As storytellers committed to bringing emotional moments to the screen, filmmakers Andrew Erwin, Jon Erwin, and Kevin Downes have found compelling stories in heartfelt moments of strength in the face of adversity. Following the success of the music biopic I Can Only Imagine , which broke through beyond audiences of faith to become a mainstream hit and became the most successful independent film of 2018, comes I Still Believe, an inspiring love story for the ages based on the real-life story of chart-topping singer Jeremy Camp.
At an emotional and personal meeting with GRAMMY®-nominated music artist Jeremy Camp and his wife Adrienne, the filmmakers heard firsthand the real, raw, and undeniably compelling love story of Jeremy and his first wife, Melissa that would lead to Camp’s hit song “I Still Believe” – and for the filmmakers, it was not only a story that needed to be told, but one that only they could tell.
“It was such a beautiful, tragic, hopeful, redemptive love story that we thought it would be a great movie. It would be really entertaining, familiar to those that are fans of I Can Only Imagine, but also different—much more of a love story,” says Jon Erwin. “I thought, man, I really want to make this film.”
The fact that their follow up to I Can Only Imagine would be another music biopic gave the filmmakers pause at first, but it was Camp’s personal, emotional journey that convinced them they had to make the movie.
The two films would be very different: where Imagine is really about the power of forgiveness, the new film, I Still Believe, focuses on love and conviction.
Andrew Erwin heard that message loud and clear when he spoke to the Camps – and, surprisingly, especially from Camp’s now wife, Adrienne. “To tell the truth, I wasn’t interested in jumping into another music movie right away,” says Andrew Erwin. “I think the thing that really sold me on doing this movie was when we interviewed Jeremy and his wife, Adrienne. They’ve been married for 15 years and they have three kids. Adrienne sat there as I interviewed Jeremy and we got to the end of the interview after about three hours. I interviewed her next and asked, ‘How can you listen to your husband talk about his first love, talk about another woman for three hours and it doesn’t produce any kind of insecurity in you?’ And she said, ‘Let me tell you, I am protective and passionate about Melissa’s story because Melissa’s story changed my life.’
“And at that point, I just got chills and I said, ‘I have to tell this story.’ I had tears in my eyes and I looked at my brother and I said, ‘You’re gonna think I’m crazy, but I have to direct this movie.’
“Stories that give that rush of hope are in our DNA,” says Kevin Downes.
“I think Jeremy and Melissa’s story speaks specifically to that. The music is incredible. The performances are incredible. But what we really responded to is, it’s an amazing love story.”
Storytellers committed to bringing emotional moments to the screen
Jeremy and Melissa Camp’s love story in I Still Believe is the kind that resonates in any era: beautiful, hopeful, and redemptive. Young love and endless devotion are at stake as Melissa fights for her life. Seemingly impossibly, the two grow even closer as they wholeheartedly hope for her healing – only for Jeremy to face heartbreaking loss as the love of his life loses her battle with cancer. Then, a redemptive ending comes after Melissa’s passing, a story of beauty from the ashes.
Destiny struck Jeremy on his first night at college when he spotted a beautiful woman singing, lost in the moment at a campus concert. Jeremy was instantly captivated by Melissa, oblivious to the world around her. Their relationship began as a flirtatious friendship, but their connection was clear—undeniably magnetic. Caught in something of a love triangle between Jeremy and the mutual friend who introduced them, Melissa abruptly ends the couple’s budding relationship, leaving Jeremy feeling that he’s missed his chance for a life-changing love.
When he receives word that Melissa is sick, Jeremy drops everything and immediately drives to be by her side. After a hospital proposal, chemo treatments during their engagement, and a beachside wedding when she enters remission, the cancer returns. Despite great adversity, Jeremy and Melissa remain strong, faithful, and hopeful; Jeremy’s undying devotion to his wife and his faith never wavers.
