Faith-based films need a new PR agent, says veteran actor Corbin Bernsen.
The "L.A. Law" alum tells a story about a cocktail party where he told some peers he was looking for actors to star in a faith-friendly film he was prepping to direct. One woman recoiled from his comment as if she were a vampire and he had shoved a garlic wreath in her face.
People too often connect religion, be it Christianity or Islam, with the very worst elements of those respective faiths.
"It sends out a big message - yuck," Bernsen tells Big Hollywood. That's particularly true in Hollywood, he says. For example, he says major stars avoid faith-based projects.
The actor wishes it weren't so.
Bernsen, while busying himself with a recurring role on USA Network's "Psych," has a robust second career directing faith-positive films. His latest project, "3 Day Test," played during the Heartland Film Festival, which runs through Saturday.
The film follows a frazzled, detached dad (George Newbern, "Father of the Bride") who orders his family to abandon all electronic gizmos in order to connect on a deeper level.
"There's nothing wrong with being a capitalistic society, but it's taken the place of faith," he says. Modern gadgets "fill our time and moments of quietness. It needs to be dialed back," he says. "I write from what I know. I'm guilty as charged with the rest of everybody."
Bernsen shot "3 Day Test" in Akron, Ohio, hardly the first place that comes to mind for a film production.
"I love going into the heartland," he says, while adding the tax incentives appealed to his inner pragmatist. "I like energizing Main Street, that's where the middle class is ... we've abandoned Main Street."
Bernsen, who oversees the Home Theater Films production company, connects with the mission of the Heartland Film Festival.
"Heartland accepts films about inspirational things, not just turning over the rock and looking at the ugly things these films expose ... it shows somebody defeating it," he says. Yet he fears few people will see some of the excellent festival films on display.
"This film genre needs a Harvey Weinstein of its own," he says, the sort of larger than life promoter to throw his or her weight behind it. That doesn't demand a huge theatrical wave, it could be as simple as a developing a new Netflix channel devoted to like-minded films.
Bernsen is worried about the future of "3 Day Test." He knows he faces an uphill battle promoting the movie in a marketplace teeming with metrosexual vampires and superheroes.
Even Bernsen's wife of 25 years, actress Amanda Pays, doesn't quite understand his choice in directorial projects. She wonders why he isn't making "hip" movies, he says.
"We're trying to do things that explore faith, that lean toward it," he says. It's a way of addressing whathe sees in society today.
"It ain't what it was like when i was a kid," Bernsen says, while adding he knows "every old guy says that, I'm sure."
He means it all the same.
"There's a sense of hopelessness, a futility in everything we do," he says.
Bernsen isn't interested in preaching to his audience, per se. He just wants to nudge them to draw whatever conclusions they wish.
"I want to open the door ... I wanna walk people to the Grand Canyon ... show the beauty and color, and say, 'you tell me.'" he says.
Follow Christian Toto on Twitter @TotoMovies