Michael C. Catt, a Southern Baptist pastor in Albany, Georgia, whose congregation launched a pioneering Christian movie studio, died Monday of complications from prostate cancer. He was 70 years old.
Sherwood Pictures, the production company birthed at Sherwood Baptist Church in the southwest Georgia city of Albany, gained recognition in Christian circles for the 2003 movie “Flywheel,” about the spiritual redemption of a deceitfully used car salesman. The film earned $37,000 on a $20,000 budget, but positioned the producers for greater accomplishments.
Two associate pastors at the church, brothers Alex and Stephen Kendrick, worked on the Sherwood Pictures films and sometimes acted in them.
Four years after “Flywheel,” the 2006 movie “Facing the Giants” — centered on a high school football coach played by Alex Kendrick. Like the first production, church members volunteered as “extras” and helped with makeup, production and catering, things that kept the budget low.
When “Facing the Giants” earned $10 million at the box office on a $100,000 production budget, entertainment industry insiders took note.
Veteran TV actor Kirk Cameron signed on to play the lead in “Fireproof,” a 2008 drama about a firefighter who turns his ailing marriage around in 40 days. Another low-budget production — filmmakers spent $1 million — “Fireproof” earned $33 million in release, topped only by the 2011 Sherwood-produced “Courageous,” a police drama that earned $35 million.
After the success of the Sherwood Pictures releases, the Kendricks went on to produce their own movies, and other Hollywood studios followed suit. Film studios such as Pinnacle Peake Pictures and producers such as DeVon Franklin (“Miracles from Heaven,” “Breakthrough”) are part of an explosion of family-friendly films with an explicit faith message.
Mr. Catt — who media reports said got the idea to make Christian movies when he and the Kendrick brothers toured a Disney World backlot — is credited as someone who saw the need for films to counter Hollywood’s secular messages. In 2008, he told The New York Times, “It’s easy to point fingers, but what we need to be doing is offering realistic alternatives.”
Julie Fairchild, a publicist who worked with Sherwood Pictures in its early years, said via email, “Michael Catt was a loving husband, father, pastor, visionary and friend. He was not afraid to shake things up!”
One cultural observer credits Mr. Catt as a key player in this celluloid revival.
Mr. Catt was “not a household name,” said Leah Payne, an associate professor of American religious history at Portland Seminary, but in his time his movie-making influence matched that of the late evangelist Billy Graham, whose ministry also produced faith-friendly dramas.
“He’s not like Billy Graham, who was a celebrity in his own right,” Ms. Payne said in a telephone interview. “But he is someone who understood the evangelical relationship to mass media, [that] they see it as a form of evangelism and religious training.”
She said Mr. Catt “instinctively understood how important film, television and various forms of mass media are for community formation.”
The Rev. Paul Gotthardt, the current senior pastor of Sherwood Baptist Church said, “Michael’s passion for biblical preaching, engaging the next generation with the gospel, and investing in leaders will be deeply missed.”
Representatives for both Kendrick brothers and Mr. Cameron were contacted for comment by The Washington Times.
Michael Catt was born on December 25, 1952, in Pascagoula, Mississippi, to a mother who gave him up for adoption. He did not learn of his adoption until he was 38 years old. He served as a youth pastor at five Southern Baptist churches and as pastor at another congregation before coming to Sherwood Baptist in 1989, retiring in 2021.
He married Terri Payne in 1974. The couple has two grown daughters, Erin Waters and Hayley Catt. All three survive, along with a granddaughter.