An Interview with Movie Director Rob Hardy
This year, 2005, the movie industry takes another stab at the genre, as the heartfelt cinematic feature The Gospel hits theaters on October 7, 2005. GOSPELflava.com caught up with the movieís director Rob Hardy to get more insight into one of gospel musicís most anticipated events.
Rob Hardy, along with business partner Will Packer are no strangers to the film industry. Nearly a decade ago, the tandem produced the erotic thriller, Trois. However, the embryo for The Gospel was in Hardyís heart even then. "We wanted to go in a different direction creatively and I had been thinking about telling the story of the Prodigal Son," says the director. "We were trying to write something, but it wasnít feeling organic enough. Then a few years later, our executive producer, Holly Davis Carter, put me in a room with Fred Hammond. The result of that conversation took the initial concept that I had and took it to another place. Thatís really what laid the foundation for ĎThe Gospelí."
"Fred was great," says Hardy. "Obviously, he comes from a spiritual background. What we talked about was the overall story idea. We talked about the Prodigal Son. We talked about nuances to make it relevant to today as well as something that would be authentic to the Christian community. Once I began writing, it was important to get Fred and Hollyís input on this, from a creative place to make sure that what we were writing was authentic."
Transitioning from his breakthrough hit, Trois into a movie like The Gospel may seem like a stretch but was really Hardyís desire all along. "Iíve been trying to go in a different creative direction for a while," admits Hardy. "However, the studioís perspective was, ĎHey, the erotic thriller works, so we want you guys to do that.í I had been struggling to do something different. So, when The Gospel came, it gave me the opportunity to make a drama, not a comedy, about real people dealing with real things. I was able to model it after people that I saw in my own community. I modeled some things after myself and made a film that I felt like Iíd want to see as a consumer."
The movie, which stars Boris Kodjoe, Clifton Powell, and Tamyra Gray, is a modern day rendition of the story of the Prodigal Son. "Itís about a young singer who grows up in the church as a preacherís kid," reveals Hardy. "Tragedy strikes, so he leaves and he turns his back on his father, his fatherís church, and God. He goes on the biggest tour of his life. Heís an R&B superstar. He finds out that thereís another tragedy at home. He comes back to find his old nemesis taking over the church and leading it in a questionable direction. Heís got issues with his label, his father, and relationship issues that send him on a collision course with his salvation."
In a time where society struggles with political and economic issues, spirituality remains at the forefront of the minds of many, thusly making this effort so pivotal. "At this time, so many people are on two extremes as far as religion and spirituality are concerned," states the director. "Youíve got some people who are very involved in the religious aspects of their lives. Thatís what they see and what they live. Then you have another generation of people that are the complete opposite. So I wanted to have something that could bridge both of them. I wanted something that could be relevant and authentic for the people of that community but it could make the guy in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania who doesnít go to church say, ĎI can relate to this and I see myself in that guy."
Hardy took great joy in partnering with the biggest names in the gospel music industry to bring this concept to fruition. From Donnie McClurkin to Yolanda Adams to Martha Munizzi, the gospel community is well represented in this film. "Bringing gospel music into this project was essential because, when you tell a dramatic story, the gospel aspect of it helps lighten the load," shares Hardy. "What you donít want to do in a movie like this is preach to people. The gospel music is the glue that holds everything together. You find yourself getting the full experience through the music, jamming to the music, and then you realize that there is also this great story. Those gospel artists were essential for that because weíre so used to inviting them into our home. Weíre so used to saying, ĎMan, when I need someone to minister to my soul, Iím going to put on some Donnie McClurkin or Hezekiah Walker.í Now you have those people in there, so it makes the transition. Since the Hollywood actors provide the acting aspects that make this a real movie, the gospel stars give you more of the seeds of authenticity that make it seem like a real movie about gospel music, the gospel, and the spiritual struggle."
A project of this nature took time and dedication. It also took a great deal of patience and an often forgotten aspect.
"It took a lot of rewrites," shares Hardy. "It took a lot of painstaking rewrites going back and forth between, me, Fred Hammond, Holly Davis Carter, and the studio. I wanted something that would remind me of when I go to church on Sunday. From the church that we filmed in to the scenarios that happen to even the politics of the real church experience that happens behind the scenes, I wanted the movie to be authentic. I didnít want it to be something to where you went and saw it and said, ĎThatís a Hollywood movieí, where everybodyís catching the Holy Ghost every 30 seconds and ĎSister So-and-Soísí wig is falling off. I did not want that. I wanted it to be real church but also a really compelling story. That way, if you didnít have a particular religious denomination, you could still see it and feel that itís exciting and new and relatable."
A groundbreaking film of this nature offers a welcomed alternative to the other subject matter presented in modern-day cinema. Consequently, innovative techniques are being used to get viewers out to the movies.
"On our website, GospelMovie.com, we have this Adopt-a-Theatre program," reveals Hardy. "We have a list of all of the movie theaters where the film is going to play nationwide. Weíre encouraging churches, organizations, and clubs, to adopt a theater. This way, you can decide to go Magic Johnson Theaters in Atlanta on Opening Friday as a church group and have church night out at the movies."
"The entertainment world has a responsibility but only to the point to where the marketplace supports it," continues Hardy. "What happens is a lot of filmmakers make new, exciting, and innovative projects that people donít go out and see. Most people say, ĎI want a movie that I can take my family to go and see.í Then, on opening weekend, we opt not to go and opt to wait until video. So the studio looks at movies like ĎThe Five Heartbeatsí and ĎLove Jonesí, which are great films, and says that nobody wants to see that because they only made 12 million dollars at the box office. But when we have this movie where everybody was laughing or everybody was shooting, doing drugs, or naked, that made all the money. So, the industry decides to make more of those films."
What most may not realize is the importance of seeing a film on its debut weekend. "A film typically does the lionís share of its business opening weekend," shares Hardy. "If a movie doesnít open big, then the studio doesnít spend any more money to promote it. The theaters have no desire to keep the movie there for a prolonged period. So, itíll probably leave the theatres sooner. Thatís going to send a clear message that those films donít work. Thatís why the website and Adopt-a-Theater are so important. If we donít get our people out to support this movie, weíre going to send a clear message that we donít want to see dramatic films about ourselves."
The gospel world is a buzz about this venture. This effort has potential to serve as the catalyst for future films of this nature. Hardy is confident for the potential of this evolution.
"This film is a solid and entertaining film," states Hardy. "Itís got a positive message that you can take your entire family to. Itís got great music with some of the biggest names in Gospel music. Also, it is made by and large for the gospel community. While hip-hop gets all the shine and R&B gets all the shine, nobody ever really represents for the gospel community. Now that a film is here to represent for the gospel community, itís up to the community to determine whether or not it wants more projects like this. If it does, we have to go out on October 7th and support it. Weíve got to go to GospelMovie.com and adopt-a-theater. We have to tell people that they have to see this movie when it comes out."
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