Carol Spann Mathews is an award-winning television and film producer whose work has been featured in theatres nationwide and on major television networks ranging from ESPN to the Trinity Broadcast Network (TBN).
Carol began her career more than 20 years ago in television marketing and advertising for clients including CITGO, Donald Trump Resorts, Sprint and Wilson Sports. She has since produced multiple television series that have aired on ESPN, EOE (ESPN Original Entertainment) and The Family Channel, as well as educational home entertainment for international brands like the "Dummies" publishers.
Driven by a passion for faith and family entertainment, Carol has also produced numerous successful collaborations for major faith-based networks like Daystar, Inspiration and TBN—including TBN's top-rated show, "360 Life." Her resume also includes nationally syndicated documentaries such as "Death and Beyond" and the Angel Award-winning program, "Hymns," which uncovers the remarkable stories behind beloved hymns like "Amazing Grace."
In 2011, Carol transitioned into feature films as executive producer and producer of "Home Run." The inspirational film, which celebrates the freedom and hope offered by Christ, premieres in theatres nationwide in April 2013. Prior to its theatrical release, "Home Run" was named Best Feature Film and Best Inspirational Film at CBA's Resonate Film Festival.
That's when I caught up with Carol. It was the story behind Home Run that has intrigued us all. It's not just another baseball movie. It's much more than that.
Alex: Hi, Carol. Can you tell me how you got started in the entertainment business.
Carol: I got started in the entertainment industry really with commercials and advertising first. I started with church commercials essentially in the faith community. I worked on church films, 35 mm filmed commercials that were syndicated to churches around the country, and then I went from there to longer form programming. I worked on a couple of documentaries; one about near death experiences that was televised on what was at the time The Family Channel and other cable networks. Years later we did one on famous hymns, the stories behind “Amazing Grace,” “It is Well with My Soul,” and “Just As I Am. “
In my career, I also kind of shifted and went to work at a production company that did work primarily for ESPN. I did behind-the-scenes videos for their original movies, and a couple of their television series. That was a really great learning experience for me. Eventually, I left there and went back to doing faith stuff. There’s no replacing the joy and purpose you feel when every day you go to work, and you work on something where the outcome affects people’s lives, so I stepped back into that with doing television work. While Home Run is my first feature film, I’ve been doing television and productions for about 24 years.
Alex: Wow! How does working on a Christian project, whether it’s a movie, a TV show, or those kinds of things, differ from working on a secular project? You mentioned it changes people’s lives, but speak more to that.
Carol: I think whenever you go to work every day, it’s invigorating to the day if you’re working on something that has a purpose beyond the moment it’s seen. If you could trigger a thought inside someone, if you could give them a perspective of the kingdom that they never had before, open their minds and hearts to something, it puts gasoline in your tank. You have energy to go to work every day. If it’s just for a momentary entertainment, I personally am not called to that, so it’s not as motivational personally.
Alex: That makes sense. How did the idea of Home Run come about?
Carol: The original concept belongs to a guy named Eric Newman. It was very simply a baseball player that returns to his small town. He’s a bad boy type and he goes to the small town and hooks up with kind of a mentor in the town, and he gets better. He sees the error of his ways and transforms, and this mentor was the one that claimed him to the Lord. It changed when we started believing that God was guiding us to do a film about addiction, so we just shifted our main character’s problems a little bit, and then when we hooked him with Celebrate Recovery, we realized that instead of having a mentor, a guy that kind of preaches at him, we decided to use the story to celebrate recovery to kind of propel our character forward. That was sort of the genesis of that concept of Home Run, and that was 2010, a long time ago.
Alex: Wow! When somebody sees the movie, what do you want them to take away from it? What are some of the themes?
Carol: The main thing is that change is possible, that no matter what has happened to you, no matter what decisions you’ve made, you don’t have to stay in shame. It’s about the fact that you don’t have to continue to wrestle with that bad habit, and that your past doesn’t have to dictate your future. God can take those things and not only heal you, but take those very places of shame in your life and use them to glorify Himself and help others. I think that’s the most amazing thing. It is just the idea that God will take the places where we’ve fallen, and if we give it to Him, He not only heals us but He’ll allow us to use that to help others. So that change is possible, that our lives can be different from what they are right now in the areas that we want them to be.
