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

Fans know him best as Arnie Becker, the rakish divorce attorney on the classic NBC series LA Law or, currently, as Henry Spencer, the no-nonsense retired-cop dad on the USA hit Psyche.  But these days, you’re as apt to find Corbin Bernsen behind the camera as a director, writer and producer as you are in front of one.

He is currently working to position Home Theater Films, the production company he founded, as a go-to brand for people seeking smart films they can watch together with their families in the comfort of their homes.  His latest release in that effort is 3 Day Test, a Christmas-themed family comedy currently available on DVD.

I recently spoke with multi-hyphenate entrepreneur about his new film and his overall plan for Home Theater Films.

JWK: You seem to be drawn to family-friendly entertainment. Why is that?

CORBIN BERNSEN: I try to write things…that are important to me, that are my inspirational stories to better our human condition. And, for me, critically, the family is everything. The family is why we make movies…Family doesn’t mean that it’s all for seven-year-olds. Family can mean the TV series I’m doing, Psyche. Grandmothers to grandchildren enjoy it. But it’s something you watch together. Maybe it’ll be more appropriate or more valuable for a different age at a different time but it’s something you can watch as a family and have discussions about.

Family is important to our company — Home Theater Films — but it’s also important to me on this level. I believe that the very structural building block of society is family. A strong family creates a strong community. A strong community creates a strong main street — which is what’s disappeared. A strong main street means a strong state, a strong nation, a strong world, if you will. But I believe it starts with family — that relationship between people that have this certain bond together (at) creation…I mean, ultimately, we’re all family. But the bond of the individual family is extraordinarily important as a building block.

You’ll notice that I put faith in my movies too. People go “What is that about? You trying to tell the Christian story?”…I don’t do faith because I want to be liked or sit on the fence. I believe faith…is the shoestring that holds the family together. I look at family as this comfortable thing that we just slip into. Over the years, it gets a little loose like a shoe…but it protects you from the hot pavement, it protects you from the rocky path, you know, the sole of it. But the laces have become a little bit loose. Well, that’s faith. I think the laces are what sort of hold that shoe together and keeps it on the foot. It keeps the foot on the path. So, that’s the role faith plays, at least in my films, as related to family. It’s the glue. It’s the bond. It’s the thing that holds the family together. It’s the common, universal truth for a family. So, those things are important to me.

JWK: Tell me about your new movie.

CB: This is a film called 3 Day Test and I have to say that it’s a comedy. There aren’t a lot of faith comedies out there, or Christian comedies…So, that was a challenge in and of itself — you know, working to stay true yet at the same time have some humor. I believe God has a tremendous sense of humor and, often, a nice wink at us. (Humor is) as extraordinary as love and taste and smell and other things that God gives us…And I wanted to explore humor. I didn’t want to do another family-bound-by-tragedy story. So, 3 Day Test (is) about…a man who seemingly has lost his family to technology and the busy-ness of their lives — texting and tweeting, computers and computer games and big screen TV’s and classes for self help and all sorts of stuff. He’s an accountant and he’s lost control of his family. He’s lost touch with his family. Oddly enough (through) all the devices that are meant to keep us together and in close contact…

…Well, his brother is kind of a nutty survivalist, if you will. You know, he sees doom and gloom coming and he says “You need to give your family the 3 Day Test” which is a sort of fictional thing that I’ve created out of a lot of different things that I’ve read about survivalists and what they do to test themselves. And the 3 Day Test is very simple. It’s without warning at the most inappropriate time — three days before Christmas in this case and an extreme cold front moving in. You turn off all the water, power, heat, all the utilities coming into the house. Draw the blinds, close the doors.  Lock ’em up. Nobody in. Nobody out. For three days. Can you and your family survive? Just you and your family in a darkened room where you must create your own light. You want light? You have to create it.  And he says “If nothing else, you’ll get your family back. Can you survive? I don’t know. But, if nothing else, you’ll get know your family. If you want to know your family, that’s how you get to know your family.”

Our guy’s driven to the edge by a series of circumstances which we set up in the movie where he does feel like he’s lost control. He decides three days before Christmas to give his family this 3 Day Test. And, in short, he gets to know his family. It isn’t what he thought it was going to be…but he also realizes at the end (that) it’s as much about him…as it is about his family.

You know, you’re kids doing the computer games? Well, you give him the computer games. And you don’t take the time to say “Hey, turn it off, let’s go fishing.”

You know, you’re wife is off taking classes. Well, do you take the time to say to your wife “I love you” (and give her some) flowers. Do you do it on an anniversary, on an ordinary day. Do you do it on a day without consequence? Do you show your love for your wife? (Do you) express your love for your wife?

Do you communicate with your young daughter so she isn’t glued to the TV. She’s longing for it.

In a comedic way, in our movie, (the daughter) watches a big screen TV and she’s glued to it but it’s not SpongeBob. It’s televangelists. She wants some faith in her life. Nobody’s given her that. Nobody’s given her that lesson. She asks her dad about it and he says “We just got kinda busy, I guess.”  She says “We got too busy to go to church?” And that starts the story in motion, the undercurrent of the movie and we realize those shoestrings of faith have become very (frayed)…Mom and dad got married in the church…They were younger but, he said it earlier, “We just got too busy I guess.”

So, you know that that’s the thing that’s gonna bring them back to together. And we get that in this movie through that little girl. It’s a survival. It’s as much as a survival (as if) you’re giving up food and water. You know, starving or (thirsting) to death. Do you have enough faith? Do you have enough faith in the world and do you have enough connection with your family to survive.

