“One love can change your life; one life can change the world.”
That is the tagline for the upcoming film I Still Believe, based on the life of contemporary Christian singer Jeremy Camp and the relationship he had with his first wife Melissa, who died of cancer in 2001. The film, which opens nationwide in theaters and in IMAX on March 13th, was shot here in Mobile and the surrounding areas, as “it had the landscape and topography we were looking for,” says producer Kevin Downes. Downes, along with Jon and Andrew Erwin, produced the film, along with the inspirational movies Mom’s Night Out, Woodlawn, and I Can Only Imagine, which was the #1 box office grossing, independent film of the year in 2018.
Kingdom Story Company
The three created Kingdom Story Company, which partners with Lionsgate Entertainment to strive to create life-changing content from a variety of talented storytellers. Those stories, Downes says, are what he has been drawn to for a long time. He says his favorite movies of all time have been inspirational sports stories, mainly “movies that leave you at the end of the movie feeling encouraged and inspired. When I go to the movies, I wanna be entertained, but if I’m encouraged and inspired in my own life, then that’s a huge win. And so those are the types of stories that I love to tell, true stories that showcase the power of the gospel and stories of the Bible.” He says that they are passionate about telling these stories, and that the audiences seem to love them.
Where I Still Believe originates
Downes and his wife were attending a Jeremy Camp concert about eight years ago, and Camp was talking about Melissa and what they had gone through with her cancer and her untimely death. Downes says he and his wife both had tears in their eyes, and she mentioned to
him (or gave him the elbow, he says) that he should make Camp’s story into a movie someday. Around the time he was filming I Can Only Imagine, he brought the idea for Camp’s story to the Erwin brothers, as he couldn’t get it out of his head. He remembers telling them that they “really needed to dive in and see what this story is all about.” The Erwins loved the story, and they all decided it would be their next movie, undeniably, Downes says.
Andy Erwin shared Lionsgate put all their resources behind them for I Still Believe and have come behind us like mainstream films but are allowing us to put our faith behind it. From the movie I Can Only Imagine, Erwin shared. “No one expected it to do anything, we had to self finance to put it in theaters and it was predicted to do very little, and it did 17 million across the country and went on to steam roll.” Sitting at a food court in Dallas, TX God allowed Erwin to see how cool to be a part of doing something special. Erwin said, “I’m not my films, I feel very called to tell the stories that really move my heart and this is satisfying in and of itself for an audience.”
Made in Alabama
Filmmakers from Birmingham Alabama, Erwin shared that they are the underdogs and that is something they did not want to forget because of the hard work they have put in to get to where they are today. On the subject of choosing Mobile Erwin said, “We feel passionate about staying in the South. When choosing whether to shoot in LA or in our own backyard, we will pick our backyard everytime. We also feel passionate about people we do movies for and don’t want to get absorbed by the system on a stage celebrating about ourselves.” Downes praised the Mobile area, indicating that the residents were very friendly, the food was great, and that he would love to film in the area again. Besides Mobile, he visited Dauphin Island, where the wedding of Jeremy and Melissa was filmed.
He and the Erwins spent about two months filming the movie in Mobile. The Erwins are natives of Alabama and are familiar with the areas, and, Downes mentioned, the state offers “very aggressive” filming incentives for doing movies there, so it helped them pick Alabama as the place to make I Still Believe. Besides Mobile, he visited Fairhope, which he described as an “idyllic little postcard town”; Dauphin Island, where the wedding of Jeremy and Melissa was filmed; and Gulf Shores, where the city’s annual Hangout Festival served as the backdrop for one of the film’s concert scenes. Downes is appreciative to the festival organizers for the “gift” of letting them use the stage and observed the audience’s excitement.
A Well Rounded Cast
Downes describes the film’s case as “well-rounded”, and they each deliver good performances. 22-year-old KJ Apa, a native of New Zealand and who Downes describes as a “talented kid with an old soul”, plays Jeremy Camp, and he did his own
singing in the film. Interestingly, Downes notes his favorite scene in the film as an intimate moment between Apa and Britt Robertson, who plays Melissa Henning Camp. Without giving too much of the scene away, Downes tells that it makes the viewer see how much Jeremy loved Melissa: “KJ sings acapella, with no background music, just him and his voice to the camera, singing to her. You see his heart poured into it, really beautiful, and it just presents this image that people will want to be loved.” The rest of the principal cast includes actor Gary Sinise and singer Shania Twain as Jeremy Camp’s parents, and Downes observed that all of the actors were really invested in the story. He noted that the cast, including Sinise and Twain, made shooting the film a fun experience, particularly in a scene where Camp’s parents come to visit him at college. Those scenes were filmed at Spring Hill College, and Downes says that Sinise and Twain “made it a lot of fun”, displaying such charisma and personality.
Message of the Film
Downes is very proud of how the movie came together and is sure that audiences of all ages will gravitate toward the film for its positive message. “I think, whether you’re young or old, there is something in this movie for you, ‘cause we all have relationships in our lives, whether or not we’re married,” Downes says, “and this movie is such a visual example of how to love your neighbor and treat them in a way that’s often better than ourselves, and what happens when we actually do that and serve one another.” He also adds that it’s a message that is so needed in today’s society, “how it’s all about ‘me me me’, and people kinda take from each other. Yet here’s this visual example of true love”, what unconditional love it and how’s played out in the story of Jeremy Camp and his late first wife. Downes thinks that audiences young and old will really grasp the overall theme of unconditional love in the midst of circumstances, how Camp put everything in his life aside in order to serve Melissa and help her through her life at this point. He encourages people to see the film not just for the sights and sounds of Mobile, but for the true story that resonates throughout the film. “Even though this is a love story with kind of a sad element, they should know they will be encouraged and inspired by going and watching this movie.”