Behind the Scenes of THE 33 and Filmmaking with Producer Mike Medavoy


By Dr. Tom Snyder, Editor

Making movies about faith isn’t his goal, says Producer Mike Medavoy of THE 33, the inspirational faith-driven movie opening this weekend. Making terrific movies is.

We caught Medavoy, studio executive and movie producer, including seven movies chosen Best Picture at the Oscars such as ROCKY and PLATOON, speaking at the “Passion of the Film” panel on faith-based and faith-friendly movies Sunday at the Loews Beach Hotel in Santa Monica, Calif., at the annual American Film Market conference.

Moderating the panel was Barbara Mudge, founder and president of Worldwide Film Entertainment and Worldwide Faith Entertainment On Demand.

Born in China, Mike Medavoy, studio executive and movie producer, moved to Chile at seven and spent 10 years there, 1947 to 1957.

“I’d been looking for a film I could do in Chile,” he says about THE 33.

After considering a movie about the Chile’s long-time military ruler, Pinochet, Medavoy was approached by someone about doing a movie on the 33 Chilean miners trapped for many days underground, a story that became an international sensation.

“I couldn’t think of a way to make the film,” Medavoy said about the miners’ story. “It was just a story about 33 guys in a hole. Then, I thought back to HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY [which won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1942], which was told from the view of the families.”

So, the final version of THE 33 became a gripping story about the miners, their situation, their families, and the people trying to rescue them.

“The miners were constantly being tested,” Medavoy added. “It inspired me.”

He continued, “I consider myself basically a movie maker or producer. I don’t think of getting something and saying, ‘Well, that’s faith-based.’ I didn’t think whether I was making a faith-based movie [while making THE 33]. I was doing a movie about people who had faith when they needed it and wouldn’t have survived if they hadn’t had that. If you see this movie, you’ll see how important their faith was. A number of them wouldn’t give up, but the foreman never thought he would get out. He thought it was impossible. There’s the argument of science and faith [but] science is not against faith, and faith is not against science. . . . You can accept both.”

Recently, MOVIEGUIDE® attended a special screening of THE 33. At the screening, two of the real-life Chilean miners appeared and said not only did their Christian faith keep them and their families strong during their ordeal, but their rescuers also eventually sent each of them a Bible, which they read every morning during daily devotions and morning prayer.

So, what does Medavoy look for when trying to develop his next movie project?

The first thing is a good story, he said.

“Go and find a really good story to tell and try to make sure you’re telling a story you think most people want to hear,” he explained, adding, “It’s not enough to find a story that YOU like. What’s really important is to make a story most people would like. Then, you get down to digging into why people would like it, what you have in common with other people, what you’ve learned in your life. As I get older, my tastes have changed somewhat. I’m not stuck on one particular idea. I can actually go learn something about everything. The idea of learning about human nature and what people are and who they are, it’s actually what drew me into the business in the first place. I really like people. I really like dealing with people. I like finding out about people.”

Thus, to him, a worthwhile movie project is one with a captivating story about interesting people.

Medavoy also likes stories that ask major questions, such as “Who am I. What am I doing here? Where am I going?”

“Those questions are really important to me,” he said. “If you’re a producer, you ought to ask those questions yourself. It’s the process of getting there, not the answers [you come up with].

“I still have to figure out why this story and not something else,” he added.

Another thing uppermost in Medavoy’s mind is the question, “How do you make the best movie?”

“If I want to make a movie, I want to do it really well,” he says. “And, if I can’t do that, I will dump it, and move on to the next one. I want more people to see it, not less.”

Other panelists at the “Passion of the Film” panel were Scott Glosserman, CEO and founder of Gathr Films, which helped distribute BEYOND THE MASK, and Ash Greyson, who helped market some pretty successful faith-based movies, including WAR ROOM, THE GIVER, GOD’S NOT DEAD, and HEAVEN IS FOR REAL, plus the upcoming sequel, GOD’S NOT DEAD 2.