Arts & Entertainment, Economic Development, and Film

Last major film to get state incentives finishes filming in Grand Rapids

Varnum attorney serves as executive producer for ‘God Bless the Broken Road.’

May 27, 2016
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One of the last films eligible to receive a hefty sum of Michigan film incentives just wrapped up in Grand Rapids.

The all-Michigan-made movie, which finished shooting in Grand Rapids this month, is called “God Bless the Broken Road,” a title based on the popular song that became a Billboard hit when it was covered by country music group Rascal Flatts in 2004.

The spiritually focused film tells the story of Amber, a war widow who struggles with her faith, financial challenges and raising her young daughter after her husband is killed in action in Afghanistan.

“God Bless the Broken Road” is eligible to receive $2,665,959 from the Michigan Film and Digital Media Office, an incentive based on the project’s estimated total production, post-production, and publicity and advertising budget of $7,711,238, said Stephen Afendoulis, the film’s executive producer. Additionally, the film hired 92 Michigan workers, which equated to about 20 full-time employees.

Three percent of the film’s profits will go toward the military nonprofit Disabled American Veterans, and another 3 percent will go toward an undecided charitable cause, Afendoulis said.

“The production provides significant private spending and an economic boost in the communities where the film will be shot,” said MFDMO Commissioner Jenell Leonard.

“Despite no longer having an incentive program, the MFDMO continually engages filmmakers looking for the diverse locations of Michigan and assists in expediting the filmmaking process. This film highlights the striking beauty and geographical diversity of the West Michigan region.”

The film is being produced by 10 West Studios, a Manistee-based film company that focuses on making family, adventure and faith-based film content. The company has produced more than a dozen feature films, including “Pirate’s Code: The Adventures of Mickey Matson,” “Rich Mullins: A Ragamuffin’s Legacy” and “Do You Believe?”

Harold Cronk, 10 West Studios’ founder, co-wrote “God Bless the Broken Road” with Jennifer Dornbush. Cronk is also producer and director of the film, which was shot in Grand Rapids, Manistee and Ludington.

Afendoulis is a partner at Varnum Law and has produced a number of projects with Cronk, who directed the 2014 film “God’s Not Dead” and its sequel “God’s Not Dead 2.”

“Harold and I have been working on this property for a little over two years. … We have about a dozen properties at various stages of development,” he said. “(This is) one of the last major incentives that was in the last group of projects in the pipeline before Gov. (Rick) Snyder shut it down. It was approved days before. One of the key factors in that last group was they were all indigenous Michigan film companies.”

“God Bless the Broken Road” started filming April 5 and will wrap up principal photography soon. Producers plan to have a release to about 1,000 theaters nationwide. That will either happen in the fourth quarter of this year (October or November), or the first quarter next year (February or March), Afendoulis said.

Making movies in Michigan is trickier since the film incentives were cut, Afendoulis said. Although he felt the earlier incentives of Gov. Jennifer Granholm needed a cap, getting rid of film incentives altogether was throwing the baby out with the bathwater, he said.

He wants the state government to put together something that makes more sense because there’s few industries with the content creation for an exportable product like film, he said, adding it’s an industry that “needs to part of a diversified economy of our state. “

“I would say, more so than any other industry, that investing in films requires a higher level of expertise and caution, and it really is a project-by-project basis. It’s not like other industries where you can say, ‘Now is the time to invest in real estate, or gold, or whatever.’ I would caution people interested in investing in film to do a good amount of due diligence because there are no generalities,” he said.

“What we try to do is be true to our investors, to let our investors know there is a good return. We want it to be successful but, early on, Harold and I said, ‘Let’s be true to why we’re making this particular film and how many people we reach with its message.’”

Part of what draws that market is talented actors, and to tell this story, the filmmakers put together a cast they feel is stellar, Afendoulis said. The lead role of Amber is played by Lindsay Pulsipher, who has had roles in such popular television shows as “True Blood,” “The Hatfields and McCoys,” “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” and “Justified.”

“Lindsay is something else,” Afendoulis said. “She brings it every day. She is such a tremendously talented actress.”

Emmy Award winner Kim Delaney plays Patti, Amber’s mother-in-law. Delaney, who won an Emmy Award for her work in the television show “NYPD Blue,” also had a starring role in “Army Wives,” as well as a longtime role in the soap opera “All My Children.” Amber’s daughter, Bree, was played by 9-year-old Makenzie Moss, who previously played Steve Jobs’ daughter in the critically acclaimed 2015 film “Steve Jobs.” Additionally, multi-platinum recording artist and actress Jordin Sparks plays the role of Bridgette, a close friend of Amber.

Even a good cast can’t save a badly made film, a problem faith-based movies have seen over the years. Critics and audiences can be hard on movies that tackle spiritual issues, especially when those movies are looking to tell a story straight from the Bible. Afendoulis said he’s aware of the issues and he’s still going to try to make quality movies with an inspiring message.

“I think part of it is people will put capital into a movie at the end of the day in hopes that it’ll be able to have some measure of success and get their (money’s worth) off the creation. Over the course of the last few years, Hollywood has been very surprised at the appetite for good faith-based films. It surprised us,” he said.

“We think we can really raise the bar for faith-based content. Faith-based content doesn’t have to be cheesy and poorly done. We want the quality of our films to rival any genre.”

“And the other thing is, sometimes the faith-based films are designed to appeal to only one segment of the Christian market. With ‘God Bless the Broken Road,’ we feel its appeal is out to the broader audience. It has a great message and a great story.”

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