discovered a shared hunger for telling an important story in a powerful way.
Based on a 1966 novel of the same name by Japanese author Shūsaku Endō, Silence examines 17th-century Japan, when Christianity was outlawed in the primarily Shinto and Buddhist country. The story follows two Portuguese Jesuit missionaries who travel to Japan to assist a local church in investigating an apostasy claim made against their mentor, a Jesuit priest. Once there they find that many Christians are being persecuted for refusing to renounce their faith to appease the religious majority, and discover that a group of Christians are practicing their faith in secret so as to avoid torture and death.
The novel tackles difficult issues of martyrdom and Christ’s apparent silence at moments of religious persecution. Themes of human frailty, faith, community, and society are prevalent in the book and echoed throughout the film, which stars Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield, and Adam Driver.
“The film explores questions like ‘What is faith?’, ‘Where is God in the midst of suffering?’, and ‘Why is he silent?’, or more importantly ‘Is he actually silent?’” says Zacharia. “It’s an important dialogue for audiences to engage in.”
What attracted Brown and Zacharia to the film was its potential to engage wider audiences in questions of spirituality and faith. He warns that certain Christian audiences may be surprised by some of the themes presented in the film.
“There are nasty parts of human existence that are not easily explained, but it’s about exploring these troubling areas of life and trying to open people up to bigger ideas and questions through tackling difficult subject matter that could eventually point them to the divine, where we believe there is truth to be found,” Zacharia explains. How the film engages the cultural dialogue is just as important
to Zacharia and Brown as its financial success. “What kinds of questions are being asked? What topics are being explored? Both financial and cultural feedback are equally as important for us.”
Brown adds, “When professionals of the artistic stature of Martin Scorsese and other talent attached to Silence are involved, the work is sure to be noticed and have impact.”
Zacharia explains that a sense of purpose is vital to filmmaking. “If you don’t know why you’re there, it’s really tough to operate,” he explains. “Films in general can be messy to make, so beyond financial motivation, you have to have a connection to the story.” Zacharia and Brown have also been involved in several other films, including The Ticket, starring Dan Stevens, Malin Akerman, and Oliver Platt, which recently premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.
“What we ultimately want to focus on is how do we as Christians engage culture through films in a way that first and foremost tell good stories that point to messages of redemption, of hope, of forgiveness, and maybe even engage deeper spiritual questions, but not necessarily give answers,” Zacharia maintains.
“Good art asks such engaging questions that it forces people to ponder and seek out answers for themselves, which is the beginning of any true spiritual journey.”