PG for some thematic elements
September 29, 2006
Alex Kendrick, Shannon Fields, Chris Willis, Tracy Goode, Jim McBride
Alex and Stephen Kendrick
Samuel Goldwyn Films, Destination Films
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story behind the story
It Takes a Church ... to Make a Movie
By Chris Carpenter
CBN.com Program Director
- Imagine for a moment that someone in your church has an idea to write, act, direct, and produce a full length Hollywood-style movie. You would probably wish that person well and hope they don’t get swallowed up in their ambitious grandeur.
But what if this person believes the film’s production can be done entirely by members of your own church? Consider 75-year-old Betty Sue operating a high definition film camera. Ponder the idea of head deacon Floyd editing the final product. Or how about your pastor’s wife acting in the lead role.
You would probably think it is not only a crazy idea but impossible. The Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia, thought otherwise. The church has an innovative vision to reach the world from this small corner of the South. They have adopted the non-traditional ministry of filmmaking as a means to spread the Gospel. Blessed by a supportive church family, two talented film-making pastors, and an all-volunteer cast and crew, Sherwood Baptist has achieved this vision not once but twice, with their first production “Flywheel”, and now, “Facing the Giants”, releasing nationwide this Friday.
CBN.com Program Director Chris Carpenter sat down recently with “Facing the Giants” lead actor, director, and co-writer Alex Kendrick to discuss the crazy notion of churches making Hollywood films, a controversial rating for “Facing the Giants”, and the many miracles that made this movie possible.
It is not often that a Baptist church in Georgia, or anywhere for that matter, decides it is going to make a full length feature film. What motivated the Sherwood Baptist Church to do such a thing?
I have always wanted to make movies. In 2002, my brother and I read a survey that was conducted by the Barna Group that basically said movies and television were more influential in our culture than church or religion. That may be obvious to a lot of people but it concerned us when we read that. So, I asked my pastor, Michael Catt, “Would you consider allowing me to try to make a low budget movie as part of my job?”
What was his response? My guess is that many senior pastors would not take kindly to that type of request. They might be quick to point out that you are the youth pastor not the film director.
He was a little timid but Michael challenged us to think in terms of reaching the world from where we were in Albany, Georgia. So I prayed and asked God to give me a plot and He did for another movie we did called “Flywheel”, a movie about a used car salesman who finds the Lord through a pastor buying a car off the lot. So we got this little movie in our local theater and the theater said they would give us one week to show it. Because our church has 3,000 members I think the movie theater let us do it as an investment in the community. We didn’t have any promotion for it but the local television station and newspaper did a story on it. It ended up being their second highest grossing movie for that week so they kept asking us to extend it. This went on for six weeks and eventually played in a couple of other cities. The next thing we knew, Blockbuster had picked it up and it is now in every Blockbuster in North America. We were getting hundreds and hundreds of responses from mostly men that said, “I watched this movie and it challenged the way I do my business. It challenged my role as a husband and father.” So, when we saw that type of impact which was hugely fulfilling … because we were just trying to minister to our community. So our pastor said, “Feel free to make another one.”
So what happened next?
My brother Stephen and I wrote the story for “Facing the Giants” after much prayer. This time we asked the Lord if he would allow us to take a “step up”. We prayed for a high definition camera so that we might be able to now get this film into about a dozen theaters this time. So, once again our church, about 500 members, and five guys from the Orlando, Florida area who do professional productions – one lighting guy, one makeup guy, one sound guy, one camera guy, and one editing guy, who essentially did a boot camp for our church to train our people. The church was the cast and crew. We ended up spending about $100,000, all of it entirely funded by church members.
Your story to this point is inspiring but it is here that I think it crosses over some threshold and becomes a miracle. You asked CCM artist Third Day if they would do a song for “Facing the Giants”. They were initially skeptical but mention it to their record distributor (Provident), who in turn mentions it to their parent company (Sony) who just happened to be looking for a faith based film project based on the success of “The Passion of the Christ”. Click, click, click. What was your reaction to all of this?
