While Christian parents might not want their kids to watch much of Netflix's programming, the streamer is also home to family- and faith-friendly projects, like A Week Away, premiering Friday, March 26.
Since Netflix premiered its first original series eight years ago, the dominant global streaming service has invested tens of billions in new films and TV shows. This Friday, with the release of the movie musical A Week Away, subscribers in over 190 nations worldwide can enjoy the streamer’s first-ever faith-based film backed by a seven-figure budget.
Seven years in the making, this dream project of screenwriter/producer Alan Powell—former singer/songwriter for Christian band Anthem Lights, and more recently a co-star on ABC’s Quantico — defies easy description.
On one hand, it looks and sounds like one of Disney Channel’s bubble-gum musicals — for good reason. Adam Watts, who wrote songs for Camp Rock, produced the soundtrack. Plus, the flick features a summer camp full of fresh-faced Disney stars including Bailee Madison (Once Upon A Time), Kevin Quinn (Bunk’d -- and who looks startlingly like Zac Efron, when he was in High School Musical), and Jahbril Cook (Shine).
But then a camp director mentions the idea of “life transformation.” The female lead talks about seeing her praying grandmother again in heaven. Disney rarely touches religion nowadays.
And the singable soundtrack with a few new songs by Watts and Powell? That’s the real headline.
First and foremost, A Week Away employs contemporary Christian radio hits as a jukebox musical. Among the songs included that are popular in Evangelical youth group or during a worship service are: “The Great Adventure” (Steven Curtis Chapman), “Big House” (Audio Adrenaline), “Place In This World” (Michael W. Smith), “God Only Knows” (For King & Country), “Awesome God” (Rich Mullins) ... and even Amy Grant’s then-controversial 1991 pop hit “Baby, Baby.”
The film’s tone walks a fine line between earnest sermon illustration—Powell is the son of a minister—and outrageous self-parody. Believable acting sells the show as a fun 90-minute romp worth sticking around for, and many of the young stars also profess Christian faith.
“Our characters are human and flawed,” said Madison in an interview. “What I loved so much is her honesty and transparency.”
Here are three stories from behind the scenes of A Week Away.
Amy Grant Pop Hit Reimagined as a Prince Music Video
Blink and you’ll miss singer-songwriter Amy Grant’s brief cameo as a camp nurse. It happens after a dodgeball game gone bad, and about a minute before a dream sequence where the young cast perform her hit “Baby, Baby.”
Cook leads the elaborate musical number, which projects his character revealing how he feels to a romantic crush.
“In the script, the way the scene is described immediately made me think of ‘Purple Rain,’” Cook told me. “The director, Roman White, got on board, and we ran with it. That became the pervading influence [on] how they styled my outfit, my makeup and hair, and what I did in my vocal performance. I hope we did Prince justice.”
Developed Over Seven Years -- or a Lifetime?
The man behind the script and co-writer on four new songs, Powell said he made A Week Away for his kids. “At the time, I only had two, and they were daughters.”
Later, I asked him to clarify: “Wait, when you started working on this film you had two kids. And now you have six?” He affirmed that filmmaking can be “quite a process.”
Both Powell and fellow songwriter Watts noted the film reflects an even longer gestation of their love for music.
“We got to reimagine these incredible songs we grew up on,” said Watts. “When I was 10 years old, ‘Place In This World’ was the sheet music on my piano at home. Only recently in conversation did we realize that’s also the song Alan first learned to play.”
Powell circled back to the core message for his daughters. “One thing woke me up in the morning on this movie and put me down at night,” he said. “I made this so that they would know that they’re good enough, they’re beautiful, and they’re wonderful just the way they are. Everybody on this film interacted with that theme, and knew that’s the story we wanted to tell.”
Praise Anthem Becomes Campfire Ballad
Actress Madison recalled “being really little and singing ‘Awesome God’ in church.”
She continued, “Growing up, my mom always had Christian music playing, and we loved it.”
Madison and Quinn singing that iconic praise chorus becomes a standout moment in the film. It’s uniquely arranged as a counter-harmony medley with recent pop song “God Only Knows,” by popular band For King & Country.
Music producer Watts noted that it started out very differently.
“At one point, we had tied together five different classic songs with God in it as a ‘God medley,’” he said. “But the story is always the thing that leads the charge on music, and [we] knew we had to narrow it down to just two songs. These two fell together in a way that really worked.”
A Week Away is the first release for Monarch Media, a faith-friendly shingle led by producer Steve Barnett, who previously spent 25 years with major studios Paramount and Warner Bros. He called that campfire duet “the most important scene in the movie.”
He added: “All of Will’s experiences lead to that point. Right then and there, he had to let go, trust, and have faith.
“With everything being chaotic in our world over the past year, we hope that’s the heart and soul and message that people take away from this film.”
Rated TV-PG for teen romance, A Week Away premieres worldwide on Friday, March 26, on Netflix.
Josh M. Shepherd covers culture, faith and public-policy issues for various media outlets. He and his wife are raising two children in Northern Virginia.