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Tag Archives: Movies

  • Top Movies of 2013

    Posted on March 3, 2014 by John van der Veen

    John van der Veen

    Scroll below for a list of our top DVDs from this past year. The great thing about this list is that it's not a list of our favorites, but it's a list of your favorites. These are the DVDs that influenced thousands of families this past year.

    This years top ten includes thrillers, documentaries, drama, sports stories, TV miniseries and love stories.

    The Bible: The Epic Miniseries

    Get swept up into the adventure, drama and wonder of the Bible with this 10-hour miniseries from Roma Downey (Touched by an Angel) and her husband, producer Mark Burnett (Survivor). Breathtaking in scope and scale, The Bible features powerful performances, exotic locales and dazzling visual effects that breathe spectacular life into the dramatic tales of faith and courage from Genesis through Revelation.

    Packed with action and gritty realism, you'll meet Abraham and Moses, witness the birth of Jesus, experience The Last Supper and marvel at the resurrection. Features a score by legendary film composer Hans Zimmer.


    What made America great? Find out in Monumental: In Search of America's National Treasure, a fascinating documentary about liberty, religious freedom and the bedrock of our nation. Follow actor Kirk Cameron as he digs 400 years into our history, tracing the steps of the pilgrims and examining the beliefs that established our nation. What will it take to restore America to all the founding fathers dreamed it could be and secure a 'monumental' future for our children? Discover the true national treasure of America in Monumental.


    As law enforcement officers, Adam Mitchell, Nathan Hayes, David Thomson and Shane Fuller are confident and focused. Yet at the end of the day, they face a challenge that none of them are truly prepared to tackle: fatherhood.

    While they consistently give their best on the job, "good enough" seems to be all they can muster as dads. They quickly discover that their standard is missing the mark. When tragedy hits home, these men are left wrestling with their hopes, their fears, their faith, and their fathering. Can a new found urgency help these dads draw closer to God...and to their children?

    Filled with action-packed police drama, Courageous is the fourth film from Sherwood Pictures, the moving-making ministry of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia. Riveted moviegoers will once again find themselves laughing, crying and cheering as they are challenged and inspired by everyday heroes who long to be the type of dads that make a lifelong impact on their children.

    The Grace Card

    When Mac McDonald loses his son in an accident, the ensuing 17 years of bitterness and pain erodes his love for his family and leaves him angry with God and just about everyone else. His rage stonewalls his career in the police department and makes for a combustible situation when he is partnered with Sam Wright, a rising star on the force who happens to be a part-time pastor and a loving family man.

    Mac's home life is as frightening as anything he encounters on the streets of Memphis. Money is tight and emotions run high as he constantly argues with his wife and his surviving son Blake, who is hanging with the wrong crowd and in danger of flunking out of school. Sam Wright never expected to be a police officer. He has a calling to be a minister like his Grandpa George. But leading a small, start-up church does not always put enough food on the table for a young family, so Sam doubles as a police officer. With his new promotion to Sergeant, Sam starts questioning if his real calling might actually be police work rather than the pastorate.

    Can Mac and Sam somehow join forces to help one another when it seems impossible for either of them to look past their differences, especially the most obvious one?

    Every day, we have the opportunity to rebuild relationships and heal deep wounds by extending and receiving God's grace. Offer The Grace Card, and never underestimate the power of God's love.

    The Mark

    What was supposed to be an ordinary overseas flight turns into an extraordinary mid-air battle between the forces of good and evil in The Mark.

    The international economy is on the verge of collapse. On a flight from Bangkok to Berlin is Chad Turner (Craig Sheffer), a former soldier who has abandoned his faith and carries the hope for the world - a biometric microchip implanted in his arm capable of of revolutionizing Global trade. Chad is accompanied by Dan Cooper (Eric Roberts), head of the Avanti Corporation, inventors of the new technology.

    Also on the flight is group of mercenaries, lead by Joseph Pike (Gary Daniels), with plans of hijacking the plane and stealing the microchip for their mysterious leader, Philypp Turk (Ivan Kamaras).

    In the midst of a catastrophic worldwide event, the true nature of the chip is revealed. Is it civilization’s salvation, or a powerful weapon to be used by the ultimate evil?

    Home Run

    Baseball all-star Cory Brand knows what it takes to win in the big leagues - but off the field, with memories of his past haunting him, his life is spiraling out of control. Hoping to save her client's career and reputation after a DUI and a team suspension, Cory's agent sends him back to the small town where he grew up. Forced to coach the local youth baseball team and spend eight weeks in the only recovery program in town, Cory can't wait to return to his old life as quickly as possible.

    As his young players help him rediscover the joy of the game, Cory begins to feel a need for freedom from his past and hope for his future - and to win back the love he left behind. With this unexpected second chance, Cory finds himself on a powerful journey of transformation and redemption.

    Based on thousands of true stories, Home Run is a powerful reminder that with God, it's never too late - and that freedom is possible.

    Soul Surfer

    Bethany Hamilton (AnnaSophia Robb) was born to surf. A natural talent who took to the waves at a young age, she was leading an idyllic, sun-drenched, surfer girl's life on the Kauai Coast when everything changed.

    On the morning of October 31, Bethany was on a typical ocean outing when a 14-foot tiger shark came out of nowhere and seemed to shatter all her dreams. However, Bethany's feisty determination and steadfast faith spur her toward an adventurous comeback that gives her the grit to turn her loss into a gift for others - she's a Soul Surfer.


    Samantha Crawford is living a storybook life: she’s happily married, she lives on a ranch where she keeps her beloved horse, and the stories she’s told and illustrated since childhood have become published books.

    When her husband Billy is killed in a senseless act of violence, Sam loses her faith and her will to live. But a death-defying encounter with two children leads to a reunion with Joe, her oldest friend.

    As Sam watches "Papa" Joe care for and love the kids in his under-resourced neighborhood, she begins to realize that no matter life’s circumstances, the love of God is always reaching out to us.

    Amazing Love: The Story of Hosea

    Amazing Love: The Story of Hosea follows four teens who embark on a weekend camping trip with their youth group leader, Stuart, and his wife. Joining them is teen outsider Ashley, who is materialistic and self-involved, and whose bad attitude separates her from the rest of the group. When a confrontation occurs between Ashley and one of the other campers, this division widens.

    Hoping for a resolution, Stuart takes the opportunity to share with the group the touching story of the Old Testament prophet Hosea and his example of true commitment and unconditional love. Is this powerful story enough to inspire the teens to open their hearts to such an amazing love?

    Love Comes Softly: 10th Anniversary Collection

    Celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the original Love Comes Softly film, first in the Hallmark Channel's Love Saga, with this complete 10-DVD set, including all of the movies from the most-inspirational film series of the past decade. The perfect gift to give a loved one (or yourself!) this Christmas, the Love Comes Softly 10th Anniversary Edition set includes 18 hours of beloved, heartwarming movies.

    Each of the movies in the Love Comes Softly series was inspired by the best selling books from Janette Oke. Revisit this inspiring story of life and love in the old west, or share it with a loved one for the first time.

    So there you have it. The 2013 Top Movies of 2013. Have you seen them all? Which on was your favorite? What movie will be in the top of 2014?

    This post was posted in Movies and was tagged with Featured, Movies, Courageous, Unconditional, Home Run, The Bible, Soul Surfer, Mark Burnett, Kirk Cameron, Roma Downey, Monumental, The Grace Card, The Mark, Amazing Love, Love Comes Softly

  • Christmas Oranges Comes to DVD

    Posted on August 21, 2013 by Family Christian

    Share a slice of Christmas sweetened with friendship in this classic story based on the book by Linda Bethers and Ben Sowards. When an epidemic forces the closing of Greenwoods Orphanage, a young girl named Rose (Bailee Johnson) is abruptly shipped from the only home she's ever known. From the warmth and kindness of Mrs. Hartley (Nancy Stafford), Rose finds Irongates and its strict headmaster, Mr. Crampton (Edward Herrman), to be cold and cruel. When Rose learns that each child receives an orange on Christmas, she waits in eager anticipation, but will Mr. Crampton's cruelty take away her special treat on Christmas morning?

