The roots and rise of the contemporary Christian music industry are discussed extensively in Jesus’ music, a new film by the Erwin brothers (I can only imagine, I still believe, American Underdog: The Story of Kurt Warner), which hits theaters today (October 1) via Lionsgate.
The full documentary features interviews with several of the genre’s most prominent artists, including Amy Grant, Bart Millard from MercyMe, Michael W. Smith, TobyMac, Newsboys, Russ Taff, CeCe Winans, Rebecca St. James and her brother for Luke King & Country Smallbone. , all of which came out on September 27 for the film’s Nashville premiere.
“Jon and I have our roots in this music,” said Andy Erwin Billboard during a Zoom interview alongside his brother. “The first thing we did when we got into the industry was music videos, and the very first artist who gave us a chance was Michael W. Smith – then shortly after that, Amy Grant, then it turned into a whole career. . We really fell in love with this music, and when we started making feature films our chill out time was I can only imagine. This is what launched our brand.
With Dennis Quaid, Trace Adkins, J. Michael Finley and the late Cloris Leachman, I can only imagine chronicled the turbulent beginnings of MercyMe frontman Millard and the group’s rise to fame, propelled by the hit song “I Can Only Imagine,” which Millard wrote about his father’s death . Released in 2018, the film became a huge box office hit and put the Erwins on the map.
The brothers were in the process of developing another movie when the pandemic hit, and it all came to a halt, prompting them to change gears. “We had a meeting with our whole team [and asked] “What stories are we telling now? Remembers Andy Erwin. “Someone Said,” No One Has Ever Made The Complete History Of Christian Music From The Perspective Of CCM Pioneers [contemporary Christian music]. And for the first time in history, they all leave the road at exactly the same time. So we called Smitty [Michael. W. Smith] and Amy [Grant] and asked if it was interesting. And they said, ‘Not only is it interesting, but we’ll produce it with you.’ “
Smith and Grant are executive producers for the film, although Grant humbly downplays his involvement. “I don’t want to take credit where credit is not due – I’m a hood ornament,” she said. Billboard with a smile. “I like their work. I think they tell a great story. They didn’t really consult me on this story, but they let me be a part of it. I think they did a great job.
Grant did his interview for the film last year shortly before undergoing surgery to correct genetic heart disease. “To keep her safe, we interviewed her through the window of her house and interrogated her with a two-way intercom,” said Andy Erwin, trying to make sure Grant does not catch Covid before her operation. “She gave such a raw and transparent interview.”
“It seemed a little surreal,” Grant says. “They were outside and I was inside. They had to make sure the lighting was correct. They had the camera lens against a window. I had a microphone with me and they were talking through a speaker.
In addition to being interviewed for the film, Smith was excited to take a more active role as an executive producer. “I said, ‘I want to bring something.’ So there were times when we only ran into a few roadblocks and I made a few calls thinking, “Hey, I really think it would be a wise move for you to give an interview,” he said. Smith. “They really appreciated my contribution, especially when I saw the first cut and said, ‘I think it’s too long. This is only my opinion, so take it for what it’s worth. It was good teamwork. These guys are so open and they did a great job.
“The heaviest lifting was just condensing it,” says Andy Erwin. “We started with our friends. We interviewed Bart from MercyMe and TobyMac, and then he went back to putting DC Talk together. We interviewed Kirk Franklin. . We got to sit down with legends like Bill and Gloria Gaither and Stryper, and next thing we found out, we got over 100 artist interviews. It’s like being the greedy kid at the buffet. We ended up with a plate – like, “How do you eat that?” “”
The Erwin brothers co-directed the film and Jon wrote it. “If you’re a music fan, this will be like the soundtrack of your life,” says Jon Erwin. “These people had these songs burning in their souls and there was no room to sing them. There was no place to sell them, and they invented an industry around music that they passionately wanted people to hear. It inspired me. So this film is also a love letter to dreamers around the world – and to artists and entrepreneurs around the world. “
The artists are already reacting positively to the film. “Anytime you pull the curtain down on anything, things can be on display – and because I know what’s behind that curtain, I’m happy it’s pulled back,” TobyMac said. Billboard to the first. “There is wealth. There is heritage. There is the truth. There is a lot of love. Sometimes people seem to be like, “Ah, this is just big business” – but there is so much heart and soul in the music of Jesus. I’ve been doing this my whole life, so whatever you’ve invested your whole life in, and what you believe in, you want it to be highlighted. You want to open your mind to it. You want to share it with the world.
In addition to the movie, there is also an accompanying book written by Marshall Terrill and published by K-LOVE Books. “There are a lot of photographs that have never been seen before and it was just another way to explore this story,” says Jon Erwin. “It’s such a great story and we had to condense it into a movie. There are so many more stories to tell and a lot of the ones you’ll find in the accompanying book, so this was at least a way to dive a little deeper. There are no plans to release an original soundtrack.
Instead of looking for a TV channel or going straight to streaming, the Erwins opted for a theatrical release. “We love the partnership with Lionsgate and we love the theatrical experience,” said Jon Erwin. “Nothing like an immersive experience shared with your friends. I think the last few months have shown that it’s a safe experience, and it’s just an experience that I want. This music is such an emotional experience. Why not experience it in the greatest way possible? We were so happy when Lionsgate agreed to a nationwide theatrical release. I love to start in theaters.
The performers walking the red carpet at the premiere were also delighted that The Jesus Music adorns theaters. “You might not be able to bring people to church, but you can bring them in a movie,” Jason Crabb said at the premiere. “I pray that people will receive the message and the hope of Jesus Christ.”
The film explores everything from Stryper’s complicated history with the church to supporting the late Billy Graham to boosting the careers of pioneering Christian actors like DC Talk. Duncan Phillips of Newsboys believes audiences will learn a lot about the genre. “A lot of people don’t realize the history and legacy of this music,” he says. “After COVID, people are looking for something a little deeper than the life they’ve lived, so I think the best is yet to come for CCM – and showing the story is a good place to start.”
Millard agrees. “Since people who never darken a church door, they may not be aware of it, or just think of something that is stuck in the 70s,” he says. “Growing up, that was everything for me. I was the nerd, a product of the system for sure. It’s crazy to think that it’s been around for so long and that there are a lot of people out there who just don’t know it.
St. James was eager to see the movie at the premiere. “It will be really special for me to see all these different periods of history in one movie and the hope of Jesus through it all,” she says.
Jon Erwin hopes the audience will leave the theater with a sense of hope. “When we made the movie I can only imagine, we asked Bart, ‘What is the essence of this song? Why would an indie artist / indie band write a multi-platinum song? ‘ He remembers. “And he just said, ‘That’s a burst of hope’ – and that really sums up what this music is. It’s hopeful music. It’s a burst of hope. is about being inspired and connected, and people need it, we need it now, certainly more than ever.
“It’s not just something we sing about,” Winans shares, “but it’s something we believe in. We just pray that when people see it, they will experience this power.