ALBANY, Ga. (BP)–This time, when it comes to southern accents, Hollywood gets it right.
But it’s not because a Hollywood studio displayed sensitivity in overcoming stereotypical speech patterns. Rather, it’s due to the Deep South producers who made “Facing the Giants,” which opens in theaters nationwide today, Sept. 29.
In fact, not only are those real southern accents behind the actors’ voices, those are real flesh-and-blood southerners — not professional actors — who stepped onto the gridiron to bring the feel-good movie to the silver screen.
Hollywood will be closely watching the opening weekend to see how a faith-oriented movie such as Facing the Giants will fare on the open market. The box office receipts from the next few days will telegraph an important message to the continued funding of a venture such as this production by Sherwood Productions, the media arm of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga.
“If Christians want to send a message to Hollywood, a message that family values movies are what we want to see, this is the weekend to do it,” said Jim McBride, former wrestler/carnival barker, Sherwood Baptist’s executive pastor and official “bad guy” playing the role of opposing coach Bobby Lee Duke.
“Hollywood reads its mail through opening weekend receipts,” McBride told The Christian Index, newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention. “Those numbers help determine how wide of a distribution a movie will eventually have.”
McBride noted, however, “This is not our movie; it’s God’s movie. We have just been stewards of it on His behalf.”
The fact that a Georgia church made a feature-length film, using one camera and an all-volunteer cast — with $100,000 in various donations — is a miracle in itself. For that movie to catch the attention of Hollywood — where it premiered Sept. 28 at the ArcLight Theater on the corner of Sunset Blvd. and Vine — and garner national distribution is even a greater miracle.
In addition to a strong story line that plays well on multiple levels — addressing such life issues as respect for authority and parents, infertility, and submitting oneself to God’s direction — volunteer actors with those believable accents put their heart and soul into six of the most grueling weeks of their lives.
Brothers and Sherwood church staff members Alex and Stephen Kendrick spent three months in early 2004 writing the movie, then six weeks shooting it in and around Albany — the same geographic setting as their first movie, “Flywheel,” which was released in 2003. Then the first six months of 2005 were spent in film editing.
It was those hurry-up-and-wait weeks between April and June 2004 which pushed the actors to their limits, several of them told the Index in a final interview just days before this week’s national release.
“It was a grueling process for all of us. We all had our day jobs and had to put in our time on the set.”
Stephen Kendrick, who co-wrote, produced and directed Facing the Giants with his brother Alex (who plays lead character coach Grant Taylor), said all cast members were asked to “say no to their personal schedule during the filming — say no to watching TV, going out to dinner, whatever if it conflicted with the shooting schedule. We would need them on the set when we needed them, and we had to depend on their 100 percent commitment to being there.
“We basically asked them to be on call for nearly two months of their lives, and they responded with an unbelievable commitment,” Stephen Kendrick said. “It was not uncommon for several of them to work a full day and then to show up in the evening and work until 2 or 3 a.m.”
Shannen Fields, who plays the role of Taylor’s wife, Brooke, remembers wearing heavy fall clothing in 80-degree summer heat and humidity to shoot outdoor football scenes — and working until 2 a.m., getting to bed by 3:30 a.m. and waking up three hours later to get her children ready for school and be at work by 8 a.m. Evening shooting often could not begin until 9:30 because the movie was set in the fall when football games occur after dark.
“Perhaps one of the most important lessons I learned was to stay humble and to be available to God,” Fields said. “He can do so much when you realize that it’s not about you, but about your availability to Him.”
Eighteen-year-old Bailey Cave developed spiritual muscles as well as physical stamina in playing the role of kicker David Childers.
“What pushed me to keep going when there were days when I couldn’t kick the ball through the goalposts if my life depended on it was knowing that God was in control. It was not about me, it was about Him,” said Cave, a 2006 graduate of Sherwood Christian Academy who played football for the team until cracking his shin halfway through the season.
“Filming this movie was like hugging the Titanic,” said Tracy Goode, who plays Coach Taylor’s assistant who finds himself sitting on the fence in his allegiance to Taylor after multiple losing seasons. “It was just so big you couldn’t put your arms around it.
“I remember working nearly six hours to set up a scene that was eventually cut from the movie,” Goode said. “It’s amazing how many factors go into getting everything right for just one scene. … The lighting has to be right, no gnats can be flying in your face, no airplanes flying overhead when we were shooting two miles from an airport. You have to jump through a thousand hoops … be willing to stand around for four hours to shoot a 10-second shot.
“It was not uncommon to have 60 people waiting on the set to shoot a scene, praying that a massive storm cloud would pass us by,” Goode said.
Brandon Glow, 19, another former Sherwood Christian Academy football team member who plays the character of Zach Avery, said the lessons he brought away from filming Facing the Giants will stay with him the rest of his life.
“It taught me what Christianity is all about. In keeping with the theme of the film, life for a believer is about praising God and going out to tell others about Him,” Glow said.
Kendrick could not have stronger words of appreciation for the hundreds of volunteers who worked to bring Facing the Giants to the big screen as well as the Sunday School class members who provided the catering. Terri Catt, spouse of Sherwood senior pastor Michael Catt, volunteered as the wardrobe director and was one of four individuals who worked in casting.
Kendrick credits Catt with having the vision to bring Facing the Giants to the screen. The pastor, as the movie’s executive producer, provided the spiritual fiber to overcome seemingly endless obstacles that would have proved daunting for others, Kendrick said. One of Catt’s favorite D.L. Moody quotes — “If God is your partner, then plan big” — provided the spiritual underpinning for the project.
“The entire movie was an exercise of constantly walking in uncharted territory. It was like Walt Disney said … sometimes making a movie is like jumping off a cliff and building your wings on the way down,” Kendrick said.
The Kendrick brothers have learned a lot, they say — enough to already have them thinking about a third movie. But the script is a closely guarded secret and only in the early stages of development.
Annette Martinez of Pasadena, Calif., who was in the crowd at the Hollywood premiere Sept. 28, commented after the screening, “It is the right movie for me at this point in my life. It really spoke to me regarding some problems I am dealing with and for which I’m seeking spiritual help.”
Martinez’ reaction is an apt reflection of Sherwood Baptist’s goal in producing the movie, Catt said.
“We’re trusting God to change lives across the country with this film, whether or not they are Christians,” the pastor said. “Our prayer is that the Gospel message is strong enough in the movie that each individual will respond to it to a degree that they need right now.”
Joe Westbury is managing editor of The Christian Index, newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention. For more information on Facing the Giants, including locating a local showing based on ZIP code, visit www.facingthegiants.com. To read prior indepth Index coverage, visit www.christianindex.org and type in “Facing the Giants” in the search engine in the upper left corner of the homepage. For information on the Kendrick brothers’ first movie, visit www.flywheelthemovie.com.