By Diane Howard, Ph.D.
Into our present oppressive darkness, the new movie “A Week Away” shines joy and light and points the way to finding healthy, jubilant freedom, connection, and hope. When many have been in lockdowns and socially isolated in restrictive and sad situations, especially our young people (many of whom have been experiencing depression and loss of hope), this movie takes viewers through its young characters into the light of healthy outdoor sunshine, positive relationships, as well as gives joyful hope for the future.
Releasing globally on Netflix on March 26, 2021, “A Week Away” is the first redemptive, high-energy, dance musical of its kind. Troubled teen Will Hawkins (Kevin Quinn) has a choice to make—go to juvenile detention or attend a Christian summer camp. While at camp, and with the help of his music, new friends, and girl interest (Bailee Madison), he learns the healing powers of kindness, forgiveness, and faith can be found in the most unlikely of places.
I exclusively interviewed stars Kevin Quinn, Bailee Madison, and producer Alan Powell (who is a writer of both the original story, the screenplay, and contributor to many of the film’s originals songs), as well as Adam Watts, who is responsible for the music. With these four principals, I was able to discuss some of the significant elements of this timely, delightful movie.
In discussing major themes with this team of principals, Alan Powell notes that he wrote the story with his daughters in mind. He wants his daughters to know that they are beautiful and wonderful just as they are. A major theme for him is that we are not perfect, but each special and unique. Kevin adds that the movie is about a faith journey and not being afraid to ask questions. Bailee says that this movie gives hope especially for impressionable kids who are isolated and worry about is ahead.
In talking about why this movie is timely and needed today, Alan Watts says that the movie is about faith, grace, and forgiveness, as well as having fun and fully living our lives. He also says that the movie is authentic and uplifting.
About some of the challenges teens commonly face today and how this movie addresses those issues, Kevin talks about how the movie addresses grief and loss. He talks about his character, Will, whose parents died in a car crash and struggles as an orphan. He said that especially during the pandemic, many have been struggling with loss of loved ones.
Alan addresses how both main characters, Bailee and Will, have lost parents. He noted that Bailee has faced her loss, while Will has been running away from it. Together they healthfully deal with their losses together.
Bailee also talks about the challenges of developing social skills and being able to read social cues during COVID and how the movie illustrates good healthy social skills. She said that she appreciates the emphasis on not having to strive to be perfect externally or internally and to realize that who we really are is good enough.
In this movie, Will Hawkins is in trouble once again. As a foster kid since he was ten, he has been in and out of more homes and schools than his case worker can count. After his latest run-in with the law, he has a choice to make—go to juvie or a Christian summer camp. Both sounded equally awful, but he chooses the one where he can at least bring his guitar, one of the last items given to him by his deceased father. As a stark fish-out-of-water compared to the other camp residents, he lies about his background to try and fit in, especially with his newfound crush on camp regular Avery (Bailee Madison). But can he keep this up? Does he want to? Will he ever be able to replace the family he lost? With high-energy, engaging musical numbers and songs by prominent Christian Contemporary Artists, as well as the creative team from High School Musical and Camp Rock, A Week Away, which also features Jahbril Cook, Kat Conner Sterling, Iain Tucker, David Koechner and Sherri Shepherd, comes to life as the first faith-based dance musical film.
The official soundtrack, available for pre-order now for “A Week Away”, includes the release of three early singles: “Let’s Go Make A Memory,” “Place In This World,” and “Best Thing Ever (Stage Version).” The full 12-track album, a mix of re-imagined Christian classics and original songs, was released on 3/19/21 on all digital streaming providers. The film features original songs as well as covers of prominent Christian Contemporary Artists including Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman, Audio Adrenaline, Rich Mullins, and For King & Country.
Legendary contemporary Christian music artists Amy Grant and Steven Curtis Chapman have made cameo appearances in the film as a camp counselor and the camp lifeguard, respectively. Amy Grant was thrilled to be part of the film, “It was incredible,” Amy says, “How those songs were placed felt like they were written for the script and the story.”
The film was shot on location at YMCA Camp Widjiwagan just outside Nashville, Tennessee, in 2019. Unlike other productions where different elements are spread out about the country or done virtually, A Week Away had rehearsals, filming, and music recordings all in one location. Both the producers and the cast agreed that creating all the elements at one location at a real, functioning summer camp added an air of authenticity to the production.
The original song “Good Enough” is one of Bailee’s favorite songs in the film. “I think growing up in the world of social media, while you are always being compared and judged on how you should look and dress sets up a facade of false perfection,” she says, “And we need to be reminded that we are exactly who are supposed to be. That we are good enough just the way God made us. That’s such an important message right now.”
Bailee adds that she is excited that the film is releasing during the current climate, when people are craving stories of human connection, touch, and conversation. She hopes that “A Week Away” is a glimmer of light for people who look back fondly on their own summer camp or vacation experiences or who look forward to times when they can reconnect with friends and family.
If anyone deserves the “Busiest Camper” award it would be Alan Powell. He is a writer of both the original story, the screenplay, producer; and contributor to many of the film’s original songs.
Even though he has sold 50 million albums worldwide and been on the Top 5 Billboard 200 for eight years in a row, the A Week Away soundtrack was a first of its kind for Executive Music Producer Adam Watts, “It was a super-unique experience having Alan Powell, one of the film’s producers and one of the writers of the screenplay actually IN the studio,” Adam Watts says, “That was a first for me! He’s a musician himself, and his vision was incredibly clear and strong. We had great chemistry. I think there’s a palpable energy to these tracks that I think comes from us just having a blast in the studio.”
In addition to re-imaging the classic Christian hits, Adam Watts wrote the original songs in “A Week Away”. Because this was such a special project, authenticity for him was key. “From day one my goal as the producer and songwriter was to try to infuse the music with a sense of timelessness,” he says, “I didn’t want to just use pre-existing samples, so I went around the camp set and recorded stomps and claps in the environment the film was being shot in. These subtle things add up.”
If this musical inspires viewers to want to have a spontaneous dance party, that’s because it kind of was intended that way! Adam Watts laughs, “We set up a recording studio in one of the buildings at the camp. The cast would be rehearsing the scenes and learning all for the choreography in one building, and in-between they’d run over to our makeshift-studio for hours at a time to record their vocals.”
So, let’s see this movie and let it inspire us all to get outside in the sunshine having fun with friends and family. Let’s all laugh, love, and live in jubilant connection with others. May we all find true faith, real freedom, and heartfelt connection!
Written by Diane Howard, Ph.D. (Performance Studies)
Diane Howard, Ph.D. is a dialogue, dialect and voice-over coach, as well as a journalist who writes about the role of faith in movies and in the entertainment field. Her website is dianehoward.com.