|Most aspiring Christian filmmakers (perhaps your teen is one of them) hope to impact the culture by impacting Hollywood. Bright lights. Big stars. Power lunches with a purpose. But it seems the real winds of change are blowing 2,257 miles away in Albany, Ga. That’s where Alex Kendrick and the media ministry team at Sherwood Baptist Church gave the studios a little competition in 2006 with the success of their homegrown faith-and-football flick, Facing the Giants. |
Kendrick wrote, directed and starred in Giants. And while that may not land him on Variety’s list of Tinseltown MVPs, it garnered attention. It also earned him the respect of audiences longing for intelligent faith-affirming films they can share with friends without apologizing for the production values. Kendrick’s latest project, Fireproof, is a worthy follow-up. We spoke with Christian cinema’s man of the moment:
How did the success of Facing the Giants compare with your expectations?
We were told that, without any big stars or special effects, it could make $3-5 million. So when it did over $10 million, everybody was pleasantly surprised. The DVD also stunned us. It sold somewhere between 1.5 and 2 million copies, and it’s in 56 countries and 13 languages.
Is it true that Facing the Giants was the in-flight movie on an Arab airline?
Yeah, we were shocked. We got an e-mail from a missionary who was the only American on that flight. He was surrounded by Muslims, but he said everyone on the airplane just sat glued to the screen. Also, a very popular cruise line showed Facing the Giants throughout a weeklong cruise. The Lord continues to amaze us by opening doors we never could have opened on our own.
Christian filmmaking has taken a significant step forward as a result of what God is doing through you and your brother, Stephen. How did the two of you get started? Did you make movies together as boys?
We did. Most of them were just for fun. When we went into ministry in our early twenties, that’s when the Lord began to turn our hearts toward using movies as a vehicle to minister to people.
Did particular movies from your youth inspire you to pursue a career in writing and directing?
Absolutely. I remember going to see Disney movies like Swiss Family Robinson and Herbie the Love Bug when I was 9 years old. That’s when I thought, I must do this. I think I was 12 when we got our first TV, so we had to be creative. In the ’80s, when those first big, bulky camcorders came out, we talked our parents into buying one. We went around our neighborhood filming our own versions of Indiana Jones (we called him Alabama Jones) and James Bond and those types of things. It kind of developed a knack for storytelling.
How did your parents react to that creative drive, and what did they do to encourage you?
At first they were concerned. They knew the lifestyle awaiting people who head to Hollywood. But as we got older, they continued to pray and encourage us to use our abilities for God’s glory. I’m the second of three boys, Stephen being the youngest. Our parents kind of pressured our older brother into playing sports and learning instruments so he would be well-rounded. He turned out to be a genius with computers. They learned from that. So when Stephen and I were growing up, they challenged us to pursue areas of giftedness. In our case, it was the desire to reach people for God who might not go to church but are comfortable going to a movie theater.
When you talk to people about making and distributing movies, what are they consistently surprised to learn about the process?
Number one, how hard it is. For every two-hour movie, we shoot about 32 hours that you never see on the screen. It takes a lot longer to shoot a film than most people realize. Then there are all of the organizational issues … a lot to coordinate. We had 1,200 people help us with Fireproof, including prayer teams. Because, in a sense, you’re going to war. Just because what you’re doing is honored by God, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a very grueling process.
After the success of Facing the Giants, have other churches contacted you for advice on starting a film division? What have you told them?
We’ve had hundreds of contacts from people who want to make their own movies or want to give us scripts. It’s been a bit overwhelming. So what we have determined to do is this: Instead of having 500 identical conversations, we’ve begun to think in terms of not only putting out movies, but training the next generation to use media for God’s purposes. We’re forming conferences and seminars to teach everything we’ve learned up to this point: script writing, directing, producing, acting, budgeting, the legal aspects. We’ve been speaking at some outside conferences, such as National Religious Broadcasters and Christian Booksellers Association, but we’re also developing our own, where folks can come to us.
Is there a fine line between conveying biblical truths too subtly in a movie and being too preachy about it?
There is, but you know, there are two views. One is that you should let the art speak for itself and let people infer from it what God wants to say. The other view involves using the art to present the gospel in no uncertain terms so that people won’t miss it. There’s a place for both. God has called us to a certain style of filmmaking, and we’re going to stay true to that. Our goal is for it to be natural but clear. We want to have a solid gospel message so intertwined in the plot that it never feels like we’re pausing the movie to preach to the audience. We want it to come through in natural conversations, lived out in everyday ways. People are so influenced by movies, television and the Internet. We’re just thrilled to create entertainment that glorifies the Lord and points people to Him.
