Listening In: The Erwin Brothers and Rick Eldridge

WARREN SMITH, HOST: I’m Warren Smith and today you’ll be listening in on my conversations with movie producers that I interviewed at the recent National Religious Broadcasters Convention in Anaheim, California.

There are a lot of these pegs that people get into now, like a Christian filmmaker, you make faith based films. Actually, I’m a Christian who makes movies who tells stories and so it’s very organic in the way that I try to do that. I know there are a lot of great faith movies out there that are very evangelical. It’s like a sermon and at the end of the sermon you want to respond. There’s a place for that. I think where my stories and I seem to kind of gravitate to are the ones that very organically integrate faith and value in the context of the story and hopefully there’s challenge, there’s conviction, there’s all the things that happen in that and there’s the values and virtues that happen through that.

That was movie producer Rick Eldridge and we’ll be hearing from him later in the program, but up first the team behind the recently announced Kingdom Studios, a studio that is a partnership with secular powerhouse Lionsgate and has as it’s creative center, Jon and Andrew Erwin, the Erwin brothers who wrote and directed October Baby and last year’s blockbuster hit I Can Only Imagine, which did nearly $90 million at the box office.

Also heard in this interview is Kevin Downs, one of the producers of I Can Only Imagine and a partner in the new Kingdom Studios endeavor, Tony Young. We had this conversation the morning after the public announcement of Kingdom Studios in Southern California.

Well, you guys had a really big announcement yesterday about Kingdom Studios. At least in my experience, probably one of the biggest announcements in terms of Christian cinema in a very long time, if not ever. Tell me about it.

JON: Well, you know, they say if you see further, it’s because you stand on the shoulders of giants. And there’s been such a great foundation laid in Christian film, especially over the last decade, and so we called the announcement, you know, 10 years in the making. And I just think that there’s this—you know, sometimes there’s these moments where you can really have these quantum leaps forward and sometimes you get to be a part of them.

And I just, I think the announcement of Kingdom Studios was one of those moments. It’s just an amazing idea. And it was a question that we began to ask as founders, what can we do together that none of us can do alone? And could we create a place that a lot of artists could sorta be galvanized underneath a banner and could we announce not one film but a slate of films?

So it was exciting to me that a lot of the, you know, sort of the articles this morning read, you know, faith-based slate, you know, on Hollywood reporter and Deadline. That’s not happened before and we’re dreaming really big and we’re dreaming of multiple films and, you know, it’s the goal of Kingdom to do two theatrical event films a year, you know, starting next year and it’s exciting.

SMITH: Can you say a little bit more about, a couple of things that you just mentioned. One is what is theatrical event? Is that like a fathom or is that like a regional, a wide release film, number one. And number two, you said that you’re a banner under which you’re going to have a lot of collaborators. I mean, are we supposed to think Dreamworks here?

ANDY: Those are both good questions. This is Andy. You know, I think across the board, theatrical movies, it has turned into an event business. So we’re talking, you know, features that are the traditional features that are out right now, but there has to be a reason for an audience to show up en masse. So it really has turned into a theatrical event business of what’s going to cause an event, a stir, a moment that you have to see this in theaters instead of see it at home on your laptop. And so we really want titles and products that we’re going to put out there that are worth it being a communal event to invite, you know, mass groups to go see.

So we’re excited to see that. So the titles we’re investing in are going to be big and there’s going to have scale. And Lionsgate has really given us the resources to make these movies mainstream films. And so we’re excited about that. You know, as far as the filmmakers that we’re going to recruit and kind of the stories we’re going to tell, we want to see these titles grow into something really, really special.

KEVIN: The initial content that we announced last night, you know, we couldn’t be more excited for because you know, we’re here to serve the audience. We’re here to serve the church. And, you know, we really believe that some of the titles we announce from Jesus Revolution, to Apostles, to our next one, which is I Still Believe—the Jeremy Camp story—really is going to do that to where this content is just the perfect sort of launch pad for what the future really holds. And echo what John and Andy said, this is not about us. It’s about a bigger vision and bringing artists around the country that are believers that share the same passion that we do and give them a platform to really speak.

TONY: I’ll just add to that to kind of build on what these three have said. I think one of the things that’s so special for us is really at the heartbeat and the foundation of Kingdom is back to what John said, you know, what can we do together that we couldn’t do alone. And we really see that as, you know, the fellowship of believers coming together and really pulling together, you know, John said something years ago that really caught my attention in terms of for too long, the independent faith film has been, you know, kinda like the hunger games. Everybody’s running for the weapon to shoot each other, you know, and we really need to be working together. And that was the vision was at the heart of Kingdom.

