Friday, May 28, 2010

Time to Break Out the Popcorn

Memorial weekend is upon us. With that we start Hollywood’s most important time of the year, the Summer Season. In fact, it already started a couple weeks ago with Iron Man 2, Robin Hood and Shrek Forever After. It seems the film industry can’t wait for summer to start.

So how does the summer schedule look? Any good movies out there? If you are a serious film buff looking for thought-provoking material, character-driven stories or generally a movie about “something”, you might want to take the summer off. This year’s offerings look mediocre at best. It’s a disturbing trend that’s been going on for several years. Summer Season has become very predictable with the usual sequels and remakes. In the sequel category this year we have Iron Man 2, Sex and the City 2, Shrek Forever After, Toy Story 3-D and Twilight Eclipse. Over in the remake category, we have a choice between Karate Kid and A-Team. One of the reasons why Hollywood likes sequels and remakes is that it already has built-in audience awareness. That requires less effort and budget to promote and market. In fact, the so-called P&A (prints and advertising) can actually be greater than the production costs of the film.

Unfortunately, most summers movies lack much original thought or creativity. Hollywood would prefer to play it safe and seems to have no appetite for taking risks. I guess it’s hard to blame them when most summer films average from $100 – 200 million in budget. With so much on the line, a bad summer could potentially drive a studio into serious financial problems. That's why summer is all about special effects, CGI or computer generated images and big explosions. And all that’s fine. I like a good “popcorn movie” as much as the next guy.

But can we add some character development into the mix or perhaps even an intelligent story once in a while? Is that asking too much? There’s no question whether it can be done. Look, for example, to the original Iron Man and The Dark Knight. Both offered plenty of special effects, but what made them work is they were both story focused. They presented interesting, complex, and compelling characters. Yes, I know it requires some effort, skill and talent. But we need to send a message to Hollywood. How about putting some STORY back into your product?

So what does the summer offer us? There’s plenty of action, sci-fi, fantasy, animation and comedy flicks. Don’t look for any serious adult dramas in the line up.

On the comedy front, Grown ups with Adam Sandler could be interesting. Nicolas Cage makes another appearance for Disney with The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, which will probably be similar in tone and style to National Treasure. What could be a big hit is The A Team because it already has a built-in audience. The old 80s television show has been in syndication for several years and had a loyal original fan base. Other movies worth checking out are Robin Hood, Prince of Persia, and Knight and Day.

Perhaps the best bet for the summer without question is Toy Story 3-D. This is a clear winner, and the audience is more than ready to take another trip with Woody, Buz Lightyear and the rest of the gang. And of course the big bonus is it’s in 3D. Pixar is always on target because they have learned something that most people in Hollywood have forgotten—IT’S ALL ABOUT THE STORY.

Another movie I personally want to see that sounds like it has an original and interesting plot is Inception. It combines some interesting concepts, including technology, the interaction of a human mind and the idea of “dream invasion” as a possible weapon. The film offers a strong cast featuring Leonardo DiCaprio. This one could be a real winner.

Here are other potential films you should check; however, the only problem is they won’t be playing at your local multiplex. It will require some effort on your part because they will more likely be playing in “art houses”. Get Low will be released July 30. It stars Robert DuVall, Sissy Spacek and Bill Murray. It’s based on a true story from the 1930s. Also receiving significant, critical acclaim is The Kids are All Right.

And finally, one of the questions I get all the time is do movies today better represent a Christian point-of-view in terms of content. If there is one time of the year where Hollywood really is super-concerned about content, it is the Summer Season. There’s no question. There’s been a significant change over the last 25 years. With so much money at stake in the summer, the last thing Hollywood is looking for is trouble or controversy. So in some ways the content has been cleaned up. You will find less graphic violence, nudity, or language during the Summer Season. But there has been a significant increase in stylistic violence and suggestive material. Hollywood has embraced the PG 13 rating because it offers the best of both worlds. They have made it cool for teens and young adults while at the same time toning down the content to make it more family friendly, at least in their eyes. As always, you need to exercise your own discernment and thoroughly review the plot before venturing out to the movies.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

LOST and Redemption

Unless you’ve been trapped in a time warp or from a different dimension, you know by now that LOST came to an end last Sunday. I know every reviewer, blogger and fan site have weighed in on the final episode. So I thought about giving my perspective as well.

Now that you’ve had a few days to think about it, did you find the answers you were looking for? Did you have a sense of closure? I don’t think every question was answered, but I feel there was a sense of completeness. Frankly, I was a little disappointed after the initial viewing. But as I thought about it, there was no other way it could end. We needed to have our characters find some sense of balance and happiness. But, more importantly, the producers fulfilled the theme of the show. The characters found a way to be fixed and redeemed from their past mistakes.

