Following on the success of the God’s Not Dead series, these two film producers hope Unplanned will also start a discussion on a contemporary topic.
Filmmakers Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman are no strangers to backlash when it comes to making faith-based movies that address controversial topics. Despite earning a highly respectable $65 million at the box office, the screenwriters of God’s Not Dead were scrutinized for being too strident and clichéd in their script about a college student debating an atheist professor on the existence of God and winning. They subsequently went on to pen God’s Not Dead 2, a similar film that focused on a high school teacher fighting for her career because she answered a student’s question about Jesus in the classroom.
Now comes their follow-up, Unplanned, a movie receiving a lot of buzz about former Planned Parenthood director turned pro-life activist Abby Johnson. Solomon and Konzelman have not only written the screenplay for the film but they also direct.
The film releases nationwide March 29. But, before it’s wide release, theaters across the nation are being rented by churches and pro-life organizations with discounted and even free tickets. For example, in Kansas, Kansans for Life is sponsoring special screenings. And over in Missouri, churches have taken up the lead to make tickets available by the thousands. The goal is to help propel the movie into the top 10 for the weekend, thus overcoming any negative fall-out expected from the media when a “faith-based” movie does well.
Still just a week from its general release, Unplanned has already had to overcome some major obstacles including an R-rating from the MPAA (unheard of for a faith-based movie) and major music labels denying licensing rights to music for the movie. Despite these roadblocks Solomon and Konzelman are confident the film is being released at just the right time.
We sat down with Solomon and Konzelman on the set of Unplanned to discuss the risks involved with making such an explosively-themed movie, whether they had second thoughts about making it, and what God has taught them through the production process.
Your story centers on seemingly the most controversial issue in society and in politics today … abortion. How have you worked to make this a film that anyone can benefit from no matter where they stand on the issue?
Cary Solomon: There are certain subjects that are so volatile, that freak people out so radically that people are actually almost enthralled by it. They have a mindset of I need to see what this is all about. I think the explosion here is going to be so big because they (Planned Parenthood) can’t help themselves and they have to defend their position. There’s too much money at stake. So, I think you have this massive explosion on the right and this massive explosion on the left, one positive, and one negative. And I think that everyone’s going to say, ‘Well, why is everyone crazy over this?’
Chuck Konzelman: Abby (Johnson) was a young woman, an immature woman who wanted to help other women. That was her m.o. from the beginning. That’s why she did what she did. It’s why she ran a clinic. It’s why she was ardent on the pro-choice side until she actually witnessed an abortion and had a conversion experience. And then she was just as ardent, just as excited, just as passionate saying, ‘I thought I was helping women, but I wasn’t.’ Here’s how I help women now, by steering them away from this decision, from this choice, from the sin, and helping them to find forgiveness and reconciliation if they have been there. That’s her whole story. And that’s why it’s so endearing. Women can watch Unplanned and say, ‘I understand this person. I can relate to this person. I can believe this person.’ And ultimately as she was deceived, I can recognize how I’ve been deceived.
As we have already mentioned, this is certainly a divisive and explosive topic. It is one that can potentially make or break a career for someone. But you guys are standing in the gap and you’re making this movie. I’m sure you had some questions about whether you should follow through and release this movie. Your thoughts?
Cary Solomon: Ultimately it comes down to this. I could give you all the reasons for why but it comes down to this. Do you believe in God? And if the answer is yes, then do you love God? And if the answer is yes, will you do what God has asked you to do? And if the answer is yes, what do you do? You do what God has asked you to do. When the victory is impossible, Christ comes forward and says, ‘Follow me.’ He’s going to bring the great victory and we have to go in with that faith. But how can I say no this?
How was Unplanned a different challenge from writing God’s Not Dead?
Cary Solomon: When we did God’s Not Dead, we felt that we were defending the truth and we found that we were standing up for God. We’re saying God’s not dead. We literally meant what we wrote, God’s not dead. If you’re empowered intellectually at all, you can figure that out.
Chuck Konzelman: It was largely an intellectual thing. It was the idea that it was apologetics and the idea that if you’re a believer, it doesn’t mean you’re a moron. That notion has kind of seeped into our culture. So it was much more of an intellectual style approach. Unplanned is an emotional journey. Abby’s an emotional creature. She is a force of nature. And I think on that level it’s going to be much easier for the audience to relate to what’s going on.
