'The Bible' Producers: Hollywood Thought 'We Were Going to Go Away' After Miniseries

'There Really Aren’t Any Rules'
Austin Hargrave

“There really aren’t any rules,” says Burnett, who can boast six series on air in the U.S., including The Apprentice, Shark Tank, The Sing-Off and Trust Me, I’m a Game Show Host. “Someone once said, ‘Nobody knows anything,’ and I think that’s so true. People said to us, ‘Nobody’s going to watch the Bible on primetime television,’ and those same people were so shocked when millions of people tuned in. But we weren’t surprised.”

Mark Burnett and Roma Downey appeared at a National Prayer Breakfast event in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. "Just being Christian doesn't give you the excuse to make bad movies," Burnett says.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Mark Burnett and wife Roma Downey took their marketing effort for Son of God -- a feature film based on their television miniseries The Bible -- to a very receptive audience on Thursday: attendees of the National Prayer Breakfast. While there, the producer best known for reality TV shows such as Survivor, Shark Tank and The Voice, told a standing-room-only audience that the entertainment industry isn't especially hospitable to overtly Christian projects nowadays.

"Most of Hollywood thought when The Bible series ended that we were going to go away and just get back to doing our other shows. And they were wrong, because we absolutely love Jesus," Burnett said to cheers.

Burnett also gave a dig at other filmmakers who have tried to bring faith-based movies to mainstream audiences recently but with little success.

VIDEO: First 'Son of God' Trailer 

"Just being Christian doesn't give you the excuse to make bad movies," he said, without giving examples. When he was pitching the idea of a feature film about the life of Jesus, he said the question he'd hear was: "Is this going to be another crappy Christian film?"

"They did not believe we could deliver a secular, high-quality movie," he said. "We sent it out, and 20th Century Fox called us and said, 'We want to put this in 3,000 theaters everywhere.' Only God could do that. Only God could do that."

Burnett and Downey, who plays Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the film, spoke several hours after the main event, where President Barack Obama, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle and other guests led prayers, read Scripture and made religiously themed speeches for a couple of hours. The president and Bethany Hamilton, subject of the film Soul Surfer, bonded over their love of Hawaii and surfing.

In a room near to where the president spoke, Burnett and Downey showed 30 minutes of their 135-minute movie, bringing many believers in the audience to tears at the Resurrection scene. Then the couple asked for help marketing the film, which opens Feb. 28.

"We are going to spend around $10 million on commercials, and that is nothing. You may not even see a commercial for this. ... The only chance we've got is the church community spreading the word," Burnett said. "We carried the backpack so far. We made it; we unbelievably got it in theaters everywhere. It's now a great time for people to bring groups and bring people with them who need this message, who need to know who Jesus is."

STORY: 20th Century Fox to Distribute Jesus Christ Movie 'Son of God' 

They also touted opportunities for churches to premiere the film a day or two prior to its opening and pitched posters, handbills and yard signs for sale. For $600, attendees could purchase 10,000 Son of God postcards. 

"When we first set out on this journey, they all thought we lost our minds. ... My husband has a particular ability to not hear the word 'no' ... he kicked all the doors down," Downey said. "There was an opportunity to bring Jesus to the big screen, and he hasn't been on the big screen in a film since The Passion of the Christ, and that was 10 years ago ... and his whole life hasn't been on the big screen in almost 50 years, since the Greatest Story Ever Told."

Email: Paul.Bond@THR.com