After finishing their first feature movie, October Baby, filmmaker brothers Jon and Andrew Erwin faced a problem: studios didn't want to take a chance on a flick about the "untouchable subject": Abortion.
October Baby is a fairly typical coming-of-age love story, but the plot hinges on the main character's discovery that she's an abortion survivor. (Jon Erwin wrote it after hearing abortion survivor Gianna Jessen speak.) Though studio executives loved the film, they didn't want to take on the controversial topic.
But the Erwins managed to raise enough support to do a limited release last October, and on its opening weekend it was the fourth-highest grossing film for per-screen average at almost $8,000 per theater. The positive reaction was enough to convince Provident Films and Samuel Goldwyn Films to help bring the movie to a wider audience—about 350 theaters when it releases on Friday, March 23.
The Erwins, known for their work on music videos (they've won three Dove Awards and were recently nominated for another), have been excited to see the impact the film is having. "Ultimately we do want to raise the value of human life," Andrew Erwin says. "But the people who've engaged the movie that have moved me most are those who have pulled us aside afterwards and said, 'Nobody knows this, but I had an abortion.'"
CT editorial resident Morgan Feddes recently spoke with the Erwins about their careers, their films, and their faith.
How did you become filmmakers?
Andrew Erwin: Jon and I started as kids. We worked at a youth camp in upstate New York where we made these little film shorts for the kids. You'll never find a more honest audience than 500 teenagers. Later we got into documentary, and one of them used a song by Michael W. Smith. He saw that, loved it, and asked us to do his next music video, and we fell into doing music videos for the next six years. Our goal was to eventually get to feature films and to be able to tell stories that were our stories.
Jon Erwin: I didn't really want to get into the industry at first. But when I was 15, I was working with a cameraman and somebody got sick on a University of Alabama football game for ESPN. I got to take their place. I thought, Oh my gosh, I'm getting to watch a football game with a telescope, and I'm getting paid for it. I was done for after that. My dad helped us get a loan for our own equipment a year later. We did everything possible to pay off that loan. It was just one step at a time.
A: The fundamental thing that's changed recently, though, is that for the longest time, we made our living by working for hire. We worked to facilitate other people's stories, other people's visions. Then Jon directed second unit on the movie Courageous with the Kendrick brothers (of Sherwood Pictures), and those guys had a pretty big impact on him.
J: Alex Kendrick asked me, "What's your purpose?" I didn't know the answer, because up to that point my purpose was to get paid. It convicted me that I needed to step out, and that Andy and I needed to use our gifts for the Lord in a greater capacity. We were the "get it done" guys—if someone needed a music video or a documentary but they already had the idea for it, Andy and I would come in as hired guns. We were kind of the Han Solo of the Christian world. That needed to end. It was time for us to step out in faith and do something that we were passionate about. That's what led to October Baby.