Another Hollywood blockbuster for Gauteng
By: Andy Stead
Joining the likes of District 9, Catch a Fire and Hotel Rwanda, the new movie Machine Gun Preacher is yet another major Hollywood blockbuster to be shot in Gauteng. With the title role and executive producer's seat taken by Gerard Butler - the star of The Bounty Hunter, RocknRolla and 300 - the movie is currently in filming and set to be released to the US market in September 2011.
Machine Gun Preacher sounds a little like a stock western - one can easily imagine a clerically dressed Texan riding into town at sundown armed with his trusty machine gun ready to do battle with the resident band of outlaws - but far from it. Picture instead an ex-violent biker who gave his life to God in 1992 and went to the war-town African country of Sudan to save children from the violence of Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).
Sam Childers and his wife Lynn founded and operate Angels of East Africa, the Children's Village Orphanage in Nimule, Sudan, where they currently have more than 300 children in their care.
Childers documented his experiences in Sudan in the book Another Man's War, the book on which the storyline of Machine Gun Preacher is based.
Hollywood actor Gerard Butler - the star of The Bounty Hunter, RocknRolla and 300 - is both an executive producer and the main character, Sam Childers, in Machine Gun Preacher.
The book tracks Childers's path from a violent, drug-addicted biker to a man willing to risk everything to rescue the orphans and child-soldiers of Sudan. "All my life, from birth, it's been a fight, and it always seemed to be another man's war," he says.
"I always seemed to be fighting for someone else. But it always came back to me. The word says we're born into sin, and sin always comes back to war."
Childers has always been a fighter. Born to a violent father and a deeply religious mother, his life was a contradiction. With an affinity for drugs and women, the angry young man grew into a drug-dealing biker.
Today Childers, alongside the Sudanese soldiers he employs, spends his time in the most dangerous parts of Sudan and Uganda rescuing the youngest victims of war, orphans and child-soldiers. His mission is simple: save the children, no matter what the cost.
Childers has received several endorsements, such as one from actor and filmmaker Peter Fonda, the star of Easy Rider. Fonda says Another Man's War is about "true terrorism against more than 200 000 children in northern Uganda and Southern Sudan.
"Sam Childers is a fighter and a preacher (some call him a mercenary!) who tirelessly leads a small militia into the jungle, daring to fight against a vicious army outnumbering him one thousand to one. One man can make a huge difference. Sam Childers certainly does."
And President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda: "The Reverend Sam Childers has been a very close friend to the government of South Sudan for many years and is a trusted friend."
It is little wonder then that the book lends itself to an action movie, and indeed Lionsgate, the leading next-generation studio has officially acquired the North American distribution rights to this fact-based, powerful and inspiring action/drama, with principal photography beginning in July this year in both Detroit, Michigan and then South Africa.
Directed by Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace), the film is the studio's first collaboration with Forster since the Oscar-winning Monster's Ball. In addition to 300 star Butler in the role of Childers, the cast includes Michelle Monaghan (Mission: Impossible III) as his wife, Lynn Childers, Oscar nominee Michael Shannon (The Runaways, Jonah Hex) as Childers's best friend Donnie, Madeline Carroll (The Spy Next Door) as his daughter Paige, Kathy Baker (Last Chance Harvey) as his mother Daisy Childers, and Souleymane Sy Savane (Damages) as Deng, Childers's right-hand-man in Africa.
The screenwriter is Jason Keller. Forster will produce under company Apparatus Productions alongside Robbie Brenner, Gary Safady and Craig Chapman of Kaushi Entertainment, and Deborah Giarratana of GG Filmz.
Executive producers are Myles Nestel of Merlina Entertainment, Brad Simpson of Apparatus, Gerard Butler, Alan Siegel and Louise Rosner.
"When I learned about Sam Childers," said Brenner, "I thought, here is a man who is making a difference, defying the odds and not just talking about what he believes but actually doing it. Seldom do you find a story that is gripping and relatable but is also about something bigger.
Here was a movie that begged to be made. Jason Keller wrote an exceptional screenplay, and I can think of no one better able to depict this story than my dear friend, Marc Forster."
Casting for supporting actors, featured roles and extras took place in Los Angeles, New York, Detroit and Johannesburg where Moonyeenn Lee and Associates of Rosebank cast for the Ugandan scenes.
"We have cast a lot of local South Africans for these scenes," says Lee. "The director Marc Forster came out for the casting sessions and was very impressed with the local talent".
Principal photography in Gauteng began on 23 August and the shoot is expected to take five weeks, with the province doubling for Uganda in the movie.
The South African scenes are expected to be shot on 16mm anamorphic with some 35mm, and the processing will be at The Film Lab in Johannesburg. Metal Moon is the marketing and publicity company, and Moonlighting Film Production Services are the local facilitating company.