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Mark Burnett and Roma Downey's The Bible Continues with A.D.

Watch A.D. The Bible Continues

PREMIERE DATE:

April 5, 2015, on NBC, at 9/8c

STARRING:

Farzana Dua Elahe, George Georgiou, Marama Corlett, Jim Sturgeon, Babou Ceesay, James Callis, Chipo Chung, Juan Pablo Di Pace, Kevin Doyle, Adam Levy, Jodhi May, Vincent Regan, Richard Coyle

PRODUCTION CO:

LightWorkers Media

Hannah Goodwyn - Senior Producer

To say executive producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey have been busy about their Father's business is an understatement. Ever since their Bible miniseries drew record-breaking audiences back in 2013, the faith-filled couple has been on a roll producing more biblically based content for television.

Their new 12-week series, A.D. The Bible Continues, airs this Easter Sunday (April 5th), right on the heels of their siege of Masada miniseries, The Dovekeepers, which just premiered on CBS.

Burnett and Downey recently spoke with CBN.com about how they approached telling the early church's story and the similarities it has with two powerhouse TV shows, House of Cards and Game of Thrones. Here are excerpts from that conversation:

On showing the disciples' humanity in this retelling of their story...

Roma Downey: That's the most important element in the bringing of these stories to the screen is that we make those emotional connections. The story is more relevant now, and more needed now. We have tried in the making of this to invite the audience to step back in time, to walk in the footsteps of these characters, to understand their struggles and their hopes, and their heart and their fears, remembering that they were living in a very tumultuous and dangerous, and dark time in history right after Jesus dies. Danger lurks around every corner and yet they're safe. Their courage is inspiring to us.

When we were over there working with our actors, particularly the actors playing the big, iconic, biblical roles, we had to remind them that the characters didn't know they were in the Bible. They didn't know the outcome, and it adds to the humanity to remember that.

Roma and Mark on the set of A.D.On featuring more women's stories in A.D. The Bible Continues...

Roma: That was certainly something that was foremost in our minds. You know, we have worked like we did on The Bible series with a team of scholars and theologians, and pastors to make sure that when we revealed scripture, when we connect with the Book of Acts in the series, that we bring the story forward in an accurate and truthful way.

But we have also drawn here from history the biggest political and historic context that goes from the writings of Josephus and others of the time. We have some of these characters and what we believe might have been going on, to create a fuller experience for the audience.

So with a character like Leah [wife of Caiaphas], it allowed us to imagine the domestic life of the high priest, and a little bit reminiscent, perhaps, of whisperings of the couple in the House of Cards, and to help us create this element of a thriller to keep the story full and resonant, and dynamic. I think that the faith audience will come to it and will lovingly recognize the Book of Acts chapters 1 through 10, which become the backbone of the first 12 episodes. But we have sewed in historically and politically around that backbone to create a very sort of complete cinematic experience.

On how A.D. is similar to House of Cards and Game of Thrones...

Mark Burnett: You could rename A.D. the House of Cards, A.D. 33 because there were so much politics going on. Nothing's changed unfortunately. If you look at it 2,000 years later, governments are still behaving in a way where they don't recognize truth, and that's why the first words you hear in A.D. are, 'Truth. What is truth?' When Pilate speaks to Jesus.

And so it's House of Cards meets Game of Thrones. In Game of Thrones, what was going on there? People who wanted power were doing anything to maintain power. So [in A.D.] you've got the Roman Empire. You've got the Herod family, the Temple authorities. Of course, in the middle, you've got the Zealots who think the only solution for them to rid themselves of Rome is war. Right in the middle, you've got this group of apostles, which become disciples, deciding that violence is not the way....

Otherwise, you're just going to be doing Sunday School programming and it's not going to work on network TV. We proved that in The Bible. We approach the Bible very differently than I've ever seen before. In this country alone, 100 million people watched it. But it's interesting, Glenn Beck actually wrote a little review yesterday, and Glenn Beck's a tough audience. He said, 'You know, I know it sounds crazy, but actually, A.D. is better than The Bible.' And, it is. It's slowed down. You get to know the characters.

A.D.On using A.D. The Bible Continues as a teaser for audiences, to compel them to seek out answers for their faith questions...

Mark: If you look at the scripture in Mark 4 and you understand what the disciples are asking Jesus, 'When you've got these giant groups, why don't you make it clearer? When you're speaking parables, it's really hard to understand.'

And Jesus said, 'the parable way of teaching is the right approach when you're dealing with large groups. When I'm with you guys, I'll explain the details.'

If we go into the micro details, for a multi-million person audience, you turn people off. But telling it in a broader way, an engaging, emotional broader way, which is what a parable really is, right, we're going to drive people towards seeking more. And there are so many churches--every block in America there's a church. There are lots of places to get the questions answered and explained. Even pastors and priests, on every Sunday, if people just go once a week, they're often talking in homilies or stories to explain it. We're just doing an expanded version of that, really.

On the God moments seen on set while filming A.D. The Bible Continues...

Roma: One of the beautiful things on this project has been endless discussions with actors about the material and about their roles that they're playing. When the actors each arrived to the location, we gave them, as a welcome gift, the Book of Acts and encouraged them to read it for background and to understand the context of the story in which they were playing. And so some of my fondest memories are sitting, finding a piece of shade out there in the desert and sitting on a rock, and reading through a script. Some of our actors came to the roles as people of faith, others learning about scripture for the first time. It was deeply touching and profoundly memorable to have that experience on set.

The [cross-shaped] cloud was an extraordinary moment, a work-stopping moment as everybody took cell phones out to take a picture of that. Another point in filming on another long, arduous day, a double rainbow appeared in the sky. It has manifested more in a way that has just continued to move obstacles out of the way. Here we are about to launch A.D. The Bible Continues on broadcast television and I think if you really consider for a moment how monumental that is.

A.D.On Jesus being promoted in Hollywood this Easter...

Roma: This week, we have seen go up all over Hollywood the poster for A.D., which on it has the three crucifixes on the hill of Golgotha. It's such an iconic image to be all over Hollywood and driving by on buses. The significance of our story being shown on network television on Easter Sunday just speaks to the fact that the Spirit was moving here.

Mark: And also, right on that same billboard on Sunset Blvd, all across the valley, I mean, a huge amount of advertising... Right across the top it says, 'The crucifixion was only the beginning.'

You go back to like 10 years ago...what was the chance on network TV, you got like, as big a campaign as any show that's been launched on network TV, all about the resurrection. It's amazing! God is moving. True, it's not us. We just happen to be the instruments at this time who have prayed, 'Use me.' And we have been used.

The duty is to keep it faithful and to make it great because just because you're Christian doesn't give you the right to make crappy programming and just say, 'Oh well, we're Christians. It doesn't have to be great.' It does have to be great. Younger Christians are embarrassed. Young Christians get embarrassed by stuff that's really low, amateur quality. And we don't want that.

On how the TV series will inspire believers and non-believers alike...

Roma: There's such an opportunity. I think that the faithful will find the series and I believe they will love it. They will relate to it and they will embrace it. But there's a bigger opportunity here just to draw young people who don't know the story at all. What an opportunity that is to reach people who don't know God, who don't know the story of Jesus, and yet who may be sitting home on this Sunday night in the house, and that A.D. might be the doorway into that story. That's exciting.

Everything begins with intention, and our intention on this always has been that we could make brave, exciting television. We're grateful to the partnership with NBC and all they're doing to help launch this series. But we also hope that it will touch a hurting world and help to bring people closer to God.

Guest Name / Person Interviewed or Featured in Article or Video: 
Mark Burnett
Roma Downey
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