Pull up a chair and join in our little chat with Jerry B. Jenkins (co-author of the best-selling “Left Behind” series) and Dallas Jenkins (“Hometown Legend” film producer). Having recently formed a new production company called Jenkins Entertainment, the two share with us some of their long term goals, thoughts on “Hometown Legend” [read our review], and just a little bit of advice for aspiring Christian writers and actors.
Jenkins Entertainment was formed in February 2000 by Jerry & Dallas Jenkins for the purpose of producing positive, moral films of the highest quality. Their first film project, released in early 2002, is "Hometown Legend", an inspirational football drama set in a small southern town. As high school football is a tent pole in the Southeast and Southwest, the company introduced the movie in these regions on January 25th, the week before the Super Bowl. The film opened on over 30 screens in the South and will be released on video and DVD on August 20, 2002.
Jerry and Dallas, thanks for taking some time out to talk about Jenkins Entertainment and “Hometown Legend”, your first film under this new venture.
Dad and I have always been movie fans, and after I graduated from college and worked at a small production company for a few years, we decided that the time was right to do our own thing. Fortunately, the success of the “Left Behind” series afforded my Dad the ability to finance our own interests, which is always the preferred way to go if you want to keep control. We started the company in January of 2000, and our first film releases August 20th.
We were thrilled with the response, but not for the same reasons others might be. Our goal was for the movie to be treated as a real movie and for us to be taken seriously as a company. The movie did not have huge numbers theatrically, but we really didn’t expect it to; we wanted to learn every aspect of the business and get our name out there. Critics responded very well, those who did see the movie were enthusiastic, and we feel that gave us a great start for the future. If we had made a poor movie, even if we’d have had financial success the opening weekend, we wouldn’t build trust with the audience or with critics, and they would be wary of our next film.
Before we released the movie theatrically, we made our distribution deal with Warner Brothers, who took video and television. They are way too big to handle a movie like ours theatrically, and this wasn’t really a national theatrical kind of film anyway. There were several other smaller companies that wanted to release it theatrically, but we would have had to give them video and TV rights as well, and we just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work with a major studio on our first film. We distributed the movie ourselves to theaters.
Having started my career as a sportswriter, and Dallas and I being lovers of sports, football seemed an ideal backdrop for such a story. A mistake too many filmmakers make is to use a backdrop with which they are not familiar. You really can’t fake sports knowledge.
Yes, it has been compared to Remember the Titans. Our theme was the importance of seeing oneself as part of something bigger, the individual becoming a team player to accomplish more than he ever could have on his own.
Well, the actors you mentioned aren’t exactly big stars, at least not big enough to get a big opening weekend in theaters. But again, we made a key decision in the casting process to find the best actors, not necessarily the biggest names. Believe it or not, we had some pretty big names audition or express interest in the project, but we wanted to make the best movie possible. Looking back on it, that might not have been the best choice commercially speaking, but we believe the movie is better because of it, and that’s what our company is striving to do. The performances in the film are outstanding, everyone who’s seen the film agrees.
No. One of the lead actors is a strong Christian, which was nice, but that wasn’t the goal. Again, we’re looking for the best actors, not necessarily the best Christian actors, just like you wouldn’t look for the best Christian plumber to fix your pipes, you’d look for the best plumber
Our script wasn’t preachy or evangelical, and the actors really loved it. Most actors are interested in finding the truth of each character they play, even if it doesn’t match up with their own personality or belief. Our characters, even the Christian characters, were realistic and three-dimensional, which was appealing.
Terry O’Quinn has been in at least 60 movies and several huge TV series. It was intimidating, being a first time producer, and our director was a first timer as well (we’re both in our 20’s). But he was great, and he said it was one of the best sets he’s ever worked on. Other actors like Kirk Woller and Lacey Chabert, who’ve been in the business their whole lives, were amazing to work with because they were so professional. Kirk had to take a break from our film to work for Steven Spielberg in “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence,” who personally chose him for that and “Minority Report.” You can imagine how cool it was when Mr. Spielberg couldn’t keep Kirk an extra day because he had to get back to our movie. “Hometown Legend” inconvenienced Steven Spielberg!
This is a family movie. We’ve gotten some of the best responses from middle-aged men, but we’ve gotten terrific responses from junior high girls as well. I have no idea what that means, but it’s encouraging to reach a wide range. This movie is like “Hoosiers,” in that even though “Hoosiers” featured Indiana basketball, people outside of that world loved it anyway. “Hometown Legend” shows you a world most people don’t know about, where people worship God, football, and the beauty of small town life, in that order. It’s interesting, regardless of where you’re from.
There are challenges in every movie, but this one was pretty astounding. We dealt with everything from potential lawsuits to pregnancy. Personally, I was bit in the face by a crew member’s dog during post production, requiring 55 stitches, while I was living in our new L.A. home with no furniture and a pregnant wife. Also, we had to shoot the same day of filming THREE times because our film was exposed to nuclear radiation by our shipping company… twice! I don’t want to bore you with details, but for all those people who want to make a film, let me confirm what everyone says: It’s impossible!
We are completing a deal with a big producer to develop “Twas the Night Before,” a book my Dad wrote a few years ago that is an amazing Christmas story. Initial response confirms that this could be a big movie. Beyond that, we just take it one movie at a time; we’re not trying to be a big company that churns out multiple films. I’m also directing a short film later this year, so that’ll be another new experience.
Well, I’m still in the "secular" industry. We want to make it very clear that we are not a "Christian" film company trying to show Hollywood how it’s done or anything like that. We’re a Hollywood film company, doing the same thing every other filmmaker is doing, except our films will represent our unique worldview. I started out after college working for Namesake Entertainment, a company that is currently working on "Hangman’s Curse," a Frank Peretti project. I started as a secretary and slowly worked my way up to Important Secretary.
The first film I saw that made me want to get into this business was One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I saw it in high school, and I realized how emotionally powerful film can be. I wouldn’t recommend it for families, of course, as I wouldn’t recommend several of the movies that influenced me, but I think it’s important for even Christian filmmakers to understand what makes great films work. Hopefully, we’ll be able to utilize some of those techniques in portraying our worldview. For instance, I would love to make a movie like The Breakfast Club, but with a more redemptive perspective, or Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. Please understand—I do NOT recommend these movies for general audiences, but they were films that showed me what films are capable of, even if their message was different from mine. Of course, It’s a Wonderful Life is a great example of a film that does both—communicates a powerful message, AND does it with a Christian worldview.
For many years I loved The Sting because it was tightly written, well-acted, had beautiful music, and had a great surprise ending. I felt the same about The Sixth Sense. I’m a huge fan of The Verdict. I very much enjoy films that aren’t afraid to be quiet.
At our websites, HometownLegend.com, and Jenkins-Entertainment.com, people can email me directly, and I respond to every one. I love to talk about pop culture, especially a Christian’s perspective, and I’m always willing to give free advice to anyone. Regarding headshots, there’s really not much I can do; it’s vital for actors to get an agent and go through the same system everyone else does. That way, when I do start casting a film, they can get in touch with me through their agent and we can plug them into the audition process. Otherwise, we simply don’t cast unrepresented actors. However, I will stay in touch with whoever wants to email me, and I’ll give frequent “heads ups” when we’re getting ready to do a film.
Write a lot, read a lot, and check out the Jerry B. Jenkins ChristianWritersGuild.com. Most important, don’t let the odds get you down. Ignore the myth that publishers want only big-name writers. Remember that every big name you’ve ever heard of was an unpublished nobody once.