Interview With Andrew Erwin

2016 Top 40 Under 40: Andrew Erwin, Erwin Brothers Entertainment ...

Box Office Revolution: What inspired you to first get into making Christian entertainment?
Andrew Erwin: We grew up hearing my dad tell the story of the Woodlawn football team and their magic season of 1974. We fell in love with that story and it was such a privilege to bring it to life several years ago. My dad is a great storyteller and we caught it from him.

BOR: What do you feel is your underlying philosophy of movie making?
AE: We are attracted to real life redemption stories, particularly of underdogs. If a story moves our soul then those are the ones we latch on to telling as filmmakers. Our driving philosophy is the right to be heard. Make an entertaining story and the moment to share redemption.

BOR: What do you think is the hardest part of making a good Christian film?
AE: Quality. We say that quality is something we always chase but not something we actually ever catch. The key is to see each story grow and get better. You achieve a little more quality in each story you tell. I’m excited how the whole faith genre has grown in that area.

BOR: What do you think we need to see more of in Christian entertainment?
AE: I would love to see more diversity in the story tellers. I think we need young voices being developed to hand the baton to in this race. There needs to be a way to nurture and develop that talent early.

BOR: What do you think needs to be improved in Christian entertainment as a whole?
AE: I think collaboration is a powerful tool and I’m grateful for other filmmakers who have poured into my journey. If we want to grow in our stories we need more and more of that in faith film.

BOR: How do you feel about Christian entertainment creation being a collaborative effort rather than a ‘lone ranger’ creation?
AE: Haha! I promise I didn’t read this question before my last answer. There is a power of multiple voices pouring into making an idea the best it can be. The book Creativity Inc. was a powerful one for us. The creative braintrust refines ideas in such a streamlined fashion but other filmmakers who have done the job. On our last film I Still Believe had amazing voices in making it. Jon Gunn, Madeline Carroll, Ben Smallbone and many others. We have a policy that the best idea wins. As faith filmmakers trust their voice more and more it makes a better film to listen to trusted voices and make that story as a team.

BOR: How has Christian entertainment improved during the time you’ve been involved in it?
AE: Everything from the stories being more authentic, to bigger actors being
attracted to these stories, to the budgets studios like Lionsgate are willing to
invest. I’m grateful for people like Devon Franklin and the Kendrick brothers and many others have done to help blaze a trail. Hopefully we have been a part of that for others as well.

BOR: Is working on Christian movie sets any better or worse than working on ‘secular’ movie sets?
AE: I think it’s a movie set either way. We are so grateful to do this job with other people regardless of what they believe, but the key is as a Christian working on a story that I feel can change someone’s life, I find the ministry opportunities on set are endless as people bring that story to life.

BOR: What are your future plans for new Christian entertainment (movies, series, etc.)? Can you tease any specific upcoming projects?
AE: Yes, we are in the middle of prepping American Underdog: The Kurt Warner story. So excited to return to a football world. It’s an amazing story and the largest budget we’ve ever had! And we are producing Jesus Revolution with Jon Gunn directing and that one will be a game changer. Can’t wait to see what he creates.

Thanks for your time, Andrew!

Interview With Sean Paul Murphy, Screenwriter

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Box Office Revolution: What inspired you to first get into making Christian entertainment?

Sean Paul Murphy: I don’t know if anything inspired me to get into making Christian entertainment. I just wanted to tell stories that resonated with me. Since I was a Christian, the stories I told often reflected my values and faith. I was writing so called faith-based films before it became an established genre in Hollywood.

I find it interesting that you call it Christian entertainment. Years ago, most of people would have shied away from that term. People would say that they were making films to reach people for the Lord, not entertain Christians.

BOR: What do you feel is your underlying philosophy of movie making?

SPM: My underlying philosophy is to tell a good story well.

BOR: What do you think we need to see more of in Christian entertainment?

SPM: Since practically everyone who watches Christian films are already Christians, I would say we should make films that meet the needs of the church, and about challenges in the Christian walk, rather than just continually retelling the sinner comes to Christ story. I deal with this issue in a long post on my blog called Building the Faith-based Ghetto.

BOR: What do you think needs to be improved in Christian entertainment as a whole?

SPM: I think we desperately need to increase the level of professionalism. This hasn’t happened as a whole in the independent Christian film business because our consumers value the message over artistic quality. They would quickly have both if they stopped supporting bad films. And I’m speaking as a guy who realizes that all of his films are flawed in one way or another. I’m not just pointing a finger at others.

BOR: How do you feel about Christian entertainment creation being a collaborative effort rather than a ‘lone ranger’ creation?

SPM: The Christian film business is cursed with far too many one-man bands.  No one person is equally gifted in writing, producing, directing and acting, and a film will only rise to the level of the weakest of those skills. Also, I tend to be suspicious of people who say “they’re doing it for the Lord” when they feel the need to write, produce, direct and star in their own films. If you’re doing it for the Lord, you would seek the most skilled and experienced people available for every job on the film. Personally, I prefer to be the dumbest person on the shoot. I want to be surrounded by people more experienced than me so that I can learn.

