A 900-member church in Southern California began filming its first full-length movie this week with the goal of impacting the lives of at-risk teens.
New Song Community Church in Oceanside, Calif., has set up a soundstage at the back of the church and joined together professional movie makers with film students and volunteer actors from the congregation.
The plan, according to publicity coordinator Lisa Frost, is to have the movie released nationally.
"We hope it will reach a lot of people," Frost told the Union-Tribune of San Diego.
Written by New Song Youth Pastor Jim Britts and Executive Pastor Steve Foster, "How to Save a Life" deals with the tragic issue of teen suicide.
The screenplay follows high school star athlete and all-around popular guy Jake, who crumbles under pressure after his childhood friend commits suicide and he learns his girlfriend, Amy, is pregnant. In light of the events, Jake contacts a youth pastor, seeking a Christian perspective on life, and begins a chain reaction of life-saving events for those around him.
Screen writer Britts said the film is a way to carry a positive message to troubled teenagers.
"There are so many kids out there that are hurting," he told the Union-Tribune.
Each year in the United States, thousands of teenagers commit suicide. According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15-to-24-year-olds, and the sixth leading cause of death for 5-to-14-year-olds.
Meanwhile, about one-third of girls in the United States get pregnant before age 20. In 2006, a total of 435,427 infants were born to mothers aged 15–19 years, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 80 percent of these births were unintended, meaning they occurred sooner than desired or were not wanted at any time.
New Song's Britts, who works daily with troubled teens, said he wrote the screenplay for "How to Save a Life" after learning that the top influencer of teen behavior is not their parents, school or church, but movies.
"I work with troubled teens every day and see the severity of the poor choices they make," said the youth pastor in a released statement. "Movies are a powerful way to illustrate the consequences of making the wrong choice while reinforcing positive actions."
New Song Church isn't the first church that has entered the moviemaking business to engage a culture that Americans are largely being influenced by
The Kendrick brothers of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., are set to release their third film, "Fireproof," this September following the surprising success of their second film, "Facing the Giants," in 2006.
While Associate Pastor Alex Kendrick had expressed a desire to produce Christian movies when he was hired at Sherwood Baptist in 1999, it was a 2002 Barna Group survey that prompted the church to launch a movie ministry. The survey revealed that movies are one of the leading influencers in American society while churches have lost much of their influence.
And, as it turned out, Sherwood's movie, "Facing the Giants," struck a chord with U.S. moviegoers, lasting 17 weeks in theaters nationwide and selling over one million DVD units.
The movie, which centers on the life of a football coach who has never had a winning season in six years, was shown in 441 theaters across the nation and has been recognized as one of the most inspirational movies of 2006, according to Sports Illustrated. Furthermore, churches picked up on the movie to use for instruction and discipleship within their ministries.
New Song Church is looking to make a similar impact with their movie, which will be filmed at the church and around the community over the next two weeks.
Youth pastor Britts hopes the film will touch lives in a profound way.
"It offers an uplifting message and alternative to the hopelessness teens may face as they struggle with challenges including violence, suicide, and unplanned pregnancy," he stated.
The production team is currently in talks with major distribution companies that deal with religious-themed films.
The church has already signed up Hollywood cinematographer Brian Baugh to direct the full-length movie and independent filmmaker Nicole Franco to produce it. The film also stars Deja Kreutzberg, who has appeared in 28 episodes of "As the World Turns" as well as TV shows "CSI: Miami" and "Hope & Faith."
On the Web:
More about the project at howtosavealifethemovie.com