Given the subject matter, how much of this is a God story? You’re encountering the Holy Spirit; I would assume you are encountering the Holy Spirit on a daily basis in this process. What has been the thing that you have learned the most about the character of God, the heart of God, as you’ve been in the grind of production?
Cary Solomon: God is very, very tangibly real. You can touch Him. You can feel and you can smell Him. People don’t believe that. If a non-believer actually took 30 seconds to contemplate it they would see Him all around. The Lord spoke to us and said He would do something and He does it. The first time that happens you’re like, okay, it was a coincidence. And then after three times or five times you’re still like, okay. And then all of a sudden when it happens 50, 100, 500, or 1,000 times you have to say, “You know, I’ll pray for people and let’s see if they get healed.’ Is that a coincidence? Maybe the first time, the second and the third. We’ll pray for something, we will ask Him to do this and this and this and then it happens. So, you understand that He’s right beside you, that He’s your companion. He’s your God. And suddenly, you realize the magnitude of what we’re talking about. Everybody has faith on one level or another. An atheist doesn’t realize it, but they have a little faith. To those of us who are faithful, what it comes down to is the Lord chooses those who have confidence, a fortified faith, and a fortified hope. He looks for those people who when they are basically in the storm don’t retreat. When Peter walked on water, for a moment he had that confidence but he looked down. Instead of looking at Jesus, he began to sink. He lost his faith. What the Lord put on our heart is men of faith can be shaken very easily, but men of great confidence, He can put his weight on them and He knows they will do a task because confidence is super faith.
If you would allow me, I just want to dig into the movie a bit. There are several pivotal scenes in Unplanned that are centered on a fence. Could you just share what this symbolizes in the film?
Chuck Konzelman: It symbolizes the inside and the outside. The fence is really the dividing line between belief and unbelief. It protects those inside theoretically from those on the outside. It was designed for protection, but it becomes a prison. And Abby kind of realizes that by the end of the movie. There are prayer warriors outside of the fence. This is one of the great unknowns for prayer warriors across the nation. Here is one of the great secrets that Abby learned at her last Planned Parenthood convention before she left. When there are people praying outside a clinic, the no-show rate goes as high as 75%. So, women are coming for a procedure, see people praying, they take it as a sign and they drive right by. The prayer warriors tend to only count as victory when those women who go inside and then turn around. It’s a very small minority. The great irony is that the power of prayer is such that most of the “saves” that they achieve, they never ever know about.
Cary Solomon: I think it’s the line of faith and lack of faith, the difference between love and a negative emotion. People are doing this knowingly. It’s pro-choice vs. pro-life. It’s right and wrong. It’s God and the devil. It’s white and black. Every worldly comparison is that fence. We have scenes where Abby’s at the fence and on the other side are the prayer warriors. They’re trying to talk to each other. They are both holding the bars and yet, until Abby makes the decision to come out of the fence, no matter what she says and does, she’s still in that world. And the people that don’t leave that facility stay in that world. And yet when they come out on the other side, it’s the most symbolic example of the movie. It’s in everything. When she’s in a boardroom and being chastised by Planned Parenthood, we have a table with a little wall on it.
Do you think this story will reach those who are perhaps on the margins with the whole abortion issue?
Chuck Konzelman: That’s really who we are going for, the big mushy middle, people who aren’t on either side. This is proof that the Creator has a sense of humor. We’re doing a chick flick about human reproduction.
Cary Solomon: Honestly, this movie would be a cable movie if it wasn’t for the subject matter. Abortion is what turns it into a hypersensitive nitroglycerin subject. And so you suddenly go from three people knowing about it to 30, 40 or 300 million people finding out on the Drudge Report. The marketing is self-incentivized. You can’t ignore it. You can’t deny the truth, but a lot of stories are true, but they don’t have the gravitas behind them. It’s not Abby. It’s the subject that Abby is in and that subject is ripe. There is no middle ground. You have to respond one way or another.
Are you prepared for the spiritual warfare that will likely come with this?
Cary Solomon: I don’t know if anyone is ever prepared for this kind of thing but you just do the best you can. We ask every single person to pray for us.
–Chris Carpenter | CBN