Ray and Rich Romano at the premiere of The Investigator

What does it take to make a good Christian movie? “Passion,” says Nicole Abisinio, producer of “The Investigator,” based on the true-life story of comedian Ray Romano’s brother Rich.

In the long-running TV series “Everybody Loves Raymond.” the character “Robert” was loosely based on real-life cop Richard.

In real life, Rich, like Robert, is a policeman with a loving but quirky Italian Catholic family and a know-it-all high-profile brother. In the film, Rich’s undercover cop character has to take early retirement after a drug bust goes bad. He finds himself filling in as a baseball coach at a Protestant private school, facing a classroom of disrespectful rich kids and scholarshipped athletes, the latter who have special privileges since their successes bring in donors for the struggling academy.

The skeptical kids challenge their uncomfortable substitute teacher to re-open several high-profile historical cases, including President John F. Kennedy’s assassination and whether Jesus Christ is a historical or mythical figure. At the same time, he has to transform a mediocre varsity baseball team into winners.

Why did producer Abisinio choose such a project? After all, she started her career in New York City investment management, working in private equity and hedge funds for six years while simultaneously picking up roles as an actress – mostly in forgettable roles. Then she started working as a movie production accountant and eventually as an executive producer in New York City. What she’s known for is finding film funding – bringing in multi-million dollar deals for films with actors including Terence Howard, Jack Black and Samuel L Jackson.

Producer Nicole Abisinio

Producer Nicole Abisinio

She got into horror films – which make a lot of money. However, cranking out axe-murder movies aren’t very fulfilling spiritually.

“I was a very hardened New Yorker,” she says, rolling her eyes. “I was producing action films and horror movies and really nothing that was necessarily positive. It was entertainment and it was, you know, sometimes not very good entertainment.”

She began to get discouraged, feeling that her work was doing little to make the world a better place. She grew increasingly discontent – and says there was a divine plan behind it all.

Ray and Rich’s alter egos in the film

“That’s just the way the Lord works,” she said at the recent premiere of The Investigator. “I began to see that there had to be more. After a couple of years of seeing my life change as I sought Him, I started looking for Christian scripts. I actually got very sick and almost died. It was during that period that Rich’s script came into my inbox when I didn’t think I was going to survive. The story uplifted my spirit, it changed me and it made me want to be a better person.

“I thought ‘Wow! If this script does this for me…’

“It made me want to fight harder to get better and if that did that for me, then how many people going through hard times could have that same experience? What if this script could help them be able to fight another day and fight harder and know that God is with them through it all?”

She jumped into the film with gusto.

Nicole even has a cameo in the film

“As an independent film producer, you know that you are going to spend a full two years – at least – on that film. So it has to be the right one. I knew I had to put together a solid business plan. But when I prayed about it, I knew that for the first time, I couldn’t go knocking on just anyone’s door.

“I didn’t go doing any of what I normally do. God spoke to my heart, ‘Prepare you house,’ so I got everything ready and knew that people were going to come to me.

“And they did. I received a phone call from a guy who I’d worked with on another project and he said ‘Oh, it’s so interesting that you’ve got this project. I’ve got this guy who is an investor …”