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The Independent Critic

 Erin Bethea Talks About Her "New Life"  
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In 2006, Erin Bethea was cast in a small, one-line role in "Facing the Giants," the film that would become the breakout film for Alex and Stephen Kendrick, whose names have become synonymous with the growth and popularity of indie faith-based cinema. A mere two years later, the Kendricks turned to Bethea again with a much bigger challenge - the co-starring role alongside Kirk Cameron in "Fireproof," the film that would prove the Kendricks weren't a fluke and this new genre of faith-based cinema was truly here to stay. 

So was Erin Bethea.

While "Fireproof" received a mixed response from critics, including this one, audiences loved the film and audiences really loved Bethea, whose warmth and naturalism radiates on screen and whose acting career took off after the film in a series of mostly faith-based films including "Letters to God," the "Iesodo" films and "The Redemption of Henry Myers." Bethea is at the Heartland Film Festival for the world premiere of the first film under her own production label, alongside producing partner Drew Waters, "New Life," a film that explores the ups and downs of life and love, showing us that in good times and bad that life can be approached with hope and the opportunity for something new.

I ran into Drew Waters in the lobby of Indy's Sheraton Hotel, the home-base for Heartland Film Festival, and after a brief introduction shared my hopes to meet Ms. Bethea during her time in Indy. Waters arranged a quick introduction and the following day, after a couple of stops and starts, I sat down with her for a chat only moments before her film's world premiere. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

First off, congratulations on your film and welcome to the Heartland Film Festival. I appreciate you taking squeezing in some time with me as you've certainly got bigger things on your mind. So, this is your world premiere for New Life?

ERIN BETHEA

It is. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Fantastic. Let's start off with the basics. Tell me about your film.

ERIN BETHEA

It's a beautiful love story that follows two people, Ben (Jonathan Patrick Moore) and Ava (Bethea), who meet as children and are best friends and fall in love and move through life together. Into their adult life, they come into some hardships and have to deal with the parts of life that none of us want to deal with...our own mortality...and the story sort of follows how they get through that and how love is a great healer.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

New Life is the first film under your new production label, Argentum Entertainment. 

ERIN BETHEA

It is. Argentum Entertainment is my production company with Drew Waters. It's our first one. We're very excited. It's a great one for us to start out of the gate with, because our company is all about just getting back to the good, quality storytelling. We're called Argentum Entertainment because movies are obviously on the silver screen and Argentum is the Latin word for silver. Silver has to go through a purification process. It doesn't arrive to you pure. Our company takes movies through a purification process before they end up on the screen. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

I love that. You got your start basically with Fireproof.

ERIN BETHEA

Yeah. I was in Facing the Giants. I had like one line.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

I wondered about that, because I couldn't remember you in that film.

ERIN BETHEA

No, it's not memorable at all. I was a sportscaster and I said like one sentence. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

You were a newcomer when you did Facing the Giants and Fireproof. 

ERIN BETHEA

I was, yeah. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

That's amazing to me...such an amazing journey. 

ERIN BETHEA

A lot has happened in eight years. It's been quite a journey. I think a lot of actors find themselves frustrated in our careers, because an actor's career you do as much as you can, you train as much as you can, and you put yourself out there as much as you can. Ultimately, your career depends on other people...other people asking you...other people finding you...and it gets really frustrating. I was really lucky that when I met Drew it just turned out that we both had the right skill set that were complementary to each other for us to be able to take our acting careers and turn a different direction and be able to produce the kind of entertainment that we wish we were acting in. Some of our films that we produce, we will continue to act in. Some of them, we won't. We just want to make good movies.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Now, obviously you've really built your career so far largely within the world of faith-based cinema. Is that where Argentum is going? 

ERIN BETHEA

With Argentum, really our goal is to just produce the "good stuff." Some of our films may be more about faith and some may not. Overall, Drew and I are both believers and I think any artist their worldview is reflected in their art work. New Life is not a Christian film, but many people who watch it are like "This is such a great Christian film" because I think they just see it in the way that we look at the world in the film.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Its values...