And so that’s one thing we’re so excited about, the way the Lord has blessed it and going forward and really being a place where creatives can come and we can incubate that talent to really generate some of this great content that John and Andy and Kevin have been talking about.

SMITH: When you guys try to decide what story to tell, what are some of your criteria? If I look across sort of all the various genres of movies, I mean, you know, there’s documentary, there’s sort of from the ground up creative features and then there are sort of based on true story kind of features, which seems to be the space that you guys are in right now. It may just be what you’ve mostly done so far and that you plan to branch out from there. But you know, I think of October Baby, I think of Woodlawn, I think of I Can Only Imagine. And those are films that, you know, have some basis in reality. Is that y’alls brand? Is that y’alls niche or is that just what you’ve been able to get made so far?

JON: There’s an incredible power to true stories and we learned that with Woodlawn and I Can Only Imagine you just can’t deny the truth. And we love true stories. What Kingdom values most is two things: stories—we believe the right story can change your life—and great artists and people because it takes great artists to tell great stories. And really the funnel is what we call it, of the stories that we want to tell. First and foremost, we want to tell stories that are really entertaining. I go to the movies to be entertained and when we say theatrical events, you know, in the age of Netflix and all these things, we believe in doing these events in movie theaters, you know, and large scale wide theatrical releases. And I want to go to be entertained and have an emotional experience.

And then we want to make things that are emotionally relatable no matter what you believe, even if you’re not a Christian, to make them accessible and to draw people to Christianity. And then we want to make things safe for the entire family. And so that’s sort of the goal is to make really entertaining things that are relatable and safe. The cool thing is you can do that in a lot of different ways. So one of the things that we’re dreaming of is to sort of branch out in Christian films that maybe surprise and delight and that you wouldn’t expect.

ANDY: I think it’s a really good question. I think that, you know, as a singer, when you find your song to sing, you’re attracted to things that are very, very similar in terms of theme and tone. And I think when we did Woodlawn, we learned the power of a true story and the idea of this underdog overcomer type story of somebody finding their voice and you look at the DNA of Woodlawn and Imagine, there’s very similar DNA to it of somebody found their voice and, you know, on a football field and other one found it, you know, through a song. And so we, Jon and I love doing true stories that gives us really the DNA of it. But I think the exciting thing about Kingdom is the ability to find other people that have a song to sing that may be different varieties. So there’s room for that to branch out. And to grow. So some of the filmmakers that were on the stage with us last night, like John Gunn, like the Smallbones from For King and Country, Madeline Carol, there’s just a number of voices that we feel like can add just beautiful variety to this slate. So we’re excited to kind of all work together and see a variety of products coming out.

SMITH: Guys, I want to pivot a little bit in the conversation and focus mostly on the brothers. Sorry guys. So just for a minute, because partly just because I’m interested in the relationship between the two of you and making the movies that you make, you know, there’s a little bit, you know, going all the way back to the Warner brothers—guys you may have heard of—but also, you know, the Cohen brothers, there’s… what are the brothers’ names that made the Matrix series? Yeah, Wachowski brothers and now, you know, the Erwin brothers. What is it, I mean, obviously movie making is a collaborative process. It’s a, you know, there’s plenty of work for everybody whenever you’re making a decent size movie, is that a part of it? Just that you get to divide the duties? Is it a trust factor? Is it something that… why are so many brothers making movies together?

ANDY: The truth is it’s just a really great marketing hook. And so there’s a rumor out there that they just hired me off the street to say I’m another brother and I actually just work at the corner at Chick-fil-A. But, yeah. No. We felt like we had to get on that train. Jon and I have worked together since we were kids and there has been a lot of brothers that have come to the table and I don’t know if the sibling thing, there’s always something that’s slightly dysfunctional about it, but I also think that there’s something that you make good ideas great when you have collaboration. And so, you know, the idea of Kingdom is it’s a studio that we want it to be very collaborative amongst creatives, similar to what you’ve seen at other places like Pixar, where there’s that creative brain trust where we can kind of all feed off of each other’s ideas and kind of refine ideas in real time and to make them better and better because the quality’s got to go up and I think it is going up and that’s our desire.

