March 29, 2019

Co-writers, co-producers and co-directors say God planned pro-life film ‘for such a time as now’

Chuck Konzelman, standing, and Cary Solomon, right, review a scene during the filming of Unplanned. The two co-wrote and co-directed the film. They also joined others in co-producing the film. (Submitted photo by Annette Biggers)

Chuck Konzelman, standing, and Cary Solomon, right, review a scene during the filming of Unplanned. The two co-wrote and co-directed the film. They also joined others in co-producing the film. (Submitted photo by Annette Biggers)

By Natalie Hoefer

As introductions were made and basic information was gathered, the voices of Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon were jovial and lighthearted.

But their sound changed as they began discussing their most recent film, Unplanned, to be released on March 29. It tells the true story of Abby Johnson’s conversion from pro-choice abortion facility director to pro-life advocate as told in her 2011 book, unPlanned.

As they spoke about the film, the voices of the two co-writers, co-producers, co-directors and best friends took on tones at times serious, at times incredulous, and even at times urgent.

Following are Konzelman’s and Solomon’s thoughts on the making and impact of Unplanned during a recent phone interview with The Criterion.

‘It was a story that needed to be told’

When Solomon moved to Wayne, N.J., in grade school, he made friends with his next-door neighbor. More than four decades later, Konzelman and Solomon are still best friends—and devout Catholic Christians—who now live on the other side of the country in Los Angeles.

Solomon noted that he and Konzelman are a bit like the television duo Penn and Teller, where “I’m Penn, the one who talks,” he admitted with a laugh.

The two worked together on the secular side of the film industry for about 17 years. Along the way, they wrote for major studios like Warner Brothers, Paramount, Sony-Columbia and 20th Century Fox; for well-known producers like Joel Silver and Stan Lee; and for famous actors like Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone.

But in 2008, both men felt called to “come over to serve the Lord” with their talents, said Solomon.

Since then, they’ve co-written and/or co-produced numerous faith-based box office films. Movieguide listed their 2010 film What If… as one of the year’s top 10 family movies, and their 2014 movie God’s Not Dead film ranked among the top 35 grossing films that year. It also won Movieguide’s top award in 2015. Their last film prior to Unplanned was God’s Not Dead: A Light in the Darkness in 2018.

Before all the awards, Solomon recalled when, about six years ago, he and Konzelman were at their “usual haunt, a coffee shop,” discussing ideas for their next project, when a woman approached them with a copy of Johnson’s book unPlanned.

“[She] tells us to read this book, and says we need to make it into a movie. I thought, ‘Yeah, sure—a chick flick! What do I know about being pregnant?’ ” Solomon said with a laugh.

But they took the book anyway.

The next day, Konzelman “came into the office with one of those looks,” said Solomon. “I said, ‘Are you OK?’ And he said, ‘You need to read this [book].’ The way he said it I could tell something divine had happened. I read it, and I agreed it was definitely a story that needed to be told” on film.

Film is ‘coming out at exact time it’s needed’

Konzelman and Solomon prayed about the project, and both were surprised at the response they received.

“The Lord said, ‘Not yet’!” Solomon recalled, incredulous. “I said, ‘What do you mean, not yet? Babies are dying!’ We were bummed out—we were ready to go.”

Then, Solomon said, he heard the words, “Not yet doesn’t mean ‘no.’ It means, ‘Not yet.’ ”

Four years later, the two were working in the office of their production company, Believe Entertainment, Inc., when a peculiar thing happened.

“We both looked up at each other, and we both knew at that very moment the time [to make the film] was now,” said Solomon.

Both noted in retrospect that the moment happened 10 days before the election of President Donald J. Trump. Known for his pro-life stance, President Trump was labeled as “proving to be the most fearlessly pro-life president in history” in a May 23, 2018, article by the Washington Post.

“If you look at what’s happening, these infant death laws … ,” Solomon said, his voice trailing off. “We’ve been preparing for a time such as this through prayer. [The film is] coming out at the exact time it is needed.”

Konzelman agreed, even down to the date of the film’s release. While the official box office opening is on March 29, some locations showed the film as early as March 25—the feast of the Annunciation of the Lord when “the Word was made flesh” in the womb of Mary.

“We figure having the film available as early as the Annunciation was likely a decision—but the Lord’s, not ours,” he said.

‘We could make a movie about making the movie’

To write the script, Solomon said interviews with Johnson were done early on.

“We wanted to make a movie that was real,” he explained.

