Fighting the Right Way Interview with Alex Kendrick, director of War Room
War Room, the latest addition to faith-based family films produced by the Kendrick brothers, will release August 28. Having been given the opportunity for an early viewing, I can wholehearted encourage you to see this movie with family and friends. Your life will be changed!
It’s the story of an all-American couple, Tony and Elizabeth Jordan, who appear to have everything that marks success—beautiful home, vibrant daughter, sought-after jobs. In actuality, their marriage is falling apart. Elizabeth, a real estate agent, obtains a new client (Miss Clara) who sees right to the heart of the young woman. Miss Clara introduces Elizabeth to the “war room”, a designated place of prayer, and challenges her new friend to fight the right way for her husband— through prayer. You’ll have to see the movie to find out “the rest of the story.” Although it’s based around this couple/family and how the war room impacted them, the message is for individuals, no matter marital status, age, or any other label.
Writer and director of War Room, Alex Kendrick, talked with us about the making of this outstanding movie.
TINA: Is this film based on a true story or is this a storyline you created?
ALEX: It’s a storyline we created but we were influenced heavily by a number of people throughout our lives who have encouraged our faith, challenged us, and spoken into our lives. Ms. Clara is an amalgam of the people who influenced us to pray. We felt like she really embodied what we hope the current generation grabs hold of, as far as mentoring them to seek the Lord. So, there’s a mentoring aspect and there’s also the overall call to prayer.
TINA: Was the idea of the actual prayer room, the “war room”, from anyone in particular?
ALEX: We had seen prayer closets before, and our father regularly prayed in his place. I remember walking in his room and interrupting him when he was in his closet on his face before the Lord praying. That transitioned into his three sons doing the same thing, especially now with our kids. The prayer closet was not a new concept for us and comes from Matthew 6:6 which says, “When you pray, go into your inner room, close the door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” There needs to be a place where you’re not distracted, where you can solely focus on the Lord and spend time seeking Him, listening to Him, getting right with Him, interceding for others.
As Christians, we do plenty of praying before meals, at bedtime, or before trips, but we do not do enough private time with the Lord when there’s no other benefit but our walk with God—when you’re standing before Him and no one knows you’re praying, and it’s all in secret when you’re seeking Him privately. We think, in many cases, that’s the most powerful way to pray—when there’s no other motive.
I remember visiting the office of Charles Stanley years ago. There was a small room off to the side and the door was open. Inside there was nothing but a pillow on the ground and his Bible. I asked, “What’s that?” They said, “That’s where he goes to spend an hour or two before preparing every sermon.” I remember walking in that little prayer closet, and it was almost like the residue of hundreds of prayers were still in that room. I don’t want to sound mystical or anything, but when I walked in, I could tell someone had been praying in there.
There’s a scene at the end of War Room where this pastor is looking at Miss Clara’s house. He walks in the closet and senses the same thing. We have personally experienced times when the Lord’s presence was thick enough, or obvious enough, that it was unmistakable. That left a mark on me.
The other prayer room that I found interesting is that my family had an opportunity to visit the Duggar family in Arkansas. They have a prayer closet built into their house. It’s only for praying. They don’t use it for storage. They don’t use it for anything else. It is specifically a room where two or three of them at a time can go in there to a quiet place and shut the door and just spend time before the Lord.
This concept of a prayer closet to do battle in is to get before the Lord so that when the crisis comes you have already been seeking Him. We have a tendency to run to the Lord when the crisis is already happening and blame God for what’s going on. He calls us to be praying all along the way. The war room analogy is like the military that gets their act together in the war room before going into battle. We should do the same thing in prayer.
TINA: When you write the films with your brother (Stephen), how do you work together on them? What’s your process?
ALEX: There are three of us brothers. We all have a knack for different aspects of doing this. Since I was young, I was always drawn to the story aspect, how the story comes together, how you grab your audience, or share an emotion. I was always very visual and story driven. Whereas all three of us have ministry experience—Stephen and I are both ordained ministers—Stephen is more the exhorter. He is the one who can take various aspects of Scripture and implement them into the story where it makes sense and makes it more powerful.
