It’s been two years since Kevin Downes Productions released the massive box office hit, I Can Only Imagine, the true story of Bart Millard and Contemporary Christian music group MercyMe. This year, producer Kevin Downes and The Erwin Brothers (directors Andrew and Jon Erwin) follow that up with I Still Believe, the inspirational true-life story of grammy-nominated Christian music star Jeremy Camp’s journey of love, heartbreak and faith.
The film details Jeremy Camp’s early days, falling in love with his first wife, Melissa, who is diagnosed with ovarian cancer shortly before they were to be married. The movie follows their story through her illness, Jeremy’s heartbreak at her death, and the testing of his faith—which would later inspire the song of the film title.
Script Magazine’s Dan Goforth talked with producer Kevin Downes about the film.
On his partnership with the Erwin Brothers for Kingdom Studios.
We wanted to form Kingdom Studios so that when people see the word “Kingdom,” there’s this brand that they can trust with the movies that we’re making and producing. You saw it with I Can Only Imagine. I Still Believe is a young love story that shows God's unconditional love for His people. It’s the true story of Jeremy camp, who was a Christian singer, and his first wife, Melissa, and the journey they went on. It's just a powerful story of unconditional love, attention, and hope in a time period of a culture that really needs it right now. And so I think that movie is really timely in our country—.for people to be able to see it and bring a message of unity and love to a fellow neighbor, and your friends, and your family.
On discovering Jeremy Camp’s story.
My wife and I were at a concert of Jeremy Camp’s eight years ago. He shares his story from the stage during his concerts and I remember just listening to it for the first time. I had tears in my eyes and my wife bumped my shoulder and said, “You should make that into a movie one day!” and God opened some doors for me to meet his manager, then meet Jeremy and learn more about his story. And when we made I Can Only Imagine, I just couldn't get it out of my mind and I told Jon and Andy [Erwin], “You really need to explore the story and take a look at it” They met Jeremy and just immediately fell in love with him and his story. Then the rest is history and here we are.
On being compared to I Can Only Imagine as “just another music biopic.”
We didn’t have any worry about that because I Still Believe is such a different story from I Can Only imagine. You know, Imagine really is this story of young Bart kind of with his relationship with an abusive father and the journey that you went on that led to one of the greatest Christian singles of all time and I Still Believe is just a young love story.
They’re each about singers and their journey, but that's probably where the parallels end because Jeremy's story is so much different. What I love about it is that the young love story and our actors are amazing. K.J. Apa and Britt Robertson play Jeremy and Melissa. We're excited that a younger audience that may have not seen our films in the past might venture into this one because of them; and being with us and seeing what our. storytelling is all about.
The story had not left my mind (during the filming of I Can Only Imagine). I think God opened the door for us to be able to tell this one.
On finding the talents for the film.
It's the God thing when you find that perfect person. With K.J. Apa, to be honest, I'd never heard of him before. And so our casting director, Beverly Holloway, her office kind of came up with the idea. When Jon, Andy, and I researched him, we started to discover, “Wow, we’ve got to take this a look at this kid seriously!” And we chased him for a little bit because he's kind of popular—he's on that show Riverdale. We connected everybody together and we just knew instantly that he's got something special about him.
Believe it or not, Britt came via KJ because they had worked together in another movie before. It was interesting how that came about. He wanted to work or somebody that he had a lot of chemistry with in the past, because they wanted to make it very believable and it certainly is when you see them on screen. So, I gotta hand it to Britt and K.J.
On getting Gary Sinese and Shania Twain for the film.
Thankfully, people are familiar with our past work and the nice thing is Shania and Gary and KJ and Britt, everybody, believed in it—bought into the story that we were telling and I think that's kind of what brought them together.
On shooting in Alabama.
We shot the movie down in Mobile. Jon and Andy Erwin are originally from [Alabama], so that was that was a big thing. Then, Alabama offers some really friendly film incentives, which is important for filmmakers, because you know there's a big risk when you're spending this kind of money to make a movie. Mobile had the landscape and topography that we were looking for all the way around.
If you’re looking for a love story that offers hope in a world that it's just so broken, so lost—it's personal.
I Still Believe is in theaters nationwide.