ODB Films is a non-profit Catholic video production ministry that “helps people encounter Christ through artfully-made, spiritually rich films.” The ministry has produced 200 short films, including a 60-film video catechism series for teens. More recently, it has begun producing full-length feature films, including Full of Grace (2015) and Paul, Apostle of Christ (2018; read CWR’s review). To produce Paul, ODB Films partnered with Sony Films, the first such partnership between a major studio and a Catholic ministry.
The company, headquartered in the Chicago suburbs, employs four. Eric Groth serves as President and CEO. According to Groth, ODB Films is “first and foremost a ministry. It belongs to God and we are the custodians.”
The company has been consecrated to Mary, Star of Evangelization, and is under the spiritual direction and leadership Bishop David Malloy of Rockford, Illinois. The staff regularly asks its supporters to offer prayers for the ministry’s success; in the case of Paul, for example, six women prayed daily for production to go well.
“We regularly pray together as a Team,” Groth noted, “and are committed to the personal development of our faith in Christ and his Church.”
Groth recently spoke to CWR.
CWR: How and why was ODB Films founded?
Eric Groth: I have a background as a Catholic youth minister. We found ODB—“Outside Da Box”—Films in 2005 to address a real need we had in working with youth.
I grew up in a good Catholic family. When I was sixteen, I went on a retreat. During a Reconciliation service, a light bulb went on in my head; I heard God speak to me in a clear way. I heard His message, “I love you and I died on the cross for you.” It turned me on fire for the Gospel, and I wanted to share it with my peers. I feel like God grabbed me, and said, “I want your life.”
I went on to earn a BA in Christian Education from Florida Southern College, and an MA in Pastoral Counseling and Specialized Ministries from Franciscan University of Steubenville. I then served as a campus minister for a high school in Rockford from 1993 to 1997.
Sharing the Gospel with youth has always been my passion. But, the challenge was always to use innovative technologies to reach teens, starting with boom boxes and slide projectors and moving on to all the technologies we have available to us today. I’m always trying to do creative and innovative things.
In the process of looking for Catholic videos I could use, I often found I couldn’t find any. So, I started tinkering and creating my own content. Technology was always improving, so I was able to make use of computers, editing programs and software and more, so I was able to make little films I could use in Bible studies, classes and retreats. I enjoyed using this as a means of engaging teens.
I then worked five years with Cultivation Ministries, which supports Catholic youth ministry, primarily in the Chicagoland and Michigan areas. We were hired by dioceses to put on youth rallies for junior high and high school students, as well as national youth conferences reaching thousands of teens.
At these events, people started to see the films I’d created, and asked if they could borrow them. So, I’d share them with others. I kept tinkering, learning video production, and doing projects for non-profits. As I got to know technologies, I felt that God was calling me to use New Media to evangelize.
ODB Films has since given away more than 30,000 DVDs and produced more than 200 short films that range in length from two to eight minutes. Our biggest project, which we created over a five-year period, was a 60-film video catechism. Much of this material is free to download on our website. We see ourselves as a resource organization, finding new and creative ways to communicate the Gospel message.
A few years ago we added a new component to our ministry, feature films, with our first films being Full of Grace and Paul, Apostle of Christ. It is our hope to stir up faith in the viewer.
CWR: You have Catholic clergy involved in your ministry.
Groth: Yes, we have a board of directors with clergy on the board. Fr. David Peck, my pastor at St. John Neumann Church in St. Charles, Illinois, for example, is a member. Bishop David Malloy serves as our Episcopal liaison to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It is important to us that we are accurate in communicating the Gospel, and that there is nothing heretical in what we produce.
CWR: How did you begin producing feature films?
Groth: During an eight-year period, we released one short film per month. In 2013, we had a request that we create something about the lives of the saints. We began meeting and talking about what we wanted to do, and ultimately we came out with Full of Grace, a reflection on the Blessed Mother’s final time on Earth. It wasn’t initially our intention to make a full length feature film.
Once we shot it, however, we knew there was something special about it. We held a buyer’s screening in Beverly Hills, and we sold it to Cinedigm and Mission Pictures International. We received a grant from Our Sunday Visitor and dubbed it into Spanish.
That first film became our calling card. T.J. Berden, our lead producer at ODB Films, worked with someone at Affirm Films, another production company, and that was our link to Sony. Sony bought the script for Paul, Apostle of Christ and hired us to make the film and market it to the Catholic world.
CWR: Were you pleased with how Paul did at the box office?
Groth: I am very pleased. We had a three-fold goal: 1) that many people go to the film, find it inspiring, and have it touch their lives, 2) that specifically Catholics go to the film, and 3) that it be profitable. The successful Christian movie Risen had an 11% box office of Catholics; our marketing data shows that 34% of the turnout for Paul was Catholic. And, since we had modest marketing and production budgets, Paul will be profitable due to the home entertainment side of the business. So often, I’ve learned, the box office markets sales of the film through home entertainment.
CWR: What projects do you have planned for the future?
Groth: We are developing two new feature film projects which we hope to release in Spring 2019 and Spring 2020. We’re strategizing ways we can reach out beyond the Christian base and attract the secular movie going population. We want to be savvy with our evangelism, drawing as many people as possible into the Gospel story.
CWR: Is ODB Films involved in other areas?
Groth: Yes, in addition to the short and feature films, churches hire us to do parish missions. We come for an evening to a parish to pray with the people, as well as tell them stories from our production. We do 30 to 50 of these events annually.
CWR: As a non-profit, what support do you need?
Groth: We need donors. About 50-65% of our budget comes from donors and grants. We do have other sources of revenue, but we rely on donors to operate. We may get money coming in from one of our films, but we typically re-invest that into the ministry.
CWR: You also solicit prayer support.
Groth: Yes. We’d be dead in the water without that. This ministry does not belong to us, but to God. We merely act as stewards and custodians.
We always pray to know God’s will for our lives, what people to hire and what projects to pursue. We’re constantly seeking divine help, and we want to keep that aspect of the ministry front and center. When we were producing for Full of Grace, for example, we had dozens of people who prayed a daily Memorare that we chose the right cast and crew. I think that was key to making that film a success.
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