Engaging Culture

The 10 Biggest Myths About Hollywood

1.  Hollywood hates Christians. The fact is, Hollywood – and most of the mainstream media is ignorant of all things “Christian.”  Most of the media leaders in this country are simply not people of any faith background, so while it may appear they dislike issues of faith, the truth is they just don’t get it.  In fact, the majority of people I’ve encountered at  high levels of influence in the industry are very interested when we discuss spiritual issues and have no problem at all with my faith.

2.  All I need is a great script. The process of making movies or television programming is complex and multi-layered.  Many years ago, a major industry magazine did a feature story on “The Best Scripts No One Will Ever Produce.”  Today, at industry gatherings, we still discuss brilliant scripts floating around town and why they’re not getting produced.  It’s often a matter of finding the right cast and crew, political or cultural timing, budget issues, legal problems, and more.  A great script is a critical starting point, but that doesn’t necessarily mean clear sailing for your project.

3.  Hollywood executives are idiots. After watching another lame movie, it’s easy to wonder who exactly is making these decisions.  Yes, sometimes there’s no clear explanation, but know this – entertainment is America’s number one export globally.  The media industry is bigger than electronics, defense, or agriculture.  The Los Angeles Times reported that after the Allies first invaded Afghanistan after 9/11, the first public buildings to re-open weren’t hospitals, government buildings, or schools.  They were movie theaters, playing American movies.  Every year or so, I meet a businessman from the heartland of America (often a Christian) who’s determined to open an office in Hollywood and “show those idiots how it’s done.”  But within a year or two, they lose so much money, they shut their doors, and go back home.  The entertainment industry makes billions of dollars, so someone in Hollywood knows exactly what they’re doing.

4.  It’s all about money. Considering the cost of movies, and the salaries paid to high level actors, writers, and directors, you’d think everything in the industry is about the bottom line.  Yes, studios and networks need to make a profit just like every business, and sometimes it appears they’d sell their grandma to make a buck.  But studios are also very interested in prestige – which accounts for all the small movies that feature major talent.  Winning an Oscar means so much to a studio, they will often gamble on a serious art film – knowing they’ll probably lose money, in a long range effort to make something meaningful that will get them noticed.

5.  I must have an agent to succeed. One of the most successful episodic TV directors I know told me that in 25 years of working in Hollywood, his agent hasn’t gotten him a single job.  Most people don’t really understand the role of agents.  Yes – they can find you work, but most professionals find projects through personal relationships and networks – word of mouth.  They use agents to negotiate the deal, or help them find new material, and agents are also important to help actors get into the right auditions.  But don’t for a minute think you can’t succeed in Hollywood without an agent – particularly in the independent world.  An agent is a great asset, but certainly not necessary for launching a career.  By the way – a good entertainment attorney can also help you negotiate deals, get into meetings, and find material – and they’re often easier to find early in your career.

6.  With today’s technology, I can live anywhere, and don’t have to be in New York or Hollywood. That may be true, but only to an extent.  The fact is, the deals are still made in Hollywood and New York, and you’ll find it very difficult to make progress with only occasional trips to the coast.  Certainly you can make local commercials, corporate videos, and other projects just about anywhere in the country, but if you want to swim in the adult end of the pool, you’ve got to jump into the deep water.  I tried this years ago, commuting from Tulsa.  I would schedule a week of meetings in LA, and then fly out with a killer schedule.  But each time at least one third of the meetings would get postponed or re-scheduled at the last minute, and I had to write them off.  Most meetings happen at the last minute, and it’s so much easier to drive across town than fly across country.

7.  There aren’t any Christians in New York or Hollywood. The truth is, there are vibrant ministry organizations filled with Christians from the entertainment industries on both coasts.  Check out Hollywoodconnect.com and find out the wide range of Christian groups. Most believers would be surprised to find just how high level some Christians are in the industry, from major studio executives, high level producers, actors, directors, and more.

8.  Distribution isn’t as important as making a great film. There’s no substitute for making a great film, and I wish there were more of them.  But that’s only half the battle.  No matter how great the movie, if no one sees it, you’ve failed.  Distribution is one of the most important pieces of the puzzle, and oddly enough, it’s the weakest link when it comes to projects created by people of faith.  Most films made by Christians fail because of poor or non-existent distribution.  Mark Zoradi, former President of the Motion Picture Group at Disney is a long time distribution executive, and is the first to tell you of the important role theatrical and DVD distribution plays – especially on the global stage.  My recommendation is that it’s never too early to start working on distribution – even at the writing or development stages of a project.  The biggest mistake you can make is to raise millions of dollars for a movie without a good strategy for distribution already in place.

9.  The biggest need from a Christian perspective is to have more creative people. I’m a creative, so I’m always looking to increase our ranks in the media world, but the truth is, one of our most critical “soft spots” from a faith perspective is high level executives in the industry.  No matter how powerful a producer or director might be, he or she still needs a studio or network executive to “green light” the project.  Many a good movie or TV series has failed because it didn’t have enough executive support.  I would encourage film programs at Christian colleges to start emphasizing media management, and graduate business leaders with an focus on entertainment.  Act One Hollywood (actoneprogram.com) has a curriculum to train studio executives, because the need is so great.

