“We have such a love for this catalog of music that we felt had such an opportunity to still speak, be relevant and be important,” Vasquez tells Billboard. “And we wanted to match that with the levity of church camp. We thought what a great place to be able to showcase what can happen in a kid’s life in camp and the story that can happen when they are just loved, received and welcomed. What if we put that life-changing story in a film with music, dance and something to say?”
Christian artist managers and publishers are thankful for the revival the songs are getting in the new musical. “I'm so excited for my dear friend Gabe Vasquez, who has been working tirelessly to bring his dream to reality for years,” says Amy Grant’s manager Jennifer Cooke. “So many of us have summer church camp as part of our collective memories and it makes perfect sense to use that setting as a backdrop to tell a story. I was elated when Gabe asked to include ‘Baby, Baby’ because I have always believed this song is timeless.”
Cooke acknowledges the song’s usage will be a walk down memory lane for parents who grew up with Grant’s music. “Many of the adults who will take their kids to see this film grew up listening to Amy, either on Christian or pop radio, and she is deeply entrenched in their musical memories,” Cooke says. “I also loved the idea of introducing the song to a new generation of listeners, because in addition to working together for 30 years this December, I am also her biggest fan and I believe every generation needs a good dose of Amy Grant music. Amy and I visited the set and were blown away when we heard the new version of the song. I have video of Amy jumping out of her seat and starting to dance with a huge smile on her face.”
Smith’s 1991 crossover hit “Place in This World” comes at a pivotal scene in the film and his camp is happy to see it included. “We are pleased to have the song as part of the movie,” Greg Ham, a partner in the MWS Group, says regarding the song, which was written by Smith, Grant and Wayne Kirkpatrick. “Gabe came to us very early on about the movie and what they were doing. We thought it was treated very well in the movie and are glad and fortunate to have an older copyright exposed again in a current production.”
Publishers are hopeful that exposure in the new film will generate renewed interest in some of these veteran artists' catalogs. “We see that currently with the songs we’re licensing for film and TV. It generates additional licensing,” says Lisa Stutts, director of licensing, Capitol CMG Publishing, who handles admin for Smith’s MWS Group Publishing as well as controls copyrights by Chapman, Grant and others. “When we have a song that runs in a promo, it generates additional uses. We still frequently license Amy Grant’s catalog. ‘Baby, Baby’ was just in Fresh Off the Boat, an ABC TV show. We have a portion of ‘Baby, Baby.’”
A Week Away has been a passion project that has taken Vasquez seven years to bring to the screen. “Film is just a slow process,” Vasquez sighs as he looks at the cast preparing to shoot one of the final scenes. “It’s hard finding the person who believes enough in what you are doing to also invest in the full process. We were new filmmakers and this idea hadn’t been done before, so new ideas are either scary or amazing when you are starting out with an unknown. A musical had never been done in our [faith-based entertainment] space. We’ve had a lot of dramas. I Can Only Imagine is a film that revolves around music and a song, but really for this musical, there was no comparison for it, so it took a while for the right people to come join us and to believe in it.”
The plot involves troubled teen Will Hawkins (Quinn) who has a run-in with the law and avoids a juvenile facility by instead going to a church youth camp. At first he’s a fish out of water, but soon finds friendship and acceptance. A Week Away was directed by Roman White. The film is being financed and executive produced by Vicky Patel. Barnett, Powell, and Vasquez are producing. WIT Media’s Corby Pons is co-executive producing and Bailee Madison is associate producer. Melena Rounis and Paul Becker are the choreographers on the film.
In addition to “Place in This World,” “Baby, Baby” and “The Great Adventure,” A Week Away includes Chapman’s “Dive,” Audio Adrenaline’s “Big House” and a mash-up of Rich Mullins’ classic “Awesome God” and for King & Country’s “God Only Knows.” The film also includes three new original tunes penned by Adam Watts (High School Musical 3, Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert). “Adam Watts wrote the new songs and is doing all of the new versions of the classic songs. He really reinvented them. It’s amazing,” says Vasquez. “It was a process. We really looked at the story and thought, ‘OK, what songs seemed to be called for this scene? What song makes sense in a big dance number? What song is saying something that we really want to say? What songs do we just love?’ We always knew that ‘Place In This World’ had to be in it and ‘The Great Adventure.’”
To find the actors, they enlisted LA-based casting agent Beverly Holloway, who also worked with I Can Only Imagine and Mom’s Night Out. “She came to the team really with an understanding of what we were wanting and hoping for,” Vasquez says of finding Madison and Quinn. “They’ve been so invested and super excited.”
Quinn, an aspiring singer/songwriter who plans to release original music soon, says he was drawn to the role because of “the people attached to the project and the potential I saw in the project. The selling point for me is the music and just I kept thinking if I were a 14 or 15-year-old kid and I heard this music and saw dancing and visuals and the plot throughout, I would be in awe. It’s just that powerful and the songs themselves are powerful.”
Madison appreciates the music and the film’s family friendly appeal. “I’ve been fortunate to be acting since I was 5 years old and I’ve tried my best to try to partake in things that families as a whole can watch, no matter what age you are,” says Madison, who is also writing and recording music for a debut project.
“It’s really hard to try to cross both worlds in an authentic way that makes sense,” the 20-year-old says of acting and singing. “I’d had music opportunities come up for me but nothing that really hit the heart and then I got this, and I was completely taken back. I’m getting to check off every box that my heart has ever dreamed of without sacrificing anything that I believed in and to me, this film is not just for younger kids. There’s something for everybody. It’s so multi-generational. Moms could take something from it. At end of the day, it’s about love and friendship and joy. It’s paying homage to all the films we used to have and lack now in this landscape. The music is great and it’s incredible.”
Quinn agrees. “I used to watch musical films when I was a kid, mostly on the Disney Channel,” says the 22-year-old Chicago native. “I remember being just captivated and there was this feeling that I felt like I want to be in their world. I want to be singing and dancing and going through whatever they are going through. It’s so powerful seeing the dancing and the songs come together as one. It literally gives you goose bumps. It’s cool because I know for kids who are going to see this now, we’re going to get those goose bumps again.”
A trailer of the actors singing Michael W. Smith’s “Place in This World” is below.