'Fireproof' Shows Christian Movies Sell

The second film, "Facing the Giants," about a struggling football coach, enlisted more volunteers and cost $100,000. In 2006, the newly-formed Provident Films, which distributes Christian-themed movies, teamed with Samuel Goldwyn and released "Giants" in theaters. The film made $10 million at the box office.

After watching it, Cameron -- a Christian evangelist who runs an organization called the Way of the Master, comprised of a Web site and cable television show -- called Alex Kendrick and Catt and said, "If you ever do another movie, count me in."

Like other volunteers, Cameron received no money for the six weeks of shooting, although the church paid for his expenses in Albany. Instead, Sherwood Baptist Church made a donation to Camp Firefly, a charity Cameron runs with his wife Chelsea to give terminally ill children and their families a free week's vacation.

Cameron called the role of Caleb Holt "the most difficult I've ever done, for sure," but said the experience of making the film was by far his favorite. When a scene presented a challenge for the actor, Kendrick would ask 20 volunteers to pray.

"To know 20 people are praying for you is just alien to Hollywood sets," Cameron said. "You can hardly come in and say God and Jesus without everyone giving you dirty looks."

Cameron's wife also played a small but significant role in the film. Originally, the script called for only long loving looks and warm embraces between Cameron and his on-screen wife, played by Erin Bethea. That's because Sherwood Pictures has a policy that only actors and actresses married to each other can kiss on screen. It's the same policy Cameron has.

"I promised my wife that my lips are reserved for her only," said Cameron, who's been married to Chelsea for 17 years. They have six children.

"If that means I don't get a movie or TV gig, that's fine. I don't want to do anything to violate our marriage. Maybe there wouldn't be so many divorces in Hollywood if actors had a more sacred view of marriage."

Still, Cameron said the film cried out for a kiss. So Stephen Kendrick had Chelsea fly in to be a double for Bethea and they shot the kiss in silhouette.

The film is striking a chord with its viewers, judging by the e-mails that Cameron and Sherwood Baptist Church have received. They have heard stories of couples on the verge of separation renewing their vows after the film. Cameron heard about one man who stood up after the film and announced, "I am Caleb Holt and I need 10 men to pray for me and my marriage." He said 20 men walked over.

Building an audience for "Fireproof" took some unusual marketing methods. "The evangelical audience doesn't react as well to advertising," said Meyer Gottlieb, the president of Samuel Goldwyn, the distributor, along with Provident Films. "The outreach to the ministries and having them tell their followers were far more impactful."

Kris Fuhr, who heads marketing for Provident, began inviting ministers, Christian leaders and secular marriage experts to the set of "Fireproof" a year ago when it was still shooting. "It takes a lot of time to get the wheels going in a faith audience," she said.

Provident also held about 200 free screenings around the country to get people talking about the film. "We found over 90 percent of people would recommend the film to their friends and family members," Gottlieb said. "That's way above the norm."

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