by Edwin L. Carpenter – Associate Editor, The Dove Foundation
The Dove Foundation recently attended an early screening of “Facing The Giants,” an upcoming inspirational film which has been receiving some very positive reviews. In fact, there were some tears rolling down the cheeks of some of the viewers who left the theater and these were a tribute to how good the film really is.
In “Facing the Giants,” several problems work out rather well by film’s end and this has been the source of one of the few criticisms of the film. But the star of the film, Alex Kendrick, says that all the miracles are based on actual events in the lives of various people he and the filmmakers have known.
This film was a work of love for Alex and his brother Stephen Kendrick. Both brothers attended Kennesaw State University, and each earned a communications degree. They continued their education together by attending New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary for a little over a year before they moved to Georgia. They wound up in Albany, where they went to work at Sherwood Baptist Church, serving the church as ordained ministers. Alex has been serving as the Associate Pastor of Media since March 1999. His brother Stephen preaches when the senior pastor is away, and is involved in some large outreach efforts. Stephen Kendrick is the associate producer and writer of “Facing The Giants.”
“We grew up making movies in our backyard with our video camera, just editing between the VCR and the camera,” said Alex Kendrick. “We did weddings and camp videos, church videos, and kind of got our start that way.” Kendrick added that they “didn’t have any formal training, but when we came down here I had the desire to make Christian films as a way to reach out to people. Our pastor Michael Catt is open to whatever is effective in reaching people as long as it doesn’t compromise the word, so I pitched the idea for a film project to him in 2002.”
“We shot ‘Flywheel.’ That little movie had a $20,000 budget. The crew and the cast were all church members. We were able to show it in our local theater in 2003 when we finished it. It was supposed to go for one weekend and it lasted for six weeks because they sold so many tickets. I think we sold 4,200 tickets in that six week prime and we were able to expand to some other theaters in Georgia. Then Blockbuster picked it up and put it in each of their stores nationwide. Later, Netflix picked it up and then several Christian television stations began showing it, from TBN to Family Net, to Faith TV and several others. When we saw the response—people were giving their lives to Christ, and rededicating their marriages and businesses—we thought, ‘This is an effective way to reach people.’ So we began writing ‘Facing the Giants.’”
“At Sherwood Christian Academy we have a football team. So I thought, ‘If I write a football movie then we can at least use our school and the team.’ That’s something that’s already in place. Stephen and I wrote the plot for ‘Facing the Giants,’ and we shot it with one high definition camera. The budget was $100,000 this time and again the church membership gave that money with no strings attached because they saw the fruit from the first one. We shot it once again with our church members being the cast and crew. The Sunday School classes provided the meals.”
Kendrick said the money went for the equipment and to a group which came up from Orlando to do a film school boot camp. They supervised the equipment and helped make the production much smoother than it would have been otherwise. Kendrick said that although it was the intent for this film to be a theatrical release, it did not happen immediately. The doors seemed to be tightly closed.
”While we were looking for permission to use a song in the movie by the group Third Day, we had to go to their record company, Provident Music Group. Provident asked to see the movie before they would give us permission so we sent it even though they didn’t think they would like it because a church had made it. After seeing it, they loved it and they sent it to their parent company, Sony. We didn’t know that. We were just trying to get permission to use one song and they came back and said, ‘We like this movie so much that you can pick of any song that you want from our library. Then, Sony called and they said, ‘It may be a little on the religious side, but we would like to release it.”
“Sony is going to release ‘Facing The Giants’ on September 29 in 400 screens nationwide under the ‘Samuel Goldwyn’ label, and if it does well they will expand it to other markets.”
No one in the film has an acting background. “The only thing I had done before this,” Kendrick said, “was ‘Flywheel,’ and before that, growing up as a teenager, just a few church dramas. But there was no formal acting training for any of us.” The actors give a credible performance in the movie, especially considering they do not have the acting background. “The trick to do that,” he said, “and we prayed through this as well—was to cast people who already had similar personalities to the roles they are playing in the movie. So essentially, everyone is playing themselves.” Kendrick added that Shannen Fields, who plays his wife in the film, is the real-life wife of Jimmy Fields, the football coach of the school.
Interestingly enough, actor Steve Williams plays a man in a wheelchair in the film, and the actor can actually walk in real life. Kendrick said this part of the story is based on his and Stephen’s father, who has been in a wheelchair for twenty years because of multiple sclerosis.
He said they have been criticized by some who have already viewed the film. “We’ve been criticized for two things, one of which is that some of those things aren’t realistic—they don’t really happen that way—God doesn’t do that. What I struggled with was every simple move of God in the movie we’ve seen in our church or community. In other words, we really have seen a team that was 0-3 make it to the state championship. We really have seen a kid kick a fifty-one yard field goal. We really have seen a couple that struggled with infertility and were told by their doctor, ‘It’s impossible for you to have children,’ and after praying they really had their own biological children. As a matter of fact we know a coach who was given a car by the school because they appreciated him so much and he needed one, so all of those elements in the movie we have seen happen in real life. I don’t know why some Christians say it’s not realistic—I don’t know any miracle that is realistic. I don’t think if it’s realistic you can even call it a miracle.”
