Christian Media

Is the Rush to Make “Faith Based” Movies Creating a Market for Schlock?

It’s happening.  Just as I’ve been discussing over the last year, the rush of studios to release “Christian” themed films is causing them to pick up some junk (can I say “crap?”), thus screwing it up for future filmmakers.  This is from a review by William Lobdell in the Los Angeles Times about the film “Conversations with God”.  Granted, it’s not a strictly “Christian” film, but it falls in the faith-based category.  He says dislikes it so much he wants to ask God:

“When are the majority of movies with overtly spiritual themes going to rise to industry standards?  “Conversations” has all the tell tale signs of a religious film that keeps your basic moviegoer away:  stilted dialogue, overwrought music, the subtlety of a daytime soap.  In the wake of “The Passion of the Christ” and “The Chronicles of Narnia” aren’t you afraid that too many films like “Conversations” will send your flock running in the direction of “Saw III”?

Good point, and hard to argue.  What do you think?

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22 Comments

  1. Christian culture in the USA is the most backwards culture there is when it comes to actually making ground.  The majority of things that you can put the label "Christian" in front of make the non-believing masses cringe.  

     True, Christian music has gotten better, but not good enough to be labeled 'music,' dropping the Christian adjective.  There are some cases (Like in almost anything) of Christian bands going mainstream, but the majority continue preaching to the choir.

     True, Christian movies are now getting more theater time, but they are reaching a Christian audience that doesn't care how crappy the movies are, as long as God comes out on top.  My parents LOVED Facing the Giants.  They told me for 3 weeks straight I needed to see it.  It wasn't bad, but it took maybe ten minutes for me to come up with the resolution of the movie: 

    *SPOILER ALERT*  Everything Turns out Alright for the Christian team *SPOILER ALERT* 

     Christian movies are more predictable than horror films.  At least in a horror film you want to watch to find out if you were right about which characters wind up dead.  Christians might think seeing whether or not someone gets "saved" is dramatic and well worth ten bucks, but to the rest of the US it's just a pretentious way of saying "You're wrong, and we're right." 

    As soon as a Christian production company starts making quality films that aren't "faith-based," but story based with faith elements, we'll be on the right track.  For now, I'll cringe every time I hear "Fox Faith" and hope that eventually Fox decides it's not worth it.  

  2. I agree. Is it that Christians aren't as talented as mainstream hollywood? Or don't have the drive to get talented stuff to the screen? I'm beginning to wonder. I'd like to see "faith-based" that appeal not only to the Christian audiences but to the mainstream as well, films that are so good the mainstream goes to see them and tells their friends "you have to see this movie!" Can we do that? I think we can, but it will require that we widen our audience focus a bit. Thoughts?

  3. My thought, or question, is… where are the brilliant writers? Those who understand the rhythm of real dialogue and conversation. So many faith-based films are so darn focussed on "getting the message out", that they rush every other detail of great film-making. And unfortunately, they seem to think that the audience will fall on their knees by the end of the film, like responding to an altar-call. The great writers have to be out there somewhere… we have to find them. the next Stanley Kubric, the next David Mamet…who love God, who are totally involved in a vibrant relationship with Jesus. Now that would be the beginning of faith-based films that could (can you imagine it?) go down in history as some of the best films ever made. God is definitelywilling and able. (And has probably been waiting for years for his children to step into this territory). The possibilities are truely amazing! And the response would be completely jaw-dropping. 

  4. There has been a lot of dialogue (and monologue) criticizing recent and historic efforts to communicate the message of Christianity via "film".  Also, there has been no shortage of opinion (but no total agreement) as to what should comprise a "good"  film that conveys this message.  My sincere question is can anyone point me to an example of a film the "almost made it"? It would be a film that shows promise of how this message should be conveyed in a manner that wouldn't alienate unbelievers.  This would be accomplished without obscuring the message to the point it has no effect in moving the unbeliever in even the tiniest step towards a relationship with Jesus Christ.  Since Christianity and its message has been around for more than 2000 years and film for more than 100 years, why hasn't someone gotten any closer to this ideal than what we've seen so far?  Can these concepts really be integrated into something that "works"?  Are these two goals mutually exclusive?