    Look for Christmas Oranges by clicking here.

    This post was posted in Movies and was tagged with Featured, Movies, Christmas

  • A Voice for Those Without One - an interview with Jon Erwin

    Posted on September 27, 2012 by John van der Veen

    Jon Erwin

    If you would have told the 15 year-old version of Jon Erwin that he’d end up creating a movie that would grace the cover of the New York Times – he probably never would have believed it. But that’s what his God does – the impossible. And he recruits people – like you, and the Erwins – to join that effort.


    Family Christian: Could you give us a brief history of Jon and Andy Erwin?

    The Erwin Brothers

    Jon Erwin: (laughs) Well, we’re a couple of guys who had a hobby that went completely out of control. We were given an incredible opportunity in this business very early, as teenagers. When I was 15 years old, my dad was in Christian radio and I worked at a cable station and became a cameraman there. I was an apprentice under a guy that was a sports freelancer and worked for ESPN. So one day on a gig he was doing for a University of Alabama football game somebody got sick just a few hours before kickoff. They were scrambling, so Mike called me and said “hey get over here, I talked to the director and he knows you’re green, no one knows quite how old you are, but get over here and run this camera.” And so I did, this wide-eyed 15 year-old kid. I ran this huge camera and all I knew was that I could zoom into the moon (laughs). It was like a telescope. I think the first time that that red light came on my camera, I was just hooked. I knew that’s what I would do for the rest of my life. So I was freelancing for ESPN literally at the age of 15. When I was 16 my dad helped my brother and I get a $10,000 loan for our first video editing equipment and we started a video production company in our hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. We did commercials, weddings and church and ministry promotional videos.

    FC: So you were 16 when you got the loan. How old was your brother?

    Jon: My brother was 19. He was at Bible college in upstate New York, so he came home and we started working together. The more we did, the more people called us the Erwin Brothers. [So it] literally was a decade-long practice track where we could refine our skills. And it just grew.

    FC: And so how did you transition into the Christian world?

    Jon: Michael W. Smith actually gave us our break into Christian music videos, where we [ended up having] our greatest level of success. I don’t really know why he let us, it was very low budget and he kinda put his name on the line for these two kids from Alabama, but it turned out great. It was a very emotional video. Oddly enough it was Rachel Hendrix’s (who stars in October Baby) first time on the screen. It was How to Say Goodbye by Michael W. Smith. We’d found her at a community college and one of our crew members had put her in a short film he had done, so we cast her in that video about a father saying good bye to his daughter, which is very ironic. The video did very well and propelled us into doing a lot of videos in the Christian space. We won a lot of awards for that video. [Then] we did documentaries and dramatic television. Ya know, I’d say we were the Hans Solo of the Christian world. If you had money, we had a ship. We were a hired gun. I went on to direct second unit on Courageous for the Kendrick brothers… I was responsible for a lot of the action in the film and we had a blast. It was so much fun working for those guys, and they really challenged me. Alex [Kendrick] asked me “Jon, what’s your purpose? What’s the purpose of your work?” And I had a hard time answering that question because I was raised a Christian and my faith has always been important to me – but there’s a huge leap between doing something for somebody and getting a paycheck, to being passionate about an idea and raising money for that idea… following it all of the way through. It’s just a very, very scary transition and I think Stephen and Alex really came alongside us and helped us be brave enough to make that jump. About that time we were thinking about using our gifts and how we hadn’t really tried to get into entertainment and film, God had just put us in it.

    FC: So tell us a little bit about October Baby. How did the concept come about?

    Jon: [Making the film] was a period of two years. We had worked decades to kind of refine a style working for other people. So we thought our first movie would be a football movie or something with lots of explosions because we love doing that kind of work. So lo and behold I went and heard Gianna Jessen speak – she is an abortion survivor. I had no idea that those two words could go together. And ya know, she has a lot of physical problems because she survived a saline abortion, [including] cerebral palsy but she’s such a beautiful person with a beautiful spirit. There’s this wonderful quality about her. I was mesmerized by her story and her angle and a section of our culture that I honestly didn’t know existed. It moved me so much that I started researching it with Cecil Stokes (one of the producers of the film). I’d dare anybody to Google “abortion survivors” and try to read the stories for 20 minutes and not have to walk away from your computer because it’s so tragic that this has happened, is happening. I could not stop thinking about it. We felt like we need to expose this – we need to share this. I took it to my brother and we started thinking about it. We thought, you know if we do a documentary it would be very difficult, maybe impossible to watch, but what if we told the story of this beautiful, 19 year-old girl that discovers this about herself, that she was adopted because she was a survivor of a failed abortion? So she has to go on a journey of discovery, to find answers, to find herself and to find the power of forgiveness – which I think is universal. And that’s the film that we set out to make.

    At every stage [of making the movie], there were a lot of people who didn’t understand what we were doing – like, why is this your first movie? Why isn’t it an action or sports movie? A Christian abortion movie from two unknown movie guys from Alabama is not the easiest thing in the world to market. But at the end of the day we had that still small voice that this was what we were supposed to do and that this was the story God wanted us to tell. It’s a scary subject for the church; for all of us, but it needs to be addressed. [James 1:27 says] “True religion is caring for orphans and widows in their distress…” and I think part of that is giving a voice to those who don’t have one. I think this represents a massive portion of our society that doesn’t have a voice and we thought we could give them one with this film.

    October Baby trailer

    FC: Give us some insight as to how you guys transitioned from sports TV into Christian music videos and then into cinematic releases.

    Jon: A big part of it is that part of me (and my 3.5 year old daughter has inherited my DNA which makes me wife’s job so much more difficult) is I am so ADHD and hyperactive that I can’t stay in one place for very long (laughs), so I think there was a natural longing to… I’m telling you, beyond my relationship with God and my family (in the work world), there is nothing more gratifying than staring at a blank piece of paper and having a passion for an idea then seeing it come to life, in a collaborative way. Our team, our film crew is the best on earth. Our marketing team and our team at Provident are the best on earth. And when all these people work on this idea and then see it on a 40 foot screen with people enjoying and genuinely being moved by it… I can’t even describe what it feels like. I love sports but you don’t get that feeling. There’s no real higher purpose to what you’re doing. Moving to Christian music, I loved doing Christian music videos, and collaborating with all of those bands and being able to visualize their vision and build relationships – as fun as that is, there’s still an itch for something more. And I think that itch was to really use that skill for a higher purpose and calling. It’s like the first words in A Purpose Driven Life were “It’s not about you,” we’re all made for something more. It was that drive, that instinct that our skills could be used for something more, for some reason we just weren’t comfortable working for ESPN and understood it to be just a stepping stone, not a permanent place to stay. I think the permanent place is to stay in what we’ve found. There’s no going back to that after something like October Baby. It’s Peter Jackson who said “pain is temporary, film is forever.” It really is true in our culture. There’s no more effective way of communication today in our culture than entertainment and it’s very gratifying. It’s very nice to know that October Baby will outlive me. That’s what’s so exciting about movies like this. I think in 50 years Fireproof will still be changing marriages. I hope that October Baby will help people to value life more. So I think we finally found something that we can hang out in for a long time. What we did before was fun, but it wasn’t fulfilling.

    FC: So when you boil it down, what do you hope people take away from this movie?


    Jon: I hope that you get swept away in the love story and are entertained with October Baby, but I hope that it will really make you stop and think about how you value life. I hope it moves people like it moves me. I would consider myself like a “pro-life pacifist” before this film. My dad was a two-term Republican state senator so I was certainly a conservative but it was just not something that I thought much about. I think in a lot of our minds we think, well it’s a done deal. It’s not a done deal and there’s plenty we can do about it. You can stand up for them. It’s what we should be doing.


    FC: So this topic is a weighty one. Not just politically, but also in the church. What have you told people when you’ve gotten some controversy over the film, or harsh critiques?

