Recently, The Word 100.7 (KWRD) talk-radio show host Scott Wilder of "The Scott Wilder Show" spoke with Steve McEveety, executive producer of "The Passion of the Christ," about the surprising success of the film at the box office. Today's box office sales total is estimated at $160 million (according to boxofficemojo.com) prior to the film's second weekend in theaters.
Scott: I have not heard anyone say that they expected the office that you've gotten [with "The Passion of the Christ"]. It's seemed to surprise everyone. Did it surprise you, too?
Steve: Sure. It surprised all of us that it was that high. In fact, the week before it opened the professional estimates were between $15 and $20 [million] and the day before we opened they jumped from $20 to $25 [million]. Yeah, I'd say we were surprised.
Scott: To what do you attribute the amazing first week?
Steve: Well, you know there's a lot of different factors involved. I think that the subject matter is something that people are quite interested in. The mainstream media isn't aware of the high interest there. Certainly the controversy has brought the attention to your average filmgoer that might not look at a film about Jesus in Latin and Aramaic. Also you have Mel Gibson. He made "Braveheart," and "Braveheart" is a very powerful film. The people expect something pretty spectacular from him. The word out there is that he's delivered that. How we did so well with the bad reviews we got is an interesting question.
Scott: How has Hollywood responded to you or to Mel Gibson about what he's done?
Steve: I don't believe that Hollywood was ever against Mel or our film. I don't think we ever lost support there. The image that we lost support is certainly out there in the public eye. You know we've all been in this business for the last 25 years, and our friends never left us. Not in my opinion anyway.
Scott: You had problems with getting distribution. Was none of that was as much of a concern as reported?
Steve: Oh, there were definite problems getting distribution. It all comes down to business. It was nothing personal. It didn't make good business sense for various studios to get behind this film. Again, it's in Aramaic and Latin and it's about Jesus. I think that the audience for this movie has been ignored for four decades. Hollywood may be out of touch with what's going on in the world or in America and with what they want to see. What we're learning here is that there's a whole world out there that no one's tapped into for decades, and they are coming out right now because there's something there that's of interest.
Scott: We're talking about the fourth all-time opening week ever. So how could so many people get it wrong in Hollywood if it's all about money?
Steve: That's a heck of a question. I don't know how for so long they've gotten it wrong. It's not that they've gotten it wrong. They've been making a pretty good living attracting the audience that they're familiar with. They just don't realize that there's a whole lot more out there than what they know. This is really becoming a voice for people who live between Hollywood and Manhattan.
Scott: Isn't today's box office tally vindication?
Steve: This is wonderful. It's inspiring. It's thought provoking. It makes all of us feel great that there's that moral value out there that appreciates what this movie is suggesting, and I hope it encourages more. I have a feeling that the sleeping giant has woken. It's just turned over in its bed. It's very possible that it's going to rise up and start screaming like no one's ever heard it before. There's millions and millions and millions of people that haven't gone to movie in decades 'cause they're unhappy with what's out there. And they're coming. They're an audience that's been ignored.
Scott: We all now know that Disney's "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" (from "The Chronicles of Narnia") is coming out in December of 2005. Will it encourage you to see more movies made that are in this same vein and see them be successful in the future?
Steve: Oh yes, sure. It encourages me in terms of making these kind of films. To make a film like this successful you have to be passionate about the material and about your work. And from that comes the best effort and it shows on the screen.
Scott: What was the biggest surprise for you in the making of this movie?
Steve: Well, you know we were dealing with it for 24/7 for two years and still are. It's been a gradual change for everyone involved. I think everyone's just kind of grown spiritually and morally. People involved in this film are in a much better place than when they started. To me, it probably is a surprise. If you asked me two years ago would I be the person I am now, probably not. No. That might be the biggest surprise. I've been blessed.
Scott: The Wall Street Journal made the comparison of "The Passion" to "The Ten Commandments." It said: "Today, it is once again possible to imagine Hollywood turning out such films, especially if 'The Passion' tops 200 million. Thanks to Mr. Gibson, God is back in Tinseltown." Hyperbole or is that pretty much right?
Steve: Well, if God's not back in Tinseltown then nobody's watching. No one's paying attention. That would be unfortunate. I think again, there's a statement being made here. And Hollywood folks have got listen to it.
Scott: From Hollywood's perspective, we're about to get into the second weekend. How important is it?
Steve: Well, I think we're in a no -lose situation right now. I don't see us losing in any way. There's a big win out here for everybody if the box office doesn't fall off too much. I don't think it's going to. I think that these voices out in America today haven't been heard yet. I think we'll be shocked again on Monday.
Scott: In light of this second weekend being important, what can we do to help?
Steve: You guys in talk radio land have done a lot to help. You guys have been awake these last few decades to what I'm talking about while other people have been asleep. You know that audience out there. You know they exist, and you have been their voices in a way. Just keep doing what you're doing. Everyone is aware of the film. Everybody wants it to succeed.