Dallas Jenkins didn’t grow up spending hours sitting in front of a television or movie screen – his parents monitored how much TV time was allotted to their children. But as a young teen, Dallas got a glimpse of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, starring Jack Nicholson in one of his most impassioned performances.
Dallas was bitten by the film bug, and the movie made a lasting impression on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as well, garnering the top five Academy Awards at the 48th Oscar ceremony.
“I thought, wow, if I could make a movie that aroused an emotional response like that ” reflects Jenkins, his words trailing off.
And so the movie-making seed was planted. Later this year, Jenkins will release his sixth motion picture, What If . It stars recognizable faces from the small and big screens – Kevin Sorbo, known to fans as the rugged lead actor in TV’s Hercules, Kristy Swanson (TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Big Daddy), Debby Ryan (Disney’s Suite Life on Deck), and John Ratzenberger (Cliff Clavin of TV’s Cheers, and voice talent in many Pixar hits, including Toy Story and Cars).
In the story What If, Ben Walker (Sorbo) is a man who 15 years ago left the love of his life, Wendy (Swanson) and ignored his calling to minister at a local church. Instead, he pursued a highly lucrative career opportunity.
Now, as a high-powered banker about to marry his fancy-pants fiancee, he has little or no interest in faith or building a family. One day, his swanky sports car suddenly comes to a halt, as does his life: Ben has a divine appointment with a mysterious tow-truck driver (Ratzenberger), who knocks Ben into an alternative reality – the life he should have had. Ben awakens on a Sunday morning with his wife Wendy and two daughters getting ready for church, where Ben is scheduled to give his first sermon as the new pastor. If Ben wants to escape this what-if scenario, he must first learn the value of faith and family.
According to Jenkins, the cast and crew come from a variety of faith backgrounds.
“We all love good family values, and each of the cast members were attracted to the family values in the script and the way they are presented,” Jenkins says. He was quite pleased with the acting performances. “All the actors were even better than I expected.” He adds, “It was interesting to see ‘Hercules’ play a sweet romantic character. That’s more what he’s really like in real life.”
What If was filmed in Michigan last summer, and Jenkins recently previewed the movie at his father’s (Jerry Jenkins) annual Christian Writer’s Guild conference in Denver. The delighted audience responded with a standing ovation. Proud papa Jerry, author of the Left Behind series and 175 other books, was in the crowd with his wife Dianna.
Growth of Jenkins Culture
Dallas and his father, Jerry B. Jenkins, formed Jenkins Culture in February 2000. Within a year, they completed their first feature, the $2 million independent film, Hometown Legend. Dallas was just 25. That film launched a run in which they have produced and/or directed four feature films and two short films, which have been distributed by companies such as Warner Brothers and Lionsgate.
In 2006, Dallas was the co-executive producer of Though None Go with Me, a movie based on his father’s book. It aired on Hallmark Channel. Dallas then directed Midnight Clear, starring Stephen Baldwin, which earned several awards and was featured in major film festivals.
In 2009, Jenkins Culture created a multi-picture partnership with Pure Flix Culture. The joint venture’s first film, What If , will be released later this year. A second film, Riven, is in the pipeline. It is based on Jerry B. Jenkins’ novel of the same name.
Hollywood and the Church
Jenkins says Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ (2004) provided a pivotal moment for Christian-themed films in Hollywood. “The Monday after The Passion movie was released, the Hollywood community sat back and wondered how they would go after that audience,” Jenkins says. He adds, “I know the church world very well, and I’ve been developing a lot of Hollywood connections. I want to bring the Hollywood caliber of filmmaking to the Christian market.”
Jenkins feels the church has been slow in producing Hollywood level talent for filmmaking. “We’ll send our church people to the jungles of Africa, but we won’t send them to Hollywood, because ‘it’s too scary,’ – that needs to change.”
The story of What If may remind some film goers of the enduring 1946 classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. Laced with humor and peppered with several heart-touching moments, this film delivers rock-solid acting performances, along with a heartfelt message of faith.
Jenkins, father of three, with a fourth child on the way via foreign adoption, says, “I hope audiences see that sitting on the couch with your family has more impact than short-lived moments like buying a new car.”