ALBANY, Ga. (BP)–A siren wailed in the background as a fire truck raced toward a house ablaze, but Erin Bethea’s voice was calm.
“All of this has been really challenging,” she said as sound technicians revved up the siren for another take on the set of the upcoming movie “Fireproof.”
Bethea, a 2004 graduate of the Baptist-affiliated University of Mobile in Alabama, was in the midst of another 14-hour day in Albany, Ga., squeezing in a telephone interview between shooting scenes for the movie that will be released in theaters nationwide in August.
Fireproof is the third production from Sherwood Pictures and brothers Stephen and Alex Kendrick, creators of “Facing the Giants.” The movie productions are part of the ministry of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, where church members have roles both in front of and behind the camera.
In Facing the Giants, Bethea had a small part as a sportscaster, with four sentences to recite. This time, her role is much larger.
“I came to the audition having in mind a really small part,” she said. “I had already told the Lord, ‘Whatever You want me to do with this movie, I’ll do it.’ I was thinking if there were no speaking parts for me, I will work behind the scenes. I wouldn’t have to be in front of the camera.”
Instead, the UM theater major was tapped for the leading female role of Catherine Holt, playing opposite veteran actor Kirk Cameron as husband and firefighter Lt. Caleb Holt. The story focuses on the Holts’ failing marriage and the challenge Caleb accepts from his father to make one last attempt to salvage it.
Cameron, an evangelical Christian who played Mike Seaver on the sitcom “Growing Pains” and starred in the “Left Behind” series of movies, is “amazing,” Bethea said.
“Both roles are emotionally challenging. It makes my job easy because he’s so believable and talented,” she said.
To take the role as Catherine Holt, Bethea dropped from fulltime status to seasonal status at Disney World where she is an entertainer. Shooting began Oct. 15 and wrapped up in mid-December. Bethea said she planned to return to Orlando and continue working at a job she loves at Disney World until the movie’s promotional efforts begin in late spring or early summer.
Bethea noted a peaceful spirit on the set of Fireproof, where each day of shooting began with a devotional and prayer time. When Bethea and Cameron had a difficult scene to do, those not involved directly in shooting the picture went to a room to pray for the actors.
“I think what has surprised me is the level of support you get from people,” she said. “They so want to lift you up and encourage you and help you out. I am not used to that in the entertainment business.”
There were no egos on the set either, she added, noting that people were out to see the movie succeed, not for personal gain.
“The great thing about a church making a movie is it’s an opportunity for anyone with a gift to contribute,” Bethea said. “If your gift is acting and performance, you contribute that. If it is service, we’ve got people who are doing hair, makeup, wardrobe … and people volunteering to be at the church praying while the filming is going on. Whatever your gift, your passion, you contribute that. There is a spirit of unity on the set.”
Bethea wasn’t the only University of Mobile connection to Fireproof. Her sister, Hayley Catt, who is a 2007 UM graduate, worked behind the scenes on the movie. Their father, Michael Catt, is senior pastor at Sherwood Baptist and a member of the university’s board of regents.
Bethea said her experiences in the theater department at UM helped prepare her for Fireproof, such as learning to work with people in stressful situations, getting along with different personalities, mastering the many jobs required to put on a production, and appreciating the roles each person plays in creating the whole picture.
“Spending four years at a Christian school, the discipleship you get there, the Bible teaching you are under, just really prepares you to go into the world and say, ‘OK, God, I’ve spent four years being challenged and taught, and I am ready for whatever You have for me,'” she said.
While acting for film is different from acting in theater productions at UM or appearing in character in the “Fantasmic!” show at MGM Studios at Disney World, Bethea said moviemaking feels natural and normal.
“I’m surprised I wasn’t terrified of the whole thing,” she said. “I’ve had so much fun, and I just felt like this is definitely where I’m supposed to be.
“Sometimes it’s scary, too,” she added. “From Albany, Ga., we are going to make this little movie, but we want it to change the world. That’s such a huge philosophy at the University of Mobile — now that I know what I know and learned what I’ve learned, how can I use that to change the world?”
She is hoping another door will open like the one that led to Fireproof.
“I’ve already had a couple of people from other film companies say they are pleased with what they’ve seen. I hope the Lord opens up more opportunities in film. I feel like the next year and a half of my life will be a day at a time,” she said.
Kathy Dean is director of public relations at the University of Mobile.