HOLLYWOOD, Calif. (BP)–Californians who don’t attend church are hearing the Gospel in a cultural context this weekend that may take some off-guard. That’s because Sherwood Baptist Church’s latest movie, “Fireproof,” had its Hollywood debut on Thursday night (Sept. 25) and presented the Gospel in easy-to-understand terms in a setting that the city understands well — the local Cineplex.
Fireproof will open on 73 screens today in California, slightly more than the 60 scheduled for Georgia — where Sherwood Baptist is located, in Albany. That is part of a larger rollout on 800 screens nationwide sending the message that marriages are worth saving and that Christ can provide the foundation against marital storms.
“I am praying that thousands of marriages will be turned around and homes will be strengthened because of this movie,” co-writer/co-director Alex Kendrick said. “But if only a handful are saved, every day’s hard work on this will be well-spent. I can sleep well at night knowing that I was faithful to the Lord for the vision He gave Stephen [his brother and co-writer/director] and me. We were obedient, and that’s what matters.”
The movie was screened at the ArcLight Theater, which boasts a prestigious Sunset Avenue address and was the same location where Facing the Giants made its debut almost two years ago to the day.
Fireproof is the third release in cinematic storytelling produced by the Georgia church. While not connected by a shared storyline, the movies do share a common theme based loosely on morality plays. The Kendrick brothers are showing they can juxtapose the best of Christianity against the worst of secular values. “Flywheel,” the initial project, dealt with morals as an automobile dealer was tempted with unscrupulous business practices. Giants dealt with issues of infertility and lack of a spiritual commitment. Fireproof follows along that line, adding a couple whose marriage is on the rocks and whose future looks grim.
Two months after its Sept. 29, 2006, release, Giants was showing on 216 screens nationwide; after this weekend, Fireproof could grow beyond its 800-screens opening. But the stakes are just as high for Fireproof as they were for Giants in terms of box office performance.
“There are all kinds of ways to measure a movie’s success,” said Kris Fuhr, vice president of Provident Films, which is distributing the movie. “With a movie made by a church, the first place to start is with the ministry impact. We are trusting that God will use Fireproof to impact countless marriages on opening weekend … and for years to come.
“From a business perspective, the most obvious starting point for determining a film’s success is the opening weekend box office,” Fuhr said. “If you look at USA Today or your local paper on Mondays, they list the top 10 movies from the previous weekend based on box office revenue. I heard one well-known Hollywood producer say that within 24 hours, he knew if the previous two years’ worth of work had been worthwhile.
“Combining the business and the ministry aspects, you realize that every person that sees the movie on opening weekend is someone whose relationships may be impacted by the story. And that’s exciting,” Fuhr said.
A strong first weekend ensures a long-playing movie, which helps in other ways as well, he continued.
“With seven movies opening in wide release the week after we open, there is even more riding on our opening weekend. Hollywood looks at the success of Facing the Giants as an anomaly. Fireproof is flying under the Hollywood radar screen. This is a wonderful opportunity to show that there is an audience for authentic, inspiring and entertaining stories that are created by people of faith.”
Sherwood pastor Michael Catt, who shares the vision for a strong church-based media ministry, nurtured the Kendrick brothers’ interest in making Hollywood-quality movies as an extension of the church’s ministry. The overarching goal: to impact the world from Albany.
John White, retired Los Angeles firefighter and current president/chaplain of Firefighters for Christ (FFC) International, was joined at the Fireproof debut by Jerry Sillcocks, president of the group’s New York chapter. White retired after 45 years of service with the Los Angeles Fire Department; Sillcocks serves as lieutenant with Engine 48 in the Bronx.
Both men applauded the film’s accurate portrayal of the difficulties a fireman has in his personal and professional life and how the strains can easily weaken a marriage. They expressed gratitude for the way it will provide an avenue for those in similar high-stress situations -– whether on the professional or personal level -– to work toward healing in their marriages.
“Before a Los Angeles fireman ever goes on the field,” White said, “he is put through 13 weeks of rigorous training -– which is then reinforced regularly on the job -– to maintain the highest professional standards.” With marriage, however, “I would venture to say that 95 percent of men walk into one of the most important relationships of their lives with no training or safety net whatsoever.”
Fireproof will help give those individuals the support they need, White said.
That’s the same theme that Kendrick was sharing with news reporters following the movie’s premier.
When asked for his favorite scene from Fireproof, he said he could quickly say the action-packed scenes with the train or the house fire. But to be honest, he said, it would have to be the scenes that dealt with the transformation of character.
“That’s really what this movie is all about,” Kendrick said. “In today’s world, marriage has been so watered down, so redefined, that we hardly recognize it. Stephen and I and the 1,200 volunteers at Sherwood worked hard to give an example of two hard-working spouses who drifted apart and who no longer loved each other. We wanted to show how it happened and then offer an option to divorce through a life-changing personal encounter with Jesus Christ.
“There is not a marriage on this planet that could not be strengthened or improved by viewing this movie. This movie is not just about marriages that are falling apart and is not just for troubled couples,” Kendrick said. “It’s for healthy as well as not-so-healthy marriages and the individuals who want to make their relationships even better.”
That theme may be catching on in the general population. The week leading up to Fireproof’s national release, its ticket sales were the most requested of any movie, already accounting for 33 percent of the seats in theaters. And “The Love Dare” paperback book featured in the movie was number 23 with Amazon.com and was in the top 50 with Wal-Mart stores.
Joe Westbury is managing editor of The Christian Index, newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention.