You ever meet someone and it feels like you've known that person for years? The comradery is just there and your lives align in a divinely-inspired way?
That's essentially what happened when Grammy Award-winning worship artist Israel Houghton and filmmaker Galley Molina first met.
"Our first conversation was about legacy… about what are we building for our children's children. And that spoke to me. That said, that's somebody thinking eternally," says Houghton.
The result of that meeting, besides a budding friendship, was a new industry partnership. The first fruits include their new movie, I'm in Love with a Church Girl, which opens in theaters this Friday (Oct. 18th).
I'm in Love with a Church Girl is inspired by Galley's real-life story about his drug-trafficking past and the events that led him to give God a chance. The film stars rapper and new believer Ja Rule, actors Stephen Baldwin and Michael Madsen, and Christian music artists TobyMac and T-Bone.
Molina can claim one unique fact that not many screenwriters can. He wrote I'm in Love with a Church Girl while serving a prison sentence.
"I wrote this and about four or five other manuscripts, passing time," Molina recalls. "I was away for several years, but I didn't start writing 'til my last year, my last 10 months. The actual manuscript I wrote like, in five days. It was based on a true story, so it was easy. I wrote it while I was in Talladega, Alabama, in a Federal Correctional Facility, in a really dusty, mildew-y, law library. It was an anointed place."
That anointing was evidently felt from the very beginning. When asked about how God showed up on the movie set, Molina shares some pretty convincing evidence.
"Oh, my gosh. People were giving their lives to Christ on the set. It was two people, one of the actors [speaking of Ja Rule] and then also Adrienne Bailon's assistant," Molina says. "It was all a God moment. We didn't have any nightmares on set. That's when you know that we were blanketed in prayer. My church, my tiny church and everybody involved would pray every day."
Prayers were even rising up on set.
"We opened up the set in prayer, and we'd close in prayer," says Molina. "Even when we wrapped at five in the morning, I'm like, 'Hey, I know you guys are tired… gather round, let's bring it in and close in prayer.' So, there's no way that you can say that God was not at the center of this film."
Molina and Houghton's partnership initially resulted in the Gospel singer's Grammy Award-winning album, Jesus at the Center. One thing lead to another after that first connection and Houghton soon shared that he was looking to put his talents to use on developing a film score. That desire evolved into Houghton becoming the vice president of Molina's production company, Reverence Gospel Media. Both are excited about what God will do through everything they produce.
"The timing for faith-based film is really good. There seems to be a demand. There seems to be a hunger for it. And the fact that we really set out to do something that would compete in theaters with any other film was great," says Houghton.
Come Sunday when the box office numbers are calculated, bloggers and industry leaders will be interested to see where this faith-based film lands. For Houghton and Molina, the millions in ticket sales aren't the most important measure of the film's success.
"The industry does look at the numbers, and we're anticipating a solid first weekend," says Houghton. "But you know, if this whole film was done and all these millions of dollars spent to reach people like Ja Rule, then the way God pays those kinds of dividends are significant. For me, it's the numbers of people that come to know Christ. The numbers of people that go to church, maybe for the first time in a long time, because they were inspired a different way.
"I want what they walk away with to be, 'I didn't envision church like that.' When they see Ja Rule's transformation depicting Galley's story, I want them to realize, OK, so church is not as buttoned up and straight laced and rules and regs as I thought. Maybe you can come as you are." says Houghton. "And if that message gets clearly received, then I think we've done our job."