But you know, working with John, we each make a film from a different perspective. We do divide the workload and see a different part of a film. And we’ve done the job individually from each other. But we just feel like the work is a lot more special when you have somebody helping you refine it. And so somebody, you know, usually 80% of your ideas are bad ones and 20% are great. And if you can have somebody sort through all the bad stuff to get to the really great stuff, the product gets better. So, I love working with Jon.

JON: I think that there’s just a special relationship with brothers and, you know, we talked about the Smallbone brothers. Their band is For King and Country and we’re integrating them into our process. I think, you know, on the front end there can be a lot of conflict as there has been. We argue quite a bit, but we fight problems not each other, you know, and we fight for the best solution.

And we fight very passionately, from our perspective. And I think just over the years we’ve sort of divided the job to suit our strengths. And there’s something very powerful with family companies, you know, and there’s something very powerful with working with your family when you can make it work. It’s an extra layer of conflict, but it’s also an extra layer of power. And I think there is something special. There’s a nitroglycerin to being able to work with your brother and Andy’s a great actor’s director. I’m more of a craftsman from more of a technical perspective. And I think in the middle of that there’s a real genius and we enjoy the process quite a bit. It’s incredible fun. We’ve worked together since I was 12 and he was 15 so the great motivator of our career is desperation. We don’t know how to do anything else except make films, so we’re stuck with each other, but it’s been a fun journey. 

SMITH: Kevin, I want to direct a question towards you about money. I ask obnoxious questions for a living and this is that part of the program right now. Where’s the money coming from and what kind of a return on inv– I mean, obviously this thing is not sustainable if you’re not making money over a long period of time. You can make money on some and lose some money on others, but over the long haul you’ve got to make money. What does the business model look like?

KEVIN: Warren, it’s a great question. Right here, out of my pocket, got a wallet. Money’s coming right here. We’re very blessed with, I Can Only Imagine because it really showed what the audience is looking for the types of movies that we’re creating. And so with success comes tremendous opportunity and tremendous responsibility. We—John and Andy and Tony and I—went through a process to really vet out what our options are for the future, and we want to make sure that we’re following God’s lead in what steps we take specifically in the financial arena as to how we’re going to execute this.

And so we’re blessed to have a partner like Lionsgate. They’re behind us 100% for the slate that we announced last night. We submit budgets that are fiscally responsible, but our vision remains the same, which is we want to be able to create content and projects that are no different.

You heard it from Joe Drake in his speech that, you know, we don’t see this as a niche market whatsoever. We see these films just like every other audience and every other style of film out there. And we’re going to treat these films in that manner.

TONY: Yes, it’s Tony. Just going along with what Kevin says, you know, the four of us coming together, we got together, you know, one of the prayers around Imagine was, you know, if the Lord blesses this, let’s keep this ball rolling and let’s figure out how do we roll that into a bigger thing that now we call Kingdom Studio. And, you know, a key part of that was the right partner, the right distribution partner, which, you know, Lionsgate has certainly a stepped up and you know, we’ve got a great relationship with them. And then the four of us just bringing different things to the table and contributing different things to Kingdom to establish the entity and get it going. And I think the Lord’s blessed that and we’re really excited about the future.

SMITH: There’s an old saying that nobody sets out to make bad movies and yet a lot of bad movies get made. And there are, you know, you guys have developed a reputation within the Christian genre of maybe, you know, a little step above where, you know, a lot of the other Christian movies have been made. And I guess I just wanted to ask you a couple of questions about that. One is how do you do it? What are the necessary and sufficient ingredients that you look for before you say, you know what, we have a chance of doing a good movie here. We have a chance of success here. And where do most Christian movies go wrong? How can you sort of raise the overall level?

ANDY: You know, for us we realize that it’s really, really hard to make a good movie, but it’s pretty darn hard still to make just a mediocre movie. You know, it’s still a lot of work. So we try to kind of push a little bit harder to chase one of our core principles and that’s—quality is something we always chase. It’s never something we actually catch. You know, we’re always wanting to get a little bit better. So if we can take three steps better on the next one and we just always chasing it. So I think you’ve seen an improvement over time with our work and the faith film audience as a whole, I mean, the product is definitely getting better. I think what we’ve really embraced is the idea of collaboration, that when you get a lot of really good minds in the room solving the problem and trying to figure out how to make it as best as possible. And that what you see with, you know, other films like in the Pixar arena where they’ve got a group of creatives that work together and really try to hone those ideas in real time.

