Erwin brothers bring Kurt Warner’s story to the big screen | WORLD
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Erwin brothers bring Kurt Warner’s story to the big screen

The filmmaker talks about the future of faith-based movies in Hollywood.

Jon Erwin and his wife, Beth, at the premiere of American Underdog Getty Images/Photo by Rodin Eckenroth/FilmMagic

Erwin brothers bring Kurt Warner’s story to the big screen

Brothers Andrew and Jon Erwin are Christian film directors, known for box office successes such as I Can Only Imagine (2018) and this year’s The Jesus Music. They help run The Kingdom Story Company, which works with the Hollywood studio Lionsgate to produce gospel-centered movies. I recently spoke with Jon Erwin about their new movie American Underdog, opening in theaters on Christmas Day. It’s the true story of NFL quarterback Kurt Warner, who famously acknowledged Jesus as his Lord and Savior and thanked Him after leading the St. Louis Rams to the Super Bowl championship in 2000. He is the only undrafted player ever named NFL and Super Bowl MVP. In this edited conversation, Erwin talks about making the film and his hopes for the movie industry.

You and Andrew have worked around many professional athletes over the years, especially during your time as cameramen with ESPN. Why did you feel you needed to tell this particular story? Kurt Warner’s story is so well known … I’m kind of shocked it hasn’t been told. I’m even more shocked that Andy and I get to tell it, and in the Providence of things. The whole purpose of the movie is to rekindle the dreams of the audience.

We’ve been living in this year-and-a-half assault on our own dreams, so it’s great to tell a story about the power of never giving up, never quitting, never stopping to believe that God has something for you that can actually come true. The fact that it’s being released on Christmas Day blows me away. That’s a platform typically reserved for franchise superhero movies.

What makes this different than the typical underdog sports story? What is amazing about the Kurt Warner story is that he became a champion off the field. He became a champion by the husband he became to Brenda, by the father he became to her children, including Zack, who’s disabled, and by embracing everything that was so much larger than he was. By discovering his faith—through Brenda, by watching her. All of that character, grit, and perseverance off the field enabled him to become a champion on the field. They really did win together.

I love that it is such a relatable, inspirational love story and family drama about a family holding to each other and two people believing in each other and believing in this dream. It’s so easy to see yourself in this story. He is the everyman underdog. You could not be further away from your dream than Kurt Warner was—not starting for four years at Northern Iowa, only starting as a fifth-year senior, not getting drafted, bombing when trying out for Green Bay, bagging groceries, then five years later, champion in the Super Bowl. Whether or not you’re a sports fan when you see the movie, you can’t help but believe again in your own dreams, your own destiny, your own calling in life.

Tell me about the Kurt and Brenda Warner you worked with compared to what the audience will see on the screen. I’ve never collaborated as much on a real-life story as with Kurt and Brenda Warner. They were there almost the whole time we filmed. … I remember there was a blizzard that hit Oklahoma right in the middle of when we were filming, and the Warners were coming in and out to the set. I said, “You probably don’t want to fly here, it’s pretty dangerous. We might shut down.” And I got a call from the hotel lobby crew the next day when there was like a foot of snow, and they said, someone is out here shoveling cars out of the snow. Then they said, it’s NFL legend Kurt Warner.

That’s the level of commitment they had to the project. And they were wonderful to work with. Every moment in the film is a moment from real life, and we try to be as faithful to that as possible.

How did you find the right balance between telling Warner’s faith story of how he came to embrace Christ and not beating the audience over the head with the message? We wanted to make a movie that would be for audiences everywhere, that you didn’t have to be a Christian to enjoy. It’s for sports fans as much as it is for the faith audience. But we also wanted to infuse that movie with hope, faith, and values—and give a platform to Kurt and Brenda to really share the gospel out in the world, as they do so well as a couple. And so that was the idea.

Each film is different. My next movie is on the Jesus movement of the 1970s—of course much more of an overt story that I’m super passionate about. But here, we wanted to make a mainstream inspirational film about football and then infuse it with the hope of the gospel.

What does the future look like for faith-based movies in Hollywood? I see the entertainment industry re-infused with Christianity, and I want to be part of that. It’s a message of hope that people need. We need forgiveness, hope, and redemption—maybe more than we ever have. And films are a great way to touch people. I think we’ve just scratched the surface of what can be achieved. I think other creatives are rising up, and there’s this movement that we get to be part of. This is how we can serve God’s purposes in our generation—as Paul said of David in Acts. The gospel and the hope of it never changes, but the way we get it to people does. Mass entertainment is a phenomenal way to tell a story and communicate. It’s cool to be an early pioneer of anything—I think we’re just at the cusp of what’s going to happen.

Sharon Dierberger

Sharon is a senior writer for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute and Northwestern University graduate and holds two master’s degrees. She has served as university teacher, businesswoman, clinical exercise physiologist, homeschooling mom, and Division 1 athlete. Sharon resides in Stillwater, Minn., with her husband, Bill.


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