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The Independent Critic

 An Interview with Kevin Downes 
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After a 20 year career spent working largely within the Christian film industry, Kevin Downes is perhaps best known for his role as Shane in the Kendrick Brothers' film "Courageous." While he may not quite be a household name, fans of faith-based cinema are most assuredly familiar with his work. Downes got his start in the youth ministry short film "The Crossing," but since then has appeared in such films as "Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius," "Midnight Clear," "Birdie and Bogey," "Thr3e," and "Mercy Streets" among others. Downes has also directed two films, "Amazing Love" and "Six: The Mark Unleashed," but may very well have made his true mark as a producer of such fine films as "Mercy Streets," "Midnight Clear," ,"The Lost Medallion: The Adventures of Billy Stone," and the critically acclaimed "Like Dandelion Dust." On May 9th, "Moms' Night Out" arrives in theaters and Downes is both producing the film and a supporting player in the cast that includes Patricia Heaton ("Everybody Loves Raymond"), Alex Kendrick ("Facing the Giants," "Courageous"), Sean Astin ("Rudy"), Sarah Drew ("Grey's Anatomy"), and country singer Trace Adkins. The Independent Critic caught up to Downes while he's promoting "Moms' Night Out" to discuss the film, the faith-based film industry, and our mutual hope that one day every time you head into the multi-plex that there will be a faith-based film awaiting your arrival.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

I want to get started right away. There's a whole lot I'd love to talk to you about, but I want to make sure we give Moms' Night Out its due. Can you talk to me a little bit about the film and how you came to be involved in it?

KEVIN DOWNES

Moms' Night Out is a laugh out loud comedy that affirms moms and motherhood. It comes out May 9th in theaters across the country. I was the producer of it. I'm also in it as an actor. We shot it on location in Birmingham, Alabama. It has just been an awesome film to be a part of.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

It also does star some familiar names. Patricia Heaton, whom people will remember as the mom from "Everybody Loves Raymond."

KEVIN DOWNES

It stars Sarah Drew, Sean Astin, Patricia Heaton, and Trace Adkins. It's got some familiar names from the movie Courageous like Alex Kendrick, myself, and Robert Amaya. It's really an all-star ensemble cast with a lot of familiar faces and names that people will know.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

One of the things that I'm noticing more and more with faith-based cinema is that we are putting films out there that are truly entertaining films. It's not that I think that used to be rare, but I do think there was a stereotype that it was rare. Even just a few years ago, faith-based movies had sort of a reputation for being these low-budget, low production value types of films.

KEVIN DOWNES

You know, it just depends on the filmmaker. There are filmmakers who are really good at what they do like the Erwin Brothers who directed Moms' Night Out. They are just so good at their craft. They made the movie October Baby, and I think audiences are really going to like their work in Moms' Night Out. It's just an entertaining, fast-paced comedy and when the movie ends you're like "Okay, I didn't want that to end so fast." There's a lot of films coming out in this time period that touch on faith-based topics and to me that's really exciting.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

It really is exciting. Film distribution is another example. It seems like more and more distributors are truly investing in faith-based cinema. TriStar Pictures is an example, I suppose. It's not really your traditional faith-based distributor, but I know it's releasing the upcoming Heaven is for Real and this film.

KEVIN DOWNES

They put out Courageous. They put out Soul Surfer. Moms' Night Out will be their third faith-based theatrical release, and Heaven is for Real will be number four. It's through a division of Sony Pictures called Affirm Films. Affirm Films' whole goal is to make films that are family oriented and that focus on elements of faith and are affirming and uplifting. It's exciting that a studio has that division with such a mandate.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Over the course of your career, you've really worn quite a few hats in terms of filmmaking. You've got quite a few acting credits. You've been a writer and a director. You've been a producer a number of times. I think one of the things I get most frustrated with is when I hear fans of faith-based cinema say "I'll get it on DVD" or something along those lines. Can you speak to the importance of actually showing up in theaters? Why is that such a big deal?

KEVIN DOWNES

Well, that's it. People often say "Why doesn't Hollywood make for films like the ones I like?" or "Why doesn't Hollywood make more faith-based or family-oriented films?" The reason why is that we have to show up at the theater and buy a ticket. That's how it happens. It's a two-part thing. It's not just for people like me who have a passion for making this type of film, but what has to happen is that audiences have to show up and support it. What's been exciting is that the first few faith-based films that have come out this year have all been widely supported and hopefully that trend continues.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Wouldn't it be awesome if we could show up at the multi-plex on any given weekend and know that we were going to have a faith-based film as one of our options?

KEVIN DOWNES

That would be amazing. Certainly, it's happening through the first five months of this year. To be able to carry that through an entire year would be absolutely incredible. We might get to it this year. I'm not sure. It depends on how some of these films perform. Yeah, that's the goal. It would be amazing for people to be able to know that they can show up at the theater and there would be an option for the type or style of film that they want to see.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

I do think that people are starting to realize that the Christian film industry has grown up. The quality of films has improved dramatically. The ability of filmmakers to market those films has improved dramatically. I think people of faith have also really learned that they do have an influence and that if they show up, then Hollywood or indie filmmakers will tap into that. We're really just putting out better films.

KEVIN DOWNES

Here's the thing. As the films get more and more support, the budgets tend to go up. You have talented filmmakers who have a worldview through the faith lens who want to make those films and you start to see that the craft gets better and the films get better. It can start a bit of an avalanche where people go "Okay, I like that. I like that." That's what we're hoping we do here is make the quality of the films go up so the crowds come out to support them. In turn, we can create more films. I think we've got that with Moms' Night Out with some of the early screeners that we've done.

