by Edwin L. Carpenter – Associate Editor, The Dove Foundation
In his recent Hollywood Uplink column, The Dove Foundation’s co-founder Dick Rolfe makes an interesting point. A film from 2006, Disney’s “Eight Below,” played on 3,122 screens and made $81.6 million dollars from a budget of $40 million, or $26,137 per screen. This was a 101% Profit. In comparison, “Facing The Giants” played on 441 screens and made $10 million dollars, from a budget of $100,000. It made $22,675 per screen for a 1,000% profit! This was huge. The film, a story about an underdog football coach who leads an underdog football team to success, impacted a lot of lives, according to the film’s producer, Stephen Kendrick, the brother of Alex Kendrick, who stars in the film as Coach Grant Taylor.
We kicked off the interview by asking Stephen if he had any inkling as to how well the film would perform at the box office. “We did not know what to expect,” he replied. “This whole journey from the beginning has definitely been a faith journey for us and for our church. We’ve never been at this level before. We’ve never had a movie that was released nationally in theaters. And we heard a lot of people speculate—‘This movie’s going to bomb and nobody will go see it. It was made by a church—nobody wants to go see that.’ Some people saw the movie in pre-screenings, loved it and said, ‘This movie is going to do incredibly well.’ We were hearing both things. But, what we did know was that we believed that God was going to do more than we could ask or imagine.”
“Ephesians 3:20 was the verse that we had prayed all during production (which states that God is able to do more than we ask or think.) Alex and I would write the story scenes at 10 o’clock at night after we put our kids down and we would pray and we would say, ‘God, we need you to give us a scene, to give us a storyline, and we pray you would do more than we can ask or imagine.’ We did that during the whole production. We would pray ‘Lord, we’re about to shoot a scene now,’ or ‘Bless today as we do casting,’ and we saw God do that.”
We complimented Stephen on the quality of the production, despite the low budget, and he said, “We felt like the little boy with five loaves and two fish because we saw what God did. When we looked at it on the screen, we’d think that every one of the scenes were a whole string of miracles, in which God provided people and provided stuff that we needed. God provided a professional photographer and crew to help us shoot. He provided Sony and Provident to color correct the movie. He helped us edit out a lot of bad acting. The end result is something that makes us think, ‘God, this had to have been you because we couldn’t have pulled this off’.’”
We asked Stephen about comments from viewers. What stories did he hear about this film touching lives or even changing lives?
“We have seen a full gamut of responses. Churches have e-mailed us and told us how the film impacted the pastor. We had a pastor tell us he was ready to quit the ministry and then went to see ‘Facing the Giants,’ and God clearly spoke to him through the ‘death crawl’ scene of never giving up. During those moments of desperation he was helped by seeing the scene when we say, ‘God, if we win we’ll praise you and if we lose we’ll praise you,’ and we’ve been blessed to see him stick it out in ministry.”
“We had multiple men in ministry come to us saying, ‘I was at a crisis point in my ministry and God used the movie.’ Then we had people tell us how that a specific line from the movie spoke to them. It was cool because we tried to put scripture throughout the movie and the different scriptures would hit different people in different ways at different times. So one person would call us and say, ‘Man, the whole scene where the man says God opens doors no man shuts and shuts doors that no man opens from Revelation, that hit me so hard because of what I’m going through.’ Another couple would say, ‘We’re trying to have kids and we’ve had to come to a place of saying, God we will still love you if you never give us children.’”
Kendrick shared the story of a man who had been addicted by pornography for years and he wound up in bankruptcy from spending money on it. He became a Christian and, still battling the addiction, he saw the movie and he was overwhelmed by the truth that God can do all things. He went home and bagged up six lawn and leaf trash bags full of pornographic magazines and DVDs and burned them. He now views the items, which were once his treasures, as garbage and he credits the film and God’s message in helping him.
“Our church has gotten thousands of e-mails and we’ve even had to hire outside people to come in and help us respond to the e-mails. It’s not just, ‘Thanks for making a football movie because I love football,’ it’s ‘I got snookered into going to this movie by my wife or my pastor and I wasn’t ready for it because it hit me between the eyes, it convicted me about an area of my life and I have rededicated my life to Christ. And now I want to live for him.’ That has been cool!”
Kendrick appears in a few cameo spots in the movie, doubling for his brother Alex in a few long shots, and he even puts on a football uniform for a few scenes. “For the most part, as producer, it was my responsibility to be behind the scenes, organizing the troops and getting the church organized so we could pull it off.” Kendrick said that as the film’s producer, he faced challenges as well. “Every scene has a hundred different pieces of the chain, the links of the chain that have to be in place for you to be able to say, ‘Action!’”
“You have to have the actors on set, in make-up, in their uniforms, standing in the right place, ready with their lines. The light outside has to be right. You have to remove all outside noise. You have to have all the equipment and the electricity has to be hooked up to operate all the equipment and for all of that to be in place for every scene, took a whole lot of time and we’re shooting on real sets a lot of the time. In Albany (Georgia) the pecan groves are right behind us and they’re spraying the pecans with these big machines and they’re making all of these loud noises, or planes are flying overhead, or it’s raining! Every scene was really a journey for us because we haven’t had the training. Alex has not been trained as a director. I’ve not been trained as a producer. I didn’t really know fully before making ‘Facing the Giants’ what a producer did. We’re going out there saying we believe God led us to do this. Getting money to come in was something God did. We didn’t have the funds to do the movie. We had a vision but no funds so we would pray, and without doing any fundraising, God began to prompt people to donate tens of thousands of dollars towards the movie project. And they would just show up sometimes anonymously in the church office.”
Kendrick added that another challenge was shooting football scenes with just one camera and said they had to film scenes over and over again. Also, getting crowds out at two in the morning to sit and wait as we got ready to film was a bit challenging. The crowd would wait and wait, stand and cheer for thirty seconds, and then wait again. It wasn’t instantly rewarding for them.
One of Stephen’s favorite scenes from the film is when the father rises from his wheelchair during the game and says, “Don’t touch me. I’m cheering for my son.” Stephen said it’s something his dad would say in real life. He also enjoyed the concepts of the locker room scenes in which the coach said, “I have resolved to give God everything I’ve got and leave the results up to Him. I was wondering if you would join me.” Stephen said, to him, that is a picture of the Apostle Paul saying, “Follow me as I follow Christ.”
Stephen said the project has been surreal, as he would sit with Alex and Alex would write up ideas on his laptop, and the finished results are now playing nationally on screens.
The film is coming to DVD on January 30th. Stephen stated there would be bonus features on the DVD. “We’ve really worked hard on that,” he said, “because we want it to be something that we would have wanted on the DVD if someone else were doing it. We have a twenty-five minute documentary which is on the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) version. It’s a twenty-five minute ‘making of’ feature. The Wal-Mart version has got a six or seven minute documentary on the ‘making of.’ That’s the difference between those two versions. There is a Kendrick Brothers commentary. You can watch the movie and listen to us explain the meaning behind the scenes. There is a hilarious twelve to fifteen minute blooper reel of these church members acting. It’s very funny. We show all the crew trying to kick a field goal. We get our make-up guy out there to try to kick!”
Kendrick finished our interview by reflecting on how he and his brother Alex both wound up at the same church in Albany for different reasons and now both live in the same neighborhood and work together to make movies for the glory of God. He appreciates the fact that the pastor has supported their work. “It’s been a lot of fun,” he said, “a very meaningful thing.”
Stephen and Alex are already looking ahead to their next film which will be about a couple who comes to a crossroad in their relationship. “We need to keep making Christian movies,” said Stephen.