And it can be a very painful process to be on the hot seat and, you know, but we listen to that. And then we also listen to the audience. I think that for us, we find stories that really captivate our soul, that we have to completely believe at a core level. When it captures our soul, then we just work it into the ground to try to make it work. So when we stepped into I Can Only Imagine that project had been in development for five or six years and had been stuck and they couldn’t figure out the in road. And we just kind of, we like to get things unstuck and people said you’re crazy to take on that story.

But when we met with Bart Millard, his story capture our attention. It’s like there’s something amazing here. So we dug a little deeper and did a complete rewrite and it was amazing to see that come to life. So, you know, I don’t know if there’s — if we knew how to make hit movies it would be the only thing we’d make, you know, so we’d only do that, but we do fight really hard to make an honest, authentic story where we earn the right to be heard. We don’t — our movies don’t preach. They enable preachers to preach. So if we can stir people’s hearts, then it allows people within the Christian body to really kind of make a difference.

JON: And it’s a great question and it’s sort of a multifaceted question, but one of the things that we say at Kingdom is we must first entertain. We are an entertainment first company and we think before you can share a life changing message, you have to first operate within the entertainment business. And we want to make these products really emotional and entertaining and engaging. And that’s the goal. And I think that you can always feel passion in the work.

And so I think what we have is a team of people that are oriented around that goal and sort of we kill ourselves till we—I mean, George Lucas says films are never complete, they’re only abandoned. But we really go for it. And quality we call the unattainable core value of the company. We’re just always trying to get better and reach for it. And I think God deserves our very best. We’re storytellers serving the great story teller of all time. So let’s really reach to make these films as great as we can make them. And we consider just the time people give us as sacred as the message that we want to convey. I mean, they can go to any movie.

The second thing to make films better is that unleashing talent. We are so passionate. The most important and most fun thing I do is recruiting. We love finding under-recognized talent and empowering that talent with opportunity. And the more we have galvanized talent, the better our films become. And the more researchers we have to make other films. And so one of the things we talked about in the keynote last night is there’s just incredible talent all over the country waiting for the opportunity that God has given Andy and I. So maybe there’s a way for us to be the ones to give that opportunity to them and allow them to flourish.

And then the other thing is I think life has afforded us the opportunity that our films can get incrementally better over time and a lot of people don’t have that opportunity. So I think we just, we’ve been able to refine and hone them over time, refine our voice as filmmakers. And I look back to our earlier films and you know, there’s been a lot of improvement. So that’s one of the other goals at Kingdom is just to provide that atmosphere where other filmmakers, young filmmakers can hone and refine their skills over time, you know, underneath the banner brand.

SMITH: I don’t quite know who to ask this question to, but Kevin, I’ll traffic it off of your comment a few moments ago that, you know, I Can Only Imagine afforded you guys some really great opportunities. I mean, that was the movie that you did for, I don’t even know what your budget was. Less than $10 million, as I recall. And you got like $90 million at the box office for it. So, I mean, by any reasonable definition that’s financially successful. But does it raise the bar for you guys? Does it create pressure? Does it say, Hey, listen, the last time you did a movie, you know, you gave us, you know, 10 times return on our investment and how come we’re only getting five times return on our investment this time?

KEVIN: Warren, I got a word for you. It’s called denial. No, you know what, we’re so focused, I think we’re so laser-focused on the opportunity that is presented in front of us and so the announcement, it was really a dream of Jon’s and we kind of went along for the ride and he was right. I’m going to give him props and credit cause it was really quite spectacular. And, you know, and we’re focused on, literally, this first film that’s up called I Still Believe: The Jeremy Camp Story. It’s absolutely incredible. We are in full pre-production right now. We’re casting. We start shooting really soon. And I think that’s what kind of drives us is that focus. We’re not looking back at this, that, and the other. We’re really just focused on what’s ahead and making sure that we understand that we’re making films for our audience and we’re absolutely here to serve them.

SMITH: Rick, it’s great to finally have you on the program. I’ve known about you and your work for so many years and, of course, we’ve been personal friends for a while as well. But I’ve never had you on the program, at least not that I recall.

ELDRIDGE: Yeah, I don’t think so.

SMITH: Since that’s the case, let me just go back and hit something. You’ve been in this business a long time.

ELDRIDGE: About 35 years.

