Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 06/24/22 I interrupt my blogging break (I’ll be back Monday, July 21) for this comment on today’s historic Supreme Court abortion decision. For what it’s worth, I think it’s the right decision. The question now is where do we go from here. Below is […]
Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 05/11/22
Imagine National Lampoon’s Vacation movies with a faith twist. No, that’s not a forgotten John Lennon lyric. Rather, it’s how you might describe Family Camp, the new Christian-themed comedy that could just prove that “Christian-themed comedy” is not an oxymoron. The film, starring Tommy Woodard and Eddie James, aka The Skit Guys, a comedy duo that might also be described as a Christian version or Abbott and Costello or even (for you youngsters out there) Cheech and Chong.
As for the plot of the film, debuting nationwide in theaters this Friday the 13th (now there’s planning), I think this trailer pretty well sums it up. My conversation with Tommy and Eddie follows.
JWK: How did you guys meet?
Eddie James: We met in high school. We were in drama class together. We were kind of the class clowns that would always just kinda go rogue and do whatever we wanted to do but…we had just a love of acting and making people laugh.
JWK: How did you end up coming together as The Skit Guys?
Tommy Woodard: I invited Eddie to church. He said “yes” to Jesus and we started performing skits for our youth group. Then our youth pastor, when he’d go speak at another church, he’d take us…or, if he couldn’t go, he’d send us. The honest truth is just by word of mouth over the past – gosh – thirty years now we’ve just been going wherever when the phone rings – or if we get an email we go there.
JWK: And you started a podcast. When did that come about?
EJ: I would say very rudimentary we’ve been doing the podcast for a while. We would just be talking probably for an hour and a half. We probably kind of shot ourselves in the foot. K-LOVE came along and…said “Hey, let’s take that hour and a half and make it twenty minutes. What do you say, boys?” So, we started doing that. It’s called Laugh More. It’s a fun podcast. It’s worth a jog if you want to listen and laugh a little bit…It’s just two best friends talking about life and things around and God’s Word.
JWK: Tell me about Family Camp and how that came about.
TW: We’ve been making short films for churches for probably the past almost 20 years now. The ultimate dream of two buddies from high school was, you know, you want to make a movie but in the eighties, when we came together, the concept of a Christian movie was just silly but, thankfully, there were some great trailblazers who came ahead of us and made movies – things like Fireproof, Facing the Giants, War Room and just great stuff that was coming out. All of a sudden we thought “Wait a second! We might be able to do this!” So, through a lot of work and planning but, more than anything, there was a lot of prayer just asking God for guidance and direction. God brought the right people at the right time and we got to make a movie.
JWK: What you bring to the faith film genre, I guess, is comedy.
EJ: Yeah. Most of the movies that have been out in theaters have been dramas. We are the first faith-based family-friendly comedy…Most of the faith-based movies have been date night movies, two tickets. We’re hoping that with this faith-based family-friendly comedy you can bring your whole family – which would be four tickets or more. Bring the grandparents! Everyone’s gonna laugh! We really tried hard to make sure that there’s a lot of laughter in this movie. We believe laughter breaks down walls for truth to enter. If you can get someone to laugh, they’ll listen. You just have to have something good to say when they do listen. So, we have God on our side on that aspect to preach God’s Word and show values.
JWK: So, was this movie brought to you or did you bring the concept to the production company?
EJ: This was our original idea.
TW: We brought this to the filmmakers.’
JWK: Tell me a little bit about the plot.
EJ: Basically, there’s a family camp that families will go to. Tommy’s family, called the Ackermans, were supposed to sign up on line for a cabin. When they get there (they find out) they only did it half way or not all the way. So, they end up sharing a (quarters) with my family called the Sanders. We’re a very overly religious family, at least to the Ackermans who don’t go to church that often. So, you got kinda The Great Outdoors (meets) The Odd Couple. It’s a lot of fun.
JWK: What do you hope people take from the film?
TW: First of all, after the two years that we’ve been through, I hope that families can go relax and laugh – and laugh really hard. I hope people will walk away with their tummies hurting from laughing so hard. I also hope that there is a discussion that happens between moms and dads with kids (and) between husbands and wives, Throughout the movie there are a lot of great storylines. Mixed with the laughter there’s some really great truth. So, we hope that God uses this to bring healing to families and encouragement.
JWK: Is there a particular theme or idea that you’re trying to get across?
EJ: That we’re all in this together. Everyone is fallible. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone has an Achilles heel. Everyone has hurts, habits and hangups but through the family, when we’re honest with one another, we can look at those things and…we can grow together, especially when it comes to Christ. We can grow in Christ. You see these families have different hurts, habits and hangups and they deal with them. They come to recognize them. No one is perfect.