ERIN BETHEA

It's just good stories that we believe Christians will love and enjoy and be able to see with their families, but then also any audience member can truly enjoy it.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

So, it truly is accessible to a wider audience without necessarily alienating persons of faith?

ERIN BETHEA

Yeah. We're a movie for everyone. Everyone needs a good movie. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

So, in some ways it's a lot like the Kendrick Brothers. They seem to occasionally make that film that is more accessible to a wider audience but still has a strong value set, while they also will make films that are more traditionally what we'd consider to be faith-based films. 

ERIN BETHEA

Yeah. They make very powerful films. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Like a Facing the Giants...

ERIN BETHEA

Exactly. It's an underdog story. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

I think that's why it was so popular. Fireproof was even more popular. It was a more traditional faith-based film. Now, I have to ask you about one film I saw on your filmography that kind of surprised me. 

ERIN BETHEA

What's that?

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Rogue Warrior: Robot Fighter

ERIN BETHEA

Oh yeah. That was just a wild one that came to me through my manager. He said "There's this totally different movie from anything else you've ever done. It's a one day shoot. It's all green screen." So, I just went "Sure! Why not? I'll go kill some robots." It was a good experience. I've never done anything that had so many special effects. It was weird. We were in this very plain room with really nothing around me and having to react to imaginary things. It was fun, though. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

I happen to be friends through social media with Tracey Birdsall, the star on the film and one of its producers. She's another actor who is creating opportunities for herself and others. I reviewed her short film Tick-Tock and we just sort of hit it off. I thought it was strange but awesome that you're in the film. 

ERIN BETHEA

She is lovely...really lovely. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

You're at the Heartland Film Festival. Have you been out on the festival circuit before?

ERIN BETHEA

I've never really had a movie go the festival circuit. I think a lot of films because they were faith films had automatic distribution and they just kind of go to DVD or whatever. This is my first time doing the festival thing. We did one in L.A. before this and we just showed at another one in L.A. this weekend that we couldn't be at. We have a showing this afternoon in Pittsburgh. The film has gotten a lot of interest from festivals, though we've not been able to do the circuit much. It's really fun. This is a great festival. The people here are amazing. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

It's a great festival for the kind of films that you want to produce. 

ERIN BETHEA

Yeah, we agree. That's why we're here. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

And you seem to be getting attention from local media. I keep hearing people say "We're meeting with Drew and Erin." The Indianapolis film media is an interesting group of people. While we're competitive, there's also a rather collaborative spirit and for the most part we all get along quite nicely. 

ERIN BETHEA

I hope it's getting a lot of good vibes. I hope that when people see it tonight that they'll go out and tell others. with our movie opening in theaters this weekend, we're trying to get as much word-of-mouth as possible. I hope that people see it and they run to their neighbors or just tell someone else and help us get the word out.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Have you lined up distribution for it yet?

ERIN BETHEA

We're self-distributing our theatrical screenings and we're negotiating with a couple companies for the other. We're trying to find the exact right partner.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Can you talk about any other projects that you have coming up?

ERIN BETHEA

Yeah. Our next film that we're hoping to shoot is in January. It's called Taking the Long Way Home.  It's a sweet movie about a woman who sort of loses herself and has to find herself again. I'm not starring in that one. We're going to have another actress star in that one. I just want to produce that one and try to get my hands into the production side. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Did you know that you wanted to really work in film? Or when did that really happen for you?

ERIN BETHEA

You know, I don't think that I really did. I think Fireproof really changed that. I knew I wanted to be an actress. I've always loved movies. My family, we were not a game night family or an outdoor family. We were a movie night family. That's what we did together. We watched movies. I've always loved them, but I was really interested in pursuing a career in theatre. That's what I went to school for and it's kind of the road that I was going down. Then, I got cast in Fireproof and spending that much time in front of the camera I just loved it. I love the theatre. I will always love the theatre. Something about being in front of the camera felt like home. It felt much more safe. It felt like home.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

I remember watching Fireproof, which to be honest I didn't give a rave review, but I loved you in it. You had a naturalism that just made me rush home and check your IMDB page where I was completely surprised you were a newcomer. 

