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Faith Based Moviemaking – Is It Working?

Evan Almighty Movie Poster

The perspective from Fox News on Evan Almighty seems to be that Hollywood just isn’t getting it when it comes to the “faith based” market. After he read the section:

“In its aftermath, once again the chatter from Hollywood is how, despite another earnest and sincere attempt to make a movie for “those people,” the elusive faith-based audience that came out to see the Passion of The Christ has once again failed to turn out en masse for a movie thought to be tailor-made for them. The problem with such an analysis is that it’s not unlike making a movie featuring blackface and wondering why the African-American audience isn’t interested.”

…actor Tom Hillmann dropped me a note to say:

“My thoughts, Phil, as a professional actor, is in order for this to work, you have to have authentic believers on screen! Don’t you think that’s what drew the church to the theatre for “Facing the Giants” even though the acting was less than professional, the faith-based audience KNEW they were the real deal? How much better would that film have been if they had gone with believers who were professional actors? They could have gotten an ultra-low budget SAG Indie contract, ($100/day or even deferred) and hired people who could help tell the story professionally. The faith-based audience would not have been there for “The Passion of the Christ” if Christ had been played by Jim Carrey instead of Jim Caviezel, whose faith and fruits could be authenticated by his past choices in roles and interviews.”

Hollywood is wondering how to get it right. Is this the answer? What do you think?

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30 Comments

  1. I think to some degree "made for Christians" movie making is still in it's infancy stage.
    I somewhat liken it to the late 80's and early 90's when one of the only decent "Christian Rock" Bands was Petra. I was into Metallica and Mega-Death and when I converted I had to settle for Petra. Yikes!

    Maybe things will get better with time. I didn't think Evan Almighty did that poorly. I enjoyed it. But Maybe it's because it's the equivalent of Petra. It's all we got. 🙂

  2. Was Evan really targetted in a faith-based way?  I agree with Tom that authenticity is a big part.  But let's face it, when you look at a film and see Michael Scott from "The Office," you can't really expect much.  I didn't think "Bruce Almighty" was faith-based, just a movie with some Christian themes added to aide in the story-telling process.I think a lot of churches are looking for specific types of films.  It's not about making a movie loosely based on a Bible story.  With Facing the Giants, people heard about a church making a professional film. Faith-based is story driven, and here was a church making headlines because they were saying "No!" to Hollywood and making a quality family film on their own.  I remember people at my church saying "a church our size did this. . . we could do something like this!"If studios really want to hit it big with the faith-based market, they may need to start getting more creative with where they get their stories from and how they go about producing the films.   

  3. The actors killed it for me. If your not going to have a Christian actor at least use Will Ferrell or John Heder-their money..most people I talked to, thought the movie was making fun of God and the Bible..and honestly that was my first impression too. This topic was discussed on this very forum not long ago and one huge thing that kept coming up was that you have to have KEY KNOWN CHRISTIAN people in all the major spots. Basically, you have to have Christians making the film. It's like a boxer making a movie about dance…the dance world will think it's a joke. So let the boxers make boxing movies and the dancers dance movies…

    This might sound unpopular, but I don't think Hollywood should make faith based movies if hollywood is not faithbased. Do what they know…indie is the new mainstream anyway and people have the ability to choose..if you want to make money off welcome these Christian filmmakers into your studios and use them to ensure your hitting the mark. If fact use Christian filmmakers to make your films period…Casting believers is always authentic—I think as long as "Hollywood" is attached to a project people will wonder just how authentic it really is in terms of a faith based project….your dealing with a smart and opinionated audience..

  4. then what do you say about chariots of fire? no Christians writing, directing, or acting in that film. it is about the story, front to back. actors, directors, etc are tools in making the product. I don't want to see dance movies only made by dancers – that is what makes movies so "inside" – let's see good stories that entertain. and these stories aimed at Christians, have to have good theology. that is where Evan breaks down – the theology is wrong, and we as Christians can sense that.

