Behind the Scenes of FACING THE GIANTS and FIREPROOF:
It All begins with a 'Season of Prayer'
By Dr. Tom Snyder, Editor
Two of the best scriptwriters in the movie business are two Baptist brothers with a very strong Evangelical Christian faith, Alex and Stephen Kendrick.
Alex and Stephen make independent Christian movies, with support from their church, the Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia. There, Alex teaches and runs the church's media center, including their film production company, Sherwood Pictures, and Stephen serves as Senior Associate Pastor. Their first movie was FLYWHEEL. Though produced on a very low budget, FLYWHEEL was so good that Sony Provident, a subsidiary of Sony Pictures Entertainment, one of the six major studios in Hollywood, picked up their second movie, FACING THE GIANTS. GIANTS went on to become the No. 1 Movie among all movies in North America released in fewer than 500 theaters!
On Sept. 26, Sony will release FIREPROOF, the Kendrick brothers and Sherwood Pictures' next movie starring Kirk Cameron and Erin Bethea, in double the number of theaters compared to FACING THE GIANTS.
Another inspiring, entertaining effort, FIREPROOF is the inspiring story of an attempt to heal a fireman's broken marriage with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It's not just a family drama; it also includes a couple dramatic scenes about the fireman's dangerous job.
MOVIEGUIDE® recently conducted an exclusive interview with the Kendrick brothers about their new movie, their career so far, their walk with Jesus, and their church.
For more information about FIREPROOF, please go to www.fireproofthemovie.com. Although it will be released in many theaters, there are still some cities where the movie hasn't been booked. Readers can visit that website to learn how to convince local theaters to carry FIREPROOF beginning on Sept. 26.
MOVIEGUIDE®: This is your third movie?
Stephen Kendrick: This is the third one. It started off with FLYWHEEL. Then, FACING THE GIANTS came out a couple of years ago, and now, FIREPROOF.
MOVIEGUIDE®: What is the story about in the new one?
Alex Kendrick: FIREPROOF is about marriage, and it centers around a couple, Caleb and Catherine Holt. They've been married 7 years, and their marriage has come to an end. Right before they get a divorce, Caleb's father, who is a Christian, comes to see him and challenges him to hold off on the divorce for 40 days. Caleb is reluctant to do so, but his dad tells him, 'I need that time 'cause I'm going to send you something in the mail that's called The Love Dare.' What comes in the mail a couple days later is a hand-written journal from his father daring him to demonstrate an aspect of love every day for 40 days, even though he doesn't feel like it. That takes Caleb on a journey where he discovers that he really has never known exactly how to love his wife. He handles issues that are very common in marriages today and gives them biblical solutions. . . . So, we have in this story, firefighter Caleb who not only learns how to save lives on the job, but also learns how to rescue part of his life. That's going to resonate with a lot of people.
MOVIEGUIDE®: Sounds great! What made you guys decide to focus on this particular subject and how did you come up with this particular story?
Stephen: After FACING THE GIANTS had been spread all over the world (it's in 56 countries and 13 languages), we were overwhelmed by its impact on churches and on football teams. They were embracing a 'never give up' mentality. They were inspired in their faith and in whatever else they were working on.
So Alex and I began to pray for the next story line, specifically asking God for something that would impact the fiber of our culture. The Lord led us back to deal with the issue of marriage, with it being the core relationship that God started with and that He uses to build the foundation for children, families, and, ultimately, churches and government as well. That relationship needs to be strong.
So we began to realize as we studied scripture that marriage is supposed to be a covenant, not a contract. It's supposed to be a picture of Christ and his Bride, the church. It's supposed to be really an environment that's ideal for someone to learn how to love an imperfect person unconditionally. That's God's desire for us to learn that in the context of marriage.
We decided to go after that issue. You know, you rarely see your romantic comedies involving married couples. It's usually two people meeting, falling in love or there's some kind of attraction, a lot of times they're sleeping around, get in a big fight, and then at the end of the movie they reconcile the fight. We wanted to show what people really are for the most part. A lot of people are in a marriage, and the romance has faded away. They're trying to figure out if they've made the right decision. There's harsh words back and forth. There's disrespect. They don't know how to understand one another, communicate or love one another unconditionally. We begin the story there and we try to deal with the issues that so many couples deal with. And, people are in the theaters, weeping, saying 'this movie helped save my marriage.' They're saying, "This is the message I need to hear. I needed to hear that there's hope and healing that can take place in my home right now." And so, that was part of what we desired to do.
MOVIEGUIDE®: So you looked basically at the biblical text. Did you use any other Christian books to flush out this covenant idea?
