Interview with 'Moms' Night Out' Director Andy Erwin: How His Faith Influences Filmmaking

( [email protected] ) May 10, 2014 01:37 PM EDT
Filmmakers Jon and Andy Erwin
Brothers Jon and Andy Erwin's latest film, ''Moms' Night Out,'' will open this Mother's Day weekend. (Getty Images)

Director Andy Erwin has a knack for telling stories from a boldly Biblical viewpoint. As seen in the though-provoking film "October Baby," which Andy and his brother Jon produced, the duo are not afraid to address difficult issues typically avoided by Hollywood.

Thus, it comes as no surprise that the brothers' new movie, "Mom's Night Out," succeeds as a relatable, "clean" comedy-- a genre yet untouched in the faith-based movie industry.

The film, which will open this Mother's Day weekend, is laugh-out-loud movie about a harried mom (Sara Drew) who is searching for emotional and mental stability in the midst of chaotic family life.

Andy and his wife Mandy live in Birmingham, Alabama with their two children, both under the age of five. Andy shared with The Gospel Herald about "Mom's Night Out," and how his faith impacted the creation of the film.

(Below is the edited transcript of the interview)

Q. How did this story fall into your lap and what do you want viewers to go into this movie expecting?

Andy: After Jon and I finished October baby, we were looking for a project to direct next. But we had no clue it was going to be a comedy. We couldn't have guessed it if you paid us to try. Kevin Downs, who is a producer, brought us the script for a movie called that was in development in another studio called "Mom's Night Out." Jon gives me the script right away and goes "You've gotta read this." And we were both laughing out loud hysterically saying "this is our lives"-you know, we're both fathers of kids; Jon's got three, I've got two, all under the age of five, and so we found the script so relatable-it has so much heart. And it was such a beautiful opportunity for us to kind of affirm our wives. So we took on the project, and what grew out of it was just an amazing, heartwarming, good, clean family comedy.

What we want we want the audience to take away from it is that number one, Christians love to laugh, and it's about time that our audience has a movie that they can just let loose and have fun with; this was an opportunity for us to be a breath of fresh air and an encouragement to our viewers. Secondly, on mother's day weekend, for this to be a love letter to moms everywhere to say we appreciate what you do, and what you do is important. It's hard being a mom, and it should be celebrated. They're the unsung hero sometimes. So I think the purpose is that people walk away encouraged.

Q. What are some similarities and differences between "Mom's Night Out" and your previous film, "October Baby?"

Andy: What attracts Jon and me to any story is its redemptive value, heart, and relatability. I think that's a similarity with October Baby. The characters in "Mom's Night Out" are very relatable and heartfelt, like the characters in "October Baby," they have a lot of gravity and weight to them. But a fundamental difference between the two films is that "Mom's Night Out" is a laugh out loud comedy. It's not heavy handed or dealing with heavy subject matter like a lot of other issue-driven films. This ones' a lot more about the perils of parenting, and depicts Christians in a positive light rather than being the brunt of all the jokes. Christians will really enjoy it, no matter what the background. The similarity between the films is the heart, but the difference is the lighthearted approach. "Mom's Night Out" allows us to explore issues in a way that's just a little bit more of a breath of fresh air.

Mom's Night Out
''Mom's Night Out,'' a family-friendly comedy, has received positive reviews from Faith-Based Consumer, an organization that rates film's compatibility with a Christian audience. (Photo: Mom's Night Out Movie)

Q. You have a lot of rock stars in the movie; Sara Drew, Patricia Heaton, Sean Astin, Trace Adkins. How did you and Jon decide who to cast in the film?

Andy:  Very rarely does a director get their first choice on any actor; usually you're at your third or fourth choice on the list before you really lock it in. But on this one we got our first choice on every part. And I attribute it to Jon and Andrea coming up with a really fun script that they liked. It starts with Sarah Drew, who plays the lead character, Allyson, this kind of frenzied, frazzled "every mom" who has the worst mother's day of all time and is in the middle of all the perils of parenting. Her husband, played by Sean Astin, decides to take the kids for her to have a night on the town with the girls-but everything goes wrong. Allyson's character was really the crutch of the story; you had to root for her for story to work. So that's the one we spent the most time on, trying to find the right person. But we stumbled across the fact that (Grey's Anatomy) Sarah Drew was interested...we met with her, and she just really got it. She understood was it was to be a mom in a situation, and wanted to play the character in a relatable way. Once we met Sarah, all the pieces fell into place around her. Patricia Heaton (Everybody Loves Raymond) plays kind of the mentor character, the pastor's wife. She's really comedy royalty-I felt spoiled. There's a long line of women in comedy that are very strong personalities, and [Patricia] really belongs in that lineup of people who have just really made on impact on comedy from a female perspective. She plays [her character] in a way that is very real and well-rounded and well-developed. And, of course, Sean Astin is laugh-out loud hysterical, he's a ball of energy that is just a force of nature. And then Trace Adkins plays this big biker guy named "Bones" and the part was just written for Trace, he's a big burly guy with a heart of gold, and he has some special moments too. The whole cast played their parts spectacularly, there's not a weak link.