JWK: You’re right about so many faith-based films being so serious. I’ve actually only seen the trailer for 3 Day Test but it reminds me in tone of a John Hughes movie.

CB: Well, John Hughes, he was in that vein. Like Home Alone. We even reference that in the movie. Make no mistake. That’s the tone we were going for. So, yes, that’s definitely there.

JWK: You also seem to have an affinity for Akron, Ohio. You not only shot this movie there — but your recent Soap Box Derby film  Heart of a Hero (aka 25 Hill), as well.

CB: Right. You know, that part comes from, again, it’s just a wonderful community. I like to make movies for families but I also like to make them in communities that are made up of families — where I can make a new family, if you will, to make my movies. You can find “family” through the themes of the movies, through the kinds of movies we make, the stories we tell…through the way we make our movies, literally. You know, we love to go into a community. And Akron is a wonderful community. It’s opened its arms for us to make our movies there and has been very helpful. You know, we have very modest budgets.  We try to strive for excellence with what we have and that really requires a community pitching in. And that’s why I go to Akron. Akron is just an incredible place that had this huge industry at one point with rubber companies and… it got stripped of that was stripped of that and jobs went overseas and, you know, that created some of the very situations we talked about in the election — you know, about jobs and all that. But, you know, even with that, even being the girl whose boyfriend dumped her, they stand up every day tall and proud to say “We will persevere.” And they have. And I love that. I love that about them. They’re not giving up. You don’t “give up” there. They’ve been very good to us. So, yes, I do back to Akron.

JWK: You play a character named Tom in the movie. Who is Tom?

CB: In my movies, often you’ll see a witness to what’s going on…There’s sort of a witnessing, something that’s sort of reflective of the audience watching the movie…I sort of play this old sort of…news guy who seen the world and finds what’s going on with this family to be the real news of the world. Not that the other things aren’t important but this is it. This is reality TV. You want to know what’s happening in the world? Watch reality TV.  Because that’s the world. As stupid as it seems, that’s who we are and what we’ve become. And he sort of sees that in this family. So, you know, it’s a minor thing.

I originally wrote this story 20 years ago for me to be the lead. This is a (new) incarnation and I was gonna be the lead. I was the guy. I was like Jack Lemmon. To me Jack Lemmon was the lead for the movie and I loved Jack Lemmon, his humanity, his ability to be serious and funny at the same time. Extraordinary.

I wrote it for me but I’m a little too old for it now. So, George Newbern came in and did a wonderful job. He’s got an incredible gift — as do the rest of the cast.  And I had to find some role for myself, so I turned myself into the old hippie. It’s always fun to put the hair back on and go back to the sixties.

JWK: Your TV show, Psyche, also deals with family.

CB: Yeah.

JWK: Have you ever thought of writing and/or directing any of the episodes of the show?

CB: No. You know, I’m very cautious there. That’s where I work and they’ve been wonderful. I have a job there. I believe that my thing is outside of that. It’s a wonderful, powerful tool to help me to be able to do that which I want to do but I kind of keep them separate. Everybody’s asked why don’t I do that? I feel like it is what it is and I act there and it affords me the time and the ability to make these movies. I’d rather focus my attention on the movies and, you know, we got plenty of capable people who can do that. So, no. They inspire me for my films. I love to use more of the cast for my films but, no, I keep that separate.

JWK: Tell me more about Home Theater Films.

CB: For the next year we’re going to really work on branding the company…Again, I’m asking anybody who talks to me to really help me. We’re gonna redo the website but people can certainly look at the website and see what we’re about right now. I don’t think it’s the most engaging website but it’s enough…We want to brand it. What we really want to do is we really want to build up a base of people who enjoy our films — a database, whatever…So, if we have a film we can let people know. We can talk to folks like you who appreciate what we do who talk to their listeners. We directly communicate with listeners because a huge, huge problem in any part of our business — music, films — is there is so much noise. There is so much stuff out there. People can’t sort through (all there) is…

So, the next thing is working on the branding of Home Theater Films. It’s really working with folks like you to help us with all the noise out there, all the things that one can do to really try to build a base of people who like what we do so it becomes easier to break through the noise and, at least, say “Hey, if you like what we do, here’s something else we’re doing? And, by the way, work with us. Tell us what you like.” We want interaction with an audience. We’re a modest little company. If we had interaction with a couple hundred thousand people and, you know, a certain amount of people say “We support what you do” and will purchase our (film) or our DVD…then I don’t have to worry so much about distribution and breaking through noise and altering truths to make sure we can sell and working the deal and all that stuff. I just want to make the thing I know in my heart that God wants me to make — to entertain people, to inform people, to inspire people.  And not just people of faith. People who want faith in their life.

So, we’re gonna build our brand…And tell us when we’re right. And tell us when we’re wrong. And tell us what we’re missing. And tell us what else is needed. (is) where you can find out about what we are right now. We don’t even have a place to say “Join our Army” or I don’t even know what you want to call it. We don’t really have that. We’re building that out.

The other thing that’s up for us is…a romantic comedy. You know, it’s got messages of faith and values in it and I think it’s funny and it’s touching like the best of the romantic comedies and, again, trying to make some movies that aren’t so “on-point,” if you will.  That may very well be the next movie.


BTW: As an aside, one of the things I like most about Bernsen’s current show Psyche is that it employs the nearly lost art of the catchy opening sequence. There was a time, not too long ago, when virtually all shows had them. Now, they’re few and far between. They’re fun and they help brand a show.

And, of course, here’s one of the all-time classic series openings:

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

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