Published July 20, 2006
ALBANY — Before there was The Passion of the Christ, there was Flywheel, The Movie. And now Facing the Giants is coming to the silver screen with the same Christian and family values that are capturing the attention of Hollywood.
While The DaVinci Code caused many to question the Christian faith, Facing the Giants will strengthen those same beliefs with an action-packed storyline that shows the value of faith and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Giants, the newest movie from Sherwood Pictures, is a ministry tool developed by Sherwood Baptist Church. After receiving high marks from several test screenings in California, the church-sponsored movie has been picked up by Provident Films, a joint venture with Sony pictures, who is now positioning it for a national debut on September 29.
The basis of the movie can be summed up in the line on the promotional poster … “Never Give Up, Never Back Down, Never Lose Faith.” And in many ways, that sums up the mindset of the Albany church that made the football-themed movie and the two brothers who wrote and produced it while serving as associate pastors at the church.
Alex and Stephen Kendrick have always been fascinated with storytelling. They grew up developing their passion by filming their own home movies as teenagers.
Alex, 35, and Stephen, 32 were born in Athens and raised in Smyrna, an Atlanta suburb. For a while they grew up without television in their home, which they say was a protective move by their parents. That decision inspired creativity which was later fueled by watching movies on the big screen. With their older brother, Shannon, they practiced camera angles and the storytelling process at home in the backyard.
“Our early movies had the same plot: chase ‘em down and beat ‘em up,” Alex says with a laugh. “We made our own versions of adventure and sci-fi movies. Even before the fifth grade we were doing stop-action films with clay figures and Tonka cars.
“We shared an interest in films long before we had any real ability. We were fascinated with the art of storytelling through that medium, and have since discovered that this desire would tie directly into our calling from the Lord.”
While their friends were playing down the street, the brothers would be in the woods shooting their own action movies. As they began to pull neighborhood friends into the plot they found open doors to share their faith – a move that provided numerous witnessing opportunities, something they have continued through the years.
As the two matured they found other avenues to aim their passion for movie making. In high school, and while majoring in communications at Kennesaw State University, they began thinking outside the box with their projects. Rather than writing a term paper they talked professors into allowing them to submit videos for their presentations or exams – a tactic they would use later for classes they took together at the Atlanta extension center of New Orleans Seminary.
During their college years their family moved to the Atlanta area and joined Roswell Street Baptist church in Marietta. The brothers, studying nearby, became active in the church and made videos for the youth group.
Shortly after college graduation the church hired the brothers on the same day in January 1995. Alex joined the staff as college minister and Stephen was hired as middle school minister.
“The movies were designed to be for fun, but they drew people in and provided opportunities for ministry,” Alex said. While he was making movies with college students, brother Stephen made camp videos with his junior high ministry.
“After shooting the videos we’d have a popcorn premiere night for other ministries and create huge screens by taping paper table cloths together,” Stephen says.
In 1999 Sherwood Baptist recognized their potential and called Alex as media director for the church, which had its own television station. The following year Sherwood won “Promotional Spot of the Year” on FamilyNet for a special effects commercial that Alex produced with Sherwood’s pastor, Michael Catt.
“Michael is a real visionary and is not intimidated by anyone else’s gifts and abilities. What I love about working with him is that he doesn’t think in terms of ‘We can’t do that.’ He believes that we serve the God of the impossible.”
In 2001 the brothers were reunited as Stephen joined the Albany church staff as preaching assistant to the pastor. And that’s when things began to happen.
In 2002 they read a national survey that said movies and television were considered to be a greater influence on culture than churches or religion. The brothers saw that as an opportunity to fulfill their vision of making movies for the Kingdom.
Sherwood’s media ministry was already producing four original weekly programs for its station, WTOL Channel 15 in Albany, which reaches 50,000 homes with 24-hour programming. This FamilyNet and Faith TV affiliate was already requiring a full work load. To produce a full-length movie seemed a daunting task for the brothers with fulltime ministry responsibilities.
“I asked God to give me the plot for a movie that could touch lives for Him.” Alex says. While purchasing a used car for his family, Alex developed the idea of the story about a dishonest used car dealer whose life is transformed by Christ. Stephen then helped add sub-plots, humor, and fine-tuning.
To save costs the church decided to shoot the film digitally to avoid film processing expenses. They figured they could produce the movie for $20,000 if no actors or workers were paid.
“We produced Flywheel with one Canon XL1s camera, G4 Mac computers, and some Final Cut Pro editing software,” Stephen says.
A few interested church members volunteered from the congregation to be the cast and crew and Sunday School classes provided the catering. Actors wore their own wardrobe to hold down expenses.