Stephen: Well, we are in ministry at church, so we are constantly surrounded with real life issues that people are going through. I do premarital counseling. I've done some crisis-marriage counseling. I've had a couple sitting in my office, they're in their twenties, and they're saying, "We're ready for divorce right now and pornography has destroyed our marriage – we don't trust one another." You know, you're spending hours praying and crying and working through these issues with people [and] you begin to realize this is where people are. We really need to speak the truth in love to this generation, hold up a light, give them some direction, [show them] this is the way things ought to be.
Real life has been a big part of all of our movies. We try to write what we're living in.
MOVIEGUIDE®: Alex, you said this movie actually began with prayers and your idea that you wanted to do something that's culturally important?
Alex: Yeah, for each of our movies it started out with – we call it a "Season of Prayer" to know the difference between a good idea and a God-idea. Basically, it's seeking the Lord, asking him for the most effective ministry idea to reach the masses.
Each of these movies ends up taking about two years from the time when you begin writing to the time when you finish promoting and release the DVD. And, if we're going to spend two years of our lives on something, we want it to matter the most, to make the biggest impact. It's very scary for us that Stephen and I, and Michael Catt, our senior pastor, and Jim McBride, our executive pastor, that the four of us feel like this is truly the direction God wants us to go before we ask our entire church to dive into this with us for months and months at a time. So, it all starts with a season of prayer until we get to the point where we feel like we have the peace of God inside.
MOVIEGUIDE®: How does the script come together?
Stephen: Part of it is from the things that have influenced and impacted us. But, also we like to look around at what God is doing around us. There are influences on the membership of our church, from marriages that have struggled, where we've seen God work in many ways to minimize. Whereas the movie is not a true story based on any one couple, we've certainly been influenced in many ways by people who have struggled and seen how God has worked. So, we use those influences to write scripts that we pray will be relatable to most people.
MOVIEGUIDE®: One of the things that mark your movies, from our point of view, are the well-written scripts. Could you explain what it takes to do a well-written script, like you've been able to do in these past three movies?
Alex: We would never claim to be of the sort that could train other people. I don't even know that we have a secret. What we do tend to do is start off in prayer. Then, Stephen and I like to start off with how the movie ends.
The reason we do that is, when people walk out of the theater or finish watching the DVD, their thoughts are centered on where they stand with God and where they stand with each other. Are they living their faith? So, to get to that point, we start with the end and then we start back-tracking to somewhere earlier in their lives where they are going through the struggles that normally come to all of us.
So [with FIREPROOF], we started with their renewal of vows and then we backtracked to a time in their seven-year marriage when things are falling apart. Whereas Hollywood usually starts from the front and has some pie-in-the-sky or fantastical ending, we'd rather end up with something that is realistic, relatable – something where God is the hero at the end of the story.
MOVIEGUIDE®: The church is fully involved with all of your films. Is that correct?
Alex: Every time we do a movie, it seems like the percentage of members increases. The last movie we had somewhere around 1200 volunteers help us, mainly out of the membership of our church. And, they did everything. They cooked the meals. They did wardrobe. They helped with makeup. They helped keep the sets clean. They organized locations. They helped in every way you could almost possibly help, including acting on screen. We're so grateful for a church family that is unified in our desire to reach beyond ourselves and to offer God something that He can use to impact the masses, if He chooses to. Basically, this is our five loaves and two fish. We prepared and cooked it as best we can, and now it's up to God.
MOVIEGUIDE®: How exactly do you put the Gospel into your scripts without becoming preachy or didactic, to keep the plot moving and keep the story moving in a natural way?
Alex: We certainly don't like to do movies where you have to stop the plot and start preaching to the audience. It's important to us that the Gospel presentation and the truth of Scripture are intertwined inside of the plot. In FIREPROOF, if you remove the Gospel presentation, the entire plot changes. So, just like FACING THE GIANTS, it happens in natural conversation in everyday life. So, we don't like to make the audience feel that we're stopping to preach at them. We want the conversations about the Gospel to seem very real and natural in the movie, as much as possible, so that they're never distracted by a feeling like that they're targeted. We're just trying to tell a very good story of lives that were changed when they turned to the Lord.
MOVIEGUIDE®: What was the most challenging aspect and the most rewarding aspect of working on FIREPROOF?
Stephen: In every scene for us is a picture of a whole string of miracles that had to come together for us to pull this movie off. Because we're coming from a background where we haven't had the training or the experience, or the money. So, we've had to just pray to ask God to continue to enable us to have what we needed. There are 16 locations in this movie. The Lord provided all 16 of those for free. The fire department let us use their brand new trucks. A local hospital gave a wing of the hospital to us for free.
