When Mel Gibson made The Passion of the Christ, no Hollywood studio would touch it, so the director funded it himself. But when the movie earned $371 million, Tinseltown took note, and it was only a matter of time before it decided to jump on the Jesus bandwagon.

Now two major Jesus-themed films are in the works: On December 1, New Line Cinema, which hit it big with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, releases The Nativity Story. And next Easter, Sony Pictures, the studio behind The Da Vinci Code, releases The Resurrection.

The Nativity Story tells the tale of Joseph and Mary, the journey of the magi, the rule of King Herod, and the birth of Christ. The Resurrection picks up where The Passion left off, telling the story of the 40 days between the Resurrection and the Ascension.

Christianity Today Movies, CT's online sister publication, visited the Nativity set in Italy in late May. Director Catherine Hardwicke was filming Joseph (Oscar Isaac) leading a pregnant Mary (Whale Rider's Keisha Castle-Hughes), riding sideways on a donkey, down a steep path on a rock-strewn hillside. Hardwicke decided she wanted to direct the film after reading Mike Rich's script.

"I was amazed at how good it was," Hardwicke said. "I had read the story in the Bible so many times, and the characters were so iconic. But Mike had gotten so inside the characters: 'What would it be like to be those people?'"

That's exactly what Rich (Finding Forrester, The Rookie, Radio) was aiming for.

"The Nativity is usually presented as an event-board story—this happened, then this happened, then this happened," said Rich, an evangelical who spent almost a year researching the story in order to be faithful to the Gospel accounts. "It's rarely presented as a character story. ...

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