A new direction for faith-based films

Credit: Jennifer Brett

Credit: Jennifer Brett

Not to report bad news on Good Friday, but let's not bear false witness here. Faith-based films don't always soar at the box office.

Recently released "I Can Only Imagine" is performing well, with a $55 million+ box office haul so far , but other spiritual pictures have tallied far less in ticket sales.

"Same Kind of Different As Me," based on the powerful nonfiction book about an art dealer's transformational friendship with a homeless man, took in about $6.4 million from last year, according to Box Office Mojo . "Tyler Perry's Boo 2: A Madea Halloween," released the same weekend in October 2017, earned more than $47 million . Those numbers represent domestic audiences for the most accurate comparison, as international information wasn't available for "Same Kind of Different as Me."

Kirk Cameron's "Saving Christmas" pulled in just $2.7 million and earned the dubious distinction of worst movie of the year (2014) on the industry site imdb.com .

"The Shack," starring Octavia Spencer as the Almighty, fared far better with a $96 million international box office haul . But "The Help," for which she claimed a best supporting actress Oscar, cleaned up at $216 million internationally. Her more recent film, "The Shape of Water," was named best picture at the 2018 Academy Awards and  earned $186 million  globally.

"In the past a lot of faith films have put the message above great storytelling," said actor and producer Harrison Powell, vice president of Giving Films. "First and foremost you've got to create great and compelling stories that are a conduit for a message."

The production company was founded by entrepreneur Rick Jackson chairman and CEO of Alpharetta-headquartered Jackson Healthcare . Its first movie was the locally filmed adaptation of "90 Minutes in Heaven."

Credit: Jennifer Brett

Credit: Jennifer Brett

Gov. Nathan Deal and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle attended the star-studded premiere at the Fox Theatre in 2015, where Jackson talked about his troubled childhood, growing up in the projects and then the Methodist Children's Home in Decatur after his mother, a sometimes abusive alcoholic, could no longer care for him. He credits faith for propelling him from poverty to business success, and is dedicated to supporting causes that help kids in need.

"I'm steward of God's money. I'm trying to find out the best return on it for giving," he said in a Personal Journey article the AJC ran at the time .

At the time of the "90 Minutes" release, Giving Films announced profits from ticket sales would benefit organizations such as the Christian Alliance for Orphans, FaithBridge Foster Care, Hire Heroes USA and Hope International. But the film’s box office take hasn’t pulled ahead of what it cost to produce. Its more recent picture, “Paul, Apostle of Christ,” has earned more than $7.3 million against a budget of $5 million.

"It takes a little time at the box office to get your money back so you can give your profits away," Powell said.

Moving forward, Giving Films is branching out into comedy in hopes that lighthearted fare will not only prove a respite from angry headlines and trending topics, but turn a quicker profit than can be donated. On the books is a new project, "Never Too Late," which Powell described as “Mean Girls” meets “Golden Girls.” It will film soon in Atlanta.

"We’re actively looking for comedies. We kind of want to lighten the mood," Powell said. "A lot of faith films are in the drama space. That’s great. At the end of the day - with all that’s going on in the world people want to step away and laugh."