Note: Ten years ago this weekend, Facing the Giants made its Hollywood premiere, opening in theaters across the country the next night. Sherwood Baptist in Albany produced the film. It wouldn’t be the church’s last, as Fireproof, which focused on marriage and starred Kirk Cameron, and Courageous, about fatherhood, would follow.
Facing the Giants opens to Hollywood audience prior to national rollout tonight
Published Friday, September 29, 2006
HOLLYWOOD, CA — Los Angelenos turned out to hear a message of hope and spiritual inspiration Thursday night (Sept. 28) as Facing the Giants played to a private screening prior to Friday’s nationwide release.
Thirty-five Georgia cities will host the first statewide screening of the football-themed movie while 435 screens nationwide join in on the national rollout. The movie was produced by Sherwood Baptist Church, an Albany congregation with a strong history of being media savvy under the pastorate of Michael Catt.
The movie is the second produced on a shoestring budget by the Kendrick brothers – Alex and Stephen – and follows the popular Flywheel which was released three years ago this fall. “Giants,” a more aggressive attempt at movie making, was produced for $100,000 donated by members of the congregation and friends who also served as volunteers in a variety of rolls from acting to catering.
Annette Martinez of Pasadena sums up the goal of the church in her first comments after viewing the film.
“It is the right movie for me at this point in my life,” she said at a reception immediately following the showing at ArcLight Theatre on Hollywood’s famous Sunset Blvd. “It really spoke to me regarding some problems I am dealing with and for which I’m seeking spiritual help.”
Nothing could summarize better the goal of the church in producing the movie, Catt said.
“We’re trusting God to change lives across the country with this film, whether or not they are Christians. Our prayer is that the gospel message is strong enough in the movie that each individual will respond to it to a degree that they need right now.”
As executive pastor and actor Jim McBride added, “This is not our movie; it’s God’s movie. We have just been stewards of it on His behalf.”
Movie star Kirk Cameron attended the premier with his family and took part in the national radio broadcast carried by more than 400 radio stations nationwide. He told listeners that efforts by churches like Sherwood need to be supported by the Christian community to send a message to Hollywood that there is a market for movies with depth that do not depend on sex and violence.
A long way from Albany to Hollywood
It’s a long way from the intersection of Don Caster and Whispering Pines in Albany (where Sherwood is located) to the corner of Sunset Blvd. and Vine in Hollywood where the movie premiered – about 3,000 miles as the crow flies but 40 years in the careers of the Kendrick brothers who brought “Giants” to the screen after a life of chasing their dream of making movies. But the two ministers at Sherwood have always sought out creative ways of sharing their faith. Making movies, they say, just came natural. And to paraphrase one country music singer, it took them 40 years to become an overnight sensation.
Now that talent is being harnessed to take the gospel nationwide through the medium of filmmaking and lives are being touched far beyond the city limits of Albany. It even supercedes Catt’s original vision of impacting the world from the South Georgia city, a theme he says the church envisioned a few years ago but never fully grasped what it would mean.
For several years the church has had a leading role as it pioneered one of Georgia Baptist’s strongest media ministries. Today that vision jumped from church staff to the entire congregation who was involved as one massive team of volunteers in bringing the movie to life. The credits at the end of the film attest to the group effort with volunteers far outweighing others who worked on the film. In fact, the list of caterers – usually a five or ten second list at the end of a film…rolled on for nearly a full minute as scores of individual names appeared on the screen in a double column.
A village of volunteers
All acting and support roles, from the building of sets to the flipping of hamburgers and the making of potato salad was donated by Sunday School classes, women’s ministries, or local businesses. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes the selflessness of a congregation like Sherwood to produce a quality product that attracts the attention of Sony Pictures.
It’s a movie that plays on the old theme of overcoming life’s challenges and finding a way out of impossible differences, viewers said. But the movie clearly stands apart from others in that it brings the spiritual dimension into sharp focus and offers the solution of Jesus Christ without preaching to the camera.
While the movie deals with an underdog high school football team being pitted against three-time state champs named the Richland Giants, it operates on a deeper level like the parables used by Christ to teach a lesson in living.
Viewers struggling with a variety of giants – lack of adequate income to pay the bills, infertility, or seeking real meaning in life – will identify with those themes. And Catt applauded churches across the denominational spectrum that are getting creative in using the movie as a witnessing tool. Many have planned tailgate and pizza parties for this opening week’s shows.
“There will always be people who will never go to hear a pastor to speak because they don’t want to hear a sermon, but they will come for free pizza and a movie. It’s a very non-threatening environment that lends itself to the sharing of the gospel.
“We don’t preach at the camera anywhere in the movie. The script just flows naturally out of the kind of conversation you would encounter at any Christian school,” Catt says.
McBride affirmed that with multiple stories of efforts by congregations and individuals. For example, 29 churches have turned in applications to bring the movie to their local theater through the purchase of 1,000 tickets. A Christian school in Atlanta is incorporating the film into its character-building curriculum. And a banker in Lubbock, Texas, has purchased 3,000 tickets mass distribution.
Stephen Kendrick, associate pastor of media, said Sherwood has been “extremely pleased” with the feedback it has received at its www.facingthegiants.com website where churches nationwide share how they are promoting the event in their communities.
- Barbara Burks, a student minister at First Baptist Church of Pensacola, Fla., wrote that the church has purchased tickets for its entire high school football team to view the movie.
- Paul Turner, pastor of Calvary Hill Baptist Church in Easley, S.C. reported that the church has purchased 100 tickets to be distributed to unchurched individuals who are being encouraged to attend a pizza lunch at the church to discuss the film.
- Nathan Waganer, student minister at Village Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, says the church has rented a 500-seat theater for an exclusive viewing of the movie on Saturday (Sept. 30). Requests for the tickets have already exceeded the number of available seats.
- Closer to home in Perry and Warner Robins, pastor Johnny Ellison writes that “churches all over the county have purchased a ticket for every varsity high school football player, coach, and manager in the county, totaling nearly 500. So much money has been contributed toward this that our churches are now beginning to buy tickets for middle school football players, also. The coaches have worked well with us.”
Mike Dorough, youth pastor at Second Baptist Church in Warner Robins, adds that churches have contributed more than $3,000 to purchase tickets for the effort.
Relaxing on the front row of the Hollywood theater as the opening credits rolled did not remove the memories of the work that went into the production. After the viewing actors reflected on the hours spent filming in the hot South Georgia heat and humidity.
When asked if the death crawl was as hard as it looked, Jason McLeod told a bystander, “Yes sir, every bit. I was blindfolded and kept drifting to the left and Stephen kept straightening me out, and then Chris Heape who I was carrying kept losing his balance and falling off.
“It took us two days to film that scene, and by the time we completed each filming my arms were completely burned out. Those were two of the hottest days in my life, carrying that weight in 95 degree heat with horrible humidity.”
When asked what he felt about the film now that the work is behind him, Heape pondered for a minute and summed up his thoughts in coach Grant Taylor’s line from the gridiron. It was a scene when Alex Kendrick, playing the nearly-defeated coach, walks out onto the field before the game for the state championship and summed up one of the themes running throughout the movie: “All right God, you got us here. Whatever happens, You get the Glory.”
Shannen Fields, playing the role of Taylor’s wife, Brooke, affirmed McLeod’s observation.
“As a group of actors and volunteers we’re not anybody special, we’re just a bunch of Southern folks being faithful to the vision God has given us.”