“We used the homes and businesses of members for our locations,” said Stephen. Steve Dapper, a church member and engineer, researched the Internet to build a home made camera crane and track dolly from materials he purchased from Home Depot.
The brothers and their makeshift team began shooting in November 2002. They were not familiar enough with a production schedule to know the benefits of shooting scenes out of order.
“I was not at all impressed with the initial product and felt we might have bitten off more than we could chew,” Alex says. “Until recently, Christian movies had a cheesy stigma about them. I was concerned that we were following the same route. This led us to pray more.
“Every day we began on our knees in prayer before the Lord, asking Him to show us the way. We adopted the mindset that God is the best movie maker and He can produce a movie better than anyone in Hollywood. We operated off the basis that if God blessed the effort, it would work.”
Carmike Cinemas agreed to run the movie as a public service for a four-day weekend, believing that only a few hundred viewers would come. The team increased their pace, shooting as time became available on evenings and weekends, and during lunch hours.
One day after completing weeks of editing, a production assistant accidentally knocked the hard drive off the table. The drive broke and 30 minutes of the final edit were lost forever … at a price of two hours of editing labor for every minute of footage.
As the emergency round-the-clock team worked to re-edit the footage, billboards hung around town announcing the premiere.
The team raced through the night to meet the deadline and completed the editing at 6:30 a.m. the day the movie was to be shown. On April 9, 2003, the film premiered at 1 p.m. and sold out the evening show. Alex and Stephen, due to the hectic editing schedule, did not have the chance to view the entire movie in sequence until it premiered on the screen.
Surprising the theater managers, Flywheel became the second-highest grossing film on its 16 screens. As a result, the show times were repeatedly extended. After six weeks of showings, Flywheel sold 4,200 tickets and outran 12 Hollywood movies that had come and gone. The Carmike home office asked to expand it to Tifton and Columbus, where it played well to audiences with almost no advertising budget.
Since its release on DVD, Flywheel has sold 32,000 copies and Blockbuster video has placed it in all 4,500 of its North American stores. It has since been shown on seven Christian television networks including FamilyNet, INSP and TBN. Hundreds of churches, prisons and schools have been using the film as an outreach tool. Sherwood’s members, the brothers add, are excited about helping other churches reach their communities for Christ.
Since the release of Flywheel the church has received hundreds of supportive emails. Businessmen tell how they have changed their practices. Others have accepted Christ.
What began as an outreach to the small community of Albany is now being used as a ministry tool across America and in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Romania, the Philippines, South America, Spain and the United Kingdom, where it has been distributed.
The overwhelming response of Flywheel inspired the team to begin production on their sophomore film, Facing the Giants.
The success of Flywheel opened doors for a professional Christian production company to partner with Sherwood. Every facet of Giants improved in quality, including being shot on high definition video. The church rallied together again in prayer and support. Now they worked towards producing the hometown football story that uses humor, drama and biblical truths.
“We wanted to accurately depict Christians living for Christ in their daily lives.” shares Stephen.
After learning about the new movie, UGA head football coach Mark Richt flew down for a cameo appearance in two scenes. He said he had seen Flywheel and considered it an honor to be included in this new production.
The Sherwood family then began praying for God to provide distribution. After previewing the movie in order to grant copyright permission for a song, Terry Hemmings, the president of Provident Label Group, offered to help Sherwood put it in theaters. Using the new Christian-based distributor Provident Films, a joint venture with Sony pictures, Sherwood will release Giants in 86 markets Sept. 29, just in time for football season.
“Our goal in making Flywheel and Facing the Giants was not to make money.” Alex said. “We had been asked to tone down the spiritual side of Flywheel in order to get a wider release, but that would have defeated our purpose. We will not compromise our values or message to reach a larger audience. The purpose of these movies, and any to come, is to reach lives for Christ.”
Provident shared the vision and offered to help protect the movie’s content. Though the movie is scheduled for a fall release, it was featured in two Christian film festivals earlier this spring and saw more than 200 decisions for Christ during an invitation time.
Though excited, the south Georgia church has been clear that it is not straying from its mission to make disciples of Christ.
“Our hope is that other churches will not only be able to use Facing the Giants as an evangelistic tool, but also as encouragement to begin praying for how they can unite in prayer and believe God as a church family for new ways to reach their communities for Christ,” Stephen says.
Pastor Michael Catt’s challenge to his congregation is to touch the world from Albany. Movie production is one way they are doing that, Alex notes.
“There is one thing we are praying for each time these films are shown.” Alex concluded, “When the movie ends and people walk out of the theater, we want them to think about where they stand with God.”
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