The heavenly $11 million opening for the faith-based drama "War Room" was the latest earthly blessing for Alex Kendrick, who with his brother Stephen has become one of the most successful independent film producers in recent years.
The brothers' first three films -- "Courageous," "Fireproof" and "Facing the Giants" -- were financed by Georgia's Sherwood Baptist Church for a combined $5 million and wound up grossing nearly $80 million.
The $3 million "War Room," which Alex Kendrick co-wrote, produced, directed and starred in, was the first production under the brothers' new banner, Kendrick Brothers Productions. And it seems poised to follow the success of its predecessors for Kendrick and Sony's Affirm label.
"This film hits a need in our culture that is becoming more and more obvious," said Kendrick, who worked as a Christian DJ at two radio stations before attending New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and being ordained into the ministry. "We need to return to prayer! Politicians, government programs and political correctness can't fix the many issues that are destroying our culture -- but God can."
TheWrap caught up with Kendrick while he was still basking in the glow of his film's successful launch.
TheWrap: Your camp seemed less bullish about the chances of a box-office breakout for "War Room" than many other people. Were you managing expectations, and were you really surprised?
Alex Kendrick: Literally, we prayed for the best, and worked for an $8 million weekend or better. We thought we had a shot at the top five, but didn't expect to be near the top. The response has been incredible! We've been overwhelmed with people who were inspired and moved by the film. Already we've gotten more social media messages than we could ever read.
"War Room" seems like a strange title for a Christian movie, at least for people who haven't seen it. What's behind that?
It is a very strategic title that may not be fully understood until after you see the movie. But just like the military preparing their battle plans with their allies in a strategic place before going out onto the field, we believe we should each learn how to get alone with God and strategically pray through all of the issues we are facing in life before trying to go out and deal with them. We can tell a huge difference in the result when we fight our battles in prayer first.
Your films clearly have grassroots appeal, and several conservative politicians have cited them during their campaigns, in some cases reaching out for endorsements. Do you foresee getting involved in those efforts?
We're not endorsing politicians at this point. We're more interested in calling people of faith to pray and ask God to intervene in our culture. We need to turn back to God as a nation before turning our hopes toward another politician.
"War Room" was the first film you didn't shoot in Georgia or with the Sherwood Baptist Church. Are you concerned about losing touch with the people who've supported your films?
Absolutely not! They are the lifeblood of our film ministry. We still consider our church as home base. They pray for us, encourage us and keep us balanced. But even while shooting "War Room" in Charlotte, North Carolina, we had about 85 local churches help in some way. So it was a great experience in both respects.
Have you thought about doing a Christian superhero movie or something like it, to bring your perspective to the masses? Can you see handling a project with a big budget, movies stars and pushy studio executives?
We pray about every project. So if we truly believed God was prompting us to go in that direction, we'd do it. But I doubt that would happen. As far as increasing the scope of future films, we want to do whatever the story needs.
You co-wrote "War Room," and also served as actor, director and producer. If you were suddenly limited to just one of those jobs for the rest of your career, which one would it be?
Directing. My favorite part is telling the story.