Monday, June 28, 2010

Has Hollywood Found Religion? - Part 3

Do movies today reflect more of a Christian or Biblical worldview? Has Hollywood found religion?

There is no question that the overall content from the six major studios, Disney, Fox, Universal, Warner Brothers, Sony and Paramount, has substantially improved since the early 1990s. There are more movies being produced that reflect positive values and redemptive messages. I’m not sure a film like The Blind Side would have been made 15 years ago.

I believe there are four reasons that explain this turnaround in positive content as well as three issues that we should be concerned about. In other words, it’s not time to throw a party and celebrate yet.

Issues of Concern or I’m about ready to rain on your parade.

Issue 1

Only one in six movies is produced and distributed by the six major studios. That leaves about 500-600 other movies receiving some form of distribution in North America. Where do these films come from? They originate from mid-level studios such as Lions Gate, First Look Studios, Magnolia and others, direct-to-video production companies and independent distributors. If you are looking for plenty of graphic violence, sex, nudity, bad language and other forms of debauchery, you have found it in this lot.

I wish I could tell you I have seen some improvement from films released from non-major studios, but that’s not the case. We need to see improvement in this area. That’s not to say there are not a few movies being produced and distributed from mid-level and independents that offer some redemptive value or Christian content, but it’s very slim.

The emphasis here is on action and especially horror films specializing in torture with plenty of blood and guts. It’s not a pretty picture. This is an area where we need to get more Christians involved in creating independent features that reflect God’s glory and truth.

Some may argue that most people will not see these films in this category. I disagree. Obviously, most receive little or no theatrical distribution, but they do find a substantial life in home video and especially pay cable networks such as HBO, Cinemax and Showtime. The bottom line is they make up the bulk of movies produced annually. And that means they have a big impact.

Issue 2

Feature films from the major studios are only part of the huge media picture. It’s true that Hollywood’s big studios are producing more morally-based content. But that’s only part of a big picture. We have a long ways to go. Video games offer an abundance of violent images which seem to be out of control. Internet-based content offers plenty of problems as well. And, frankly, television hasn’t improved that much over the past ten years. The fact is most people think about spending $10 before they go to the movies. They want something worth their money. So they are less likely to waste their hard earned cash on trash. But often we don’t feel the same way watching a television program because we are paying for it indirectly.

Issue 3

The overall narrative of the media culture hasn’t significantly changed in the past 20 years. We are going to need a lot more from Hollywood’s major studios in order to have any significant impact on the media culture. The message is basically the same. You are the center of your own universe, and you deserve to have everything now. It’s a very self-centered concept, but it is the very heart of today’s media culture. And, in some form, most electronic entertainment and images supports this concept. Frankly, we should celebrate any film that is in direct opposition to this core message. For example, I mentioned earlier two R-rated films from last year, Crazy Heart and Up in the Air. In each film, the main character or protagonist came to an Ah-hah moment in which they realized that there was more to life than their own pursuits, that other people mattered and life did not revolve around what they wanted.

When you embrace this idea, it offers the opportunity for God to enter your life. That’s an important concept to consider. But most media does not embrace this philosophy but rather encourages you to do whatever makes you happy and fulfills your desires.

The Bottom Line

I guess the question is are you a person who sees the glass half empty or half full. What I like to think is that I’m both. I believe in order to have a full glass, you need to understand why the glass is half full. It’s only then that you can move on and achieve the results I think we are all looking for. I want to change the media, specifically the media culture. In order to do that, we need a realistic and honest approach in how we view the media.

The Christian Film and Television Commission’s report to the entertainment industry offers hope for the future. There’s much to be optimistic about. But we have substantial work to do. I just think we should thank God for what he is doing. But, perhaps, this is not the time to celebrate or throw a party. Let’s continue to focus on the issue at hand and change the face of media as we know it.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Has Hollywood Found Religion? - Part 2

Do movies today reflect more of a Christian or Biblical worldview? Has Hollywood found religion?

