Andrew Hyatt couldn’t get in to see his own movie at River Park Square’s AMC Theater last weekend.
Hyatt, who lives in Spokane, is the writer and director of “Paul, Apostle of Christ,” a biblical drama that opened Friday in almost 1,500 theaters nationwide.
“My wife and I went to go see the film downtown Saturday evening, but it was sold out,” Hyatt said.
Produced for about $5 million, the film focuses on Paul (James Faulkner, “Downton Abbey”) after his conversion to Christianity and his imprisonment in Rome by Emperor Nero. Washington native Jim Caviezel (“The Passion of the Christ”) co-stars in the film as Luke.
It is the second film in a partnership between Hyatt and producer T.J. Berden. Together they made the 2015 drama “Full of Grace,” about Mary of Nazareth’s final days. Hyatt and Berden worked together previously at a Los Angeles production company years prior, but Hyatt said he was surprised at first to be approached by Berden with the idea of making films centered on the Bible.
“I grew up in the Catholic Church, but I ended up walking away from that, as a lot of young people do,” Hyatt said. “When I went to college, I was interested in fun and parties. I went to Loyola Marymount film school, and if you would have told me I was going to eventually make a Bible film, I would have thought no way. I just didn’t have any interest.”
Hyatt said making biblical dramas comes with many potential roadblocks for audiences, even after the massive success of 2004’s “The Passion of the Christ.”
“Unfortunately, the first response is there have been a lot of bad versions of Bible stories in the last decade after the ‘Passion,’ so it’s challenging to get people to lose their preconceived notions of ‘Oh, here’s another bad Bible story.’ ”
After his own reconversion into the Christian faith, Hyatt began to see the storytelling opportunities that could buck the traditional approach to the “faith-based” message film.
“From a faith perspective, there is a tendency to water these people down and to look at them as pious individuals,” he said. “But it’s hard to find as much drama in other stories as there are (in the Bible). You see a very deep sense of storytelling and history … It’s important to capture the humanity of these individuals.”
Hyatt saw Paul as an opportunity to relate the story of his struggle and to make it relevant to modern audiences without the stigma of selling a Christian message.
“It’s a very personal story to me,” Hyatt said. “My own conversion was very similar to Paul’s. But more importantly, it’s relevant for everyone now, in 2018. It’s about how do you love people that persecute you … It’s about grace and mercy and forgiveness. There’s such a deep need to hear these really human things again and to approach it without being preachy.”
Hyatt knows the movie can be a tough sell against the likes of “Black Panther” and “Pacific Rim” at the box office, but he also didn’t want “Paul” to feel like a movie only for a specific crowd.
“I’m not interested in making films that aren’t challenging. I don’t want it to just be that inspirational, faith-based stuff that’s only going to preach to the choir,” he said.
“Paul, Apostle of Christ” was shot last year in the European island country of Malta, which has welcomed notable productions like “Gladiator,” “Game of Thrones,” “World War Z” and the recent remake of “Murder on the Orient Express.” The location was especially notable for the story of how Paul was shipwrecked on a smaller island off Malta on the way to face charges in Rome.
“It was an amazing place he had traveled to, but it was also a case of production logistics – Malta has great film crew and amazing tax incentives,” Hyatt said.
Hyatt doesn’t have his next project officially lined up but sees opportunity to collaborate again with producer Berden, or to find another storytelling challenge.
That decision process will be easier now that he’s living a less hectic lifestyle in Spokane.
“We were in LA for 15 years and it was absolute chaos,” he said. “Spokane is a beautiful city … the people are so friendly and kind, and we love being so close to a downtown area.”
Maybe even Spokane can take the place of Malta on the next project.
“It would be great not to have to fly across the ocean to get to the next filming location, Hyatt said.
“Paul, Apostle of Christ,” rated PG-13, is currently playing at AMC River Park Square and the Wandermere Village Centre Cinemas in Spokane and the Regal Riverstone 14 in Coeur d’Alene.
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