ACTRESS/producer Roma Downey decided to call her movie company Lightworkers for a reason.
"We were tired of cursing the darkness," said Downey, the former "Touched by an Angel" star who produced last year's hit miniseries "The Bible" and this week opens a companion film, "Son of God."
"We're committed to stories that add light," she said. "We are people of faith. This is important to us. It's not just a job."
"We have jobs," chimed in husband Mark Burnett, with atypical understatement. Burnett is the Midas-touch producer of reality-TV smashes "Survivor" and "Shark Tank."
That touch extended to "The Bible," the most successful miniseries aired on television last year. It drew 100 million viewers, and had an audience vastly larger than more favorably reviewed shows, like "Breaking Bad."
"Son of God" is their latest offering, and though it may be seen to be capitalizing on the success of "The Bible," in truth Burnett and Downey had long viewed the projects as a tandem (in the way that Peter Jackson filmed all three "Lord of the Rings" movies at once), and were editing "Son of God" before "The Bible" was finished.
Burnett and Downey were in Morocco filming the "The Bible" when Downey, a native of Ireland and a devout Catholic, hit up on the idea of shooting additional footage for a separate story detailing the life of Christ.
"We started editing this movie long before the series came out," Burnett said. "We were shooting so much footage, in our minds we knew we'd have more than enough to support a movie. There were so many shots, so many things we couldn't use, you're going to see so much material in the movie you haven't seen before."
Burnett, Downey and their production team also put a prodigious amount of research work into "The Bible," research that informed "Son of God," which opens almost 10 years to the day after Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," but is PG-13 (in English) and very different in tone and style.
The two enlisted religious scholars of every stripe to help put the story of the gospels in proper context.
The result is the movie that's been endorsed by T.D. Jakes, Rick Warren and Abe Foxman, of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League.
"He really knows the gospels," Burnett said of Foxman.
"Son of God" takes pains to establish what Burnett said is the historical reality of the era - a time of deep political turmoil in Judea, in which the growing popularity of Jesus represented a threat to both Jewish and Roman leaders. Jewish leader Caiaphas, Burnett said, was acting at least in part out of concern for his own people: "He was fearful of a challenge to his authority on one side, but acting to protect his people on another side. I think he's certainly an antagonist, but it's multi-dimensional."
Same with Pontius Pilate.
"He'd already been warned by Caesar, and this was the fourth Roman government in 20 years. It would be like being sent to Afghanistan, and who wants that? Again, he's multidimensional."
Downey said that it all comes down to what's in the heart of the filmmakers.
"Everything begins with intention, and our intention with this was not to be divisive in any way, but to create something compelling that would draw people together," she said.
"It's the real and true teaching of mercy and love. It's an invitation, and it's not judgmental. Our hope for our movie is that the people who are believers will come and have the opportunity to fall in love with Jesus again, and people who don't know Jesus at all could come and discover him for the first time."