As a writer, Art Ayris has a gift for telling a compelling story. Yet one of his greatest talents may be figuring out just the right medium to use to deliver the story to his intended audience.
When Art wanted to share stories from the Bible with young people, he discovered one of the best ways to do that was through comic books, so he started writing comics.
When he wanted to show how the lives of homeless families in Leesburg, Florida, were changed when a local church bought a motel to provide them a place to live, he wrote a screenplay about it.
That led to a feature film set for release this year called “No Vacancy.”
Those are just two examples of content Art has created through his central Florida company, Kingstone Studios.
In addition to comics, film and animation projects in the works, his company is behind the Kingstone Bible, which he describes as the most complete graphic adaption of the Bible ever done.
“I used to be a children’s pastor, as well as a high school public educator,” Art explains. “I was always scratching for materials to connect with kids, especially in the church. A lot of kids read comics. We discovered while you couldn’t get them to read the Bible, you could get them to read comic books.”
Although he has written many comic books, Art got his start in screenwriting.That gave him the background to tell the real-life story of how his church, First Baptist Leesburg, bought a motel to help the homeless—and turn the story into a movie.
Now that the movie has been shot and edited, Art looks back with pride as he reflects on the finished product.
“There is a ton of drama in this story,” he says, “because there were all kinds of struggles with neighbors, the city commission, the financial aspect, you name it. Honestly, it was pretty easy for me to write because I lived through it.”
The film is built around three main characters all facing their own challenges: the church pastor, played by Dean Cain; the newspaper reporter, played by Sean Young; and a recovering drug addict, played by T.C. Stallings.
“It’s the merging of a true story about this guy, Cecil, a Black guy, who got off crack cocaine and later became very successful,” Art says, “the pastor of our church and his struggle to raise the money while dealing with the government and the neighbors, and then the reporter who wrote the article that encouraged people to get behind the project.”
Art says there are surprises in the film, even for people familiar with some of the real-life events.
“There is a lot of tension in the last 15 minutes of the story,” he notes. “It has a very dramatic ending.”
“No Vacancy” was filmed in the community where much of the story took place.
Since it was shot during the COVID-19 pandemic—at a time when film production was curtailed in other parts of the coun-try—Kingstone was able to get highly experienced people on the film crew.
The movie was directed by Kyle Saylors, a filmmaker based in Nashville.
Art says he had not realized until all the actors and crew came together how much Hollywood loves a true story.
“Dean Cain and everyone said doing a true story is a dream for an actor,” Art says. “I didn’t realize it was such a big draw to talent. But every actor—from the big ones down to those with smaller roles—loved that it was a true story.”
While it recounts something that happened in one Florida community, the film delves into topics of national interest, such as racism and homelessness.
“The timing for this movie is perfect with all of the things that are happening right now,” Art adds.
He is hopeful the film will prompt other groups to find ways to help those in need.
His own church, where he serves as executive pastor, is well-known for its outreach to the needy. It not only bought the motel to house homeless families—now called The Samaritan Inn—it also built a drug-and-alcohol facility for men, a pregnancy center, a children’s shelter and a no-cost medical center staffed by 50 volunteer doctors and dentists.
“Maybe the movie can encourage other churches and nonprofits to take risks on behalf of people having a difficult time right there in their own communities,” Art says. “We want to give people hope.”
As far as his writing career goes, Art says if “No Vacancy” is a success, he has another feature film or two he has written that are ready to go.
He also recently signed an agreement for a new animated series called “The Kingstone Universe.”
“We’re still doing comic books,” he notes. “We’re trying to be faithful at what God has called us to do.”