    Jon: (laughs) Well, I guess I didn’t quite know what we were signing up for, so I guess on the front end, ignorance was bliss. We didn’t quite know the firestorm that we’d be entering. Having said that, the biggest thing was we didn’t want to necessarily make a movie that told you what to think as much as we wanted to encourage you to stop and think. To me, my interpretation of the parable of the Good Samaritan was – the three people that walked by the guy on the road weren’t necessarily bad people, they were just preoccupied people. We have never been more preoccupied, there’s never been so much noise in our culture before. Now we deal with Google and Facebook and bombarding entertainment it’s very difficult (if not impossible) for us to slow down and ask the big questions. But you get [people] into movie theaters, you can’t escape (laughs). So the idea was, can we make people stop and think about this issue? I’ve heard it said “films shouldn’t only give answers, they should ask very penetrating questions.” And so our goal with October Baby was to get people to stop, think and talk. I think no matter what your political or religious perspective is it’s a valuable conversation to have. So when the New York Times roasted the movie or when I’m on NPR Morning Edition and they ask me every possible controversial question (although the final piece was very positive), that means people are talking about it (laughs). It was great when we opened at number 8 and then a few days later we’re on the front page of the New York Times. That says that we had fulfilled our purposes and hopefully a lot of good was coming from it. And then when we started getting the stories back of the good, for every difficult review that was written on the film, or for every time we were roasted, there was 200 stories of someone’s life being changed from this movie. It became a lot easier to weather and a little bit easier to get over my own ego with the reviews when you heard of lives being changed. It was very interesting to see on where they aggregate the critics and also the audience, we have like the largest gap of any film we could find the site between the reviews and the people (laughs) our approval rating. I think Walk Disney said it best “I don’t make films for the critics, I make the films for the people.” It was cool to see our audience embrace the film and see lives changed.

    FC: Tell us a little about the feedback that you are getting…

    Jon: I remember these two moments that I’ll mention. I got an email from a Christian girl who had taken one of her friends to the film who had been to a clinic three times and was pretty set on having an abortion. After the movie she decided to keep her child and said the movie had given her the courage, faith and hope to have her baby. I was so blown away by that. Then I was in a screening and this little 12 year old boy said to me, your movie just changed my life and I thought he’d come out of another movie (laughs)… I think you’re mixed up buddy, my movie doesn’t have any pirates or explosions in it (laughs). But then I thought – oh maybe he’s adopted or something and he said my dad had an affair against my mom and I’ve been angry at my dad. But after seeing this movie I’m going home to forgive my father. And I’m just like (laughs) Thank you! I just didn’t know what to say. The biggest surprise is (if statistics are accurate) 4 out of 10 women have experienced an abortion. And that means that millions of men have experienced an abortion too, I mean, we all know someone who has. There were thousands of people who approached us that had had an abortion and had carried the weight. Something about the words “I forgive you” being written on the screen and being part of the story was very cathartic and healing to them and they would just come to us in droves.

    Impact of October Baby the film:

    FC: With the release of October Baby you also created another site called Every Life is Beautiful where you incorporated other peoples’ conversations. How has that been received? And is it helping to propel the message of the film?

    Jon: That’s a great question. Ya know, what’s funny is some things you just kind of discover along the way, and the tagline to the movie took a little while (laughs). There were all kinds of taglines tossed out. We did a limited release of the film in October of 2011 with American Family Association to sort of test the movie. It was just 14 theaters and that’s really where we discovered that the movie had an audience. That was also where we discovered the tagline because when we would show the movie people would tell their stories, about abortion survivor or someone that “shouldn’t” have lived or an adoption and it was like the aggregate of all of these stories. Some that were better than the movie in some cases (laughs)! And it was simple to find it. That was the whole point. “Every life is beautiful.” We’re celebrating the value of every person’s life, no matter your disability, your race, no matter who you are. You have value to God and to us. That became the tag. So then we thought, can we do something more? So we created that other site to follow up with web vignettes with people that you’ve heard of (Christian celebrities) and others. We just did one about this girl in Texas who survived an abortion and her story – there’s no way on earth she should have been alive and yet here she is; it’s just the coolest story. Bobby Downs, the producer, shared his story of adoption and so it just became a place that we could celebrate life. I think the movie is not just about what we’re against. This movie is also about what we’re for. And what we’re for is life. We’re PRO-life that’s the whole point. In the marketing of the movie we wanted a communal celebration of the value of life. We also wanted to put 10% of the profits of the movie into a fund. So before I turn a check from the profits of this film, a check will go to a pregnancy resource center or an orphanage, or a frontline organization that’s helping orphans or young girls navigate the toughest decision she has to make. I’m anxious to see what kind of life the site takes on. My hope is that we could propel it to keep going.

    FC: How much of the movie (if any) involves your own personal stories?

    Jon: I’m a big fan of [Director] Christopher Nolan who said that he believes the audience can tell when a filmmaker is taking an emotional journey versus if the filmmaker is using his bag of tricks to make the audience feel something that he himself doesn’t feel. He believes that a film has to be real first to the filmmaker. JJ Abrams said that you have to have an overriding confidence that if something is inspirational and meaningful to you, it will be to your audience as well. So at the end of the day I think you have to make a movie for yourself; a movie about things you’re trying to process emotionally. So October Baby really covers a time in my life where I was saying, like James, faith without works is dead, and ya know, we’re kind of defined by what we do. When it comes to the area of the sanctity of life, I hadn’t really done anything. Sure I go to a great church and I vote Republican, but I haven’t really done anything. So it was me trying to process that. I wanted to make a very honest and raw piece that was a part of my journey and something that I was struggling with answering for myself, so that’s what we did. It was intensely personal all of the way through. From writing the script to producing the movie, we put ourselves in it. That’s one thing about working in the music business as long as I did, I really gravitate to people who write their own music because you just get so much more of a sense of who the artist is, as opposed to someone who records songs that were written. So we wrote it, produced it, I shot it, Andy edited it, it really is us. It’s deeply personal and I hope that when you see it you get an idea of who we are and what we appreciate and value. Then also it started with the title. A lot of people have asked me about that specifically. My wife and I were driving down the road (and she’s a total planner, I am not a planner, I’m a delinquent creative) and we were talking about our second child. She said, if we have a summer baby, we can buy this type of clothes, if we have a winter or December baby, we can buy these type of clothes, but if we have an October baby… and that’s kinda when I snapped back into the conversation from daydreaming and said, that would be a great title for a girl just trying to find herself or taking life’s journey to discover who she is. But I just sort of shelved that idea away for a long time until I learned about the issue of an abortion survivor and I married the two. And then (our son) Ethan ended up being born October 28th and then my brother’s daughter Amelia was born the next October, so there’s kind of three October babies. It started that way and I hope the people can get to know Andy and I – who we are and that this isn’t just some script we read and wanted to direct. It’s something that was two years of our lives and something we’re deeply passionate about. I think the body of Christ and the Christian community does a lot, but we can do so much more of caring for the orphan and the widow, the ‘least of these’ in our culture. I hope that this movie is an encouragement to everyone to say, what can I do? as they enjoy it.

    FC: What is your favorite movie?

    Jon: Asking me what my favorite movie is, is like asking a cook what his favorite meal is!

    FC: Ok, one that would qualify in your top 5?

    Jon: Ok, I’m going to get myself in trouble here so I’m going to say that I do not approve of all of the content in these movies, but like pastor’s all over America, they’re favorite secret movie is Braveheart. And I’d put myself in that category. I think the line “every man dies, but not every man really lives” has to be the greatest line ever written in the history of movies (laughs) and every time I see that it moves me emotionally, it encourages me to chase my passion and dreams. I’m an epic guy who likes epic movies. I like The Lord of the Rings. I dream of a day when we can interpret the Bible in that way. We have the greatest book of all time and the rights are available. If we could translate the Bible into a movie like Lord of the Rings I think that would be my ultimate dream; goal in life. I was definitely in line for The Dark Night Rises, I also like Pixar. I love the experience of going to the movies. It’s one of my favorite things to do. In fact, my 3.5 year old daughter and I go to the movies together, we call them “daddy dates.” We just saw Madagascar, I love that experience and that we can use it for a greater purpose. I have a running list of my favorites and I go to the movies a lot. Great films stick to you like glue, you can’t get them out of your mind. And every movie has a world view, a message, a set of morals. Don’t tell me you can’t make a movie that’s overtly toward your view that doesn’t do great numbers, I mean, look at Avatar. That’s one of the more overt movies that I’ve seen, but it’s the number one movie of all time. It’s a great business we work in. We have a lot of work to do, a long way to go, but I think we have just scratched the iceberg of what can happen. We have the largest core audience in America and I hope we realize how powerful we are in rallying around a movie – it’s our nation’s largest export. I think it’s upstream to politics now, entertainment is, it’s something we say – we’re buying back our culture one movie ticket at a time. You have no idea how much good you’re doing when you buy a ticket to a Christian movie – it’s like a vote. Exciting times, I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes.

