Jon and Andrew Erwin weren’t old enough to drive a car when they told their father what they wanted to do for a living.
“They said, ‘Dad, we think God is calling us to make movies,’” recalled Hank Erwin, a former Alabama state senator and longtime radio and television broadcaster.
Some parents wouldn’t have taken their kids seriously, but Hank and Sheila Erwin helped their boys buy their first video camera.
It wasn’t long before the idea for Erwin Brothers Motion Pictures was born. Hank Erwin says his two sons, four years apart in age, were only in junior high school.
From ESPN to ‘October Baby’
As teenagers, Jon and Andy Erwin honed their skills by shooting short films for a youth camp in New York and operating video cameras for ESPN. They landed the ESPN gig because a regular employee needed a last-minute replacement–just one of many moments in the Erwins’ career that seemed to be more than coincidence.
As the brothers ventured into documentaries, they found favor–and controversy–in a faith-based project called The Cross and the Towers. The film tells the true story of steel beams in the shape of crosses, found inexplicably standing upright at Ground Zero. The crosses encouraged exhausted and traumatized rescue workers in the weeks following 9/11. The film racked up awards at festivals around the country–and caught the eye of Christian music artist Michael W. Smith.
Within a few years, Jon and Andy had directed music videos for Smith, Third Day, Montgomery Gentry, Skillet, Casting Crowns, and Nicole C. Mullen, to name a few. The Gospel Music Association honored the brothers with three consecutive Dove awards for music video of the year.
As the successes piled up, Jon and Andy acknowledged the One who was guiding their every move.
“God allows us to do what we do,” said Andy Erwin in a 2008 interview, four years before he and Jon saw the fruits of their most intensive labor yet–the full length feature film, October Baby.
The brothers’ mom, Sheila Erwin, said a third of the budget for October Baby came from “Nana,” Jon and Andy’s grandmother.
The film had strong Christian themes involving the sanctity of life and the freedom of forgiveness, and it took the movie industry by surprise. Opening No. 8 at the box office, October Baby made nearly $3 million its first weekend, despite showing in fewer than 400 theaters.
Nana’s investment paid off.
Telling the story of a young woman who realizes she is the result of a failed abortion, October Baby has a pro-life message that is forgiving, not condemning. The Erwin brothers called the film “an opportunity to serve, give back and save lives” without being “preachy.”
“I’m not a preacher, and I’m not a politician,” said Andy Erwin. “I’m a storyteller.”
‘Christians Like to Laugh, Too’
After October Baby, the Erwin brothers had a big decision to make.
“What is it that we want to commit the next year of our lives to?” said Andy Erwin.
Instead of going for another tearjerker, Jon and Andy decided to try something different: a comedy. Not just any comedy–a movie the whole family could watch together, without worrying about constant cursing or cringe-worthy, explicit scenes Mom and Dad would have to explain to their kids after the credits rolled.
Enter Mom’s Night Out. The Erwins just wrapped principal photography on the movie, which follows a stressed-out mom and her friends who just want one night to themselves. When the dads take over parenting duties, hilarity ensues.
“It’s going to be a laugh-out-loud, hysterical family comedy,” said Andy Erwin on the set of Mom’s Night Out, which was filmed on location in Birmingham, Alabama. “Christians like to laugh, too.”
The movie, set to be released in 2014, features a star-studded cast including Patricia Heaton (Everybody Loves Raymond, The Middle), Sarah Drew (Grey’s Anatomy), Sean Astin (The Lord of the Rings), Alex Kendrick (Courageous), and country music artist Trace Adkins (The Lincoln Lawyer).
The Erwin brothers and Mom’s Night Out producer Kevin Downes say they came up with a wish list of actors for the film and got their first choice for every role.
Some would call it luck; the Erwin family knows it’s a “God thing.”
“It’s been quite a process of watching God do what God does,” said Sheila Erwin, who spent a good deal of time on the set, along with her husband. “If you can dream it, God can do it.”
While the film is primarily a comedy, Jon and Andy believe it will also be an encouragement to parents–especially moms–who get bogged down in the chaos of raising children.
“We wanted to make a movie that celebrates the beauty of motherhood,” said Andy Erwin.
Jon echoed his brother’s sentiments, saying he hopes the film will show women “how near and dear to the heart of God the role of ‘mom’ is.”
He hopes the encouragement will start with his own wife, by making her feel “affirmed and important, and that all the mayhem of parenthood is worth it,” said Jon Erwin. “And that God has her right where she is supposed to be.”
As they continue work on their second feature film, it seems evident God has Jon and Andy Erwin right where they’re supposed to be.
While Hank Erwin watches his sons raise their own children and live out their dream of making movies, he can’t help but beam.
“I’m mighty proud of my boys.”