When they (Provident) called and told us that we thought they were kidding. But our whole church was praying for this. Provident said they could put it in about 400 theaters to start and chose September 29 as the release date. Now we have an entirely made church movie that will release in 400 theaters on September 29th. It truly is a miracle.
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, “Facing the Giants” is the story of Grant Taylor, a high school football coach who has never led his team to a winning season. There is a movement from many of the parents to have him fired at the end of the season. Further complicating matters, Grant and his wife are struggling through infertility. He has essentially given up on himself. Tell me more.
Basically everyone faces giants of some sort and we cannot face them on our own. We are not meant to. When people walk out of the theater they will walk out with the sense that God not only loves them and wants a relationship with them but God wants us to walk through life with Him. We do present the Gospel in the movie but it is not thrown in your face. It is interwoven into the story and very clear that Jesus Christ is the son of God and died on the cross to save us.
Speaking of facing giants you have faced a few of your own lately with the Motion Picture Association of America. They gave your film a PG rating, not for violent football scenes, not for the adult theme of infertility, but for the religious content it contains. Did this offend you?
You know, even when Provident picked this up and Sony said they liked it, they were not going to give us $30 million dollars to promote it. So we started praying, “God, they are willing to put it in the theaters but how do we get the word out?” Well, the movie rating came back as PG. We said, “Well, ok, the movie is PG.” But the reasoning behind it was that we advocated one religion over others and proclaim that Christianity is the right way and that deserves a warning to parents. We were not upset but we were surprised. I had never heard of this happening before. One guy (Terry Mattingly) decided to do an article on this and questioned the decision that was made. And the next thing we knew, The Drudge Report, Fox News, CNN, The Los Angeles Times, everybody, grabbed it and they were calling us for interviews. What can I say, it was a blessing in disguise. We now had our own marketing budget for free. It was something that only God could have done.
I’m suspecting that this movie is going to do pretty well. The storyline seems good and it sounds like you have experienced a lot of miracles along the way. But what happens with all the folks at your church? Are they becoming enamored by the notoriety this movie brings? Is Sherwood Baptist turning into a mini movie factory?
No to your first question and yes to the second. We are doing a third film. When we did our auditions with our church members as many as 120 came out to read for the eight main characters. This is how we approached it. We first told them that no one is getting paid to work on this movie. We emphasized that this is a ministry of the church and the reason that we are using this avenue is because if the world goes and sees movies and this is an effective way to reach them by sharing our story with them – for example, you cannot recall most of the sermons you have heard in your life but you can remember lines from a movie you saw a decade ago. Because of that we wanted to use that avenue to reach people knowing that Jesus told stories to make his point – the Parables. So, from back then until today, good stories still impact people. So if we can tell a good visual story like that then that is what we want to do. So, are we doing this to further careers? No. We told our church people this from the very beginning and were emphatic about it.
Have you seen any growth in your church as a result of your movie making endeavors?
Yes, definitely. It’s funny because this morning I was reading the book of John about Jesus feeding the 5,000. In a way this project was our five loaves and two fish. We originally meant to reach our community, then we were thinking it would be great to get it in a few theaters, and then Blockbuster came along, but to see the Lord open a distribution door we were not even trying to open, and to now say we are going to do a mass theatrical release to thousands of screens, potentially worldwide, that is so much bigger than we ever expected. This project is so much bigger than us. Our church has learned that, “Hey, God still takes people living in a no name town and does things that only can be described as the hand of God.”
Final question. Why do you think God has so anointed these movie projects? Do you have any sort of perspective on this?
It is hard to say if God is doing this for this reason or for that reason except to say, I think that our people which is south Georgia, mainly blue collar whatever; a group of people got together and said, “Is our God the God of the impossible?” Well, we want to believe that He is. Now, how big can this get? We don’t know. But God, if this is where people are going then let’s go to where they are. In fact, the first time we ever screened this at a film festival we had 284 people accept Christ.
It’s all about a church coming together and saying, “God, would you do something larger than us and we are going to come together in unity (and we did). We are going to pray in unity serve together in unity and You do something with it.”
And He certainly has.
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