With 'Courageous,' Sherwood Pictures solidifies the viability of religion-themed movies

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 28 2012 11:00 a.m. MST

Director, co-writer, and actor Alex Kendrick gets behind the camera to frame a shot on "Courageous."

Hayley Catt

In most transactions, $20,000 buys you a lot of stuff.

Like a brand-new Toyota Corolla.

Or eight large leather sectional sofas.

Or 455 pairs of white Levi's Skinny Jeans.

Twenty thousand dollars, however, is barely a drop in the bucket when it comes to making motion pictures. So to say Alex Kendrick made 2003's "Flywheel" on a shoestring budget doesn't begin to do justice to just how little his $20,000 outlay bought him.

"That basically covered one camera, one microphone, some lights from Home Depot, and just various small pieces of equipment that we needed," said Kendrick, who co-wrote, directed and starred in the redemptive story of a used car salesman seeking to win back his family.

"Flywheel" was the first offering from Sherwood Pictures, a ministry of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga. And for Kendrick, it also marked his first foray into feature-length filmmaking.

But against all odds, "Flywheel" launched Sherwood's string of religiously themed successes that includes "Facing the Giants" (2006), "Fireproof" (2008) and "Courageous" (2011).

"There's a strong reason why our movies should not work as well as they do," Kendrick said. "We don't have major stars; we don't have major money; we don't have big special effects. … But God kind of surprises me each and every time."

With the recent release to DVD of "Courageous" — which grossed more than $35 million against a budget of "only" $2 million — Sherwood Pictures is proving to Hollywood that movies with powerful Christian messages can indeed thrive when precise marketing propels the niche product into the hands of an underserved religious demographic starving for wholesome entertainment that speaks to its values.

'Pray for the story'

Kendrick mentioned his desire to make Christian films when he interviewed in 1999 to be an associate pastor at Sherwood Church. He landed the ministerial position, but several years passed before he got his opportunity to make a movie.

When the chance to make what would become "Flywheel" did eventually materialize, Alex Kendrick didn't have to have to navigate uncharted waters by himself — he teamed with his brother Stephen, who contributed as a producer and co-writer.

"We say Stephen gathers all the ingredients together and brings them into the kitchen so that I can cook," Alex Kendrick said. "For me, (directing) is very easy. What's hard for me is the structure of pulling together all the necessary resources to shoot a movie, so I've left that to him."

The first-time filmmakers made sure to invoke divine direction in the planning process.

"Our model has been 'pray for the story,'" Alex Kendrick said. "We spend a lot of time in prayer and we look for the Lord to open doors and to shut doors, and we try to follow them in unity. … Then after we feel like we have the story and that God is honored with it, we begin shooting and we cast and pull crew out of our church."

After making "Flywheel" with a zealous cadre of volunteers, Kendricks & Co. splurged by hiring five professionals to work on "Facing the Giants" (budget: $100,000). For "Fireproof" (budget: $500,000) and "Courageous," the number of paid crew increased to 12 and 28, respectively.

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