Producing a faith-based film won’t make you popular in Hollywood.
That’s according to movie director Cyrus Nowrasteh, who says studios are slowly getting better about understanding films with a spiritual component, but industry players still don’t embrace the genre.
“Most people in Hollywood would rather be associated with films that are edgy, cool and hip,” Nowrasteh says.
The mad success of films like “The Passion of the Christ,” “Fireproof” and “God’s Not Dead,” which all thrived despite very modest budgets, doesn’t hold enough sway within the industry. So when Nowrasteh began shopping what would become “The Young Messiah” around the big studios, he didn’t get any takers.
That’s despite the film’s popular source material — author Anne Rice’s “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt” — and the potential for serious return on investment. So he went the independent route instead.
“The Young Messiah” stars Adam Greaves-Neal as a seven-year-old Jesus, a lad who doesn’t understand his true heritage. His parents aren’t sure how to tell their son about his destiny, but the boy’s instincts for helping others may reveal his identity soon enough.
Nowrasteh is a Christian, but he thinks secular audiences will identify with the film’s perspective on parenting.
“It’s about family, about parenting. It takes you inside the Holy Family in a way you haven’t seen in many movies,” he says. Of course, believers will latch onto the story’s love for Jesus and Christianity as a whole.
The story’s burden falls primarily on Greaves-Neal, chosen from roughly 2,000 young actors.
“He was leagues better than anyone else. It wasn’t even close,” Nowrasteh says. “The camera loves him … he shines on screen.”
Though he had no contractual obligation, Nowrasteh said he made sure to include Anne Rice in the creative process for the film.
“I felt a responsibility to Anne for a whole slew of reasons,” he says. She offered feedback on early drafts of the script, written by Nowrasteh and his wife/creative partner, Betsy Nowrasteh.
This isn’t the first time the director has dug deep into controversial fare.
He previously wrote “The Path to 9/11,” a two-part telepicture that still isn’t available on streaming or home video. Conservatives blame the film’s finger pointing at the Clinton administration over the events leading up to 9/11 as the reason why.
Nowrasteh’s last directorial effort, 2008’s “The Stoning of Soraya M.,” captured a horrific component of Sharia Law few are willing to document on screen.
Now, tackling Jesus Christ’s childhood — given the dearth of knowledge on the subject and the passions surrounding Christianity — represents his greatest storytelling risk yet. How will he handle those who disagree with the image “The Young Messiah” portrays?Nowrasteh says he can’t worry about it.
“My focus is the story and making the best movie I can make that honors its subject,” says Nowrasteh, who acknowledges the film’s trailer alone set off some snarky comments from atheists. “If I sit around and think about all the other stuff I’d be paralyzed.”
“I’ve dealt with challenging material before. That’s what excites me,” he adds.
The director isn’t afraid, something that can’t be said about the industry he works in.
“Everyone wants a sure thing. The fear factor is so overwhelming [in Hollywood],” he says. That’s partly due to the sticker price of the average effects-laden movie.
Faith-based movies typically are far less expensive to produce. Recent hits like “God’s Not Dead” show just how large an audience there is for spiritually-aware movies. And Nowrasteh thinks that market will only grow with the proper respect — and product.
“There’s a targeted audience out there, and they’re not being fulfilled,” he says. Just look at the number of faith-friendly films which hit theaters around Easter two years ago, including “Heaven Is for Real” and “God’s Not Dead.” They thrived despite competing for a similar audience.
“This marketplace has room for expansion,” he says.
Now, it’s up to Hollywood to respond.
“Some studios understand and are better with faith-based films today, but, as a rule, there’s still a big learning curve,” he says.
“The Young Messiah” hits theaters nationwide on Friday, March 11.