10.  Hollywood isn’t a mission field. There’s a joke in town that the church will send missionaries to reach half-naked heathen in third world countries, but not to reach half-naked heathen in Hollywood.  Traditional mission fields are important, but considering the global impact of entertainment, and the massive influence it has on culture, it’s amazing that the church today hasn’t made reaching the entertainment industry a higher priority.  Media leaders aren’t the enemy.  They’re simply people like us in need of the transforming power of the gospel.  Dan Rupple at Mastermedia International is making remarkable inroads here.  I would encourage every church in America to re-consider the entertainment capitols of the world as mission fields, and focus more attention on reaching the most influential industry in the world.

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  1. Thanks for this list Phil!!  I love it when you post lists like this that simply bless my career and ministry out here.  Actually, everything you post does but the lists are just way cool!  Haha.  Everybody in the church needs to read this one!  God bless.

  2. My background is in Christian Television not film, but from my experience everything you said rings true.  I travel the world and everywhere we go the local people know we are Amerians from California simply from watching the movies and television.  Even though I can't understand their English half of the time, they can usually understand mine because they have heard it from watching so much TV.

     My point. . . The entire world get's it's entertainment by watching American TV and Films.  They may not have food but they will have a TV.  This is our greatest tool to reach the world for Jesus Christ.

  3. This is very cool–at once encouraging and convicting. Item #1 really struck me with a reminder that I represent Jesus to those I encounter. If others have a warped view of what it means to follow Jesus, maybe it’s because His followers often behave in rather warped ways.

    Someone once said, “I wish I’d met Christ before I met Christians.”

  4. Very good and valuable observations, but there’s disagreement on a couple of these.

    While networks and studios may not be overtly anti-Christian/anti-God in meetings (though that has happened plenty of times), when you look at many (most?) of the shows they greenlight and the content they approve, it is highly anti-Christian and anti-biblical. (ABC’s upcoming “GCB” immediately comes to mind, and a thousand other programs that try to make sin normative.) What other conclusion can we come to? By their fruits ye shall know them. This IS war– spiritual war. Make no mistake: Satan very much is having his way in most of Hollywood TV and films. That is why many of us are here… to be salt and light.. change the hearts and minds of the decision-makers, as well as create quality content that accurately reflects the redemptive nature of Jesus. (Talk to Coleman Luck for more on his battles.)

    While I would not say that “executives are idiots”, most are woefully out of touch with their audience. If this were not the case, far more of their “customers” would like their products. Far less TV shows and films would be abject failures.

    If these executives were restauranteurs, hardly anyone would be eating there. But they refuse to change their menu. They keep creating things that few people like. 85% of Americans are self-described Christians, yet you will be hard pressed to find a show that appeals primarily to that gigantic demographic.

    I guess that’s why some say that is idiotic.

    As for it not being “all about the money”, it’s often more about spiritual warfare than money. There are metrics that are completely ignored when a project has Christian undertones. Wildly successful films like “The Passion of the Christ” who every studio hated because of the inherent Christian message (and alleged anti-Semitism– not that many Jews in Hollywood are religious)… and “The Vow” which was stripped of the transforming power of Jesus, and stripped of good box office in the process… dozens of others I could notate.

    It’s definitely not all about the money. It’s war.

    1. Perhaps you should read the post again. It seems by disagreeing, you have only succeeded in further fortifying Phil’s points.
      And you seem to have missed the point altogether about the media executives. People don’t buy things they don’t want to buy, so obviously there are plenty of happy “customers.” More happy customers, in fact, than almost any other industry on the planet.

      1. I’m only “disagreeing” with or attempting to expand on a couple of my friend and colleague Phil’s important points.

        Not sure what you mean about “plenty of happy customers.” If you’re talking about the moviegoing and TV-watching public (who truly are “the customers”), there are very few “happy customers”, with ratings and box office in continual decline for many years now. And what IS out there is mostly a bunch of dreck. There are notable exceptions, but the percentage of those is tiny compared to the whole.

        Studio and network execs largely buy what they like and what they want. To quote CS Lewis, “In their shop, the customer is always wrong.” The ratings and box office receipts largely make his timeless point.

        As filmmakers who are Christian, our challenge is to work within that reality. And it ain’t easy.

  5. My husband and I just read your book about Branding and really enjoyed it.
    Your list above is encouraging in many ways – although I truly understand where the myths originate.  I too was saddened that “The Vow” was stripped of all spiritual life.  And the first time I watched “Joseph and the amazing technicolor dream coat” I was literally grieved and wanted my money back.  In the midwest we continually marvel that Hollywood takes amazing stories that are full of the miraculous power of God and generally destroy them.  It is like developing a process to turn diamonds into rhinestones and then celebrating that you have taken something of value and made it worthless.
    I don’t know if you have heard of the “Seven Mountain Prophecy” but it talks about the seven mountains of influence in culture and our need through prayer and other means to retake those areas for God’s glory.  Tim Tebow and Tyler Perry are two notables battling to give God glory in sports and entertainment.  Fox News has a long way to go, but they are the closest thing to a truthful voice in Media.
    As pastors, my husband and I are encouraging our young people to go into every honest profession and to be salt and light.
    You are certainly salt and light yourself and we learned a lot from your book and are trying to incorporate it at our church.
    Thank you for being a voice to both sides of the divide.  We both need to hear you.

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