I Still Believe Movie
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Directors Jon and Andy Erwin talk about their latest release, “I Still Believe,” a movie based on the real-life story of chart-topping singer Jeremy Camp.
I Still Believe Movie
Bob: As filmmakers, Jon and Andy Erwin have learned that movies and stories have a way of engaging people around spiritual subjects and theological conversations in a way that other means of communication just can’t do as effectively. Here is Jon Erwin.
Jon: I think the question that keeps so many people from God is: “How could something difficult happen in my life? How could God let this or that happen?” This film confronts that question boldly but through the lens of an entertaining, beautiful love story; and it leaves you feeling more hopeful.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, March 13th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. We’re going to talk today to the two people, who took Jeremy Camp’s story about trusting God in the middle of very difficult circumstances, and turned it into a major motion picture that opens today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. This is a big day; and I know folks are thinking, “That’s just because you are like a movie fan.” I am a movie fan; you’re movie fans.
Ann: We both are movie fans.
Dave: Oh, boy!
Bob: I was just—I’m thinking about the fact that the stories we tell each other are what shape a culture.
Bob: That’s why you think, “Okay; it’s a big day, because there is a movie coming out that we’re pretty excited about.” Folks, who have been listening this week, know that we’ve been sharing Jeremy Camp’s story; and that’s the movie that is releasing this weekend—the movie, I Still Believe.
But these stories have an impact on the lives of millions of people. It’s not just an impact on their lives; t’s an impact on who they become as a result of hearing the story, and that spreads throughout a culture.
Dave: Yes; I tell you—there is a joke back in my church and, actually, with the guys that I do life with—that Dave Wilson only cries in a movie theater. [Laughter] I’m not kidding!
Jon: —a very dark one.
Ann: It’s actually very true.
Dave: One time, we were driving to a little men’s retreat—the eight of us in a big Suburban. They put in Meet the Parents. They are like, “Let’s see if Wilson cries”; and I did! [Laughter] They were like, “How in the world can you cry?!”
Here’s the thing—when I’m in a movie theater, I get lost in the story. The story hits me, emotionally. I want to cry in life more, but that’s the power of a story. I love movies because of the story.
Bob: So, you know that these guys want to know right away—
Bob: —whether you cried when you saw I Still Believe. These guys are Jon and Andy Erwin, who are back on FamilyLife Today.
Jon: Thank you. We love you guys. Thanks for having us, first of all.
Bob: Great to have you guys back. I just—I want to point out, here at the beginning, that there are some radio cameos in I Still Believe; and I’m not one of them.
Jon: No; well, we called your agent, and we couldn’t get through. [Laughter]
Andy: But the money was prohibitive. [Laughter]
Bob: For those who don’t know Jon and Andy, these guys are responsible for some of the best Christian films that have come in the last decade—
Dave: The very best.
Jon: Thank you.
Bob: —going back to October Baby.
Jon: That’s old school.
Bob: Yes; then, after that, was Mom’s Night Out; then Woodlawn; and then I Can Only Imagine.
I remember having a conversation with you—I don’t know if you remember this—but Jon and I were together a month before I Can Only Imagine came out. We were sitting around talking; I said, “Okay; so, opening weekend, what number at the box office?”—because opening weekend, every movie guy is looking, “How did my movie do?”—right?
Dave: I thought you were going to take credit for the whole movie, Bob: [Laughter] “We’re sitting there a month beforehand.”
Bob: I said, “So, what number/box office number are you going to be disappointed with? What number will you go, ‘Okay; that’s good’? And what number will you go, ‘Yes!’?” Do you remember this?
Jon: I remember you asking. I don’t know; did I give you a number?
Bob: Yes; so he said, “Anything less than $6 million opening weekend, I’m going to be disappointed with.” Part of the reason I was asking; because the buzz on I Can Only Imagine was huge, in advance, of the movie.
Bob: I was seeing it everywhere. He said: “Less than $5 or $6 million, I’m going to be disappointed; $6/$7 [million]—I’m going to be happy with that. If it gets $10 [million], I’ll be elated.”
Bob: So, what was opening weekend?
Bob: Come on! What was opening weekend?
Jon: Yes; so opening weekend for I Can Only Imagine was a life-changing moment.
Bob: It was—
Jon: It was—
Bob: —it was $17 million.
Jon: It was 17—yes, 17.1; I do remember—[Laughter]
Andy: Got to get the point-one in there.