The show was never really about being lost on a remote island somewhere in the South Pacific. LOST was about the characters’ need for redemption because their souls were lost. LOST offered a unique perspective on faith and science, spirit and flesh, life and death, and purpose and free will. Ultimately, it asked deep questions about our destiny and the need for each of us to complete our purpose in life.

So how could LOST have ended any other way than moving on and finding redemption? After all, we all seek redemption whether we know it or not. And what made LOST great is the fact that our characters, for the most part, were unaware of their flaws and brokenness.

I came to LOST late in the game. Probably like a lot of viewers, I wondered how a show about castaways could possibly be interesting. I was wrong. After hearing so much about the critical acclaim of the show, I decided to sit down and watch the first four seasons on DVD. I was blown away. This was television at its best. Pure genius.

So what did LOST have going for it, and what can you learn as a future filmmaker or media maker?

1. Story/Great Writing – First and foremost, LOST was about story. I’m sure you’ve heard that a lot from me if you read my blog on a regular basis. STORY is the foundation building blocks. Without it, you have nothing. The creators of LOST absolutely understood this. Fantastic plot development with outstanding dialogue are the trademarks of LOST. LOST was never about CGI or special effects or even action sequence to drive the show. It always revolved around the art of storytelling.

2. Character Development – No show in television history has taken the time and effort to develop more complex, fully human and 3-dimensional characters that were found on LOST. We felt like we knew these people and understood who they were.

3. A Unique Cinematic Experience – LOST had the opportunity to hit television at just the right time. Wide-screen and high definition was just starting to take hold. LOST was able to bring big-screen techniques and production values to television. By doing so they created a cinematic or feature film experience. It felt like we were watching a movie every week. And it certainly helped that most of LOST was filmed on location in Hawaii.

4. Complexity – Let’s face it, most television shows are pretty simple minded. We know who the good guys are as well as the bad guys. In LOST we were never sure. We were always on the edge of our seats with plenty of twists and turns.

5. Atmospheric – Most television shows don’t have the time to think about lighting techniques, art direction or sound design. The producers of the show realized they needed to create a unique atmosphere for the viewer if they had any hope of getting the audience hooked. We thought we were on the island because we could feel the emotional tug, the fear, and the terror of the unknown. I think LOST hit the mark on all those factors by creating a unique atmosphere that was believable.

6. All Good Television or Films Must be About Something – Whether we realized it at the beginning of LOST in Season One, this show was asking significant questions. It wasn’t just about being lost on an island. In fact, it asked questions about the significance of life itself. What is good and what is evil, and how do we distinguish the two. There was clearly a spiritual take on everything that happened on LOST. In some ways the island itself could serve as a metaphor for God’s power, both emotionally and physically.

So will there ever be another LOST? Probably not. I don’t think the networks are in any mood to take this type of risk in the future. LOST was one of the most expensive television shows ever produced. In fact, its pilot was the most expensive ever and cost the job of the executive who green-lighted the show. In order to pull off something like LOST, you need a huge canvas. That meant exotic locations like Hawaii and a huge ensemble cast. The cost alone makes a show similar to LOST unlikely in the foreseeable future.

Another factor is the nature of serialized programs. Networks realize if you don’t get the audience in the beginning, there is no way you can grow the show. That means if the numbers are mediocre in the first season, they will not improve if the show if picked up for a second season. In fact, LOST continued to lose audience throughout its history. Why? Because if you missed a few episodes, it was impossible to get back into the flow of the story. To ABC’s credit, they did everything they could to minimalize this effect of audience erosion.

Another reason why show’s like LOST have a difficult time getting established is the audience is weary of committing to a serialized show. Just ask the fans of Defying Gravity, Surface, Threshold, Invasion, and Jericho. They were all basically one season and gone. So why commit to a show and get drawn into its storyline only have the network not renew your show for a second season. You are left hanging with no answers or closure. So the networks wonder why we are so upset with them.

My final thought is that we should celebrate LOST. We were all part of television history that may never come this way again. Perhaps the final episode didn’t answer all of our questions, but it was a fantastic journey. My advice is that if you haven’t seen LOST get the DVDs and spend some time watching them back-to-back. You will pick up on more of the finer details and hints that you missed the first time around.