  5. It would take an incredibly talented writer and director to fashion a movie that tells a great story, entertains the scores of Christian denominations, ticks off the standard ‘religious’ pre-requisites, waters the questioning minds of those who have heard about Jesus, provides a revelation of Jesus to those who might not have heard of Him and manages to keep the Studio Executives happy. Methinks ‘Faith Films’ through a major studio were doomed from the start, not helped by genuine Christian Film makers trying to do too much with an opportunity perhaps given a little too early.

  6. I don't think there is a rush to "make" faith based movies. The rush is to distribute them. Phil, it's like you told me in your interview with me earlier this year…it's the money guy that will change the industry. All these studios are doing is distributing faith based films, few if any are actually being produced. It's all independant work that's being produced. If they put millions into producing "faith based" films I'm sure the production values would be way higher and the stories would be better, but Christian films are an independant market-meaning little to no funding. I think it's just a matter of funding. We did our last two features with 0$ and people constantly swarme me with scripts, headshots, ect…what can I tell them? There's great talent out there and great stories to be told, but until someone pays for it-it's not going to happen. We're pretty rogue and not everyone is willing or able to do 0$ stuff. Just cuz you might see us in blockbuster, best buy, or barnes and noble doesn't mean we're getting paid for it. It just means it's another product their trying to sell and make money on-money is always the driving factor behind anything the studios do…retail success with almost solely depends on your marketing budget-to ensure nationwide general public awareness…

    I would also disagree about Christian music being sub par..they record in the same studios and use the same producers, quality is no different than secular-the sound product is exactly the same-except lyrics or style, the labels are probably owned by the secular labels, it's just that the songs they play on the radio are whoever can afford the biggest marketing push to be the most visible-those aren't always the best songs, just who has the most marketing power. It's takes a lot of time and money to become a nationwide household name. The Christian film industry is just growing and it may be nice to lose the "Christian" label, but the label "Christian" still sells a lot of product. What would Christian bookstores do without Christian products…that's a big industry..Christian books, music, clothes, and now movies….and even tons of sites selling sermon video tools for churches…a whole new market for the "Christian" label…

  7. I suspect the problem is one of economics. Great writers take years to develop their skills. There are thousands of Christians working on televised church services because, historically, that has been whats paid their bills. As such they have not developed great writing skills because Pre-Passion these skills were not in demand. I think we will slowly see a change in this area over the coming years.

  8. Prior to The Passion, Christian films generally fell into four depressingly predictable categories:

    1. Horny Christian teenager discovers getting drunk and having sex outside marriage isn’t all its cranked up to be.

    2. Prostitute/Drug addict/Criminal reaches rock bottom, then gets saved watching a Billy Graham rally.

    3. The various “End Times” thrillers.

    4. “Burn the heretic” pictures about the reformation.

    Post Passion, there have been a handful of gems, but marketing them as “Christian” is the problem. Unless this stops, we’ll be back to the above four cliches. I must confess that even as a Christian, I would much rather watch a superbly written, acted and directed film that contradicts or challenges my faith than a badly made film that endorses it.

  9. Wow, Simon… I've never seen it summed up so simply.  It is for this reason that I committed myself to Christian media.  I was in Chicago for Christmas my freshman year of college.  One night on a major network on prime time was a Christian based movie that was a mixture of Dickens' Christmas Carol and a political stance against the evils of removing nativity scenes from public places.   While deep inside I agreed with much of what they were saying, I was appalled at the poor writing, faulty logic that only seasoned Christians would agree with, and especially the CHEESY digital effects.  I felt like the purpose behind the film was to say "take that, sinners!"

