Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

October is Respect Life Month. So, possibly a good time to catch the hit film October Baby – named one of Entertainment Weekly’s Top 15 Box Office Surprises of 2012 – on DVD or Blu-Ray.  Also, a good time to check out Every Life is Beautiful, a website set up to provide ministry resources for those grappling with the aftermath of abortion as well information regarding adoption and foster care alternatives.

The site also includes video testimony from those whose lives have been touched by abortion in one way or another – such as that of Students for Life President Kristan Hawkins who offers her own very personal reason for believing that “Every Live is Beautiful”.

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October Baby, for those who may not know, stars John Schneider (Smallville, Dukes of Hazzard), Jasmine Guy (A Different World) and newcomers Rachel Hendrix and Jason Burkey. It’s the story of 19-year-old Hannah (Hendrix) who discovers she’s adopted and the survivor of an attempted abortion. With friends from college, she hits the road to find answers and to locate her birth mother. Ultimately, she finds the power of forgiveness.

I recently spoke with October Baby director Andy Erwin (who co-produced with his brother Jon) about the success of the film in promoting the value of every life. Here are some highlights from our conversation

JWK: Were you surprised by the success the film had in theaters?

ANDY ERWIN: I was really pleasantly surprised.  We came out the same weekend as The Hunger Games on a fraction of the advertising budget.  So, we really didn’t have any way of knowing whether we’d be able to compete with that kind of noise in the theater space at that time. And we were really pleasantly surprised to open in the top 10 at number 8 and do a really strong per-screen average. People really connected with the film and it got a lot of good buzz after that…People started talking and to end up on the front page of the New York Times for a film our size is really unheard of so, yeah, it was a wild ride but it was exciting.

JWK:  Any chance of a sequel?

AE: I loved October Baby but by the time you get done with a film, from conception through being able to get in the theater and all that, you know, it’s usually a year and a half (to) a few years of your life. So, I think after that (we’re) kind of ready to find the next story. We’re ready to move on to the next thing but that story was extremely satisfying…I feel like we told the story strong for what it was and I (feel) like we didn’t leave anything left undone. So, I’m satisfied (that we’re) finished telling that story and (look forward to) moving on the next thing.

JWK:  There’s also an October Baby novel.

AE:  There is a novel version…It goes actually more into detail into the stories of the characters – with more time to flesh out the story than (is possible) in an hour and a half movie. Eric Wilson (who did the novelization of Fireproof) was a treat to work with and (he) really grasped the story. I’m very satisfied with how the book turned out.  I think (it’s) a real treat for the fans who loved the characters but wanted to find out a little bit more about them. It’ll allow them to engage in an even further level beyond the movie.

JWK:   Was the book part of the original marketing plan or did that come about afterward?

AE:  It kind of came about as we were getting into releasing the film. We felt like there was a strong buzz and a strong connection with the fans, kind of a grass roots moment. We didn’t really intend to do a lot of the auxiliary products. That happened (when) we were approached with some ideas about it and really felt like that (it) was a way to kind of continue to expand the story…I’m really satisfied with how that turned out.

JWK:   Was the 9/11 release date for the DVD and Blu-Ray release of October Baby just a coincidence?

AE:  It really was (though) that date has a strong significance to us. We were all profoundly affected by that day but Jon and I – our first feature-length project was The Cross and the Towers which was (about) the aftermath of 9/11.

JWK:   What’s next for the Erwin Brothers?

AE:  We’ve got two different projects that we’re looking at. They’re both stories we really want to tell. They keep flip-flopping back and forth as to which one is next. (They’re) two really completely different kinds of films

JWK:   Can you tell me about them?

AE:  I would love to. I have to bite my tongue because I ‘m excited about these stories but we’re still getting all of our duck in a row and all the rights worked out. I’m looking forward to announcing it soon.

JWK:  Will some of the October Baby cast be involved?

AE:  When I find an actor that I really enjoy working with, yeah, I’ll definitely look for a role in the next film that really fits them. Anytime I have a good working relationship with an actor I’m always gonna look to see if there’s a part that fits who they are. There are several actors from October Baby that I loved working with and that I’d like to work with again.

JWK:  Back to the October Baby DVD, any extras for fans?

