Erwins bring work home

Published 5:26 pm Monday, January 26, 2009

The tape begins rolling as Andy and Jon Erwin of Calera survey the crew spread out in the desert of Utah making sure everyone is in place.

“Its tough because you have an idea and you’re trying to make that come alive on the screen,” Andy Erwin said of filmmaking. “Sometimes, there are moments when it turns out better than what you had in your head.”

The two brothers traveled west earlier this month to attend the premier of their film “Abraham and Isaac” at the San Antonio Film Festival. They originally weren’t even supposed to be there. The duo had actually submitted “Abraham and Isaac” too late to make the festival’s deadline. After the organizers saw the film they made an exception — rescheduling the entire festival to allow the film to headline the event.

Andy said the enormity of what they do still takes him by surprise.

“On one of the first takes we had for Abraham and Isaac, we had all of these extras and camels standing around everywhere,” Andy said. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is what it’s like to direct a feature film.’ You get major butterflies in your stomach.”

Andy and Jon got their start early, playing with cameras and other equipment on the set of their father Hank Erwin’s TV show. They later went on to shoot for sports networks like ESPN and ESPNU. For years, they worked separately shooting college or NFL games on the weekends. But through the week they made their way back to Alabama to work on their first love — filmmaking.

Andy said although they work on a variety of projects — music videos, sports highlight videos, documentaries — feature films are where their hearts lie.

“That gives you the most freedom as an artist,” Andy said. “You are really able to camp out and tell the story the way it was meant to be told.”

One of their most well-known pieces is the documentary “The Cross and The Towers.” The film discusses what many witnesses experienced first-hand when the World Trade Centers were attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. Andy said they made the trip to talk with family members and survivors but everyone pointed out the cross that stood amongst the rubble.

“When we did The Cross and The Towers that story found us,” Andy said. “But what we are drawn to is the human drama. And this was a great story of redemption and hope.”

Although Andy said they don’t seek out faith-based projects, many times those projects find them.

“I’m a firm believer in the hand of providence,” Andy said. “I think you have to be faithful with the story he gives you first.”

“Abraham and Isaac” is part of the Hope and A Future series being produced by Crown Films. Andy said the aim of the series is to tell the stories of people of the Bible and their struggles. Crown Films plans to translate the short films into 20 or more languages and then provide them to villages around the world.

While the Erwin brothers’ work travels the globe, the brothers attempt to bring the film industry to Alabama whenever possible. In fact, they film many of their music videos at places like Sloss Furnace or on the rooftops of buildings in downtown Birmingham.

“There are a lot of Birmingham locations that haven’t been seen before,” Andy said. “This gives us access to a fresh set of locations and we get to do what we love to do here at home.”

The two are currently working on a rockumentary about the band Third day, a pilot for a TV show in Apsen, Colo. and a music video for the band Point of Grace. Of course, in their spare time they are working on scripts and waiting for their chance to make that first feature film.