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‘Old Fashioned’ a faith-based alternative to ‘50 Shades’

Sex or the soul?

That’s the choice for moviegoers seeking a romance flick next Valentine’s Day. If they choose soul, they will be supporting a Lakeland filmmaker — Dave DeBorde.

The independent, faith-based film “Old Fashioned” made headlines in “Variety” and “Time Magazine” last week after producer DeBorde pitched it as a challenger to the erotic “Fifty Shades of Grey” for box office supremacy. Each will be released Feb. 14.

“We knew when it was decided to release ‘Old Fashioned’ on the same day as ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ that we would get some attention at some point,” said DeBorde. “We didn’t expect it to be right away and on this level.”

“Old Fashioned” is about a former fraternity member and a free spirit who seek an “old fashioned” courtship in modern America. Its tagline: “Chivalry is back.”

“Fifty Shades,” on the other hand, features whips and bondage in its steamy trailers and is inspired by the series of best-selling erotic novels. Says namesake Christian Grey in a trailer, “I don’t do romance.”

In a prepared statement announcing the release date of “Old Fashioned,” writer-director-star Rik Swartzwelder calls it “a story that, without apology, explores the possibility of a higher standard in relationships.”

DeBorde is optimistic but doesn’t really expect “Old Fashioned” to best “Fifty Shades” at the box office.

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The movie has a small budget and lesser known stars while “Fifty Shades” has an estimated budget of $40 million and a soundtrack featuring Beyonce. The book series has sold over 100 million copies.

Plus, “Fifty Shades” will play in more theaters.

“Ours is a modestly-budgeted, independent film that is looking to make room for godly romances,” said DeBorde’s fellow producer Nathan Nazario. “Our primary goal is not competing in the box office but providing audiences a viable romantic alternative on Valentine’s Day weekend.”

The film companies backing “Old Fashioned” — Freestyle Releasing and Working Title Agency — have made money recently in faith-based cinema.

Freestyle Releasing distributed “God Is Not Dead,” about a college philosophy professor’s curriculum facing a challenge from a new student who believes in God. It was produced for $2 million and made more than $60 million in theaters.

Working Title Agency is the film marketing and finance company behind the movie “Heaven Is for Real,” about a 4-year-old boy’s account of his trip to heaven. It was made for $12 million and so far earned almost $100 million.

DeBorde would not reveal how many screens will show “Old Fashioned” but did say the number may rise because of the recent attention.

Tony Armer, film commissioner for St. Petersburg-Clearwater, sees a lesson for young filmmakers in DeBorde’s success: Never give up.

“I tell them that not being famous doesn’t mean they are not talented. It just means they haven’t gotten their big break yet,” said Armer. “Dave has always made great films. Now the world will see his talent.”

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DeBorde is a 45-year-old film professor at Full Sail University in Winter Park and member of the board of directors of the Sun Screen Film Festival in St. Petersburg. His film resume dates to 2006 and consists of seven credits as a producer, four as a director, three as a writer and three as an actor.

Since “Old Fashioned” caught the attention of “Variety” and “Time,” things are looking up. People he reached out to long ago for financing projects are suddenly calling him back unsolicited.

“I don’t feel more talented today than I was a few weeks ago,” he said with a chuckle. “But I guess I am.”

DeBorde’s work has shown at film festivals around the world, but securing theatrical distribution and money for a big production budget had eluded him.

He knew he had something the moment he read the script for “Old Fashioned.”

The stepmother of Ohio native Swartzwelder introduced the two men in the mid-1990s when they were both young filmmakers finding their way in the industry.

Though they never came together to work on a project, they kept in touch. When Swartzwelder offered DeBorde the chance to produce “Old Fashioned,” he quickly said yes. DeBorde is a devout Christian and had contacts in Hollywood looking for a faith-based film.

“I sent it to an executive and before she was done with it I saw her post on Facebook that she was reading the best script she’d had in years,” DeBorde said.

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Once financiers learned major studios saw potential in the script, the money was raised.

“Dave was an integral part of process from the very beginning,” said co-producer Nazario. “He was instrumental in terms of getting the script attention from major players that enabled it to tap into a private investor base.”

“We didn’t get blockbuster money,” DeBorde said. “Our budget is considered small by Hollywood standards, but we had enough.”

Principal production took place in the fall and winter of 2011 in eastern Ohio.

You don’t have to be a fan of faith-based films to enjoy “Old Fashioned.”

“I’ve had a good friend of mine who works in the film industry watch it and ask me why it is even considered a faith film,” he said. “She didn’t remember anything about faith being in it. That’s what made the script so good. It doesn’t tell you what the lesson is. Instead, it’s a great story that allows you to find the lesson on your own.”

In May, the film had a special advanced screening at the Sunscreen Film Festival before a diverse, sold-out audience.

Armer with the film commission, founder of the Sunscreen Film Festival, said everyone was impressed.

“They all basically had the same review,” he said. “That it’s a great film.”

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