  5. I think we’re going off topic. The article that I referenced and that I found interesting was about marketing to the faith-based audience not about making faith based films. I have absolutely no interest whatsoever in making faith based films. (I guess the title of this post, Phil, should really be “Faith Based Movie Marketing.”) I found it interesting from a business standpoint, how a film is marketed to the Christian audience. What elements should be there to draw in that demographic. Funny thing though, I did find that my point has actually already been made here on philcooke.com in an article that happens to be by the same smart guy, Mark Joseph! He talks about 10+ things he thinks worked for “The Passion” and that Hollywood executives should follow and are “guaranteed to produce box office magic.” (Isn’t THAT a ballsy statement?) Phil said the article was “fascinating.” Take a look. And note point #5 syncs with what I first mentioned to Phil. TH

  6. Here's a confidential word from a highly placed Hollywood executive about Evan Almighty:

    "You’re over thinking this one. The movie just wasn’t that good. The television campaign just wasn’t that good. The reviews were universally bad. Word of mouth of the people who did see it was excellent, but it’s tough to overcome that “stinker” label in the main stream media. Compare it to Ratatouille – a few weeks ago they were both tracking the same. From what I understand, the exits have been similar. BUT – Ratatouille is good. The reviews are excellent. It might break $50 mil this weekend.

    Almost half the audience for EA was “frequent church goers.” The ads worked. Record-breaking click-thrus. Interest level was high in the Christian community. But the movie was soft and panned by the critics in the MSM. Christians read their papers and watch the morning show reviewers. If they hate it across the board, it dampens interest. Make a better movie, and this thing breaks $200. Make a not so good movie and maybe it limps over 100."

  7. Thanks for indulging my inquisitiveness, Phil! I love “behind-the-scenes” stuff, and always learn something new on your blog. TH

  8. I would like to introduce the idea of one audience influencing another. Is it at all possible that movies with christian themes that get rave reviews from non-christian audiences tend to fall favourable with faith based viewers? I first heard about Passion of the Christ from a estatic non-christian who went to see the movie, he got me all amped up. If one audience does in fact influence another, what does this say about marketing to faith based audiences?

  9. Great case study for years to come and great discussion.  A few additional thoughts:

    1) Authenticity is important.  Whether Christians make the film or not I think people with deep faith can smell what the origional intent of a movie is.  Evan was never about a message.
    2) I was one of the many Christians who didn't see the movie – mostly because it didn't look funny or review well.  Most people like me wouldn't have known about the flawed theology because we didn't see it.  And who (outside of insiders) know what actors or writers are Christian?
    3) Evan would have been hailed as a success if it had a $50 million budget.  The best comedies are usually the cheapest thing in the world.   
    4) Reading these posts only further proves that Christians are a diverse bunch, difficult to figure out, and nearly impossible to mobilize.  My Christian demo is probably not yours.   I want good movie making with powerful story.  Some want overt evangelizing movies.  And clearly some Christians just want family fun.
    5) Doesn't this talk make you feel like a mindless Christian lemming waiting for the right formula?  Same thing with Christian television and music.  Let's produce better, smarter, more meaningful stuff and watch God bless it!
  10. I have been saying this for a while. Hollywood JUST DOESN'T GET IT!!! They think that because they make a movie from a story out of the bible, then tweek it enough to make it mainstream and interesting to the mainstream that people, instead of the target they're going for… Christians, will flock to see it. Not true!

    I also thought they were making fun of God, the bible and our faith with Evan Almighty, but quickly realized this was their attempt to "cash in" on the Christian market. I agree with above comments regarding keeping Hollywood out of the Christian market and let Christians make Christian films.

     I'm a screenwriter/filmmaker and in pre-production on a Christian film. Our hopes with this project is to bring Christian films to a whole new level. Our budget is that of a small Hollywood budget than your typical Christian film budget, which is primarily where Christain films fail. Not being able to afford bigger name actors, or production quality cut because of no money. Even with that said, there are films in the Christian genre that make money and by Hollywood standards, would be considered a blockbuster, considering the budget-film gross.