Jon: —and number three movie in America, behind Tomb Raider and Black Panther, both of which cost more than $100 million to make.
Jon: Then it just—you know, the faith audience showed up in such force that it created this cultural moment, and something we like to refer to—it’s very powerful—is FOMO, which is “The fear of missing out.”
Jon: This works, by the way. Culture is so lonely. They are calling the most-connected generation “The loneliest generation”—that whatever is popular, we gravitate towards; we want to be a part of; we want to talk about. When we show up and unify our voice, amazing things happen. Over ten million tickets were sold to I Can Only Imagine in the course of seven weeks. It was amazing to see the audience get more further and further away from a faith-based audience, and just people that were curious began to pour into theaters; and people started getting saved.
One of my favorite stories is a woman and her son. They were watching the movie, and they put it on Twitter®. They passed a woman on the way out. This woman said, “Are you guys Christians?” She said, “Yes,”—total stranger. “Are you?” She said, “No; but whatever happened to Dennis Quaid in this movie, I need to happen in my life; and can someone please explain it to me?” Led her to Christ right in the theater.
Jon: There’s been over—going on 150,000 of those. That just shows what happens when we show up, as one voice, to be entertained/to go to a movie. What is interesting is to let every Christian know, listening, that your movie ticket really is your vote. When you go see something that’s entertaining and meaningful to you, that represents your worldview; you’re getting that message out to the world. Dozens of people are going to see it on your behalf.
It was a life-changing moment that we’ve been trying to steward well ever since. I asked many leaders like, “Do the feelings of profound inadequacy ever go away?” [Laughter] I don’t know why God has chosen us for this, but we’re honored to be a part of what God is doing in Hollywood. I’ve never seen a time in our industry where God is moving in the entertainment industry across the board. We get to be a part of it; and because of the audience, we’re getting to dream really big right now.
Ann: Well, I think that, as believers sitting in the audience, we want to say, “Thank you,” to you guys because the reason we’re telling all our friends is because it was well done.
Ann: I mean, we are proud to say, “You need to see this movie,” because some of our friends can say: “Really? A Christian movie—will it really be any good?” I think we could all say, “Yes; you’re going to love it!”
Dave: We’re so into movies; at our church—
Jon: That’s awesome.
Dave: —we are now, the raters. People text us and say, “Okay; give us the star.” I’m not kidding; I am not kidding.
Andy: That’s awesome; I love it.
Dave: We’re empty-nesters now, and I love stories. Half way through the movie, I’m like: “This has got to be seen by, not just the church”; right? That’s what happened.
Andy: That’s the goal. I think the cool thing about it is we really have the kind of theory that Christians—they don’t just want to go for just the message—they want to be entertained too. The price of admission to a movie is ten dollars, regardless of what the movie is about. We felt like, as we’ve gone along—we have one of our core values is that: “Quality is something we always chase; it’s not something we ever catch.”
We always want to get a little bit better; and in the process, make an entertaining product that we earn the right to be heard. I think, as you see that—not just with us but across the board—you see these films getting better, and better, and better to where, now, we can compete. I think you’re not ashamed to invite your friends, who aren’t in the church, to come along with you. It’s a great opportunity for evangelism.
Bob: We had a chance to preview this film for 5,500 of our closest friends just a few weeks ago on the Love Like You Mean It® marriage cruise.
Andy: That’s awesome!
Bob: And they—
Jon: —I Still Believe?—this movie?
Jon: Of course, I knew that. [Laughter] How did it go? Did they like it?
Bob: They loved it.
Dave: Oh yes.
Jon: That’s awesome.
Bob: I mean, the response in a setting like this. You know, you’ve been in theaters, where an audience, viscerally, responds to what’s going on; and they cheer, and they really loved this film.
Why this story?—because, coming out of I Can Only Imagine, you had dozens/maybe hundreds of stories. Why this one?
Andy: Yes; you know, I think that, when we got done with I Can Only Imagine, we were kind of a little stress paralyzed; you know? I called up Bart and I just said: “You know, when you wrote the song, I Can Only Imagine, that was your break-out hit. What did you do next?” He said: “Don’t try to chase doing a second I Can Only Imagine. Find a story—something you fall in love with—and tell that next.
We were looking across the board, and we had all sorts of stories. We didn’t think we would jump into another music story; but what made this one different is somebody introduced us to Jeremy and Adie Camp. They said, “You have to hear their story.” We sat down with Jeremy, doing an interview like this. About an hour into that interview, Jeremy got the 1,000-yard stare and started reliving his love relationship with his first wife, Melissa—
Andy: —who battled bravely with cancer—and her story that was just beautiful, tragic, miraculous, and ultimately redemptive. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. You just hear a pin drop for two hours.
