Kairos Prize Winning Scripts Ring in a New Era for Movie Fans
By Michael Trent
For more than 30 years, MOVIEGUIDE® has championed the foundational belief that the mass media, be it movies, television, books, music, or art, has a profound impact on our culture. While there have been dark times during those years, the ministry has been steadfast in shining a light on Hollywood. To a great degree, the entertainment industry is beginning to see a brighter future than ever before.
In 2006, supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation (www.templeton.org), MOVIEGUIDE® embarked on an important journey not only to shed light, but also to help ensure truly outstanding faith based, faith friendly, and family-centered films find a path to production with the Kairos Prize for Spiritually Uplifting Screenplays by First-Time and Beginning Screenwriters. Six years and seven annual competitions later, that path is taking shape in a remarkable way with two winning scripts having just completed principal photography and at least three others slated for production before year’s end. This, on top of last year’s release of JOHNNY, the Kairos Grand Prize winning script from the competition’s inaugural year, is quickly making the Kairos Prize a competition to watch.
Christina Denton of Martinsville, Va. nabbed the Kairos Grand Prize for her script A MATTER OF TIME in 2009 and was excited to see her script head into post-production last month. With Kevin Sorbo (SOUL SURFER, HERCULES), Shelley Long (THE BRADY BUNCH MOVIE, CHEERS), and Jason Burkey (OCTOBER BABY), the romantic drama brings to life the story of a young man so blinded by a bitter, broken heart that he’s unable to see the love of his life right in front of him. Slated for release in early 2013, Executive Producer Chuck Howard is quoted as saying that it is the best movie he has ever made.
A SEASON OF MIRACLES, written by Kairos Prize 1st Runner Up Rusty Whitener of Pulaski, Va., has had an extraordinary journey to the big screen. Winning in 2009 with his script TOUCHED, screenwriter, actor, novelist, and pastor Rusty Whitener turned his script into the novel A SEASON OF MIRACLES (available through Amazon.com, Christianbooks.com and Barnesandnoble.com), garnering two Christy Award nominations and a Gold Medal Book of the Year Award from Foreword Magazine along the way before being picked up by Elevating Entertainment Motion Pictures to bring this inspiring family friendly story to the screen.
Traveling down memory lane into the deep south of the 1970s, to a place where Little League is all that matters, in the story of A SEASON OF MIRACLES, Zack Ross learns from his autistic friend during a championship baseball season, lessons that are not so much about winning and losing, but about living and dying. Bringing the characters to life are veteran actors John Schneider (DUKES OF HAZZARD, SMALLVILLE, OCTOBER BABY), Grayson Russell (TALLADEGA NIGHTS, DIARY OF A WIMPY KID) and Nancy Stafford (MATLOCK, BAYWATCH), with an amazing ensemble of young actors from Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, the Carolinas, and Arkansas.
“We’re excited with how things are turning out,” reports Producer/Director Dave Moody. “We have truly been blown away by the performances.”
Even as Whitener was fine-tuning the script, he was also putting the finishing touches on the novel of the same story.
“I actually wrote the script and the novel simultaneously and entered the novel in the Jerry Jenkins Operation First Novel competition the same year I entered the Kairos competition,” Whitener reports.
After his 1st Runner Up in the Kairos Prize, a few months later the novel was one of four Finalists in Operation First Novel.
“I didn’t win, but that opened the door to getting a publishing contract with Kregel in Grand Rapids,” Whitener adds. “I honestly didn’t know if I was better at screenwriting or the more expansive storytelling in a novel. I still don’t know, but it’s all good.”
A SEASON OF MIRACLES was Whitener’s first novel and screenplay. He has since written several screenplays (not yet produced) and recently completed the first rough draft of the sequel novel called A SEASON OF MYSTERIES, which is set five years later in 1976 in the same small Alabama town.
Dallas Jenkins, son of author Jerry Jenkins and a movie director whom Whitener had met at the Gideon Film Festival, encouraged him to work with Dave Moody of Elevating Entertainment for A SEASON OF MIRACLES.
“He told me if I ended up with a big studio, my movie could easily sit on the back burner for many years,” Whitener says, “as one of a number of projects the studio had purchased. But if I went with Elevating Entertainment, they might ‘green-light’ my script.”
Jenkins told Whitener “if Dave Moody is excited about the script, he will make your movie; he will get it done.”
While the budget for A SEASON OF MIRACLES is relatively low by Hollywood standards, a recent report in Variety Magazine stressed that, of the 20 most profitable movies based on return of investment, 16 were produced for approximately $1.5 million or less. Many of these movies (FIREPROOF and FACING THE GIANTS) have shocked the world, and investors, with outrageous “return on investment” of over 1000% (one thousand percent).
“God is good to me, always,” Rusty says. “I am blessed by God’s grace still unfolding from the events of February 2009 when the President of Production at Disney Pictures presented me with the Kairos Prize for my screenplay TOUCHED at the MOVIEGUIDE® Awards in Beverly Hills. To God belongs the glory. I’m glad He lets us piggyback along for the glorious ride!”
In addition to A MATTER OF TIME and A SEASON OF MIRACLES, three other Kairos Prize scripts are nearing production. UNDER THE APPLE TREE, written by Matthew Hill and Landon Johnson, is in the final stages of development and heading into pre-production this summer. The 2011 winner relays the story of an atheist who, just wanting to pass her religion class, is forced to partake in extra-curricular activities with a devout Christian. What begins as a friendship born out of necessity slowly becomes something more meaningful. This development turns both their worlds upside down.
Heather Hughes is another very gifted writer who won 1st Runner up in the inaugural year of the Kairos Prize with her script COINCIDENTAL MIRACLES. She returned to the MOVIEGUIDE® Awards the following year and was taken by fellow winner Stan Himes’ script SARAH’S GIFT about a young girl who prays for a beautiful singing voice to fit in with her musical family. Her wish is granted with one condition – that she can only sing in the family church. Adding her own writing talents to the script, now titled AMAZING GRACIE, the movie is on the cusp of being produced through Fixed Point Films. A slight rule change allowed Heather to return to the Kairos Prize competition in 2010, along with writing partner Kate Wharton, garnering a finalist nod for their comedy script HABIT FORMING. That script is also slated for production later this year.
With two other winning scripts vying for development deals, the Kairos Prize, after just seven short years, is alive and well, and poised to become a benchmark among what screenwriting competitions can achieve, not only in the faith based arena, but also in the secular marketplace as well. While the extraordinarily focused Dr. Ted Baehr, Founder and Publisher of MOVIEGUIDE®, who conceived of the Kairos Prize with the help of Dr. Jack Templeton of the John Templeton Foundation in 2005, is thrilled and anxious to see what comes next, he is ever mindful that this progress comes from God’s everlasting grace and in His time – “kairos.”
As for the Kairos Prize for Spiritually Uplifting Screenplays itself, it is indeed a season of miracles.
Editor’s Note: For more information about the Kairos Prize Competition, now in its eighth year, please visit the Kairos Prize website at www.kairosprize.com or call (760) 687-9960.