Hollywood in Alabama? Recent films could kickstart the Christian film industry in Birmingham

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Jon Erwin, standing by the table on the left, his brother Andy Erwin and actors Chris Sligh and James Austin Johnson, on the right, met fans of “October Baby” at the Lifeway Christian Store as the film was released on DVD on Tuesday, September 11, 2012. (Photo by Hal Yeager / The Birmingham News)

BIRMINGHAM – Two recent films set in Alabama could be the start of a Birmingham-centric Christian film industry.

The movie “Grace Unplugged,” shot primarily in Birmingham last month to take advantage of Alabama’s incentives to shoot in the state, wrapped up production in Los Angeles this week.

Birmingham-based filmmakers Jon and Andy Erwin, who co-produced and co-directed the surprise film “October Baby”, celebrated its DVD release on Tuesday. This film was shot entirely in Alabama, with scenes in Dauphin Island, downtown Mobile, downtown Birmingham, and rural Shelby County.

“Our hope is to make one movie a year here,” Jon Erwin said. “We have great condition, a lot of untapped places. We can make great movies here.”

The Erwins made a name for themselves in music videos for contemporary Christian and country singers. With the success of “October Baby”, they plan to move away from music videos and focus on feature films.

“I’m glad we took that jump,” said Jon Erwin. “We saw what a film can do. We are dedicated full time to feature films.”

The Erwin brothers met fans on Tuesday and signed copies at a Lifeway Christian store in Hoover as the DVD and Blu-ray went on sale nationwide, with displays at more than 3,000 Walmart stores across the country. nationwide.

The film was shot entirely in Alabama on a budget of around $ 800,000, said Andy Erwin.

It grossed $ 5,357,328 at the box office, according to the website www.boxofficemojo.com.

After a brief opening in 14 theaters in October, the Erwins were backed by Provident Films and Samuel Goldwyn Films for a national release in March. Playing on just 390 screens, it finished in the top 10 the same weekend, “The Hunger Games” opened at No. 1 on 4,137 screens.

“For a little movie to do that kind of thing, it turned heads,” said Andy Erwin. “It opened doors in Hollywood. It made the front page of the New York Times.

The film’s per-screen average on the March release weekend was the third-highest behind “The Hunger Games” and “21 Jump Street.”

This kind of success opened doors for future productions in Alabama.

The film stars Rachel Hendrix, a graduate of the University of Montevallo, originally from Dothan. She plays a freshman who learns from her adoptive parents that she is a survivor of a failed abortion attempt. Different World “which plays a nurse who worked at the abortion clinic.

Distributors initially avoided the project because it dealt with abortion.

“It has sparked some controversy,” said Andy Erwin. “We just wanted to go out and tell a good story. Once people watched the movie instead of debating the topic, people really liked it. It’s not a polarizing movie. It’s a lovely movie. . “

Two actors from the film appeared on Lifeway on Tuesday with the Erwin brothers.

Chris Sligh, who was among the top 10 contenders for “American Idol,” and James Austin Johnson both played quirky comic book characters in the film.

Johnson, a stand-up comic in Nashville, thinks the Erwins have great potential.

“When I saw him I was shocked,” he said. “They are major Hollywood talents. Their visual style is comparable to that of most films that we see in Hollywood, if not more refined.”

Sligh, who has several hit songs under his belt as a writer and singer and is now a cult leader at Rocky Mountain Christian Church near Boulder, Colo., Said the Erwins did not sacrifice history for the message.

“I liked the fact that it was not typical Christian propaganda,” he said. “They weren’t trying to force any response down anyone’s throat.”

With over 200,000 DVDs now on store shelves, “October Baby” is poised to enjoy more than when it hit theaters.

“Thank goodness the project will pay off,” Jon Erwin said. “It’s rare to have a successful film.

The Erwin brothers joined a circle of Christian filmmakers who have produced a growing number of family films that eschew sex and profanity.

“About 20 of us make Christian films,” said Jon Erwin. “We all know each other.”

Jon was the manager of the second production unit of “Courageous”, by Sherwood Pictures in Georgia, which produced a series of successful Christian films.

“I think we have the largest audience in America – 140 million Christians,” he said. “Every now and then we get a glimpse of it, like ‘The Passion of Christ’ being the No. 1 rated R movie of all time.”

The Erwin brothers hope to make Alabama an important base for the growing Christian film industry. “I believe in the next 10 years we’re going to see some great faith-based films,” Jon said.

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