    Bonus - The Afters video for Life is Beautiful

    This post was posted in Movies, Interviews and was tagged with Featured, Movies, October Baby, The Lord of the Rings, Jon Erwin, Ewrin Brothers, Fireproof, Michael W. Smith, The Afters, Abortion

  • On Divine Assignment an interview with Jason Atkins

    Posted on September 17, 2012 by John van der Veen

    Moving from the financial industry into the film-making world may sound like a big leap, until you hear Jason Atkins talk about it. And suddenly it makes perfect sense. Why? Because when the Holy Spirit directs something, He makes all the difference. And the way He pulled together the story, the script, the actors and the message of Unconditional (arriving in theaters this month) is something that only He could do…

    Family Christian: We always like to start out our interviews with some background. Tell us a little about Jason Atkins and what brought you to the idea of creating the film Unconditional

    Jason Atkins

    Jason Atkins: Sure, my background is originally in the finance world. I had worked for about 12 years in the hedge fund community and prior to that was working for a Global 100 accounting firm. But one morning in 2006 while I was praying I felt the Lord start to speak to me about media. Out of that time of prayer He referenced [me] back to Hebrews 11:3, [where] the things of the seen came from that which cannot be seen. He began relating that to me [by] cross referencing back into the Old Testament where the prophets were bringing His messages to the people into a visual context, essentially, things that could not be seen into realms that could be. So back in 2007 our foundation decided there was more love, hope and truth that we could offer the world through our foundation and supporting media than just making money for institutions and wealthy individuals which is who our clientele was. So within our investment firm we started the Doorpost Film Project whose purpose was to identify the next generation of filmmakers and instill love into those individuals so that they could move up in their craft; becoming the leading filmmakers of the next generation... that the nature of their content would reflect the values of the Kingdom of heaven. So we started that project and in the first year it was named [among the] top 25 film projects in the US. We had a few thousand enter into a film contest that we held. We had 3,000 artists and creatives sign up to participate in our social platform, somewhat of a “MySpace for filmmakers” that we developed and those 3,000 filmmakers produced short content out of which we selected the best and most promising to remake content on the topic of hope. My current business partner and a producer on the film Unconditional, felt like the Lord was saying, we shouldn’t necessarily preach to these individuals because we needed to meet them where they were and show God’s love to them, but what we could do was set a platform for them to discover truth. And so we used the biblical principles (like redemption or forgiveness or love) that the submissions for this contest had to be attached to one of these concepts. Then, those that we selected participated in a final round that we provided some funding for and told them they had to make their film on [the subject of] hope. They had to explore hope in order to try and to be true to that concept. It was their own discovery process and it was the Holy Spirit’s responsibility to bring them to a place of what truth might be within that concept that is His. And so through that, it opened our eyes to the nature and impact of media, and we saw several people come to know Christ through that experience, for others it reshaped the way they were thinking about the contest and even a couple that has said they were [previously] thinking about giving up on making movies all together had this contest not come along. If they hadn’t made it into finals they were going to quit what they were doing and go back to their previous day job. One of those filmmakers is Brent McCorkle who ended up directing Unconditional. About half of the finalists in 2008 and 2009 (the two years that J. Wesley Legg and I led that project as a side bar to our hedge fund investment firm) were believers and about half of them were not. They were all exploring “how can I make my own impression on this world” some for good and some not. Hopefully over the 2 years that we led and the 3rd that an independent board led the Doorpost Film Project, the future of film-making was impacted for future generations. We’re excited that since that project, we’ve had multiple filmmakers go on to make feature films, some go on to write large budget Hollywood films and their careers are on a fast track in many ways to become the influencers of this generation. But in 2008 I was continuing to pray and I felt like the Lord was telling us the time to shut the hedge fund down and move into media full-time was something He had a real interest in. The more we pushed into it, the more that became evident. In the middle of 2008 we opened the second office for our investment firm in Nashville, and by the end of the year we came to the conclusion that even though we were growing, the Lord had different plans for us and it was time to shut down. So we let our employees know, it was a 6 month process in that transition phase, but by middle of 2009 we had shut the firm down and had started the process of making our first feature film with the idea that we would continue to sow into future generations, but the need for truth in the world today, and the need for inspiration and hope was a present problem, not just a future issue. So that’s when we began to [ask] what should our first feature film be? Shortly after arriving in Nashville, we had begun to participate in an inner city ministry working with at-risk children and youth called Elijah’s Heart. They provided food, after-school mentoring and their biggest ministry is a youth choir that’s multi-race and works across 7 different projects in Nashville. So through that ministry we got to know an individual named Joe Bradford who was just one of the most humble, gentle, meek, kind individuals we had ever had a chance to get to know.
    The Heart Behind Unconditional

    Through the process of seeking what our first film should be about, I felt like the Lord said I should talk to Joe about his story. Now, at the time my perspective of his story was not film-worthy, I knew he had kidney disease, had a transplant and I knew that he worked with at-risk children, but in and of itself in that did not make for a theatrical experience, at least in my mind’s eye. But I asked Joe to lunch one day and I brought the topic up and he started to weep in the middle of the Five Guys Burger. I was kind of looking at him stunned and he said I knew this day was coming and I didn’t know when or how, but I knew I was supposed to share my story with you, and what I’m about to tell you no one other than my wife knows, and I’ve been scared to share it with others because I didn’t know if you would still be my friend. So I shared with him “Look Joe, I love you, nothing you can share with me would change my opinion of who you are, or the friend that you are.” So he goes on them to share his story, of growing up in a small, rural town being the only African American growing up in an all-white town. He was dirt poor to the point they did not have indoor plumbing nor did they have their own outhouse – He had to use the neighbors’ outhouse in his childhood years. He taught himself how to play the saxophone and then took some karate classes. Through the whole process of him laying out the components I began to see (laughs) well maybe there are some theatrical elements to this. So then he goes into his adult life, becoming one of the world’s first hackers and almost definitively one of the world’s first African American computer hackers. The events that led up to his ultimate “fall” from a place of growing prominence within the University of Tennessee and a job at IBM to a place of incarceration. Then he carried it further and talked about what happened in prison, and how it happened and the nature of how God started to transform his life and where He showed him new value and new hope – what love really was about. And shared more about his views of “the highway of love” how scripture lays that out and ultimately to the point of working with children through “walks of love” that he does with these inner city communities. It all just began to really sink in that Jesus knows more than we do. (laughs) My preconceived notion of what makes a theatrical story was not just wrong, but was dead wrong. And the thing that He was really just pushing into me at the moment was that we don’t always have to make up stories to glorify God, he’s already written truth before the foundation of time and the story that He’s written for each one of us truly is a theatrical experience that we can all marvel at, wherever He’s involved. And so the nature of Joe’s story having true elements that people will see on screen became more and more profound as I learned more and more and the realization that truth has so much more power than fiction. So that led to us beginning to develop the script and write the story, and incorporate as many of the true elements of his life that we could. Our first version was about 3 hours long, and we tried to whittle it down and in the process broaden the character base. We took some artistic liberties with a few characters and changed some names and basic profiles but left everything around Joe’s story as true to form as we possibly could. In some places we dumbed it down because we didn’t believe that audiences would actually walk away believing [it was] true because sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. The elements that people scoff at most when they watch the movie and say that couldn’t have really happened were much more bizarre and unusual than what we even put on camera. So the entire process was God, we want our life to matter and we love what we’re doing as investors and You’ve blessed us in the business that You’ve given us, but our lives feel like they’re isolated and buffeted and we want every component to be of value. So in that process of seeking He began to unveil the Doorpost which led to Harbinger Media Partners. So the thing we delighted in doing and what was a blessing, He chose to shut down for a new path and Lord willing this will be one of many stories to come.

