Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, the married couple who produced "The Bible" miniseries and the recent film "Son of God," said they have received hundreds of emails from long-time believers and recent converts saying the film has touched their lives.
"We are flooded with emails from all sources," Burnett told The Christian Post in an interview on Wednesday. "Nationwide, people are weeping during the crucifixion and the arrest – we're hearing that as he resurrects, people are applauding and cheering in the theaters," he added.
Downey estimated that hundreds of people have contacted them. Due to the high volume of responses, she explained that "we put out a call to all of our friends in the community to start gathering that information," but added that "a clearer vision of the impact" will not be available until around Easter.
"Everybody is profoundly moved by the film," Downey added. "I've seen letters from grown men who said they'd never cried at a movie before, but this movie opened their hearts and brought tears." The movie is also bringing families together and developing "a real sense of community," she said.
A Missions Opportunity
Downey emphasized the missions aspect of the film. "We certainly have been encouraging Christians to go see the movie and to bring a friend, perhaps." She explained that "sometimes it's harder to ask someone to go to church with you, but it's easy to ask them to go to the movies." Some may come to Christ just after seeing it, and some may discuss it with their friends afterward. Downey said she intends the movie to encourage both responses.
"We are hoping that the movie is a great attractor for people to seek more," Burnett explained. He said he aimed to present a compelling Jesus who would lead audiences to go to church to satisfy further curiosity.
He recalled the impact "Son of God" had on a woman who practices an eastern religion. After an advance screening, she reportedly told him, "I've always thought of this Jesus story as a Western myth, but having seen this movie I want to find out more about this Jesus." He referred to the baptisms following "The Bible" TV series – 1,000 at Tim Foreman's church and 3,000 at Rick Warren's Saddleback Church – as a taste of the impact "Son of God" is already having.
The film has even brought believers closer to Christ as well, Burnett added. "Someone told us at church that the service felt different last Sunday because he had seen 'Son of God' the previous day." The emotional experience that may bring skeptics to Christ is also solidifying the faith of lifelong Christians.
"Either people who have known the story their whole life are feeling more connected, or people who have never heard it are seeking more information," he explained.
A Personal Jesus
Downey explained one aspect that differentiates "Son of God" from Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ" – a broader story. While "The Passion" starts in Gethsemane with Jesus' arrest, "Son of God" gives the audience a glimpse of Christ's ministry before the crucifixion week. "We get to follow his ministry through the miracles, so by the time he is arrested, I think everyone is so involved in the movie and cares so deeply for him that by the time he's crucified, everyone is very emotional," she explained.
Burnett agreed. "What makes this movie even more emotion is that you spend an hour getting to know Jesus with the disciples," he told CP. "By the time he is arrested in Gethsemane it feels far worse."
Downey mentioned a very personal moment in the film right before the crucifixion. Jesus "crawls to the cross on hands and knees and he kisses the cross," she explained. Although Scripture never mentions Jesus kissing the cross, that action triggers emotion because the cross symbolizes Christians who are redeemed by Jesus' death, she said.
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Both Downey and Burnett admitted that "Son of God" does not follow the biblical text word for word, as some critics allege. "We're not pastors and we're not qualified to teach," Burnett explained. "What we're qualified to do is make an emotional connection."
He compared his new film to Jesus' mode of speaking to large crowds of people. In such groups, the savior used parables, which he explained to his disciples later. In a similar way, Burnett argued, "this film needs to stand alone so that those who had not read the gospels would be compelled to seek more."
His wife explained that the team worked with over 40 scholars and theologians to craft the script, staying accurate to the biblical meaning of the story. "We took the telling of the story very seriously," she explained. "It was a slow process." Nevertheless, they only had two hours and fifteen minutes to tell the story of Jesus, so they had to make sacrifices to textual accuracy.
Burnett explained one specific example of extra-biblical editing – Jesus' call to Peter. After Jesus calls the fisherman to become a "fisher of men," he orders him to "go change the world." Burnett explained that this addition – not in the biblical story of Jesus' call to Peter – found "one of the most resoundingly big cheers from our church advisers." While Jesus didn't explicitly say it, the advisers agreed that "the world needs this."
Downey addressed another alteration, this time both from the biblical text and from "The Bible" series – "Son of God" removes Satan from the story.
In "The Bible," the character who played Satan strongly resembled President Barack Obama, some viewers felt. "I felt that in many ways the project was hijacked for a political agenda," Downey told CP. "I felt very strongly that Jesus was not a Republican, Jesus was not a Democrat, so to use 'Son of God' as a stick to beat somebody with was offensive to me."
"It was with pleasure that I cut the devil out, so that we could continue this dialogue about Jesus, that it would be Jesus we're talking about, and not Satan," she explained.
Putting Jesus' Name on People's Lips
"I feel like our job as Christians in Hollywood is to put Jesus on more people's lips through the secular media," Burnett declared. He emphasized the importance of sharing the Christian faith with the wider culture, of "letting your light shine." "We don't want our Christian faith to be kept in small groups; we want it to be in the broad media."
Burnett also emphasized "Son of God's" success in drawing attention from celebrities on Twitter. "We were like the little engine that could – we didn't have the big Hollywood budget," but "some of the biggest names in secular showbiz" are tweeting about Jesus.
Downey also celebrated the Twitter exposure. "If you're on Twitter, you will see that everybody from Blake Shelton to Tyler Perry, to Usher, to Christina Aguilera, to Kim Kardashian," has mentioned Jesus and his portrayal in "Son of God."