With Johnson’s eight years of experience working in the abortion industry, they relied on her for technical information.

And for authenticity, even the actors portraying the abortion doctor and nurse in the film are an actual former abortion doctor and nurse who, like Johnson, “had already ceased doing that work and come to the Lord,” said Solomon.

When asked how the filming of Unplanned differed from their other Christian movies, Konzelman immediately responded.

“None of the other projects needed privacy,” he said. “Usually when you’re filming, particularly a faith movie, you look for all the publicity you can get. But we knew there was a strong possibility of protests or sabotage, so we shot the film under an assumed name, and we filmed in secret.”

They chose a studio in Stillwater, Okla., far from Los Angeles. And “somehow by the grace of God, in an age of social media,” there were no leaks about the film, Konzelman said, despite a cast and crew of 1,000 people.

Media silence is not the only grace that occurred during the process of making the film.

“From day one in the office to when we were on set we had miracles, healings, conversions,” said Solomon. “We could make a movie about making the movie.”

‘Do you want the $1 million or not?’

As an example of both a healing and a conversion, Solomon spoke of a woman who was “pro-choice and very, very sick with lupus,” who had somehow gotten hold of a screenplay of Unplanned.

“She said just reading the screenplay, she became pro-life and desperately wanted to be involved in the film,” he said.

But when she arrived at the set, it became obvious that her health would not allow for the 20-hour work days.

Suddenly the woman began to cry. One of the many priests and ministers frequently present on the set was called over, and the woman confessed for the first time to having an abortion at age 19.

“She was just standing there crying about this abortion—and right then and there, she was miraculously healed” of her illness, Solomon said with a bit of awe in his voice. She went on to do office work for the project.

Solomon’s favorite conversion story hits closer to home.

“My dad is 84, an atheist, liberal, pro-choice, far left, get-along-go-along, everything-is-allowed-and-permissible kind of guy,” he explained.

He asked Solomon to send him a clip from the film, which was still being shot. Solomon sent his dad a 10-second clip from a scene of pro-life advocates holding their hands through a Planned Parenthood fence, praying over a barrel of dismembered baby parts.

“The next day he called,” Solomon recalled. “He said—and he just doesn’t talk this way—he said, ‘The clip you sent me, this movie is going to change the world. You’ve shown us what we didn’t want to see. … We need to make the Lord put an end to this abortion thing.”

The movie itself almost came to an end one day when its bank account had a mere $13.17 remaining, with filming yet to go.

“Before 5 p.m. the phone rang,” said Solomon. “The person says, ‘Hey, what’s your routing number? Where can I wire you some money?’ I said, ‘Who is this?’ ”

The man was Michael Lindell, inventor of My Pillow and CEO of My Pillow, Inc. More importantly, Lindell is a devout Christian. He said he had been praying and felt called to make a $1 million donation to the directors—one-sixth of their $6 million budget.

“My bank closes at 5 [p.m.]—do you want the $1 million or not?” Solomon recalled Lindell asking. He rattled off the routing number, “then the [computer] screen blinked, and the account balance was $1,000,013.17.”

‘Grace, forgiveness, hope, healing, redemption’

The film has been shown to sample groups hundreds of times, Solomon said.

“Every place we [showed] it, not one person said it’s not good. Not one,” he said. “Some are crying, even men—they’re just as affected if they were involved in an abortion. And they say they feel freed, healed.”

Konzelman credits such feelings to the film’s overall message: “That there is grace and forgiveness, hope and healing and redemption no matter what you’ve done, and particularly for post-abortion women and men.”

His hope is that those scarred by abortion will find healing through the film.

And he hopes they will then become pro-life advocates, “telling others considering abortion, ‘This is the mistake I made. I suffered tremendously for it. You don’t need to make the same mistake. If you find yourself in a crisis pregnancy, let’s find another way to handle it.’

“The great lie,” Konzelman continued, “is that you can walk into an abortion center, they can erase the baby, and you can walk away and forget about it. There’s grief the rest of their life, and this movie helps them get past that.”

Given the current trends and attitude of society regarding abortion, Solomon noted that “it’s for a time such as now” that God planned Unplanned to be created.

“If the world doesn’t end abortion, the Lord will,” he said. “And we are not going to like how he does it.”
 

(Unplanned will be available in theaters nationwide starting on March 29. How long the film will continue to be shown depends on how well it does on its opening weekend. For a list of theaters and times, go to www.unplanned.com.)

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