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Dustin Plantholt’s “Life’s Tough—You Can Be Tougher” podcast this week features Jon Erwin, renowned American Christian-film director and producer, screenwriter and author. Jon, along with his brother Andrew have had four feature films all opening in the top-ten movies in America and collectively grossing more than $100 million at the U.S. box office. They are also among only eight directors to receive the incredibly rare A+ CinemaScore twice, joining a list that includes Stephen Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis.
This “Life’s Tough” episode released on August 12th, 2020 and is now available on all major podcast networks, under the Podcast Channel “Life’s Tough”.
Jon Erwin was born in Birmingham, Alabama and is the son of Senator Hank Erwin and grandson of Medal of Honor recipient and World War II veteran, Henry Eugene “Red” Erwin, Sr.
Jon began his career—as a teenager—working as a camera operator for ESPN in his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. Soon after he embarked on a fulltime career as a sports cameraman covering University of Alabama games all over the country—working with ESPN College Football Primetime, FOX NFL, the NBA, and covered events like the X Games and the Super Bowl. In 2002, Jon and his brother Andrew started their own production company, venturing into creating commercials, documentaries, and music videos. They found enormous success in the world of music, directing music videos and producing concerts and television programs for platinum artists like Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Casting Crowns, Switchfoot, Skillet, and others. The brothers received eleven nominations and were honored with wins for Music Video of the Year at the GMA Dove Awards for three consecutive years.
The Erwin Brothers have also produced and directed several documentaries, including the multi-award winning 9/11 story, The Cross And The Towers; a music documentary with Third Day, Live Relations; a documentary filmed in the Galapagos Islands, The Mysterious Islands; and the international dramatic short-film series, God Provides.
In 2010 the Erwin Brothers shifted their focus and began exclusively developing dramatic feature films—setting a level of expectation for authenticity and storytelling that is a cut above. Their debut feature, released by Samuel Goldwyn, was the coming-of-age OCTOBER BABY, which opened as a top-ten movie in America and eventually earned more than $5 million at the box office. Their second feature film, MOMS’ NIGHT OUT, was released in 2014 by Sony’s AFFIRM Films and Provident Films—a family comedy starring Sarah Drew, Patricia Heaton, Sean Astin, and Trace Adkins. In 2015 they released their third feature film, WOODLAWN, which starred Jon Voight, Sean Astin, and newcomer Caleb Castille, that was met with critical acclaim and received an A+ CinemaScore. Their 2018 music biopic, I CAN ONLY IMAGINE, shocked the entertainment industry to become the number one independent movie of 2018 and the highest grossing film in the history of its distributor, collecting more than $83 million in box office revenue on a production budget of just $7 million. In 2018, the brothers and their filmmaking collaborator Kevin Downes announced the formation of Kingdom Story Company, a production company specializing in Christian films that will be distributed through Lionsgate. Some will be directed by the Erwins, while other movies will use newcomers and other veteran directors.
Jon is also proud to announce the release of his first book—available on August 18th—BEYOND VALOR: A World War II Story of Extraordinary Heroism, Sacrificial Love, and a Race against Time, co-written with William Doyle—an award-winning New York Times bestselling author and television producer. This dramatic biography of Red Erwin—Jon’s grandfather— is supported by 15 years of research, which includes interviews with fellow crewmen, oral histories, and Erwin family correspondence and press interviews. Readers learn about Red Erwin’s exceptional life, from growing up as the son of a coal miner in Birmingham, Alabama, becoming the man of the house at age 10 when his father died, to joining the army reserve as an aviation cadet. Red Erwin’s dream was to become a pilot, but he struggled with landings and instead accepted a reassignment as a radio operator, which led to the fateful journey.
At the same time, readers follow as Erwin meets Martha Elizabeth “Betty” Starnes at church, the woman who would become the love of his life — the woman who stayed by his side for fifty-seven years, through more than forty surgeries, through Erwin’s pain and despair, his reentry into civilian life and the start of his career at the Veterans Administration, where he dedicated himself to helping veterans for the next thirty-seven years. Readers discover that, despite his broken body, Erwin lived the rest of his life to the fullest. He thrived personally and professionally, raised four children, was patriotic and cherished representing the Medal of Honor, while most importantly, remaining strong in his faith.
“Today my brother and I are partners in a thriving entertainment business, and we strive to be of service to others by telling stories that have the power to uplift and inspire people,” writes Jon. “In our day-to-day work, the memory and lessons of Red Erwin inspire us with the ideals of endurance and perseverance, of pushing ourselves toward something that we believe is right and worth fighting for. The difference between success and failure can be when an individual chooses to quit. And I’ve found that the people who are successful are the people who can go above and beyond. I learned that from my grandfather.”
Beyond Valor is the miraculous true story of a soldier’s unspeakable heroism, a woman’s unfailing love, the faith that secured them all, as told through the lens of his loving grandson.
Join Dustin and Jon for a candid interview on Jon’s successful film career and listen how his faith is instrumental in the stories he tells. Jon says, “My brother and I tell stories that showcase the power of the gospel … I think that the values that we hold dear as Christians are immensely appealing — things like sacrifice and virtue and honor and destiny and things like that … and when they’re presented correctly, they’re appealing to everybody.”