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Jon Erwin: New Faith-Based Studio Is a ‘Declaration of Independence’ for Christian Filmmakers

Michael Foust | Crosswalk Headlines Contributor | Updated: Jan 03, 2024
Jon Erwin: New Faith-Based Studio Is a ‘Declaration of Independence’ for Christian Filmmakers

Jon Erwin: New Faith-Based Studio Is a ‘Declaration of Independence’ for Christian Filmmakers

The award-winning director who helped make Jesus Revolution and I Can Only Imagine box office hits says the goal behind his latest project is to build a faith-based, values-driven movie studio that will transform society with stories of hope and that will stand the test of time by outliving the people who founded it. 

“I think life is too short for small ideas,” he says.

Director Jon Erwin last week announced he had co-founded a groundbreaking new independent studio, The Wonder Project, that already has more than $75 million in seed and Series A funding and that will create movies and television shows for the faith- and values-oriented audience. Erwin will serve as the chief content officer, while co-founder Kelly Merryman Hoogstraten, a  former Netflix and YouTube executive, will serve as CEO.

The idea is to create a studio that is as successful as Disney and Universal are, but that only produces faith-based, values-focused content. Dallas Jenkins, the creator and director of The Chosen, will serve as an advisor and will be an executive director on some projects.  

“I just think the time is now,” Erwin told Christian Headlines. “I think that there's an opportunity for a leap forward and for an almost ‘Declaration of Independence’ -- where we can build our own studio that hopefully, God-willing, can really endure the test of time. It would just be amazing if the stories that we're making now could create a place that could allow stories to be told decades from now. … I'm working on projects that I've been dreaming of my entire career.”

Erwin is the only director in movie history to earn four A+ CinemaScore ratings (Jesus Revolution, Woodlawn, I Can Only Imagine, and American Underdog.) 

The faith-based, values-driven audience has a hunger for more content than is currently available, he said. 

“They want a values-based ecosystem. They want a single brand and destination that is completely unashamed and unafraid of faith-based stories like Jesus Revolution, the American dream, and the American experience. … They just want their values infused into content that will pull their family back together.”

The Wonder Project will give filmmakers the creative control that could be lacking while working with mainstream studios, he said. Erwin and Jenkins had a common vision, he added.

Erwin compared the power of a studio to the power of a group of horses. 

“I like the story that one draft horse can pull about 8,000 pounds. If you put two together, they can pull 24,000 -- 32,000 if they train,” he said. “We just had a common vision to create a destination where we could be free to create and allow that same freedom to be given to other people in the space.”

Directors in the faith-based realm, he said, often understand their audiences better than mainstream executives do. 

“You know what works, you know what you need to do, and then you're trying to convince studios to sort of let you reach an audience that you know better than they do. And so you just wonder: Why can't we create an entity like that that can endure?”

Erwin added, “If you give the leading creatives the freedom and resources to reach an audience that we know far better than a lot of the studios, then that's typically where the success happens.”

The Wonder Project will then partner with streamers and other partners to distribute the final project, he said. The studio’s titles will celebrate faith, values, families, and America, he said.

“We want to make stories that flood the world with hope. And we want to make stories that restore faith in things worth believing in,” he said. 

Too often, he said, mainstream entertainment criticizes faith and values. 

"A lot of entertainment today chips away at faith, chips away at belief in things that are still worth believing in,” he said. “Christianity is one of those things. But so is America or entrepreneurism or the family -- or just a certain set of values on which Christianity rests. We're living in a very cynical world where it's tough to know what to believe in. And if you watch a lot of popular shows but also movies, you find yourself in a me-versus-everyone mindset, where it's hard to know what to believe in. And so we [want to create] content that restores faith in things that are worth it. … Christianity is life-changing for me and 2.5 billion people.”

Very few of today’s movies and television shows, he said, can be viewed by children and parents alike.

“There's so few experiences that I can take my wife, my kids to,” he said. “The idea is to really get back to that original idea of a multi-generational experience that's values-driven. … To me, a company that can endure, that can outlive me and the other people founding it is a really cool idea.”

Several movie studios this year are celebrating their 100th birthday, Erwin noted. 

“If other media entities have achieved that … why can’t we?”

Photo Courtesy: ©Kingdom Story Company, used with permission

Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

Jon Erwin: New Faith-Based Studio Is a ‘Declaration of Independence’ for Christian Filmmakers