Louisville producer first backed box office smash

Louisville producer first backed box office smash
Tony Young, President of Louisville-based City on a Hill.

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - "Dad, I think this would be a great movie," his daughter said.

Daughter was right. And dad listened. Tony Young is the President of City On A Hill, a Louisville based Christian multimedia company.

He had gotten behind Christian films before, but this time he became the first investor. Young partnered with directors in Alabama, secured more investors, and in about two years, "I Can Only Imagine" hit the big screen. It became a hit opening weekend.

Up against a huge budget film from Disney that had only been out a week, "I Can Only Imagine" topped "A Wrinkle In Time", despite showing in about half as many theaters. It brought in seventeen million dollars on just an eight million dollar budget.

And during the first four weekdays of week two, it brought another seven million in ticket sales.

So how is a Christian based film redeeming itself at the box office and getting great reviews? It's the story and strategy.

Back in 2001, Mercy Me released the song "I Can Only Imagine." It's the story of lead singer Bart Millard's relationship with his father.

"My dad wasn't a mean dad, he was literally the monster that was in the basement," Millard said. "The handful of good moments in my childhood are all attached to songs."

But the abuse changed. Bart's father became seriously ill and became a devoted Christian.

"I didn't think God could do that, so I wrote this song for my dad," Millard said.

Bart's father passed away and he wrote the song about what it would be like for his father in heaven. It became arguably the most popular contemporary Christian song ever.

Now that popularity, and Bart's story, are delivering on the big screen.

Tony Young learned from his past work on Christian films that no matter how good the product, getting the message out required some star power that could get media attention. Enter Dennis Quaid, playing the role of Bart's father.

"He's done a great job out on the circuit talking about his faith and being open to that. I credit him for that because sometimes in Hollywood it can be pretty tough," Young told WAVE 3 News Anchor Scott Reynolds.

Quaid made appearances on the Today Show and Fox and Friends, among many others. Meanwhile, Young's City On A Hill made sure that the churches they worked with across the country got the message out as well.

A check of the Rotten Tomatoes movie review website shows more than sixty percent of critics like the movie, which is extremely strong for a low budget Christian film. More impressive and most important, more than ninety five percent of movie goers said they liked it.

That will mean more movies to come from Executive Producer Young and his partners. Movies, he said, that will have a message of faith, but also strong story lines and a recognizable star on the screen. It's a formula gaining attention in Hollywood.

City On A Hill will keep the message of the movie going long after it leaves the big screen. They will help churches show the film, bringing the theater set up to them if need be. On top of that, they will produce a Bible Study series, a short film series and even sermons that ministers can use to delve deeper into the message of the movie.

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