On Jan. 20, two events are happening that are appreciated by many in flyover country, but cause confusion or disdain at best among the pop culture elite.
One, of course, is the presidential inauguration. The other event, admittedly slightly less well-known, is the opening of the faith-based feature film I directed, “The Resurrection of Gavin Stone.”
The film tells the story of Gavin Stone, a washed-up former child star who, in his 30s, gets in some trouble in his hometown and is sentenced to 200 hours of community service at a local mega-church.
While there, Gavin sees they’re putting on a big passion play, so he pretends to be a Christian so he can play the part of Jesus and avoid cleaning toilets. And of course, by playing the part of Jesus he learns more about him, and he ultimately experiences the uncommon community and grace that he can’t get anywhere but church.
Church. That’s the scary word.
A movie set in a church, about a church, and written and directed by churchgoers (evangelical, no less). A movie that dares to say that church is filled with flawed but ultimately loving and generous people.
Despite the increase in successful faith-based films over the last few years, Hollywood still doesn’t have much of a lane for this kind of film.
In an early test screening of the film, which was attended by Christians and non-Christians alike, the scores were significant. The average test score is in the low 70s. We got an 89.
We thought we had the next sleeper hit on our hands. And yet the process of securing distribution and booking theaters has been arduous. We held at least a dozen meetings in which we concluded that we didn’t know how to reach our target audience.
It was strikingly similar to how conventional wisdom didn’t quite match internal polling and analysis for a certain someone. (Yes, I’m comparing my film to our next president.)
It didn’t help that our film is largely a comedy, which is highly unusual for a faith film. And it’s also not quite as much of a “cause” film as several of the most successful faith-based hits in recent years. So it’s a bit outside of the box in the current marketplace.
But isn’t it strange that a snapshot of the nearly 100 million regular American churchgoers—at least a few of whom are funny—is considered a unique audience?
Fortunately, there were some companies who were willing to take the plunge on our film (BH Tilt, Walden Media, and flyover state proficient WWE Studios), and it’s now coming to 900 theaters this weekend. Pre-screenings have gotten terrific responses, albeit with a ton of “this was so much better/funnier than I expected.”
I’ll just leave it at this: If all of the 40 percent of the country who approve of Trump end up liking our film, that will be great box office.