Josh Shepherd, an independent journalist with bylines on numerous high-profile sites walks us through Netflix’s movie A Week Away, a new faith-based musical. Below, Josh speaks to the cast about the movie as well as diving into the strategy of Netflix potentially moving more into faith-based content.
Fans of movie musicals may be confused when they see the trailer for A Week Away, dropping March 26 on Netflix worldwide.
Sure, it plays like a sharply produced mash-up of High School Musical and Camp Rock with some vaguely religious elements.
But isn’t that Zac Efron-circa-2010 crooning, jumping, and holding his love interest tightly? Did producers use a time machine?
“I remember asking our casting director about Kevin [Quinn],” screenwriter/producer Alan Powell told me in an interview. “I said, ‘Listen, he’s incredible, but does he look too much like Zac Efron?’ Because it’s not like we put that in the casting call.”
She shot back: “I’m sorry, are you upset with me that I found you someone who looks ‘too much’ like one of the best-looking people in Hollywood?”
More than surface-level looks, A Week Away has a lot going for it. By walking the line between tongue-in-cheek send-up of coming-of-age tropes and earnest faith-conscious storytelling, this energetic musical checks all the boxes—and then some.
Camp Rock Meets Christ
For years, Netflix has pushed into tween entertainment to beat Disney at their own game. A Week Away is no exception, featuring emerging stars including Quinn (Disney Channel’s Bunk’d) and Jahbril Cook (upcoming Disney Channel movie Spin).
“I’ve gotten a lot of people joking about how I keep getting these camp roles—and they’re not wrong,” said Quinn. “That said, A Week Away [with] its romance-teenager vibe is definitely a different world from that Disney show.”
As with any worthwhile musical, memorable songs are the secret sauce. One of Disney’s go-to songwriters, Adam Watts (High School Musical) helmed the music team.
He spoke in a Zoom interview from his home studio. “Creating a musical, the music plays such an important role in storytelling. Similar to Camp Rock, I’m starting with a script and the songs are there to move the story from A to C, with B being the music.”
But there’s a twist. Four new songs by Watts are intermixed with seven contemporary Christian music standards from the past 30 years.
Anyone remotely adjacent to evangelical faith will recognize songs like “Awesome God,” “Place In This World,” and “The Great Adventure.” While each remixed song works in the story, it also plays on nostalgia that even former churchgoers—and they are legion—have for the tunes.
Reaching the Faithful
Premiering on Netflix one week prior to Easter Sunday, consistently a lucrative weekend for faith-based family entertainment, A Week Away could be viewed as the top streamer’s strategic move to bring back disaffected former subscribers.
Last fall, pushback from some U.S. subscribers about French coming-of-age film Cuties led many to cancel Netflix according to some analysts. Recently, a scene in animated TV-MA comedy Paradise P.D. raised the ire of some viewers. These issues underline how difficult it can be for any global entertainment studio to navigate cultural and values variances.
With this musical, Netflix has partnered with Hollywood veterans who happen to be true believers.
Powell, son of a Christian minister, has been working on this jukebox musical of Christian radio hits for seven years. It finally took off when he met producer Steve Barnett, whose 25 years with major studios includes such hits as A Walk to Remember for Warner Bros.
Their casting process landed on several stars who profess Christian faith, notably co-lead Bailee Madison. She speaks freely about how her character’s journey reflects her own.
“All of these qualities of her, I find in myself,” said Madison, known for her recurring role in ABC’s Once Upon A Time and films including Brothers opposite Jake Gyllenhaal. “She has faith and that’s what she chooses to believe in, but she’s not sure of things. She’s not by any means perfect. She is messy, but she loves that about herself.”
Powell recognized many in the cast resonated with his story “probably because of their own faith,” though it wasn’t a mandate on filmmakers’ part. “Some productions have essentially required faith, but we did not. Across the board, we just wanted the best people for the job.”
Responding to Evolving Faith Market
A Week Away marks the first project for Monarch Media, led by producers Barnett and Powell with financier Vicky Patel backing the venture.
As CEO of the “faith-friendly” studio, Barnett notes Christian families in the U.S. are “becoming pickier about the quality of the content” they consume. “Most of the major studios and streamers want to be in the faith market, but they don’t totally understand it,” he said.
Recent events confirm his take. Last year, inspirational biopic Clouds—the story of a Catholic family’s crisis and ultimate hope—became one of few films Disney Plus acquired rather than produced in-house. In November, Sony Pictures bought faith market-focused streamer Pure Flix where it plans to reach families with “impactful” films.
Dozens of faith-based films are still produced annually for a small Christian subculture, yet some filmmakers in this space have honed their craft and found wider success.
Producer DeVon Franklin, whose faith films have earned over $175mm at the global box office, inked a first-look agreement with Paramount in 2019. Similarly, Lionsgate struck a deal with filmmaker brothers Jon and Andrew Erwin (I Can Only Imagine) for them to produce multiple inspirational films per year for the major studio.
Eclectic upcoming projects from Monarch will target diverse audiences including The Black Belt, a karate-focused comedy starring Chris Pratt; based-on-true-events action thriller Havoc from South Korean director Byung-gil Jung; and a musical starring country music duo Florida Georgia Line. Producers did not indicate whether Netflix may be a partner on future projects.
“As a company, we want to thread these movies with faith and inspiration,” said Barnett. “Similar to The Greatest Showman, we see universal themes in A Week Away that are also uniquely applicable to the Christian way of life.”
‘Spreading Love, Hope, and Light’
It’s an undeniably fun, campy, faith-and-family musical with a stellar soundtrack. Yet producers intend for viewers to take away more from A Week Away than singable melodies.
“We hope that the audience has a blast,” said Powell. “And we certainly hope that they wrestle with things that are meaningful.”
It seems poised to become a must-see for musical lovers, along with current or former evangelical Christians curious how this subculture is portrayed to a global audience.
Co-star Madison contends the message is an inclusive one. “You don’t have to be on a certain path to be able to watch this movie,” she said. “You don’t have to have it all together. [Our] hope is it spreads love, hope, and light along the way while you watch it.”
Freelance journalist Josh M. Shepherd writes about culture, faith, and public policy issues. His work has been published by outlets including The Stream, What’s On Disney Plus, The Federalist, Christianity Today, Family Theater Productions, and Faithfully Magazine.