The Church Behind Fireproof / How a Baptist church in Georgia became a movie-making mecca

For several years the members of Sherwood Baptist Church have had a vision: “To touch the world from Albany, Georgia.”

And thanks to the power of mass media, this church of about 3,000 members — located in a city of only 80,000 or so — has been able to do just that.

Through its media ministry, the church has already produced two feature-length films with an all-volunteer cast and a mostly-volunteer crew. Given their incredibly low budgets, both films — especially Facing the Giants — have been enormously successful, in theaters and on DVD. Both films have also been distributed to over 50 countries around the world in a dozen subtitled languages.

Now the church is putting the finishing touches on its third film, Fireproof, which opens on September 26. This time the folks at Sherwood are working with a budget of $500,000 — still peanuts by Hollywood standards, but five times the budget of Giants — and they even have a professional Hollywood actor, Kirk Cameron of Growing Pains and Left Behind fame, in the lead role as a firefighter whose marriage is in trouble.

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Review: Tropic Thunder (dir. Ben Stiller, 2008)

Very few people saw Empire of the Sun when it came out 21 years ago, and possibly even fewer people remember it. But the effects of that World War II film — one of Steven Spielberg’s most underrated efforts — live with us still. It introduced the world to a 13-year-old kid from Wales named Christian Bale, who has since conquered the box office as The Dark Knight. It also featured a young man named Ben Stiller, in one of his very first roles, as a prisoner of war named Dainty. And it was while working on that film that Stiller first got the idea for Tropic Thunder.

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Review: The Dark Knight (dir. Christopher Nolan, 2008)

FOR YEARS, the people who write the Batman comics and movies have been drawn to the theme of insanity. The Joker is wild, of course, and so are many of the other villains; and it is often suggested that a billionaire like Bruce Wayne must be crazy on some level too, if he feels compelled to wear a bat-shaped costume every night just so he can prowl the streets looking for criminals to terrorize.

Thankfully, the two Batman films directed by Christopher Nolan have so far avoided this cliché. Instead of dwelling on the inner psychology of Batman, they have explored the social implications of the character, using him as a lens through which to raise profound questions about the nature of authority, the value of myths and the lengths to which any civilization should go in protecting itself from evil.

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Shyamalan’s cinematic magic no longer Happening

IT’S a common mistake, but still worth noting: Contrary to what many people seem to think, The Sixth Sense was not M. Night Shyamalan’s first movie.

It was, in fact, his third. But virtually no one had seen his first film, Praying with Anger (still not available on DVD), or his second film, Wide Awake (with Rosie O’Donnell as a nun who really likes baseball).

So when The Sixth Sense came out in the summer of 1999 and wowed audiences with its deeply felt drama and its shocking twist ending — becoming such a big word-of-mouth hit that, for the next couple years, it was one of the top 10 films of all time at the North American box office — it was easy for many people to treat the film as though it marked the debut of a brilliant and brand-new talent.

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Review: Wanted (dir. Timur Bekmambetov, 2008)

wantedIf no one had told you that Wanted was based on a series of comic books, you probably could have guessed it. The film occupies a very familiar space between the sublimely silly and the oddly profound, using lots of visual razzle-dazzle to trick you into lowering your expectations and settling for little more than a fun ride, and then it hits you with plot twists that make you think, “Whoa.” Or at least, “Huh!”

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Hollywood? No, SHER-wood!

How Sherwood Baptist Church became a hot spot for making Christian movies — including Facing the Giants and the upcoming Fireproof, starring Kirk Cameron.

The regular film world has the Coens, the Wachowskis, and the Farrellys — brothers who collaborate on producing and directing both blockbusters and arthouse flicks.

The Christian film world has the Kendricks — a couple of associate pastors in Albany, Georgia who made a couple of ultra-low-budget movies with a mostly volunteer cast and crew as part of their church’s outreach program, and then hit it big when the second film, Facing the Giants, grossed just over $10 million at the box office.

Now they’re putting the finishing touches on their third film, Fireproof, due for a theatrical release on September 26. The film concerns a firefighter whose marriage is on the rocks, and whose father challenges him to take “the Love Dare” — a series of recommended activities that might, just might, help patch things up.

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