Josh Shepherd, an independent journalist with bylines on numerous high-profile sites walks us through Netflix’s movie A Week Away, a new faith-based musical. Josh talks to the actors about A Week Away and dives into Netflix's strategy for faith-based content.
The trailer for A Week Away will be available on Netflix globally starting March 26, and may confuse fans of musicals.
It plays as a well-produced mashup of High School Musical & Camp Rock, with some religious touches.
But isn’t that Zac Efron-circa-2010 crooning, jumping, and holding his love interest tightly? Was there a time machine used by producers?
“I remember asking our casting director about Kevin [Quinn],” screenwriter/producer Alan Powell told me in an interview. “I said, ‘Listen, he’s incredible, but does he look too much like Zac Efron?’ Because it’s not like we put that in the casting call.”
She shot back: “I’m sorry, are you upset with me that I found you someone who looks ‘too much’ like one of the best-looking people in Hollywood?”
A Week Away is more than a superficial look. By walking the line between tongue-in-cheek send-up of coming-of-age tropes and earnest faith-conscious storytelling, this energetic musical checks all the boxes—and then some.
Camp Rock Meets Christ
Netflix has been pushing into tween entertainment for years to surpass Disney. A Week Away is no exception, featuring emerging stars including Quinn (Disney Channel’s Bunk’d) and Jahbril Cook (upcoming Disney Channel movie Spin).
“I’ve gotten a lot of people joking about how I keep getting these camp roles—and they’re not wrong,” said Quinn. “That said, A Week Away [with] its romance-teenager vibe is definitely a different world from that Disney show.”
Memorable songs are key to any musical's success. One of Disney’s go-to songwriters, Adam Watts (High School Musical) helmed the music team.
In a Zoom interview, he spoke from his studio. “Creating a musical, the music plays such an important role in storytelling. Similar to Camp Rock, I’m starting with a script and the songs are there to move the story from A to C, with B being the music.”
But there’s a twist. The album features four new Watts songs interwoven with seven modern Christian music standards over the last 30 years.
Anyone remotely adjacent to evangelical faith will recognize songs like “Awesome God,” “Place In This World,” and “The Great Adventure.” While each remixed song works in the story, it also plays on nostalgia that even former churchgoers—and they are legion—have for the tunes.
The Faithful Reached
Premiering on Netflix one week prior to Easter Sunday, consistently a lucrative weekend for faith-based family entertainment, A Week Away could be viewed as the top streamer’s strategic move to bring back disaffected former subscribers.
Analysts claim that Netflix was forced to be cancelled last fall due to backlash from American subscribers regarding the French film Cuties, which depicts a young man's journey to adulthood. A scene from animated TV-MA comedy Paradise P.D. was recently shown. Some viewers were furious at the scene in Paradise P.D., an animated TV-MA comedy. All of these issues highlight how challenging it is for global entertainment companies to manage cultural and value differences.
Netflix has partnered up with Hollywood legends who are true believers to create this musical.
Powell is the son of a Christian minister and has worked on the jukebox musical for Christian radio songs for seven years. He met Steve Barnett, who has 25 years of experience in major studios and produced such hit songs as A Walk to Remember (Worms Bros.).
They cast several actors who are Christians, including co-lead Bailee. She speaks freely about how her character’s journey reflects her own.
“All of these qualities of her, I find in myself,” said Madison, known for her recurring role in ABC’s Once Upon A Time and films including Brothers opposite Jake Gyllenhaal. “She has faith and that’s what she chooses to believe in, but she’s not sure of things. She’s not by any means perfect. She is messy, but she loves that about herself.”
Powell recognized many in the cast resonated with his story “probably because of their own faith,” though it wasn’t a mandate on filmmakers’ part. “Some productions have essentially required faith, but we did not. Across the board, we just wanted the best people for the job.”
Response to the Evolving Faith Market
Monarch Media's first venture, A Week Away, was launched by Barnett Powell and Vicky Patel as producers. Vicky Patel is the financier.
As CEO of the “faith-friendly” studio, Barnett notes Christian families in the U.S. are “becoming pickier about the quality of the content” they consume. “Most of the major studios and streamers want to be in the faith market, but they don’t totally understand it,” he said.
Recent developments confirm his view. Last year, inspirational biopic Clouds—the story of a Catholic family’s crisis and ultimate hope—became one of few films Disney Plus acquired rather than produced in-house. In November, Sony Pictures bought faith market-focused streamer Pure Flix where it plans to reach families with “impactful” films.
There are many faith-based films still being produced each year for a tiny Christian subculture. However, some filmmakers have found greater success.
DeVon Franklin (producer of faith films that have grossed over $175MM at the international box office) signed a first-look deal with Paramount for 2019. Lionsgate also reached a first-look agreement with Paramount in 2019.
Monarch's upcoming Eclectic projects will appeal to diverse audiences. They include The Black Belt (a comedy focusing on karate) starring Chris Pratt, based-on-true events action thriller Havoc by South Korean director Byung Gil Jung and a musical starring Florida Georgia Line. The producers did not mention whether Netflix might be involved in future projects.
“As a company, we want to thread these movies with faith and inspiration,” said Barnett. “Similar to The Greatest Showman, we see universal themes in A Week Away that are also uniquely applicable to the Christian way of life.”
‘Spreading Love, Hope, and Light’
It’s an undeniably fun, campy, faith-and-family musical with a stellar soundtrack. Producers want viewers to learn more than just singable tunes from A Week Away.
“We hope that the audience has a blast,” said Powell. “And we certainly hope that they wrestle with things that are meaningful.”
This concert is sure to be a hit with music lovers and those who are a part of the evangelical church.
Madison, a co-star in the movie, believes that the message is inclusive. “You don’t have to be on a certain path to be able to watch this movie,” she said. “You don’t have to have it all together. [Our] hope is it spreads love, hope, and light along the way while you watch it.”
Josh M. Shepherd is a freelance journalist who writes about religion, culture and policy. His work has been published by outlets including The Stream, What’s On Disney Plus, The Federalist, Christianity Today, Family Theater Productions, and Faithfully Magazine.