On May 1, FamilyLife released its first feature-length movie, Like Arrows. To learn more about the film, we talked to Bob Lepine, FamilyLife senior vice president and co-host of the FamilyLife Today® radio broadcast. Bob also co-wrote the script, offered his creative direction, and is an executive producer along with Sherwood Pictures’ Stephen and Alex Kendrick, and FamilyLife co-founders Dennis and Barbara Rainey.

Briefly, what’s the story of Like Arrows?

Like Arrows is an honest portrayal of an ordinary couple journeying through every phase of parenting, from pregnancy to their golden anniversary. Like any other family, Charlie and Alice Morris face typical parenting struggles. Through these difficulties, they become aware of their need to be more intentional in their parenting and are introduced to God’s blueprints for marriage and family.

The parenting journey is both incredibly challenging and incredibly rewarding at the same time. We wanted to take viewers on what we hope will be a very relatable journey. And in the process, we hope they’ll be inspired to make their faith more core to how they function as a family.

A movie was not the original intent of this production. Can you explain the original idea and how you decided to make a full-length film?

People responded overwhelmingly to FamilyLife’s first two video conference products, The Art of Marriage® and Stepping Up®. They’re both centered on God’s blueprints for marriage and for biblical manhood, and both are driven by the power of story.

Because this proved such an effective approach, we spent more than a year praying about what we should do next as a video series. We talked about a project for engaged couples, a series for women. But we came back to parenting. It’s an area where we felt like there is significant need, and it’s an area where we already have a lot of content as a ministry.

More than two decades ago, FamilyLife was doing parenting conferences. People loved the content but didn’t like the delivery system of a weekend getaway to talk about parenting. So a video series on parenting seemed like a great way to take solid content and make it more accessible for moms and dads.

The content developed by FamilyLife co-founders Dennis and Barbara Rainey is timeless, because it’s really all about what the Bible tells moms and dads about parenting. We’re dealing with eternal truth on parenting, not 21st century felt needs. That’s not to say that we’re not dealing with the real issues parents are facing today; it just means that we’re getting to the core issues that parents have faced in every generation.

And so how did that become a movie? And how did the Kendrick brothers get involved?

The Kendricks were already familiar with The Art of Marriage and Stepping Up. They were fans of both projects, and in fact, anyone who’s gone through Stepping Up knows that Alex has a cameo role in a scene with Dennis Rainey. After those projects, they asked what we were doing next. When they heard it was about parenting, they wanted to help.

When we decided to go ahead with production, I called them and told them what FamilyLife was thinking and asked their advice. A couple of phone conversations led to a trip to Albany, Georgia, and working together to tell the story how it needed to be told. Really, they were in from the beginning.

When we first started outlining the continuing story we were going to tell in FamilyLife’s Art of Parenting®, in the middle of the storyboarding process, we all kind of looked at each other and began to wonder aloud if it could work as a movie.

Stephen and Alex Kendrick were among those in the room. Stephen said that most people who dream of doing a Christian movie end up disappointed. Even with the success of Christian movies today, most don’t do well in the box office. His advice to us was to shoot the story you need, and if it turns out to be a movie and God’s hand is in it, that will be great.

So we shot the whole story with Art of Parenting in mind, and it wasn’t until we got the package together that we realized it works better in one single setting than in session chapters.

You have had a successful career in radio. Now, this is three video projects you’ve headed up, all of which have been of high quality. Have you been secretly fancying yourself as a filmmaker?

What I’ve had a passion for my whole life is how to effectively communicate truth. Radio was the path that God put me on decades ago. Doing The Art of Marriage, Stepping Up, and now FamilyLife’s Art of Parenting, I had a vision for what could happen with video curriculum but didn’t know if I had the ability to pull this off. Each project has been increasingly more complex. We went into each with fear and trembling. Like Moses, I called to the Lord that if it was going to get done, He was going to have to do it.

This whole thing was that we are out of our league unless God’s hand was on this. That goes back to the first conversation I had with Alex and Stephen. They told us that dozens of people have a vision and dream for making a faith-based movie. Most of those people pour themselves into a project for a couple of years and wind up disappointed that more people didn’t see it.

I was pretty intimidated by the fact that I could spend a lot of FamilyLife’s money and wind up with a really bad movie. With the script, acting, directing, sound … there are so many elements that could have not happened at a professional level and could have been an embarrassment to FamilyLife. We’ve seen people before who have spent a lot more money to make a movie and come away with bad stuff. So the intimidation factor was high. I just kept asking the Lord to protect us.

In the midst of the process, Alex and Stephen gave us some good advice: “We always tell people, if God’s telling you to do this, you need to obey God, whether it’s a success or not. Make sure it’s not just your burden or your desire.”

That advice helped us calibrate this whole project. Continually as the projected unfolded we were asking God, “Are we doing what You want us to do?”

How has the response been in the pre-screenings of Like Arrows?

We have tested this movie in about eight cities, and audiences have been very enthusiastic. There have been some people who have compared the movie to the TV show This Is Us. And I’m a fan of that show. I think the emotional tone of the movie is similar to the emotional tone that show hits with its audience. When asked about their biggest takeaway from the movie, test audiences told us that the movie gave them hope … hope that it’s never too late.

If there was a recurring negative comment, it was mainly from people who wish we could have told more of the story. Because the phases of parenting don’t move at the same pace or have equal impact, there are some big time gaps in the story that we’re telling, which show up clearly in Like Arrows.

How do you think the movie and the resource will be received by a broader audience? What would make this movie a success?

At the core, we’ll measure success in terms of impact. If a movie like this can motivate and equip people to think differently about their priorities as a family, that’s what success looks like to us. Hopefully people who see the movie will be motivated to go through FamilyLife’s Art of Parenting content and get more help for their journey.

Like Arrows is being shown as a two-day Fathom Event. Why did you choose that route?

We explored different options. We thought about trying to put our movie out as a traditional theatrical film, but the cost to market and promote a movie made that pretty prohibitive. And we thought about going direct to DVD or video on demand, but the impact would have been significantly less. Over the last four years, the Fathom event model has emerged as a way for ministries to connect with people in a great environment using film. So when the folks at Fathom reviewed the movie and agreed that it fit their model for distribution, we saw that as God opening a door to reaching more people than we might have otherwise reached.


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