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Erwins unveil next plans, envision ‘Christian Pixar’

NASHVILLE (BP) — Filmmaker Jon Erwin says his father often told him to “dream big, dream bold, dream the impossible.”

Erwin has followed that advice, and earlier this year many of those dreams came true with his hit faith-based movie “I Can Only Imagine,” which grossed $83 million to become the No. 1 movie all time from Roadside Attractions. It even surpassed that studio’s most famous release, the Oscar-winning “Manchester by the Sea” ($47 million).

Erwin now is ready to announce his next projects, which involve a new production company and a series of films that are possible only because of the staggering success of I Can Only Imagine. The company even has the support of a Hollywood studio. Erwin calls it “unprecedented.”

“Hollywood responds to success,” Erwin told Baptist Press. “That is the currency in Hollywood.”

Erwin, his brother Andy and their production partner Kevin Downes have formed a new filmmaking company, Kingdom, which will bring multiple filmmakers together to create a “pipeline of event movies” that proclaim a biblical message and “serve the church,” Erwin told Baptist Press.

He likens it to a “Christian Pixar or a Christian Marvel” studio that specializes in a specific area and is able to work on multiple films at one time — but all with the quality that moviegoers expect from an Erwin-branded movie. Some movies will be directed by the Erwins, while others will employ other veteran or upcoming directors. Lionsgate will distribute them.

Erwin is scheduled to announce Kingdom’s first lineup of films at the National Religious Broadcasters meeting March 26 in Anaheim, Calif. At least one of those will be directed by the Erwins.

“We’re going to be unveiling what I feel is a great leap forward and a vision for what can be accomplished in Hollywood on behalf of Christianity,” Erwin said. “And we’re also going to be unveiling multiple films. It’s going to be real exciting.”

One of the movies is expected to focus on the Jesus Movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, according to a Tweet from author and pastor Greg Laurie, who is Erwin’s friend. Erwin told BP he could not confirm the report but did say he had “fallen in love with the story of America’s last great spiritual awakening.”

The vision for Kingdom, Erwin said, began with a desire to impact the culture and spread the Gospel through movies, which he calls “America’s second largest export.” A group effort is needed for faith-movies, Erwin said, because he and his brother are limited in what they can do. A single film takes two to three years to complete.

“Andy and I could never make enough content to really move the needle,” he said. “Culturally, it has to be a group initiative.”

The goal, Erwin added, is to bring faith-based talent together under one umbrella.

“We’ve been able to dream big over the last few months and really dream about how to reach a generation,” he said. “If the goal is really to capture the imagination of a generation, then it’s bigger than one content creator and one film. It has to be an initiative that would unite multiple filmmakers under a banner brand. There’s so much competition in Christian films right now. It’s like one of us wins, three of us lose, and unfortunately there’s just not a path for emerging talent in the industry.

“But what if there was a place where instead of competition, there could be cooperation? And what if there could be a place where many other filmmakers can make their films and have a trusted banner brand that to a Christian audience, if you see this at the front of the film, and you know the word ‘Kingdom,’ you know it’s going to represent your values?”

Kingdom could not have launched if not for I Can Only Imagine’s box office success, Erwin said. The film opened at No. 3, ranked in the Top 10 for five straight weeks, and is the top-grossing independent film of 2018.

“If there’s anything that we should learn as Christians, it is that our movie ticket really is our vote,” Erwin said. “When we show up in mass numbers, culture takes notice. It’s sort of like Joshua in the battle of Jericho. He marched around the city seven times, but in the last step everyone had to yell at exactly the same time — and that’s when the walls fell down. Our industry is like that. When we join our voices together at the same moment, that creates cultural power.”

Lionsgate, Erwin said, understands the faith-based market.

“They really caught the vision. In my opinion, there’s never been a movie studio that’s this passionate and willing to dump these kind of resources behind faith movies,” he said. “It’s truly an exciting time.”

Because Kingdom is autonomous and not owned by Lionsgate, the Erwins and Downes will maintain content control.

“That means that I can say to the audience, ‘We’re not going to let you down,'” Erwin said. “There’s nobody that’s going to swoop in and take control of it. We control the content, you’re not going to be offended, and it’s going to represent your values.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: The story was updated Oct. 22 at 11:15 a.m. to clarify details in the 6th paragraph.

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  • Michael Foust