     I don't think that Christians necessarily lack the skills to produce great media.  Two of my biggest mentors in my life are multiple emmy award recipients… naturally very successful in their fields.  Neither of them are directly involved in Christian media.  Christians are the most demanding group of people… they want the absolute most they can get for nothing, and then don't appreciate when they have something great.  For this reason, most of the Christian producers that I know are now working in secular fields… they feel more effective ministering to the hurting that they come in direct contact with.  This tends to leave a trail of mediocrity in the Christian field.  I praise God that this has slowly begun to change over the past few years.

    I guess it's just our job to absolutely keep this area in prayer… Hopefully God will give the vision to some of His people of a message that's compelling, accurate, and produced well enough to reach those in need.

  10. You guys have a knack for serious criticism and plenty of unthankfulness concerning our fellow Christian film-makers but what are you doing about it to make it better? Please you all that criticise the Christian film-makers so much but yet put the least effort to even find ways to improve the situation. You are just like Pharisees and Sadducees. But the minute one believer will break out and do what all of you have been moaning about for years, you will then criticise them for something else e.g. they made too much money, or well it was a fluke, they are not meant to do that and the list goes on. Please you love the world more than you know and trying to act like you are better than your fellow believers does not make you more loved by the world you so desparately are trying to seek approval from. You forget something very vital: believers are relatively quite young in this industry and many are not financially strong enough to do films on grander scale at the moment and the world that you are so admiring right now has been in this film game for quite some time as with many of the other industries of the world in finance, governance and media. Don't be too quick to condemn your fellow believers no matter what – you are still part of us unless you consider yourself better than us which will mean that you are proud and filled with pride. And if you don't like being believer go back to the world and enjoy it properly.I am not saying that where we are now is the best place but Hollywood did not get to where it is in ten years either. Despite all this they still churn out a lot of junk any how and it is not all movies in Hollywood that gets big budget credentials. God will still raise His Davids, Josephs, Daniels and Moses' despite where the world is. You are beginning to almost give voice the devil to discourage and accuse/malign the little seeds of opportunities that the Lord is making available. Do you guys really pray and hear from God? Is this what the Holy Spirit is telling you to do? Is this what Jesus would do to His own? Before you criticise and put down the small efforts your brothers & sisters are making consider well something – this is just the beginning – you have not seen the end. Invest in the movie industry yourself then you can come and talk.

  11. I am not hearing anybody talk about Tyler Perry here? Is he not a Christian? I am not hearing anybody talk about the impact Gospel music has had recently on a global level? Or what about Kirk Franklin who revolutionised Gospel music globally or Switchfoot? I wonder if Kirk Franklin spent his time criticising those that had gone before him whether he would be doing what is doing today for the Body of Christ and thank God he remained faithful to God and was not trying to please the world. God is building His Church and His Kingdom in the world whether people like it or not. Many of you are focussing on the negatives that you are not even seeing the recent impact Jesus Christ has made in the media. Just two nights ago, here in the UK there were a series of programmes that were explicitly talking about faith in Jesus Christ and amazingly they were portrayed very well and it was on mainstream TV! One of the channels that aired the programmes was a news channel called Al Jazeera which is owned by Arabs operating here in the UK!!! For the last ten minutes of the programme that aired on Al Jazeera they just allowed the pastors to discuss how Jesus had changed their community so much through regular bible study and prayer! And many Christians that go to the world because they can't make it in their Christian community better do it for the right reasons because we are all answerable to God not man. Besides really that term "the world" shouldn't exist where work and calling is concerned because God owns everything including NBC, ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN everyone of them belongs to Him. He owns the world and everything in it, it is just the system and the spirit of it that is not His and even then we are to occupy these places for Him. But one thing is for sure God too has a lot of surprises and it will be better for us all to spend time with Him and work with Him to accomplish them. I am totally excited what He is doing here in the UK and we have made up our minds not criticise those who have gone before us because they have paved the way for us to continue what they started and we aim to accelerate and raise the standard that will set the standard for others (especially those who are unbelievers) to follow. Money is not our god, God is our God and it is He that we serve and He will provide the gold and silver and every builiding material needed to do His work – read Ezra and Nehemiah.

