Who doesn’t love summer church camp and the precious memories it provides? From fanning the crackling flames of a roaring campfire to life-changing baptisms in a lake, generations of church kids have benefitted from time spent getting closer to God in the great outdoors.
For better or for worse, summer church camp is a rite of passage, a time to deepen one’s faith while forging friendships and memories to last a lifetime.
Former Anthem Lights singer Alan Powell remembers those days well. The son of a pastor growing up in Tennessee, Powell spent many summers at church camp, gathering with friends, getting by on no sleep, and gobbling enough smores to make himself sick. But it is the music from those camp experiences that stands out the most to him.
So inspired by those memories, Powell has co-written and produced a new musical film called A Week Away. The movie which debuts on Netflix this Friday, March 26th, stars Bailee Madison (Just Go with It), Kevin Quinn (Bunk’d), David Koechner (Get Smart), and Sherri Shepherd (30 Rock, Woodlawn). It is the first faith-based musical of its kind.
“I grew up in this world,” says Powell, who has also acted in several movies including The Song and Like Arrows. “My dad was a pastor my entire life. My bachelor’s degree is in the Bible. I started a Christian band 12 years ago. I grew up on this music. So, that’s just a part of my absolute DNA. My favorite thing in the world is the combination of music and film. So, when we set out to make this movie, it was always going to be a musical. And I was in love with the idea of using the songs that I grew up on to tell the story.
A Week Away is about a troubled teen named Will (Quinn) who has to make a tough decision: go to a juvenile detention facility or go to a summer camp. Begrudgingly, he opts for the camp experience. What he doesn’t realize is that he will be attending a church camp. A fish out of water, Will will do anything to get away from these crazy, fun-loving church kids. But through the relationships he builds there, he finds a home and place to belong in the last place he ever expected.
“Will’s character just goes way deeper than I ever thought he would go,” says Quinn, who attended church camps in Wisconsin as a teen. “I got to see inklings of that in the script. I saw those layers and a little bit of his pain. I think it was just his deep pain that I could relate to and bring some emotion to because I think it is something we can all relate to.”
Unfortunately, Madison never attended summer church camp due to her busy schedule as a child actress. However, she considers it a blessing that she got to experience this summer ritual through A Week Away.
“I feel really grateful that I got to experience summer camp in this way,” she shares. “And especially talking to a lot of kids who have gone to Christian summer camp and hearing their stories. It was a world I wasn’t aware of and it sounds wonderful. So, when I am a future mom I am going to send my kids.”
Despite the breath of fresh air and positivity that A Week Away is in this COVID-infused era we are living; it was a hard movie to get made. Not just a musical, but a faith-based musical in the vein of High School Musical or Camp Rock, two Disney productions that set the standard.
“(We had) lots and lots of challenges,” Powell explains. “Nobody wanted to do it because nobody understood. There’s never been a faith-based musical. So, it was just difficult to wrap your head around what this thing could be and why it would work, or if it would work. Everything’s based on cost because it’s a business and there were going to be costs. So, we ran into this a lot. Fortunately, we came across an independent financier, an incredible woman named Vicky Patel, who was like, “I think that sounds great. Go make that movie.””
Choosing to produce the movie via the independent route proved to be a blessing in disguise. Doing so, allowed Director Roman White and the musical team led by High School Musical alum Adam Watts much more artistic freedom to make the movie that Powell and his co-writers envisioned.
Shares Powell, “Artistically, it was what we wanted to do, and the things that we were wrestling with in a way that we felt like we needed to wrestle with, without a studio looking over our shoulder. We got to just kind of follow the inspiration and that’s the only way I think that this movie could have turned out the way that it did.”
Serving as the centerpiece of A Week Away is a deep well of Christian music that young and older audiences will love. There are outstanding re-imagined songs found throughout the film’s 94 minutes including offerings from Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant, Steven Curtis Chapman, Audio Adrenaline, Rich Mullins, and for KING and COUNTRY.
“It is such a great catalog of music, that we wanted to choose music that furthered the story and develop the characters in such a way that if you knew the music the way that you and I do, but if you’re aware of the music you go, “Oh, I know that too.” But if you had never heard the music before, it just felt like it was so organic to the story that Adam (Watts) wrote it for the movie,” explains Powell.
“I just wanted to make sure that these classics stood up to the original tunes that we wrote for the film and that everything was kind of tied together cohesively with our stated goal,” echoes Watts, who has previously worked with a diverse group of musical artists including Jeremy Camp, Colton Dixon, Avalon, and Switchfoot. “That was to root this music in sort of an organic and timeless kind of feel so that five years from now, 10 years from now, you could go back to the music and it would still feel fresh.”
If there is one song that serves as the foundation or the heart of the movie it would be the 1991 Michael W. Smith chart-topper, “Place in This World”. It went to number 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 that year and remained on the charts for a remarkable 21 weeks. But more importantly, the song served as an anthem for young people struggling to be good enough and figure out where they fit in such a complicated culture.
“For me, it was my favorite song growing up and still is one of my favorite songs in the world,” says Powell. “When we decided we were going to do this movie, or do a movie where we re-imagined classic Christian tunes and then had a few originals, for me, “Place in This World” had to be in there.”
“That song has a special place in my heart and history too,” agrees Watts. “I grew up with a piano in the house that had “Place in This World” sheet music sitting there. Literally, that was the first song that I learned on piano.”
Ironically, “Place in This World” is also the first song that Powell learned to play on the keys, never realizing that it would become the cornerstone of a movie the duo would work on more than 20 years later.
A Week Away also features a couple of little twists that faith-based audiences will love. Amy Grant, who is perhaps the best known female musical artist in the history of contemporary Christian music, makes a cameo appearance as a camp counselor, while 59-time Dove Award winner Steven Curtis Chapman makes waves as the camp lifeguard.
The movie which was shot at Camp Widjiwagan just outside Nashville, Tennessee in 2019, promises to be a wholesome family film that both parents and kids can watch together.
“This as a fun movie with substance that deals with the concept of faith right at its core, says Watts. “(It shows) the fundamentals of faith and the importance of grace.”
“We hope you have a blast, you’re smiling, you’re dancing, and maybe you’re singing,” Powell adds exuberantly. That’s what we want, but ultimately we want you to leave (the viewing experience) with a sense and a message that you are good enough. You’re incredible. You’re beautiful just the way God made you.”
Watch a Trailer for A Week Away: