Based on the best-selling book, The Case for Christ is one of the most highly anticipated faith-based films of the year. In this candid interview, Christian Writer/Producer Brian Bird talks The Case for Christ and shares exclusive insights as to why this film could reach more people for Christ than any other film in history. The film releases on DVD August 15th!
This movie chronicles the true story of Lee Strobel, a professed atheist and investigative journalist, who makes it his mission to prove once and for all that Christianity is a lie – not only to the world but to his wife, Leslie, whose recent acceptance of faith mirrors the exact opposite of everything Lee stands for. This gripping story is brought to life by award-winning screenwriter, Brian Bird, who says this could be the most significant project of his career.
Bird has been in the business for over thirty years as a writer, producer, and media professional. Starting out as a sportswriter for a weekly newspaper at 17 years old, Brian went on to be involved in numerous projects including Captive Heart, Call Me Claus, The Ultimate Life, and Saving Sarah Cain. He is probably best known for his work on Hallmark’s wildly popular show, When Calls The Heart. In 2005 he teamed up with Michael Landon, Jr. to form Believe Pictures, a film and television production company focused on declaring the truth about faith and family.
Lee Strobel chose to work with Christian movie studio Pure Flix on The Case For Christ with the condition that Brian Bird would be named screenwriter. During months of preparation, Brian spent many hours with Lee and Leslie learning more about their lives, and discovering those subtle yet significant details that would help to bring the movie to life.
Keenly aware of his responsibility as screenwriter, Brian is said to have employed every ounce of talent, dedication, and intellectual effort to to bring this highly respected book to the screen, and notes this could be his most important work to date.
In a recent phone conversation, Sonoma Christian Home caught up with the screenwriter to get a behind-the-scenes look at the film. SCH Contributor Kevin Buchanan reports.
SCH: How important was this project to your calling in life as a writer?
Brian Bird: Every project you do becomes like one of your children. You love them all for different reasons but I do feel like with this project, all the stars aligned. The talent, the actors, the director John Gunn – it almost felt like a marriage for the last year. I am really proud of this film, and I think this is one of the most significant things that I have ever put my writing into. I am honored to have been part of it.
SCH: Why do you think Lee Strobel’s story needs to be told on the big screen? What drew you to this project?
BB: The truth of Jesus is the cure for everything. It is the cure for every ailment in the universe. So on a macro level, as a person of faith myself, and the son and grandson of pastors, how can I not want to sink my teeth into a kingdom project like this?
On a purely cinematic and movie level, what I loved about this story was the contrast of the big universal apologetics proof of Jesus in the case for Christianity, alongside a very powerful love story. To me that was the perfect place to do a movie. And not only that, we get to do it in 1980 which made for a cool period piece. It’s a powerful love story, and a powerful journalist story because Lee was a really good journalist who would probably be a publisher of a big newspaper like The Washington Post or The New York Times had he stayed in journalism. I loved the big city feel, the love story, and the journalist aspect.
SCH: You started out as a journalist. Did that help draw you to this project?
BB: I did newspaper and magazine work for a number of years, so I have always been attracted to stories about journalism. From movies such as All The President’s Men, The Paper, and most recently Spotlight, I have always loved the journalism aspect. So yes, this being a big city journalist story was attractive to me.
SCH: What would you say are the universal themes in this film?
BB: The film asks the universal questions that I think most people ask throughout their lives: What if there is a God and what if Jesus is who He said he was?
SCH: You are a friend of Lee Strobel, and we heard your friendship grew during production of the film. Do you think there was one pivotal moment that changed his mind or was it the culmination of his findings that finally caused him to believe the truth of the Gospel?
BB: Lee’s entire debunking quest took a year and nine months before he ultimately realized that there was way too much evidence for him not to believe anymore. I do think it was the weight of everything that finally pushed Lee over the edge.
But there were moments along the journey that were more potent for him than others. The realization of his own father wound was huge for him. You can have intellectual objections to faith, Jesus, and God that are formed by your college work and your own skeptical nature. But no one is ever an atheist for only those reasons. It’s very rare. Life experience usually plays a part. There’s nature and nurture involved. For him to have realized that all of his great atheist heroes all had father wounds like him, was quite a discovery for Lee.
When he finally went through the pros and cons from his research of interviewing top experts in the field, he discovered it’s not enough just to believe. When Lee finally tells his wife Leslie that he believes, Leslie responds with “but it’s not enough.” The verse found in I John 1:12 “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” comes through in the film when Leslie says “believe plus receive equals become.” That was a powerful moment for Lee.
