KENNESAW, Ga. | Oct 30, 2020
Brothers Alex (’94) and Stephen Kendrick (’96) have enjoyed making movies together since they were kids, when they would run around their neighborhood with a Super 8mm film camera and act out scenes as characters such as Alabama Jones and Savings Bond – their versions of Indiana Jones and James Bond.
“We would film these silly little videos, and most of them had the same plot,” Alex said with a laugh. “They all had a fight scene and a chase scene, and we loved it.”
The two Kennesaw State alumni have come a long way in their filmmaking. Alex and Stephen, who both earned communications degrees from Kennesaw State, have made several movies in the faith-based film genre and since 2013 have operated their own production company, Kendrick Brothers.
Alex, 50, writes, directs and acts in their films, and Stephen, 47, is a writer and producer. Joining them in the family business is eldest brother Shannon, 53, who works behind the scenes as Kendrick Brothers’ director of operations.
“The three of us got along when we were younger, but we didn’t love each other as much as we do now,” Stephen said. “We’re uniquely gifted in different ways, and we complete one another. We have a lot of fun making movies together, trying to be positive influences in this world.”
Alex and Stephen’s first movie, “Flywheel,” began simply as a community outreach project by their church in Albany, Ga., where they served as associate pastors. However, their low-budget film about a dishonest salesman who turns his life around gained an audience. It was shown in theaters in a few Georgia towns and ended up selling more than one million copies on DVD.
“The extent of our vision was just making a long-form story and inviting the community to it, but the movie just exploded,” Alex said. “We were astonished.”
Alex and Stephen continued to make movies in partnership with their church, including “Facing the Giants” about an underdog high school football team, “Fireproof” about challenges faced by a team of firefighters and their families, and “Courageous” which followed a group of law enforcement officers and their struggle to be good fathers. Each movie grew in scope and audience. When the Kendrick brothers made “War Room” through their own production company in 2015, it was distributed to nearly 2,000 theaters by Sony/TriStar Pictures and was the No. 1 movie at the box office in its second weekend.
The Kendrick brothers’ movies have grossed more than $190 million worldwide, achieving a level of mainstream success typically not reached by faith-based films. Alex and Stephen see a bigger picture beyond the numbers, though, maintaining their focus of telling a positive message of faith in each film.
“Early on, I developed a thirst to make meaningful productions that, when people watched them, they weren’t just entertained,” Alex said. “They could leave the theater with a message – how to be a better spouse, a better parent, a better person – that is more valuable in the long term than just enjoying popcorn and a movie.”
As Stephen put it, “the canvas for us is not the movie screen, it’s the heart of the viewer.” He recalled a memorable conversation he had on a visit to Mexico, when a young man approached him and shared a personal story about the impact of the Kendrick brothers’ movies.
“He’s crying and, through an interpreter, he says, ‘Thank you for making ‘Fireproof’ because it helped save my parents’ marriage 10 years ago, and our home is still together because of that film,’” Stephen said. “It’s really hard to put a price tag on that kind of thing.”
The Kendrick brothers’ latest feature film, about a boy who is adopted and meets his birth mother 19 years later, was in the works this year when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down production. They plan to complete the movie in 2021 and, in the meantime, are working on a documentary about fatherhood that is scheduled to be released in the spring.
For both Alex and Stephen, their time as Kennesaw State students helped pave the way for their careers as filmmakers.
With his interest in video production, Alex often put together video projects not only when they were assigned in his communications classes but anytime he had to make a presentation in a class such as marketing or public speaking. Betty Siegel, Kennesaw State’s president at the time, took notice of Alex’s work and asked him to write, shoot and edit a video that was shown to incoming students at orientation in the mid-1990s. As an added bonus, Alex said the school paid him $500 for the project, which he put toward his college expenses.
“I was grateful to be hired by the school and to be treated as a professional in this field,” Alex said. “Doing a video for my school was an honor, and to be paid to do it helped me take this even more seriously.”
Stephen later joined Alex as a Kennesaw State Owl, and his older brother happened to be in the very first college class he took that summer, a course in persuasive communication. Just like when they were kids, they paired up to make a video.
Alex and Stephen wrote, videotaped and edited a commercial for a made-up athletic shoe called the Catapult. While the production admittedly was low-tech – “we spray-painted Nike shoes and hot-glued a phone jack on the back of the shoes to make it look like they had some kind of rocket power,” Stephen explained – their professor liked what he saw and gave them an A-plus on the assignment.
“It was a senior-level class, so I was pumped about getting an A-plus on a video that we had produced together,” Stephen said. “I guess you could say it was foreshadowing what was to come.”
Along with earning their degrees, Alex and Stephen said they cherish the lifelong relationships they developed with fellow Kennesaw State students. For Alex, none meant more than meeting his future wife Christina, also a KSU alumnus.
They were introduced when Alex was a senior and Christina a freshman, and Alex jokes that he made the most of the one year he had to make an impression on her. Not surprisingly, Alex’s advice to current KSU students is that academics are important, of course, but so are the friendships and relationships that are built in college.
“Treasure the people you can spend time with,” Alex said. “When you value people and cherish your time making friends and hearing their life experiences and perspectives, it gives you a much more well-rounded view of life.”
– Paul Floeckher
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