Vote for Life, Says Film Producer: Plan to See Unplanned on March 29, by Tom Gilson

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By Tom Gilson, a Senior Editor, The Stream, February 5, 2019

Tom GilsonWant to raise a voice for life that people will pay attention to? Then put it on your calendar today to see the groundbreaking new pro-life movie Unplanned when it opens the weekend of March 29.

So urges Joe Knopp, one of the film’s producers, who met with The Stream for an interview on February 2. A staunch pro-lifer, Knopp’s real interest is in getting the story out. “Hollywood has its values,” he said, “and one thing they value is money.” A big opening weekend will force them — and other national-level influencers — to pay attention.

The film’s official trailer was released last Thursday:

The Story of Unplanned

It’s the story of Abby Johnson, who joined Planned Parenthood as a volunteer while attending college in Texas, and stayed with the organization eight years, eventually becoming its youngest center director. In 2009, Planned Parenthood named her Employee of the Year.

She never entered the procedure room, though, until one day about three months after that award. They needed her help with the ultrasound. She saw the baby reacting, dodging, fighting helplessly for its life against the instruments that would kill it. She screamed. And resigned. And became a major voice for life.

The stories behind the film have their own high interest.

The Nearly-Aborted Actor

Ashley Bratcher plays Abby Johnson. Just days into production — during the wardrobe, makeup and hair stage, before any cameras rolled — she was on the phone with her mother.

“Are you sitting down?” asked her mom. “I have something to tell you.”

“I know you had an abortion before I was born, Mom. That’s one of the reasons I have such a passion for this story.”

“Yes, but I’ve never told you the rest of the story. When I was pregnant with you, we had no money. Your dad pawned a shotgun to pay for me to get an abortion. I was at the clinic. On the table, gown on, ready for the procedure. The doctor and the nurse came in, and the nurse was eight months pregnant. Something came over me and told me I had to get off the table.”

Bratcher has shared the story on Fox and Friends.

Her mom appears as an extra near the end of the movie, said Knopp.

Joe Knopp

Joe Knopp

The Producer

Knopp’s own background isn’t exactly “Hollywood.” He grew up in orphanages, following two years from age five to seven living with his mom and sisters on the street and in crack houses in Philadelphia. He came to faith in Christ early, at age seven. Six years in the Air Force gave him the opportunity to attend college, and then to start a financial service business, which led to his work on financing and marketing movies.

The story of Unplanned backtracks to Knopp’s previous film, I Can Only Imagine, an upbeat movie telling the story behind a hugely popular song. “Here we are,” he said, “just coming off a very successful run. We had to have a serious conversation with God to see if a pro-life movie was supposed to be our next project.”

God’s Perfect Timing: The News and the Investor

God has confirmed making the movie was the right thing to do in many ways. Timing is certainly one of them. “Every day in the headlines,” said Knopp, “going back to Kavanaugh and the Supreme Court, and now New York and Virginia, life has been the key issue.”

Even the financing had God’s timing on it. “We were down to the wire, needing a million dollars to release the whole funding for the $6 million production budget. One of our potential investors called director Cary Solomon from his airplane, and said, ‘What’s your account number?’”

Cary was hesitant to answer; in fact, he wasn’t quite sure it wasn’t a prank call. But the investor insisted. “I know you need a million dollars. God told me to give you your final million. I just got off the phone with my banker. We’ve got about an hour before the day’s over.”

Cary still hesitated. He wasn’t sure they were set up to handle the transfer. But the investor broke in and said, “Now we’ve got 45 minutes. How long do you want to do this?”

He wired the money from his airplane the day they needed it.

Christian Leaders’ Frustrating Silence

Planned Parenthood has ignored Unplanned so far, and it appears they hope they can continue ignoring it. They certainly don’t want to give it free publicity. So they haven’t been concerned so far.

What concerns Knopp more is believers in leadership positions — especially evangelicals — who say, “We won’t talk about politics from our pulpits.”

“It’s frustrating,” he said. “It’s at a boiling point for me. With previous films, we had open doors everywhere to share. Not so with this one. There are amazing people out there who are fully supporting us, but not as many as you would hope. They say, ‘We’re all for this, but we can’t risk our platform by taking a political stance.’”

“Death,” he added, “is not politics.”

How We Can Make a Difference

Still, he sees Unplanned as making a huge difference. That’s where you and I come in.

“It’s a Joshua moment. If enough of our supporters go that opening weekend and make a loud enough shout, Hollywood’s headlines will be, ‘How did this itty-bitty independent movie get so many people coming out?’ We need to earn the right for everyone to be talking about it. So treat it like a concert. Put it on your calendar. Get your ticket and plan to see it that opening weekend.”

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Late Sunday afternoon, the day after our interview, Knopp visited a local church to talk about the film. There, I watched him remain long after the meeting — missing part of the Super Bowl — to talk with leaders of a local pro-life pregnancy resource center, arranging to give them as much publicity as possible on Unplanned’s opening night.

“I’ve always been pro-life,” said Knopp. “Now with Abby’s story, I truly know what that means.” It’s not about the box office. It’s about the message and the mission. You can help powerfully — and what could be simpler? — by putting the movie on your calendar right now.


Tom Gilson is a senior editor with The Stream, author of A Christian Mind: Thoughts on Life and Truth in Jesus Christand Critical Conversations: A Christian Parents’ Guide to Discussing Homosexuality With TeensHe was chief editor of the anthology True Reason: Christian Responses to the Challenge of Atheism, and he’s the author/host of the Thinking Christian blog.

Tom lives near Dayton, Ohio with Sara, his wife. They’re the proud grandparents of two grand-dogs, a grand-cat and a grand-bunny, by way of their recently married daughter and their very recently married son. He has received a B.Mus. in Music Education with a specialty in performance from Michigan State University and an M.S. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Central Florida. When he’s not writing he loves drinking coffee, canoeing, walking in the woods, and playing his trombones.