What’s the movie about? – It’s a movie about a church making a movie about the parable of the Prodigal Son. It is a comedy with a message for both Christians and non-Christians.

What’s the big idea behind the movie? – A growing number of people in our society have no use at all for religion. They see Christians as judgmental, homophobic, hypocritical, sexist, out of touch, humorless, and old fashioned. The sad truth is that many of us in the church can be described with just such terms. But the truth of the Gospel is that God isn’t interested in religion, either. He is all about relationships: the relationship between us and our Heavenly Father, and relationships among His children. We want to illustrate that truth. But we’re not planning to produce a typical “Christian film.” So many in that genre are well-meaning, well-done and carry messages that are right on target, but they speak primarily to a Christian audience. They tell powerful stories filled with the Gospel, but they’re done in such a way that “secular” folks will never see them. Our pastor, Jim Somerville and his brother, Gray suggested the innovative approach we’re taking. And Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son as recorded in Luke 15 is our model. He told a great story that held the rapt attention of his secular audience: the sinners and tax collectors. But the Pharisees and teachers of the law also were listening. And, as it turned out, Jesus spoke to both groups a message of forgiveness, reconciliation and love. We feel that God is leading and enabling us to do likewise: entertain and inspire, tell a great story that reveals spiritual truth.

Who’s involved? – A core team has been at work on this project for many months. The writers are Deborah Hocutt and David Powers. Deborah is a seasoned creative professional and an organizational genius. She worked for years as Literary Manager for the novelists David Baldacci and John Grisham. Deb is also serving as the Production Coordinator. David Powers has led FBC’s Media and Communication Ministry for the last 19 years. With 40 years’ experience in television production, he has produced and directed musicals, documentaries and dramas in the U.S. and 25 other countries. In addition to working with Deb on the screenplay, he will also direct the movie. Debbie Ward is serving as associate producer, coordinating the hundreds of volunteers who will help with the production. Debbie brings a wealth of administrative experience to the team. Jerry Cardwell, who has more than 20 years of experience as a Production Executive with CBN and the Family Channel, is serving as Unit Production Manager, responsible for bringing the film in on schedule and within budget. Paul Bickford, a graduate of the University of Miami’s Film School, leads the FBC Communication Team, providing guidance for the project. Paul will also be involved in the production of the movie. Steve Martin is working with the team as a story consultant and helping with the marketing. Steve is  a marketing communications professional and former partner and strategic plans director of The Martin Agency. He has written or ghostwritten 16 books, including four novels, and has just completed a screenplay that has been optioned by Northshore Pictures. FBC’s Administrator Billy Burford will serve as Secretary/Treasurer of the producing entity, Belltower Pictures. All of these folks are members of Richmond’s First Baptist Church. And over the past months, folks from outside our congregation also have begun to come alongside the FBC team to offer advice, support and assistance. We hope to make this a model of cooperation among congregations, organizations and individuals throughout the greater Richmond community and beyond.

How will it be distributed? – The distribution plan is not yet in place. But that’s not unusual for a project like this. Many movies, especially those from relatively unknown production companies, do not get distribution deals until the movie is finished. But we are certainly praying, thinking and working on it now. Among the possibilities under discussion and planning include: a theatrical release for movie theaters, DVD release, a made-for-TV-movie, and download release through the web.

How much is it going to cost? – We estimate the production cost to be $500,000 – which puts it in the “very small budget” category for motion pictures.

Can we really do a quality production for that kind of money? – We are confident that we can achieve the goal with God’s direction. We’ve had experience doing it before. We have produced two award-winning Christmas TV specials on small budgets… made possible because of the large number of volunteers from our church who gave freely of their time, talent and energy. Even the handful of “professionals” we brought in to help, did so for reduced rates. Most production supplies, food, props, and services were donated. The church already owned much of the production equipment, so expensive rentals were limited. And we watched every penny very carefully. We anticipate following the same model with this production.

How are you going to pay for it? – We are looking for financial support from several sources. We have some money available from the FBC TV Ministry “Special Projects Fund” (money given by viewers and supporters of the church’s Television Ministry). The First Baptist Church Endowment Fund has committed to a major financial contribution. And several individuals have made financial gifts. But we believe this project provides an opportunity for cooperation beyond a single church, among many individuals, organizations and congregations in our community. So we’ve begun talking with others about participating in the project by providing money, in-kind donations, and volunteers. If you want to contribute to the costs of production, Contact David Powers and we’ll send you more information.

What is Belltower Pictures and what does it have to do with this movie? – The church’s Communication Team has established a separate entity to produce the movie. It is a Non Stock Corporation under Virginia law, and is seeking certification by the IRS under section 501c3 of the tax code – which means that it will be a non-profit corporation that can accept tax-deductible contributions. The Communication Team felt this approach would open the way for other organizations, individuals and churches to participate. And it provides a way to continue this ministry beyond a single movie. We’re hoping to recoup the cost of production, plus some, once the movie goes into distribution. That money will go back into Belltower Pictures to fund the next project. We hope to repeat this pattern over and over, so that the funds invested to produce this movie will serve as seed money and provide a harvest of more great stories which entertain and inspire, revealing spiritual truth for a hungry world.

What if we don’t get all the money we need? – We won’t produce the movie. The costs of writing the screenplay, setting up Belltower Pictures, and moving through the early pre-production steps are very low and are being covered by the TV Ministry “Special Projects Fund.” We can’t spend money on production until firm financial commitments are in hand. No money will be spent until the funds are available.

Who are the actors? – No roles have been cast yet.

May I audition? – Yes. Open auditions will be announced a couple of months before production. We will audition for major roles as well as extras.

Who’s going to do all the “behind the scenes” work? – We will rely on hundreds of volunteers in dozens of roles and a handful of paid professionals in the positions of key department heads. More than 400 volunteers were involved in the last Christmas TV special. And we anticipate a similar number will be needed for this project. 

May I help out? – Yes! We’ll need set decorators, carpenters, electricians, wardrobe and makeup people, cooks, babysitters, drivers, security people, and first-aid personnel. If you’ve always wanted to be involved with a movie production, this is your chance. Want to learn some of the interesting specialty skills involved in movie production? Here’s your opportunity. We’ll provide training. You’ll provide the time and energy. God will get the glory. And we’ll all have a wonderful time in the process. Contact David Powers and we’ll send you more details.

Find out more about the project on David Powers' blog.


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