Alex: That’s a very powerful thought. One thing I love about the movie is Scott Elrod’s character, Cory, after he has his little mishap and he gets kind of sent to the minors--not to the minors exactly, but he gets sent to coach the team. He eventually joins Celebrate Recovery, and you kind of watch him go through the journey. A piece of me, while I was watching it was thinking, man, I hope this just doesn’t… I hope he doesn’t just find Jesus and everything’s okay, and he gets his girl back and everything. I love the fact that you kept realistically portraying the struggle to overcome. Some people are delivered instantly, but others, it takes awhile; so I thought that was a very realistic portrayal.
Carol: Thank you.
Alex: How did you guys come to the partnership with Celebrate Recovery? What did that look like, and how did you integrate that into the script so well?
Carol: It was just one God thing after another. In my church, we have Celebrate Recovery, and every now and then--I knew very little about it--but every now and then on a Sunday morning, somebody from that ministry would get up and tell their story. And every single time that story was told in our church on a Sunday morning, it was so clear that God was at work in that ministry. It was just inarguable that you were hearing about the hand of God. I thought how great would that be to have story after story that I got in the movie, right? Where people are moved and responding to stories like the ones I heard in my church. So that’s the beginning.
I started investigating, and next thing you know, I’m having breakfast with one of the Celebrate Recovery state reps, and she just happens to be very close friends to the founder of Celebrate Recovery out at Saddleback. That just gave me favor every step of the way. I’d love to tell you it was a really complex set of circumstances, but honestly, it was just one thing after another God just kept putting in our path. Even I was able to see the signals!
Alex: [Laughs] It’s amazing to see the level of engagement that people have with Celebrate Recovery. It’s the kind of ministry where you can be open and honest and transparent. You walk in going, I’m screwed up and I need help, and I don’t need to wear a mask because clearly, I can’t do it alone or else I wouldn’t be here; so it’s a very…
Carol: Yes. You just worded it so perfectly. You just worded it perfectly. The very first time I went to Celebrate Recovery was after I had breakfast with the state rep. I’m like, can we use Celebrate Recovery in our movie? She was like, well, have you ever even been to a meeting (laughs)? I was like, uh no; so I went to one, and consider this: I’m in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which for me is the heart of the Bible Belt. I mean, some cities fight for it, but we’re at least a contender.
The Baptist church here in town is a longstanding large kind of pillar of the Southern Baptist community here in the town. This is where the Celebrate Recovery that she was a part of was. I’m there in that church, and the senior pastor of the church gets up, and in the Celebrate Recovery normal operation, you introduce yourself while you introduce the thing that brought you to Celebrate Recovery. I’m a grateful believer in Jesus who struggles with, whatever your thing is, alcohol, drugs, eating, abuse, whatever. Then you say, my name is.
Here’s the senior pastor; he gets up, and he says, “Hi. I’m a grateful believer who struggles with deep-seated anger and lust, and my name is Seth.” I thought to myself, all right. This is different because the senior pastor revealed his struggles… and you know, he stood up there to make announcements. I mean, he was up there for no big reason, but the fact that the senior pastor is able to say he struggles with anger and lust, you know? I just think what possibilities opened up in that room that night for first comers like myself because the senior pastor was faithful enough to say his stuff. Does that make sense?
Alex: Oh, absolutely.
Carol: Anyway, I love Celebrate Recovery for that, and I knew, after just attending Celebrate Recovery a few times, that the script was going to change exponentially because Celebrate Recovery wound up being more beautiful and more impacting than I realized.
Alex: You guys released theatrically, and it had a good theatrical run, and it’s coming out on DVD here in late July. What do you hope that God does with this project?
Carol: There are so many hopes and expectations. My hope is that people don’t see it just as a movie or one-time experience, but as a tool--that they see the DVD as a way to do multiple things. For instance, perhaps there’s someone they love who is really struggling with addiction. That would be the most obvious thing, right? They might give them the DVD. Or maybe there’s somebody who is having trouble with some other life issue, and that person feels like “this is it.” You know, that this is the end for them and that they’ll never get better. They’ll always struggle, and maybe they get the DVD.
Or maybe the DVD could be used because people are really looking for more authentic relationships in church. You know, we don’t mean to, but our church culture has propagated this thing that we have a hard time being real with each other because we feel like somehow or another, we’re going to be indicted for not being really “good” Christians.
I don’t think it’s been ill intended; I just think it’s an outcome of people trying hard to be a good witness for the Lord. Consequently, what we’ve created is an atmosphere where people don’t feel like they can say, “I’m really struggling here.” Even worse, they feel like they’re all alone. They feel like they’re the only ones, because no one’s talking in church. So they’re not saying the things that are troubling them, like “I really want to leave my husband” or “I’m having an affair.” They’re not telling anybody because they’re thinking if anyone knew they had feelings or thoughts like, they would never speak to them again. They might be cast out. The reality is lots of people are struggling in our church pews; and if we started talking to each other, we would begin to see that one of Satan’s most paralyzing lies is that you are all alone. No one else in this church would understand; because if he can keep us in a secret and in our shame, then we are debilitated from being what we’re supposed to be in the kingdom.
