By Michael Foust
ALBANY, Ga. (BP) — Believing God is leading them to mentor the next generation of Christian filmmakers, Alex and Stephen Kendrick — best known for being the writers, director and producer behind “Courageous,” “Fireproof” and “Facing the Giants” — are moving in a “new direction” and are launching their own independent production company.
This means they will be expanding their next films beyond the umbrella of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., although they will still live in Albany and remain on staff as associate pastors at the church.
“We have such a burden to help the next generation do this from a biblical perspective,” Alex Kendrick told Baptist Press. “We’ve got to reproduce ourselves and duplicate ourselves, and we think this is the way to do it.”
Instead of using Sherwood church volunteers to help them make the next film, they plan to use aspiring Christian filmmakers and college students who have a long-term interest in producing Christian-themed films, thus providing the students vital experience for going out and making their own faith-based films in the future. Instead of shooting their next film in or around the church, they’ll likely venture out to new locations and other states. And in between making films, they hope to invest more in teaching budding Christian filmmakers about the craft.
One key reason they are going in a new direction, the brothers say, is because there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Christian film students looking for direction in how to make faith-based films.
In a statement released this month on Kendrickbrothers.com, the Kendrick’s stated, “God has been clearly speaking to us through His Word, in prayer, and through the counsel of our pastor and other Godly men. This decision has come out of a faith-step of obedience to God’s leading. We see the wisdom of the Lord’s timing in all of this.”
Alex Kendrick said he and his brother began sensing a coming change after the 2008 film Fireproof, but they and the church leadership — senior pastor Michael Catt and executive pastor Jim McBride — believed God wanted them first to make the film, Courageous.
“We do not desire to leave Sherwood at all,” Alex Kendrick told BP. “It is the best and most loving church we’ve ever been a part of it. The pastor and volunteers at Sherwood have been incredible. They’ve served, prayed, and sacrificed to make these movies happen. But when we finished making each movie, all these volunteers would have to go back to their day jobs. So we were not duplicating ourselves.”
Those roles previously filled by Sherwood volunteers now will be filled by students with an interest in making faith-based films.
Stephen Kendrick said he and his brother are planning and thinking “long-term.” Stephen is 39, Alex 42.
“Sherwood has a banner on the wall that says ‘whoever wants the next generation the most will get them,’ and that is our heartbeat concerning filmmaking,” Stephen Kendrick said. “We want to teach the next generation of Christian filmmakers, and we want to share with them how to pray through all their decisions, how to walk in the fear of the Lord, and how to give God the glory for everything they’re doing in their filmmaking.”
After Facing the Giants and Fireproof were released, many young people with an interest in making films began approaching the brothers and saying, according to Alex, “I want to make Christian films like you guys are doing and I feel called to do it. But where can I go and get training? Can I come mentor under you?”
“That really began bothering us,” Alex said. “It got to the point where we felt the Lord saying, ‘You guys need to start investing in this next generation.'”
Said Stephen, “Our pastor has been instilling in the staff the importance of looking beyond ourselves and getting outside the box. For years Michael has been pouring into young pastors at his Refresh conferences, and has led Sherwood to start new churches and engage an unreached people group in Germany. God has been using his words and example to inspire us to do this with filmmaking.”
The Kendricks announced their new plans before the Sherwood congregation on April 7 and received the blessing of Catt, who asked the church family to pray for them.
“We love these guys and are grateful for God sending them to our staff over a decade ago,” Catt said in statement. “When we began this journey, none of us had movies in mind. It will be exciting for us to take the steps of faith required to see where God will take us. No matter what lies ahead, this has been an incredible ride for all of us. Our prayers are with them as they pursue future endeavors.”
Facing the Giants had a budget of $100,000 and grossed $10 million in theaters. Fireproof’s budget was $1 million and grossed $33 million. The budget of Courageous was $2 million and its theatrical release grossed $35 million. (The theaters and movie distributors keep the majority of the theatrical gross.) Fireproof and Courageous each opened in the Top 5 nationally.
“We’re rooting for the guys coming behind us to get better than we are,” Alex said. “The standard has to get better than Courageous and Fireproof. There’s so much more room to grow. We would be selfish if we tried to stay where we are on a long-term basis. We’ve got to grow and teach [new filmmakers] and push them ahead of us. We’ve only made $500,000 to $2 million movies. These guys can come along and hopefully make much bigger movies that will compete with the best of Hollywood.”
The leadership of several Christian schools — including University of Mobile, Truett-McConnell College, Liberty University, North Greenville University, Ouachita Baptist University, and Bob Jones University — have talked with the Kendricks about their developing film programs, the Kendricks said.
“We’re looking to work with the best of them as recommended by their professors and peers, and we hope to pull them in, make a movie with them, and show them how to pray, how to go through the process of making a Christ-centered feature film, how to avoid a lot of the problems that Hollywood has to deal with,” Alex said.
There will still be a handful of professional crew members on the set, as was the case with Fireproof and Courageous. Students would mentor under those crew members during production.
“What we’re discovering is that many of these young students are developing a skill level to make movies but lack the deeper maturity level to know what kind of theology and biblical worldview to present,” Alex Kendrick said. “We want to train them to do the craft and storytelling, but equally, we want to train them to think biblically and make sure their theology is correct’ — not just to make an action movie and sprinkle Bible verses on top.”
Although Sherwood volunteers made up nearly all of the acting roles in Facing the Giants and Fireproof, that was not the case with Courageous, in which about half the cast was from outside Sherwood.
There is a “large group of talented Christian actors who are undiscovered,” Alex said, “and we’re interested in working with them.”
“So for our next film we’ll pull auditions from all over the country,” he said. “People will be allowed to send clips of their work via YouTube or DVD. We’ll look at those, look at their resumes, and narrow it down to the characters we need, and fly them in for auditions.”
They hope to start writing their next film later this year, with a potential release in late 2014. Alex said. “We’re working on that right now, but a lot of stuff has to fall in place.” In the meantime, people can sign up for email updates on kendrickbrothers.com.
It would be the fifth movie by the brothers, when counting Sherwood’s first movie, “Flywheel.” Kendrick said he wants the students to gather enough experience to go and make their own faith-based films. The hope, he said, is to see “multiple” quality faith-based films released every year.
There already have been films made that were inspired by what the Kendricks have done. “October Baby” was made by brothers Jon and Andrew Erwin after they left the Courageous set, where they served on the crew. “Grace Card” was made by Memphian David Evans after he watched Fireproof and wondered if his church, too, could make a movie. Both October Baby and Grace Card did well in theaters.
“I would like to think we’ve got another seven or eight movies in us, but we need solid, biblically based, God-honoring movies every year,” Alex said. “Yes, there are Christian movies being made, but this is too impactful of an avenue to reach people not to just go after it with all our heart and soul.”
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).