     Example, "Facing the Giants" budget was a mere $100,000 but grossed $10.2M at the box office, in only 450 theaters, and another $12M, as of March '07, in video. That, in comparrison, would be the same as a $30M Hollywood film grossing $660M. If the film was marketed better and had a wider release, it could have done $100M +  Even as cheezy as the film was, bad acting, a so-so script and an amateur production, it did phenomenal!! Again, showing that Christians/people are hungry for wholesome, family entertainment.

  11. Quick question.
     When a movie like The Passion of the Christ or even a lesser known Christian film is playing in mainstream theatres often churches and other organizations buy out whole showings of the movie then give the tickets to their congregation. How big is the difference between the actual box office sales vs. actual butts in seats?
  12. When I hear that a star warrants 20 million dollars per movie it's because that person puts butts in seats. When I hear that churches buy out whole theatres when Christian films are showing I wonder how big is the difference between the actual box office sales vs. actual butts in seats? Are the numbers a true assessment of how many people went to see the film? It reminds me of when Paul Crouch encouraged Nielsen families to keep their TV set to TBN 24/7 throughout the sweeps period (It was about 10 years ago). What are the true numbers?
  13. In my experience, when churches buy block seats, they generally fill the theater with people. In fact, in most cases that I've been part of, they actually sell MORE tickets because people tend to bring friends. I don't think there's much if any discrepancy at all. From what I've seen, theaters love doing it.  In fact, truth be told, if churches had any idea of the impact they could have on the product Hollywood creates by buying huge numbers of block tickets for specific movies, there would be a run on the box office by churches…

  14. Hollywood, in my observation from the lunatic fringe, doesn't know how to make ANY "ghetto" films well – they don't target Evangelical Christians well (the subset of Christianity we're actually talking about, right?), but they don't know how to target the mythically monolithic "Black" audience well either … nor the "Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgendered" community … the Latino market evades them, as does the Asian market … I think they even have a hard time reaching the "Progressive Left" market very well outside of the Michael Moore juggernaut … and, frankly, the economics are that they don't really need to do ghetto films.  For every "breakout" like "Passion" or "Facing the Giants" (to go to two extreme ends of the scale) there are dozens of films of "faith" that flop.  It seems to me like Hollywood has got it's formula down (see Transformers for a good example) and while they will dabble in ghetto films if they sniff a quick buck, there's no reason for them to take the chances involved in stepping outside what they do well and what drives the coffers – pablum event movies marketed on a mass scale.  (Okay, so I'm posting this dead middle of the Summer Blockbuster Season, so my view may be a bit jaundiced.)    Cheers, …. Calix

  15. Many of you have made some great remarks and covered so many aspects that I wasn’t even sure there was anything else to talk about on this post. I don’t know what the “right” answer is, but it seems to be one that is multi-faceted. “Faith Based” Moviemaking – Is it working? Technically all movies are faith based because every storyteller places their faith in something (wether Christ or something else) and some aspect of their belief comes out through the story they tell. So yes, in this sense faith based moviemaking works. In the other sense (specifically Christian movies), it works well… but not consistently. However,there will always be people who like what you do – and people who don’t – people who love a movie and people who hate it. When I think of visual storytellers like Lucas, Spielburg, the Wachowski brothers, Gibson, Washington, P. Jackson, Lee, Lewis and others I see a common thread… they all genuinely tell the stories that they want to see. And because they tell stories they genuinely want to see – they pour their heart and soul into the telling so that the story becomes the best that it can be – which translates into moving epics that capture our hearts and minds on many different levels. What is evident to me is that movies made for the love of the story and not just Box Office success generally do better – if not always in numbers… than at least in impact. So as visual storytellers let us share stories that truly impact us instead of only trying to tell stories specifically to cater to others. We cannot deny the beliefs with which we breathe.

    Allen Paul Weaver III
    author, Transition: Breaking Through the Barriers
    http://www.allenpaulweaveriii.com

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