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Interview: Filmmaker Kevin Downes of ‘Mom’s Night Out’

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The comedy film Mom’s Night Out will release on May 9 over Mother’s Day weekend. I was fortunate enough to see an advanced preview of Mom’s Night Out this past April in Dayton, Ohio and got to talk with producer/filmmaker/actor Kevin Downes about the film.

The filmmaking brothers Andrew and Jon Erwin (October Baby) teamed up again to direct and produce this comedy. The 98-minute laugh fest stars Sarah Drew (TV’s Grey’s Anatomy) as Allyson, a mother struggling to find her personal and emotional footing amid frenetic family life. Her best friend Izzy, played by Andrea Logan White, and Pastor’s wife, played by Patricia Heaton, plan a night out that predictably does not go according to plan.

Producer Kevin Downes plays Sean’s video-game-loving friend, who helps him care for the kids while the moms are away. Co-executive producer David Hunt plays a memorable taxi driver in the film, and is Heaton’s real-life husband, while Allyson’s husband Sean, is played by Sean Astin (Lord of the Rings). Sean’s half sister Bridgette, played by Abbie Cobb (TV’s The Secret Life of the American Teenager, Suburgatory), adds an important situation to the plot. Harry Shum Jr. plays Joey, who is dating Bridgette; Robert Amaya (Courageous) plays Izzy’s husband.

Sammi Hanratty plays her daughter Zoe. Alex Kendrick makes a great addition as Pastor Ray as he and other fellow filmmakers/producers. Trace Adkins plays motorcycle gang member Bones, the owner of a local tattoo parlor. Supporting roles include Jason Burkey as a bowling alley DJ, Manwell Reyes as the tattoo parlor desk clerk, and Anjelah Johnson-Reyes as a restaurant hostess. This film has some genuine moments, great comedy, and authentic situations that won’t make you feel uncomfortable because there is no inappropriate content to make you feel uncomfortable.

Downes recently agreed to answer my questions about Mom’s Night Out and his other filmmaking projects.

How did you approach the casting for Mom’s Night Out?

Most of the cast was handpicked by me and Jon Erwin. Jon has a certain number of people in mind. Roberto Amaya for Lizzy’s husband. Alex Kendrick for the pastor. Andrea wanted to play Izzy. Many people from our “friend sphere.” We choose people obviously comfortable in the roles.

Mom’s Night Out was shot it on location in Birmingham, Alabama. Is the film set there, or is it just a stand in for a general Southern setting?

It wasn’t any town in particular. Just anywhere in the U.S.A. where there might be people with a Southern accent.

Like Heaton’s southern accent?

Yes, and Alex Kendrick’s accent was always there, just not from a specific place.

You and your brother Bobby, who also started ChristianCinema.com, have a unique production company, Downes Brothers Entertainment in Visalia, California.

Yes, we have greatly enjoyed it. PureFlicks is similar to ChristianCinema.com and was founded by David White who partnered with Erwin brothers.

You and Bobby won awards for Like Dandelion Dust, which starred Mira Sorvino, Barry Pepper, Maxell Perry Cotton and Cole Hauser, at the Fort Collins TriMedia Festival

Like Dandelion Dust was a very personal story. It was about child adoption and sacrificial love, which were experiences I was encountering in my life at that time with my son. We work on making movies for audiences where they will respond well. I try to see how and why they would fall in love with it [the film].

This first half of the year has featured a prominent pack of faith-based and Biblically themed films

Excited fact that I look in the top 10 and see film about faith based lives. At first it was difficult to get any discussion going; now it’s at the forefront. Mom’s Night Out represents a genuine comedy. My wife and I’s little ones along with the Erwins’ toddlers are all under six year old, so I was excited to share the film with them and celebrate this success.

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You had a prominent acting role in Kendrick’s Courageous (among many others) and your next acting role will be in To The Wall, which will release in early 2015. How do you find the time to fit in acting roles among your busy producing, writing and various filmmaking duties?

You have to juggle time. In producing, I’m very hands-on. One film consumes a lot of my time. Projects need the devotion and required time for several years. These projects must also resonate with my heart. I trust God to lead me. I also must know my audience.

Many recent film projects have become their own “film schools” for aspiring filmmakers and you have almost 20 years in filmmaking experience. What advice would you give someone trying to get a start in the film industry/performing arts?

First, make the decision to do it. Dave White and I made that decision in 1997. We made the script for The Moment After. We got on our knees and prayed. I didn’t even know how to make a film. Second, never give up. Results are not instant. Take some time. It depends on the goal. To make a film is like a marathon. You need perseverance. I’m called to be in this business to bring people closer to who God is. It’s a life-long, step-by-step journey.

Describe how Sony-TriStar Pictures/Affirm Films/Provident Films are building a successful distribution model for faith-based films.

People buy the tickets and determine how big or wide future film releases are. It’s been great to look back at earlier films like Facing the Giants. I think this success is just beginning. What happened in the first four months of this year can happen throughout the year…every year. This can change the culture. As Christian filmmakers, why can’t we make an impact and see the fruits of that?

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Did you have any video game experience before your role in Mom’s Night Out as Kevin?

(Laughs) Just those stand-up, coin-operated machines. Jon wrote and modeled this character after himself then pitched the role to me. It was something I had never done before. I love roles like Kevin. These characters have the most unassuming roles. They are often the smartest person in the room and nobody knows it or sees them that way. I enjoyed playing the character.

When I saw the advanced preview of Mom’s Night Out on April 1, 2014 I assumed this comedy wasn’t completely polished yet.

Yes, at that time we were in the middle of the post-production process. We still had to visual effects to add (laughs) People didn’t even realize we had any. We’re all finished with the film now (as of today).

Will there be an official soundtrack including the numerous songs including artists like Francesca Battistelli?

We’ll have to see. Provident owns the rights. It’s been very popular with our audiences and we’ve gotten great responses. It was a big effort. It’s full of great songs. Positive songs. We had a great music team overall for Mom’s Night Out.

My sincere thanks to Kevin Downes. Mom’s Night Out will release on May 9, 2014 over Mother’s Day weekend. Rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action.

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