AE:   Yeah, the DVD is packed with extras…There’s 10 deleted scenes on the DVD that are really strong. They’re great scenes in and of themselves but to get the time down for a theatrical release, that’s kind of the (challenge) for any filmmaker. So, there’s a lot of deleted scenes. Several of them are laugh-out-loud hysterical. A couple of those scenes were cut from the final version of the film because they were too funny. We felt like it kind of crossed the line into comedy but as a standalone scene it will be a real treat for the viewer.

And then there’s some behind-the-scenes extras that feature the true story behind October Baby, as well as a video with did with the actors for Life is Beautiful, the song featured in the credit roll of the movie. We did a video with that song.

And then the last (thing) that’s really cool on the DVD is, instead of doing a director’s commentary,  I felt like making October Baby was really a family effort and so we did a group commentary . We brought in a lot of the cast and crew – even John Schneider (participated). SO, it was kind of a group effort.

JWK:  So, it was a tight-knit cast and crew?

AE:  We did become a family – a very tight-knit family. We actually thought about, on the last day of filming, trying to botch one of the last scenes so we’d have an excuse to film another day.  We really just laughed. And, especially taking on some of the subject matter of this film, there needed to be some light-hearted moments in the film and we felt like the way to get that (on the screen) was (for) the cast and the crew had to have a fun time… (Working with) the October Baby family was one of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had in the industry. It was just great getting to know the cast and crew on that set.

JWK:  The film has reportedly had quite a positive impact on several people who have seen it. Is that personally inspiring to you?

AE:  It definitely is.  The stories were amazing. (We heard) story after story of people that have been just profoundly impacted by this story of a young girl who goes on this journey of finding forgiveness and putting her life back together.

People have been touched by the abortion issue – (particularly post-abortive men and women – as well as people who just dealt with the need to forgive and really registered with that.  This was such a triumphant story of forgiveness. It really grabbed a lot of people…

…One young 12-year-old watched it and said he felt like he could go home and forgive his dad who had just revealed that he had had an affair and his family was dealing with that. I would have never guessed that the film would connect with a 12-year-old little boy. (But) there was the theme of forgiveness and that’s a universal concept.

That’s why the film was not (about) a political agenda as much as it was (a means) to tell a heart-felt journey and story. And, really the relatable concept is forgiveness.

I hope that that comes across and that’s what I heard, time after time after time, from people who have watched the film.

JWK:  How did you feel about having October Baby labeled a “propaganda film” by some pro-choice critics?

AE:  I was, maybe, naive. I didn’t think that it would be as controversial as it was because that really wasn’t our intention.  We just set out to tell a good story. This (one) really captivated our heart and we decided we wanted to tell it. We tried to tell it in a very even-handed, relatable way and, if you watch the film, I don’t really feel that you can say that it’s polarizing.

But the topic is such a hot topic that it really did hit a lot of raw nerves. I kind of knew what it felt like to be Tim Tebow for a day.  Because people on one side really loved it and then there were people on the other extreme side that really hated it.

JWK:  I think you were touching on a subject that some people don’t like to believe even exists. That is the whole idea that there even are abortion survivors.

AE: There was one critic that said the likeliness of this happening in real life was like being struck by lightning while being eaten by a shark with a winning lottery ticket in your shorts.  I just kinda took that as a little bit of an insult – when there are 40,000 confirmed cases of abortion survivors. It is a reality.

And it think that’s the point of a being a filmmaker. It’s not to tell people what to think. It exposes issues that people need to think about. And this is an issue that people need to think about and to talk about. And…although it wasn’t my intention to really ruffle any feathers, I’m okay with the controversy because it got people talking about a very relevant issue.

JWK:  Will your next film be controversial?

AE: We’re obviously not afraid to take on a controversial subject but the film that attracts me is a good heart-warming story, a story of redemption. Neither one of the films that we’re looking at right now is controversial – both are very inspiring stories and a lot of fun. Neither one of the stories that we’re looking at has a political edge to it…So, especially after taking on October Baby…it will be a kind of breath of fresh air to step into a little bit more “just fun” fare…

…I can’t wait to introduce our fans to the next story from the Erwins because I think what we want to do is continue to build a brand that you can trust. It’s gonna be a good clean movie that the family can enjoy (and is also) a very real, genuine heartwarming story of faith and redemption. I think we want to build on (the success of October Baby) and earn the trust of the audience one film at a time.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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