Throughout her life, Melissa’s attitude toward her circumstances is remarkable. “She cared so much about people and she wanted to make sure everyone else was okay,” says Camp. “Her heart for people was so huge. She said, ‘If I go through this, and it changes just one person’s life, it will be worth it.’” Melissa never could have known or imagined the number of lives that would be changed by hearing her story.
“Probably two or three weeks after she passed, I wrote a song, ‘I Still Believe,’” recalls Camp. “And it was at a moment of my life where I didn’t want to play guitar. I was done. I went back to Indiana with my family and I was struggling and felt pretty hopeless… depressed, down, still grieving. But I felt something inside me telling me to pick up my guitar.’”
The first time he played and sang the song in front of an audience after Melissa’s passing, Camp realized the impact of sharing his story with others. The realness, the vulnerability—there wasn’t a dry eye in the place. “I remember going, ‘I want to share this story. I want to share the realness of it, my pain, the hurt, the struggles. I want others who are going through unremarkably hard things to have hope.’”
Playing music on small stages led Jeremy to a record contract, giving him the opportunity to record an album and hit the road on tour, performing and sharing Melissa’s story on increasingly larger stages. Jeremy’s first tour enabled him to inspire thousands, and also introduced him to The Benjamin Gate frontwoman, and his future wife, the then-Adrienne Liesching.
“I remember the first time I heard Jeremy sharing his and Melissa’s story from the stage, I was pretty blown away,” recalls Adrienne Camp. “I was in my twenties and had been in a fairly low place in my life and I couldn’t believe the authenticity of what he had been through. You can’t fabricate a good answer when you go through watching your wife suffer. I was really blown away and intrigued by their faith; it’s authentic, it’s real. And that deeply, deeply touched me and made a massive impact on what I needed to hear.”
Adrienne’s is perhaps the first life changed by Melissa’s story. Jeremy and Adrienne started dating on tour, were married in 2003, and have since added three children, Bella, Arie, and Egan, to their family.
Now an award-winning music artist who has sold nearly five million albums, Camp has told his and Melissa’s story hundreds of times from the stage, in front of thousands of people.
And though it had been told so many times, it wasn’t until the release of his autobiographical memoir I Still Believe in 2013 that the full beauty, tragedy, and hope of his and Melissa’s love story was revealed in gripping detail. The story piqued the interest of producer Kevin Downes, prompting him to reach out to Camp to discuss the idea of adapting his story into a film.
“Our initial meeting with the Erwin Brothers went so well–it was so obvious that they got the heart of it,” recalls Adrienne. “That was the most important thing – to remain authentic and the message to come out exactly as it’s supposed to.”
That authenticity came through the first time he read the script, says Jeremy Camp. “We both sat down together. And the opening scene, we both started crying… It was like they knew how to start off my journey. The feel of the emotion…I mean there were times where I was taken back to that spot.”
After telling his and Melissa’s story thousands of times from the stage and in the pages of his memoir, Camp’s excitement for the film is for the further impact that Melissa’s story will have on millions of moviegoers. “They’ll see it and be drawn in,” he says. ”It’s going to be an incredible journey.”
Camp says that while he has relived the story every time he’s told it, it’s a completely different experience to watch skilled actors like KJ Apa and Britt Robertson reconstruct it before his eyes – and not always an easy one. “It’s been hard reliving the events of my life. I’ve talked about it a lot,” Jeremy recalls, “but it’s completely different than just talking about it. You’re watching someone portray it, and seeing and feeling the emotions all over again.”
“There were a couple of moments on set where we both just had to stop, because even though I wasn’t there when the scenario played out, I’ve walked that with Jeremy for 15 years afterwards,” says Adrienne. “I’ve been in some of those scenarios with him as his heart healed, and it takes us back to that place. It literally just takes you right back there. There were a couple of times that we had to just kind of hit the pause button and look over at each other.”