Q. So were any of these characters based of anyone you know in real life?

Andy: Yeah I think a lot of them are. I think it's funny; when Jon was writing, nothing was sacred. We'd be having a family moment, and I'd be saying "The kids were crazy last night, they did this" and he'd be like, "yep! That's going in the movie." So there were kind of a lot of moments from our lives that made it in. There are elements and qualities of both my wife Mandy and Jon's wife Beth that I think ended up in the final character of Allyson, and we both made this movie because we wanted it to be a love letter to our wives. And Sarah did an excellent job in bringing in her instincts on how she wanted to play the part. I think in the mix of all that was where the character was developed.

Q. Do you think Sarah Drew's character and some of the other women's characters will be relatable for women in the audience who may not be Christians?

Andy: Yes. Absolutely. You know, the point of the movie in comedy is to be able to branch out to be able to engage people with something that they can see themselves. I think Sara, regardless of your background, is able to really depict how crazy it is to be a mom. So, no matter what the ladies are seeing so far, no matter what their background is, the ladies are saying "that's me on the screen." Sara captured that heart; she has this incredible ability to express what people feel, and I think people are going to relate to it regardless. She definitely developed a well-rounded character that speaks to people on different levels.

Q. What were some of the challenges you faced creating a Christian film in the essentially secular world of filmmaking?

Andy: Jon and I float between both worlds pretty seamlessly. We were born and raised in the southeast; we're both born again Christians, very proud of our faith. But we also joined the entertainment industry when we were kids; I was in high-school and Jon was in junior high, so we worked in it for twenty years. There's only one version of us, there's not two. Our primary job is to be storytellers; we always first look for a good story. So it's' not about fitting in a box, it's about finding a story we believe in. If we believe in the story, then we can effectively tell it to an audience. But then, the stories that we are attracted to definitely have our worldviews and our faith in it, allowing us to be genuine in our filmmaking. Our first goal with "Mom's Night Out" was to first, be entertaining, but also a great comedy. And if it was a great comedy, then the heart of the story would show up much better. And I think we did that-we don't apologize for who we are, we just are out to tell a great story and to entertain an audience. But I think a natural part of who we are comes up on the screen.

Q. Why do you think faith-based films have been so successful this year?

Andy: I mean, my goodness, it has been the year of the faith based film. I could have never guessed something like this was going to happen. But it's been a long time coming, I don't think there's one factor you can point to and say "it's this," I think it's a lot of people really owning their part of the journey and pushing the faith-film forward in the best way they can. I think there are a lot of people that have been involved in that, starting back twenty years ago, starting to raise the quality more and more. I [current film producers] stand on the shoulders of the people that have gone before us and done the hard work. So I don't want to discount any of that. But for some reason, this year reached critical mass, where the quality has gotten better, the audience was hungry and the awareness was high. Producer Mark Burnett pushed it forward with the "Son of God" movie, and what they did with "God's Not Dead" and "Heaven is for Real" has been phenomenal; it's just been a tidal wave.

When we saw that we were all stacked on each other as far as release dates, we were scared and wondered if the audience would be able to support that much content. But the answer to that is overwhelmingly "yes." There is a hungry, underserved audience there that desires good, quality entertainment but doesn't want to be offended and want to see their values represented well. There's a group of people that are putting out great content, and as a result, we are reaping great rewards. It's an exciting time to be a Christian in entertainment and I am happy to be part of that conversation.

Q. What do you want viewers to take away from "Mom's Night Out?"

Andy: It's been wonderful; so far, most people who have seen "Moms Night Out" leave with a tear in their eye and a big smile on their face. I think that is such a nice thing to be a breath of fresh air, because it's hard to be a parent and it is extra hard, I think, to be a mom. And this mother's day weekend it's a softball pitch to the guys to say, "hey, take your wife or your mom or the special lady in your life to the movies this weekend, and let her know how important what she does is." It's sometimes devalued in society, and I feel like it deserves to be applauded. "Mom's Night Out" is an applause to all those moms that very well deserve it.