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Director recounts making of ‘Fireproof’

EDITOR’S NOTE: Stephen Kendrick, co-writer and co-director with his brother Alex of the new movie “Fireproof” from Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., recounts the making of the film, which opens today, Sept. 26, in 850 theaters nationwide. Fireproof is an action drama about Caleb Holt, a firefighter whose marriage is burning to the ground. After he and his wife Catherine agree to divorce, Caleb is challenged by his father to read a book called “The Love Dare,” which takes him on a 40-day journey of studying the meaning and application of love. After Caleb discovers God as the source of love, he tries to save his dying marriage and rescue the heart of his wife.

ALBANY, Ga. (BP)–DECEMBER 2005. My brother, Alex, finished a brisk morning jog that planted his running shoes in my driveway. He was winded but clearly excited when he called me on his cell. “Come outside, Stephen! I’ve got the storyline for the next movie!”

At that time, “Facing the Giants” was edited and ramping toward theatrical release. Alex and I had begun a season of prayer, asking God for direction about what should come next. “Flywheel,” Sherwood Pictures’ first movie, had impacted people’s work lives and “Facing the Giants” was geared to inspire teens and adults to “never give up.” For our third venture, we were asking specifically for a story that would impact the culture.

With that backdrop, I was totally psyched when I got Alex’s call. But that day in my driveway, Alex looked at me and said, “I just got an idea for a movie about marriage.”

Marriage? When I think of popular Christian movie ideas, I imagine an end-times thriller full of cool special effects. But a movie that honored and tried to rescue marriages? Talk about unusual. I wondered where this was going. But with the creativity that is so much a part of his personality, Alex began to sketch out his movie idea. After listening, I knew it was a God thing. We began to pray for God to develop the unlikely plot into a screenplay that would please Him. And a new season of focused prayer began.

FALL 2006. While developing the storyline for Fireproof, God surprised us with the response to Facing the Giants. This $100,000 football drama, produced by volunteers from our south Georgia church, grossed $10 million in theaters and was the top-selling DVD in Christian bookstores in 2007. Thousands of people reportedly were coming to Christ because of it, and churches were creating ways to utilize the DVD for ministry. Our church family was thrilled!

Over the next months, God cleared the way for Giants to be distributed on DVD in 13 languages to 56 countries. E-mails poured in with unbelievable stories of how our church-made movie (that openly honors Jesus and the Word of God) was spreading to unlikely places.

International retailers were showing clips in their training classes to foster the “never give up” attitude. A Disney cruise ship was playing Giants continuously in cabin rooms. A Turkish airline featured it as their in-flight movie. Teens in China were on YouTube uploading their own versions of the “Death Crawl.” NFL players were distributing it to their teams.

The stories of God’s goodness were overwhelming! He was definitely doing more than we could ask or imagine. No individual could take credit for it. While movie critics scratched their heads and blogged about it, we embraced a sense of awe as God continued to glorify Himself through our weakness.

SPRING 2007. Countless scripts started landing in our offices at Sherwood; people everywhere were convinced they had the story for our next movie. My favorite was the Kung-fu pastor who beats up people in Jesus’ name. Can you imagine getting drop-kicked for not tithing? Talk about church discipline!

But our focus was clear: to develop the marriage movie. We sought the Scriptures and were reminded that marriage is a huge priority to God. Hebrews 13:4 says marriage should be honored by all as the first human institution established by God. Families, children, churches and governments are built upon marriage. And if marriage crumbles, so does everything built on it.

Our culture has fallen so far from God’s design for marriage. It’s supposed to be the strongest and safest human relationship, a haven of unconditional love, and most importantly, a picture of Christ and His Bride (Ephesians 5).

Statistically, people are devaluing marriage at an alarming rate, both inside and outside the church. Young couples are getting married with no marriage preparation. Husbands and wives aren’t seeking or obeying God’s Word concerning their roles. Pornography and divorce are destroying families.

But when God’s Word is obeyed, there is liberty, health and healing. We began praying that this movie would throw a lifeline to couples considering divorce and inspire strong marriages toward greater love and intimacy.

