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The Independent Critic

 Alex Kendrick Interview 
Adam (Alex Kendrick) and Dylan (Rusty Martin Jr.) don't always see eye to eye. PHOTO COURTESY OF "COURAGEOUS"
“If God can use a goober like me, then we've all got hope." - Alex Kendrick, Co-writer/director and lead actor in "Courageous"

Alex Kendrick is not actually a goober. No, really. He's not. There are lots of words that could be used to describe him - man of faith, filmmaker, actor, minister, writer and husband. Oh, and I almost forgot. He's a father.

Goober? Not a chance.

Since 2003, Alex Kendrick has joined his brother Stephen in proving to the world that Christian cinema can be faithful, inspiring, entertaining and even profitable. As associate pastors of Albany, Georgia's Sherwood Baptist Church, the Kendrick Brothers have dispelled the long held beliefs that all Christian films were boring, irrelevant and overly preachy. While their films are undeniably Christ-centered, the Kendrick Brothers have captured the hearts and minds of believers nationwide by creating faith-centered films about real people like you and I.

Their first film was Flywheel, an ultra-low budget indie about a used car salesman whose business practices don't exactly align with his statement of faith. Everything changes when he starts restoring a classic vehicle and begins to realize that God is working on restoring him as well. While Flywheel didn't get national distribution in theaters, it did end up in Blockbuster on home video and piqued the interest of the faith community.

Then, the breakthrough happened. The Kendrick Brothers, further encouraged and supported by their church, filmed Facing the Giants and Provident Films, the faith-based arm of Sony Entertainment, signed on as distributor. The Sherwood Pictures ministry has only blossomed from there with Fireproof and now Courageous. While their films no longer qualify as "ultra-low budget indies," Sherwood Pictures still produces nationally released films on a modest budget utilizing hundreds of volunteers both on the screen and behind the scenes.

Courageous hits DVD today and Alex Kendrick chatted with The Independent Critic about his journey as an actor, minister, filmmaker and Christian and his experiences in the film industry.

Alex Kendrick (Photo Courtesy of "Courageous")
THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

So, how are you doing today? The Courageous DVD comes out today. That's really exciting.

ALEX KENDRICK

Yeah, we're excited to see what happens with it. DVD gives the film a second life. I hope that it's fruitful and impacts a lot of people.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

I can't imagine that it won't. (Pause). It's always difficult to know where to start. You and your brother, Stephen, were in ministry before all of this even got started. I'm not sure that people realize that both of you already were in pastoral roles.

ALEX KENDRICK

That's right. I was a college minister and Stephen, my younger brother, was a middle school minister at the same church in Atlanta. Then, I came to Sherwood in Albany, Georgia which is about 3 hours south of Atlanta and Stephen followed two years later.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

So, then you had this vision for planting a film ministry? Or you felt called into it? One of the feelings that kept occurring to me time and again as I researched to learn more about you was how strongly it felt like you had this strong sense of calling into this path as a ministry.

ALEX KENDRICK

Yeah, I would say that. You know, since we were really young we've been driven to tell stories with our home video camera. All of them early on were just silly. The older we got, we developed a little bit of a knack for angles and learned how to tell stories. After college and finishing seminary, the love for telling stories never left us. That's what motivated us to couple our love for ministry with our storytelling. We've done four movies now.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

I actually know that. I feel really blessed because I've seen all four of your films and I've seen them in order. I remember watching Flywheel after seeing it on the shelf at Blockbuster.

ALEX KENDRICK

We've tried to raise the level of excellence with each film.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Absolutely. You have. I loved Flywheel, but you were obviously starting out and still learning. Even as an actor, the growth from film one to film four is just amazing.

ALEX KENDRICK

I appreciate that. With Flywheel, I really didn't know what I was doing. It was my first time to act. I more often than not did it wrong. Sometimes, I would roll the tape back and go "This just isn't working." We did it over and over until we felt like we had something that might work. Flywheel was the easiest production, but the hardest story to tell. Courageous was the best production and the easiest story to tell, but the scale of production got bigger and bigger so that's always a challenge.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

I've wondered. I looked on the Sherwood website. This is a ministry. It's identified as a ministry. It's put out into the community as a ministry. How do you keep from going all ego? Or maybe I could call it going Hollywood? You've had a couple of really successful films now and three out of your four films have had a national release. You've got Sony behind you. How do you stay grounded in your faith?

ALEX KENDRICK

Well, my wife helps with that. (laughs). She reminds me that first I'm a minister, a husband and a father. If the movies work praise the Lord, but if they don't work that's okay. I'm not less of a husband, father or minister. She does a really good job at that. I've also got a lot of guys that help me with accountability. What I mean by that is that they ask me the tough questions. I actually met with a group this morning at 6am. We're going through how we're doing spiritually and if we're making wise decisions and what our prayer requests are. The last thing is that at my church we don't refer to anybody in our movies as stars. We see them as actors. The movie itself is what's important. The message is what's important and the fact that we're doing it as a ministry is important. We're really not into building stars.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

And a lot of these people are also volunteers as I recall? Is that still the case? I mean your budget has increased, but it's not like it's a high budget.