There is no question that the overall content from the six major studios, Disney, Fox, Universal, Warner Brothers, Sony and Paramount, has substantially improved since the early 1990s. There are more movies being produced that reflect positive values and redemptive messages. I’m not sure a film like The Blind Side would have been made 15 years ago.

I believe there are four reasons that explain this turnaround in positive content as well as three issues that we should be concerned about. In other words, it’s not time to throw a party and celebrate yet.

Reason 2

A new economic model has emerged. Today the average movie released from major studios costs $103 million to produce and market to the public. That’s a lot of money. With costs dramatically increasing, Hollywood cannot afford any controversy or problems. They are looking to build a big tent. That means they are interested in everybody being potential movie-goers. That includes mainstream teenagers, young adults, families, and the Christian market. When you spend $100 million to make a film, you can’t afford to offend anyone. That’s the economic reality that Hollywood faces today.

Hollywood has abandoned medium-size and low-budget films. They are concentrating on what they call “tent pole” films. Today that is where the profits are. But it also means they must convince everyone to see their films. Otherwise they are looking at a financial disaster.

Reason 3

The new standard is PG-13. Hollywood has found an ally in the PG-13 rating and has turned it into a marketing tool. The PG-13 rating offers the best of two worlds. It’s appealing to teenagers and young adults because there’s just enough edgy material. But, at the same time, Hollywood has convinced you that it’s also family-friendly. It’s quite a balancing act. And with the right marketing approach, it can work. For this rating to be effective, Hollywood has traded in nudity and sensuality and replaced it with suggestive language and innuendos. Violence is still present, but it tends to be less graphic and more stylistic. The PG-13 rating also allows for a few choice words here and there.

Some have suggested that the PG-13 films of today resemble R-rated movies from the early 1990s. There’s no question that standards have changed over the past 15 or 20 years. Hollywood has decided to make less R-rated movies. Why make films that will restrict your audience. It’s bad business. The PG-13 rating allows Hollywood to appeal to a broader audience.

Reason 4

Family friendly is cool. Pixar has single-handedly recreated and redefined family-friendly movies since its conception of feature films in 1995 with the release of Toy Story. Since then, they have released one mega hit after another, including Finding Nemo, Cars, Walle, Monsters Inc., Up and most recently Toy Story 3.

What’s truly amazing about Pixar’s accomplishments is somehow they have made G-rated movies cool. Before they came on the scene, no self-respecting teenager would be caught dead watching a G-rated movie. But today Pixar appeals to everyone. How have they done it? They put the art of storytelling first and foremost. It’s always about the story. Through the use of CGI (computer generated images), they have created characters that are more fully human than humans appearing in live-action films. Because of Pixar, other studios have gotten on the family-friendly, G-rated band wagon. This helps to explain why there has been a 200% increase in family films since the early 1990s.

Monday Part 3

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Has Hollywood Found Religion? - Part 1

According to the Christian Film and Television Commission, who publishes an annual report to the entertainment industry, positive content and family-friendly movies substantially perform better at the box office than R-rated movies. The Commission reports that since its conception in 1993 there has been a 200% increase in family movies and a 425% increase in positive Christian content. Today they report that 59% of all movies released by the major studios have some positive, specific Christian content or values. The Christian Film and Television Commission’s report is based on actual box-office figures.

Is this true? Do movies today reflect more of a Christian or Biblical worldview? Has Hollywood found religion? First of all, statistics can be used and shaped to present whatever narrative you wish to communicate. I’m not saying that’s what the Commission has done. But have they looked at the complete picture? These are complicated questions with no easy answers.

I’m not convinced Hollywood has found religion. Contrary to what many may believe, Hollywood and the entertainment industry has no political, religious or social agenda. They are not interested in corrupting the minds of our youth. I know you might find this hard to believe. In fact, at one time I believed it. But after talking to many industry insiders, Hollywood is interested in one thing and one thing only, and that’s making money. If they believe that family-friendly movies will make more money than explicit films with sex, language and violence, what do you think they will do?