SMITH: Yeah and you’ve seen a lot of change in the industry and of course we’re here at NRB. I guess I’m wondering what you’re seeing now that you wouldn’t have seen 30 or 35 years ago and what you saw 35 years ago that you’re not seeing today.

ELDRIDGE: Well, I think, you know, the big difference and change—for better or for worse—is that technology has moved to a point to where it’s a lot more obtainable. It’s lot easier to be a storyteller, you know, especially with media. And that’s great in the ways that we can use and develop it and maybe do things we couldn’t do—visual effects—that we couldn’t do 35 years ago without, you know, $10 million worth of visual effects that can now be done on a laptop.

But the other side of that is I think that we have a lot of people who, without a lot of training, without a lot of idea of what they’re doing, deciding that they can be a media mogul and so, you know, there’s a lot of variety in the content maybe is the nice way to say it, but I think a consistency and a growth. And I think the other side of that, we are beginning to see a higher level of quality because people are demanding that now. And, you know, I think, especially in faith-oriented films where, you know, you’d get a free pass because you’re talking about the gospel, maybe not so much now. I think the quality’s to a level to where there’s more of a demand for excellence. And I think we saw that in the music business, too, many, many years ago. And I kind of came out of that field.

SMITH: Well, yeah, that’s right. You were a contemporary Christian music artist before you got into film making as well. And, you know, Rick, I want to drill down on something you said. You mentioned the technology and how it has changed the film making process. But one of the things that’s always impressed me about the work that you’ve done is that you’re also an entrepreneur and technology has not only changed how the film was made, but also how the film is distributed and marketed. I mean, you know, as recently as 25 years ago, you had to be on big theaters and that was the only way to get your film seen. And then, you know, VHS came along and maybe cable, but now it’s streaming and Fathom events. These one night events. And you seem to have, if not mastered, at least one of the masters of that multiple revenue streams. Is that a big change in the industry as well?

ELDRIDGE: I think it is. I mean, the ability for you to take back your project and kind of own it, you know, and decide where the best venues are for you to go with the product is, really, it’s a great thing. Used to be, you’d sell it off to a studio if you were lucky enough and hope that maybe they sent you a check someday. And these days you’ve got the ability to work among multiple channels internationally, you know, streaming. We have product on eight or nine streaming services all at the same time. So, the venues have opened up in a great way.

And even to the point that you can pinpoint demographics because you know some of these sites maybe specifically work with a demographic that your product just dovetails right into. So, you can kind of kind of geotarget almost that, too. So, it’s a great world, really. It’s a great opportunity for story and content.

SMITH: Well, Rick, you mentioned a story a couple of times, and I want to pivot a little bit and talk about storytelling and the storytelling process. I mean, you and I sat last night, just visiting sort of after hours and you were talking about a movie that you were involved with Bobby Jones movie, that starred Jim Caviezel that y’all shot over in Scotland. And the stories that you were telling about that impressed upon me, again, just how expensive and just how complicated doing a major motion picture is. I think you said at one point that you had 3,000 extras involved in that film.

ELDRIDGE: That’s right. Yeah.

SMITH: And so that leads to this question: how do you decide what kind of a story you’re going to tell? How do you decide that this story is worth risking millions of dollars, my personal reputation, you know, a second mortgage on my house and, you know, a year or two or three years of my life to bring to the screen? How do you make those decisions?

ELDRIDGE: Well, I think you have to look at every project and be realistic about the scope of that project. Not every project is going to be a big cinematic, you know, hopefully successful film. But I think if you look at the scope of the project based on the content, based on who’s involved in it, based on the marketability of it, and I think most importantly based on what people groups really care, you know, immediately. We’re doing a project now where it basically speaks to generations. It speaks to orphans and it speaks to elderly and it’s a story of a family reconciliation. We’ll talk about it in a little bit maybe. But my first step is, okay, who are the people groups that really reach out to those groups that I can get involved with because they care about that. And so that’s where we’ll go to kind of build a ground base of support so we don’t start from ground zero. And so I think every project has to have that. A lot of times you buy rights to a book because the book sold a million copies. So, okay, I already got a million people that bought the book, most of them probably liked it. So maybe that’s my core, that’s my base.

So I think it’s finding the base, see how that scopes and then scope, your project, your budget, and everything else to what that looks like. I don’t do the “If you build it, they will come” model, you know. Maybe when I was younger and much more ambitious, and not as much sense, I would do that. But now I think there’s some things that you have to look at and evaluate to be able to make those decisions.

