I spoke recently with Dallas Jenkins, Co-founder of Jenkins Entertainment and producer/director of several Christian movies including Midnight Clear starring Steven Baldwin. Dallas’ company just released a terrific new family comedy, What If… starring Kevin Sorbo (TV’s Hercules) and John Ratzenberger (Cliff Claven in Cheers, and the voice of Hamm in Toy Story I, II and III).
I asked Dallas about his career highlights and where he is going from here.
Where do you see What If… in your journey as a filmmaker?
Jenkins: What If… is by far, the best film we’ve made and also the most audience-friendly. We’re excited about the potential of its reaching a wider audience.
Jenkins: The storyline appeals to the widest audience, both men and women and even young people. It’s a romantic comedy, but it’s actually more explicit in its faith depiction than some of my earlier films. And it’s the most-liked of my films by my non-believing friends.
I believe if you do a film about faith and do it well; it will reach other people who do not necessarily share that faith. What bothers people is when you put faith content into a film where it doesn’t belong.
What did you learn from your experience with Midnight Clear?
Jenkins: Even though we got lots of high praise for Midnight Clear, I felt I needed to grow and had a long way to go as a filmmaker. So I spent a full year watching movies, reading and studying to understand what makes a good movie and how to become a better visual filmmaker. What If… is the result of those efforts and that study.
It really shows. I think it’s the best Christian comedy in a decade, and the best work you’ve done so far. Which brings me to my next question; there have been some rumors that you have forsaken Hollywood for the Midwest. Can you share the details?
Jenkins: My newest career move came out of nowhere. I came to LA to be a filmmaker because I didn’t believe the Church in the Midwest (which is where I’m from) was serious about bridging the gap between itself and the Popular Culture. I didn’t think Christians and churches wanted to invest in films. Many were willing to complain; willing to boycott, but not willing to do anything about it. So I went to LA because that’s where they make movies.
Don’t get me wrong; I love Hollywood and don’t want to break my professional ties there. But, I’d prefer to make movies for the Church. Then James McDonald (senior pastor at Harvest Bible Chapel in Elgin, Illinois) said, “We’d like you to make movies for us.” And he added that they were willing to put up the funds and resources. He also said the church wanted to improve its production and media department. At first I was shocked, but then I said “Yes!” It just made sense to do what I was born and raised to do for the Church.
Can you describe your new role as Director of Visual Media at Harvest Bible Chapel?
Jenkins: I’m not just providing something for Harvest, but they are providing something for me; the opportunity to create media and films in a discipled relationship. I’ve always kept my feet in the “church waters” even when I was in LA. Now that I get to do both and raise the level of my pursuits. It’s a real blessing. I love Pastor McDonald and his straightforward preaching.
What kind of commitment has Harvest Chapel made in order to get you to come?
Jenkins: Quite frankly, they are committed to making multiple movies. This type of venture, a Christian organization doing some kind of movie, usually fails for some of the wrong reasons. Sometimes they pour money into a project that was the passion of some director or writer. The result is a substandard movie with poor production values or no marketing strategy. One of the benefits I bring to the table is that I’m an experienced filmmaker with a track record. I have projects I’m passionate about, but I know where we need to be over the long haul. I said that we must commit to multiple films over time, which the church agreed to.
What if the first project doesn’t make money?
Jenkins: Churches have a different profit motive than Hollywood studios. Churches are accustomed to giving of their time and resources in service to their communities. Investing is a new concept in this regard. If our first movie loses a little bit of money, we’ve gained in terms of ministry and by pouring into our congregants by training them about movie-making. Harvest has convinced me that they are very serious about developing their media outreach.
Churches are generally hesitant to spend money on anything other than evangelization efforts such as church planting and missionaries.
Jenkins: That’s right. Many missionary organizations don’t want to spend money on media, because the people they serve don’t directly benefit. And yet, if the money to promote their work is spent wisely it can increase their donor revenue and ultimately make them more effective. We look at our movies as a way to reach more people for Christ.
What is in your near future?
Jenkins: We are concentrating on the release of What If… and settling into our new home for now. We will begin developing our first project next year.
Speaking of What If…, what is your marketing and distribution strategy?
Jenkins: We’re doing a lot of theaters in smaller towns. We’re taking our time and focusing on a steady releasing schedule.
How does your family like moving from LA to Chicago?
Jenkins: My wife is from Minnesota and I’m from Chicago. We’re both accustomed to the Midwest, so it won’t be a culture shock. And my three children are looking forward to Chicago-style pizza. All three will be attending school connected to Harvest Bible Chapel.
Editor: Sounds like good things are on the horizon for Dallas and his new employer. We wish them well.
Look for WHAT IF… in a theater near you on August 20th. If it’s not there, ask for it. Click here for Dove’s review.