There is no question that the overall content from the six major studios, Disney, Fox, Universal, Warner Brothers, Sony and Paramount, has substantially improved since the early 1990s. There are more movies being produced that reflect positive values and redemptive messages. I’m not sure a film like The Blind Side would have been made 15 years ago. It obviously had a positive message with a clear-cut Christian worldview. It was a financial success because the studio got behind the film. It made $255 million at the box office and was nominated for Best Picture.

What was also interesting from last year was the number of R-rated movies with redemptive stories. That included Up in the Air and Crazy Heart. But not everything is good news. The Hangover was the sixth biggest grossing movie at $277 million. It contained a heavy dose of sex and debauchery.

I believe there are four reasons that help to explain this turnaround in positive content as well as three issues that we should be concerned about. In other words, it’s not time to throw a party and celebrate yet.

Reason 1

God is at work in Hollywood and the entertainment industry. Even during the darkest hours of Hollywood, God has never left the scene. His Spirit has been moving and influencing filmmakers. Case in point: During the early 1980s, Chariots of Fire and Places in the Heart are two films that clearly presented a Christian worldview. This occurred when many Christians were boycotting and demonizing Hollywood. So, at some level, Hollywood has always been presenting some form of Christian content whether they realized it or not. Perhaps we have not been able to see or define it. And since the early 1990s, there is no question that God’s Spirit has been moving in this industry.

Today there is a beachhead established in Hollywood with over 5,000 Christians working in the entertainment industry. There is no question they have made an impact on this turnaround concerning positive content in the film industry. On a recent trip, I had an opportunity to interview Christian leaders who work inside Hollywood. Dr. Larry Poland, founder of MasterMedia, has quietly been ministering to entertainment leaders for over 25 years. No one will ever know just how much influence or the impact he has had on the entertainment industry.

I also talked to the executive director of Act One. For over ten years, Act One has been training Christians to write commercially from a Christian perspective for Hollywood. Today, some of their students have reached a point in their careers where they are now working on major television and film projects.

I also interviewed Karen Cavell, Founder of Hollywood Prayer Network, who has been encouraging Christians for the past 15 years to pray for Hollywood and embrace the entertainment industry as a mission field. The fact is there are many Christians in Hollywood who are part of this incredible turnaround. It’s only a beginning. But something substantial is taking place.

Friday Part 2

Sunday, June 20, 2010

What is a Media Culture? - Part 3

Today we live in a society where media defines and creates culture. That’s why I call it a media culture. In fact, the two are indistinguishable from each other. It’s impossible to determine where media ends or culture begins. And what proof can I offer to you of its existence and impact? I believe I could get a conviction in any court of law through direct and circumstantial evidence wherein I’m convinced no one could possibly have reasonable doubt to the existence of a media culture and its impact on our society. Here are my ten arguments.

6. A new value system. What values are being communicated in our media culture? What’s important to us, and what occupies our time and interests? Today our media stars have been embraced and turned into gods. We are in love with celebrity. But what really motivates us and what we seek is what celebrity represents—power wealth and fame. This is the new value system that preoccupies our society. Movie stars, athletes, models, and TV personalities are who we emulate and desire to be.

But what about those who contribute the most to society? Teachers, public servants, social workers. Are they exalted and well paid? How we view celebrity reveals a great deal about who we are as a people.

7. We no longer have a moral compass. There was a time when there was a clear right and wrong. Today’s modern media culture has convinced us that everything is ambiguous; therefore, the individual must decide what is right or wrong based on current circumstances. How else can you explain millions of abortions since the early 1970s or the fact that over 40% of children born in the United States are from unwed mothers. Only a media culture could explain the rapid collapse of basic moral principles that have occurred in a relatively short time.

8. Judeo-Christian ideas and philosophy are fading. Whether or not America was ever a Christian nation, our nation was most certainly based and established on Judeo-Christian concepts. Whether you are a Christian or not, historically you respected the integrity and truth of the Judeo-Christian message. That’s no longer true today. We are moving from a Judeo-Christian society and transforming into something completely different. No one can say with any certainty what that will look like.

