Low-budget Bible Belt films meet the bright lights of Hollywood

Hollywood has discovered the Bible Belt — again.

Here at GetReligion, our leader — Terry Mattingly — suggested in 2011:

Someone needs to copyright that phrase, "Tinseltown is rediscovering religion." You can make some money off it in three to five years.

Back in March, USA Today reported on Hollywood finding "religion and profits at theaters." Over at Religion News Service, Editor Kevin Eckstrom linked to a similar Los Angeles Times story in April and quipped:

Pretty sure we’ve seen about 5,429 versions of this story already

Right. We get it. Hollywood is trying to lure Christian audiences to the cineplex. Again. Meanwhile, in other news …

Hey, I've written the "faith and flicks" story myself. Guilty as charged.

Which leads us to the subject of this post: an Associated Press feature this week with this headline:

2 Bible Belt filmmakers expand box office horizons

The top of the story:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — It's the Hollywood ending every studio wants: Low-cost production and high returns at the box office.

Filmmakers Alex and Stephen Kendrick seem to have the formula down — grossing nearly $80 million on four films made for less than $4 million combined. Only thing is the Kendrick brothers work far from Hollywood and, outside the world of Christian-themed cinema, many have never heard of their films.

That could change.

Increasingly, major studios appear to be taking a leap for faith-based audiences with biblical epics such as "Noah" starring Russell Crowe, the planned December release of "Exodus" and a remake of "Ben-Hur" for early 2016.

Not exactly breaking news, right?

Facing The Giants

Then again, I actually liked this sequel.

The 1,100-word story — a length of biblical proportions by AP standards — has a timely peg related to the Kendricks:

The Kendrick brothers — who just wrapped up filming their fifth project — are making movies that could see wider release as distributors pay attention to the box office trends in the traditional Bible Belt and beyond.

Their latest film, which has yet to have a title, centers on a family realizing the power of prayer.

"The point is not racing to see how many movies we can produce," said Alex Kendrick, in a telephone interview from Charlotte, North Carolina. "The point is to take the time, in prayer and research, to make a solid film and get the most ministry out of it before moving to the next one."

The AP provides relevant background on the Kendricks (most of which will be familiar to fans of their previous films) and insight on their success:

The Kendricks — both ministers who sport salt-and-pepper beards — grew up in suburban Atlanta and now live in Albany in southwestern Georgia. They are still part of the ministry team at the Sherwood megachurch. Along with the church's senior pastor, Michael Catt, they created Sherwood Pictures in 2002 and scraped together $20,000 to put out their first film, "Flywheel," in 2003 about a dishonest used car salesman who learns integrity.

With a budget of $100,000, the company released "Facing the Giants" in 2006. That film — about having courage amid adversity — ended up grossing more than $10 million, appearing in a little over 400 theaters primarily in the South. Then came "Fireproof," a story about a couple struggling to make their marriage work. That movie was made with a budget of just $500,000 and grossed over $33 million.

"That was what I would call the dawning of the new era of independent Christian films," said Ben Howard, senior vice president of Provident Films, a division of Sony Music Entertainment that focuses on the Christian audience.

I have a feeling this story will resonate with Christian readers as well as ordinary moviegoers. Even if it relies on a formula we've seen before.

Yes, Hollywood has discovered the Bible Belt — again.

And in this case, guess what? I'm OK with that.

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