SCH: You focused a lot of Lee’s investigations on the resurrection of Christ. What was your thought process behind this?
BB: There were high watermarks that blew Lee away in his research. One was the fact that there is no proof of any conspiracy to fake the resurrection or Jesus surviving the cross. Lee came to realize that all of the pillars of his atheism came crashing down around the resurrection. That’s why we put our focus there. In the book, he interviews thirteen world-class experts, and we knew we couldn’t show all of that in the film.
What I had to do was go through all of it and determine the three most cinematic ideas in this stream of research that we could put in the film. Lee Strobel helped me with this process of whittling down the thirteen experts and focusing on three big themes: the 500 plus witnesses who saw Jesus after the crucifixion, the credibility of the ancient manuscripts, and the fact that there was no conspiracy to fake the resurrection.
SCH: Were you able to witness how the story of this film impacted the actors who played these characters?
BB: There were powerful moments on the set! One of us would pray for everyone on the set before the start of each day. We would pray for the safety, inspiration, chemistry and cooperation of everyone involved because one of the most impossible things to do in this world is make a movie.
Robert Forster was our actor who played Walt Strobel, Lee’s father. Lee and Leslie came to visit the set the day we were filming a scene with Robert. In real life, Lee never had a reconciliation with his father before he passed away. It’s one of the great regrets of his life. In the movie you see this unfold as Lee’s father dies when there is still an estrangement between them. Lee grieves deeply about the fact that he never had a chance to reconcile but it is also before he crossed the line into faith. As an atheist at the time, he was hopeless about ever being able to see his father again.
The day Robert Forster was filming, Lee happened to get some personal time with him in between takes. What was uncanny to Lee was that Robert looked a lot like his dad. Lee was able to share with him his story and his inability to reconcile with his father. Robert was dressed in wardrobe and as he and Lee talked, Robert stayed in character. After he heard his story, he put his hand on Lee’s shoulder and said, “I’m sorry son”. Lee melted. It was such a gift because Robert was able to channel the moment that Lee never got with his father in real life. Lee responded back with “I’m sorry, too”. Lee was able to have this incredibly healing moment in his life on a movie set with an actor!
SCH: What is your hope for those who watch ‘The Case for Christ’?
BB: This is a movie every person should see – believer or skeptic – for good reason. First of all, it’s a strong booster shot to help believers articulate their beliefs better. The Gospel is the great cure for everything in the universe, and most of us are sitting on it. If I had the cure for AIDS and I didn’t tell those who had AIDS, that would be a sin against heaven. And we as believers have the cure for everything – so why are so many of us sitting on it?
On the other side – I have always believed that the best use for movies is not to pound people over the head with propaganda, but to stir up deep soul cravings that lead others into deep conversations with their neighbors, friends, and around the water cooler. My pastor for many years was Rick Warren and he once said to me about my work, that if all I do is drive people to the door of the tent, we will do the rest. Just get them to the front door. I personally believe if we have the cure for everything, the best way to deliver that cure to people is through flesh and blood relationships.
What I hope for this movie is that it stirs up soul cravings that drive people into conversations so that this most important cure can be hand delivered with love by real people to each other. If the film gets people to the door of the tent, then I will feel like I have accomplished everything I need to accomplish with this movie.
SCH: Why is it important for Christian audiences to physically go support this movie in the theater?
BB: I deeply believe in the law of patronage in this world. If we want more of these kinds of movies, we absolutely have to get out and spend our money on seeing them in the theater. We need to reward the risk takers – the ones who had the vision to gamble on the movie-going audience by putting their finances into these projects. If we don’t, then why would they ever want to make other movies like this? It’s absolutely wrong if we just sit back on this great opportunity to reach people with a good story that has eternal consequences. It’s wrong for us not to support that.
SCH: All of us at Sonoma Christian Home are deeply excited about the release of this film. By the way, we would be remiss if we didn’t say that many of our readers are also huge #hearties and love your work on When Calls The Heart!
BB: Nice! Tell all the #hearties to show up for the movie!
The Case for Christ releases on DVD August 15th so pick up a copy and have a family movie night!
To find out more about the movie watch our Facebook and Twitter pages for exciting interviews and videos! And to learn how you can be part of a special “See It First” event on April 6, be sure to visit their website!