Amazing Love: Authentic Movie Making in Israel
NAZARETH VILLAGE, Israel --You might not realize it, but most movies about the Bible are not made in the Holy Land, something that just may be changing.
In just a few days, millions of U.S. moviegoers have already flocked to the Gospel movie, "Son of God."
A decade ago, the blockbuster "Passion of the Christ" spread the story of Jesus around the world.
You may not know it, but producers of the movie, "Son of God," filmed it in Morocco and Mel Gibson shot the "Passion of the Christ" in Italy. But lately more projects with a biblical theme are coming back here to the Land of the Bible.
"Yaysado," a new children's animated series inspired by the lead writer's trip to the Galilee; "Father of Lights," a documentary shot in part within Israel; and the series, "Steve's Trek to the Holy Land" are all recent examples of projects shot in Israel.
Another major example was the 2012 movie release, "Amazing Love," now on DVD, that did well in both Christian and secular markets.
The movie tells the story about the prophet Hosea and his unfaithful wife Gomer. It begins with a modern-day dilemma when a youth pastor, played by Sean Astin, deals with a young girl consumed with herself.
In one scene, one girl says to another, "Hey Ashley, we're only going to be here for the weekend. Do you need all that luggage?"
To which she responds, "I couldn't decide what to wear."
While filmmakers shot this scene in California, they came to Israel for their Bible scenes.
The film was shot in the center of the modern-day city of Nazareth and in a re-creation of what Nazareth would have looked like 2,000 years ago called Nazareth Village.
'Authentic' Film Making
The film's producer, Daryl Lefever, told CBN News he's taken with the authenticity of the sets.
"Shooting here in the Village? The sets speak for themselves -- the facility to be able to shoot real stones and real mud. Things are built together by hand and hewn out of rock by guys with chisels, whom we meet," Lefever said. "Nothing here is not authentic. Everything is made here the same way it would have been 2,000 years ago."
Kevin Downes, who starred in the movie "Courageous," directed "Amazing Love." When he first came to Israel, he started to dream.
"So as a filmmaker my mind started to spin and I started thinking, "Man, could you shoot a movie here? Could you make a story here? Because it would be so impactful."
Now Downes has discovered the joy of making a movie in Israel, the land where Jesus walked.
"So actually it was my life's passion so when we were shot our first shot on the Sea of Galilee. And I sat there and a tear came down my cheek because I felt like it was a dream come true from like 19 years that I've been doing this. I'm now filming a movie right where Jesus walked right in God's Holy Land."
A 'Life-Changing' Experience
Gary Bayer said filming here in Israel is "life changing."
"You know the one line that just keeps coming to mind, the word I've heard over and over is life changing," he told CBN News.
Downes got help for the film from Gary Bayer. Bayer and his wife, Cindy, started "Writer's Gathering," an organization that brings filmmakers and storytellers to Israel, which they call the "Cradle of Creativity."
"We bring them here in hopes that they will feed that well from which they write or they will decide, 'I'm going to bring my film here,'" he explained. "And that is actually grown to the point where writers are now bringing their films here and this is the place where we host them here."
"We scout for them," he continued. "They'll shoot either along here or in the Golan, the north shore. They'll go to Nazareth to the whole restored village of Nazareth, so it's a great place to capture [a] story."
The Bayers helped "Amazing Love" come to Israel.
"When Gary invited us to his house we sat and dreamed about the idea of bringing a film here and I kept saying, you know, the doubter in me is like, really? Could it be done? He's like, yeah. Encouraging me and praying for me and without his prayer and encouragement I don't know if I'd have had the initial early steps, the strength to be able to do it."
But what about the dangers of filming in Israel?
"It's strange at first when you think about shooting in Israel because you know you read the news you think it must be high tension there or be this crazy place you wouldn't want to come to and be dealing with all this stuff. It's really not that," Lefever said. "From the moment I got off the plane, I was like, 'This is beautiful. Why didn't I come here on vacation?'"
Downes hopes to shoot another film in Israel, and he has a message for other filmmakers.
"Every filmmaker in our space has a Bible story in the back of their mind," he said. "And I'm going to encourage them, you know, pray about it and seek God's guidance to maybe bring you over here."