    Unconditional Movie Trailer

    FC: What an incredible story. So does that mean the Doorpost Film Project is officially shut down or is that still sort of running behind the scenes?

    Jason: I wish that it were. We turned it over in 2009 to an independent board and we gave them the funding and operating budget for the following year with the understanding that they’d become self-sufficient and it did not work out.... it unfortunately closed its doors (at least from an outside perspective). The database and all of the underlying work is still there, but on a day-to-day basis it does not have an active presence anymore.

    FC: Unconditional is just the sort of film that grapples with your heart. What’s the process of going from script to recruiting actors, and how did these big names react to the message of Joe’s story?

    Jason: The process is one of writing the scripts (we wrote 7 major iterations, 13 total drafts of the script) and getting to the 13th draft and having it pass through the muster of scrutiny from multiple demographics and geographic parts of the country to make sure there was some measure of poetic flow to it. We went out to actors and used a casting agency in LA. They were fantastic, they gave us recommendations of who they thought would fit well to play the characters because they read the script as well. We had our own wish list of actors that we thought would be right to play various characters and so we went out and made offers to a handful of people. The process was one of offer and either acceptance or rejection – when you get to that level of talent they can select which projects they want to participate in. The interesting thing about it is not knowing the full background of all of these actors and actresses that we were making offers to. It’s a scary proposition because you never know what you’re going to discover after the fact and in some cases we were just very thankful that God saw fit to provide us cover and work it out the way He did.

    Michael Ealy

    Michael Ealy was one of the very first people that we went to. We didn’t know he was a believer but he is. He’s an amazing man with great wisdom – he helped to cover us in a lot of areas of production. Being first-time producers and directors we could have made mistakes that would have been hard to come back from, but he really helped us to avoid them. He helped to lead and guide elements from a talent, acting and production flow perspective. He was just amazing. He spent a lot of time with the real Joe Bradford to make certain that he was embodying as well he could the personality and the love of the Holy Spirit in Joe. Michael has been a delight from the beginning.

    Lynn Collins

    Lynn Collins was another really cool situation in that she grew up in a home of faith in Texas and had been in Hollywood for awhile. Upon talking to her about the story, she shared that she was really pleased because this is the type of content her mother was really excited about. She had been talking with several [people] recently who’d recognized that it felt like the world needed more hope and more positive pieces of content. She was thrilled to be a part of something like this that she had not had the luxury of doing for awhile. She had just come off John Carter which was a $250 million movie that she was the lead in. Michael had just come off of finishing Takers which was a blockbuster that he was a lead in. So they really kind of just identified with the story at different levels. Michael because of a heart for children and the challenge of playing a real guy that was a positive role model within the African American community as a male figure who was being the father to the fatherless; embodying the essence of true religion according to James. Lynn grew up in Texas and had horses. She said that she would share secrets with the horses that she wouldn’t share with anyone else and went through periods of her life where she had battled elements of depression, so the character played out in a way that just mimicked her real life as a child and adult. She was able to embrace and realize that others could take the story and find a real place of hope.

    FC: So you guys are doing something unique because you’re literally calling people to action after viewing the movie. Can you tell us a little about that?

    Jason: Sure. When we went down the path of making the movie, the question that kept coming back to me, when I was praying about the situation [was], God is this the movie we are to make? And what kept coming back to me was “Are you going to remember my forgotten ones?” That question really didn’t haunt me, but it felt really important. (laughs) The heart of God is for the fatherless for the widow for the broken and what are we going to do as the church? As believers? As His children, to remember those that society in many ways has forgotten, that we often turn our back to, or we feel like they might have gotten themselves into bad situations. The one thing about children is that they don’t choose which home they’ll be born into. They didn’t decide where they would be born geographically or to the gene pool they came out of. They’re innocent in the form of their circumstance. In part, their conditions were never ones of their own choosing. And yet God was asking the question – are you going to love them? That in part sprang up the genesis of the title of the movie, Unconditional.

    So what we wanted was not just to entertain but hopefully inspire believers that come out of the theater – that their lives can be of greater value. That they can be a hero. It doesn’t take much to be a hero for someone else other than to just share a life of love. And so we’ve begun to partner with organizations all over the country in just about every city that we’re opening in – we will have at least one and in most cases more than one that we’re calling ACT partners. These are organizations that serve the broken, the needy and the hurting. Whether it’s helping children with after-school mentoring programs, feeding programs, adoption situations and in some cases job training… we’re raising [people] up as the hands and feet of Christ, to let them know that they are loved by the Father in heaven, that their life matters and they can become more than what they see around them. Their lives are precious and treasured. Our hope is that people will leave the movie and get activated in such a way that they become the hands and feet of Christ to someone else. And whether they see themselves this way or not, they become a “Papa Joe-like” character where they’re the hero of their own story for someone else just by sharing one life at a time. Right now we’re thrilled because not only do we have great partners, but we’re already hearing the magnitude of the great impact of these partnerships. Even people coming out of the first private screenings, general audiences of pastors and business leaders were saying – I’ve got to do something else, I’ve got to either start a ministry or I’ve got to plug into a new one. I’m not doing enough – my life can be worth more to someone else than to myself. And that’s really encouraging and exciting. At the end of day I think it’s touching the heartbeat of God and ultimately the purpose of why He’s called us into making this content to begin with.

    FC: We think it’s just great that you not only display this story to be enjoyed, but then encourage people to go make a difference themselves. Will there be a soundtrack to go along with the film?

    Jason: We talked about doing an “inspired by” CD, because there are only five songs in the entire movie – the rest of it is score-based, so we don’t have enough songs to make a full-blown soundtrack. We potentially could if there was demand, we could add to that list another 7 tracks that we kind of drew upon ourselves while writing the movie to cobble on to it. We released a new single on gospel and some contemporary stations called “Hope” and it was written initially by Grammy award-winning songwriter Aaron Lindsey. We just re-recorded the vocals recently with Brian Courtney Wilson. The other songs were sung by a husband and wife duo who go by the name of Johnnyswim. They’re good friends of ours, the female voice is the daughter of Donna Summers, Amanda Ramirez is her current married name and Johnnyswim is absolutely phenomenal. One of their songs is in the main body of the movie, and the other is at the beginning of the credits. The one in the credits is called “You’re Not Going to Leave Me Here” which is a really cool song basically about love getting us where we are and that it won’t leave us in the place of brokenness and the other one is called “Good News.” They are a wonderful group, but also amazing people.

    FC: Ok, one last question for you. What would you say to a young filmmaker who is a follower of Jesus and feels like they have talent for film-making that they want to pursue?

    Jason: Good question. Pray… and don’t rush it. Not in the sense of don’t push into it quickly – but don’t rush a product. We have a lot to learn and as believers we have a duty and responsibility to excellence and honoring our King with something that is capable of standing on its own as an artistic piece. That is glorifying not just in its content but in its production. And we are nowhere near that ourselves, so that’s not coming from a place of pride – I recognize on the front end at Harbinger that we have a long way to go to meet the threshold that we ultimately want to be at. I think the danger and the trap is for believers who are so eager to bless the name of Jesus that we sometimes diminish the value of the art itself to where it can’t be received by the audience it was originally intended to be received by. It’s more of a challenge than advice because we all have to find our own path and I would not be presumptuous enough to say that I know the best way, but my heart is this: that others who God is calling (and He is calling quite a few), will take the challenge seriously. That [the church will] reemerge as the leaders of art and culture and no longer sit back and say a tithe or a partial tithe is good enough in the form of our art. It needs to truly be an offering, in the sense of giving everything. For hundreds (if not thousands) of years the church led in the nature of content, art and shaping culture through the arts, and because of our willingness to accept lower production value and quality, we’ve really lost our voice in many places. I’m just excited to see that God is raising up those that are extraordinarily gifted and I believe that’s an area of society that He’s going to leverage to lead in again. However, we [at Harbinger] can serve those that He’s calling and we want to do that. He’s bringing them to the marketplace but if they can [they should] be as patient as possible to bring as beautiful an offering to the table as they can. And not rush quality, because I don’t think that quality can be rushed, it is something that has to be developed and nurtured.

