Shannon and Jason Atkins now call a farm just outside of Nashville, Tenn., home, but Shannon is from Naples. And this week, her family will be able to see their daughter and son-in-law's new feature film here in Shannon's hometown.
In fact, they will be able to see her in a walk-on role of "Unconditional," the film Atkins and her husband produced. It opens today for a weekend run in Naples at the Regal Hollywood Stadium 20 theater.
"Unconditional" was produced via the Atkins' production company, Harbinger Media Partners. The film — the couple's first full-length feature — tells the story of Sam, a woman whose marriage is ended by violence. Her oldest and dearest friend, Joe Bradford, leads Sam back to unconditional love, hence the title.
Shannon and Jason Atkins founded Harbinger Media Partners in Nashville in 2009 to produce inspirational films. It is a second career for both of them — she majored in biology and taught after graduate school; he studied accounting and finance. The couple managed a hedge fund, which they shut down to establish the production company.
If you go
Where: The Regal Hollywood Stadium 20, Naples, 6006 Hollywood Blvd., Naples and Regal Bell Tower 20, 13499 Bell Tower Drive, Fort
When: Opening Friday, Sept. 21; Check GoNaples.com for show times
"We got into filmmaking because we believed we could have a greater impact on the world by inspiring the masses to something greater for themselves and others than we could making money for institutional clients in our hedge fund," Shannon Atkins said.
"We learned of Joe's story after committing to shut down the hedge fund and were searching for a story inspired by truth that every person could relate to — I guess you could say it was a God thing."
The transition from running a hedge fund to producing feature films was a challenging one.
"It was a difficult decision because the hedge fund provided our family a very good lifestyle and afforded the ability to support many organizations that we believe in, which was put at risk by making this change," she said.
Naples proved to be a helpful connection in the making of the film. As Shannon Fowler Miller, Atkins graduated from Naples High School in 1988.
"Outside of our family, the largest investors in this movie are from Naples. I was a cheerleader and volleyball player at Naples High School. All of my family still lives in Naples, and we love to visit as frequently as possible," said Atkins, who married her husband, Jason, a Memphis native, at the Naples Beach Club.
The Atkinses said they are Christians but chose to go in the direction of mainstream rather than religious venues.
"We did not set out to make a religious film, but to honor God," Shannon Atkins said. "We are Christians, but our purpose in making this film is to show people doing great things in the lives of others."
They hope the film will be a call to action and are partnering with ministries across America to help at-risk youth including Feed the Children, Christian Community Development Association, City Life and other local service organizations.
"Everyone needs hope and to know they are loved, and that is not limited to people who attend church," she said. "The biggest break anyone can receive is to know their life matters and they can be a hero to someone else. This movie demonstrates the love of God but does not preach."
There were hurdles to overcome to get "Unconditional" in theaters. Atkins counts striking a balance between making a good movie that also is entertaining and conveying the message of goodwill among them. Theater chains had to like the content to accept it.
But "Unconditional" has star power, which helps. Actors Michael Ealy, Lynn Collins, Bruce McGill and Kwesi Boakye all have starring roles. Ealy played Ricky Nash in "Barbershop" and its sequel, starred in "Think Like a Man," "Miracle at St. Anna," "Takers" and "Underworld: Awakening," among other projects.
Collins attended the Juilliard School and has appeared in Disney's "John Carter," "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" and others.
McGill, who plays Detective Miller, is a veteran actor known for his turn as Judge Harkin in "Runaway Jury," along with dozens of other films.
He also will appear in the upcoming Steven Spielberg film "Lincoln."
Boakye played Manny in Tyler Perry's "I Can Do Bad All By Myself" and appeared in TNT's "Men of a Certain Age."
The film will debut today for a minimum of one week. If the film does well, Atkins said it will have a longer run.