  12. One point to consider. Making a film christian and making a film that honours and is worthy of God are two very different things. Many of us have not been willing to pay the price of excellence where films or the media that contains faith in God is concerned. But this is now changing to the Glory of God. One word to consider in a field of discipline or professional career – in season and out of season, pay or no pay, admiration or none – you just work your skill consistently and you will not know the day when people will begin to call for you because you have perfected the skill to its greatest reality from its deepest potential (the unseen world). There is hope for the film industry where believers are concerned – just keep at it and learn and grow and focus on the target not the spectators. So when we excel in our work, wee will stand before kings; we will not stand before unknown men. This is the art of excellence from God's perspective – day and night consistenly. Enjoy the day:-)

  13. I completely agree that there are many talented Christians who given half a chance could produce excellence and I agree things are currently changing for the better. But what I am concerned about is the “one step forward, two steps back” effect that could occur if films continue to be marketed as “Christian”.

  14. As the bard said, "Aye, there's the rub!"

    Christian films have been largely bad, but someone's been trying. That's great! I'm glad believers have been mixing it up a bit, because that's how they get experience, and get better.

    A big problem is that Christians haven't exactly been made welcome in Hollywood. Now, given, this is largely our own fault (research the history of the problems between the church and cinema for an eye-opening look at what the church has done wrong), and now that we're starting to get with the program, we have a lot of prejudice and bias to overcome.

    The animosity is pretty clear, and you don't have to look far. Here's the recent comment made by Kathy Griffin when she received an Emmy:

    "And when you did win, you pointedly did not thank Jesus in your acceptance speech, right?
    Here's what I said exactly: ''A lot of people get up here and thank Jesus for helping them win this award, but I have to say nobody has been less helpful in getting me to this moment than Jesus. I don't know what I ever did to him, I just think he doesn't like me that much, and if he had his way, Caesar Milan would be holding this statue right now, but he's not and I am! So I guess all I can really say is, 'Suck it, Jesus! This statue is my God now!''' "

    link: http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20055852,00.html

    Down in the article she talks about how she was "kidding", but do you see anybody "kidding" about any of the other major world religions? At least non-adherents?

    Or, look at what Jodie Foster had to say about Christians with regards to the uproar surrounding Dakota Fanning's recent movie with the rape scene:

    "I think the [uproar] was just a bunch of Christians who didn't see the movie."

    http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20054140_3,00.html

    Was it? I don't know, but I have a feeling it wasn't just Christians. But, we get the blame, because it's the kind of thing we WOULD do.

    And these are just some of the actors! Imagine how the studio people feel about us! Do you think they're excited about working with Christians? They see us as a bunch of freaks and complainers.

    So, it's going to be tough for Christians to go the "traditional" route in making good movies. But, it's what we have to do, if we want our movies to be seen outside the Christian community. I love the ministries working in Hollywood right now (Act One, Hollywood Prayer Network, Hollywood Connect), who are trying to transform the image of the Christian in Hollywood from the inside out. These are people who really love Hollywood, love movies, and love Christ (not in that order, necessarily), and who have a real, long-term vision for changing things – not making a Contemporary Christian Film ghetto, but enabling Christians to be in the system, making movies that speak Truth into the culture.

    It's a very exciting time for Christians who love Hollywood! I think God's doing something pretty cool, and it will be great to see what the result will be.

     

    – Nate

  15. I thought that FACING THE GIANTS was a wonderful movie. It truly moved me and challenged me as a Christian. It did not water down the truth. The movie had a great story and made me laugh, cry and seek God. Obviously, millions of others felt the same. I'm just curious why you were not moved by FACING THE GIANTS. It's a prime example of how the Lord Jesus can use a low budget movie for His glory and honor. There are a number of Christian films that many would judge as poor quality, but I have seen thousands surrender their lives after watching them. The Word of God will not return void. 

