October Baby a 'Shattering' Experience for First Time Filmmakers
By Chris Carpenter
CBN.com Program Director
CBN.com - With strong box office results during it's theatrical run in the spring, October Baby, a faith-based movie about abortion seeks to make further in-roads with its DVD release (September 11). Apolitical in its stance, the movie is actually a coming-of-age adventure designed to show a young woman coming to grips with her past.
CBN.com Program Director Chris Carpenter recently sat down with filmmakers Jon and Andy Erwin to discuss what it’s like to make a movie with your brother, why they chose such a serious topic as their first movie project, and the critical importance of forgiveness and healing.
This is your first experience as feature length film directors after mostly producing Christian music videos. Why such a serious topic as your first movie?
Jon Erwin: It wasn’t the idea that two music video directors from Alabama are going to make a film about abortion. (laughs) It’s just that God gave us some incredible gifts as teenagers to get into the media industry. We had produced some faith-based music videos but weren’t quite sure where we fit in the Christian space. I worked with Alex and Stephen Kendrick on Courageous and Alex asked me, ‘what is the purpose of your work?’ To that point, it was a question that Andy and I had really been struggling with. We didn’t know. Our purpose was to get paid. Around that time God really started moving in our hearts that we have a role to play. I love what’s going on in Christian film right now. Sometimes you don’t find the film to make. Sometimes that film finds you. Around that time we were introduced to Gianna Jessen, who is an abortion survivor. I honestly didn’t know those two words could go together … abortion and survivor. I didn’t know they could co-exist. What I found out was that it is a reality. People who have survived abortions have lifelong consequences because of it. I was shattered by that notion. It captivated me to the point that we started researching it. The choice to make October Baby was a choice not to make a viable Christian film but instead a choice to make a movie because we were so shattered by the subject matter that we had to do something. I hope this movie doesn’t tell people what to think but encourages them to think for themselves. We want them to ask themselves the question of ‘what is my position on life and how should that change my behavior?’
Andy Erwin: We have spent the last ten years making music videos and documentaries. Music video is about entertainment. Documentary is about finding the story and telling it in an honest way. I think October Baby allowed us to combine both of those ideas. In order to engage the audience, first and foremost it has got to be worth the price of admission. It’s got to be entertaining. So, by being entertaining you earn the right to be able to say this is worth my time. The second thing is, with a documentary it is a way to make people think.
As brothers, how do you work together as filmmakers? What does that relational dynamic look like?
Jon: It is a unique relationship. I think Andy is Watson to my Sherlock Holmes. (Laughs) A couple of years ago we were nominated for five Dove Awards for our music videos and in each one I think we wanted to kill each other. So, we determined there was some sort of brilliance in that and so we just respect it.
Andy: We are a little bit different from the Kendrick brothers. I think with each brother team you need to work out your own process. What has worked for us is that we co-direct all of our projects. We have a policy of friction with respect. A lot of times we have two different methods of problem solving and how we approach storytelling. But we have found that by having both perspectives there is sometimes a little friction in the middle but the best idea wins. If we have respect for one another then the best idea finds its way to the screen. As a creative team, we find that 80 percent of the time your idea is a bad idea. But 20 percent of the time they are good. When you work with your brother it allows you to whittle out all the bad ideas. The friction seems to create the best stories.
What is the story of October Baby?
Jon: When I found out about this issue of abortion survivors I was very passionate about it. But at the same time I determined that I needed to make it an entertaining experience. You can’t Google the term “abortion survivors” and sit at your computer for 20 minutes and read the stories without being deeply affected by it. You can’t help but ask yourself, ‘what have we done?’ I heard James Cameron speak about Avatar and he said he got passionate about the issue of our relationship with nature. But his issue was boring. So he injected this idea into a blockbuster film. He said he got subversive about it. So, by people being entertained they were exposed to his worldview and message. That was so convicting to me. I thought what if we made a story about a 19 year old girl in a coming of age story? She doesn’t quite know who she is and where she fits in the world. But she’s beautiful and you fall in love with her. You fall in love with her plight. You empathize with her. She has all these issues both physically and emotionally that she doesn’t understand. She discovers she is adopted and is the survivor of an abortion. She goes on this journey of discovery to find out who she really is. In the end, her story becomes a journey of forgiveness. She discovers how powerful forgiveness can be.
Just how important is the journey of forgiveness and healing in these types of situations?
Jon: I had a 12 year old boy that came up to me at a screening and he said this movie changed his life. I thought that he was probably adopted because we’ve had a bunch of those stories. It’s amazing to see the healing of post-abortive women and young girls also deciding they are pro-life. That is who this movie is for, not necessarily a 12 year old boy. He told me this movie changed his life. I asked him what he was talking about. He said, “My dad had an affair on my mom and I have been really angry. I watched this movie and I am going home to forgive my dad.” That showed me the universal power of forgiveness. We all need forgiveness and we all need to forgive someone in our lives.
Andy: The point of the movie is forgiveness and the point of forgiveness is healing. Abortion is an issue that affects and hurts people on both sides of the aisle. It affects not only the abortion survivor but also the post-abortive mother. We didn’t want anyone to come away from this story feeling talked down to or judged. We wanted this movie to be an instigation of healing.
Jon: I wrote this movie because I really wanted to reach that 14 year old girl who might face this issue. I thought a movie like this could affect her decision about being pro-life. In turn, my hope is that she would talk to her friends about her decision to be pro-life. It’s time that we confront the issue of abortion but it’s also time we bring healing to people. We must fulfill Jesus’ mission statement. He is here to heal the broken-hearted, to release the captives, and to bind wounds.
Who is the movie October Baby for?
Jon: In lot of cases these days, entertainment seems to segregate the family. There are movies for kids, movies for adults, etc … For me, I wanted to make a movie that brought the family together. It is very important for me that a parent watches October Baby with their child – a mother and a daughter, a father and a daughter. I would like them to all legitimately enjoy the experience for different reasons. They are enjoying the movie together and as a result they are having conversations about the movie’s issues. It is so important that parents talk to their kids about life and how important it is and the value of it.
Why do you think Hollywood is scared to death of these types of movies?
Andy: I think Hollywood is scared of the unpredictable. What we are out to prove, and is being proved by the people who are seeing it now, is there is a great hunger in the audience for this subject. But I think Hollywood doesn’t quite understand the Christian audience so they always step into that water very tentatively.
Jon: This movie was rejected by every major studio in Hollywood. One executive told me that he thought October Baby was a great movie and would do well financially especially if controversy hits it but he couldn’t release it under any circumstance. It was too polarizing.
After the movie has had its run in movie theaters what do you ultimately want viewers to take away with them?
Jon: I think God has a plan for this movie. When we were at our absolute lowest point because we couldn’t get any money from a studio to release it, we said, look, if October Baby is successful there will be only one reason. That is because the unborn and the issues of life are important to God and to a lot of people.
I’m not a pastor, a politician, or an activist. I’m a filmmaker. I have been so inspired by becoming a part of the pro-life community. I’m a filmmaker who was shattered by this issue. I’m so encouraged that I hope that the movie helps, which I believe God is already doing, to awaken a generation to the value of life. I do believe there is change coming with this generation of young people.
Andy: As a filmmaker, all you can do is make a film that you feel like the story is told honestly. But then once you tell it, is to realize there is a much bigger picture that God is at work doing. To know that He is weaving together a tapestry of healing and to see that take on a life of its own and see the audience engage that is a treat. And the best part is that we can’t take any of the credit for it.
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