ALEX KENDRICK

There were 1,600 volunteers who helped on Courageous. There was about 1,200 that helped with Fireproof, about 500 on Facing the Giants and about 60 on Flywheel. So, the number of people who are helping has gone up dramatically. The budgets have gone up, too. They've doubled or tripled with every film. With Courageous, we spent $1 million to shoot it and $1 million in post-production with the color correction, orchestra music, musical license fees for songs and such. With Courageous, you're looking at about a $2 million effort from beginning to end. That's small by Hollywood's standards, but for us that's a lot to spend on one project.
Adam (Alex Kendrick) challenges the men from his church (Photo Courtesy of "Courageous")
THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Can you talk a little bit about your process of discernment in terms of choosing projects? How did Courageous come to be? I know that you do go through this intentional period of prayerful discernment.

ALEX KENDRICK

Yeah, we do. The reason we don't do a movie every year is that they're so consuming. We like to take a break between movies and pray. There's really not a day goes by that someone doesn't send us a script or a book or call and say "I've got a great story." We get that so much and everybody thinks their ideas are amazing. We've really just learned that we wait for God and say to God "We want to make the movie you want us to make." Every time we pray about it, he makes it very clear whether we're focusing on marriage or fatherhood or faith. We've learned to seek Him first and he points us in the direction he wants us to go.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

I promised myself I would ask this question. You had Kirk Cameron star in Fireproof, but you've returned here in Courageous. What made you decide to return? I have to admit that I really missed your presence in Fireproof. I don't intend that as a slight toward Kirk but, again, you've grown as an actor and I do enjoy you in these films.

ALEX KENDRICK

One of the reasons we cast local people and people from our church is that we want people who really believe the messages in the film. It's not just a gig for them. I was willing to be the lead in Fireproof, but Kirk called us and said "I really believe in what you guys are doing. Can I come and try out?" We stuck him in Fireproof and I thought he did a great job. My personal opinion is that it's his best performance. We were grateful to have Kirk come, but there's not a lot of actors who operate from their convictions and their passions. Most actors just want another movie to be in. For us, we wanted the actors in our films to really believe in what the film is about to kind of be ambassadors for the message. We're not looking for perfect people, but we are looking for people who understand that these movies are more about ministry than entertainment.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

There's an integrity to them that I really admire. I'm a fan of all four films for different reasons. Facing the Giants was probably the film that blew me away the most, but Courageous for me was the best made of the four films.

ALEX KENDRICK

They're all very different. I would say that Facing the Giants is certainly the most inspirational. Fireproof from a marital standpoint is very convicting. Courageous just reminds you of the roles we have as dads and how that's not just something you delegate easily. You're not supposed to delegate that role as dad, as spiritual leader. I'm supposed to mentor and love my kids.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

I love how you've also created supportive ministries around your films. For example, "The Love Dare."

ALEX KENDRICK

Yeah, for this film it's the "The Resolution for Men." If fathers are coming out of the theaters saying "That really affected me" and "What do I do next?," we would give them the "The Resolution for Men." We wrote a complimentary book with Priscilla Schirer called "The Resolution for Women" that she did such an amazing job on. We would recommend that for women. We try to think of the movie as a launching pad for a really important concept or idea about life. Then, we try to back that up with the resources that will help them make the next step.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

This brings up another important point. All of the Sherwood films have seen their profits used to support community programs. For example, I'm aware that a sports complex was built in Albany.

ALEX KENDRICK

We've helped to start three churches. We've given to many missions and missionaries. We've started a crisis pregnancy center, a counseling center. We have a homeless ministry downtown that we support. The money is very well spent. I doubt anyone would have a problem with the things we've used the money for. If anyone says "Show us where the money goes," we'll say "Visit Albany, Georgia and we'll walk you around and show you where the money's gone."

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

What have you really learned over the course of these years since Flywheel in 2003 as an actor but also as a minister?

ALEX KENDRICK

As an actor, I think I've learned to relax into the role. When an actor tries too hard to "act," it comes off as not authentic. I've learned to relax into a role once I learn what the role is and what issues that character's dealing with in life. People want to see genuine emotions. They don't want to see you portraying something where you obviously don't have a clue what they're going through. I tell all the actors I work with "You own that role. You own that character. Relax into it."

As far as being a minister, it's to trust the Lord. It's about praying for God's favor before we pray for anything else. Whenever we seek Him first, the projects just seem to work. Whenever we try to get ahead of Him, those are the times we struggle. We're learning to take our time and wait on the Lord.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Well, I promised your PR folks that I would be respectful of your time today and I certainly know this is a huge day for you. I wish you the best as your film begins this new life and I really thank you for your time.

ALEX KENDRICK

Thank you.


"Courageous" is available on DVD and also a DVD/Blu-Ray Combo Pack with a TON of extras. Check out my review of "Courageous" for all the details. You can also visit the "Courageous" website or simply click on the Amazon.com link on this page and order your copy of the film right now!

© 2011 Interview by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic 

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