Believe Pictures and Hallmark Reunite on The Shunning

2653734_com_brianbirdaShooting wrapped the last day of November on The Shunning, the latest Hallmark installment from Michael Landon, Jr.‘s Believe Pictures.

Plot of The Shunning Unfolds

The Shunning, based on the Beverly Lewis novel of the same name, is the story of Katie Lapp, a young Amish girl (Danielle Panabaker), who discovers on the eve of her wedding that she was adopted into her Amish family. Her English mother (Sherry Stringfield) arrives in town, looking for her. The realization of what this might mean to her life throws Katie into a complete identity crisis, and she comes to blows with both her family and the Amish population.

As a result of this new discovery, she walks out on her wedding and questions her very upbringing. She is subsequently shunned by everyone from her family to her best friend. No one will take her money. No one will talk to her. No one will eat with her or even sit at the same table with her. Her father (Bill Oberst, Jr., a South Carolina native), in his fear that she will leave the church, goes to the elders and then to Katie, asking for a confession of her sins. His plan backfires, and she is officially “shunned,” becoming essentially a non-person.

Executive Producer Brian Bird Reveals Secrets, Challenges of Producing Film

The movie was shot in Pennsylvania and North Carolina. On the last week of filming, I had the privilege of sitting down with Brian Bird, Executive Producer, to discuss the project.

One thing I learned almost immediately is that Bird is especially proud of the authenticity The Shunning brings to the small screen. “Most movies [about the Amish] are weak and make no attempt at authenticity or dialect. Either there is no research or the actors are not capable. We actually hired a dialect coach who knows the Pennsylvania Dutch. He coaches the material, records all the dialogue, and uses his own voice to show the actors how to properly pronounce their words. This is in addition to their own research. And the actors are doing a fantastic job.”

The project is very deliberate in this aspect, right down to period costumes and application of beards. Each man’s beard took 45 minutes to an hour to apply. With 26 men at the wedding, this scene alone took 5 hours of prep time before a single frame was shot.

With all the research and time involved, it would seem that authenticity would be Bird’s greatest challenge in getting this project wrapped. But that challenge was actually the state of the nation’s economy, which Bird describes as “the meltdown that took America by surprise.”

Though it took two years for the $2.3 million project to get underway, it was developed from the beginning with Hallmark in mind. Says Bird, “Once Hallmark committed, so did Sony Home Entertainment (Affirm Films).” Mission Pictures International is worldwide distributor. The North Carolina 25% tax incentive was a plus as well. And three-fourths of the crew is local to the area.

Television Writing Talents Expand

With crew and costumes in place comes the detail of characterization. This is Bird’s passion. Each actor in the project must portray a real, living, breathing three-dimensional person. “In a novel, you get to cheat. You can hear a character think, you can know what’s on their mind, you can write internally. In a movie, the only way you can come close to that is with a voiceover. And you can’t do voiceover very long. The only way a character can come alive is through dialogue, physical scenes. The big challenge is to do this correctly. How to develop it is huge. My passion is about that.”

And Bird knows his craft. After more than 25 years in the business, including as a writer and co-executive producer on Touched by an Angel, he has learned the ins and outs of the business. He has “earned his stripes.” And he’s all too aware of the privilege of this opportunity. “There are gifted people, geniuses in fact, who are sitting on the couch, never accomplishing their gift or realizing their potential.”

Believe Pictures is Born, Thrives

Bird began Believe Pictures with Michael Landon, Jr. in 2005. They’ve been friends for more than a decade and met while Bird was working on Touched by an Angel in Utah, where Landon was living at the time. “We always threatened to work together,” says Bird. But, with daily pressures of network television, there simply was no time. He was working or on call 24/7, with no weekends, no nights free. Meanwhile, Landon was having success with his Hallmark Love Comes Softly trilogy. Hallmark embraced this trilogy so much that the network approached Landon for more [of the same projects]. And Landon, in turn, approached Bird with the idea that, with their combined writing/directing/producing gifts, perhaps they should join forces. And so they did, creating a partnership with Believe Pictures.

“I always felt led to be a writer. I am grateful for the work I’ve done with other people. I had a fantastic opportunity. I don’t regret anything. But the opportunity to be truly in control with all the risks, to go for it, to make your own films, there’e nothing like it.”

Over the years, Believe’s work has included The Last Sin Eater and Saving Sarah Cain. Their mission is simple, to develop and produce faith-affirming projects with moral stories for film and television. And nothing happens without Bird and Landon’s oversight and approval.

The goal for The Shunning is to have the success of the Love Comes Softly series. It is Bird’s hope that the ratings for this project will warrant Hallmark to be on board for two more installments.

The Shunning Influence Reaches Across the Globe

Bird also hopes for viewer support with Believe’s World Vision project, Jamaa . “It is such an honor to be asked to make that movie.”

The film is the true story of two orphans from Uganda who travel across the country on a very hard journey to a new home.

World Vision approached Believe with the idea of a film they could take to churches all over America with the opportunity to sponsor a child.

The project was completed in just 6 weeks in Uganda using student filmmakers. “Every dime on screen was our gift back. It is a powerful story, and a million things could have gone wrong that didn’t.” And, this time, it’s all about the children. There’s no worry about ratings or box office results.

This is directly in line with the faith-sharing mission of Believe, as is The Shunning, which airs April 30 on Hallmark.

Cheryl has been a freelance TV/film writer for more than 10 years. Simultaneously, she has worked in PR for Bon Jovi Productions in NYC, PolyGram Records (also in NYC), and Rogers & Cowan Public Relations. Cheryl has published articles at, “Sci-Fi Entertainment” magazine, and “Soap Opera Weekly.” She was also a credited researcher for English author Denis Meikle’s JOHNNY DEPP: A KIND OF ILLUSION. Cheryl enjoys writing for the entertainment industry and meeting new people. She is also an animal lover. 

Article originally posted at Suite101.