Mark Burnett and Roma Downey are not afraid.
Let movie studios and television channels scratch their heads, trying to figure out the elusive “faith-based” market that produces “God Is Not Dead” megahits as well as “Left Behind” bombs. Let small, independent Christian filmmakers try to break their projects into the mainstream.
Burnett and Downey need not worry about any of that. Downey won the hearts of religious America with her role as Monica in “Touched by an Angel.” With colossal hits like “Survivor,” “The Voice,” and “Shark Tank” to his credit, her husband, Burnett, has the kind of proven success record that opens doors to even the most cynical in Hollywood. He never balks at pitching religious projects because he never shies away from discussing his own Christian faith.
“It’s not a market to us, is it?” Burnett said recently in a conversation in Washington DC. “I mean, it’s not a market…This is our faith. And this is authentic and we love it. And I think we’re pretty good at our jobs.”
The Christian Story Continues Post-Resurrection
On Easter Sunday, NBC will air a follow-up to their hit History Channel miniseries, “The Bible.” “AD :The Bible Continues” tells how the early church came to be. Taken from the Biblical book of Acts, the story picks up where “The Bible” ended: after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. It follows the metamorphosis of Jesus’s followers from simple fishermen terrified to admit any connection with the condemned man to international emissaries willing to die for him.
Season one goes roughly through chapter 10 of the Book of Acts, up to the conversion of a Roman military official named Cornelius. If the show does well, they will continue through the rest of the book and beyond into post-biblical church history.
Because the struggles and journeys of the early Christians are less known than tales about Jesus, the new project has fewer controversial minefields and more room for creativity than a story based on the Gospels. Burnett and Downey have incorporated archaeological evidence and historical records to recreate first-century Palestine. The series covers not only the events recorded in the Bible, but the rise and fall of Jewish Zealots that led to the destruction of Jerusalem as well as tensions within the Roman Empire that led to its collapse.
A Charitable Media Empire
“The Bible” and “AD” are segments of a growing media empire. In addition to the 11 television series Burnett produces, the couple produced “The Dovekeepers” miniseries for CBS, about the Jewish stand against the Romans at the hilltop fortress Masada. They made a recent feature film, “Little Boy,” and announced plans for a remake of “Ben Hur.”
These sand-and-sandals stories require a sandy place to film. The couple has found their own personal promised land in Morocco. They spent months filming there in North Africa, so they felt personally connected when ISIS started driving Christians and others from homes in Iraq and Syria. Late last year, Downey and Burnett spearheaded a campaign to raise money for refugees from ISIS, seeding the fund with a $1 million donation. The Cradle Fund seeks to meet the needs of refugees in the area.
It all connects. The emotions of Christians threatened for their faith in Iraq would feel very familiar to the early church, Burnett says. “Every day, every hour, the apostles thought they were going to get killed. The authorities did not want them there.”
“While in 2,000 years transportation has changed, with jet planes, we have bullet trains, our clothing has changed, our communication devices have changed—people have not changed at all.”