Faith-Based Filmmaking: The Sherwood Pictures Crusade

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Todd Stone

A tense moment in Courageous as Deputy Sheriff Shane Fuller, played by Kevin Downes, serves a summons.

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Giants hit 441 theaters in the fall of 2006 and made $10 million. Kirk Cameron, the former Growing Pains star who became a Christian at 17, saw Sherwood's success with Giants and offered to appear in the studio's next film. (Like the rest of Sherwood's volunteer actors, he was asked to audition.) Fireproof, a Kendrick script about a group of firefighters struggling to keep their marriages together, was made for a relatively ambitious $500,000; its $33 million box-office take beat that of Milk, Sean Penn's Oscar-winning biopic, and the George Clooney comedy Leatherheads.

The films have been a windfall for Sherwood Baptist Church. The ministry has constructed a two-story prayer tower where volunteers pray for the movie studio and the region 24 hours a day. For the city of Albany (one of the poorest cities of its size in the country, with a per capita income of just $21,300), the church has constructed an 82-acre sports park complete with an equestrian center. It also stocks food shelters throughout southwestern Georgia, supports a local drug and alcohol treatment facility and is launching new churches nationwide, including two in Baltimore and one in San Francisco. The Love Dare, a marriage and spiritual advice book written by the Kendricks that features in the plot of Fireproof, has spent years near the top of Christian bestseller lists. Sherwood, it's safe to say, is now a brand.

Sherwood's church and studio work still operates largely on a volunteer basis; Courageous, made for $1 million, would have cost several times as much if the studio had relied on professional talent. Catt says the filmmakers rely on profits from the films and unsolicited donations, and that pastors have never asked for funding or volunteers from the pulpit. "With volunteers no one is watching the clock and we're all in it together," Alex Kendrick says.

Kendrick hopes the police drama Courageous might find a berth with secular viewers. "Our initial audience will likely be of the faith arena," he says. "We understand that. But ultimately, we see a really broad audience — and we saw that with Fireproof." Sherwood films are full of couples on their knees praying, Bibles opened and read, scripture quoted and the name of Jesus invoked (and not in vain). But Catt believes their appeal is broader than it might appear. "There is a segment of the general audience who looks for the absence of bad, and wants wholesome," says Provident Films' Fuhr. "A grandmother can take a 6-year-old and won't cringe or say, 'Oh, I can't believe I brought them.'"

"Our goal is to use movies to change culture," says Alex Kendrick. "How many sermons would we have to preach to reach five million people?"

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