SMITH: Well, I want to get to your new project and let you talk a little bit more about that and the partners that you’ve brought together for that. But I want to drill down on what you just said because that’s kind of how you cut your teeth in some ways, right? Like I think a lot of folks, I mean, I mentioned the Bobby Jones movie, of course, but a lot of folks would know you or at least your work from The Ultimate Life, The Ultimate Gift, those movies. They were based on books, that are on the hallmark channel. There was a season whenever every time I turned on the Hallmark channel, I think I was seeing a Rick Eldridge movie. Is that the kind of partnership that you’re talking about where you’ve kind of got this built-in base of an audience and partners that will drive eyeballs to your product?

ELDRIDGE: I think it is. And the way I approach it, too, is if I find a book or I find a story that I think might be good, that I resonate with, I immediately go out to some of those potential partners to say, Hey, what do you think about this? Would this resonate with you in the same way? And if everybody doesn’t get it, then, you know, chances are I’m going to say, well, you know, great idea, but let’s move on.

So I want to make sure that I’ve got some buy-in in some of those areas cause you need to mitigate those risks as much as possible and make sure that there is an audience and that there’s a team of partners that can come around it.

SMITH: Well, given all of that as context, tell me about the new film. What’s it about and what are some of the partners that you’re bringing together? What kind of a story do you want to tell?

ELDRIDGE: This is a book and a bestselling Amazon book. And it’s a fun story. It’s a generational story. We have these two young orphan eight year old, 10 year old girls in the 60s. Which was fun, too, cause every day on set was kind of like a car show. We had all these incredible cars out there and a lot of fun. The costuming was great. The center is around a little small town that has a little small town radio station and it’s one of these kinds of stations where George tries to sell his pickup truck, you know, and, well, I got this truck, you know. So it’s just a local station where you hear your local news, and so it’s very organic and all of this, the way it takes place. These characters interact with each other and there’s a lot of comedy involved in it. A lot of music, 60s music is phenomenal. We licensed a lot of songs, which is great.

But the story is the two girls, mom decides dad’s in Vietnam, she can’t handle this country life anymore. So she’s back in New York and the kids get dropped off to their grandparents. And that’s Melissa Gilbert and Corbin Bernsen who play the grandparents. And then not too long after that, dementia — Great grandmother, which is Cloris Leachman, also shows up at the house. And so they have this two bedroom country house that’s now populated with all of these people. And so this is how they live for that number of years and live life together. And then the two girls are estranged and then they come back 30 years later, which is now period nineties. And that’s the when we last spoke. And that’s when they find reconciliation and they find forgiveness and all the things that happen to them.

But it’s a great story. A lot of comedy, a lot of tragedy, a lot of connectivity. It’s kind of that Ultimate Gift emotional rollercoaster that you hope that pull people into it in a story like that.

SMITH: Yeah. Well, you said a couple things, Rick, that I want to drill down on just a little bit or push on a little bit more. One is a story of reconciliation. I mean, you’re a committed Christian. Some of your stories have not been—like the Bobby Jones story. You know, there would be, I mean, you know, Bobby Jones is a golfing legend, right? And there’s going to be an audience there. How do you integrate your Christian worldview into your storytelling? Is that a value? Do you look for stories where you don’t have to force it in it’s already there? Or do you not pay much attention to that? You just try to tell a great story and know that all truth is God’s truth and whatever is good there will point people in the direction of the author of all truth?

ELDRIDGE: Yeah. And, you know, there are a lot of these pegs that people get into now, like a Christian filmmaker or you make faith-based films. Actually, I’m a Christian who makes movies, who tells stories. And so it’s very organic in the way that I try to do that. I know there are a lot of great faith movies out there that are very evangelical that, you know, it’s like a sermon and at the end of the sermon you want to respond. And they’re very of evangelical and I think there’s a place for that. And I think where my stories and I seem to kind of gravitate to are the ones that very organically integrate faith and value in the context of the story. And hopefully there’s challenge, there’s conviction, there’s all the things that happen in that. And there’s the values and virtues that happen through that.

But in this last movie it’s very natural. We come to the table and Corbin and his character’s wife are praying and they’re holding hands at the table, blessing their food and one of the little girls kind of peeks and makes a joke and then the other one snickers a little bit and it’s kind of fun, but it’s organic. It’s life. It’s the way we live it. And so it very naturally becomes part of who they are.