ERIN BETHEA

That's okay...and thank you! It's true. Sometimes, Christian films are a little canned. That movie is such a testament to the fact that a movie with a message can be accessible. I've had people come up to me and say "Fireproof should've won an Oscar!" I'm like "No, it should not! That's very kind, but you're ridiculous." The Kendricks would say that. Alex said after Facing the Giants he had people coming up to him saying "You're the next Tom Hanks!" He was like "That's stupid. That's not true." 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

I love him as an actor. He's not Tom Hanks, but I do love him. I've had the chance to interview him and he was awesome.

ERIN BETHEA

He's very charismatic and so likable. I just love him. What's interesting about that movie is that despite the fact that it's a low budget film and it has a lot of the hang-ups of a low budget film, it did so well because it just resonated with people. There's just this unexplainable factor in their films. They get their audience. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

And they do that whether it's a fairly straightforward Christian film or a more universal film.

ERIN BETHEA

They're really talented guys. They're really great storytellers.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

They're really the ones who broke out Christian cinema it seems.

ERIN BETHEA

They did...especially independents. The Passion of the Christ sort of initially opened the door. That was the first time that Hollywood went "Oh, Christians go see movies." That sort of opened the door, then the Chronicles of Narnia helped it along from a larger, more commercial standpoint but from an independent standpoint there were not a lot out there. There were not a lot being made that had any kind of quality at all that belonged in theaters. It was just the perfect storm and everything after that has just been moving forward. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

So, you're obviously happy with this final product you have with New Life...

ERIN BETHEA

Yeah, yeah. We have a fantastic cast. We've got Bill Cobbs, who is a legend. He's a legend. I mean, he will forever be Del Paxton from That Thing You Do! I half expected him to show up with a saxophone on the set. We have Terry O'Quinn from Lost. I always joke that I wish we'd just put John Locke on the poster...people would have known better. He's just so famous for that role. We have Barry Corbin from Lonesome Dove, Irma P. Hall from The Ladykillers. They're amazing. We've got just an incredible cast. All of them came on board, and we're a low budget film, but they just said "We got the script and your story is just so powerful." It's the kind of story that actors want to be a part of. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Well, I know that you've got a screening here in a few minutes and I want to be respectful of your time and need to get ready for the audience. I really appreciate your generosity with time and willingness to squeeze me in here. Your film was a priority for me and I'd really hoped to have the chance to catch up with you.

ERIN BETHEA

I appreciate the interview. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Let's close out with a serious plug for New Life. Why should people see the film?

ERIN BETHEA

First of all, it's a great love story. If they love movies like The Notebook. It's been compared a lot to The Notebook and to Love Story from 1970. If they just love a good romance that makes you cry and makes you laugh, then that's the main reason. It's PG-rated, but we've made what I think is a very sexy film. There's a terrific chemistry between Jonathan Patrick Moore and myself. I think people will find that it's as romantic as any other movie that they've other seen. The beautiful thing about it is that we didn't have to show a sex scene or anything else to really show that these two people really dig each other. I think that's a really powerful thing that people will enjoy about it. Beyond that, it's because it does deal with some really tough life issues and we hope that people are touched by it and maybe find some hope in their own struggles. 

New Life continues to screen at Indy's Heartland Film Festival through October 30th with the film's last screening at the festival being on October 27th. For more information on Heartland Film Festival, visit the festival's website. The film is also opening in limited release in theaters nationwide including Central Indiana's Carmike 18 Cinema in Plainfield. Word of mouth coming out of Heartland is positive for the film. You'll definitely want to support the film during its theatrical release. For information on area screenings, visit the New Life website. You can find out more about Erin on her own website!

 Interview by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic

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