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Taking over Your Local Theater
By Dave Gemmell

While local movie theaters may not be the first place you think of for doing evangelism several NAD pastors have recently taken over their town’s theater to teach grace. Andrew Shurtliff, Marlan Knittle and Steve Allred each sponsored a limited run of Hell and Mr. Fudge  in their local towns. The film is based on the true story of Edward Fudge, a young evangelical who in his personal study discovered a God of grace, mercy and love, in contrast with the teaching of a God who keeps the lost alive forever in endless, conscious torment. In every setting a number of unchurched people came out to a neutral site and watched one of the core Seventh-day Adventist teachings unfold in a dramatic narrative.  
Andrew Shurtliff encouraged the Douglas, Georgia Seventh-day Adventist company, which has a membership of less than 20, to sponsor the film to be screened in their town. He says “We advertised the film on local TV networks, radio stations, and newspapers. We had a hundred and twenty-nine people respond from a population of 10,000. Following the showing of the film we encouraged individuals to fill out a short survey on their viewing experience. Overall the film was very well received and highly recommended to friends and family. A lot of free literature went out along with Amazing Facts Lake of Fire DVDs to everyone who filled out a survey. We are currently in the process of following up interests this film generated. We hope to develop small group Bible studies with individuals who remain in contact with us.”
In Bakersfield California, Marlan Knittle and the other Adventist pastors chose to highlight the film at their annual area wide convocation.  Adventist churches played trailers of the film in advance of the screening and invited members to bring their friends and neighbors to the 1500 seat Fox theater. More than 1300 tickets were sold online, at the churches, at  two or three local businesses, and at the theater door. More than 1300 tickets were sold online, at the churches, at  two or three local businesses, and at the theater door.“There was already a long line of people waiting for the doors to open when my wife and I arrived at 5:30 p.m.,” says Knittel, pastor of the Bakersfield Central church. The film began at 7 p.m. with a nearly full theater.
In Yuba City California Pastor Steve Allred was approached  with the idea of renting a theater in the local multiplex for a two-night screening of Hell and Mr. Fudge; the church would sell tickets for the premium price of $10 and give any net income to a local non-denominational charity that provides services to homeless children and their families. The rental cost would be approximately $1000 per night.

Allred went straight to the church with the idea and made a straightforward appeal for funds so that they could make the necessary advance payment to the theater. $1800 came in that very day. Posters were put up in various places around town. Invitations were distributed. Church members were urged to bring non-member friends to the theater.

The movie played on Sunday and Monday nights. First night attendance: 200. Second night: 150. Some of the most conservative people in the church came and brought guests.  No less than 75 non-Adventists attended the screenings.  The church was delighted in the opportunity to present the doctrine of the state of the dead to their friends in the community.  
"Hell and Mr. Fudge," was honored with the 2012 Platinum Award in the "Theatrical Feature Film – Christian" category at the Houston International Film Festival. The film produced by LLT Productions in Angwin, Calif., follows Edward Fudges quest for the truth about what the bible really teaches about hell. Fudge was hired to research the subject of hell, to determine whether indeed, God keeps the lost alive forever in endless, conscious torment. His year-long study dramatically shifted his own beliefs and resulted in the book The Fire That Consumes.
Pastors who wish to screen the film in their towns can either rent local theaters or sponsor efforts to bring the movie to their areas through the normal booking process. According to Jim Wood, "Booking the movie at a theater can be an expensive and time-consuming process, but the result may be a one-week engagement with 20 or more screenings." On the other hand, renting a theater for two or three screenings allows for more control of timing and follow up. Wood says, "Renting a theater may seem like the more expensive option, but it's possible for income from ticket sales to offset the lion's share of the rental cost."
Another creative way to screen the film according to Jim Wood is for the church to rent out the theater as a private event.  Wood says “There are several important advantages to the theater-rental plan. First, you can usually pick your dates. This means that you can integrate the screening of HMF into a larger plan. Second, since your rental is a ‘private’ event, you can start with introductory remarks and end with Q&A, hand out literature, invite attendees to follow-up events, etc.  And again, a significant portion of the cost of renting a theater can be recovered through ticket sales. This is not the case with a regular theater booking.”

For complete details on these options – as well information about screening the film in churches or other public venues – see the web page at www.hellandmrfudge.org/local. There you'll find the pros and cons of theater rentals and bookings, financial information,  downloadable rental agreements, and links to promotional resources.

 Update from Ann Thrash-Trumbo's experience with showing Hell and Mr. Fudge in Columbus, GA this past March:

"All I can say is, “Wow!”  It was a fantastic experience.
We arranged to show the movie at the largest cinema in our town, Carmike 15.  We rented one of the theaters—started out with one that seats 172, and then about 10 days before the event upgraded to one that seated 225.  Good thing we did, because we had standing room only!  The manager of the cinema went row to row, trying to seat people in any open seats.  Probably 10 people stood, and we may have turned away 30 – 40 people (or more, as the ticket agents turned away a few people we didn’t see). 
We advertised on a crawler on the Weather Channel, our local 3ABN radio, and on cable TV, but our most effective advertising was through church members.  I’d estimate that 40% of the attendees were people we did not know, although some of those were people who were friends of members.
The movie was excellent.  Well-written, well-acted, and well-produced.  I was a little afraid it would not measure up to people expectations of what a movie in shown in a theater should be, but it did.  People really enjoyed watching it, and several wanted to see it again and/or purchase it for themselves.
We did a follow-up Bible study, and one person came.  We have heard reports from members, though, about conversations they’ve had with friends who came—so although they didn’t come to our study, there was a spiritual impact made.  We don’t see evangelism as based on an event, but as a stream of events and encounters that God uses to impact our community as we live Godly lives among our neighbors. 
So we’d definitely do it again!  I believe that movies are one of, if not the, biggest influencers of society at this time and I’d delighted that Adventists are starting to use this modality to get God’s message before the people."