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FIRST-PERSON: Another Sherwood hit?

Editor’s note: This is part of a 3-story package about Sherwood Pictures’ next film, “Courageous.” Other stories are available here and here .

ALBANY, Ga. (BP)–When a room full of media members tear up and even cheer watching clips from a movie they know little about, you know the film just might be powerful.

That’s what happened recently when officials from Sherwood Pictures — the Sherwood Baptist Church-owned movie ministry that made “Fireproof” and “Facing the Giants” — showed clips from its next movie, “Courageous,” to Christian leaders and Christian media. I was one of those watery-eyed media members.

Keep in mind the filming of Courageous isn’t even finished, and we were watching rough clips without the musical score that will accompany it on the big screen. The filmmakers had set the clips to music from “Lost” and “The Pursuit of Happyness.”

But the 15-20 minutes of clips we watched from random scenes were amazing, and the acting was a big step up even from the 2008 hit Fireproof, which itself had been seen by most as a step up from Facing the Giants (2006).

Courageous, which won’t be released until a yet-to-be-determined month in 2011, will spotlight fatherhood just as Fireproof focused on marriage. Its $1 million-plus budget will be twice that of its predecessor, and about half the cast are professional actors, all Christians.

It’s not, though, a “Fireproof II.” Using law enforcement as a backdrop, Courageous will tell the story of three families (Hispanic, African American and Caucasian) and two single men as they each learn about what Scripture demands of fathers. Four of the men are police officers — two of them played by Alex Kendrick and Ken Bevel, veterans of Sherwood movies. Some of the officers are good fathers; others are not. The storyline also deals with gangs and how they serve as a dysfunctional alternative to families.

“There will be some men getting very convicted when they watch this movie,” said Stephen Kendrick, the movie’s producer.

The cast and crew began filming April 26 in Albany, Ga., and are scheduled to finish the week of June 21, when they’ll shoot the movie’s action scenes — for instance, car chases — also a first for Sherwood’s films.

Alas, I didn’t get to watch a car chase scene, but it was still worth the visit, and I’m sure it’s unlike any Hollywood set out there.

The morning began with prayer in the backyard of a home in Albany’s Lake Park neighborhood, a subdivision of older homes shaded by hundreds of towering pine trees. With the cast, crew and guests — a total of about 75 people — in a circle, pastor Daniel Simmons of Albany’s Mt. Zion Baptist Church led a brief devotion and said a prayer. The circle then broke, and everyone went to their stations for several hours of filming in the hot south Georgia sun.

“Our professional crew that have come in on all of our movies have said, ‘The vibe on this set is awesome,'” Stephen Kendrick said. “There’s such a unity and family atmosphere. We’re praying through our decisions together.”

The front yard of another house in the neighborhood was the site for lunch, donated by Sherwood Baptist Church’s Cornerstone Sunday School class. Bible verses adorned the tables. After lunch, the cast and crew went back to the set, where — due to a brief rain shower — they had to change plans and move the equipment indoors to shoot an indoor scene. Most scenes took a couple hours to shoot but will last perhaps 30-60 second in the film.

Every now and then, you’d see a cast or crew member with a clothespin hanging off their shirt or pants. They had been “pinned” by one of the church’s prayer warriors, and the clothespin — also sporting a Bible verse — was an encouraging reminder that they were the focus of prayer.

Sherwood is taking the fatherhood and family theme seriously, giving the cast and crew weekends off and also taking off every third week. In other words, they only shoot two weeks at a time.

“We’ve said, ‘Let’s don’t sacrifice our families on the altar of ministry,” Stephen Kendrick said. “Let’s don’t communicate a message of prioritizing your families and then kill our families while we’re making a movie. A movie is like a big black hole. It will suck up all your time and energy if you let it. And a lot of people who get into moviemaking, they lose their marriages and their kids, because they’re working 12-14 hour days and they’re out of town away from their family for months.”

Courageous, like all films, is shot by location, meaning that every scene in the movie that takes place in the Lake Park neighborhood — whether the scene will be at the beginning of the movie or at the end of it — was filmed prior to everyone moving to another location. All total, five houses in the neighborhood — all donated by church members — were used by the cast and crew.

No one knows how much all the donated items and volunteer hours would cost in a typical Hollywood movie, but it would be enough to blow the budget of Courageous.

“I would think it would be a lot,” the film’s director, Alex Kendrick, said, laughing.

Not that the volunteers are complaining. Members of Sherwood Baptist Church view the church’s films as a ministry not only to the nation but to the world. Fireproof and Facing the Giants are sold in dozens of countries and have been recorded in other languages.

“It’s an offering to the Lord,” Debbie Glow, a set host, said of her volunteer time.

Church members remain amazed at how the movies have succeeded. Neither Alex Kendrick nor Stephen Kendrick, who are brothers, went to film school or had been on a Hollywood set before the church got into moviemaking, and both were staff members at Sherwood when the church made its first film, “Flywheel” (2003) on a $20,000 budget — most of it spent on buying the camera.

“It’s only by God’s grace and mercy that it has happened,” said Ivy Sceals, a church member who volunteers for the makeup team.

The Kendricks, who once balanced a church staff schedule with a moviemaking schedule, now spend almost all of their working hours with Sherwood Pictures. They hope Courageous impacts fathers just as Fireproof — and its companion book “The Love Dare” — impacted marriages. Of course, they also hope the film’s police theme and action scenes help draw men into the theater.

I probably have a weak spot for stories about fatherhood — I have a 2-year-old son who imitates everything I do — but if the final product is anything like the clips I saw, Sherwood may have another hit on its hands. Perhaps we all should pray for them in the coming weeks and months, as they finish the project.

“If we can get men in the body of Christ to step up into spiritual leadership and to say, ‘As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,’ we can impact the world in an awesome way. That’s part of what courageous is about,” Stephen Kendrick said.
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. For more information about Courageous, visit CourageousTheMovie.com.

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  • Michael Foust