Alex and Stephen Kendrick are making serious Hollywood money by doing nothing Hollywood would do. They don't pay their actors. Volunteers build the sets. Sunday school kids cater. And when production hits a snag, they don't ask for more money. They pray.
And they're getting the kind of return on their films that would make Spielberg envious. Their first theatrical release, 2006's Facing the Giants, about a struggling football coach, cost $100,000 and raked in $10 million in theaters.
So there's no telling the fate of their latest film, "Fireproof," which opens today. The movie about a firefighter struggling in his marriage comes to theaters with more momentum than the Kendricks' first film: a star in Kirk Cameron; a $500,000 budget; and it's playing in 830 theaters, more than double their last movie. According to movie ticketing site Fandango.com, "Fireproof" is accounting for 41% of ticket sales, far outpacing Shia LaBeouf's "Eagle Eye."
The Kendricks, known as the "Christian Coen brothers," are "catering to audiences that Hollywood still doesn't make many movies for," says Michael Silberman of Samuel Goldwyn, the film's distributor.
But the Kendricks, who make films in their hometown of Albany, Ga., haven't changed their methods. "We're eating home-cooked meals, wearing costumes that have been donated," says Alex Kendrick. "Outside of paying for a camera and a couple technical people, we're just a church making a movie."
And lots of money. Proceeds from the film go to an 82-acre park built by the Kendricks' church, the 3,000-member Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany.
Like Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ" and the films of Tyler Perry, Kendricks' movies typically move under the radar until they open. "They work on a grass-roots level," Silberman says. "And they have word-of-mouth that keeps them in theaters longer than most movies, which is what ultimately makes them hits."
"Fireproof" also has created a best seller. In the movie, Cameron's character tries to save his marriage by following advice in a book. After early church screenings, the Kendricks were inundated for requests for the title, which didn't exist.
"So we sat down and wrote the book," Alex says.
"The Love Dare" has shipped more than 300,000 copies. "All we wanted to do was make a movie that honored marriage, and how faith can restore it," Alex says. "It has struck a chord I don't think anyone expected."