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Faith, Media & Culture

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

Friends off the screen. As actors, Kevin Downes and Robert Amaya scored in 2011 with the surprise success the faith-based police/family drama Courageous.  Recently the good friends reunited onscreen for the upcoming Erwin Brothers comedy Moms’ Night Outa comedy about the perils of parenthood. Though far lighter in tone than their previous collaboration, MNO also has some positive observations to make about the importance of faith and family. Another difference, along with Patricia Heaton and her husband David Hunt, Downes is one of the producers on this one.

I recently had the opportunity to catch up with the pair on the Birmingham, Alabama set of Mom’s Night Out. They were on a break from filming a wacky scene at a kiddie arcade.

JWK: You’re a producer and an actor on Mom’s Night Out. How do you balance those two hats?

KEVIN DOWNES: You’re only as good a producer as the team that you build around you. My first film was in 1996. I’ve produced, doing quick math, for 16 years…When I started people often asked me “How’d you get into producing?” which is such an ambiguous question but the answer is nobody hands you anything. You have to create and start from scratch every time you do a new project — whether it’s the first project or the last project you do.

The first project I did, the budget was microscopic. A lot of filmmakers have that story. The Kendrick brothers’ Flywheel was a microscopic budget. You learn by doing. So, through 16 years this is probably the most enjoyable film. We have such a great crew and a great cast and it’s just fun to go to work each day and to create. I can honestly say that that hasn’t been true with every film because film, often times, don’t want to get made. They fight you. You know, producers are usually running around trying to plug holes. Typically, movies don’t have enough crew. You have to work to withstand all the different dynamics, all the different things that are going on on a movie set. With Mom’s Night Out, we have an awesome cast and an awesome crew. Often times stuff happens that I don’t even know about because these people are such great problem solvers. Things are going really smoothly. So it allows me then to turn the cap around and be an actor for a day.

Yesterday, for example, I locked my cell phone with my pants in the dressing room and didn’t look at it the entire day. I was actually really free from an actor’s standpoint. I didn’t have to pick it up and look at the 35 messages that I had. But it’s a lot of fun. I enjoy it a lot. The Erwin Brothers are so talented. One of the funniest things about this film is that we get to create. We often times will get into a scene where we understand the structure but we also work it and work it until all the movement and the lines just seem very nice and natural and fit within the vision of what the Erwin Brothers are trying to create. It’s been really a joy and a blessing. We’re not just going out there reciting lines of dialogue. We’re actually here creating as actors. And Jon and Andy (Erwin) want us to be as natural as possible despite this crazy look that I have — which isn’t quite natural — but it makes it funny.

Yesterday, for example, it was an eleven or twelve hour day…I got a little nervous about what we were doing so I stuck around for an hour afterwards with Jon and we looked at the dailies…and he and I laughed until 1:00 AM at the footage that we shot yesterday. I went to bed happy because it was, like, “Okay, that’s funny! That works!”  That stuff that was broader with the kids, having shot the camera angled, it was so hilarious. When we were arguing and having a debate with the counter guys, it was hilarious. But you’re not sure when you shoot it because you’re in the moment.  So, it’s one of the challenges that you have but, thankfully, all the footage that we took so far has just been really funny. Hopefully, it translates (to the screen).

JWK: You said that when you decided to move forward with this script, Robert Amaya was one of your first phone calls. Why do you think he has connected so well with the Christian audience?

KD: Well, first of all Robert is so humble. He’s totally for the Lord. He’s a man of integrity. That’s one of the things that I love about him. There’s no mistaking why he’s wanting to do what’s he’s doing. He’s also a very gifted actor. Obviously, that helps. For the part of Marco, when I first read the script, I couldn’t get Robert out of my head. It was just like “That’s Robert.” So, there was just no question about it. I think God created the role for him.

JWK: How do you respond to that?

ROBERT AMAYA: Well, truth be told, as soon as I got that script, I started reading it to my wife out loud. I read about two pages and I said “Honey, you need to hear this.” I read it out loud and we were just dying laughing. We can all relate. We can all relate.

JWK: Do you guys have any ambition to take what you’re doing to television — like a King of Queens with a Christian sensibility?

RA: My goal in life is just to see that Jesus Christ is exalted. Beyond that, whatever doors He opens. If I can be in this industry and be able to bring joy and bring honor to God and to family in other roles, to me, that would be a joy, a wonder. I don’t put any boundaries on that. I just go out there and try to be that positive influence in bringing truth into people’s lives…That’s really what I want to do. I mean we’re all missionaries, right?
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Moms’ Night Out is due to hit theaters in 2014. I’ll have more from the set over the course of the coming week.

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