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This Proposal Features a Film Within a Film and One Incredible Backstory

When Max Zoghbi wanted to ask for his girlfriend’s hand in marriage, he turned to his other passion: making movies. 

Photography by: Carolynn Seibert Photography

If a vision doesn’t come together in filmmaking, the director shouts, “Take two.” If it doesn’t come together in life, it’s trickier. But that didn’t deter Max Zoghbi of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. After meeting Bonnie Kate at her birthday party, becoming smitten, and eventually asking her out, circumstances took a turn for the worst. There was a “slightly too epic” bad date that initially separated the pair. Then Bonnie Kate contracted a prolonged illness while doing missionary work in Haiti. Finally the woman of his dreams, during a road trip with a friend to Colorado, made an impromptu decision to see the midnight screening of The Dark Night Rises at a movie theater in Aurora. At the screening, a gunman shot into the audience with multiple firearms, killing 12 people and injuring 70 others, including Bonnie Kate, whose left knee was torn by a bullet. 


After Bonnie Kate returned home from Colorado and went through multiple surgeries and countless hours of rehabilitation, Max rekindled their relationship. This time, he decided to be there for her first as a friend. Their love story began shortly thereafter. The couple were married in May, but not before Max asked Bonnie Kate to be his bride with a proposal—a slightly too epic one!—that this time brought the pair even closer together.


He invited his sweetheart to a theater and surprised her with a homemade trailer that premiered during the previews and kicked off a sequence of events leading up to the moment he popped the question. Here, he shares how he came up with the idea and why he decided to document the special day further with the video embedded here.

How did you meet Bonnie Kate?

I met her at her birthday party when she was turning 16. I was dating a girl at the time, a girl who was actually Bonnie Kate’s part-time youth leader. I distinctly remember meeting Bonnie Kate and thinking to myself, “That is the most beautiful person I’ve ever met.” The thought was fleeting but substantial. It was about another three years before I asked Bonnie Kate’s father if I could ask her out.


What did you do on that “slightly too epic” date that scared her off?

Looking back, it was so over the top it’s not even funny. I’m glad it scared her off! The night began with a riddle-based scavenger hunt and a reverse dinner. We grabbed cheesecake first at Copeland’s Cheesecake Bistro, then dinner at a local burger joint Fat Cow, then coffee at Baton Rouge’s local Highland Coffee’s. Then in my studio I had prepared a kid-style fort of blankets with her favorite flowers and a projector. We watched Pride and Prejudice and stayed up all night talking. 


You knew she was the one for quite awhile. When did Bonnie Kate realize it?

I really knew about two months into our relationship. About a year ago, we went to California to visit Bonnie Kate’s sister, Madeline. Her sister asked her about our future. For some reason or another, after that trip something in her heart just clicked and she was ready. 


Had you started talking about getting engaged and married?

I had mentioned it once before early on and it did not go over well at all. It was then that I decided, after much wise council from my friends, parents, and pastors, that I was going to wait until she brought it up again. Once she was there, though, she literally would ask me every week if I was going to propose!


Can you share the details leading up to the proposal?

I had a few parameters going into the proposal: 1) Her sister, Madeline, had to be there, and she was living in Los Angeles. 2) It could be a surprise and documented, so long as the actual asking was between us. 3) It needed to be soon. 


I knew early on I wanted to do something with film and documenting it, given the nature of what I do. And given our story, I knew I wanted to incorporate the theater into it to help redeem and transform the meaning of that place for Bonnie Kate.


The idea came to fruition in late November. I wrote the script for the fake movie trailer between Thanksgiving and Christmas, all the while asking for help and favors and assembling my team to pull off this madness. It was a logistical nightmare.


Plus, to really surprise Bonnie Kate, I had Madeline, who was in town, pretend to book her flight back to L.A., pack her bags, and fly home. So by the time Bonnie Kate woke up, she was convinced Madeline was gone and, needless to say, she was upset. She knew the only other time Madeline would be back in town would be in February and she didn’t want to wait that long to get engaged. On the way to the theater, she was actually crying because she thought for sure I was going to ask her to get married while Madeline was in town!


Movie theaters represent a creative opportunity for you and a dark place for Bonnie Kate. Did you have any hesitation about proposing in a movie theater? 

I thought about that a ton. The crazy thing is that Bonnie Kate is totally OK when it comes to going to the theater. We still go to this day and enjoy it.


How did you keep your composure while she watched the trailer? 

I didn’t really. I was trying to act as normal as possible, but I kept waiting for it to fail or for something to go wrong. 


What were some of your favorite things about the proposal? 

Her sweet face in the theater at the reveal was pure magic. And just walking her out to all our friends. Then seeing her walk up to the barn. I had waited so very long for that moment and for it to finally be there—for us to be in that moment—after all the crazy planning.


Did you always have the intention to make a film about the proposal or did that idea come later on? 

I knew I wanted to document it as a kind of diary or snapshot that I could come back to for years for myself, her—and even our kids one day!


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