    FC: Excellent words, Jason.

    To learn more about Harbinger Media Partners and their upcoming projects, click here.

    This post was posted in Interviews and was tagged with Featured, Movies, Hebrews, Unconditional, Michael Ealy, Lynn Collins, Jason Atkins

  • Family Values in DVDs

    Posted on June 19, 2012 by Family Christian

    Everyone loves saving money. Especially when it comes to family entertainment in DVD. Recently we at Family Christian launched our new Family Values DVD Sale Event. This is where select DVDs are listed at 50% off. We thought it would be fun to post some of those titles here for you.

    First up - The Blindside

    The Blindside

    The Blindside

    Teenager Michael Oher is surviving on his own, virtually homeless, when he is spotted on the street by Leigh Anne Tuohy. Learning that the young man is one of her daughter's classmates, Leigh Anne insists that Michael - wearing shorts and a t-shirt in the rain - come out of the cold. Without a moment's hesitation, she invites him to stay at the Touhy home for the night. What starts out as a gesture of kindness turns into something more as Michael becomes part of the Touhy family despite the differences in their backgrounds.

    Living in his new environment, the teen faces a completely different set of challenges to overcome. And as a family helps Michael fulfill his potential, both on and off the football field, Michael's presence in the Touhy's lives leads them to some insightful self-discoveries of their own.

    From the creators of Fireproof and Courageous - Flywheel



    Smooth-talking used car salesman Jay Austin hasn't done much with his life---except sell a lot of lemons! Now that his conscience has caught up with him, this lifetime con artist is trying to make amends. But how can he convince his wife, son, and community that he's "for real"? Flywheel shows that every man can have a turning point in his life. Inspiring, funny, and ideal for evangelism.

    The Encounter

    The Encounter

    The Encounter

    Stranded in the middle of nowhere, five strangers take refuge in a deserted roadside diner. An arrogant businessman, a lonely woman, an estranged couple, and a teen runaway, they appear to have nothing in common. But the Christlike proprietor seems strangely all-knowing and offers more than temporal nourishment.

    Starring: Steve Sting Borden, Bruce Marchiano and Jaci Velasquez


    Standing Firm

    Standing Firm

    Standing Firm

    David, a widower, is working himself to death. Late nights doing paperwork and running on fumes is normal. Bills are piling up by the week, and foreclosure looms on the horizon. Blaming God for his wife's death, he ends his relationship with the church.

    Steven, the remaining Christian of the household, has been watching his father’s unhealthy lifestyle with great concern. With help from his grandpa and best friend Maggie, Steven reaches out to his father in any way he can.

    Despite his grieving and worsening financial problems, David begins seeking an answer to the question haunting him since his wife's death...WHY?

    The Frontier Boys

    The Frontier Boys

    The Frontier Boys

    Set in a small Northern Michigan town, four high school sophomore boys are living on top of the world. Best friends, classmates, and peers, T.J., Jed, and Brent are all starting players for an undefeated varsity basketball team joined by Jackson, their loudmouthed hyper-enthusiastic friend. All four share a history of companionship, a notable nickname, and all the confidence and exuberance of youth.

    Their basketball season is shattered when Brent's older brother, Mike, attracts an Irish gang leader named Sean O'Sullivan. Sean is intent on setting up a rural meth lab and supply operation in the peaceful community. Despite plenty of cash to fund the start-up, Sean isn't sure that he can pull together a team of locals to do the dirty work.

    Since Mike is the one who invited Sean to town, he naturally sees himself in a key leadership role in the gang. Both Mike and Sean see the need and benefit of having a high-school aged member to infiltrate the school system from within. Mike entices his younger brother Brent to check out an opportunity to make some serious money. Against his better judgment, Brent agrees and ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    Heaven is Waiting

    Heaving is Waiting

    Heaving is Waiting

    Years after his wife Kate died, Ned Stevens still cringes at the thought of dating other women. How can he find the emotional energy to start dating again when he still has to look out for his college age daughter Liz? But when Liz comes home for a visit from school, she brings a surprise guest who throws Ned for a loop. Can Ned ever accept that his little girl has fallen in love with David, a practically perfect know-it-all who drives Ned crazy? With Ned trying to sabotage the relationship, Liz tries to divert his attention to Carol - the charming single woman Ned sees jogging every morning. Together, Liz and David will teach Ned that with love, there is always a chance for a new start. From director Michael Flynn comes Heaven is Waiting, a lighthearted, faith-based, romantic comedy that will lift your spirits and bring joy to your heart.

    Forever Strong

    Forever Strong

    Forever Strong

    A talented but troubled high-school rugby star gets a second shot at redemption after being sentenced to serve time in a Salt Lake City boys' home and landing a coveted spot on the famed Highland High School rugby team in this inspirational sports drama. Little Rick Penning was the star player on his Arizona rugby team until his life took a turn for the worse. Now, after a fateful brush with the law, Rick finds himself out of the spotlight and forced to ponder the consequences of his actions in a Salt Lake City juvenile detention center.

    As fate would have it, however, Salt Lake's famed Highland High rugby team could use a player like Rick. With a little help from coach Larry Gelwix, Rick may even be able to lead the Highland High team to the national championships. When Rick discovers that the team they will be competing against is none other than his old team from Arizona, which is coached by his father, Richard Penning, the deciding game takes on a newfound sense of gravity in the eyes of the ambitious young athlete.


    For the whole list of 50% off DVDs, click here. There is sure to be something for every member of your family.

    This post was posted in Movies and was tagged with Movies, Movies, Family Values, Sports

  • New DVDs For the Family

    Posted on June 12, 2012 by Family Christian

    With the kids out of school, they tend to sleep in a little longer and stay up a little later. The evenings are filled with a lot of "What can I do now?" Without a lot of programming available on network TV, many families have extra time to utilize the DVD player.

    Here are a few movie trailers that you may find interesting. Some of these DVDs are available now at Family Christian and some will become available soon.

    First up is Courageous

    Filled with action-packed police drama, Courageous is the fourth film from Sherwood Pictures, the moving-making ministry of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia. Riveted moviegoers will once again find themselves laughing, crying, and cheering as they are challenged and inspired by everyday heroes who long to be the type of dads that make a lifelong impact on their children.

    October Baby

    October Baby offers viewers an enjoyable, entertaining, intensely human film about friends hitting the road together and finding more than they bargained for: adventure, romance, truth and the power to forgive. But, this film is even more than that—it tells the story of one young woman’s journey based on numerous stories of abortion survivors. October Baby honestly and evenhandedly invites audiences to explore their own views of life’s value and the importance of their choices.

    Travel the Road

    Travel the Road tells the dramatic story of Tim Scott and Will Decker on an epic year and a half quest to preach the gospel to the end of the earth. From the forbidding Himalayas of Tibet to the sweltering jungles of Cambodia, every step of their real-life adventure is presented in stunning detail. There were no film crews or safety teams to help them along the way as the missionaries themselves captured every frame of footage. Travel the Road is an unscripted, inspiring journey through twenty-five countries that has motivated a generation to action and helped spur a modern day movement for overseas missions.

    The Encounter: Paradise Lost

    The follow-up to the Pure Flix hit movie, “The Encounter” increases the intensity and action as a group of damaged individuals face the life-changing decision of accepting Christ -invited by a man claiming to be Jesus Christ himself.
    A retiring drug smuggler (MIANO), his drug-addicted wife and his ruthless bodyguard (DANIELS) find themselves trapped by a suspended DEA Special Agent (WHITE) at a Thai resort owned by a troubled former Wall Street investment banker (Hutton) and his wife, who mourn the loss of their only son in a devastating tsunami. It is an explosive mix of personalities. Violence looms, but a mysterious guest, claiming to be Jesus
    Christ (MARCHIANO), arrives to offer each of them one final chance at redemption in this inspiring, thought-provoking thriller.


