"Fireproof," which was released Jan. 27 on DVD, earned an impressive $33.4 million during its run in theaters. Not bad for a church-produced film that had a production budget of $500,000 and made use of an all-volunteer cast and 14 donated filming locations.
But box-office success is not the yardstick by which the makers of "Fireproof" choose to measure their success.
Stephen Kendrick, the film’s co-writer and producer, explained his outlook on filmmaking during a Jan. 29 phone interview with The Southern Cross. "Our goal has been to make an impact on lives," he said, "rather than to make money."
"If we make money, great. Praise God," he added. "If we don’t, then that’s fine."
"Fireproof" is a production of Sherwood Pictures, a film studio based out of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., where Kendrick serves as senior associate pastor. Unlike most studios, Sherwood Pictures views filmmaking as more of a ministry than a business.
With "Fireproof," Kendrick said he wanted to spread the message that "marriage is worth fighting for and that it is a covenant, as Scripture says, and not just a contract."
The film tells the story of a married couple – firefighter Caleb Holt (Kirk Cameron) and his wife, Catherine (Erin Bethea) – whose marriage is headed toward divorce. Guided by a book called The Love Dare, Caleb embarks a 40-day journey of personal growth to recapture his wife’s heart and save their marriage. He learns that love should be unconditional and that it is a decision rather than a feeling. Along the way, he opens his heart to God and recognizes that Jesus must be the foundation of a successful Christian marriage.
Kendrick told The Southern Cross it has been "very fulfilling" to know that "thousands upon thousands of marriages are being strengthened, saved [and] turned around" thanks to the film.
"It’s a lot more fulfilling than us going out and doing something for our own glory, or trying to further our careers or make money," he added.
The ministry of "Fireproof" began even before the film was completed.
Kendrick said the filmmaking process itself provided opportunities for ministry and spiritual growth. Even if the film had never been released, he said, each morning of shooting included shared prayer with the cast and crew. In the hands of Sherwood Pictures, he said, "the entire process of moviemaking [was transformed] into a harvest tool for ministry."
And that ministry has extended beyond the film, as well.
A book version of The Love Dare was published to help couples "fireproof" their own marriages. Various marriage resources are also available at www.FireproofMyMarriage.com.
The site, which serves as a companion to the official film Web site, www.FireprooftheMovie.com, includes a section exclusively devoted to "Catholic Resources."
Kendrick co-wrote "Fireproof" with his brother, Alex, who also directed the film and serves as associate pastor at Sherwood Baptist.
But Kendrick does not credit himself with the film’s success or its impact on audiences.
He compares the "best efforts" of the cast and crew to "five loaves and two fish" that God used to make something wonderful.
From a secular point-of-view, Kendrick said, there are many possible explanations for the film’s success: relatable subject matter; solid story-telling; a strong marketing campaign; the endorsement of more than 100 marriage ministries nationwide; and inter-denominational support, which included the endorsements of such prominent Catholic leaders as Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus.
There was also the fact that Sherwood Pictures had developed such a strong following that its previous film had earned $10 million in theaters and sold 2 million DVDs.
But any secular explanation falls short, Kendrick said, because it overlooks God’s role in the film’s success. It was God, he said, who provided the storyline, blessed the cast and crew with success on each day of filming, facilitated collaborations with other denominations and marriage ministries, and allowed the film to reach so many people and touch so many hearts.
When congratulated on his box-office success, Kendrick replied: "We’re just thanking God for all that He’s done to make this happen."
As it says during the end credits of each Sherwood Pictures production, "To God be the glory."
Printed with permission from the Southern Cross, newspaper from the Diocese of San Diego.