People & Places

"This Day Forward," film shot in Waverly by director with Iowa ties, opens soon

What They're Thinking: Audiences have created a market for faith-based films

Meriwether Productions

Brian Ide (from left) gives direction to Randy Coleman (portraying Mike Jensen) as Chris Wilson and Chet Dixon look on during filming of one of the wedding day scenes in “This Day Forward.”
Meriwether Productions Brian Ide (from left) gives direction to Randy Coleman (portraying Mike Jensen) as Chris Wilson and Chet Dixon look on during filming of one of the wedding day scenes in “This Day Forward.”
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“I Can Only Imagine,” “God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness” and “Paul Apostle of Christ” are playing on multiple screens in Corridor movie theaters.

Other big-ticket titles in recent years include “Hacksaw Ridge,” “Heaven is for Real,” “The Shack,” “Miracles from Heaven” and “War Room.”

“This Day Forward,” filmed in Waverly in April and May 2017, opened this weekend in director Brian Ide’s hometown of Dubuque, and will open May 4 at Collins Road Theatres in Marion.

Two years ago, his church, All Saints Episcopal Church in Beverly Hills, Calif., decided to tap into the congregation’s film industry talent to create a short faith-based film. Encouraged by the response to that, the church decided to go bigger, and produce a feature-length film, which turned into “This Day Forward.”

It’s the story of Ide’s Wartburg College classmates Dr. Jennifer and Mike Jensen of Waverly, their family and their faith journey dealing with Mike’s ongoing battle with brain cancer.

Ide, 43, based in Los Angeles since 1999, weighs in on movie studios’ current interest in bringing such faith stories to mainstream realms in the years since Mel Gibson paved a new path with “The Passion of the Christ” in 2004.

Q: Why are we seeing this uptick in faith-based movies?

A: (Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga.) was the trendsetter for this in the very stages, before “The Passion of the Christ.” They did a very small, low-budget movie (“Flywheel” in 2003). It did well enough that they made a second one, called “Facing the Giants” (2006). They made that one with a low budget, and it was profitable for the church.

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The third one is the one that really put them on the map. That was called “Fireproof” and it had Kirk Cameron. That was the first time that a recognizable actor was in one of these movies, instead of just local church parishioners. That one was hugely successful. It made $33 million for the church.

I think it was at that point the studios and some of the large production companies realized there’s an audience for these kinds of stories. The studios jumped on it in the way that they normally do, by creating big-budget, Hollywood adventure flicks. So Fox created a division called Fox Faith and Sony now has a division called Affirm. They tried to dip their toe into it, and (Fox) made one with Christian Bale as Moses (“Exodus: Gods and Kings” in 2014). These kinds of big-budget movies didn’t do as well.

What people realized out of that is that the reason for whoever’s making these movies is often more important than the movie. Audiences are savvy to that. They see that some of these movies — and I hope ours is one of them — that come out of smaller productions have really good intentions about why they’re being told, because they feel strongly about the message of them, where the big-budget things were there to just try to capitalize off of ticket-buyers.

“The Passion of the Christ” really pushed the envelope for what production value could look like. Mel Gibson was able to put a real budget behind it, with real actors behind it, and I think that was new to the world and people took notice. It was also very controversial, which helped their marketing campaign, because love it or hate it, people knew about it. People rallied around that, and it’s taken off. They see there’s an audience hungry for this, especially since the bulk of the movies that seem to come out in theaters now are vampire- or comic book-driven.

People are hungry for balance in their entertainment, so that’s been a good thing for the faith-based world right now.

Q: Why did you decide to step into this arena, because you also make secular movies?

A: It was a multitude of things. It was born out of our church, so there was a natural tendency to look into that genre, with the idea to pool the entertainment industry resources of our church. There was also a really strong desire to tell a slightly different perspective of a faith-based movie. Something that hopefully spoke to people who were really wrestling with their faith or things in their life that challenge their faith, and for them to realize that’s OK. ... So they’ll feel a little less alone in their journey.

Q: Have you heard anything from Sony about picking up distribution for “This Day Forward”?

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A: We had a conversation with them. They saw it, their team watched it. That was actually the only “no” we’ve had in the process. It was a very specific reason. They saw it, they loved how it was done, they loved the message, the performances, and all that. But now they are in such a high tier in the distribution world. It’s business, so they are only taking movies at this point that they expect to make at least $11 million just in box office alone. They said, “Listen, yours may make that, and we hope that it does, but without famous actors and famous directors, the sell becomes much more difficult.”

We never made this movie with that intention. This is a lower-budget, independent thing, so we totally got that. They referred us to consultants and avenues that appeal more to these midrange-size projects. We’re flying out in two weeks to Nashville to meet with two of them. They’re really excited. They saw it and loved it, so they’re putting together a game plan on how to release it and where and when. That’ll be great for us, to have someone that knows that process.

Q: Based on the reception to “This Day Forward,” are you seeking out other opportunities to make another faith-based film?

A: Yes. It’s funny, because there’s always that desire. The process of making it — as difficult and challenging as it was — was so rewarding. Everybody that left Waverly at end of the shoot felt a connection to this that they hadn’t felt before with previous projects, because of the town and the Jensens and the why and the how we were telling the story. The town just rallied around it. By the end of our month there, we’d had 3,300 donated meals for the production. ... You miss that. There’s definitely part of that community that you miss. The crew that hadn’t worked on a faith-based one before, they also were really moved by telling something that actually had some value to it — it wasn’t a commercial thing — something that people watched, walked away from, and their lives were affected in some way. ...

We definitely look forward to telling another one, and figuring out what that is. That’s always the challenge, especially after making one as intense and honest as this one, and being really thoughtful about what that next one is.

My hope is that we would be able to film it back in Iowa. That’s been great for me, because it gives me a reason to come back for an extended period, instead of a day here or there. I would love to do one in Dubuque, because I know Dubuque so well, and it has such a different terrain and layout than most of Iowa, with the bluffs and the river. We’re hoping that it will reveal itself shortly.

l Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

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