In an age when movie theaters have become saturated with exploitive and profane content, a new motion picture company has given birth to films for families. Actually, that would be a rebirth, as there was once long ago a time when films for families were central to Hollywood’s success.
While spiritually themed film and promotion companies such as Fox Faith and Edify Media are springing up, so too is Temple Hill, a production company formed by friends and one-time roommates Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey. Their first project – The Nativity Story.
Screenwriter and Christian Mike Rich (The Rookie, Radio) began writing a script concerning the faith journey of Mary and Joseph. Rich’s agent, Marty Bowen, became increasingly drawn to the project. New Line Cinema’s production executive Cale Boyter was open to the idea of a story that hadn’t received major studio attention in over forty years. And Bowen’s producer friend Wyck Godfrey was compelled to leave a comfortable position at Davis Entertainment in order to make The Nativity Story a reality. Like the Magi and the shepherds, each was being guided toward a life-changing event.
Whatever resistance normal to the birthing of movies cropped up, it was miraculously overcome. The Nativity Story would be written, Temple Hill Productions would be making it, and New Line Cinema would distribute it. And on December 1, 2006, the birth of Christ will take center focus where the night before Saw III or Employee of the Month played before movie-going audiences.
When the green light was lit, Bowen and Godfrey searched for the chosen director and found that person to be Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen, The Lords of Dogtown), who jumped at the opportunity to tell Mary and Joseph’s story. Turns out, the talented director has a solid place in her heart for Christian values.
“We had spoken to several people about directing the film, but Catherine was the first person we felt was emotionally connected to the story and this journey of faith,” says Marty Bowen.
“What made it even more of a dream for us was that when this script was originally conceived Mary was the one with the least character arc in terms of her journey of faith. Then Catherine suggested, ‘Let’s take Mary off her pedestal and show her as the 14-year-old girl who’s been thrust into all this responsibility. Let’s see how she handles it.’ Literally she goes from playing in a field with other children to discovering her father has a husband lined up for her, then discovering she’s having not only a child, but the son of God. Then she has to go back to this environment where her condition is incredibly taboo.”
Then came casting.
Hardwicke and the producers needed someone who could portray a young maiden who is suddenly thrust into a miraculous turn of events. They were pleased to find that ability in Keisha Castle-Hughes, the youngest Academy Award Best Actress nominee in history for her work in Whale Rider.
“Keisha projects a fierce strength beneath a quiet exterior,” Wyck Godfrey says.
In New York the filmmakers quickly chose a recent Juilliard graduate, Oscar Isaac, for being what Hardwicke calls “soulful and alive.”
Actor Oscar Isaac: “Reading over the scene after Joseph learns Mary is pregnant I couldn’t figure out what to do. I called my professor at Julliard and told him I just can’t figure out this scene. He said you need to find a reason to stay. Suddenly I realized that Joseph’s whole being is one of humility. And that was one of Christ’s major teachings. I think for Joseph, righteous meant love. So when I did those scenes, even though I had the rage, the fear and the doubt, I just loved her so much that I realized that righteous just means selfless, humble love.”
Mike Rich: “There’s very little source material on Mary and less on Joseph. So what I had to do was really delve into the socio-political and cultural dynamics of the time.”
Wyck Godfrey: “We feel you really get to know these people as real people, not just icons. We used the scripture to make sure we had those parts of the story correct, then we filled in the blanks where you can imagine human behavior.
Catherine Hardwicke: “Obviously, Mary and Joseph were devout Jews. It was important for us to portray that reverence. After all, that’s where the Christian faith came from. But I also wanted to see Mary as a girl, not perfectly pious from the very first moment. I wanted to see another side of her life. I wanted to see that moment when Joseph saw Mary pregnant. I thought that would be a powerful moment. And I wanted to see him with friends and a part of the community."
Marty Bowen: “I’m really proud of the love these two characters share in this movie. The first two acts present a very gritty, difficult way to live and we wanted the film to feel of that time and place. We wanted to show you a few layers of the individuals and show you the journey of faith and then have that faith rewarded at the place of His birth. I know that if I’m sitting with my family watching this movie on Christmas Eve I want to be at that point reminded why Christmas is such an important event in our lives.”
Made in response to the artistic and financial success of The Passion of the Christ, insiders believe that if The Nativity Story meets with equal acclaim and manages to further add to Hollywood’s coffers, then the Christian community can expect further tales exploring biblical themes.
As for Temple Hill, the question arises, “So how do you follow up the greatest story ever told?”
Marty & Wyck: “When we formed our company we said, let’s make a movie that our parents would be proud of. Now I have kids and you get to an age where you want to put something good into the world. It’s not always going to be Christian-based entertainment, but hopefully the themes of the movies we make will reflect well on our own Christianity. We want them to be uplifting or patriotic or hopeful. ‘Cause certainly there’s enough lack of hope in the world.”