  16. As I've said before, I liked FTG, too. It really challenged me in my faith, and made me realize that I wasn't trusting God enough. I thought it was well done for a low budget indy film, and it was nice to see a film that featured authentic southern accents instead of some Hollywood wannabes, putting on an accent that is so phony you could spot it a mile away during a hailstorm.

    But, overall, I have a problem with the film, which is twofold:

    1) Barbara Nicolosi referred to FTG as "Christian fantasy", and she's right. Here's a quote from her review:

    "Absolute fantasy stuff. The kind of thing that makes Christians puff out their chests proud to be on the winning team! This film fumbles deep, deep in the prosperity Gospel end zone. It is icky to tell people that they should be Christian because of the career and health benefits. We have the problem on the team of that embarrassingly unsuccessful crucified coach of ours."

    http://churchofthemasses.blogspot.com/2006/10/facing-facing-giants.html

    2) It's preaching to the choir. We have to do this every now and again, but why can't Christian filmmakers make movies that the masses will want to see? Isn't that the point of filmmaking in general, and Christian filmmaking in particular? It's really bad economics to say that our filmmaking must be like our faith, and only seen by a few. I mean, look at the response FTG got at rottentomatoes.com:

    http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/facing_the_giants/

    13%?!? Ouch. That makes FTG one of the worst reviewed films of 2006. Ideally, we should hope for 90% or more, shouldn't we? Of course, most "Christian" movies score pretty low.

    The Passion – 51%,

    The Ultimate Gift – 33%

    "One Night with the King" – 13%

    "Left Behind" – 14%

    And the highest rated Christian movies (at least of the titles I looked up)?

    "Jonah: A Veggietales Movie" at 66%!!! Go Phil V.!

    "Amazing Grace" – 71% – Way to go, Ken Wales and company!

    So, it seems to be the problem with filmmaking being done by Christians in general, that we aren't creating stories well, or we're not executing them well. I'm really proud of Christians who are giving it a go (including the makers of FTG), but I think we're all feeling so tentative because of the "Christian" label that is affixed to our product. We've got access to the "Greatest Story Ever Told", so why can't we make the "Greatest Movies Ever Seen"?

    -Nate

  17. It's probably safe to say that Simon & Andrew were two of the best fishermen of their time, even while fishing in their own strength. Look however, what happened when Jesus told them where to throw their nets. William Lobdell wants the majority of movies with overtly spiritual themes to rise to industry standards. It's true that Hollywood has had decades to sharpen their skills and crafts. Even with all that time and experience look at some of the garbage they've produced. As a screenwriter I understand the need for a artist to see his work succeed. However, we need to draw on the strength of the one who tells us where to cast our nets, to provide the world with movies & entertainment that will show the "industry standards" what real standards are.

  18. I totally agree with you Michael Williams. What if believers called to the film, TV and arts industry those who have a calling within the media industry were given the same budgets that a standard Hollywood movie is made for – say about $5 million to $50 million dollars – what movies would they be making and what would be the ratio of critically successful films at the box office be then? Only then and only then will I say that you can compare movies made by unbelievers to believers. Till then it is uphill struggle. But the comforting thing is that if we as believers can perfect our skill with so little imagine when there is an abundance. Myabe we need to focus on what the Lord has given us rather on what we do not have and see how He will bless the work of our hands because we are in obedience to Him.

    Go down if you want to go up; Die if you want to live; Be tough on life before it’s tough on you; Prepare to suffer; Make pleasure a transition not an address; Complacency is a convenient killer; Truth is a bitter pill that leaves a sweet aftertaste.

  19. Hang in there Breaklight. I believe the time is coming when Christian artists will have a place to make big budget films that will change the world.

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