Christian Satire Done Right:
Behind the Scenes of BELIEVE ME
Ben Kayser, Managing Editor
Now in select theaters and available on VOD is the movie BELIEVE ME, a comedy about four fraternity college students who get in trouble when they create a fake charity so they can scam Christians into giving them money. When the trailer first arrived, many were confused by the pitch. It’s a movie made by Christians and features respected evangelical Christian musician Lecrae, yet the trailer would make one believe that the movie mocks Christianity. Yet, upon viewing the movie and speaking with the director and two of the lead actors, a message rings out that is both uplifting to Jesus and spiritually convicting for Christians and unbelievers alike.
Read what Writer/Director Will Bakke and actors Max Adler and Alex Russell have to say about humor and faith in their new movie BELIEVE ME.
Read our full review of BELIEVE ME here.
Editor’s note: Will Bakke is a filmmaker out of Austin, TX, who directed the two feature documentaries ONE NATION UNDER GOD and BEWARE OF CHRISTIANS.
Movieguide®: There’s something to be said about being able to laugh at your own quirks and do it in a way that’s not demeaning, but can be beneficial.
Director Will Bakke: Absolutely. A lot of the humor is much more about the Christian culture rather than the message or the belief behind it. So, that’s been a question that’s come up, “Do you think it’s going to offend people?” I think it does take knowing yourself and being able to laugh at some of these things that Christians do, in order to appreciate what it’s all about – Jesus, about a legitimate faith. So, we spent a lot of time in the scriptwriting process to make sure that nothing crossed a line, and I’m sure that people might disagree on that in a few areas, but that’s where our heart’s at.
Movieguide®: What was it like working with such a diverse case with diverse backgrounds from Nick Offerman (PARKS AND RECREATION) to Lecrae?
Bakke: I think that’s one of the biggest accomplishments that we felt making this movie, that people from all different religious backgrounds wanted to be a part of it and wanted to tell this story. Nick Offerman is an outright atheist, and he writes a lot about that in his book, and Lecrae is a Grammy award-winning rapper who’s a devout Christian. So it’s interesting, and we were a little bit surprised ourselves to have people of that caliber want to be a part of the project. I think they saw was just a good story with compelling characters. It was incredible to work with them. Lecrae’s been a very big advocate of the movie just because he sees the vision behind what we wanted to do. You’ve seen the movie, so you know, his part is kind of a parody of these contemporary Christian films right now. At first, when he read his part, he was like, “Uhh, no thanks.” Then, we were like, “Dude, just read the whole script, not just your part, and we think you might get it.” Then, once he read the whole script, he said, “I have to be a part of this.” That was how we got him, and he just understood the vision that we just talked about a little bit earlier. Then, Nick Offerman, same thing. He saw the role and just really wanted to be a part of it.
Movieguide®: How have you seen God working through the movie or through people working on the movie?
Bakke: There’s countless stories. As soon as we wrapped the movie, the filmmakers – my two buddies and I who started this project – we were all of the same understanding that if nobody ever saw this movie it would still do amazing things for the Kingdom because we have all these amazing conversations we never anticipated having. When we went into the process, you know, we didn’t limit ourselves to just hiring Christian crew or just hiring Christian actors, we wanted people that were the best at the role that we were trying to look for. So if you were the best at the role, you got the role. If you were the best at the position on the crew, you got the position. So what that did is it brought in so many people with so many different religious backgrounds, and they got to know our hearts through working together, and that made all the difference. One day, we were shooting where Alex Russell, who plays the lead, Sam Atwell, he is on stage, basically preaching. Alex Russell’s not a Christian, but he had to be up on stage basically explaining a story from the Bible. As soon as he finished the take, we were blown away because he sold it so well, and it was freaking us out. As soon as he did, “Hey, can you explain this story to me?” So in the middle of me putting up lights and adjusting camera angles, he was asking me this question. So, I called Michael Allen over. I asked, “Could we get somebody to explain the Gospel to Alex Russell right now so he can do this scene better?” So it was a funny bit, but we just had so many opportunities like that. You can’t not talk about Jesus and talk about why you’re making a movie like this when you’re filming BELIEVE ME. So it was a great opportunity. We were just extremely grateful by the end of it.
