ALBANY, Ga. If standing ovations are any indication, the makers of "Facing the Giants" probably have another hit on their hands.
Sherwood Pictures' latest film, "Fireproof," won't release in theaters until Sept. 26, but it's been screened for pastors and Christian leaders all summer, and often to enthusiastic crowds.
The plot focuses on the struggling marriage of a firefighter named Caleb (played by Kirk Cameron) and his wife, Catherine (Erin Bethea), both of whom are seeking a divorce after having fallen "out of love." Their lack of communication and their disagreements over financesas well as his addiction to Internet pornography and her budding romance at workare tearing them apart. Caleb's father, though, refuses to see the young couple split up and gives his son a "Love Dare" journala 40-day experiment in which Caleb must complete a loving action toward his wife each day. Having rescued numerous people from fires, Caleb sets out to rescue his own marriage and his wife's heart.
The movie had a $500,000 budget, which is still tiny by Hollywood standards but five times the $100,000 budget of "Facing the Giants" and 25 times the budget of Sherwood's first movie, "Flywheel." The bigger budgetparticularly during firefighting scenes, where special effects were requiredis evident on the screen. It is expected to open on significantly more screens and in more cities than did "Facing the Giants."
"They just keep knocking them out of the park. I've seen every one of them," said Jim Ballard, a missionary who saw a screening of the movie this summer. "I think this is going to address some major issues with marriages. And, it's got enough evangelism in it that people can get saved."
Sherwood Pictures is a not-for-profit ministry of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., and the brainchild of brothers Stephen and Alex Kendrick, two associate pastors who have written, produced and directed all three films. Just like the previous two films, "Fireproof" features a volunteer cast and crew, with church members holding the majority of the roles. Approximately 1,200 people were involved, doing everything from cooking for the cast and crew to acting. Cameron, known for his role in several Christian films as well as his star role in the 1980s and early 1990s ABC sitcom "Growing Pains," turned down a payment for the film and asked instead that a donation be made to a ministry he and his wife run, Camp Firefly. To prepare for his role as a firefighting captain, he worked out and gained about 15 pounds.
With one out of every two marriages in the U.S. ending in divorce, officials with Sherwood Pictures hope that churches get behind the film and help couples learn how to "fireproof" and strengthen their own marriages. The ministry has created numerous resources to help couples and churches. Additionally, B&H Publishing Group is scheduled to release a paperback version of "The Love Dare" book around the time of the movie's release in September.
Groups such as the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Focus on the Family and FamilyLife have backed the film and are urging people to go see it.
"Obviously, we think that marriage is a crucial issue to address in our cultureinside and outside the church," said Michael Catt, executive producer of the film and senior pastor of Sherwood Baptist. "(Marriage has) become simply a contract, a piece of paper. We hope that the movie is going to impact homes, not only inside the church but outside the church, because every one of us knows a couple that struggles; either we are or we know somebody who is."
Catt is hoping churches get behind "Fireproof" by "buying out" screensthat is, purchasing all the tickets for a particular showing. In doing that, churches often will be given the freedom to talk to the audience after the film or even offer an invitation. These "Action Squads," as called by Sherwood pictures, helped "Facing the Giants" become a surprise hit and gross $10 million.
"The opening weekend is the key and is so critical," Catt said. That opening weekend determines how it spreads. We had a great opening weekend with 'Facing the Giants,' and so it spread to other cities. We started in 400 theaters and ended up in over 1,000, and a lot of that was based on what happened the first weekend, because it let people know this is a legitimate film. The key to that was churches, the key to that was pastors standing up in their pulpits and saying, 'We gripe about Hollywood. Here's something positive. It's a film we can go to and support.'"