In full disclosure, I first met Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman when they came to a talk I gave at Family Theater in Hollywood nearly ten years ago. They have plied their trade in Hollywood for more than 25 years and in the process worked with the likes of Sylvester Stallone before they felt called to the faith based genre. In some ways they easily move within the popular culture that Hollywood created. However in other ways, they are more akin to Old Testament figures warning that the pop culture Hollywood cultivated is more like a dessert mirage drawing the unsuspected further into the wilderness and taking the lifeblood out of them. They have built up a tremendous amount of goodwill and admiration from all sides. Below is an interview I conducted with them on March, 31, 2019.
Dave Hartline After you read Abby Johnson’s book Unplanned, how did you set out to tell her story via the silver screen?
Cary Solomon & Chuck Konzelman The first thing we did, after securing the rights to Abby’s book and her life story, was head for Texas to do our research. We spent about a week or ten days meeting with Abby and Doug — as a couple, and individually. Meeting with Abby’s mom and dad. Meeting with Shawn and Marilisa Carney — the couple on the ‘other side of the fence’ during Abby’s eight years with Planned Parenthood, since they were leading the Coalition For Life (now 40 Days For Life). We also spoke with Jeff Paradowski, the brilliant, charismatically offbeat personal injury attorney who represented both Abby and Shawn when Planned Parenthood came looking to destroy them. And we reviewed the court transcripts of the (very short) court hearing which took place before all of the trumped-up charges which Planned Parenthood was looking to level against Abby were dismissed. We ended up with an ‘embarrassment of riches’ in terms of material… and then had to go about paring it down into something that would work in terms of a film.
Dave Hartline There is a lot of talk about redemption in the film Unplanned. Abby Johnson said she ended up disliking herself in the first half of the film, but loved how you showed the redemptive component in her choices in the second half of the film.
Cary Solomon & Chuck Konzelman Yes. Abby was stuck in the position of ‘watching herself’ on screen. And a lot of the things she’s doing, in the first half of the film, are decidedly not things that a pro-life person would agree with. It can’t have been a very comfortable experience. What makes everything understandable, sympathetic, empathetic and forgivable — from the audience’s point of view — is that all Abby ever wanted to do was help women. That’s the one thing that was ‘always true’ at the core of her journey. That’s very clear to the audience, but ironically Abby probably right looks past it– since it’s always hard to be objective about yourself. Meaning the viewing experience probably harder for her.
Dave Hartline It seems many in the mainstream media and entertainment community have taken a turn toward the far left. Both of you are devout Catholics and are familiar with the writings of Saint John Paul the Great. How did you present the struggle of the Culture of Life and the Culture of Death via a faith component in the movie?
Cary Solomon & Chuck Konzelman It frames the story… but very organically. Abby lived her life surrounded simultaneously by both cultures. As far as the Culture of Life? Abby’s mom and dad were Southern Baptists, and very much pro-life. Abby’s husband Doug was a high school special education teacher… meaning that many, of his students likely would have been terminated in utero had their parents known about their conditions ahead of time. Abby and Doug were regular churchgoers… and there were a number of times where the sermon and what she was doing for a living were in conflict. And as far as the Culture of Death? It’s what Abby had dedicated all of her professional energy to, and she was very good at her job. At the time of her ‘conversion’ to the pro-life movement? Abby was ‘Employee of the Year’ for the entire Gulf Coast States region of Planned Parenthood. Kind of ironic… given that they occasionally try to malign her as some sort of disgruntled employee. We’ve actually recommended that the next time they try it? Abby should pose for her publicity photo holding the trophy.
Dave Hartline The reactions of the Left have been predictable to the movie. Unplanned was given an R rating which seems comical with what passes for PG-13 in other films. Outside of Fox News and CBN, all commercial outlets refused to take advertising money for your film even though some of them have no problem doing the same for Planned Parenthood and its affiliates. The movie’s twitter account was inexplicably suspended for a time. It seems we have been hearing the word collusion a lot in the last two years. Have we finally found collusion? Should we tell Robert Mueller that the very people who brought up the subject have been participating in it by trying to deny access to your film?
Cary Solomon & Chuck Konzelman They don’t need collusion to act against the film: they’re already all of like mind. It’s more akin to racism… or ingrained bias. Talk to a thousand hard core racists independently, and they don’t need any communication between them, or any collusion to do the wrong thing. So when we wanted to license studio-controlled music? Sony (which blocked our acquisition for Girls Just Wanna Have Fun) didn’t have to call Disney (which refused to license some old score music from The Guardian), or Warner Brothers (which refused to license other material) to urge them to turn down our fully-funded offers.
It’s the same thing for cable network refusal to air our ads: Lifetime didn’t need to call HGTV, Hallmark or Up to urge them to refuse our ad buys. They did it as reflexively as a person jerks their knee if a doctor pings it with a rubber hammer. That’s our industry. And it’s no coincidence that our worst reviews are either industry-based (e.g. Variety) or left-leaning (e.g. Daily Beast). Variety’s review was so malicious that Variety’s reader comments — and let’s remember these are primarily entertainment industry execs and producers writing — were complaining that what was being presented as a film review was really just a political diatribe. And several of their female readers confessed to their shock to find themselves waking up on the pro-life side of the bed, after seeing the film.
