Jon Erwin on Location for JESUS REVOLUTION Baptism Scene: ‘I’ve Never Felt a Day Like That’
By Alex Murashko
While directing the baptism scene in JESUS REVOLUTION, filmmaker Jon Erwin witnessed a dozen movie extras and one actor make real-life decisions to follow Christ and get baptized during filming at Pirates Cove in Newport Beach, California.
The making of JESUS REVOLUTION has already left an undeniable mark on Erwin who is a writer, director, and producer of the movie, which is scheduled to be released worldwide by Lionsgate Films on February 24.
“I have never experienced the kind of spiritual power making something as in making this movie,” Erwin, who’s many film credits include I Can Only Imagine, told Think Eternity recently.
He said the big moment came when the film’s crew and cast along with hundreds of extras went to Pirates Cove, where many baptisms in Southern California during the Jesus Movement of the late 60s’ and early 70s’ took place.
The cove includes rock formations creating an amphitheater-like setting overlooking a small beach and a bay with calm waters off Newport Harbor. Baptisms still take place at the nearly-hidden cove.
“I just insisted that we go back to the real location (Pirates Cove), which is not really film friendly,” Erwin said. “There’s jagged rocks and I have to tell (the film crew) to get equipment over them. One could say, as we do in many films, that we probably could fake it somewhere else and get the same look.
“But I really felt like I wanted to go back to the very place that this started. And in my entire film career, I’ve never felt a day like that.”
He explained that during the filming, Pastor Greg Laurie, who became a Christ follower during the Jesus Movement, “did sort of a baptism training” for actor Jonathan Roumie (The Chosen), who plays Lonnie Frisbee in the movie. Roumie learned about how not to “throw your back out” while baptizing a lot of people, and what to say before immersing them.
“I remember Jonathan coming out of the water and saying to me, ‘Man, I’m doing what Greg taught me, but this is not acting for these people — these extras. There are people crying out and there’s people saying, ‘I’ve just given my life to Christ, baptize me. I want to make a decision for Christ’.’ It was like a dozen people,” Erwin said.
During filming with actor Joel Courtney, who plays a young Greg Laurie, the “real Greg Laurie was actually baptizing a member of the cast,” Erwin said. Actor Shaun White, who plays a Vietnam vet who is baptized, had been struggling with tough times over the years, including a drug problem. Laurie struck up a conversation with White and prayed with him as well.
“The real Greg Laurie was baptizing Shaun off the set just to the side as we were dramatizing, Greg Laurie as a teenager being baptized,” recalls Erwin. “Lives were actually being transformed on the set in a way that I’ve never experienced in my career.”
Erwin believes that what happened during the filming that day “bleeds through into the movie” and viewers will “feel it.”
“The spiritual power was very real,” he said. “There really is a cause behind this movie. There’s a movement behind this movie. The whole heart’s cry of the movie is ‘God, can you do this again, now in our time?’”
Erwin said that he became interested in making JESUS REVOLUTION after reading a TIME magazine cover story from 1971 about the Jesus Movement.
“When I found this magazine on eBay and read an article that you couldn’t read on the internet seven years ago, I so wanted to experience what I read on those pages,” he said. “I’ve been a Christian all my life, but I’ve never experienced a cultural awakening like this. My generation has never experienced anything like this. I felt like I needed this to happen in my own life, in my family, in my city, and hopefully in this nation.”
He said that at the time of discovering the true story, he reasoned that “maybe, if I can make a movie about it, I’ll get a little taste. If I can get a taste as a filmmaker, people that watch the movie will get a taste as well of what revival and awakening in America could feel like.”
As Erwin has talked to more and more people who experienced the Jesus Movement as it happened, he’s heard from them about a dark time.
“It was a very desperate time for them. The Jesus Revolution, in a large way, sprang out of the wells of that desperation. And I just think we’re back there. This is the most desperate time in America in my lifetime. Gosh, we all hate each other. Where do we go from here? There are problems. There are fears. It was a very similar time in the late 60s,’” he said.
“My hope is that God can really rescue us once again.”