What tends to happen is that I will come up with the basic story, then Stephen starts injecting these powerful biblical principles throughout the story that makes it more applicable to our spiritual walk. I’ll do a first draft and Stephen will take it and say, “You know what we could say here? This verse applies here.” I’m a little heavier on the story and the movie side, and Stephen is ministry and the book side. Resolution for Men, Love Dare for Parents … most of those are heavier on Stephen’s side. Our older brother, Shannon, is kind of the director of operations. He’s the most organized and administrative of the three of us. He manages the overall company and makes sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing.
TINA: Did you have some of your kids in the rope-jumping scene?
ALEX: I have three kids in that scene. Shannon has some of his kids in that scene, also. Our kids have constantly asked us to be in each movie and we usually say “no” for two reasons. Number one is that we know that getting a lot of attention is not always a good thing. Secondly, we want to make sure that the people on screen are gifted at what they do to tell the story adequately. Until my kids or Shannon’s kids invest in the skill to act well or do something well, we want to honor the craft and not put them in a scene just because they’re our kids.
TINA: Were they already involved in jumping or is this something they learned in order to be in the movie?
ALEX: They are all athletic, but they’re not jump ropers. In fact, we hired a jump rope coach for four weeks before we got to that scene. Daily the kids practiced the routines with the jump rope coach, who was a national champion.
TINA: When you were choosing the cast, did you have someone in mind for the main characters or were there open auditions?
ALEX: We did do auditions, but admittedly, we had Priscilla Shirer in mind for the lead for this reason: It’s very important to us that the people in this film, who portray Christians who walk with the Lord, really do believe what they’re doing. If they don’t believe it, and can’t speak to it, it harms the effectiveness of what we’re conveying in the film. Priscilla Shirer absolutely believes everything we’re presenting: There is a God. His Son is Jesus Christ. We have salvation through Him. We should be drawn to Him and seeking Him on a regular basis, especially when it comes to prayer.
T.C. Stallings who plays Priscilla’s husband, Tony, in the film, is also a solid Christian, and wants all his projects to honor the Lord. We prefer the secondary actors to be believers and Christians, but if they’re not portraying a Christian on screen, then we want to make sure that actor can adequately do the role well. But, what we won’t do is ever hire someone to play a Christian who is not a Christian. We think it’s just too crucial that they live the faith of the person they portray.
TINA: Did you feel like any of the actors were changed through the making of this movie?
ALEX: Absolutely! We had two or three of them who admitted by the end of the film that they had worked on their own war room. Some of the crew came to me and said, “My spouse and I have picked a closet in our house, have emptied it out, and made it exclusively about prayer. We’re now working on prayer strategies for our children and our marriage, and our church.” That’s what we want to happen to the audience that sees it—to be drawn to a closer relationship with the Lord and that their understanding of prayer will go way up. We have to have an urgency for seeking the Lord in this country. We have to return to a desperate attitude toward prayer, seeking the Lord humbly, where we’re right with Him. We think that’s the only way God’s going to move. If people leave the movie and establish a prayer closet in their home and begin praying more, that’s success for us.
TINA: How is this movie going to show? Is it in theatres for a certain amount of time and then becomes available on DVD?
ALEX: We have a theatrical release date of Aug. 28. It will be in over 1,000 theatres nationwide. Probably 3-4 months after that it will come out on video and BlueRay, probably early December. We hope that people will go see it in the theatres for this reason: Our distributor makes many of their decisions on how wide the movie is distributed based on how many people see it in the theatre. Even though we’re happy for people to buy it on DVD, if they wait to see it on DVD, it actually hurts the scope of the release. The more people who see it in the theatre, the more countries and the broader scale they put it out on television, etc.
Since viewing this movie more than six weeks ago, there’s not a day since that I’ve not been challenged by something from it. As Christians we recognize that prayer is important, but most of us have not taken action to have a plan for what that looks like in our personal lives. Do you have your own war room where you fight for your family, your friends, the kids in your ministry? It’s time to go to battle!
Tina is the Executive Editor of KidzMatter Magazine and the Senior Publications Director for KidzMatter. She loves pouring into kids, especially her 5-year-old grandtwins who are her “happy place.” Kidzmatter.com, tinahouser.net