And by the way, Season Six will be available on August 23, 2010. The creators promise to answer more of your questions in the DVD version. Only time will tell if we will get the answers we are looking for. Someone tell my why they had polar bears on the island. But what I really want to know is what was significant about the numbers.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Do You Have What It Takes? part 2

C is for confidence worth 20 points. Can you project confidence? Not false confidence. Obviously, your confidence should come from God and not your evaluation of your talents and skills. In this industry, perception is reality. If you are not confident about yourself being a filmmaker, others will not take you seriously. If God has called you to work in media and entertainment, then exert your confidence. Remember the famous line as it applies to producers: “I have several projects in various levels of development.” This can be an absolutely true statement as long as there’s a few thoughts in your head or perhaps a few things written down. The point is do you have the confidence to sell it?

A is for attitude worth 20 points. The wrong attitude will sink your career. Nobody wants to work with difficult people. I have hired a lot of crew members over my career. I can forgive a lot of things. But I will not bring somebody back who has a bad attitude. That’s like throwing gasoline on the fire because it can spread throughout your crew. The media, film and television business is no different than any other aspect of life. It’s all about the right attitude. Are you willing to serve others and start at the bottom? If you have a servant’s heart, you will have the right attitude to make it in this business. Are you good at making adjustments and adapting to difficult situations? Your attitude will be the determining factor.

D is for drive worth 20 points. Can you outwork everybody else? The media business requires long hours and dedication. If you are looking for a 40-hour week, you have chosen the wrong career. A couple of years ago, I worked with an intern who was a fourth year media student. Her plan was to be a television journalist. The problem was she discovered in order to do that she would be required to work long hours including weekends. She wanted her Friday and Saturday nights off to go out with her friends. Do you think she found a job in her field as an anchor or reporter? If you are not ready for long hours and working weekends, change your major now. In the film business, a typical day can be 14 – 16 hours. Remember, the advantage you have is your youth. The question is do you want it bad enough.

F is for focus worth 20 points. Can you be laser-like in your approach to your work? Seeing the goal at hand is the secret of focus. In the media business, there are all types of distractions. First you can start believing all your hype that you are special or that the rules don’t apply to you. That can lead to bad lifestyle choices as well as to the people you hang around with. All of this is a distraction and will cause you to loose your focus. You can find a lot of successful, talented people who no longer work in the film or television industry because they lost their focus.

P is for a plan worth 15 points. Have a plan. Then have a backup plan. And then again have a second backup plan because in this business things change fast. You get the point. You have to have a plan. Preferably a good one. The whole point is just writing a plan makes you think about the process. It makes you an active participant in your career and not merely a bystander. And, frankly, people will be more impressed with you if you have taken the time and effort to actually develop and write a plan for your own professional and personal development.

X is the unknown factor worth 40 points. So what’s the X factor? It will mean different things to different people. Some people call it fate, chance, coincidence, dumb luck or destiny. For Christians, this is God’s plan and purpose for your life. After all of your hard work and effort, it will probably be the X factor that will determine whether or not you actually make it in this business. For some of you, this may be hard to fathom. All of the other elements get you close to the finish line. It’s the X factor that takes you across the line.

Obviously, the X factor works in your favor if you’ve been called to be a media missionary. But it’s not guaranteed. You must do your part so God can do his part. That means you have to work on your attitude, your confidence, your drive and your focus. You’ve studied hard and are knowledgeable in your craft. When you have done all this, the X factor kicks in on your behalf. On the other hand, if you are just trying to coast in, don’t expect the X factor to do much for you.

T is for total. When you add up all the factors, what number do you need? Remember this is only a theoretical calculation with a possible 305 points. You need to be over 200 points. I consider between 200 and 220 to be marginal. In fact, anything over 220 would put you more in the safe zone.

So how did I make the evaluation? For example, talent is worth 50 points. Anything under 17 or below, it’s not happening. Between 18 and 35 is marginal or average. For 36 and above, you are showing visible signs of talent in some area such as directing skills, writing, producing or acting.

So where do you stand? If you’ve done the work, attained your degree and really applied yourself, chances are you have one true talent that you excel in. That would put you in the upper half of the top third. You probably have three or four categories that you are somewhat efficient in. You would score in the lower end of the top third. You also have three or four categories in which you are adequate or average. That would put you in the lower or the middle end of the middle third. And most students have one category in which they have serious problems. In this case, you would score in the lower third. The trick is not to score in the lower part of the bottom third. So when you add it up, for most students, you are within striking distance, but it is often the X factor that will determine whether or not you make it.

Now ask yourself if you have what it takes to make it in this business. What do you have to work on and improve? More importantly, what are your strengths? Remember, you don’t have to be good in every factor, just excel in what you are good at.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Do You Have What It Takes? part 1

So what exactly are your gifts and talents? Do you have what it takes to be a producer? What about a director? Or perhaps you see yourself as an actor. I am often asked by my film students what it takes to work in Hollywood and the entertainment industry. There is no simple answer to that question. First of all, a film degree will not guarantee you success or even employment. There are completely different skill sets, talents and giftings necessary to be a writer, director, producer, or actor. The trick is discovering where you best fit in.