Throughout the process, Camp was aware that Melissa’s voice would come through clearest in the final film – but of course, Melissa would not be able to express her thoughts about it. As a result, Jeremy and Adrienne were both very protective of the way Melissa is presented, and he is proud of the way the Erwins captured her. “I think she would be very happy with how she’s portrayed. I think it’s brilliantly done,” he says. “Her heart was to reach out and to share the hope that is in Christ, and that people would come to know Him, and that’s what’s going to happen. She would for sure love this.”
Casting the couple
When it was time to cast the actor who would play Jeremy in the movie, Andy and Jon Erwin turned to KJ Apa. The young Riverdale star’s acting and musical capabilities landed him at the top of the brothers’ talent wish list, and they counted themselves fortunate that he was as excited by the challenges of the role as they were.
“It was really the love story that drew me to this project,” says Apa. “Their love is seriously put to the test in this movie, which makes you really value it. After seeing the love between Jeremy and Melissa, I hope that people can sit there and think, ‘Wow, I hope I can be in love like that one day.’ The love between them is seriously inspiring.”
The role of Jeremy is Apa’s first time depicting a real person on camera. He took the responsibility of portraying Jeremy in the film very seriously and spent a great deal of time getting to know him, the story, and his emotions. With Jeremy being on set, Apa was able to pick his brain as he worked through different scenes. “It’s a huge responsibility to be playing a real-life person,” he says. “I wanted to do it justice.”
“I think one of the most unique things about Melissa and Jeremy’s relationship is that from the very beginning, it was always anchored in God,” says Apa. This story is about journeying through your biggest fears and disappointments and coming out on the other side still believing in and loving God.”
In addition to the enormous challenges of portraying Jeremy’s heart, emotion and faith, Apa also recreated Jeremy’s music, performing live on set and recording the soundtrack in a Nashville studio. Music is Apa’s first love, which made a musical biopic an especially attractive choice for his first feature film project. “We took the music that Jeremy wrote and made it our own, made it unique. This music is Jeremy’s life – he wrote during a really tough time in his life, so I wanted to do it justice.”
With KJ on board to play Jeremy, the Erwins next moved to casting the co-lead role of Melissa. KJ had one woman in mind—he knew she would be perfect for the role: Britt Robertson.
Like Apa, Robertson felt a deep responsibility for portraying a real person – even more so because the real Melissa has passed. “It’s a total honor to be able to play a real person that’s existed in the world, especially in the way that Melissa did,” Robertson explains. “I tried early on to get as much information about her as I could, watching interviews with her sister, reading excerpts from her journal, and even just talking to her mom and Jeremy. The thing that people kept coming back to is what a kind and thoughtful person he was – in the hospital, when she’d receive flowers, she would hand them out to the nurses. She wanted to share her roses. She wanted to share her life, love, and the Lord with people. I think it’s really cool to have that sort of consciousness and to want to be that kind of person. She wanted to have the strength and courage to endure something that would change people, to give them hope and faith.”
Apa says that the film has so much emotion, whether or not they share Camp’s faith. “Whether it be about their own faith or whether it be about appreciating life and finding ways to grow through your experiences, I hope somebody could watch this film and think, ‘I’m going to take what feels like the worst moment of my life and make something great out of it.’”
In 2002, Jon Erwin [Director / Writer / Producer] founded a production company with his brother, Andrew. Their first ventures were commercials, documentaries, and music videos. The brothers soon were directing videos and producing concerts and television programs for platinum recording artists such as Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Casting Crowns, Switchfoot, Skillet, and others. They received 11 GMA Dove Awards nominations and three wins for Music Video of the Year. Jon and Andrew have also produced and directed several documentaries, including the multiple award-winning 9/11 story The Cross and the Towers.
In 2010, Jon and Andrew began exclusively developing dramatic feature films. Their features have all opened in the top-ten box office and they have received the coveted A+ CinemaScore® twice. Their features include October Baby, Moms’ Night Out, Woodlawn, and the breakthrough hit I Can Only Imagine, which became the #1 independent film of 2018, earning more than $83 million at the box office.
