Forget theaters. A new movie will be coming soon to a church near you.
Producers of the next 'Left Behind' movie are promoting an 'alternative distribution system.' (Cloud Ten Pictures)
Producers of the latest "Left Behind" movie are stepping up efforts to turn houses of worship into an "alternative distribution system" for films.
"Left Behind: World at War" premieres Oct. 21, but it won't be at cineplexes. It will screen in churches that have signed up with Cloud Ten Pictures, the film company behind this movie and the first two "Left Behind" films.
Churches are invited to sign up and show the movie after paying fees according to church size: from $69 for a church of fewer than 100 people to $199 for churches larger than 1,000.
Participating churches will receive marketing and promotional help in the form of Web site content, posters, electronic invitation systems, bulletin inserts, and a promotional DVD as well as a DVD of the film itself.
"Left Behind: World at War" is the third film in the "Left Behind" film series, based on the best-selling novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. This installment is based on the last part of Tribulation Force, the second book in the series.
It again stars Kirk Cameron as reporter Buck Williams, who this time helps U.S. President Gerald Fitzhugh (Oscar-winner Lou Gossett Jr.) determine what his role should be in the "new world order."
"I want to revive the outreach of the church film night into communities all across the nation," said Peter Lalonde, producer of the "Left Behind" movies, in an e-mail to church leaders. Lalonde said he first visited church in 1983 to see "The Prodigal," a movie about a family in crisis that is saved when they return to their church roots.
"The movie drew me in and the Holy Spirit changed my life," said Lalonde, who hopes his latest movie will restore that practice in which churches screened "message" films in an effort to evangelize.
"World at War" fits that model.
"It contains the biblical gospel," says Cameron in a video clip pitching the movie and church-release strategy. "I know because I'm the actor who presents it in the movie."
Lalonde and company are convinced they can tap into the religious market in much the same way Mel Gibson did with "The Passion of the Christ," which grossed more than $370 million domestically.
Gibson's strategy, however, was significantly different. He held church screenings, but mostly for various church leaders, hoping they would then return to their home churches and persuade their members to see the film at their local theaters.
Cloud Ten Pictures, on the other hand, isn't going through the normal distribution and exhibition channels like "The Passion." Though "World at War" does have a home markets partnership with Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, which released the first two installments on DVD/VHS, it is targeting churches for exhibition houses.
Sony did not return a phone call and e-mail seeking comment.
"If this takes off," said Lalonde in a release at the movie's Web site, "the studios are telling us they will want to incorporate this entirely new delivery vehicle into their distribution model. But here's the gem of it all: they will have to start making movies that Pastors will play in their churches."
A longtime Hollywood producer said the strategy might work.
"If it's the right movie for the church groups and the church groups are open to it, they should certainly have the opportunity," said Hunt Lowry, producer of dozens of films including "A Walk to Remember" and "The Last of the Mohicans." "People don't go [to church] just on Sundays anymore."
But, he added, "You want it to be a good movie."
"World at War" is rated PG-13 for violence, but the filmmakers urge church leaders "not to worry as we are developing an alternative Children's program that can play in a different part of the church at the same time," according to the movie's Web site.
"We have hundreds of thousands of churches in our communities that are able to screen movies," says Cameron in the video clip. "If we got just half of those churches to get behind this movie and screen it, that would crush all previous records for a film release, and Hollywood would take notice."
A new documentary from the producer of "Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism" is relying on a strategy similar to that of Cloud Ten Pictures.
When producer-director Robert Greenwald and his filmmaking team unspool "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price" in November, they won't be doing so traditionally.
In fact, their language echoes Lalonde's.
"While would-be Hollywood blockbusters book thousands of theaters months ahead of time jockeying for the best opening weekend, we're looking to book thousands of churches, family businesses, schools, living rooms, community centers, and parking lots the week of November 13th," they say on their site. "And we need your help to do it."
Cost for hosting a "Wal-Mart" screening is a flat $10, which includes the documentary on DVD.
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.