I have created a formula that can offer some insight into your probability for success in the entertainment and media field. Here’s the formula: T + (N + K + E) + (C + A + D + F) + P + X = T. Remember the formula, at best, is only a probability. It cannot guarantee adequate results.

T is for talent worth 50 points. It is a determining factor, but you can have talent and still not succeed. Talent is one of those things that you either have or you don’t. It is absolutely a God-given gift. Yes, you can enhance talent or sculpture it over time, but it has to be inherent. You cannot go to film school and develop talent. If you are born to be a director, you will be a director. If you are born to be a writer, you will be a writer, etc. The fact is most of your instructors in film school will know after a short time if you have what it takes to make it. The only question is whether or not they will be honest with you.

So let’s say you want to direct. Can you make it in the business with marginal talent? Absolutely. But it will require you to be stronger in other areas to compensate. It might also mean that you would be better suited to be a first or second assistant director.

N is for networking worth 40 points. The media business is all about networking. It’s really who you know that is going to help you to work in this business. People like to work with people they like and trust. So how do you network? First of all, you need good social skills along with an excellent understanding of how the industry functions. Both are essential to be a good networker.

Do you know how to work a room? It’s without a doubt an art form. It certainly helps to be friendly and likable. You create an environment where people respond to you because you make them feel good, and they just like to be around you. It’s also essential to be a good communicator. It also helps to be interesting and capable of telling a good story. Perhaps the most important factor is being capable of listening to people. In other words, you care more about what they are saying than what you have to say.

Networking should always lead to relationship. And relationship will lead to trust and opportunities. Think of networking as your chance to help other people first. Who do you network with? Start with your own peers at film school, conferences, workshops, etc. Also when you are networking with people in higher positions, try to find out what they need and whether you have something you can leverage to meet that need.

K is for knowledge worth 40 points. Obviously, you need to know everything about your field. If you plan on being an editor or cinematographer, develop your craft. This is not only about a four-year experience you have in college, but it must be a lifetime commitment. The more you know, the more you will understand. And the more you can put into practice will dramatically increase your chances for success in whatever media field you choose. Read everything about your field. Find mentors who are experienced and knowledgeable and will show you the practical side of how to apply your craft. What you don’t know will kill you. In this business, people will know in the short term whether you are knowledgeable and know what you are talking about. You will not be able to fool people. And knowing the language of how people communicate in this industry is essential.

E is for entrepreneurship worth 40 points. Let’s stop fooling ourselves. Opportunities usually don’t come looking for you. Do you really think someone is going to offer you a $30 million picture to direct right out of film school? Especially in today’s economic environment, you can’t afford to sit around and wait for the phone to ring. Entrepreneurs make their own breaks and create their own opportunities. They are people who see things that other people don’t see.

Opportunities are everywhere. That’s how an entrepreneur thinks. For example, I just met a young filmmaker starting out in Hollywood. He has worked on several films as a production assistant. It’s entry level work. But he saw an opportunity that others didn’t. So he wrote a pamphlet called “The PA Guide, A Practical Guide to Your First Job in Film or Television”. As far as I know, there has never been a specific book written on the topic of the production assistant. This met a need in the marketplace. The fact is if you don’t know how to be a good production assistant, do you think you will get an opportunity to move up? It’s an excellent resource because it tells you everything you need to know to be the best production assistant you can be. He is selling the book for $7.95. This is classic example of an entrepreneur in action.

What does it take to be an entrepreneur? A good study of people, solid communication skills, and, obviously, a solid grasp of business principles are all essential ingredients. Most people who get to direct, produce or write their films, work in the independent model. That means you have to self-finance your projects. Entrepreneurs know how to raise money, make deals, find distributors and return a profit to the investors.

No you don’t have to be good at being an entrepreneur to make it in the media business, but it sure helps. If you are weak in this area as well as mediocre in talent, you are probably out of the running.

Coming Monday part 2

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Your Next Move

It’s that time of the year—Graduation! After four hard years, you now have your film degree. So what is your plan? Sure, you want to make films. But are you ready to go to Los Angeles and start your career in the film industry? And what about your faith? Where does that weigh in? Perhaps, you see yourself as a media missionary. You want to go to Hollywood to make a difference and change the culture for Christ. But the question remains. Are you prepared both professionally and spiritually?

You may find this hard to believe. After four years of hard work in film school, you probably have not learned what you really need to know in order for you to work and be successful in the entertainment industry. Now the real education starts.