“But that’s been one point of frustration.” Kendrick said the other thing they have been criticized for is that some Christians have stated that God doesn’t work that way, “when we have seen Him work that way.” He pointed out that the coach and his wife and other characters in the film get to the point where they say, “If we win we’ll praise you, and if we lose we’ll praise you.” He said that is the critical point, when they get to the realm of where they will praise Him no matter what the end result is, “because He’s worthy of our worship.” He added that, “For some reason some people overlooked that. We’re certainly not saying that if you live for God everything turns out roses because obviously that doesn’t even happen in scripture. We’re told by Paul, ‘My grace is sufficient.’”
“What we have heard has mostly been positive. We’re very grateful for that. We hope people will be encouraged when they leave and that they will be challenged spiritually and moved emotionally. If that happens and they seek a deeper walk with the Lord then that’s great.”
Kendrick said that certain films have inspired him. “I do have my favorites. ‘The Passion of the Christ’ impacted me deeply. ‘The Passion of the Christ’ was not entertaining but when you see it illustrated– what Jesus went through for us, because he loved us, it’s just astounding. Others that I like, and I’m kind of digging back into the past, are everything from ‘Chariots of Fire,’ to ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ And then there’s a few others—‘Shadowlands’ impacted me. That was the story of C.S. Lewis. As a kid I grew up enjoying ‘Indiana Jones’ and ‘Star Wars.’ As I got older I saw the potential ministry of using film as a tool, and I enjoy movies that not only tug at me emotionally and challenge me, but that leave me with something that is redeeming. I support those types of movies.”
The film was shot entirely in Albany, Georgia, with the exception being the championship game which was filmed at Lee County High School. “I would say it was shot ninety percent in the city of Albany,” said Kendrick.
One of the challenges the actors and crew faced was that they only had one camera. “To shoot numerous football games with one camera is extremely difficult. It’s not just difficult for us behind the camera, it’s also difficult for the team as they had to run the same play ten times so that we could get ten different angles. The same guys are getting tackled and they’re tired and we’re shooting one scene right after another and that was difficult at times. The other thing was that we were all still on a pretty steep learning curve. Our church was more active in this film than the first one so more people were involved for the first time. Doing the make-up, the wardrobe, helping with props on the set, moving equipment around—our wonderful church members were doing this for the first time so there’s a lot of learning curve there. And then you had actors that never acted before, although they’re essentially playing themselves. You can still play yourself but that’s hard when there’s a camera, lights and a microphone right in your face!”
Kendrick added humorously that in Hollywood they often have ten good takes to choose from, but in working on “Facing the Giants,” they were looking for the one really good take out of ten to use. He said that the film was shown at two film festivals, one in Boston and one in New York and after the showings 284 people made a profession of faith in Christ. He was very pleased about that and said the ministry and the changed lives have been the most fulfilling aspects of making the movie.
When asked to name a few scenes in the film that he was pleased about, he said, “Probably the death crawl and the championship game.” When we asked if they had targeted a Christian market or secular market, he said, “It’s a hard question to answer because in praying about this plot, we wanted to write the story that God wanted us to write. We got to the end and realized that it could be both groups that it ministered to but probably the initial group to go see it will be Christians, and then if they call and invite their co-workers, their neighbors and friends, it could minister to both groups.”
“We’re hoping that if they’re Christians, they’ll walk out of the theater desiring a deeper walk with God. In real life they can’t face their own giants on their own. If they’re not Christians we hope they will pray for a relationship with Jesus Christ. Our hope is that it ministers to whoever sees it.”
Kendrick says another movie is in his future. “We’re going to make a third one,” he said. “We’ve already got the story. We were going to shoot it this year but with all of this marketing and release strategy we realized we couldn’t do both so we’re going to shoot it in the spring next year. It’s going to be a romantic drama. Right now it’s centered around a marriage that is not centered on Christ. When they head for a divorce, the husband comes to Christ and then has to win back the heart of his wife.”
Kendrick definitely plans to write and direct the film but said he would have to pray concerning what he called “the other pieces.” He is willing to act in the film if he feels it is the right thing to do. He added that he was not originally going to play the coach in “Facing The Giants,” but the man who was to play it was not available during the shooting time so he stepped in.
Despite some criticism of the film, Alex Kendrick was more than happy to share the positive things he has heard about the movie. “Number one is something to the effect that people are reminded that we worship the God of the impossible. I truly believe that God can do anything. He’s certainly not a genie in a lamp. It’s the part where you get to the point that you say, ‘God, I’m in a situation here, and I fully believe that you can give us a solution or do a miracle. But if you choose not to, then I’m going to worship you anyway. That’s the first thing that we’re hearing—it’s been wonderful. Secondarily, when people go see the movie, I need to say this—there are not a whole lot of Christian movies that have been real effective. For people to go in with low expectations, and then to be moved to tears, and to laugh and to cheer, and to come out and say, ‘That is not what I expected a Christian movie made by a church to look like,’ that is very rewarding. Hopefully, it’s going to impact our culture and raise the standard for what Christians do in movies.
It’s obvious that Alex and Stephen Kendrick have already faced a lot of giants and so far have slain them by God’s help. This film, “Facing The Giants,” has the potential to go farther than people might have thought. It is well worth seeing and we have awarded the film five doves for quality and content, the most that we can give it. We hope you will be in line on September 29, 2006. To check out more about the film, go to www.facingthegiants.com.