Section title here
Kevin Downes, Producer of "Moms' Night Out"

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Have you noticed the trend of what I guess I would call Hollywood names appearing in faith-based films like Moms' Night Out? Soul Surfer is another example with Helen Hunt. Has something changed?

KEVIN DOWNES

Casts will respond to good scripts. Good scripts get made by talented filmmakers, writers, directors, and producers that have a passion for making that kind of material. It's a trickle down effect. As you see audiences support these films and filmmakers get their money back, you'll see more of them get made and budgets go up. You'll see talent, like you just said, where you'll go "Wow, they're in this film." You'll continue to see that as the films continue to get made.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

How do you choose the films that you involve yourself in? How do you choose your projects?

KEVIN DOWNES

For me, it's all about the passion and what I want to do. For Moms' Night Out, I was actually praying for something that I could do that my wife would have a great time going to see. My last few films were very guy heavy. I acted in the movie Courageous, a very guy heavy film. I just sort of wanted to flip it around and make a film for moms. Wouldn't it be great if it was in the genre of comedy, but yet with a point and a message and moms could go out and be entertained but also affirmed for their purpose and role in life?

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Can you tell me a little bit about you? How did you get started in film? I know that you've worked alongside your brother (Bobby, who also started ChristianCinema.com) with Downes Brothers Entertainment. When you started in the Christian film industry, I'm not sure there really even was an actual "industry." How did this all start for you?

KEVIN DOWNES

I've been doing this for twenty years. For me, it started as an actor. In college, I majored in theater my first two years. I just had a love for acting. I was born and raised in a small town in California. I moved to L.A. when I was 20. I started acting in L.A. What I started to learn was that I wanted to do things that mattered. I wanted to make decisions that mattered. I was cast in a faith-based film when I was 22-years-old and I fell in love with the entire process from beginning to end. I was really touched by the lives that were being affected by the work that I had done in the film and the film itself. It was from that point that I knew that this is what I wanted to do for a living. I didn't know how to make a movie, but I was going to figure out how to do it. It took a number of years to be able to do that. At that time, there was no industry. You might find these types of films maybe one or two or three a year or a little independent film might pop up that would not necessarily be widely seen. It was nothing like today. Now, it's great. It's growing so fast. For me, that's how it started twenty years ago. I just feel really blessed and very fortunate to be able to do what I love.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

When I was looking at your filmography, I realized that truly the vast majority of your life in the film industry has been spent in faith-based cinema.

KEVIN DOWNES

Oh yeah, pretty much all of it. I did a few things back in my early 20's while I was pursuing acting before I got married. From a producing aspect, it's 100% all faith-based films.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

I'm not sure that people fully realize that the Christian film industry has truly grown into a vibrant industry where actors and writers and directors and producers and others are truly building their careers. Even though we may not be seeing all the films in the theaters, the industry is growing and vibrant and producing quality films.

KEVIN DOWNES

People don't realize that in producing a film you truly start from scratch. Occasionally, I'll have someone say "I want you to partner with me" like what happened with Moms' Night Out, but usually it's starting from scratch and going "Okay, what do I want to work on now?" You figure it out and you go find a script or have a script developed. You start putting a team together and you go and you make your film. That's the process for me just about every time. That's why making films takes so long. Moms' Night Out was about two years or a little over two years from start to finish. Typically, a film might take anywhere from 2-5 years.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Yeah, I know with The Lost Medallion, a film that you produced, that I saw it probably 4-5 years ago at the Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis and it really was kind of a slow build until it did get its theatrical run. I saw where Sammi Hanratty from that film is also in Moms' Night Out.

KEVIN DOWNES

The Lost Medallion was another one where I was brought on by the director, Bill Muir, to produce the film for him. We shot it over in Thailand and it was an amazing experience. It's a great film, a great kids' film where children can feel really important at that stage in life when many are questioning if they're worth anything. I love the message of the film. It's really a pointed message. It's really a great production.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

You do a lot of family type films, a lot of films that focus in parenting. I know that you yourself have a pretty cool testimony that you've shared rather openly about how you and your wife had struggled for years trying to have a child. You were actually in the process of adopting a son from Haiti and, as I recall, it was literally the day after you'd committed to adopt this baby that after years of trying your wife found out she was pregnant. So, practically overnight you went from no children to two. So, clearly, parenting is a really big deal to you.

KEVIN DOWNES

You gravitate towards what you're passionate about or what you think about a lot. For me, I've got three kids that are under five-years-old. Moms' Night Out just makes perfect sense. They're just so great. Kids just do the funniest things. Sometimes, it's like "Okay, that's got to go into a movie" and every parent can relate to that no matter how old you are or your life circumstances. Kids are a joy. Parenting is a joy. Obviously, there are also challenges. I think some of those moments just made for a great script.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

I know you need to get going and I do want to be respectful of your time. I really want you to close with a plug as to why people need to get out of their houses and get into the cinemas and see Moms' Night Out.

KEVIN DOWNES

Moms' Night Out in theaters on May 9th.  Get out and support the film. It truly is laugh out loud family comedy that you will love whether you're young or old, male or female. There's multiple story lines to which you will relate. You will enjoy the evening. I've had so many people say "I've never laughed so hard in my life." That was the purpose of making the film. You will really leave the theater feeling affirmed about where you're at in with your journey of parenting. Even if you're not a parent, there's just a lot of fun elements to the film.

"Moms' Night Out" opens in theaters nationwide on May 9th from TriStar Pictures. The film is rated PG.  "Moms' Night Out" is directed by The Erwin Brothers. For more information "Moms' Night Out," visit the "Moms' Night Out" Website.

Interview by Richard Propes
Copyright 2014

 

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