    Doctors Paul and Kim Jordan are struggling to find peace in their lives after the tragic loss of their baby's life. Paul (C. Thomas Howell from The Amazing Spider Man, ET) persuades Kim to escape reality and flee to the exquisite islands of Southeast Asia. Paradise becomes a nightmare when he is kidnapped by human traffickers in need of a skilled doctor.

    Faced with a fight for survival, Paul finds himself captive alongside the wealthy Malcolm Andrews (John Rhys-Davies from Indiana Jones, Lord of the Rings). He quickly realizes there is no hope for his captors dying leader and is forced to examine his eternal fate. With life and death in the balance, Malcolm challenges Paul to stop running from God. Will Paul realize that trust in God is his only hope for escape and reunion with his wife?


    What made America great? Find out in this fascinating documentary about liberty, religious freedom and the bedrock of our nation. Follow actor Kirk Cameron as he digs 400 years into our history, tracing the steps of the pilgrims and examining the beliefs that established our nation. What will it take to restore America to all the founding fathers dreamed it could be and secure a 'monumental' future for our children? Discover the true national treasure of America in Monumental.

    For these and many other great DVD releases, check out our web page here.

    This post was posted in Movies and was tagged with Movies, Movies, Summer, Courageous, October Baby

  • Taking the Road Less Traveled

    Posted on April 13, 2012 by John van der Veen

    If the mark of authentic faith is being a light in the darkness, filmmakers Will Bakke, Michael Allen and Alex Carroll have flipped on a searchlight. When these twenty-something friends decided that what they “knew” about Jesus just wasn’t enough anymore, they set out to find answers to some tough questions, documenting the journey as they went. We caught up with Beware of Christians director Will Bakke to discuss their two illuminating films, how Riot Studios came to be, and what he believes is the hope for America…

    Family Christian: To start us out, could you give us a brief synopsis about (your production company) Riot Studios?

    Will Bakke: We actually formed Riot Studios shortly after completion of our film Beware of Christians. Once we finished the film we didn’t really know where it was going to take us – we [had actually] made it just for our friends and families, the community we’d grown up in and the colleges we were at, not having [realized] that there was such a unique voice in the movie – something that we were kind of gaining ground with. So we decided to start a production company called Riot Studios to basically funnel all of our projects through and to have a brand name behind it all. Riot was kinda the brainchild of Alex Carroll, Michael Allen and myself. We really wanted to create a platform where all different types of media could be showcased and people could see what Jesus was doing in our hearts; what He was bringing out of that passion for Him, whether it be in film making or music or whatever it was that we were doing. That all kind of came out of our relationship with Christ.

    Beware of Christians trailer:

    FC: That’s fantastic. So now, what led to your decision to make this film?

    Will: It all started the summer before that actually with our first film that we made called One Nation Under God. So [that movie] was really the launch point for us to realize, “hey, OK, Will has the skill set to actually be able to make a film” and “I think we have an interesting enough topic to discuss” and really, we’d never seen a film like the one we wanted to make. We’d never seen a movie that didn’t try to paint the way life should be but rather painted life the way that it is. And so that’s kind of what we wanted to do, just put all of these topics that we struggled with in college and [in] following Christ out on the table and say, “what can we learn? How can we get past our own justifications to the way we want to live, and really look at Biblically how Jesus is calling us to live?”

    FC: So how did you decide to take this journey in Europe?

    Will: It all kind of came about when we were first talking about doing this movie (I forget which one of us said), “ya know, it’s hard to solve a problem when you’re sitting right in the middle of it.” And so that was kind of the idea: getting out of our comfort zone, getting out of our Christian routines, taking a step outside of that in order to look back and really see it from a new perspective. The movie was about the study of Christian habit and the way that we might have been saying one thing and then acting out a way that was completely contrary to the Gospel we were claiming. So Europe just happened to be our choice because (as the director) there was that journey aspect – we were going to be traveling from country to country. It really could have been anywhere in the world but Europe stuck out to us because they have a great train system. It’s very accessible to get through multiple countries, and that’s something that we wanted for the film, to experience a lot of different cultures and different perspectives. So Europe was the obvious choice in that sense.

    FC: Some would say that the sort of post-modern Christian culture in Europe is kind of the parent of Christian culture in the U.S. As followers of Jesus, how did you adjust to the differences in the way they approach or live out faith?

    Will: I think the word that sticks out to me (to be very honest) is refreshing. I had grown up in a Christian culture where everyone tends to stay comfortable on the surface-level of conversation when it comes to Jesus. No one likes to have the tough issues put in their face for them to deal with. So going to Europe, I mean, it’s like you said – it’s very post-Christian. People are much more willing to tell you flat-out that you’re an idiot for believing in Jesus if that’s what they believe. So we didn’t have try so hard to get past the layers down to what someone believed, they were very up-front about it from the beginning. Yeah, it’s scary how many people are not following Christ over there – a lot of them do not believe Jesus. But at the same time, the people we met who were claiming to follow Christ, you could see it in all parts of their lives because there was nothing in it for them to say that unless they truly meant it. So it’s scary at one point and then at the other it’s just very refreshing to see people be very honest about what they believe. I think it’s just easy for us in America to say one thing and maybe convince ourselves that that’s enough and totally live the opposite of the Gospel that we’re claiming. Then at the end of our lives we die and then, ya know, we never really got it. We’ve got this empty shell of a faith that doesn’t really cut it… isn’t very substantial.

    FC: In the trailer for Beware of Christians there is a phrase that flashes across the screen that says “we are churched out.” What did you mean with that statement?

    Will: I think church for us at that point in our lives had become almost another source of entertainment, or just an event. And I think especially in this culture with so many amazing speakers and authors, it’s like we go in order to be entertained or just to be fed information. For a lot of us, it all [just] stays up in our heads. We can think one thing, but the biggest problem in America is that we aren’t doing anything about it. We’re simply going to hear a nice sermon, agree with it, maybe feel some sort of conviction that day but we don’t ever put it into practice. So when we made this movie that’s how we felt, like we were being poured into mentally and had all these great questions, but our lives and our actions didn’t reflect that. And so I think that was the moment that we said we need to do something about that, we don’t want to just hear about Jesus but let it have zero effect on the way that we live out our lives.

    FC: As a result of making this film you guys are now traveling around the U.S. to churches and universities playing this documentary for people. How are they responding to it?

    Will: I think one of the coolest quotes is by a writer/activist named Ann Lamont who said “the most powerful sermon in the world is two words: me too.” And what’s cool about that is I feel like we share this movie with a lot of people who have never heard about it, what it’s about. They come in, they watch the film and it’s almost like this deep-exhale-breath-of-fresh-air at the very end where a lot of times they say, thank you so much, you put on film what I feel like I’ve been thinking for such a long time – as if it was frowned upon to ask these tough questions and to admit that we don’t have all the answers. And so with college students especially, we meet others just like us who were raised with the answers without ever really asking the questions themselves. So what’s cool is we begin a discussion with them to say, these are the most important questions you’ll ask yourself in your lifetime. We should be willing to seek after those answers and be willing to figure out what we truly believe about Jesus. So I think the words real, raw and refreshing all come to mind because they’re just seeing honesty and truth in a way that hasn’t been presented before. It’s somewhat because of the unique medium. Ya know, documentaries tend to not do so well at the box office or on DVD, but I feel like because the subject matter is so crucial, so serious, [and it’s] taken in sort of a light-hearted comedic way, I think people just love grabbing on to that because they realize that it is a discussion. It is tough, but there’s so much grace that’s extended when you’re willing to ask those questions. So the response has been overwhelming and incredible.

    FC: When you guys are at a secular college or university, what would you say is the percentage of believers versus unbelievers in the audience?