Alex: That is very true. Let me ask you one other quick question before we go. You guys did a tremendous job on the casting. Tell us a little bit about how you got to work with those cast members.
Carol: Okay. These are such important stories to me because they are ... it’s just like we tripped and fell into the most amazing cast ever, but we went … David Boyd and I, we had a great casting director. He narrowed the field for us, and David Boyd, the director, and I went to Los Angeles, and we sat in a room during a cattle call, and the actors and actresses came in and auditioned. In a series of three days, we cast the movie. We had no idea how much God was in it until the stories began to unfold, and the actors began showing up and doing their thing, and we realized we could not have asked for more with our actors.
We got David Boyd because of the beautiful script. Because of David Boyd, we attracted better than the normal quality of actors for this genre and for our budget. These actors wanted to work with David because he’s amazing. We were able to get people that typically we wouldn’t be able to afford, so we were blessed, blessed, blessed by the Lord in terms of casting.
Alex: Yes, and it definitely showed on the screen. It sounds like, I guess, in summing everything up, you guys had an idea of the kind of movie you wanted to make, God showed up and messed up all your plans, and Home Run ensued.
Carol: That’s exactly the truth (laughing). I love the way you sum things up. I’m going to start sending you things and then ask you to sum them up for me.
Alex: Do you know what, though? That’s a great testimony for all of us that we all have gifts, and talents, and opportunities, and God calls us to start moving in a direction; and then if He wants us to go in a different direction, the key is to be obedient to it, and let go of our plans, and use the gifts and talents He’s given us, and return them back to Him, and see what He does with it.
Carol: Amen to that! I never even planned to be in film. I never planned it. I would say to people, “Oh, film. Television is so much better because it’s so much faster,” and I’m right, but I just laugh because the Lord’s like, “Oh, whatever, Carol. You’re going to be doing a film.” Yes. Amen to all that that you said, and thanks so much for interviewing me. I want to say one more thing. The DVD, using it as a tool; I do believe that there … my little boy at the time he was five went through a super hero phase, and he wore a facemask everywhere he went.
When I tell this story in front of audiences, I say, my son; and then I always say he’s 18. Is that weird (laughing)? I am an old mom. He’s seven now, but he was five, and he was wearing a cape and mask everywhere he went, I mean everywhere: grocery stores, restaurants, whatever. One day at the park, he was playing, and he was saving the world from impending doom. An older kid looked at him and said, “You’re not real.” This was so mean, right? I said to Sam, “Oh dude, I’m sorry he said that,” and Sam said to me, “That’s okay, mom. I don’t think he knew I knew that.” Right? I love that story.
I think that there is a world of people outside the church who look at the church and say, “You’re not real.” The fact of the matter is, they don’t know we know we have problems. They don’t buy that once you come to Jesus, all your problems go away; and most certainly, any believer will tell you that they don’t. We still are working out our issues, but we have a hope, and a grace, and a love, and a Father who’s helping us work them out. We’re not doing it alone. The fact of the matter is we’ve unintentionally put out there, again, this sort of Pollyanna look that if you come to Jesus, all your troubles melt away, and they don’t buy it.
I think about using the DVD and handing it to our friends with addictions, and handing it to our friends that have something happen to them in life, and they feel they’re a lesser person for it, or giving it to friends that are sexually promiscuous or whatever. I love the idea of showing it to people who don’t know the Lord because it shows them a beautiful part of the body of Christ, and it’s the part of the body of Christ that is healing, and honest, and open, and transforming; and people really can change. I’ll tell you what, the world wants to believe in that type of Jesus, and I love that Home Run shows it to them.
Alex: Yes, and we’re looking forward to getting as many DVDs out in people’s hands as possible. I do think that taking that message into your home is probably a little more non-threatening than necessarily going to the theater, so I think this is going to have a huge impact, not only here at home but all over the world. We look forward to seeing what God’s going to continue to do. Thank you very much for your time, Carol.
Carol: Thank you. Thank you so much for believing in it.
Alex: Absolutely. We’re standing in agreement that God’s going to do something big.
Carol: Amen. Amen to that. Thank you guys so much. It’s a privilege talking to you. I really appreciate it.
Alex: Thank you, Carol. Bye-bye.
Carol: All right. Bye-bye.