Strategy & MarketingChristian Media

Faith-Based Filmmaking – A New Frontier in Entertainment?

At the recent Biola Media Conference in Los Angeles, I spoke with Mark Joseph at a workshop on the new “faith-based” movies that are coming out today. As of right now, at least 8 different studios have faith based divisions, and a lot of producers are wondering how to pitch, what to pitch, and how to navigate this brave new world of movie making. For some – it’s a recognition of a huge audience out there, and for others, it’s the end of filmmaking as we know it. While some specifically want to reach that audience, others feel that the real audience they want to reach will run screaming from the room if a movie has a “faith-based” tag on it.

Either way, if you choose to explore the new faith-based divisions at studios, here are some tips to consider:

1. Do your homework – know the producer or studio you’re pitching to… what do they really want to do? Some producers and studios want to do safe, family movies, other want to create edgy teen suspense thrillers, still others children’s programming or documentaries. Either way, know what the studio is looking for before you pitch. In fact, some of the studios don’t really even know what “faith-based” means, and are wide open. And before you ditch children’s programming, know that one of the biggest sellers for Fox (all time) isn’t X-Men, Fantastic Four, or Planet of the Apes, it’s “Strawberry Shortcake.” Apparently, there’s money to be made in kid’s programs.

2. Deliver good work. The window of opportunity may be short, and my fear is that in their clamor to reach this new market, studios are accepting some bad work. I don’t want them to look back a year from now and realize they make a mistake, when all that really happened is that Christians pitched them bad projects.

3. Understand the audience. The studios thought “The Da Vinci Code” would be embraced by Christians, so they totally missed that audience. The typical Christian TV audience is 55 and older females, so perhaps the movie audience is similar. Who are you after? Talk to marketing people, sales people, and the studios. Find out who’s buying these movies.

4. This may not be your opportunity to break into the mainstream. This is niche programming, so don’t expect your movie to break out into the mainstream. It’s about genre specific programming. “Facing the Giants” is a good example. So don’t water down your message looking for a bigger audience – hit that niche with everything you’ve got.

5. Be Careful with Budgets. Niche programming means smaller budgets, so no science fiction special effect epics. Think current time, small cast, easy wardrobe, limited locations, and no effects.

6. Make your model the independent film movement in America. Stop using “over the hill” actors, and find the next breakout star. Also, connect the dots – find the right director, writer, and producer. One link with no talent in that chain can destroy the project. Remember that it’s ultimately about talent.

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  1. Hey Phil, do you have any suggestions for getting in touch with the studio execs at these faith-based extentions? I have a script that's been whacking me over the head for a few years now, and once I get the better of it I'd like to shop it to some of these guys. Word on the street is that you have to know somebody in order to get anyone to read it – is that true?

    Thanks for the tips. You're a pal.

  2. I'm very enthusiastic about these possibilities. I hope we can all rise to this opportunity. (I also hope that the studios don't think that they can just dumb-down a project because they think it's for a "simple-minded" Christian audience…i.e. Ned Flanders) Once we get beyond that… There are so many wonderful stories to be told. I can't wait to be a part of it (I'm heading towards film producing or at least project development). Phil, (I don't know if you already do this, but) there should be a representative to the studios to remind them that Christians want thought-provoking, well-made, well-scripted films…not just easy-to-read messages. (Sometimes I read what I'm writing and it sounds like I'm pessimistic. I'm not at all, it's just that some of what the studios have given us up until now, transaltes as a   roll-the-eyes kind of response, on their part.) But, because the Lord is indeed the Exec. Producer, and this door seems to be swinging wide open, Let's have a ball ! And do some really amazing and beautiful things.

  3. Man, if TBN would have followed these examples, they would have never made “One Night with the King.” This post is two years too late.

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