In less than a month and between the releases of two other faith-based movies, independent feature film "Wesley" will hit the big screens, telling the story of the founder of a Protestant movement that claims some seventy-five million members worldwide.
Based closely on the actual events of John Wesley's life, "Wesley" is the story of an "irritatingly self-righteous instructor" at Oxford University who secretly struggles with his lack of true inner peace – which he eventually finds after experiencing saving faith.
"The story is one of grace, portraying clearly the spiritual transformation that changed Wesley from an outwardly religious man driven by his own need for salvation to one confident of grace, and compelled to share with others the love that he had received," according to Foundery Pictures, which produced the film.
"It has all the elements that you'd want to put into a movie," independent producer and director John Jackman told the United Methodist News Service (UMNS).
"I'm hoping that we're going to hit a crossover audience, that this isn't just going to be of interest to Methodists," said Jackman, whose films include "Passing Moment," "Windsor Knot" and "An Uncommon Union."
For "Wesley," Jackman reportedly spent more than a 1,500 hours researching extensively on the historical story of John Wesley. The script is based largely on the journals of both Wesley and his brother, Charles. Several top Wesley scholars were involved as consultants.
Particular emphasis had been given to advice from experienced independent film producers that have successfully completed films in the $2 million production budget range, according to Foundery Pictures.
Aside from that note, the budget for "Wesley" has been kept confidential "for a variety of reasons," Jackman told The Christian Post.
He further noted that a couple of sources have published estimated budgets for "Wesley" that were "entirely inaccurate."
Based on the quality of the official preview trailer, in comparison to other faith-based films, some suggest that the budget for "Wesley" is somewhere between those of "Flywheel" and "Facing the Giants," the first two films of Sherwood Pictures, the movie-making ministry of Sherwood Baptist Church in Georgia. Sherwood Pictures, which will release its third film on Sept. 26, had a $20,000 budget for its first movie, "Flywheel," and a $100,000 budget for its second movie, "Facing the Giants" – which became the surprise box office hit of the year, touching the hearts of more than 1.5 million people in theaters nationwide.
Sherwood's latest movie, "Fireproof," had a reported budget of $500,000.
According to Foundery Pictures, "Wesley" contains the elements to make a truly compelling motion picture. And "Wesley" director and producer Jackman believes that the dramatic and often surprising story of John Wesley will attract moviegoers of all faiths, as well as warm their hearts.
The movie begins with a spiritually conflicted yet pious Wesley, played by Burgess Jenkins ("Remember the Titans," "The Reaping"), who is offered the chance to go to the new British colony of Georgia. With the hope of preaching to the American Indians, Wesley and his brother Charles, played by Keith Harris ("Big Fish," "Junebug," "Chicks101"), sail for Georgia.
In Georgia, the Anglican priest falls in love with Sophy Hopkey, the beautiful niece of the local magistrate; but the star-crossed love affair that ends tragically and Wesley is forced to return to England in failure and shame.
Back in London, Welsey meets a Moravian missionary who counsels him and tells him he needs "heart religion," as opposed to the outward religiosity that Wesley has so avidly practiced. Wesley struggles with his failure and fears and finally experiences the peace he longed for.
"I felt my heart strangely warmed," he says.
An invigorated Wesley then begins to preach about his experience of saving faith, but is rebuffed by most churches in London. Undaunted, he begins preaching in fields and later makes efforts to help the lowest classes of society, establishing a radical and controversial social ministry that is met with fierce opposition.
In an interview with Reel Carolina Magazine, Jackman said the hope for the movie is to tell a story that touches many lives.
"The story is one of personal spiritual transformation, and I think we've told it in a way that will resonate with many people of different backgrounds and beliefs," he said.
Jenkins, who plays Wesley, meanwhile applauded the film for its openness and reach.
"I think the end result is something that is so far-reaching in so many ways — that if you're not Christian, you're not going to be turned off by it … and if you are [Christian], you're going to get something very profound from it," he told UMNS.
The film will be released less than two weeks before another movie based on the life of a key Christian leader, the Rev. Billy Graham, hits theaters nationwide. "Billy: The Early Years," set for an Oct. 10 release and produced on a $5 million budget, paints a vivid portrait of Graham and his life before international prominence. The movie captures the essence of Graham's journey from a young man at the crossroads of faith and doubt to ultimately facing the moment of decision that gave way to one of history's most influential evangelists.
To date, the trailers for "Fireproof" and "Billy" have been viewed respectively on YouTube.com by over 46,000 in 6 months and over 104,000 in 3 weeks. On GodTube.com, over 14,000 viewers in 5 months have seen the "Fireproof" trailer while over 32,000 in 10 weeks have seen the "Billy" trailer. The trailer for Wesley was not available on either websites but has been posted in the website of Foundery Pictures since Oct. 19, 2007.
On the Web: "Wesley" Preview Trailer at founderypictures.com