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‘We’ve got to lighten up’

Christian comedy is an emerging film genre, says director of ‘The Secret Handshake,’ shot with assistance from Lipscomb University students.

Howie Klausner directs Kevin Sorbo and Amy Grant in “The Secret Handshake.” (PHOTO PROVIDED BY TOWN SQUARE PICTURES)

As a marching band plays, a streaking, half-naked boy runs across a field and grabs a flag away from a young woman in the color guard.

Then Hercules himself, Kevin Sorbo, rushes to the girl’s rescue.

And the director yells, “Cut!”

It’s just another day in the graduate program of Lipscomb University’s newly formed College of Entertainment and the Arts. 

Josh Link

Josh Link, a student at the Nashville, Tenn., university, earned course credit for serving as second assistant camera operator for “The Secret Handshake,” starring Sorbo (of TV’s “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys” and last year’s faith-based film “God’s Not Dead“) and singer/songwriter Amy Grant. Five other Lipscomb graduate students also served as interns on the film.

“The whole shoot was a blast,” Link told The Christian Chronicle in an e-mail from the Cannes Film Festival in France. “It was just fun coming in everyday to make a movie together.” 

Link is a member of Ethos Church, a congregation planted in partnership with the Harpeth Hills Church of Christ in Brentwood, Tenn.  

Shot in and around Nashville and on Lipscomb’s campus, the film is a Christian comedy — a relatively new and growing genre, pioneered by films including last year’s “Moms’ Night Out.” 

“The Secret Handshake” runs in select theaters nationwide throughout the summer and will come to DVD exclusively at Walmart June 2. 

FROM RIDICULOUS TO REAL

The film’s director, Howie Klausner, has worked as a writer and producer for more than 20 years. His co-writing credits include Clint Eastwood’s 2000 film “Space Cowboys.” 

Since his start in Los Angeles, Klausner has moved to Nashville. He wrote the 2010 faith-based film “The Grace Card.” He formed a production company, Town Square Pictures with producer Tim Brown. Klausner and Brown serve on Lipscomb’s Film and Creative Media Board. 

Mike Fernandez

“Tim and Howie have really helped build our grad program,” said Mike Fernandez, dean of Lipscomb’s College of Entertainment and the Arts. “A natural, long-term partnership would be beneficial to both our missions.” 

“Secret Handshake” is a first fruit of that relationship. The film begins on a funny note, with Sorbo’s character Roy living what Klausner calls a “ridiculous suburban life,” as father to three daughters and a mildly fulfilling job as a book editor. Klausner himself has three teen daughters. His eldest, Kate, portrays Sorbo’s daughter, Ashley. 

“I can relate to the film because I have three small kids myself,” Sorbo told Lipscomb’s Lumination Network during a visit to campus to film scenes for the movie. “The way he wrote it, I laugh because these are things that have happened to me with my kids. It’s easy to connect with.”

In the film, Sorbo’s character stops laughing when he learns that a boy is stalking his daughter. Amy Grant plays the boy’s mother, whom Sorbo confronts, only to realize that she is recently widowed. 

A camera crew, including Lipscomb students, surrounds Kevin Sorbo during filming of “The Secret Handshake” in the Ezell Center. (PHOTO BY ERIN TURNER, LIPSCOMB LUMINATION NETWORK)

This is where the film leaves the mundane, mildly absurd aspects of suburbia and begins to explore serious biblical truths, Klausner said.

The themes for the film are Solomon’s admonition to “train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6) and the New Testament command to “visit orphans and widows in their trouble” (James 1:27). 

“We need to be on the lookout for orphans and widows, as the Lord told us,” Klausner said. “If that means mowing a yard or mentoring a boy, that’s what we need to do.” 

MAKING THE MAINSTREAM LAUGH

For Klausner, this mandate is especially personal. At age 13, his father died, leaving his mother with four children to raise alone.

Lipscomb University hosts a red-carpet premier of “The Secret Handshake” on its Nashville, Tenn., campus May 27. Click here for tickets.

The film will immediately benefit orphans in Nashville. Lipscomb University will host a red-carpet premier on campus May 27, with proceeds from ticket sales going to The Family Foundation, a Nashville nonprofit that seeks to nurture boys with absent fathers into successful, Christ-centered manhood, according to its website.

By participating in the production, “I’ve learned more than I could possibly learn in a classroom,” graduate student Wes Speight told Lumination.“I’ve learned a great deal about lighting and how that works. Also, how they communicate with other departments and how the director communicates with them.”

Klausner said he enjoyed working with the students — and that he sees potential for them to one day make their own feature films. 

He also sees a future for faith-based comedies. 

“We’ve got to be able to reach out to a mainstream audience, and the easiest way to do that is to laugh,” he said. “To cast that wider net, we’ve got to lighten up. 

“I have a pretty good feeling that Jesus laughed a fair amount. I think we’re entering a new era of Christian filmmaking, and I’m grateful.”

In “The Secret Handshake,” Kevin Sorbo plays a character very different from the atheist professor he portrayed in his previous faith-based film, “God’s Not Dead.” Read our review of the 2014 film. (PHOTO PROVIDED BY PURE FLIX ENTERTAINMENT)

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