These days, the average Hollywood produced movie costs more than $100 million to make. Some of those movies set new box office records (think The Dark Knight). Some hemorrhage money (think Speed Racer, if you can remember it. Cost to make—$160 million. Domestic box office receipts—$45 million. That’s a lot of millions lost).
The average movie made in Albany, Ga., costs about $70,000. Since 2003, Sherwood Baptist Church has produced three full length motion pictures: Flywheel, which played in local theaters for eight weeks and has since sold 40,000 DVDs; Facing the Giants, the 2006 film that cost $100,000 to make and earned $10 million in domestic box office receipts, and has gone on to sell more than 1.5 million DVDs; and their latest film, Fireproof, which opens in theaters on September 26. Fireproof was big budget for the church—it cost $500,000 to make.
The actors worked for free.
Church members did the catering.
The movie locations were made available at no cost.
And the men who produced, directed, and wrote the film are on the pastoral staff at the church.
While Fireproof undoubtedly won’t make as much money at the box office as Speed Racer lost, those who see this powerful story will find themselves moved in a way that Speed Racer—and most big budget movies today—can’t seem to pull off.
Fireproof tells the story of Caleb and Catherine Holt, a “dual income, no kids” couple living in the suburbs in Albany. Caleb is the fire chief; Catherine handles public relations for a local hospital. Their seven-year marriage is crumbling, and neither one knows how to rescue it. When Caleb confides to his father that divorce is imminent, his dad challenges him to take the “love dare”—a 40-day experiment that teaches Caleb how to demonstrate sacrificial love for his wife. Caleb takes the dare, but his heart isn’t in it. The question is, will his heart change, and can he turn things around before it’s too late?
Along the way, Fireproof takes us into the center of what life looks like in too many marriages. Much to Catherine’s disgust, Caleb looks at pornography on the Internet and dreams about buying a boat. Catherine has lost all respect for her husband and is responding to the kind words and caring gestures of a doctor at the hospital where she works. Caleb and Catherine are two individuals who pass each other in the kitchen and who no longer share a bed—strangers living in the same house.
Stephen and Alex Kendrick, the two brothers who produced and directed the movie, respectively, and who wrote the screenplay together, successfully capture the reality of a marriage that has moved to isolation. Their pastoral experience working with real life couples in marital distress enables them to bring authenticity to the screen. From Caleb and Catherine’s poisonous 50/50 approach to marriage to next door neighbors who can’t help seeing what’s happening, the movie captures—in a way that most movies never do—what is going on in millions of homes.
Kirk Cameron gives a surprising and stunning performance as Caleb Holt. Best known for his role as Mike Seaver on the television show Growing Pains, Cameron skillfully portrays a husband who can lead a team of men to a house fire and can rescue a child trapped inside, but can’t figure out how to rescue his marriage. It’s a performance that redefines and expands what Cameron is capable of as an actor.
Erin Bethea is in her first leading role in a film, playing Caleb’s wife, Catherine. Her acting background includes work as a contract actress for Disney at the Magic Kingdom theme park in Orlando and a small role in Facing the Giants. The rest of the cast (made up of amateur actors and actresses, most of them Sherwood church members) does a commendable job, with a few providing standout performances. Real life Marine Captain Ken Bevel stands out as Michael Simmons, Caleb’s co-worker and confidant.
Let’s be honest. Much of the acting in Fireproof has a “community theater” feel to it. Most of these actors are not members of the Screen Actors Guild, and there are places where their lack of experience shows, just as it did in Facing the Giants. Even though the filmmakers have taken a big jump forward with Fireproof, there is still at least one scene in the film where the acting is cringingly stiff.
But Fireproof ultimately triumphs (just as Facing the Giants did) because it is a powerful story told well. It presents the gospel in a way that will be panned by mainstream movie critics but that will ring true with viewers. The Kendrick brothers have carefully avoided becoming too heavy handed with the message of the film. It’s clear, but it’s presented in a way that keeps viewers from feeling “preached at.”
Fireproof is a compelling, entertaining and inspiring movie. When it hits theaters the last Friday in September, it will find itself competing for an audience with My Best Friend’s Girl, an R-rated romantic comedy that stars Kate Hudson and Dane Cook, and Nights in Rodanthe, a PG-13 movie with Richard Gere and Diane Lane (based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks). You can be certain that the other movies cost a lot more money to make than Fireproof. You can also be certain that the movie with the half-million dollar budget made by the church folks in Albany will tell a more powerful, more true-to-life love story than either of the other two.