    Will: I would say probably somewhere around 75-85% are believers. I mean, obviously I can’t have any idea, but just from the amount of conversations that I’ve been able to have it seems about like that. I think most Christians are drawn to [the film] because of the subject matter whereas maybe a lot of non-Christians may be drawn to it by the title alone (laughs) or by the discussion they see coming afterward. We have plenty of atheist groups that come out to our screenings who want to debate with us and it’s actually kind of fun because I think they all have this perception of what we’re going to be like, then they see the movie and realize that we’re probably not the people they’re most mad at. We’re just willing to have a conversation; we don’t want to have an argument. We refuse to be enemies with anybody. Our calling is just to love other people and I think they see that through this film. That’s our agenda. Not to win an argument or force any sort of doctrine down anyone’s throats. We’re just simply here to talk about Jesus.

    FC: So as Riot Studios, what is your end goal? What do you hope to accomplish through this?

    Will: I think for us we want to begin the discussion and the thought-process that maybe the way Jesus called us to live our lives does not look like the American Christianity that we’ve been raised to know and maybe even love. I think that’s the biggest point that we can get out there, that Jesus calls us to something that’s so much bigger and so much better. And to be willing to ask those questions. I think that would probably be the second thing we would say is that we really, really just encourage kids to ask the tough questions and make those decisions for themselves. Don’t let this faith be your mom’s or your dad’s or pastor’s or anybody else’s other than your own because it’s just not going to mean as much (if anything at all) if you’re just believing it for any other reason than to truly yearn for that.

    FC: Will, do you personally think that the church here in the West is in trouble?

    Will: (sigh) Man that’s a good question. I… I think if I were to look at the trends of what has happened in Europe and then what happens in the United States… Well, I’ll say this, because the United States has seemed to take a similar path to Europe we’re just some years behind it, decades behind it, I’d say based on the evidence, yes – we’re in trouble. But I think especially from this generation with the amount of communication and connectivity there’s a different path that America’s churches are going to take. I think the word is going to get out fast enough that says, hey we’re not about a religion, we’re simply not about routine, we’re about a relationship with Jesus – and that’s what is going to turn the tide. I think in Europe it became so much about religion and routines that when life didn’t work out at times people were just giving up on religion because it didn’t follow through on what it promised – happiness or security or comfort or whatever. I think this generation and churches today, especially in America, are starting to learn how to push that it’s about Jesus and not about our own level of comfort. I hope that’s not too vague of an answer, but it’s a tough question so… (laughs).

    FC: That’s what we’re here to do Will, make you cry and sweat. Kidding. So based on that (and maybe this question will help you summarize your last thought), in your estimation, what is the hope for our churches in the West?

    Will: The hope is Jesus. In summing up that last question I’m not as worried about it because I believe that based on this generation and the new level of communication and connectivity, I think there’s so much hope – the name of Jesus and the grace of Jesus is spreading at a much faster rate than in generations before…

    FC: That’s a great answer – actually both of them. So we’d like to talk a little about your other film, One Nation Under God. But let’s back up a second, just for reference, when did you create these films?

    Will: We shot One Nation Under God in the summer of 2008 and premiered it just in Texas (just a couple showings) in the spring of 2009. And then we immediately left to film Beware of Christians in the summer of 2009 and premiered/released it in 2010.

    FC: OK that helps. So, One Nation Under God sounds like it could be a political film. Is it?

    Will: I don’t think it’s a political film. The idea was to say we’re one nation under God, but which “god” are we talking about here? Let’s go see what other people believe, and see which god they would say it was. In that film, four of us (Michael Allen and myself from Beware of Christians are in it and actually two other buddies of ours) road trip around the United States in order to ask people just two basic questions: “What do you think happens when you die?” And, “who do you think Jesus Christ was?” And so those questions ultimately lead to more questions… but a lot of it was about trying to figure out what do people believe in, (because everyone puts their faith in something) and that’s what we really wanted to get to. Is it the Christian God that we’ve been told is the God of America? And so the movie is pretty funny (laughs), we’re obviously more immature at this point (I think only 20 at the time we made this movie) and we end up crashing on peoples’ couches all over the country, which is amazing because it lends us to staying with Mormons, with Muslims, atheists, some hippies out in Portland, plenty of different religions and plenty of different people that put their faith in something other than what we have put our faith in. And so it debunks some stereotypes and gets the conversation rolling about why we believe the things we believe.

    FC: So who is the god of the United States, or do we need to watch the film to find out?

    Will: (laughs) I think by the end of the film you begin to realize the importance of asking the questions. Because as you see the movie go on, there are plenty of people that say that they believe in Jesus and then when we ask “how do you get to Heaven?” they say “I don’t really know, just be a good person and you get there.” So the movie kind of turns into this open discussion about the importance of asking those tough questions. If I had to answer your question about the god of America, I honestly couldn’t tell you (laugh). The interesting thing about the movie is, there wasn’t one person that we interviewed around the United States that didn’t know who Jesus claimed to have been – which is pretty cool. The bummer part about that is when asked how we get to Heaven, about 95% of those people said “just be a good person.” So there’s this disconnect about what people claim to believe, and then at the core what they actually believe and live out. So, not sure who the “god” is actually.

    FC: OK, three part question: In either one of these adventures, did you ever feel like you were in a risky situation – physically, spiritually or potentially embarrassing?

    Will: Wow, great question. OK, physical harm – ya know, we were driving my buddy’s Tahoe across the country and crossed 100,000 miles in it (laughs), so there was always an element of harm to our safety. Also, we used this website to basically find the place we were going to stay at every night. Real quick story, the first night we ended up staying with a stranger – this guy out of Huntington Beach who was Mormon. He gave us surfboards to go surfing that day, bought us pizza that night and that whole experience was amazing. The next night in Long Beach (and this is all in the movie) we ended up finding this lady who let us stay at her house. Turns out she was a sadomasochist and also a lesbian, so when we got into her house there was pornography all over the walls and it was like all this inappropriate stuff that freaked us out – so we really did fear for our safety at that point, what we just walked into. So that is probably the only moment we feared for our physical safety.

    Spiritually, I think for me the night that sticks out (and it might be different for the guys) was this one night in North Carolina were we stayed with a family that was Muslim. When we got there (this is in the film as well), they ended up cooking us dinner and then we sat around their living room for about 4-5 hours just talking about the differences of what they believed and the Christian faith. At this point all I really knew about Jesus was what was told me growing up in the church so I had all these “ready-to-fire answers to some of life’s tough questions” but when I was actually put on the spot about how I knew they were true, I really didn’t have a response for them. It was great because they just totally debunked what the Muslims believe and what they stand for. At that point in my life (laughs sheepishly) the only exposure I had to them were the events of 9/11. So [in the film you see] their compassion as they walk us through what their beliefs are, just so kind and hospitable that I couldn’t help but honestly be shaken a little bit in what I believed. They seemed to have so much more knowledge about what they believed and seemed to have asked those tough questions for themselves, whereas I was at a point in my life where I hadn’t. So that was a moment for me. I don’t think that it really shook my faith enough to be able to leave God, but it definitely encouraged me to ask those tough questions for myself and really take my faith more seriously.

    So embarrassing moment… I guess that it was that same time. When they asked me why I believed Jesus did all those things He said He did and I didn’t have any evidence for them other than the Bible – that was somewhat embarrassing – because I hadn’t really studied Scripture or what other religions even believed.

    FC: Will, we really appreciate you taking the time to talk with us… one last question for you… How much coffee did it take for you to pull these adventures off? Didn’t you have a train ride in the movie that was like 17 days or something…?

    Will: Oh, well none of us were really obsessed with coffee at that point but we really did consider calling up Red Bull to tell them how thankful we were that they existed. We’re the biggest Red Bull supporters solely because they got us through Europe (laughs). Even in the studio footage in Beware of Christians, when we’re sitting there with coffee mugs I’m pretty sure we’re drinking either Red Bull or Dr. Pepper, just to keep ourselves awake.

    FC: Will, thank you again for your time, we really appreciate it a lot. We’re looking forward to seeing how Beware of Christians continues to do at Family Christian and obviously One Nation Under God as well.

    Will: Thank you so much, we love you guys, what you’re doing. Anytime we can connect we really do appreciate it - it means a lot to us.

    You can check out the team’s films here and here.

    This post was posted in Movies, Interviews and was tagged with Featured, Beware of Christians, Will Bakke, Movies

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