Why I Won’t Review The Nativity Story
By Phil Boatwright
I can’t. You see, in 19 years of reviewing films, I’ve never been a part of a film’s promotion. Until now. I ran a booth promoting The Nativity Story at a convention and was paid to do so. To critique the film after receiving money from the studio would be a conflict of interest. And that’s a no-no in my profession. Or should be.
But I didn’t get involved with this production simply to make money. (Believe me, it wasn’t that much money.) I became involved because I sensed the importance of this motion picture. Here’s the deal. The Nativity Story was made in response to the financial success of The Passion of the Christ. Thought some naysayers said Mel Gibson’s take on Christ’s last hours before the cross was a fluke, many studio heads, including those at New Line Cinema, determined that there was a market for Christian-themed films. Even Disney Studios guessed that there was a buck to be made and therefore distributed The Chronicles of Narnia. And they were right.
After talking to Hollywood insiders, it has become clear just how important this film really is. Besides telling the story of two people guided by God’s Holy Spirit and the realization that Christ humbled himself – a fact that may cause many unbelievers to ask us questions about our faith – there are Christians in show business who believe that the success of this production will make way for other spiritually themed entertainment. To reconstruct a line from Field of Dreams, “If they make it, we will come.”
The bottom line for studio heads: “Fill the coffers.” If we support films with positive messages, especially with truths taken from biblical precepts, then more will be made. If The Nativity Story offers back the same financial return as The Passion or Chronicles, then rest assured that a genre will be reborn.
This, of course, raises the question, “Should we be filling Tinseltown’s coffers?” Let’s be practical for a moment. Christians are going to movies. What themes and messages should they be subjecting themselves to? Philippians 4 tells us exactly what we should be putting into our heads. But Christians can’t do that at the movies, if the movies don’t contain those themes. So, yes, we should support films with a Christian message, for that will ensure more films with sensitivities to the Christian community will be made.
“Sounds right, Phil, but some of those people involved in these Christian-themed movies aren’t Christians. What’s more, they flagrantly break God’s commands. Isn’t supporting a film with these sinners the same as supporting the sin?”
Remember The Andy Griffith Show? You know the one from Mayberry with Opie and Barney Fife? Well, I once heard Andy Griffith declare that he wasn’t as good a man as the character he portrayed on that series. Should that declaration disqualify the life lessons I learned from the characters on the program? Something connected with my spirit when I listened to the lessons Andy was teaching Opie. Indeed, I never shot my BB gun at a bird after watching the episode where Opie had to raise the babies of a bird he shot merely for target practice.
Get what I’m trying to say? If an actor can’t live up to the lesson, that doesn’t invalidate the lesson. If someone’s spiritual walk is enhanced by a scene containing a spiritual message or if a nonchurch goer is suddenly taken with a desire to develop his spiritual walk because he saw The Nativity Story or The Passion of the Christ, doesn’t that validate the making of the movie?
As for those actors who can’t live up to the roles they play, well, there’s a stage axiom that goes, “It ain’t over ‘till the fat lady sings.” God loves all of us, even actors who still don’t see His grace. Some day, some of them will. And despite Hollywood’s atrocious reputation, there are many, many souls working there with Christ in their heart, and others seeking such a fulfillment.
Now, about The Nativity Story. As I said, I won’t be reviewing it. A colleague will provide his opinion for my readers. I, on the other hand, am here to promote it. So, here goes. GO SEE THE NATIVITY STORY. And since the opening weekend is so very crucial in the eyes of Hollywood accountants, GO OPENING WEEKEND. I thank you.
Academy Award nominee Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider) and distinctive newcomer Oscar Isaac (Spanish writer/Civil War martyr Federico García Lorca in Beauty of the Father) star as Mary and Joseph in the retelling of the birth of Christ.
The studio and filmmakers have worked hard to ensure that the The Nativity Story is both historically and biblically accurate: There are many Christians involved with the film, such as screenwriter Mike Rich and producer Wyck Godfrey, and a wide spectrum of Christian New Testament scholars and historians has been involved in the pre-production process. Additionally, New Line Cinema brought some influential evangelical leaders to the set, including Anne Graham Lotz and Frank Wright, president of the NRB. Both leaders also read the script; here is what they had to say:
“From what I have observed, THE NATIVITY STORY is Biblically accurate, historically authentic and visually stunning. Written with heart, directed with sensitivity, produced with excellence and performed with artistic grace, it is destined to become a beloved, cherished classic.”
– Anne Graham Lotz, AnGeL Ministries
“THE NATIVITY STORY is a biblically faithful and artistically superb expression of the most momentous event in human history – when God became a man. For a generation of movie-goers unfamiliar with this truth and its implications for their lives, this magnificent film may well be transformational.”
– Frank Wright, Ph.D., President & CEO, National Religious Broadcasters
For more information concerning this very promising production, go to the website:
At the site, you can watch the new teaser trailer and a featurette on the drama. You can also view a photo gallery and read the detailed synopsis.