Twitter didn’t need much prompting to suspend our account — although it’s unclear whether that was in internal management decision, or something done at the request of leftist trolls. But we consider either reason unacceptable, especially since they shut us down on opening night. But the reaction by pro-lifers was loud and swift… and within hours, they had reinstated us.
Before our Twitter account was suspended? We had 7,000 followers. Now? One day later? We have over 100,000. And our Twitter trailer views went from 300,000 to more than two million in something like eight hours. So whoever was trying to harm us doesn’t seem to have accomplished their goal. Yet — and this is interesting — despite all of this sudden interest? We’ve somehow never appeared on any ‘trending’ lists. Which would seem highly unlikely, if not impossible… unless someone was manipulating the algorithm results.
What’s also interesting is that every attempt to put an obstacle in the film’s way seems to boomerang around into an equivalent or greater benefit. So the MPAA’s ‘R’ rating — which would normally discourage much of our core demographic from seeing the film — has become a talking point. Glenn Beck has labeled it a ‘political R’. And Rev. Franklin Graham — who doesn’t normally endorse films — has come out in support of us a number of times. So when Franklin Graham is urging folks to go see an ‘R’ rated film? Something different is definitely going on.
And despite some critical attempts to bash the film? CinemaScore gave us an A+ rating — which is really an audience approval rating — something that only gets earned, on average, by two films a year. So we’re sharing the rating with past films like Finding Nemo, The King’s Speech, Return of the King, and other audience favorites. And we’re the only A+ film currently in release.
Dave Hartline You said in various interviews that you wanted no one to say;“I didn’t know with regard to what happens in the abortion industry and what it does to both the unborn child and the mother?” How did you go about setting that up in writing and directing the film?
Cary Solomon & Chuck Konzelman The story did that on its own. The tag line on our movie poster reads: What she saw changed everything… And it did. This was always going to be about the audience seeing what Abby saw. And once they see it? They can never un-see it. Their attitudes about the act of abortion are going to be changed forever.
Dave Hartline Some 20 years ago those on the Left said they wanted abortion to be safe, legal and rare. Now they celebrate third trimester abortions by lighting up the Empire State building. Even the born aren’t safe with the way some legislation is worded, not to mention the dubious comments of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam. What happened to our country in particular and the Western world in general? What do you hope your film can accomplish in this regard?
Cary Solomon & Chuck Konzelman First, let’s discuss the root of the change you brought up. ‘Safe, legal and rare’ was sort of an 80’s and 90’s mantra. HRC was one of those who embraced it. At its core, that statement recognizes that abortion isn’t a ‘good thing’; more a necessary evil than a positive good. But now? The left has embraced abortion as a positive good. It’s the cornerstone of militant feminism… which has successfully marketed the lie that female empowerment necessarily requires human sacrifice.
Over the last twenty years, the father’s power has passed to the son. And Mario Cuomo — who at least paid lip service to hoping we could find a better solution than abortion (while simultaneously demanding government funding for abortion, lest the procedure only be available to women of means) — has been replaced by Andrew Cuomo, who has stated publicly that pro-lifers aren’t welcome in the state of New York. Which sort of begs the question: Does governor Cuomo assume that Cardinal Archbishop Timothy Dolan is pro-choice… or does he consider him unwelcome in his own archdiocese?
As far as what we’re hoping to achieve with film? Ultimately, we’re hoping it becomes the Uncle Tom’s Cabin for this issue… the story that manages to reshape the opinion of an entire nation. When a famous conservative attorney (who we won’t name only because we haven’t asked permission to quote him) saw the film, he remarked “This is the cultural event we’ve been waiting for to overturn Roe”. So that’s the goal. That’s the Holy Grail.
You see, the left and the enemies of freedom have always understood the power of film. Lenin remarked that “Of all the arts, the cinema is the most important, which is why we must wrest it from them and turn it against them.” Hitler said, “Give me the screens of the world, and I will control the world.” And not long before his death, conservative icon Antonin Scalia privately remarked to Mark Joseph (who’s one of our marketing guys), “Things get decided in Hollywood. They only come to us for ratification.”
Before the ‘heartbeat bill’ which recently passed the Georgia state legislature? We screened the still-unreleased film for the Georgia house and senate. Our understanding is that it eased the bill’s passage in the senate. And the house vote — which took place last Friday, the same day we debuted theatrically? It passed by a vote of 92-78. Which doesn’t seem too close… until you realize that passage required 91 votes — half the house membership plus one — in order to become law.
In other words? The bill could easily have failed. Was our film the deciding factor? It’s hard to say for sure, but Georgia governor Brian Kemp has asked the lead actress for our film — Ashley Bratcher — to stand alongside him as he signs the bill into law. And since then? We’ve screened the film for another state legislature, in advance of a vote there. Which is why the left is smart enough to be concerned about this film. They understand that it’s a torpedo aimed squarely at the abortion industry… and are terrified of it gaining traction. Whether it can — or doesn’t — accomplish that goal, only time will tell. But conservatives might be wise to rally behind this film, if they don’t want to see a once-in-a-generation chance slip by.