If standing ovations are any indication, the makers of Facing the Giants probably have another hit on their hands.
Sherwood Pictures' latest film, Fireproof, won't release in theaters until September 26, but it's been screened for pastors and Christian leaders all summer, and often to enthusiastic crowds. At the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Indianapolis, between three to four thousand people saw the film, with many standing during the closing credits, applauding the movie's focus on a biblical view of marriage.
The plot focuses on the struggling marriage of a firefighter named Caleb (played by Kirk Cameron) and his wife, Catherine (Erin Bethea), both of whom are seeking a divorce after having fallen "out of love." Their lack of communication and their disagreements over finances — as well as his addiction to Internet pornography and her budding romance at work — are tearing them apart. Caleb's father, though, refuses to see the young couple split up and gives his son a "Love Dare" journal — a forty-day experiment in which Caleb must complete a loving action toward his wife each day. Having rescued numerous people from fires, Caleb sets out to rescue his own marriage and his wife's heart.
The movie had a $500,000 budget, which is still tiny by Hollywood standards, but five times the $100,000 budget of Facing the Giants and twenty-five times the budget of Sherwood's first movie, Flywheel. The bigger budget — particularly during firefighting scenes, where special effects were required — is evident on the screen. It is expected to open on significantly more screens and in more cities than did Facing the Giants.
"They just keep knocking them out of the park. I've seen every one of them," said Jim Ballard, a Utah-based North American Mission Board missionary who saw a screening of the movie this summer. "I think this is going to address some major issues with marriages. And it's got enough evangelism in it that people can get saved."
Sherwood Pictures is a not-for-profit ministry of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia, and the brainchild of brothers Stephen and Alex Kendrick, two associate pastors who have written, produced, and directed all three films. Just like the previous two films, Fireproof features a volunteer cast and crew, with church members holding the majority of the roles. Approximately 1,200 people were involved, doing everything from cooking for the cast and crew to acting. Cameron, known for his role in several Christian films as well as his star role in the 1980s and early 1990s ABC sitcom Growing Pains, turned down a payment for the film and asked instead that a donation be made to a ministry he and his wife run, Camp Firefly. To prepare for his role as a firefighting captain, he worked out and gained about fifteen pounds.
With one out of every two marriages in the U.S. ending in divorce, officials with Sherwood Pictures hope that churches get behind the film and help couples learn how to "fireproof" and strengthen their own marriages. They've launched two Web sites: FireproofTheMovie.com, which is the official movie Web site, and FireproofMyMarriage.com, which has resources for singles, couples, and churches. Additionally, B&H Publishing Group is scheduled to release a paperback version of The Love Dare book around the time of the movie's release in September.
Groups such as the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Focus on the Family, and FamilyLife have backed the film and are urging people to go see it.
"Obviously, we think that marriage is a crucial issue to address in our culture — inside and outside the church," said Michael Catt, executive producer of the film and senior pastor of Sherwood Baptist. "[Marriage has] become simply a contract, a piece of paper. We hope that the movie is going to impact homes, not only inside the church but outside the church, because every one of us knows a couple that struggles; either we are or we know somebody who is.
"If couples learn some things out of this film that will help them in their marriage, then it will be successful to us. If we can help save some marriages that are on the brink of going off a cliff, it would be great."
Cameron isn't the movie's only professional actor or actress. Bethea is a member of the Actor's Equity Association, a stage actor's union, and is employed at Disney World in Orlando. Fireproof is her first major film role. (She had a small part in Facing the Giants.) She believed in the film's message so much that she quit her previous job at Disney — losing her paycheck and benefits — in order to have time for the volunteer lead role. Yet when the movie finished filming in fall 2007, Disney called again, offering her a position with better benefits and better hours. It was confirmation from God to her that she had made the right decision.
"I think the things that this movie could do for peoples' lives are immeasurable," said Bethea, a longtime Sherwood member who thought she was too young for the part and was surprised when chosen. "I think the message is timeless. [Love is] not based on an emotion. It's not birds chirping and flowers blooming all the time. Sometimes it's hard, and it's a decision. Very often love starts with an action and then follows with an emotion, rather than vice versa as we tend to think that it does."
