“Fireproof” is living up to its name as another winning release by the Kendrick brothers, Alex and Stephen, two ordained ministers from Sherwood Baptist Church of Albany, Ga. The movie, starring Kirk Cameron, opened Sept. 26 and came in as the fourth-highest grossing movie for the weekend ending Sept. 28 with a total $6.5 million, according to Box Office Mojo.

Considering that the movie cost only $500,000 to produce, the film has already shown a profit for the Kendricks’ movie label, Sherwood Pictures and distributors Sony Provident and Samuel Goldwyn.

“Fireproof” follows the story of firefighter Caleb Holt (Cameron) whose marriage begins to fall apart after the honeymoon is over. Cameron’s character in the film is encouraged to fight for his marriage instead of relying on the standard Hollywood solution of divorce. As a friend tells him, “You run into burning buildings to save people you don’t even know, but you’re going to let your own marriage burn to the ground.”

Caleb is given a book titled “The Love Dare” with a 40-day goal of putting his marriage back together with the help of God.

To understand the “Fireproof” phenomenon, it is important to look back two years at the Kendrick brothers’ first movie, “Facing The Giants,” a story of the trials, tribulation and victory of a football team at a Christian high school. That’s when the trouble and success came together in an unexpected miracle for the filmmakers. And, the same formula is proving successful again.

With only a $100,000 budget, the Kendrick brothers served as both actor and director in “Facing the Giants.” The key to any film with good production values, even on a budget less than most 60-second TV commercials, is good cinematography and sound. The Kendricks hired veteran NFL cinematographer Bob Scott and sound technician Rob Whitehurst.

The movie created good word-of-mouth on the Christian church circuit where the film was shown in sanctuaries and gymnasiums. Sony Provident, Carmel and Samuel Goldwyn quickly jumped on board and submitted the Kendrick brothers’ film to the MPAA for rating approval in order to be shown in mainline theaters.

When “Facing the Giants” received a PG-rating, Alex and Stephen were told by the MPAA ratings board that their little movie contained “thematic elements,” code language for “too overtly Christian.” In fact, the brothers were actually told that “Giants” contained “strong religious themes” and “elevated one religion over another.”

Matt Drudge picked up on the controversy and soon the movie was gaining attention from the New York Times, Good Morning America, CNN and Fox News. Mark Joseph, the film’s consultant, had also coordinated media strategy for “Passion of the Christ” and “The Chronicles of Narnia” and found the publicity a blessing in disguise.

Three months after its release in September of 2006, the $100,000 film had grossed over $10 million. The MPAA had revised its statement and said that the movie was rated PG due to “football violence,” denying that religion played any role in the rating decision. The two brothers confirmed that the MPAA changed its story after the controversy spread.

And, the same scenario is being replayed with “Fireproof.” The MPAA rated the film PG, again for “thematic elements” and “some peril.” In other words, a “perilous” Christian movie that actually entertains and sends a message of hope and redemption requires a special warning from the MPAA lest anybody be saved without advance knowledge.

The Kendrick brothers don’t mind. Their fan base is rock solid and growing rapidly as individuals and families realize it’s “safe” to go to the theater again. Whereas “Facing the Giants” opened in just over 300 theaters in 2006, “Fireproof” opened in 830 movie theaters and is expected to make $10 million in its first seven days, a 20-fold increase on Sherwood’s investment. And, that is only the beginning.

As Michael Silberman of Samuel Goldwyn said, “The Kendricks are catering to audiences that Hollywood doesn’t make movies for anymore.” Imagine if Hollywood would “get the message” and start giving the American audience movies it wants to see instead of giving them what Hollywood wants them to see.

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