BOR: How has Christian entertainment improved during the time you’ve been involved in it?

SPM: The theatrical releases, like those from Affirm, are getting better every year. I liked “The Resurrection of Gavin Stone” and “I Can Only Imagine.” They were both a step forward. However, technically, they were still only on the level of cable movies. We are not competing one on one with even the average Hollywood product yet. And it’s not just budget. I think the difference is that the average Hollywood filmmaker is more devoted to the craft of filmmaking. Christian filmmakers tend to think of themselves as evangelists first.

BOR: Is working on Christian movie sets any better or worse than working on ‘secular’ movie sets?

SPM: I have been working on sets since my days as an advertising producer back in the late-1980s. I haven’t noticed a real difference between secular and Christian movie sets. On the behind the scenes videos of Christian films, I always see people saying how they pray on the set all the time, but I never saw that on any of my films. Then again, I’m a writer. I never have an early call time. Maybe everyone got prayed up before I arrived.

To me, the biggest difference is between union and non-union shoots. When I was an ad producer, I was not a fan of the unions. Now, however, I am a strong supporter of them. Too many unscrupulous filmmakers would take advantage of the cast and crew if the various unions didn’t protect them. Not only that, I think crews work better when they know they are in a safe environment and that their rights are protected.

Most of the Christian films I worked on were non-union, with the exception of the Screen Actors Guild.

BOR: What are your future plans for new Christian entertainment (movies, series, etc.)?  Can you tease any specific upcoming projects?

SPM: My script. “I, John,” a 2012 winner of the Kairos Prize for Spiritually Uplifting Screenplays, is currently in development. I am not working on any other faith-based scripts now. I have turned my attention to books. Touchpoint Press published my memoir “The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.” It was a great experience. I was able to discuss my faith and how it affected my life without having to filter it through the egos of producers, actors and directors. It was much more honest and refreshing. I have just finished a novel called “Chapel Street.” It is a horror story, inspired by some events in my own life, which has a strong spiritual message. You can read some samples of both books on my blog.

BOR: Thank you for your time!

SPM: Thank you!

Interview with Vicki Brown, Co-Producer of Skid

Tell us about your faith journey. Well, I was raised in a Christian home and came to Christ as a teen. I have continued to grow in my faith throughout my life with many trials and challenges, like most Christians experience. I was a founding member of Westmoore Community Church in 1994 and have served faithfully to help our church grow to over 2000 members.

How does your family influence your film making? I have been married to my husband, Tim Brown, for over 25 years, but we have no children. Having no children gives me a unique view on how children grow up. I am able to look at things that contribute to a child as they become an adult. I really see how the media contributes to what society thinks is “normal”. What we find entertaining really speaks to what we find acceptable. I hope that our society begins to demand more wholesome entertainment that doesn’t feel like it is childish or corny. I know there is sophisticated entertainment that is clean and wholesome, but I know it requires a lot more thought.

When was the first time you wanted to make a Christian film? Probably the first time I read a book. I visualize my reading as though I am watching it on a screen. I think the more I read good, wholesome books, like the ones written by Rene Gutteridge, the more I wanted to see it up on a screen. I decided to try to get a film made in 2012. I wanted it to become a reality.

What makes you interested in creating Christian entertainment?  I think the entertainment that is out there now is creating the view of the world for our society. I think the Christian view is under represented and needs to offer an alternative look at the world.

What do you ultimately want to do in the field of Christian movies? Well, if I had unlimited resources, I believe there would be an entire writing team dedicated to creating sophisticated, funny, good movies, who, along with talented actors, will open doors to audiences who wouldn’t otherwise watch faith based films. I think people need to see a different view of how the world is for Christians. The movies should show that we are all the same, but there is grace in Christ that allows us to change, start over, and get forgiveness from mistakes. Movies should show how to make decisions based on the good of others as Christ did in his ministry and to show why we make those decisions because of our faith.

Do you think that Christian entertainment needs more quality productions? Oh my yes! Making a movie is a gigantic risk and people willing to risk millions of dollars on a market that doesn’t usually support movies (because of what is out there) is cost prohibitive. I believe as people demand and support Christian movies, the quality will go up.

How hard is it to cast an independent Christian film? Well to be cast isn’t that difficult because the “Big Names” aren’t lining up to audition for these roles. However, there is always many, many more actors than parts so in terms of an actor who is just starting out, so it can be very difficult to get cast in any movie, even and independent movie.

How hard is it for a new Christian film maker to make it in the business?  What is the level of support? The film business in general is almost impossible to make as a living. Most of the film folks do commercial work to support their film fix. The level of support is very difficult to garner as the people who are promoting films are not on board, so most of the support is very grass roots. It takes large masses of folks to offset the cost in order for a film to make money.

