Mom's Night Out: The Art That Imitates Life
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What began as a career working for ESPN as cameramen for live sporting events, has evolved into a something far greater for brothers Jon and Andy Erwin. The Alabama-bred siblings made their way into the Christian media world in 2005 by directing music videos for some of gospel music’s greatest stars including Casting Crowns, Switchfoot, and Michael W. Smith. Their work in Christian music video eventually led to three consecutive Dove Awards for Music Video of the Year.
In 2010, Jon and Andy shifted their focus away from short-form videos and made their way into directing dramatic feature films. The Erwins’ debut project, a coming of age drama called October Baby, garnered critical acclaim for its pro-life stance.
Now comes Mom’s Night Out, a madcap, faith-focused comedy, and the brothers’ first foray into mainstream movie making.
I recently sat down with Jon and Andy to discuss whether America is ready for clean, Christian humor, their fearlessness in injecting principles of faith into a mainstream release, and the importance of affirming moms every day.
I spent a couple of days on the set with you guys last summer in Birmingham (Alabama) when you were making this movie. I remember having a conversation together when one of you said, “Yeah, we’re basically doing a documentary about our families.” So, is Moms’ Night Out a family documentary of sorts?
Jon Erwin: What the film deals with is something that my wife and I feel; are we good enough parents, are we teaching our kids everything they need to know, are we introducing them to Jesus Christ in the right way or are we just bombing this? I think a lot of those questions are going through in the movie, and hopefully the movie is about celebrating your own work and that God loves you just as you are, and to kind of release your own expectations for yourself and just celebrate your uniqueness and your beauty, and that is to me something that I encourage my wife with every day. What director gets to make their wife a multi-million-dollar Hallmark card, you know? I’m encouraged and I’m just a very blessed man.
Andy Erwin: It’s really personal. I think you kind of write what you know, and so when Jon, Andrea (Gyertson-Nasfell), and I were working on the script, nothing was off limits. When something crazy would happen with the kids, Jon’s would say, “Oh, that’s going in the script.” So it was definitely a family affair. Jon and I, the point of us really wanting to make the movie, was to make something to be able to affirm our wives and to be able to say, hey, what you do as a mom is important. So that was really why we made it.
You just used the words “Christian” and “comedy” in describing this movie. Over the years, that has been fairly uncommon in Christian cinema. Do you think America is ready for clean, Christian humor in the mainstream?
Jon Erwin: I think America is begging for clean, Christian humor in the mainstream, and sometimes it’s like Steve Jobs said, people don’t know what they want until you show them. We did a test screening in Irvine, California, a randomly selected secular audience to have them judge what they thought of the movie. What people kept saying over and over again was, “Finally a clean comedy.” What I’m saying is both audiences said the same thing, and people really want clean comedy. I think ultimately with comedy, I don’t know why it’s been dragged through the mud in the last decade. At any rate, it just stinks that you can’t fully enjoy a comedy most of the time, because you’re sitting there thinking, “When is this movie going to offend me? When is this movie going to offend my wife? When am I going to have to cover my eyes or ears of my kid?”
Andy Erwin: I agree. I think that we’ve forgotten how powerful comedy can be to really explore things that are important to the family and important to faith. I just think that with being able to portray Christians not as the butt of the jokes but in a self-aware, funny way, so much of the time in mainstream comedy, the Christian’s always there for the punch line in front of the joke, the caricature or the stereotype, and allowing us as Christians to portray ourselves positively and to do that through humor, I think it’s powerful. It’s really important for us to be able to branch out into the ministry, and to reach a wider audience. When you laugh at something, it allows you to engage with it more, and I think for Christians to really engage people, I think humor is a huge, huge opportunity and long, long overdue.
As directors, were you at any time afraid or fearful of putting faith concepts into this movie, knowing it was going to be a mainstream release?
Jon Erwin: No. That’s a great question and that’s certainly what a lot of people—there’s a lot of argument how much faith-based content should be in each movie, and I think the point is we should just fire on a lot of different prompts, and we should all support each other, and each movie’s different. I am a Christian. I’m a believer and it’s a huge part of who I am, it’s a huge part of my life, and I believe that the concepts of Christianity when correctly presented are enormously appealing to everybody.
Things like redemption and grace, and forgiveness, and love, and self-sacrifice, and purpose, and destiny, these are things that we are fundamentally as human beings wired for, and I think we need and crave on a very, very deep level, and so I have no problem and no fear putting those on the screen.
Andy Erwin: I think every film has a point of view, every storyteller has a world view and for me, I just feel like Jon and I see mostly that we’re Christians that work in entertainment. We are very comfortable in our Christianity. That is something we’re proud of but we’re storytellers, so we go out to try to find a good story first. And I think sometimes it comes off as disingenuous to go out and try to find a message and force that into a story, and I think it’s the opposite for us. We go out and find a good story that we fall in love with, and the stories that we’re attracted to have the things that we hold dear in the middle of them, in Moms’ Night Out that was the case.
I thought I would never be asking this question but am delighted to be doing so. Beginning in February with Son of God, then God’s Not Dead in March, on to Heaven is for Real in April, now we have Mom’s Night Out in May. Do you have any fear of getting caught in the “faith film” shuffle?
Jon Erwin: Isn’t that a crazy question? You know, I don’t because I’ve got to put my money where my mouth is. This is the moment that we have been waiting for as Christian filmmakers. I’m so glad to be apart of it, so I feel like we’re riding across the wave; and oddly enough about 60% of movie tickets are bought by frequent moviegoers. I think when people go to the movies if they haven’t been in a while, they realize, “Huh, going to the movies is actually pretty fun. I’d like to go see another one.” And I think that’s what’s happening, and all of a sudden this preconception that only one Christian movie can work a year has been shattered in the last four months.
I think what Christians need to understand is this is our time. You have no idea at this point in time how powerful your movie ticket is to getting our voice back in our culture. Please jump on this bandwagon.
Andy Erwin: It’s surreal. I think it’s created a hunger for two reasons with the Christian audience. Number one, people have realized that they’re powerful, that they are able to impact the entertainment industry by supporting these films, and then secondly, I think for Christians that maybe had kind of given up on going to the movies, saying I don’t want to go be offended, that hey, it’s been awakened, that, hey, this is fun, we enjoy going to the movies, we just don’t want to go and be offended and I think Moms’ Night Out being a clean comedy, it’s just so hard to watch a comedy with your family anymore, because you go away just feeling dirty. I think Moms’ Night Out is an option for families that they can go and laugh together and they don’t sacrifice any of the laughter, but they don’t have to sacrifice their values.
What’s your greatest hope for Moms’ Night Out?
Jon Erwin: I think the moms of America, Christian moms are really struggling with not feeling like they measure up, not feeling like they’re enough, feeling like they’re a failure. They do everything for everyone else, you know, whether they have one job of raising the kids, stay-at-home moms, working moms, single moms. Jesus comes onto the stage of human history, and when He starts His ministry, He quotes Isaiah and says that he came to heal the brokenhearted and to mend wounds, and my hope is that laughter will be medicine. Laughter is actually therapeutic. It really is, and I hope that by laughing and laughing out loud, it will open up their heart to really understand the true words of value in Christ, and how much God loves them for who they are, and how much we as husbands do, too.
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