There were two or three issues with this movie. One of them was we had to pull off a train wreck sequence that we had written into the plotline. So people were wondering, are you guys going to be able to do this? How are you going to figure this out? That was a big, really challenging sequence that ended up being one of the most powerful scenes in the movie. Then there was a fire sequence where we were burning down this house and Caleb is in the house trying to rescue this young girl caught in the fire. That was very challenging production wise.
Beyond that, it's always tough to get volunteers to act and to look professional. So we brought in some acting coaches. We did audition sessions so that we could pick the right people on the front end and have personalities that matched their characters in the movie. We had them practice. You know, it's tough to just turn on emotions. Pulling that emotion out of [such] an actor. . . was a big deal.
MOVIEGUIDE®: What about the most rewarding aspects of doing this particular movie?
Stephen: The flip side of the challenges was when God helps us overcome them. It was very fulfilling to know that the Lord is with you.
We had over 1200 people in the community involved in helping us pull off this production. We just had intense unity on the set. We started every day off with prayer and devotions in the Scriptures, dedicating the day to God, dedicating the scenes to God. Our makeup people would do makeup on an actor or actress, and they would pray over them before they would go act in a tough scene. It's very fulfilling to be sharing life with other believers in the context of working on a production that's bigger than all of us.
Beyond that, the screenings have been pretty amazing. We're doing 150 screenings around the nation for pastors and church leaders, key leaders. The responses from the screenings have been overwhelming. People like this movie better than FACING THE GIANTS. They like the storyline. It's hitting them in their own personal walks with God and in their own marriages. That was our desire, our hope, that the Lord would lift this movie as a picture of the way marriage ought to become like. It has been so rewarding to see lives impacted by it, people saying, "I'm going to go home and pull back into my marriage" or "I didn't go apologize to my wife like Caleb apologized to Catherine." That is all very fulfilling.
MOVIEGUIDE®: How did you guys get into making movies?
Stephen: Alex and I group up in a home where we had a video camera. That was a gift from our parents. It ended up becoming a big hobby for us. We were doing our own versions of Indiana Jones. We had Alabama Jones. Instead of James Bond, we were Savings Bond. We did a lot of beat-em-up, silly kind of movies. We didn't realize that God had a bigger plan for that.
We learned a whole lot about storytelling, camera angles. We would do our own music on synthesizers. We had our own little special effects using kite string and M80 firecrackers and stuff like that. Without any formal training, it was mainly just running around as a 13-year-old, mounting a camera to the bumper of a car and chasing somebody down the road as they're driving, or swinging on a vine, and filming people doing those kind of things. All of that kind of stuff was just great training.
We fell in love with the Lord in high school and in college. The Lord was clearly calling us to serve Him with our lives. So, when we went into ministry, we took that love of filmmaking with us. So, when we got to Sherwood, Alex told them when he was hired that he would one day love to make Christian movies. Their desire was just to hire somebody to run their TV station.
In 2002 when the book by George Barna came out called BOILING POINT, it talked about how our culture is letting movies influence people more than the church. If that's true, if people in our culture are letting movies influence them more than the church, then we were saying, Hey, we've got the best message in the world, the Gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation, why don't we take the truth, and the faith and the love of Scripture and communicate it and package it in a way that would be fun and engaging to watch and go where people are in their everyday lives, and hopefully it will inspire them to make the right decisions for their faith and their family. And so, it was kind of out of that, that we began to write the story of FLYWHEEEL, our first movie.
There are still a lot of cities where there's people saying we want this movie [FIREPROOF] to come to our city that's not currently scheduled. Sony has agreed to allow us to start what we're calling now action squads. That is, if a city really wants the movie to come, they can pre-buy tickets and they can say we will support this movie to come to our local theater. When people go to the website [www.fireproofthemovie.com], they can click on Action Squads and they can learn how to bring the movie to their local theater. When we initiated that, we had about 800 inquiries from people saying how can I start an Action Squad. That was very exciting to get that kind of response. We also finished writing the LOVE DARE book [discussed in the movie]. It will be coming out Sept. 26 in bookstores wherever books are sold at the same time the movie hits theaters, so that people will be able to watch the movie and then go get the book and use the LOVE DARE for their own family.
We've got over 50 marriage ministries that are also supporting this movie. Even the Catholic Church is promoting this movie as a great movie to strengthen marriages, because they're really pro marriage.
We are thrilled at the grass roots response from all across the nation. We're just praying God uses it. We hope that He will continue His work to impact families and homes. We would love it if the divorce rate went down as a result of all that's going on. We found out that every percentage point it goes down, it impacts a million children. That's just huge for the future of our country, that we strengthen those foundational relationships in the home.
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