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Q&A: Sherwood’s Michael Catt on ‘Courageous,’ box office success and (possibly) another movie

JACKSONVILLE, Tenn. (BP) — Michael Catt, senior pastor of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., spoke to the Florida Baptist Witness about his church’s new movie “Courageous” during a visit to the Pastors’ Conference at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville.

Sherwood has produced four films: “Flywheel,” “Facing the Giants,” “Fireproof,” and then Courageous. Each has grossed more than its predecessor.

On its opening weekend in September, Courageous finished No. 4 in total gross, No. 1 in per-theater average, and it was the No. 1 new movie.

Courageous was released on DVD Jan. 17.

FLORIDA BAPTIST WITNESS: Is this enough? What are your plans for the future?

MICHAEL CATT: We approach every film as — that’s it until God tells us to do another one. We don’t want to presume on the Lord. We don’t want to fall into the trap of, “Well that was successful, let’s do that again.” We’ve always kind of approached it as — we don’t want to be the 87th annual singing Christmas tree when nobody really wants to do it anymore, but you’ve just always done it. So the first thing we do is to get a word from God — Does He want us to do another one?

Second, what will the subject be? Then, what needs to be involved in all that and where are we gonna go with it? We have been blessed. God has been good. We can honestly say that if we never made another one, we did what God told us to do. If we make four more, than we’ll do what God tells us to do. One of the keys for us is, success is not what it is at the box office. Success for us is the emails we get; the letters we from people’s whose lives have changed; from men who stand up; from couples who get back together — that’s really success for us. The other stuff is just secondary. That’s really hard for people to imagine.

WITNESS: According to reports you have been successful at the box office, however.

CATT: By some measures it is successful. I was interviewed by a national magazine last year and the guy doing the interview said, “You are the standard bearer for Christian movies.” I said, “You’ll never hear me say that because I think that could become pride for us.” I think it could be a crack in the door where the devil could get to us and twist our hearts and forget it is God’s grace that allowed us to do this. It’s a church that prays. It’s a church in unity. You couldn’t do this without prayer and unity and cooperative spirit within the church. And of all places — Albany, Ga. I mean, who would of thought that? So I always try to walk very softly through all of this and remind the church, God can always find somebody else.

WITNESS: What is a recent example of what you consider success?

CATT: I got an email from a friend. They had a men’s movie night, which is kind of weird — to do a men’s movie night. They had 500 men at it and they had five men come to Christ that night. They had many, many men that stayed around and talked and got counseling and prayed. Those are the kinds of things that are starting to roll in now — people showing the movie in their churches.

We stopped in Tifton, Ga. on the way down [to Jacksonville, Fla.] and four people there recognized Ken [Bevel, co-star who plays Nathan Hayes] and one said, “I was just a blubbering mess, I was just crying all over the place” [during the movie]. It’s rewarding to know that you do something that God can use. But it still goes back to: It’s our five loaves and two fish. It still goes back to that. We’ve got five loaves and two fish and that’s it and if we give them to God, He does what we can’t do.

WITNESS: When I watched the preview of “Courageous” last year during the Jacksonville Pastors’ Conference I thought this would make an awesome Father’s Day movie. But the movie came out in September.

CATT: We just knew we wanted to deal with dads and with fatherhood. We are doing a simulcast with LifeWay, on Father’s day weekend. … [Courageous director and producer] Alex and Stephen [Kendrick], and myself. … LifeWay wants to do a whole emphasis on Father’s Day from the simulcast to that Sunday being a resolution Sunday and men stepping up to the plate.

You know we always preach sermons on Mother’s Day. [We say], “Here’s what a mom ought to be,” and then on Father’s Day we kind of trash the guys and say, “You’re all a bunch of jerks and you need to straighten up,” which may be true, but the purpose of that would be, “Guys, let’s step up to what God’s called us to be.”

WITNESS: What’s been your greatest challenge with Courageous?

CATT: I think the greatest challenge was probably making a movie that men would watch. In some ways “Fireproof” was like a chick flick with a little action in it and “Courageous” was a lot more narrow in its focus. The more you narrow the focus you have to think, “Who’s the audience.” It was men. We knew that was a narrow focus, we knew that could affect box office; it could affect a lot of things. So it’s kind of gone from “Facing the Giants,” “Invite your family, bring your kids, bring the football team,” [to] “Fireproof,” “Hey I know a couple who needs to see that,” to “Courageous,” “I know a guy who needs to see that.” But for us it’s never been about, “Well, if this one was this big, then this one ought to be bigger.” It’s just that’s where God’s taken us on the journey of who we needed to address and what we needed to address

WITNESS: From the audiences’ point of view, they said the cinematography was better, as were other aspects of the film.

CATT: Yes. We shot it on the Red cameras, which were new at that time. We didn’t buy them; we rented them because we didn’t need those kind of cameras to sit around for three years. The technology we used with “Fireproof” was out of date. We just used the same camera crews but the newest technology we could get a hold of. When you use that technology [in Courageous] you come across with a better quality even if you don’t have a $20-30 million dollar budget; you know we’ve got $2 million. It helped us get a richer look and feel to the movie.

WITNESS: I sensed in the movie that you didn’t hold back on some of the very real issues. People in other circumstance might say you were stereotyping.

CATT: We did get some criticism, but Daniel Simmons, who is the pastor of the largest African American church in Albany, [Sherwood’s partner church in town] … read the script and he made script corrections. For instance in the opening scene we had a white guy hijacking the car and Daniel said that is not real to Albany. Ninety-five percent of the carjackings in Albany are African American and gangs don’t mix in Albany. A gang is all black, or all Hispanic or all white. And of the 32 gangs in Albany, 28 of them are all black and all male. So if you are going to portray gangs in Albany, which is where we shoot, he said, then you have to do it this way. Which is hard for us. We can’t stop the camera and say, “We are just portraying our community; we are not trying to pick on anybody.” But when you look at the movie, Ken’s role is the most honorable from the beginning. He and Robert Amaya’s role are the most honorable dads. They are doing the best job of being dads in the movie. That was very intentional. We wanted a strong African American role model and because family is a strategic part of Hispanic community, we wanted a very strong Hispanic father who had great faith. We were intentional in doing that.

WITNESS: So men like Robert Amaya and Ken Bevel are not only acting these parts, they are these men?

CATT: Absolutely. First, we use believers as actors. We talk to them about their walk with God and their lifestyle and what they represent in being a part of this movie. This is not an L.A. movie where you go hire name actors where you can slap on the front of the DVD and say, “Oh, so and so who was in that ‘R’ rated blood bath, who doesn’t believe, who has done Lord-knows-what in his own personal life. …” We want people that represent the Gospel well offscreen as well as what they represent onscreen. For us, when they’re key characters who are portraying Christians, there is a sense, without being mystical, that we want the Spirit of Christ to come off of that screen. That for believers that are watching it [they think], “You know what, he’s not acting, that’s really who he is.” You see it with Robert. You see Robert off the screen, that’s who he is. He played himself.

WITNESS: How does Courageous impart the importance of a Father’s legacy to his son?

CATT: If you look at the study of what happens if kids don’t have a strong man in their life, a strong father in their life, and more and more that’s the case — the impact on our society is devastating. Ken has a background. Robert has a background: some good, some bad. But they drew from either their own experiences or from the experiences of friends to say, “It really is important, what we are saying here really is important.” Alex and Stephen did their homework about what’s happening with dads.
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness (goFBW.com), where this story first appeared.

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