In 2019, Jon and Andrew launched Kingdom Story Company alongside their partners Kevin Downes and Tony Young, with a first-look deal with Lionsgate. The first film from that venture is I Still Believe.
Jon serves as Co-Chief Executive Officer at Kingdom Story Company, as well as writing and co-directing feature films with Andrew. He is also the author of the upcoming book For Love and Honor, which tells the amazing true story of his grandfather Red Erwin, who received the Congressional Medal of Honor in World War II. It is slated for publication in 2020.
Andrew Erwin [Director / Producer] – half of the filmmaking duo The Erwin Brothers, Andrew began his career as a teenager working for ESPN as a camera operator in his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. As a sports cameraman, Erwin worked with ESPN College Football Primetime, FOX NFL, and the NBA covering events such as the X Games and the Super Bowl. In 2002, Andrew founded a production company with his brother Jon. Their first ventures were commercials, documentaries, and music videos. The brothers soon were directing videos and producing concerts and television programs for platinum recording artists such as Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Casting Crowns, Switchfoot, Skillet, and others. They received 11 GMA Dove Awards nominations and 3 wins for Music Video of the Year.
In 2010, Andrew and Jon began exclusively developing dramatic feature films. Their features have all opened in the top-ten box office and they have received the coveted A+ CinemaScore® twice. Their features include October Baby, Mom’s Night Out, Woodlawn, and the 2018 smash hit I Can Only Imagine.
In 2019, Andrew and Jon, with partners Kevin Downes and Tony Young, launched Kingdom Story Company along with a first-look deal with Lionsgate. The first film from that venture is I Still Believe, a biopic about CCM megastar Jeremy Camp slated for release on 3.13.20. Andrew serves as Chief Creative Officer at Kingdom Story Company as well as produces and directs feature films with his brother Jon and Kevin Downes.
Since graduating with a film degree from Ithaca College in 1995, Jon Gunn [Writer] has worked as a writer, director, editor, and producer. His work ranges from independent comedy and drama to studio tentpoles. As a director, his feature films include Mercy Streets, My Date with Drew, Like Dandelion Dust, and The Case for Christ, and have grossed more than $40 million at the box office. My Date with Drew, which had a worldwide theatrical release in the summer of 2005, swept the festival circuit for Best Feature. Like Dandelion Dust, that Gunn co-wrote with Oscar®-nominated screenwriter Stephen J. Rivele, won more than 30 festival awards and was released theatrically in the fall of 2010. The Case for Christ grossed $17 million in theaters.
Gunn has also co-written numerous studio movies, including the comedy Ian the Vampire for Fox Searchlight, The Magic 8 Ball for Paramount, The Nutcracker for Universal, Imaginary Friends for Skydance, Monopoly for Hasbro/Sony, and multiple features for DreamWorks Animation, including Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians and B.O.O.: Bureau of Otherworldly Operations.
Kevin Downes [Producer] career of producing, acting, directing and writing spans more than 20 years. Some of Downes’ fan-favorite roles include Officer Shane Fuller in Courageous, the videogame lover Kevin in Moms’ Night Out, a series regular role on the TV sitcom Hitting the Breaks, and most recently, starring in Malibu Dan, which airs weekly on WGN, with longtime friend David A.R. White. Downes has produced three films with the Erwin Brothers: Moms’ Night Out, Woodlawn, and 2018’s breakout hit and the #1 independent film of 2018, I Can Only Imagine. He produced the critically acclaimed Like Dandelion Dust from best-selling author Karen Kingsbury.
In March 2019, Downes partnered with the Erwin Brothers and Tony Young to launch Kingdom Story Company a new entertainment company in partnership with Lionsgate that endeavors to create life-changing content from a variety of talented storytellers, where he serves as co-Chief Executive Officer.