“One love can change your life; one life can change the world.” That is the tagline for the newly released film I Still Believe, based on the life of contemporary Christian singer Jeremy Camp and his relationship with his first wife Melissa, who died of cancer in 2001. The movie was shot in Mobile, Ala. and the surrounding areas, as “it had the landscape and topography we were looking for,” producer Kevin Downes explained. Downes, along with Birmingham natives Jon and Andrew Erwin, produced I Still Believe as well as the inspirational movies Mom’s Night Out, Woodlawn, and I Can Only Imagine, which was the #1 box office grossing, independent film of the year in 2018.
Kingdom Story Company. Downes and the Erwin brothers along with Tony Young are the founders of Kingdom Story Company, which partners with Lionsgate Entertainment to strive to create life-changing content from a variety of talented storytellers. “When I go to the movies, I want to be entertained, but if I’m encouraged and inspired in my own life, then that’s a huge win. And so those are the types of stories that I love to tell,” says Downes. “True stories that showcase the power of the Gospel and stories of the Bible.” He adds that all the company founders are passionate about telling these stories, and audiences seem to love them.
Where I Still Believe originates. Downes and his wife were attending a Jeremy Camp concert about eight years ago, and Camp was talking about his wife Melissa and what they had gone through with her cancer and her untimely death. Downes adds that he and his wife both had tears in their eyes, and she mentioned to him (or gave him the elbow, he says) that he should make Camp’s story into a movie someday. Around the time he was filming I Can Only Imagine, he brought the idea for Camp’s story to the Erwin brothers. He remembers telling them that they “really needed to dive in and see what this story is all about.” The Erwins loved the story, and they all decided it would be their next movie.
Andy Erwin shares that Lionsgate has put all their resources behind the filmmakers in order to create I Still Believe. This is a big difference from how the film team had to approach the production of I Can Only Imagine. “No one expected it to do anything. We had to self finance to put it in theaters. It was predicted to do very little, and it did 17 million across the country and went on to steamroll.” Erwin adds, “I’m not my films, I feel very called to tell the stories that really move my heart and this is satisfying in and of itself for an audience.”
Made in Alabama. “We feel passionate about staying in the South. When choosing whether to shoot in Los Angeles or in our own backyard, we will pick our backyard every time,” explains Erwin. “We also feel passionate about people we do movies for and don’t want to get absorbed by the system on a stage celebrating about ourselves.”
Downes praised the Mobile area, indicating that the residents were very friendly, the food was great, and that he would love to film in the area again. He and the Erwin brother spent about two months filming the movie in Mobile. Besides Mobile, the crew visited Fairhope, which he described as an “idyllic little postcard town”; Dauphin Island, where the wedding of Jeremy and Melissa was filmed; and Gulf Shores, where the city’s annual Hangout Festival served as the backdrop for one of the film’s concert scenes. Downes appreciates the festival organizers for the “gift” of letting them use the stage and observe the audience’s excitement.
A Well Rounded Cast. 22-year-old KJ Apa, a native of New Zealand plays Jeremy Camp. Downes describes him as a “talented kid with an old soul,” and notes his favorite scene in the film is an intimate moment between Apa and Britt Robertson, who plays Camp’s wife. Without giving too much of the scene away, Downes shares that it makes the viewer see how much Jeremy loved Melissa: “KJ sings acapella, with no background music, just him and his voice to the camera, singing to her. You see his heart poured into it, really beautiful.” The rest of the principal cast includes actor Gary Sinise and singer songwriter Shania Twain as Jeremy Camp’s parents.
Downes observed that all of the actors were really invested in the story. He noted that the cast, including Sinise and Twain, made shooting the film an enjoyable experience, particularly in a scene where Camp’s parents come to visit him at college. Those scenes were filmed at Spring Hill College, and Downes says that Sinise and Twain “made it a lot of fun,” displaying great charisma and personality.
Message of the Film. Downes is very proud of how the movie came together and is sure that audiences of all ages will gravitate toward it because of its positive message. “I think, whether you’re young or old, there is something in this movie for you because we all have relationships in our lives, whether or not we’re married,” Downes says, “and this movie is such a visual example of how to love your neighbor and treat them in a way that’s often better than ourselves, and what happens when we actually do that and serve one another.” He also adds that it’s a message that is so needed in today’s society, “how it’s all about ‘me me me’, and people kinda take from each other. Yet here’s this visual example of true love.”
Downes believes that audiences young and old will really grasp the overall theme of unconditional love in the midst of circumstances as they watch how Camp puts everything in his life aside in order to serve Melissa. He encourages people to see the film not just for the sights and sounds of Alabama, but for the true story that resonates throughout the film. “Even though this is a love story with kind of a sad element, they [viewers] should know they will be encouraged and inspired by going and watching this movie.”