Earlier this year, a group of film executives paused in the middle of a meeting. The casting list for the third iteration of God’s Not Dead remained uncertain. It was an important decision. They decided to pray.
Some sat in Pure Flix’s office outside Los Angeles. The rest called in from the Christian studio’s headquarters in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Since 2014, the company had earned more than $80 million from the God’s Not Dead franchise. The first movie cost just under $2 million to film, making it a big financial success.
In October, after finalizing a cast that includes Academy Award-winning actress Tatum O’Neal and Shane Harper, the studio began filming in Arkansas. And Monday afternoon, a group of reporters piled into two shuttles outside a Doubletree Hotel in downtown Little Rock and drove toward the set.
“I just thought of a subtitle,” a press agent called out from the front seat. “God’s not dead —he’s not even sick!”
Everyone laughed. Some were reporters from The Christian Post and Risen Magazine. Others represented companies billed as Amazon for Christians or Netflix for Christians.
They wanted to know if O’Neal was religious. They planned to ask Harper whether he felt like he was in a “faith-based box” after his starring role in the first movie.
The 24-year-old had gone straight from God’s Not Dead to an MTV show. When he received the script for the third film, he accepted the role right away, but it didn’t really hit him that he was back until a producer started the first day of filming with a prayer.
“They don’t pray on an MTV set,” Harper explained Monday. “It felt good.”
The people at Pure Flix pray often. David A.R. White, who co-founded the studio and stars in many of its films, says he prays on set and before sending an offer out to an actor, while optioning a book for a film and holding meetings with investors. Sometimes, when there is a difficult decision to be made, he will stop everything and say, “Let’s just pray.”
His father, a Mennonite pastor, wanted him to become an evangelist. He became a movie producer instead. “Prayer comes at all different times,” the 47-year-old said.
At Pure Flix, everyone joins in prayer, but not everyone is a Christian. During the shoot at a Masonic Temple in Little Rock, a press agent warned that there would be non-believers on-set, perhaps even cursing. “Then I’m keeping count,” one reporter said. “Seven!” he declared a few minutes later.
In a boiler room, producer Ian Campbell pointed from one seemingly innocuous object to another, laying out his plans for a church fire to be depicted in the film.
Before God’s Not Dead, there were other Christian movies. Pure Flix alone released more than 100 in its first decade. But 2014, the year God’s Not Dead opened in theaters, was a special year. There was Son of God, Heaven is For Real, Exodus and Mary, Mother of God — all in 12 months. “The year of the Bible,” the Religion News Service called it in one headline. “It was the perfect storm,” White said Monday.
The actors talked about their reasons for joining a faith-based film.
“It’s not a Bible-thumping script,” O’Neal said of her decision.
“There’s no CGI Jesus,” actor John Corbett said of his own.
The 56-year-old, best known for his roles on Sex in the City and My Big Fat Greek Wedding, admitted that his agent might have tossed the script. But he knew someone who knew the director and asked to read it himself.
He plays an atheist who struggles to connect with his brother, a pastor played by White.
“In a movie like this, of course it’s going to get resolved,” he said Monday.
“Spoiler!” White protested.
“Well, there’s not going to be a God’s Not Dead 4,” Corbett laughed. “Is there going to be a 4?”
“Yeah, and a 5, 6, 7 and 8,” White replied. “God’s not dead yet.”