Editor’s note: Alex Russell is an Australian actor who starred in the hit movie CHRONICLE as well as the upcoming Louis Zamperini biopic UNBROKEN.
Movieguide®: What stood out to you in the script?
Actor Alex Russell: The first time I read the script, I was laughing non-stop. I thought it was hilarious, but I thought it was very truthful. The initial hook was obviously this fantastic look at the quirky side of culture, in this case, the Christian culture. I was drawn in from how hilarious it was, and I loved the characters, but what sold it for me was everything falls apart and spirals out of control. The conflict is really strong and interesting. So that completed it as a film for me.
[Regarding the humor] You have to be sensitive to people’s sensitivity. I think that whether you’re making fun of a culture that you come from or making fun of elements of a different culture, be it religious or political. As long as it’s being done with compassion and love and if it’s not malicious, there’s a lot of room in the world for us to unite as people and laugh at ourselves.
Movieguide®: What sort of conversations would you like BELIEVE ME to spark?
Russell: More than anything, we want people to laugh and to enjoy it. If they take more than that, I think it will be, first of all, to look at our selves. Will Bakke talks about holding a mirror up to the Christian culture, but I think it holds a mirror up to people in all walks of life. Regardless of religion or not, do you practice what you preach? Do you truly live by the values and standards that you say you have, or are you just running through the emotions, doing it the easy way. That comes down to everyone.
Editor’s note: Max Adler has guest starred in a variety of TV series and movies, but he’s most well known for his role in GLEE.
Movieguide®: Talk about the script and what stood out to you?
Max Adler: My agent presented me with the script and said, “Read it, and if you’re interested, they want to meet with you.” I read the script, and loved it. I read a lot of scripts every week, sometimes a couple a day, and you start to see the same things over and over again, and they get repetitive. This was an original, bright, smart, sharp, funny. . . I like that all the characters were really well flushed out, and everyone had their unique point of view. I thought that each character kind of represented different people in the world, and how they would respond in the circumstance, and what they would do. Which I think makes me, the reader, or the audience, question what they would do in that situation. I also thought that it was so original in the fact that not only is it a funny movie, but like you said, it tackles these real issues, power on stage, preaching, religion, faith, trust, friendship. I had never seen anything like it and I was hooked from page one. I met with the director and the casting director, and I read for them. The director called me and said that he liked my read. He talked to the producers, and they were excited. They were going to fly out to LA and meet me the following day. So I met with them, read a couple other scenes, and they offered me the part. Five days later I was in Austin, Texas.
Movieguide®: There’s something to be said about being able to laugh at your own quirks and do it in a way that’s not demeaning, but can actually be beneficial.
Adler: I appreciate your observations and input. Will wrote it with Michael and also directed, and Alex who produced, it’s this three-man team, all these young [men]. They are open about their Christianity and their beliefs and the church system they all grew up in, and they had actually done a couple documentaries about Christianity and about religion where they went around the world exploring what it means and what people think God means or who God is, and it’s fascinating. I think self-deprecating humor always connects the most. I think people really respond to that, and that’s the thing about the script, is that at no point did I ever feel like anybody was getting made fun of, it was all the self-deprecating humor. Everyone that I’ve talked to who’s seen it, including all their families, who are also Christian and spent their life in church, there’s nothing to be offended by. It really just kind of opens your mind and provokes thoughts and conversations and is just a really interesting, thought-provoking thing. If anything, I think Christians will connect to it perhaps even more than people who aren’t religious, because they will get some of those inside jokes, you know. So, I think it was a really, really brilliant script, and I’m proud of the final product.
Be sure to read the full review of BELIEVE ME here.