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Producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey talk about "Son of God"

From the producers of “The Bible” miniseries, “Son of God” tells the life story of Jesus (Diogo Morgado) from his birth in Bethlehem to his teachings, crucifixion and resurrection. I had the opportunity to speak with producers Roma Downey (“Touched by an Angel”) and Mark Burnett (“Survivor”) about the origins of putting the life story of Jesus on the big screen and difficulties of making a film of this magnitude.

Diogo Moragado plays Jesus in "Son of God."
20th Century Fox

Having had “The Bible” premiere on the History Channel last summer, where did the concept to put together “Son of God” come from?

Roma Downey: We were in Morocco filming “The Bible” series and we gathered weekly with the cast and crew to look at rough footage on the big screen. As the Jesus narrative began to unfold and we saw that the first assembly, I said to Mark, “Wow. This is spectacular. I wish we were making a feature film.” So we decided there and then to shoot additional footage and to assign an editor on put together a film in a stand-alone cinematic experience. Jesus hasn’t been seen on the big screen for ten years since “The Passion of the Christ” and his whole life story hasn’t been on the big screen for almost 50 years. We had no idea how or where we will show it. At the very least, we thought we would have created a movie and we could do some special event screenings. We shared the idea with 20th Century Fox. They called us in and said, “We want to release this, we want to release in theaters all across the country and we want release it in English and Spanish close to Easter.” I didn’t even think that this would happen, but it is such a blessing.

Producing something like this must have come with a lot of difficulties and hardships. What was the difficult part about assembling all this footage in order to make it into a coherent film?

Mark Burnett: The most difficult about the editing process for “Son of God” was choices. There were so many choices and so much footage. You have to start with the intention of what you want to achieve so we wanted an emotional connection. We also wanted it to be exciting for people who don’t know the story and make it a real film, not a Bible lesson, that makes you connect emotionally. We achieved the real film part from the political thriller aspect. Here we got three groups: the Romans under Pilate, the Temple authorities under Caiaphas and the regular people who are totally impoverished, under represented, over-taxed and then Jesus comes along and see him as hope. They don’t know he’s the Son of God. He is charismatic leader. He may be the next King David and they follow him to Jerusalem. These were very dangerous times. We kept this editing pacing structured like a Pyramid as we got closer and closer to the end and as the pacing and the music is quickening, things are getting very, very tense. The other thing we wanted to make sure the message was clear. We started deliberately on Patmos in the Revelations with John looking back on his life and as we hear the first words on the screen from John 1, “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.” Somebody said to us, “Roma…Mark…are you saying that Jesus wasn’t there at the Creation and at the Beginning and Jesus and God are one?” We weren’t saying…the Bible was saying that. We are just putting it into the film deliberately.

What do you hope the audience takes away from the film?

Downey: I think that our job was to tell the story in a dynamic way. It’s the most amazing story to feel the unconditional love of what Jesus came to do for us. I think we have tried to show the divinity and humanity of Jesus. I also think that in telling that human story to create the places where we can relate so that the story feels relevant. A lot of the Bible movies I saw as a young girl growing up, all the characters felt as if they have just stepped out of a dry cleaners. Everybody seemed rather holy and I often felt unconnected to that. What we wanted to do here was to create multi-dimensional characters and show them their flaws. They didn’t know they were in the Bible. They were people living their real lives. The only perfect character in that movie is Jesus. In the end, we want the audience to feel the relevancy of the story and to feel the unconditional love of God. We were loved so much that he sent Jesus for us.

With the making of “The Bible” being a four and a half year journey, what was the one inevitable task that you knew was going to be difficult to overcome?

Downey: Going away from home was hard on us. We have children at home so that has been a challenge. In the making of the actual movie, I think the biggest challenge was the crucifixion sequence. It was physically challenging, particularly for Diogo Morgado who plays Jesus. It was challenging for us as producers to make sure the scene was safe. We had to put an actor on a cross, we had to make sure that cross was bolted to the ground and we had to make sure that he was going to be safe up there. There were logistical challenges. It was an emotional challenge recreating something that was so cruel and painful. It was also a spiritual challenge for most of us who believe and understand what he did for us. I think from the beginning, we knew that scene was ahead of us and it was with great relief that we finished the scene. I think it is one of the most powerful scenes in the movie.

“Son of God” is now playing in theaters. Click here for showtimes.

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