The music movie man
Kevin Downes brings the stories of contemporary Christian music to the big screen
Kevin Downes is an executive producer of The Jesus Music, in theaters now. He’s also an actor, writer, and director, and chief of production and distribution of Kingdom Story Company, a Christian entertainment company. The Jesus Music (listen to my podcast review here) showcases artists and their music to explain how and where contemporary Christian music began and evolved. Here’s an edited version of my conversation with him about why he wanted to bring this film to theaters and difficulties he faced. We also talked about his relationship with his wife and kids and how God expanded his family.
You easily could have made a second documentary about Christian music with all the potential material. Was it hard to keep the project to one movie? We had over 100 interviews, over 300 hours of content. We wondered if maybe we should make a miniseries out of this. But at its core, Kingdom Story Company is a feature film production company. Normally documentaries aren’t our thing, though we’ve done a few of them. We just decided: What an opportunity to create a one hour, 40 minute feature film and craft a compelling story, put it in theaters, and allow people to come together about their entry point into Christian music.
Would you share about your personal faith walk? I was born and raised in the Central Valley of California. I became a believer when I was 8 years old. A friend in third grade invited me to an AWANA group. Then in high school I went to my first Christian music concert—it was a Michael W. Smith concert in Fresno. And I just couldn’t believe how incredible the music was. It was like, wow, they’re singing about something I totally believe, and I can connect. I became a fan of Christian music in my teenage high-school years. When I graduated high school, I came down to Los Angeles and wanted to become an actor. At 21, I auditioned for a Christian movie that I didn’t know was a Christian movie, because there weren’t Christian movies back in the early ’90s, except maybe a few Billy Graham films. And I was cast in the lead role with a good friend of mine. From there, God put it on my heart: “This is what I want you to do with the rest of your life—to be able to create Christian movies.”
What do you hope will result from The Jesus Music? I hope people will go to the movie and be inspired that these artists have a true passion to be able to sing the music from their hearts that we still love. I love one of the quotes from Chris Tomlin in the movie, “Music is our gift from God.” And he really believes it. I didn’t realize how many Chris Tomlin songs we sing at church. I’m so appreciative of all these artists and the sacrifices they give so we can enjoy this music.
Can you tell me about your next projects? We have American Underdog, the Kurt Warner story. It comes out in theaters on Christmas Day. It’s about how Warner struggled through the early years in his college playing days, met his wife, and then in a span of a few years went from stocking supermarket shelves to becoming Super Bowl MVP. It’s a story of his perseverance and his faith. Coming out of the pandemic, I think that message is important.
After that, we’ve got a movie called Unbreakable Boy, which hits theaters March 15. It’s in the vein of the movie Wonder, where the central character is a 10- or 11-year-old kid who’s got an unquenchable spirit. He teaches the life lessons his parents need to hear, then goes through various trials and struggles. And, boy, don’t our kids sometimes give us adults the best examples.
We go to production in a couple of months on a movie called The Jesus Revolution.
What’s hardest about trying to make it in the film industry? Movies are so difficult to make. You’re talking about, first of all, crafting a story and getting the people you’re making the movie with to agree on it. Then, you have to hire a crew and cast and put it all together. For us it usually takes about a year from start to finish—and that’s if there are no hiccups or problems. Nobody really hands you anything when you’re in the industry.
During this past pandemic year, what has been one of the biggest spiritual lessons you’ve learned? To me, it’s about patience. When the pandemic started, we had the rug pulled out. We had a movie that was in theaters (I Still Believe), that was suddenly not in theaters. It looked like a lot of people were going to show up, and that was disappointing because we’d worked so hard on it for so long. I found myself at home for the next four or five months and was also battling illness: I got the flu, then three months later got COVID-19. But through it all, I learned that I really, really treasured the moments I had with my kids and my family. For me, the pandemic was a time to hit “reset” and to love on them more.
What do you wish people knew about you that they don’t? I’ve been married for almost 25 years now. I love my family. My wife is awesome. She’s probably more patient than she should be, because making movies requires a lot of travel, so I don’t have a traditional schedule. I love my kids, and God had a plan for that. My wife and I struggled with infertility for nine years, and we weren’t sure why. But God led us and set up both of our hearts to adopt this little boy from Haiti who’s now 13 years old. He came home when he was 21 months, and man, he’s such a special gift to us. I love that God set my heart up to that place—Sometimes you have expectations of how life is going to play out, and what you think you want, but in the end, God’s got another plan, another desire. And I love how He changes that in an instant.
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