Then, after that was done, we pulled his wife, now, Adrienne into the conversation. I asked her: “How could you listen to your husband talk about another woman for three hours and not flinch?—not have a hint of jealousy?” She said: “Let me be very clear. I’m very possessive over Jeremy and Melissa’s story, because their story changed my life. It was something I needed to hear.”
I turned to Jon and I said, “You’re going to think I’m crazy, but I want to do that story.” It was the most spectacular love story I’d ever heard.
Jon: Yes; ultimately, we say that were a story company; and it’s all about the power of the story. We love true stories.
Jon: I just think it was such a powerful love story and a love story that was so different. I Can Only Imagine is primarily a father/son story; there is a love story. But this one was like A Walk to Remember—like a beautiful love story—that we thought, “The stories that we try to tell are stories that are really entertaining but they are really strategic in showcasing the power of Christianity/the power of the gospel and drawing people to that.” So people—after, hopefully, being thoroughly entertained and having a great night at the movies—say, “I need more of this in my life.” It just—it fit all those things.
We moved it ahead of a lot of other things. I think anybody that is involved in the creative arts—you just have to trust that—if something is meaningful, and beautiful, and inspirational, and entertaining to you—that it will be to other people; and if God is calling you to do something, even if everyone says, “You’re crazy,”—which they did with I Can Only Imagine—just follow God. Follow God out into the unknown and out where it is scary.
We were that moved by this story and thought it was really beautiful. I think, also, on—I’d say a ministry level—I think the question that keeps so many people from God is: “How could something difficult happen in my life? How could He let this or that happen?” That’s the main question that I think keeps people from a relationship with Christ. This film confronts that question—
Jon: —boldly but through the lens of an entertaining, beautiful love story. It leaves you feeling more hopeful than when you went in. I think it is a tool for people to deal with things in their life and things that have kept them from God.
Dave: I know that after Ann and I watched it, I texted a good friend of mine, Josh McCown, who played quarterback for the Eagles—in the league 17 years, I think—something like that.
Andy: —special guy.
Dave: I knew him from his years as a quarterback in Detroit. He wasn’t as good as me, but he was pretty good; you know? [Laughter]
Jon: That’s what I hear.
Dave: He’s an incredible man of God, and he had always told me about Jeremy. They are friends, and I had never met Jeremy. I didn’t even know the story until I saw the movie. I texted him right after; I said, “Dude, I just watched a movie you’re going to see, and it’s amazing.” His comment was: “Jeremy Camp is the real deal.
Andy: Absolutely; absolutely, he is.
Dave: “I’ve never met a more authentic man of God than Jeremy.” Is that what you found out?
Andy: Yes; absolutely. I think that, for us, we tell true stories. It’s kind of our—that’s our wheelhouse; you know?—whether it’s Woodlawn or I Can Only Imagine. True stories are where we’ve really found our voice.
When you get into it, you really hope that the legend lives up, in real life, and the person really has that kind of mettle to them. When we stepped into Jeremy and Adrienne’s story—in telling the story of Melissa—it was amazing to see that absolutely just lived up to it, even more so, as we found out little details. As you watch the movie, there are moments that you would think, “That’s too crazy to have really happened”; and a lot of it is, word for word, what actually took place.
Andy: Jeremy is the real deal and so is his family. It is a privilege for us.
Jon: I’ve never met a more just humble, authentic, great, fun guy that’s just on fire for his faith—and just special couple/special guy. God’s given him an amazing story that I think can go on to touch millions of more people.
Bob: So, do you look at this film and say to yourself, “This is a better movie than I Can Only Imagine”?
Jon: What do you think, Bob? [Laughter]
Andy: I think our goal is, every film that we are a part of, we want to be better than the last; you know? There was something magical and hard to top with I Can Only Imagine—something that—it’s an underdog story that you didn’t see coming.
Andy: But I would say that I Still Believe is equally as satisfying, but is a bigger scale. I think, even the way that Jon and the team shot the film, the level of actors that we got involved—you know, from Gary Sinise, and Shania Twain, to this kid—KJ Apa is just—I mean, he is the next—
Andy: —Tom Cruise.
Jon: He’s a movie star; he’s so good.