Speaking of media’s impact, what boundaries have you set up in your own home?
Christine and I have five children, ranging in age from 2 to 9. We don’t want to shelter them entirely, because as they get older they need to understand what the world is like and be able to face it with wisdom and a biblical perspective. So we’re instilling in them a biblical worldview. We carefully talk about issues when they come up, even sensitive ones, which I’m sure will become even more challenging as they get older.
One of those sensitive issues, pornography, is addressed very tactfully in Fireproof, your new film about a marriage in crisis. How did God impress upon you that this was the story to tell at this particular time?
After Flywheel and Facing the Giants, we asked God for an idea that would impact all of culture. He pointed us to marriage. The movie is about Caleb and Catherine Holt, who’ve been married for seven years. He’s a firefighter; she works at the local hospital. Their marriage is on its last legs. But right before they call it quits, Caleb’s dad, a Christian, challenges him to hold off on the divorce for 40 days. He gives him a handwritten book called The Love Dare, which Caleb agrees to read simply to honor his father. Every day he’s challenged to demonstrate an attribute of love even if he doesn’t feel like it. Catherine doesn’t respond favorably at first. She thinks he’s trying to butter her up to get more out of the divorce. Also, just as Caleb starts to resist looking at racy images on the Internet, his wife begins getting attention from another man. So it’s a struggle for both of them. Then, at the halfway point of The Love Dare, Caleb is tempted to quit, complaining to his father, "How am I supposed to demonstrate love over and over to someone who constantly rejects me?"
Which gives him some idea of how our heavenly Father feels.
Exactly. Caleb realizes he’s been doing to God what his wife is doing to him. He begins to learn about unconditional love—that God doesn’t love us because we deserve it, and neither should husbands love their wives because they think they deserve it. It’s about being selfless. It’s a choice. That’s essentially what this movie is about. We do have a lot of action, humor and drama, too. And we wrote it in a masculine way to appeal to both men and their wives. It will open Sept. 26 on 800 screens, and we hope to see it expand from there.
Because Facing the Giants was about a high school football team, there was built-in teen appeal. Fireproof might be a tougher sell with young audiences, but there’s great insight here about what to do and what not to do when they eventually tie the knot.
Absolutely. It’s easier to get a marriage license in this country than it is to get a driver’s license. I like to use the analogy of a pilot taking the controls of a 747. We would never put a couple in the cockpit and say, "All right guys, you’re cleared for takeoff. I hope it works out." A lot of training goes into flying something as complex as an airliner. Likewise, marriage is a very wonderful but complex relationship intended to last a lifetime. It takes a lot of work—before and during marriage—if we want it to succeed.
Hypothetical situation: After Fireproof hits theaters, Stephen bursts through the door to tell you that DreamWorks just called and wants to back your next movie. How do you react?
Well, that sort of thing has already happened. But we believe Psalm 127:1, that unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it. Unless the Lord produces the movie, they labor in vain who produce it. If somebody wants to help fund what we are doing, as long as it’s on these biblical principles and these terms, we will do it. But we’re not interested in having someone who doesn’t share our faith taking the reins and authority away from us. We are adamant about that. The Lord has blessed our efforts so far, and we’re not leaving Him now.
Published September 2008
Fireproof went on to perform quite well during its surprising four months in U.S. theaters. With a budget of just $500,000, the film grossed nearly $33.5 million at the box office, and has sold an estimated 1.5 million copies on DVD.
On November 15, 2009, Alex Kendrick (along with his brother Stephen and executive pastors/producers Michael Catt and Jim McBride) formally announced plans for their next theatrical venture, Courageous. Plugged In was at Sherwood Baptist Church for that prayer-filled Sunday evening service, where Kendrick explained, "The movie is about fatherhood. Four fathers in law enforcement go through a terrible tragedy. They begin looking at their commitment to 'protect and serve' as it relates to their role as fathers, challenging one another to fulfill God's intention for fathers." But just as only some seed found fertile soil in the parable of the sower (Luke 8:1-15), these officers will face challenges that keep some from experiencing lasting change. The film has not been cast, but is expected to begin production in spring of 2010, with an anticipated release date of early 2011. Could Courageous do for fathering what Fireproof has done to strengthen marriages? We sure hope so.