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Conversing with Corbin Bernsen

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Corbin Bernsen, shown above in this cast photo from the Hallmark movie "A Time to Dance," has had a long career in Hollywood. His production company, Home Theater Films, recently released the faith-based comedy "In-Lawfully Yours," in which he also stars. The film was released on digital services like Netflix and Amazon among others. Corbin Bernsen, shown above in this cast photo from the Hallmark movie "A Time to Dance," has had a long career in Hollywood. His production company, Home Theater Films, recently released the faith-based comedy "In-Lawfully Yours," in which he also stars. The film was released on digital services like Netflix and Amazon among others. (Photo courtesy of Crown Media/Bettina Strauss)

Actor talks In-lawfully Yours,' Maine's movie-tax problem

Corbin Bernsen appeared in his first film at the age of 13 with an uncredited role in the Elvis Presley musical 'Clambake.' Since then, the star of 'Major League,' and TV's 'LA Law' and 'Psych' has appeared in more than 60 films, but is just as likely to be found these days behind the camera directing and producing.

Over the past decade, Bernsen's production company Home Theater Films has specialized in family-oriented faith-based films.

The romantic-comedy In-lawfully Yours' is the latest film from Bernsen's company, debuting last month on Netflix, iTunes, Amazon and other digital platforms.

Taking place in the fictional town of Bethel Cove, Virginia, the movie centers on entangled in-laws who find new roles with each other.

Chelsea Crisp is Jesse, a young woman who divorces her husband Chaz (Phillip Boyd) after he cheats on her. Jesse graciously invites her recently widowed mother-in law Naomi (Marilu Henner) to move in. When Jesse finds herself falling in love with the pastor of the local congregation, she is run out of town.

'Chelsea Crisp is just hysterical in this movie,' Bernsen told me in a recent phone interview. 'You look at the script and some people can just take those words off the page and turn them into gold and she does that magnificently.'

Bernsen said that he found the project while promoting a different film at Virginia's Regent University.

'After I was introduced to their film program, they invited me to do a film with them. In short order, I was given this wonderful script by a teacher there named Shawn Gaffney.'

For 'In-lawfully Yours,' Bernsen incorporated 80 Regent University students into the production.

Bernsen says the script for the film was the first romantic comedy that he's found that works on all levels, regardless of the viewer's spiritual beliefs.

'It's something I've been striving to do for almost ten years. Where is that movie that would appeal to all and have value for all? If the viewer isn't interested in the faith aspect, they enjoy it on the level of in being a good romantic comedy.'

While Christian-based movies tend to be smaller productions, there have been several big business faith-based films in recent years, including 2015's 'War Room' - which made $68 million - and the 'Chronicles of Narnia' series which has brought in more than half a billion dollars to date.

'There is a huge audience there,' Bernsen continues. 'They want to see a good story that can play for the whole family.'

'Hollywood has handled faith-based movies in two ways,' Bernsen says. 'They support a few smaller films which do a pretty good business, then tend to turn out these bigger films, overdo them and slap a faith-friendly' label on it. There have been successful faith-based movies for a long time going back to 'The Greatest Story Ever Told' with Charlton Heston.'

In In-lawfully Yours,' the character of Jesse is questioning her faith, a subject with which Corbin can relate.

Bernsen considers himself a 'questioning Christian' one who is interested in exploring his faith but doesn't take everything they find at faith-value.

'And if the subject of a questioning' faith is handled correctly and in this movie, it is - the audience will find it. If you tried to do it just for the money, it would never work.'

Bernsen cites a personal and pivotal scene near the end of the film where he appears as a priest.

'She flees back to New York City and stumbles into the magnificent hall of this church and just starts yelling at God. I tell her it's basically OK to yell. Yell as loud as you want. I yell all the time at God in here. I'm pissed off. I understand that because that's my own journey. It's OK to question God. It's OK to ask the tough questions. Like why do these things happen? That scene is very personal and very true to me.'

'I'm not out to preach or to convert anybody. There's a leap of faith in Star Wars.' When you see it, you realize it doesn't take place on earth now, but you're going to go with it and see what happens. The movie has to have a good story or it doesn't work.'

'In-Lawfully Yours' was shot in Virginia which, like Massachusetts, Georgia and Kentucky, offers a variety of tax incentives for film companies to shoot in their state, including tax credits, production grants and local employment for crew and actors.

Bernsen believes that Maine's steep tax penalites for production companies is probably the biggest reason why more movies aren't made here.

'I've often said that I want to shoot a movie in Maine because the natural beauty is exquisite but those tax incentives aren't there. Maybe you have some legislators who could take that up. Maybe for the smaller kind of movies that we do, it might not be in 3,000 theatres but it's available everywhere - Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, it's on DVD so you're getting the exposure for the state. An incentive of a few thousand dollars instead of a few million dollars would make a huge difference.'

Bernsen is also thinking about young Maine filmmakers who might want to shoot a movie in their home state.

'I promise you, there are young kids up and down the coast, all over Maine - who say I'd love to make films but I can't afford to go to LA or New York. I want to make them here.''

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