SUMMER 2007. After Alex and I framed the marriage challenge that Caleb and Catherine Holt face in the movie, my mother-in-law suggested we tell the story through the backdrop of a firefighter. Firefighters constantly respond to fires that flare up around them; so must husbands and wives. Firefighters must communicate well, learn to protect one another, and be willing to lay down their lives for one another; so must husbands for their wives. Firefighters never leave their partner; neither should married couples.

The movie title “Fireproof” branded its way into our hearts after we discovered this unique definition: Fireproof doesn’t mean something prevents fire. Fireproof means you are able to withstand a fire. What a great picture for marriage!

FALL 2007. God confirmed His hand on Fireproof by delivering in amazing ways. Our friends at Provident Films offered to distribute the movie before the first frame was shot. More than 1,200 people from our community volunteered to serve. Our local Albany fire department offered their stations and equipment. A local hospital offered an entire wing for the production. Before we knew it, we had all 16 needed locations available — free!

After praying for the right people to play the roles of Caleb and Catherine, we auditioned members of our church. Erin Bethea was cast as Catherine. (She made us cry during her first audition.) Our pastor, Michael Catt, suggested that we call Kirk Cameron for the lead role because of his acting experience and his commitment to the Gospel. Kirk caught the vision behind Fireproof and volunteered to join the fight for marriages. We were blessed by his professionalism. (He was blessed with daily prayer support, fried chicken, cheese grits and, of course, sweet tea!) Because of his work with the Way of the Master evangelism ministry, it was exciting to have Kirk help us craft the Gospel presentation scene before we shot it.

During the filming of a rescue scene, we needed to put a wrecked car onto train tracks, but it was too heavy to move. While 200 people stood around staring at it, the man who lives next to the tracks walked out his front door and said, “You need a forklift? I’ve got one in my backyard you can use.” Our director of photography looked at me and said, “Unbelievable!”

But production was not without heartbreak. One Sunday during church, we received word that one of our cameramen, Robert “Chip” Monk, had died in a car crash on his way back to Albany. We shut down production for a week to mourn and to minister to his pregnant wife.

This tragedy drew us closer together and ignited an even greater passion for investing in eternal things. Along the way, we found that the enemy knows where to attack based on where God is working. We sought to guard against this by having morning devotions together and prayer times on the set.

For Erin, a single woman, Fireproof is full of lessons. “As women, we think about planning our wedding, but we don’t concentrate on the work of building our marriage,” she confesses. As the lead character, Kirk became personally passionate about following Christ’s example as a husband. “Christ laid down His life to rescue the church, His Bride, and set her apart as holy and beautiful,” he explains. “A guy will get a few years into marriage and start to complain about his wife. But, I tell him, ‘She got that way on your watch. You need to love her, nourish her, nurture her, and set her apart as a treasure above all. It’s a beautiful picture of what Christ did for us and what we need to do for our wives — not just follow your heart, but lead your heart, lead your wife, and transform her into the beautiful bride she really can be. Make her blossom.'”

FALL 2008. The more we look at the dynamics of marriage, the more we see fires that naturally ignite. When men and women tie the knot, they join their hurts, fears, baggage and imperfections with those of another. They discover how selfish they really are and how sinful their spouse is. The up-close life strips away public facades, exposes us and reveals our fallen humanity. This can get ugly. At the same time, communication barriers between men and women, work pressures and financial needs usually flare up at some point and add heat to the relationship.

God’s Word declares that He is sovereign in the midst of all of this. He created marriage as a beautiful, living, dynamic gift that has His eternal purposes etched in its DNA. Marriage also forces us to grow up and die to ourselves in order to love another imperfect person unconditionally. Marriage can really purify us by fire because it’s a picture of Jesus.

Our desire is to use the art form of movie-making to realistically show the struggles married couples experience daily — and then hold up the truth of God’s Word to deal with those struggles.

We’re asking churches to diligently pray for this project and creatively use it to build up marriages within their body. We long for God to bless Fireproof to help bring truth and hope to hurting marriages.
Reprinted with permission from the September issue of HomeLife magazine, a ministry publication of LifeWay Church Resources. For more information on “Fireproof,” visit Fireproofthemovie.com and Fireproofmymarriage.com. “The Love Dare” book featured in the film is a 40-day journey to better understand and demonstrate unconditional love in marriage. It is available at LifeWay Christian Stores and online at www.lifewaystores.com.

    About the Author

  • Stephen Kendrick