What are your plans for the future? There is another of Rene’s books that I would love to get into production. I would love to be able to have a budget to make it a SAG (Screen Actor’s Guild) Production. The truth is that there have been some attempts to raise funds, but none have been successful enough to get it off the ground yet. I would love to know what the Christian community thinks would be a film they would really get behind. Is it an actor with a known name? Is it a book they love that tells a great lesson? Is it more that it supports a cause? I want to produce movies that the public wants to see and finds it a joy to support. So I am open to hearing what your readers want!

 

Thanks for participating!

Interview With Sharon Wilharm, Creator of Providence

Briefly tell us about your faith journey.

I grew up in a Christian home where we were at church every time the doors opened. I was very involved in missions and assumed that God would call me to a life as a missionary or as a minister’s wife.

When I was in college at a Baptist Campus Ministries retreat, the speaker called for individuals to commit to a life of Christian service, and I remember feeling then that God was calling me to serve, but in a way that wasn’t even on my radar yet.

 

When was the first time you wanted to make a Christian film?

It seems like so many people nowadays are chasing after the filmmaking dream. That was never me. I call myself a reluctant filmmaker because I came into it kicking and screaming.

It all started when I married Fred. As I said, I assumed I was going into ministry. I got a degree in education and was registered for seminary. Then God put me together with Fred who was a businessman with a chain of coin laundries. I figured I must have misunderstood God. But what I didn’t realize then was that Fred’s passion was filmmaking, and even though he wasn’t pursuing it when we married, he had gone to college with that purpose.

So about ten years into our marriage Fred decided to make a local history documentary. Then, as he listened to all the stories, he decided that it would be fun to put them together into a narrative story. Then we stumbled upon a local Christian artist, and we thought her music would be great as a soundtrack. Since I was a writer (newspaper and magazine journalist), Fred asked if I wanted to write a script. I had no idea whatsoever what I was doing, but I wrote a script. Then, since I was also a church drama director and loved acting, I ended up directing and starring in it. It was awful because again, I had no idea whatsoever what I was doing. I told Fred never again. I meant it, but God had other plans.

 

What makes you interested in creating Christian entertainment?

After fighting God for many years, I finally accepted that this is what He has called me to do. This is my mission field and so it’s important that I give Him my very best efforts.

What I love most is the way God has taken our movies to places I’ll never go and used them to speak to people I’ll never meet. Our movie The Good Book has made its way around the world and is used by missionaries to help spread the gospel. Providence screened in AMC theaters including Times Square and L.A. All our films have aired on television channels nationwide. Now I’m working on our latest script, getting it ready to film this summer, and our desire is that God will take it even further than our previous movies.

 

What do you ultimately want to do in the field of Christian movies?

I want to create movies that speak to souls and that continue to speak long after I’m gone. I want to create works of art that draw people to Christ, movies that bless people and ultimately makes them better individuals as a result of seeing God in a new and personal way.

 

Do you think that Christian entertainment needs more quality productions?

I am a firm believer that Christians should be offering our very best fruits to God and not just serving up stale leftovers. I know that everyone has to start somewhere and that we are limited oftentimes by our resources. But it hurts my heart to see all these filmmakers throwing together projects,  not bothering to put any real effort into making them. And then they complain that the critics are picking on them because they’re Christian.  Critics desperately want life changing works of art, and if we listen to what they say, we can create movies that will truly impact the world in a positive way.

 

How hard is it for a new Christian film maker to make it in the business?  What is the level of support like?

Honestly, it’s not that difficult to get your movie out there. Distributors are hungry for quality content and there are plenty willing to give newcomers a start. There’s also film festivals and organizations who strive to help support new filmmakers.  And, of course, my blog Faith Flix helps spread the word about upcoming films and filmmakers.

The biggest thing that filmmakers need to remember is that it is our responsibility to promote our movies. Contrary to popular belief, it is not the responsibility of churches to promote your movie, nor is it the responsibility of distributors. Ultimately, if you want your film to go places, you’ve got to work, work, work to let people know about it.

Finally, if people come in thinking they’re going to get rich and famous making Christian movies, they’re going to be sadly disappointed. There’s always someone higher up the food chain than you, and the money is slow to trickle in. But if you look at it as a ministry and your goal is to get it out to the people, God will help get it to the people who need it.

 

Do you have plans for a non-silent film in the future?

For the past eight months I’ve been working on a new script, this time a “talkie”. The reason we initially started doing silent films was because  we discovered that we were better at telling a story visually than with words. But even though the response to our silent movies has been surprisingly great, they’re still limited in how far they can go. The average moviegoer expects dialogue and so in order to reach the masses, that’s what we’re doing. However, we are taking all that we learned from our silent films and applying it this one. So even though the characters talk, the story will still be primarily shown rather than told.

 

What can we expect next from you?

Be watching in the next month for our casting notices and then as we begin filming this summer. This latest movie is a period piece, very ambitious, and definitely our biggest project yet. We’ve been studying and preparing and can’t wait to see where God takes this one.

 

Thanks for participating!