Some of the movie's most intense moments come with Caleb and Catherine arguing. In one of them, she ends up crying, asking for a divorce.
"What we keep hearing from those fight scenes from couples is, 'Do you guys have a camera in my house, because my wife and I have had those fights,'" Bethea said. "I think that's why they're so hard to watch, because they're so real. This couple is fighting about real issues. They're fighting about finances. They're fighting because of miscommunication. They're fighting because he struggles with an Internet pornography issue."
The film deals with the subject of Internet pornography in a delicate way that won't embarrass or shock church members. In fact, the words "porn" or "pornography" are never mentioned. It was important to deal with the subject, Catt said, because Internet pornography is tearing marriages apart at an alarming rate and, he said, churches too often are failing to address it.
"She [Catherine] refers to [Caleb viewing] trash on the Internet, so that when children are watching the movie, it will go right over their head," Catt said. "But every adult knows what we're talking about. We believe we can deal with a very sensitive subject without being graphic; that we can address the issue without slapping people around with it or showing things that are inappropriate. A family can still go and see this movie."
Catt is hoping churches get behind Fireproof just like they got behind Facing the Giants. One significant role churches and associations can play, he said, is by "buying out" screens — that is, purchasing all the tickets for a particular showing. In doing that, churches often will be given the freedom to talk to the audience after the film or even offer an invitation. Officials also are urging smaller churches to team up with other smaller churches in buying out screens.
Churches located in towns where the movie isn't scheduled to be shown can buy out a theater and have it brought to their town; generally it requires purchasing a minimum of one thousand tickets. Sherwood Pictures officials are calling such groups that buy out theaters "Action Squads." In 2006, it helped Facing the Giants become a surprise hit and gross $10 million.
"The opening weekend is the key and is so critical," Catt said. "Unfortunately, we live in a society with movies where it's market-driven and box-office driven. September 26 is huge. That opening weekend determines how it spreads. We had a great opening weekend with Facing the Giants, and so it spread to other cities. We started in four hundred theaters and ended up in over one thousand, and a lot of that was based on what happened the first weekend, because it let people know this is a legitimate film. The key to that was churches. The key to that was pastors standing up in their pulpits and saying, 'We gripe about Hollywood. Here's something positive. It's a film we can go to and support.'"
For more information about Fireproof, visit FireproofTheMovie.com. For resources, visit FireproofMyMarriage.com.
Fireproof: What Churches Can Do
Fireproof will offer churches a unique opportunity this fall to underscore the importance of a biblical view of marriage.
It opens in theaters September 26, but churches already are thinking ahead about ways they can use the movie to help their congregation.
One Web site, FireproofMyMarriage.com, offers a host of resources for churches, couples, and singles. Following are several ways churches can use the movie and help promote it:
• Buying all the tickets for a particular showing. In many such instances, theater owners will allow pastors and church leaders to address the audience before and after the movie if they have purchased all the tickets. Additionally, if Fireproof isn't scheduled to come to a particular city, churches can call the local theater and offer to purchase one thousand tickets to get it to come to their city. (For information, visit FireproofTheMovie.com and click on "Take Action." Additional resources are available at FireproofMyMarriage.com.)
• Offering babysitting on a particular night — promoting it as a date night — to allow couples with small children to go see the movie.
• Planning a sermon/sermon series on marriage to coincide with the film's release.
• Having Christian couples invite other couples to see the movie together.
• Giving movie tickets to local firefighters and encouraging them to take their spouses.
• Showing the movie's trailer to church members. (A link for a free download is available through the FireproofMyMarriage.com Web site. Click on "Churches," and then click "Click Here for Fireproof Church Campaign Resources and Information." Lastly, click on the "Free Fireproof Resources" banner.)
• Placing Fireproof icons on the church's Web site. (They can be downloaded at FireproofTheMovie.com. Click on "Free Resources.")
• Purchasing copies of The Love Dare book as seen in the movie and giving it to church members. The paperback version is scheduled to be released by B&H Publishing Group.