Book knowledge is one thing. Practical application is a completely different matter. You have learned a lot of information in theory, but putting it into practice requires a different perspective and a different kind of education. After interviewing and talking to Christians who work in Hollywood as producers, directors, and actors, I want to offer you five key points that can help you with your next move.

Point 1: Know and understand how the system works. If you are planning to come to Hollywood, you need to know that it has its own rules, procedures and protocols. How does this town work? How do you get an agent? How do you network? How do internship programs work? These questions are all a part of understanding how Hollywood works. This is your real education. If you don’t understand the system and know what angles to play, you will fail in Hollywood. In film school they told you film is an art form, but in Hollywood it’s more about business than art. I guess that is why they call it show business. There is no show without the business side. Don’t get me wrong, film should be an art form first and foremost. But the real trick is to find a way to make art that works within the way Hollywood does business.

You should start to learn how the system works here first before you ever think about coming to Los Angeles. My contacts tell me your best strategy is to make a few field trips first before you plan on moving there. Meet with some of ministry leaders. Make some contacts. Find out as much as you can about the industry. In other words, get the lay of the land. A good place to start is with Hollywood connect is a good place to find a mentor, someone who is strong in his/her faith and also works professionally in the industry. Your mentor can be a source of inspiration and knowledge and can offer an inside prospective on how the studio system and the independent model work. You need to know how to find work, understand how film projects are funded and distributed, and how pilots and television series are created. Without this knowledge, you are at a tremendous disadvantage. Often these are the things you do not learn in film school.

What is the relationship between production companies and studios? Should you be employed by a production company or are you better off freelancing? I think you get the picture. The more you know, the better your chances will be. Prepare now and you won’t be sorry. And, of course, the real question you should be asking yourself is am I called to go to Hollywood in the first place?

Point 2: If you are a media missionary, you need to know the mission field you are entering into. If you understand the business side of Hollywood, that’s fine. But you also need to understand the cultural side. As I have discussed on my blog, Hollywood is a mission field with its own unique language, customs and rituals. Think of Hollywood and the people there as a tribe. If you are planning on reaching them, what do you know about them? What do they believe? What about their lifestyle? A media missionary must understand his or her tribe. Do you speak their language?

Point 3: Master your craft. There is no way to sidestep this. Are you good at what you do? Just because you have a film degree will not impress anyone in Hollywood. In fact, I meet many people who have film degrees who have never worked in this business at any level. You must master your craft. Everyone who works in Hollywood is excellent in what they do. Perhaps you should spend two years in your home town preparing. Work on some local projects. Hone your skills. And be honest with yourself. Do you have the talent necessary to compete in a competitive environment such as Hollywood?

Point 4: Are you prepared to pay the price? Sure, everybody knows there’s a price to pay. But whatever you think it is, just multiply it by ten because that will put you closer to reality. You are in for the battle of your life. It could take you years to become established. In fact, for the first two years, you may not even find a paying job in this industry. Are in a position to make that type of sacrifice? Everybody has to pay their dues starting at the bottom. And I do mean the very bottom. Sure, you hear stories of instant success. But that’s like winning the lottery. It’s only one in a million shot. In reality, you will start as a production assistant—probably getting somebody their morning coffee. It will not be glamorous.

You will say to yourself—I spent all this money for my film degree for this. Well that’s the entry price. You need to be the best production assistant you can be. You must excel and go beyond the call of duty. If you want to make it in this business, be a problem solver. If you do this, you will find work, and maybe one day you will get to direct a film.

I know you think you’re good at what you do. But, trust me, you will be challenged. Also, are you willing to accept friendly fire? I’m sure there will be a lot of people who will question your motivation as a Christian who goes off to Hollywood to work professionally in what many consider to be an ungodly environment.

Point 5: They will know us by our love. It all comes down to love. Do you have a love for this industry and can you love the people there? Without love, you cannot be a media missionary. You are going to meet some very difficult people. You will have to love them. If you can’t do that. Stay home. Your love is the essential ingredient in reaching the people in Hollywood. You love them by respecting them and serving them. That requires you to bring the right attitude. Do you have a servant’s heart? If you can do this, I’m convinced you can be successful both spiritually and professionally.

So what is your next move? Are you ready to go? Perhaps, you have some things to think about. Your best move is to seek God’s direction. Put it in His hands and pray for discernment and direction. Take some time to make your next move.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Five Questions that Lead to a Profound Truth

So, you are a committed Christian, a follower of Christ. Your faith matters to you, and it impacts your lifestyle. Your faith dictates your behaviors, attitudes and beliefs. In other words, it defines who you are. The Bible is not a book of suggestions but rather is the authentic authority of God. So I am going to ask you five questions about your future and the future of Christianity because they are interdependent on each other.