You also see the brotherhood. You see this friendship evolve out of my character and Tommy’s character. Men need friendships. Men need to be vulnerable to one another and open up to one another because it’s a hard thing for men to do that. So, we also cross that aspect as well.
JWK: Do you have any aspirations of going beyond the Christian market and achieving mainstream success with this film?
TW: I’ll tell you this…We’ll have people say to us “You know, I can’t get my dad to go to church” or “My mom, uncle or whoever loves to watch your skits. They love to watch your videos.” So, we have a great hope that this will be a movie that people who may not feel comfortable going into a church will come and watch and have a good time.
JWK: Do you feel that movies with a strong faith theme sometimes have an extra hurdle to get over with critics?
EJ: That’s a really great question. It’s a touchy question too. With Christian movies…a lot of times the person that’s not the believer can almost kinda be the bad guy until they say “yes” to Jesus. So, I think when it comes to reviewers and stuff like that it’s a little bit “Oh, I see what’s coming. Oh, okay, here’s the message. They’re gonna preach at us.” It doesn’t really matter if you’re at a church service or if you’re at a movie. Sometimes the critics can just go “Here comes the message. Here comes the sermon.” That’s something we’ve been always fighting for decades – or centuries. I hope that, especially with a comedy…maybe some of that goes down a little bit smoother.
JWK: I love comedy and I can think of a lot of mainstream comedies that actually have had themes and messages that might not have been overt but were much in line with positive faith. On television, I’m thinking of shows like The Honeymooners, Frasier and Everybody Loves Raymond where the episodes often played out like parables where the characters learned valuable lessons about what’s really important in life. Do you have any favorite mainstream comedies that you feel conveyed positive ideas and we’re also really funny?
TW: That’s a great question. I would say this. When we were teenagers we grew up watching John Hughes films – not the best example, not family comedies – but his comedies made you laugh and then there would be a moment where there’s just a dip – like a great moment – and then you go and laugh again. That’s been kind of the model for us over the years. It’s been laugh, laugh, laugh – oh, there’s a dip; there’s your moment, there’s your message – and then keep laughing.
(to EJ) How would you expound on that? You’re usually better at that than me.
EJ: I think that’s great.
You mentioned Everybody Loves Raymond. They did it as well. Laugh, laugh, laugh, laugh – and then there’s this dip. There’s this moment that Patricia Heaton (and) Ray Romano would give and they were just beautiful – or you would see it with the mom or the dad or the brother. I think that’s the way we’ve always tried to do it. They were real-life moments.
We grew up in the eighties. What I loved about sitcoms in the eighties – Happy Days, Mork & Mindy, Laverne & Shirley – in minute 22 there was gonna be a message. You know, the theme song music kinda changed. For a divorce kid – a latchkey kid that would stay home while my mom went back to work to finish school – those were my value lessons. Those were my mini-messages…They taught values. They taught right from wrong. They taught things. So, as a kid growing up then I’m gonna laugh and then they made me think. It wasn’t overt. It was very just conversational. It was just part of life.
I hope that’s what we’ve (done). That’s our secret sauce. It’s just – what does it look like to have a real-life conversation with two people and in the midst (of it) you’re laughing, you’re thinking, you may even shed a tear.
JWK: Do you guys have any future movie plans? You could, I guess, sorta be the Abbott and Costello of Christian comedy – or maybe you could do a sitcom. Any aspirations in that area?
TW: We’d love to do all of it. We’ve talked about it. We have ideas for sitcoms that we would love to do and we have other ideas for more movies. Our hope is that Family Camp is the beginning of much more to come.
JWK: Anything else you’d like to say as we wrap this up?
EJ: If you’re looking for a movie that you can take your family to, we baked it right into the title – Family. You don’t have to worry about a bait and switch. We want moms and dads when they walk out of the theater to feel like kings and queens – that they took their families to a movie and they didn’t have to worry. Their backs aren’t going to get tightened. There’s nothing the kid is gonna ask about afterwards. They’re gonna look down and they’re gonna see their kids laugh…We made it (for) teenagers, little kids (and) the grandparents. Everybody’s gonna have a good time…Support this family-friendly faith-based comedy…We want to do many more. It really does depend on people getting out (this) opening weekend.
Bonus Video: Grammy Award-nominated music artist Rhett Walker (All Joy No Stress) is making his first movie appearance in Family Camp in which he also performs his new song Family is Family (available for download HERE). You can check out the music video tied to the film below.
Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11