Ann: He was great in this movie.
Andy: I felt old because the whole Riverdale phenomenon—his TV show—was something that anybody over 30—I was like: “Riverdale? I’ve heard of that, but I don’t really know what it is.” But we had so many high school and college teenage girls that kept trying to sneak on set with their signs. [Laughter]
Dave: You really did?!
Andy: I’d be like—yes; we’d show up—
Jon: Oh, we have stories.
Andy: —and there’d be rows of them. It was like the Beatles were showing up.
Jon: I have never seen mania like that before.
Andy: What is going on?! It was amazing. Then he’s—I mean, that kids going to be a movie star. To see talent like that come on board.
I think Lions Gate—because of what they saw with Imagine—gave us deep resources and said, “Go get whatever you need,”—whether that was actors, whether that was on the technical side, and how it’s promoted. They really put all of the energy behind the studio—the same level of attention they would show any other film. We’re no longer, kind of, the red-headed stepchild.
Jon: It’s basically, I think: “If you love I Can Only Imagine, I really do believe you’re going to love this movie. I think it will sort of surprise and delight.”
Jon: I think it will give you—it’s different. It’s different in that it’s a love story, so it’s kind of hard to compare the two; but I think, if you love Imagine, you’re really going to love I Still Believe. I’m very proud of certain aspects of the team.
One of the things we just say is: “We chase constant improvement,”—you know?—whether it’s the performances, or the cinematography, the music that Andy supervised. There is just so much about the movie that I am very, very proud of; and I’m very proud of the team. Ultimately, I love watching it with an audience because it’s an emotional ride. You laugh; you cry. I think, at the end, you feel uplifted.
Bob: I know this is going to sound a little like a broken record to some in our audience; but will you remind folks of how important opening weekend is for what this film is going to be?
Jon: Yes; you know, opening weekend—it’s similar to Josh and the battle of Jericho. They ran around the town seven times, and then they all yelled at the same time. Their voice unified; that’s when the walls of Jericho came down. To me, that is what happens when we show up together and unify our voice if we want the hearts and minds of a generation—which that is the real goal behind—we want to recapture the imagination of a generation with the gospel.
I think there is no greater thing that we can do together than to really engage entertainment. I just think it’s the language of our time; it’s the language of a generation. The best way to get the attention of the generation we want to reach is to show up together and unify our voice. When you come, opening weekend, your movie ticket is your vote.
Not only does it get to people that we need to get to in the United States, it triggers these amazing things called output deals that people don’t know about. Entertainment is actually America’s second largest export behind agriculture. The trouble is we only export our hits; but if you can get in that top 50 American movies—how far these things go and how many lives they touch is unbelievable. In the same year that China—2018—that China restricted a lot of rules around Christianity, they paid us for the right—a lot of money—for the right to translate I Can Only Imagine and distribute to their people. That’s happened in over 100 countries.
When we unify our voice here, and we create a hit, it creates this Trojan horse, worldwide. It’s like the gospel on global autopilot; and we’re all a part of that. It’s all about that opening weekend number. Again, I can’t reemphasize it enough. If you look across the spectrum of entertainment—whether it’s Kayne West or whoever—there is a moment within the industry on behalf of Christianity that I can’t even begin to describe how fundamental it is.
I was with the head of the studio, and no studio has ever taken as big of a bet on faith and on our audience. He says: “We’re just waking up to how large the Christian audience is. We had no idea.” The more we prove them right, the bigger and bigger these things will get; the more filmmakers will be able to incubate and empower.
I just dream of a day, not too far from now, where Christianity is back in the conversation in America with this generation again. I just think the timing is right. I haven’t felt a cultural moment, where we’re all craving hope and optimism; you know? The gospel is good news. I just think that there is—we’ve only scratched the surface of what could happen. I think the more we come together—at the same time/the same moment—which, in this case, is your movie ticket—the more we can accomplish.
Andy: The reason why it is so important right now is, with our films, we’ve really embraced that our purpose is evangelism. You’ll have an emotional experience in a theater that you don’t have in regular life, because you feel the ability to engage with a story and your guard comes down. It engages you emotionally; it goes beyond logic, and then it works its way back up and sticks with you. That’s an opportunity for somebody to come to Christ.
We plant a seed. That happens the second weekend a lot of times; because the first weekend, the Christian audience shows up—the core/the faith audience—they make tons of noise. And when $17.1 million box office happens with I Can Only Imagine, fear of missing out kicks in.