Questions One: Are you happy with the state of our world and culture as well as the influence of Christianity on that culture? Most of us would say absolutely NO. Who could be happy? In fact, Christianity seems to be in retreat rather than advancing. Recent headlines reveal the truth about our culture. Today over 40% of all births in America are from unwed mothers. What does that tell you about the condition of the family in our society? Frankly, there’s no point going on discussing the moral decline of our culture over the past few decades. We are all aware of it. If anything, Christianity is not changing the world, but the world is changing us. If we are honest about the facts, there is no other conclusion we can draw. It is what it is. All of our programs and resources are not hitting the mark.

Question Two: What issues or specific problems are blocking the influence of Christianity in the world? Sure, it would be easy to say it’s sin, and you would be correct. Obviously, we can point to the devil. The Word says that we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms accordingly to Ephesians 6.

But I am convinced we must go deeper to understand the specific strategies and techniques that undermine the work of the Body of Christ. We just can’t blame everything on the devil.

Question Three: What happens to our culture and the world in general if we continue on our present course? I think the answer is obvious. The world will only get darker. I believe our situation is a classic example of the definition of insanity. We keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. Unfortunately, all of our hard work and effort is changing absolutely nothing.

Do you know when we are most honest with ourselves? Late at night at 3 o’clock in the morning when we cannot sleep. That’s the time that we take an honest look at ourselves and at our efforts. We are losing this culture if we continue to apply the same Christian model for ministry. We need some new strategies and insights.

I am not suggesting that your ministry is a waste of time or that you should replace it. But I do believe there are solutions that, in fact, will help you to be more effective in your ministry for the Kingdom of God.

Question Four: If you could identify the problem and find a solution, what would you do? It’s a question we should ask ourselves. I’m sure we all want to make a difference. Who doesn’t want to get up in the morning and be successful? Nobody desires for their efforts and hard work to be in vain. The question is, what do you base success on. I’m convinced the world offers one view and the Bible offers a totally different perspective on success. Spiritual or Biblical success has very little to do with worldly success. So in order to identify a workable solution, one has to have a proper perspective of spiritual success. With that in mind, I’m convinced we would do everything we could do to advance the Kingdom of God if we could clearly see the obstacles that are in our path and obtain a clear strategy for Biblical success.

Question Five: How would you respond if I told you I know what the problem is and that I have real solutions on how we can change our culture and our world? Obviously, that’s a bold statement. You would probably think to yourself, well I’ve heard that one before. Frankly, I would be just as skeptical. Enter into any Christian bookstore and you can find thousands of books providing answers on marriage, family, cultural issues and ministry in general. How is it then that I have anything new to say?

First of all, I have been asking God these questions for over 20 years and looking for answers. So I didn’t just start yesterday. Sure, there have been many people who have identified the problems and issues we face. Others have come up with solutions to some of those problems. But nobody, in my opinion, has put all the pieces together or connected the dots. What God has shown me is the whole picture as a mosaic or holistic approach to the issues and problems we face with plausible solutions.

That’s why I wrote a new book titled A Media Culture, Crisis or Opportunity, The Rise of the Media Missionary. It’s a blueprint for change in our society to advance the cause of Christ. If you have read my blog, you probably realize that the media culture is the problem, and the solutions lie in understanding the impact that the media culture has on each of us.

The solutions have more to do with changing our views on ministry and culture as the Body of Christ than changing Hollywood itself. The solutions also must take into account the rise of the new media church, which has enormous implications. And the real problem isn’t about sex, violence, language or nudity. The issues go much deeper and are more complex. It’s also not about more family-friendly programming. We won’t find the solution in a new Disney channel. Removing the cable is also not a solution or workable answer.

If we are going to find answers, we are going to have to dig deep. We now live our lives in the marketplace. Everything today is a form of buying and selling. It is fueled by an never-ending appetite for consumerism. Our lives are now powered by every form of advertising, branding and marketing imaginable. We also live in a time in which celebrity has become the ultimate goal. My new book explores the influence of consumerism and greed on our culture and the distortion of the American dream and it’s impact and influence. But at the heart of the book, I offer five core principles that can change our culture.

What I have described above is the new DNA for an entire generation. The millennial generation are the children of the media culture. They are programmed to live in the marketplace. They are lost without their media and are incapable of thinking for themselves or understanding and interpreting the world around them without it.

Those are my five questions. Are you ready to make a difference?