SMITH: Yeah. Another thing that you mentioned a few moments ago that I want to ask you to say more about you and you mentioned Corbin Bernsen a couple of times. A lot of folks will know him from the Major League movies or from LA Law or from, you know, just any number of things that he’s been in. You mentioned Cloris Leachman, who was in Rhoda back in the, whenever that, was back in the 1970s, and now she’s — how old, 90 something?

ELDRIDGE: Ninety-four.

SMITH: Ninety-four years old. And Melissa Gilbert, of course, legendary from Little House on the Prairie and other many other things. So how do you get these pretty big name actors to become attached to a movie that’s not some huge Hollywood production? Is that something that you’re looking for? Part of that partnership thing where you’re trying to attract their audience, but on the other hand, give them meaningful work that they’ll feel good about?

ELDRIDGE: That’s exactly right. It’s part of the partnership. And, of course, you want great talent and you want people that other people will resonate to because they’ve seen them, they know them. And there’s a fan base, if you will, there. And I think it’s about finding the right stories and then, you know, finding the people that you think will resonate with those stories. All of these guys came because they loved the script. They love the story. They saw the value in it. They got paid, but probably not—it wasn’t their biggest paycheck. But they came because of that. And that was first and foremost what we tried to present. And you tell great stories. These are storytellers, too. I mean, at their core, that’s what they do. They give their life to that. So, if they can find projects that aren’t just for a paycheck, it’s meaningful for them and in many other ways, too.

SMITH: Rick, you’ve mentioned a couple of times, partnership, partnership, partnership. You often will partner with a nonprofit organization or some sort of a Christian ministry or group that can come alongside the film to have — I guess in some ways to help promote the film because they have an audience that resonates with that. But also you guys bless those organizations financially as well. So talk about that. First of all, who’s your partner for this film? And, secondly, how did you kinda stumble onto or come to that idea?

ELDRIDGE: Well, that’s something that we kind of started with from the beginning of our vision is to, I call it a triple ROI. You know, the first ROI is we want to make our money back so we can do it again. You can’t lose money on many of these and keep doing it. So we have to be, like all the things I’m talking about, mitigate the risk and, you know, help the investment.

Secondly, the ROI of telling a story that does have a redeeming value that that is meaningful. It can be fun. It can be entertaining. It needs to be. And it can be any genre, but is there a redeeming value in the story that is, you know, in some sense undergirding everything that’s taking place.

And the third ROI for us is to give back. What can we do to make a difference to others around us and especially ones that are a part of that. With Bobby Jones, we talked about that, we work closely with the PGA and a PGA’s key charity is the First Tee, which is inner city kids learning through the game of golf values of life and how to study, how to grow in their own personal walk. And so we embraced that. And that was our charity in that regard.

Ultimate Gift, which deals with a young little girl that’s dying of cancer, St. Jude’s Hospital was a perfect partner to deal with. And, you know, that movie raised about $20 million through charitable events we did across the country for St. Jude’s Hospital. So we’re proud of that. And that’s the way we can give back.

This particular movie we’re working with deals with orphans, as I mentioned, and elderly, and the great grandmother who has dementia that comes in. So, we’re looking at an organization out of Dallas that works especially in that area of Oklahoma, Dallas area dealing with widows and orphans. That’s really their outreach. And they have large facilities that house orphans and help them find homes and large facilities that house the elderly and help them with their last days of life.

And so they seem like a perfect partner and we’re talking with them now about how that might happen. And we create movie events where they can bring their clients in and they can, you know, get them involved in what they do and talk a little bit about what they do and then see a movie that really speaks to the heart of that. So it’s a great, natural way to do it.

SMITH: Well, Rick, I wish you all the best with this new movie and, well, by the way, when should we expect to see this in theaters?

ELDRIDGE: Oh, when we last spoke will most likely be the end of the third quarter. We’ve got multiple opportunities to take it out into theaters now and we’re just navigating that. And I’ve got a great problem because we’ve got five offers on the table that we’re looking at right now. And that’s not always the case, but I think this is a story that will do very well. But we’re looking at probably toward the end of third quarter.

SMITH: Well, I pray it goes well. Thanks for your time today. Really appreciate it very much.

ELDRIDGE: Thank you. Great to be here.

(Photo/Alabama Department of Commerce)

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