Andy: Then the general market people/the people outside the church say, “What in the world is this I Can Only Imagine?”—in this case, I Still Believe. Then they show up, and then it is fields ripe for the harvest. The more noise you make opening weekend, more FOMO kicks in—second weekend, it’s an opportunity for the church to have great ministry.
Dave: I think it’s beautiful to think, you know, there is a lot of great sermons being preached out there by great preachers, like Bob Lepine and others. [Laughter] Now, think about it; there are a lot of them that nobody ever hears, because they are not walking in churches.
Dave: Even if they are looking for God, they are probably, many of them, never going to walk in a church and hear a sermon.
Your movies are messages that are powerful—that if there is enough buzz, people that never thought they were going to go to this movie are going to go because they hear about it—their neighbor. So when I buy a ticket, I’m almost thinking, “I’m sort of becoming an evangelist—
Andy: You are.
Dave: —“for the gospel that’s in this movie to my neighbor.”
Andy: You are.
Dave: It’s going to be a powerful thing.
Jon: It’s unbelievable what we can do together—that none of us can do alone. We serve the local church; we believe in the local church—that’s why we exist—and we want to be sort of like an air force for the local church.
Bob: And if you’ve got a neighbor/a friend—who doesn’t go to church but they like romantic movies/they like—
Bob: —Nicholas Sparks’ movies; they’ve gone to those things before—you will not be embarrassed taking them to see this film. They are going to walk out, going, “That was a great movie.”
Dave: Oh, they are going to love it.
Dave: No question—guaranteed—and I’m a movie critic! [Laughter]
Ann: The question is—
Dave: People all know this.
Ann: —“Did you cry?”
Dave: Oh, of course, I cried! [Laughter] I was trying to not—I mean, Ann will look over at me—
Jon: Just own it; yes.
Ann: He does own it.
Dave: —I mean, she looks over at me sometimes, like, “What is wrong with you?” I’m wiping my eyes. I mean, the story is so beautiful; I cried multiple times.
Ann: Me too.
Dave: It never ends.
Here is the great thing—one of the reasons you are here on FamilyLife Today radio is because you’re going to announce today—right?—your next movie?!
Jon: I wish I could.
Dave: Is it the Bob Lepine story?
Jon: It is.
Jon: It is; it’s an international espionage thriller. [Laughter] It’s what it is.
Ann: Who would be Bob?
Jon: It’s a spy movie—not many people know that about Bob. He moonlights in his career as—
Bob: Hopefully, folks will just ignore that and go see your movie this weekend. The movie, I Still Believe, opens in theaters today. You can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, to see a trailer/see a preview of the movie. Grab some friends, order tickets, go this weekend to see this film. It’s a well-crafted, well-told story, and you will enjoy it; you’ll be moved by it.
Again, information about the movie is available, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. Jeremy Camp’s story is in a book called I Still Believe. We’ve got that book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order it from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. We just hope you’ll get out and see the movie this weekend. Again, find out more about the film when you go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com.
Now, would you join us and pray with us for couples who, this weekend, instead of going to the movies, they are going to a marriage conference. We’ve got couples in Boise, Idaho; Cleveland, Ohio; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Nashville, Tennessee—in fact, you guys are going to be speaking in Nashville this weekend—and then in Reston, Virginia as well. Hundreds of couples, all across the country, who are planning to attend a Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway—pray with us that these couples will have a great weekend together as they build into and strengthen their marriage.
Thanks to those of you who help make these events, and this daily radio program, and the resources we produce, and our website—you make all of that possible when you support the ministry of FamilyLife Today. This ministry is listener-supported. Your donations are the fuel that determine how far this ministry can go. So, thanks to those of you who have, in the past, donated to support FamilyLife Today.
If you can make a donation today to support the ongoing work of this ministry, we’d like to say, “Thank you,” by sending you a set of “Resurrection Eggs®,” a tool that parents or grandparents can use to help explain the story of Jesus’ death and burial and resurrection to preschool and school-aged children. That’s our thank-you gift today when you support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with an online donation. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to donate, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY and donate over the phone. Thanks for your support of the ministry. Thanks for praying for the couples who will be at the Weekend to Remember this weekend, and we appreciate you.
We hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together in your local church this weekend, and I hope you can join us on Monday when we’re going to talk about how important it is for women to be strong women. Mary Kassian will be here to help us understand what that means, biblically. What’s the right of kind of strong for women to be? I hope you can tune in for that conversation.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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