How can you help? You can read the book when it becomes available and apply its principles. Purchase additional copies and send them to your family and friends. You can also help to make the book a reality in the first place. I am currently raising resources to self publish the book. Your support is important. Consider making a tax-exempt donation on line through Pay Pal at Or you can send a check payable to Flannelgraph Ministries to 7364 Cumberland Circle, Florence, KY 41042. Whichever option you choose, I appreciate your support. I want to have this book available within the next 90 to 120 days. With your help that’s a real possibility. And, of course, your prayers are invaluable.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Biola Media Conference

I thought today would be a good time to share my thoughts on the Biola Media Conference that I attended in Los Angeles last week. For those of you who are not familiar with Biola, this conference is undoubtedly the largest gathering of Christian filmmakers and media makers who work in Hollywood and the entertainment industry. The conference is sponsored by Biola University. The event takes place every year on the lot of CBS studios. The conference offers extensive seminars, workshops, and an abundant opportunity to network with your fellow peers.

I have been asked in the past if the Biola Media Conference is worth the time and money to attend. I would say yes, but it would depend on your individual situation as well as your expectations. First of all, the conference has a great setting. The CBS lot offers a perfect backdrop and creates the right environment. This is one of the best organized and best run events that I have attended. They put a great deal of thought and planning into this conference. It’s very impressive. So hats off to the organizing committee for their hard work and effort.

Because the Biola Media Conference has been around for several years, they are now in a position to draw some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry. I suppose the biggest reason for going to Biola is the networking opportunity. Especially if you live in Los Angeles or work in the business or are trying to break into the business, this conference makes total sense. Plus if you are a film student, the networking opportunities make this conference a must attend.

If you are traveling from somewhere outside of Los Angeles, then you have to weigh the added expense of air travel, hotel, and car rental. Since Biola is a one-day conference, does the expense justify you attending? My best advice is to bundle your trip with other activities. If you are a ministry leader and you are trying to understand how Christians are using media in Hollywood, then Biola is a good starting place, but it will not provide you with all they answers you may be looking for.

Let’s talk about seminars. They are the backbone of any conference. I have been attending all types of seminars for over 20 years. So Biola is no different than any other conference regarding the quality of the seminars they offer. It all depends on the presenters and how well they have prepared.

There are two types of seminars: panel discussions and individual speakers. I prefer individual speakers because they are most often better prepared. They usually have a specific topic or they are an expert in a specific field. With usually one hour to one hour and a half to speak, they have to be prepared and focused. Panel discussions, on the other hand, are a shot in the dark. Sometimes because a panelist can rely on other panelists they are not always prepared or focused. All I can tell you is “buyer beware”.

I attended two individualy-lead seminars that were excellent. The first one was “The Moral Premise and the Top Ten Secrets of Box Office Success”, lead by Stanley Williams. Williams is a script consultant who knows his stuff. In fact, this seminar was jam-packed. He could have taken the entire day. If you are interested in storytelling and scriptwriting, you should check out his book, The Moral Premise. His concepts give you the keys to how Christians can write content with Biblical truth and a Biblical message for a mainstream audience. The second seminar was lead by Perry Lanaro, who is the Vice President of Finance for Paramount Pictures. His topic was “The Movie Money Tail…Film Economics from a Studio Perspective”. This was an incredible, enlightening hour. I would have to say that every film student or any Christian who is coming to Hollywood should understand and have a knowledge of how the economics of the entertainment industry works.

Lanaro told the audience that the studios had cut back on the number of films that they plan to distribute and that they would not be taking as many risks due to the current economic environment (that’s something we were all aware of). What I found surprising is that the major studios are not planning to cut back on big-budget projects or tent pole films. But they have decided to dramatically decrease the number of independently produced films they plan to acquire as well cut back on medium-budget projects. What that means is less opportunity for new or emerging filmmakers in the foreseeable future. With that said, Lanaro indicated that if somebody could develop a business model for marketing and distribution for low-budget or independent films, this would be an ideal time to jump into the market

Now on to the general sessions. Biola offered a morning and afternoon general session. Usually these aren’t deal breakers for conferences, but they certainly can enhance your experience. Frankly, this was the weakest link for this year’s conference. At the morning session, hearing from former Walt Disney Studios chairman, Dick Cook, seemed to be out of step with the theme of the conference. I certainly appreciate Cook’s history and how he created a successful financial model for Disney; however, I didn’t hear a lot about how his Christian faith interacted with his decisions at Disney. And, I’m not sure how conference-goers could relate to his story.

I was puzzled by the final session. It featured a discussion with Terry Botwick, who was the former Senior Vice President for CBS, and Ralph Winter, who is a well-known producer of such films as X-men and Fantastic Four. Phil Cook served as moderator. Both Winter and Botwick discussed their launch of a new production company called 1019 Productions.

