At the same time, the filmmakers wanted to make sure that the film's central message wasn't diluted by the studio. "We were scared to death," Silverman said. So the two negotiated for and were promised, as Rice puts it, "complete control over all of the spiritual content."
They said they didn't have to argue with Burg. "He protected our core audience as much as we did," Rice said.
Roadside Attractions, Lionsgate's partner for specialized film titles and the distributor in 2007 of the faith-based films "Bella" and "Amazing Grace," is handling the theatrical release for "Grace Unplugged." Working with several marketing outfits that specialize in reaching Christian ticket buyers, Roadside conducted more than 100 word-of-mouth screenings with church leaders, focusing on youth pastors.
The movie will be shown in theaters where "Fireproof" and "Courageous" played strongly, a heavy emphasis on screens in the South and Midwest. To broaden its appeal — and to show to wavering Christian teens that the movie is not too doctrinaire — Roadside also is advertising "Grace Unplugged" on "Glee" and "The Voice."
"It's a challenging film in that none of the movies in the genre are in the prodigal-daughter vein," said Roadside's co-president, Howard Cohen. "But while it obviously has a very strong message, we think it successfully uses entertainment to put that message across."
That's not the only marketing issue. A day before "Grace Unplugged" opens, Kirk Cameron's spiritual documentary, "Unstoppable," which grossed more than $2 million in a one-night engagement on 700 screens on Sept. 24, will enjoy an encore, single-evening screening nationwide.
Burg laughs about how "Grace Unplugged" differs from his "Saw" films, whose harshest critics equate them with "torture porn."
"Are you telling me there is nothing socially redeeming about 'Saw'?" Burg said. He is busy at work developing another Christian-themed project with Silverman and Rice.
"I'm as proud of this movie as any movie I've made," said Burg, who has four children whose ages range from a newborn to 15. "But it is special to me, because my kids can see it."