Monday, January 11, 2010

Going Hollywood

Over the past few years, we have seen a significant increase in the number of Christian films. It seems that Christians are now going Hollywood and have accepted the power of storytelling. This is a good thing. But I think there are a few questions we should be asking ourselves. Are we getting the results we want? What’s the goal? Are today’s Christian films reaching a broader audience, or are they just speaking to a Christian audience? Is the goal evangelism or edification? Could the money that is being raised to produce and distribute Christian films be better spent elsewhere?

Millions of dollars are being raised annually to support an emerging new Christian film industry. It seems like Christian investors and donors are excited about the possibility of film. It all started with Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ”. It caught everybody off guard, including Hollywood. It was a mega hit both financially and artistically. But let’s take a closer look.

What type of impact did the film really have? There have been countless articles concerning its impact. I think it is fair to state that its spiritual impact has been overstated. I’m not suggesting that it did not move people’s hearts or that a number of people may have come to Christ because of the film. But it did not cause a significant spiritual renewal or revival. No “one” film can do that. One movie is just one movie. Media’s real power lies in its combined affect. Multiple media streams and images over a period of time of exposure produces influence on culture and individuals. That’s why we need not just one film like “Passion of the Christ” but a multitude of films that offer a Biblical perspective.

How do we get these kinds of films? First, I’m not sure I would classify “Passion of the Christ” as a Christian film. It is more of an historical film. I’m not sure most Christians would go where Mel Gibson went with the violence and content of the film. And “Passion of the Christ” was aimed at a broader audience than just the Christian audience.

Most Christian films unfortunately have been Christianized to the point that they do not speak to a mainstream audience. Both Fox and Sony Pictures have created a Christian film division within their studios. They know there is now a niche audience to support this kind of film.

Christian filmmakers will be tempted to fall into the same trap that Christian recording artists did in the early 1980s by creating a Christian film industry that speaks just to Christians. Perhaps there is a better solution. Why not put some of our money into people instead of projects or films? Why not embrace a media missionary concept where filmmakers who are passionate about their art and their passion for Christ can be used to reach a broader audience. If you want to know more about media missionaries, check out my website

Media missionaries are people who are called by God to go into the mission fields of mainstream media, Hollywood and the entertainment industry. Their goal is to redeem and reform the media by creating art that reflects Biblical values.

Here’s a few things to consider. A media missionary could have a 30 – 40 year career, could work on as many as 60 or more projects, and could have influence on hundreds if not thousands of people within the industry. When you support a media missionary you’re not supporting just one project but a lifetime of work. That gets you more films with Biblical content in front of more people over a longer period of time.

Are there other special interest groups using this approach? Absolutely. It goes on all the time. A group with a certain point of view or message is always trying to influence new filmmakers. They have understood four key principles. First, they have a long-term view. They see results in terms of 5, 10 or 20 years. They are not interested in just the short term. Second, they believe in the process. They understand the power of the media. They don’t need a five or ten-year plan. These groups realize it’s a numbers game—help enough people over a long period of time and you will get the results you want. Third, they have a “no strings attached” approach. They support young filmmakers in film school with the hope that some day they will remember them. And, finally, they are low key. No press conferences, no announcements. Everything is done quietly.

As Christians, we need to embrace the same strategy because it works. Sure, I know it’s risky to put money on people versus projects or films. Who’s to say in five years, they may very well reject their faith or make movies that are contrary to Biblical values. But I think it is worth the risk.

I am not suggesting that if God has called you to make a Christian movie not to do it. I’m just offering some other alternatives that I think would be useful for the long haul. Just something to consider.

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