The session was generally about their inability to find support and financing to create a production company that offers quality and moral programming. Both men are well-known Christians in Hollywood. And I certainly feel for their frustration. But, to be honest, it was a rather depressing topic for the final session. I would prefer a speaker who would bring a message of encouragement and inspiration for Christians who are trying to make an impact and a difference in Hollywood, not someone taking about the financial woes of a production company. What were they thinking? Maybe this could have been a topic for a seminar but not for a general session.

I’m sure the organizers were convinced that somehow this would speak to everyone at the conference because if successful and influential Hollywood insiders like Winter and Botwick are experiencing challenges, they would have some answers for us beginners. But it just missed the mark.

There you go. That’s my thoughts on this year’s Biola Media Conference. Yes, I thought it was worth attending, but I hope they take a look at bringing in some speakers for the next conference’s general sessions that can tie the main theme back to the needs of the average conference attendee because they failed to accomplish this with this years theme: World’s Collide.. Finding Answers in Today’s Media Chaos. I didn’t find any answers.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Unsung Heroes

I just got back from the Biola Media Conference in Los Angeles. In the next few days, I will be posting my thoughts as well as some interviews with industry insiders. But first I want to write about the unsung heroes that I met during my week in Los Angeles. They work every day as media missionaries on the front lines. Although they don’t call themselves media missionaries, they are undoubtedly doing the heavy lifting of a Christian working and functioning in Hollywood. You probably would not recognize their names or the projects they have worked on. They are not looking for notoriety or fame. In fact, that could hurt their efforts.

These unsung heroes often work below the line as line producers, first or second assistant directors, and production managers. Sometimes they work above the line as producers or directors. But in whatever capacity they function, they are making a difference every day in the lives of the people they encounter. They live out their lives missionally. In other words, they see themselves working and living on the mission field as tent makers (a reference in which the Apostle Paul supported himself as a missionary).

They have an active purpose and reason for being in Hollywood. Yes, they love media and filmmaking, but they also have a love and passion to reach the entertainment industry for Christ. I’m convinced they are the real deal and have the power to change the face of Hollywood, not because they are different than any one of us but because they are willing to make sacrifices and be lead by the Holy Spirit and join God in His work.

How do they do this? At the very heart of their mission, they have a love for the people of this industry. They recognize that people who work in Hollywood and the entertainment industry are no different from any of us. They are lost and in need of redemption. Our unsung heroes also have a passion to serve people. When you come to Hollywood, no one starts at the top. You have to be willing to serve people. That’s a fundamental truth that all media missionaries must understand.

The people I talked to that I most admire believe in serving people through servant evangelism. They are first and foremost a friend—someone you can trust. They are the ones that get the call at 3:00 a.m. on location when somebody is in trouble. No questions asked. They are there with a helping hand and a compassionate heart. That’s how you win people, when they know that you genuinely care about them. You have to earn the right and the privilege to talk about Christ.

Our unsung heroes’ ministry is based on relationships. They are the hands and feet of Christ in this industry. The only way we are going to change Hollywood is to have committed Christians who are willing to live their lives in a Christ-like manner. The good news is I have met people who are doing this. They are our best hope. They have been in a position to witness to several big name actors and industry leaders because they are real and genuine and have put relationship first.

They are not the complaining types. So I’ll do the complaining. My question is, when will the Church decide to support our media missionaries in Hollywood and the entertainment industry? Our unsung heroes lack support from the church in general as well as from their own home churches. They need financial support in order to become established, which sometimes takes up to two years. They need to know that someone cares and that they are behind them and understand what they are doing and the sacrifices they are making. They need a listening ear when times get tough. Some people in the Church cannot understand how they can work in such an ungodly environment. Others don’t understand how they can work on projects that often don’t represent a Christian world view. I think they are missing the point.

I can’t imagine how dark Hollywood could be if our unsung heroes were not there. Here’s one example. Without going into detail, one of our heroes was in a position to remove a rape scene from one of the projects he was working on. He also was in a position to help one of the actors who was going through a rather difficult time in his life. None of this would happen if our unsung hero was not there.

Our media missionaries need our support through prayer as well as financially. Their work is just as genuine as any missionary on any mission field. They are the forgotten. You can’t imagine the types of financial sacrifices or the hardships they go through to be the hands and feet of Christ to this people group. No, they are not living the lifestyle of the rich and famous. It takes several years of hard work to get established in Hollywood. That often means working more than one job as well as relying on unemployment and sometimes going without. Talking to the spouses often gives you a sense of the type of commitments that are necessary to live as a missionary in Hollywood and the entertainment industry.

So, I am asking you to lift them up in prayer although you may not know their names. They are there doing the work and living their lives for Christ in an often hostile and unfriendly environment. Let’s get behind our unsung heroes. They are putting everything on the line for the Gospel.