Jarred Coates always wanted to work in movies. He just took a roundabout way to get there.
“When I graduated from high school in ’88, the option of doing film here in Louisiana was not even thought about,” Coates said.
Now it is, and Coates is half of a Louisiana collaboration that helped produce the surprise Christian cinematic hit “God’s Not Dead,” and now has another faith-inspired movie in theaters.
“Caged No More,” which shines a spotlight on human sexual trafficking, opened Jan. 22 in selected theaters, including Cinemark Perkins Rowe.
It’s the latest project of Film Incito, which was founded by Coates and Lisa Arnold, of Covington, who both have production companies.
They formed Film Incito (the Latin word meaning “inspire”) because they share the goal of making films with inspirational themes that appeal to Christian audiences. Coates, however, said he’d be doing this whether the market was big or small.
“It was never something I decided to do because I thought there was an opportunity,” he said. “I felt like that was a calling.”
Coates, 46, was born in Baton Rouge, graduated from Trafton Academy (now The Dunham School), LSU and Bethany World Prayer Center’s Minister’s Training Institute. He taught at Christian Life Academy, became an associate pastor in Memphis, Tennessee, and directed a Christian work-release program in Monroe for state and federal inmates.
When Louisiana began offering tax credits in 2002 to encourage movie production in the state, Coates’ desire to work in film awakened. He attended the Full Sail film school in Florida, then started the Red Entertainment Group.
“I think God had me go through the different experiences he did and running ministries to businesses that eventually brought me into doing film,” he said.
Arnold, a Georgia native, had a head start at Sherwood Pictures, which had produced highly successful, low-budget Christian films “Flywheel” and “Facing the Giants” while she worked there. She decided to expand the faith and family genre in Louisiana’s increasingly fertile film environment.
“Back in ’05, the Georgia film work had really slowed down,” she said. “There were two areas that were really booming — North Carolina and Louisiana. We had family in Mobile, (Alabama) so it seemed this way made more sense. At the time, I had a couple of agents that said this was going to be the hot spot, this was going to be the next Hollywood South, which it definitely turned out to be.”
Their common goals started bringing them together on projects, including co-producer roles in “God’s Not Dead,” which was shot in Baton Rouge. It grossed more than $60 million in theaters and a roughly equal amount in DVD sales despite a budget of under $2 million, Coates said. It featured a student, played by Shane Harper, against a philosophy professor, played by Kevin Sorbo, who challenged the student’s belief in God.
Though it features characters with strong Christian beliefs, “Caged No More” has a less overt religious theme, telling the story of a young girl who is sold to traffickers to pay off drug debts. It is based on Molly Venzke’s novel, “Caged,” and Arnold and Venzke worked for 18 months to convert it into a screenplay. Along with Loreta Devine (“Grey’s Anatomy”) and Alan Powell (“The Song”), Sorbo also stars in “Caged No More,” which was filmed primarily in Baton Rouge and Athens, Greece. It includes appearances by Kathie Lee Gifford, Gretchen Carlson and former Gov. Bobby Jindal.
“It’s not only a message for the church,” Arnold said. “It’s a message for anybody with a beating heart. We all have to care that human trafficking is happening all around us, and we have to keep our children safe. We have to start those conversations. We have to start educating our youth. That has a very wide reach.”
After the theatrical run, Film Incito plans showings in churches, where audiences will receive a free, four-week study guide about trafficking. The strategy will allow the film to reach audiences in areas where it won’t appear on the big screen, Coates said. Interested groups can inquire at filmincito.com.
Coates and Arnold have more movies in the pipeline, including “Camp Cool Kids,” which was shot at Camp Istrouma in Baton Rouge.
“We want people to see the love of God,” Coates said.