9. The rapid rate of change. Culture, in and of itself, changes over the course of time like a meandering river. In other words, it takes time for change to occur. Within a media culture, change is rapid and sudden. Isn’t that the world we currently live in? Worldviews seem to change like the sifting sands. Nothing is solid. Obviously, technology plays a part in this rapid and ever-changing media culture in which we find ourselves. But it is the ideas that really drive the forces of change.

10. The psychology of selling. We are convinced that our next buying purchase will truly lead us to fulfillment and happiness. Today’s marketing is enormously complex and dependent on psychological manipulation. A product today has the ability to transform and define our lives. We become the person we have always wanted to be through the use of the product. It can make us look younger or older. Or it can create the image that we wish to project. In some ways, we become the product. In fact, our lifestyle is based on its use. Only a media culture could create this type of influence and impact.

Final Thoughts

When we think of the media or try to understand it, we don’t view it in terms of a “media culture”. But we see it as the images on our widescreen televisions or the images projected in our multiplexes. Obviously the media and the general concept of a media culture is much more than this. The media culture can be a difficult concept to embrace, but its existence is as real as the air we breathe. Think of it as an invisible force that surrounds us. In some ways, it affects every part of our lives and the choices we make. Just like radiation, we cannot often see it, feel it, touch it or taste it. But the media culture is just as real as the damaging effects from low dosages of radiation. Both have the ability to change us from the inside out.

I have presented my evidence. Do you believe I can get a conviction? The real question is what can we do to change our current situation? A Media Culture, Crisis or Opportunity, The Rise of the Media Missionary offers five key concepts that can change our culture and the course of our media culture. They are practical and obtainable. What we don’t need are theories or theoretical solutions but solutions that are practical and obtainable.

Friday, June 18, 2010

What is a Media Culture? - Part 2

Today we live in a society where media defines and creates culture. That’s why I call it a media culture. In fact, the two are indistinguishable from each other. It’s impossible to determine where media ends or culture begins. And what proof can I offer to you of its existence and impact?  I believe I could get a conviction in any court of law through direct and circumstantial evidence wherein I’m convinced no one could possibly have reasonable doubt to the existence of a media culture and its impact on our society. Here are my ten arguments.    

1. We are defined by what we own and not by our character. You may not be a fan of Jimmy Carter or his politics, but Carter made a profound statement in the late 1970s wherein he said we are defined by what we own and not by what we do. The truth is in our society today character doesn’t matter. We are defined by the house we live in, the car we drive, the clothes we wear, the schools and colleges we send our kids to and the church we attend.

The question is who are we as a people? Have we lost our identity to the things we own? How we acted and how we treated people used to define us as a person. It seems that character has become an obstacle to our success and the ability to achieve. Is it possible that our media culture has helped us to embrace this view.

2. All media has become some form of marketing. Today every aspect of our life is lived in the “marketplace”. There is no space that exists between our lives and marketing, advertising, and branding. It surrounds and engulfs us. Everything within our society has been commercialized. How do we make money? That’s the first question that’s often asked in practically everything we do. The “marketplace” concept helps to explain why every sports arena or stadium now has a corporate sponsor tied to the name of the facility.

3. Consumerism is king. Has there ever been a society that has embraced consumerism as we have here in America? In fact, we have invented it. Our big-box stores are full of merchandise beckoning to be bought. But do we really need all of the “stuff”? We are encouraged to spend, spend, spend. After the tragedy of 9/11, President George W. Bush encouraged the American people to do their patriotic duty by “going shopping”.

Our economy would collapse without maximum spending by the American public. We have built a society based on consumerism. We have boxed ourselves in. We are not encouraged to save but to spend. Only a media culture could convince us to accept this idea.

4. Runaway debt. Not only are we encouraged to spend, but we are equally encouraged to charge, charge, charge. They make it easy. Swipe that card. Individual credit card debt is out of control in our society. We hear so much criticism of our politicians who have run up record-breaking deficits. But, in reality, we have all engaged in the same practice. Congress is no different than the general American public. We want everything. And if we can’t afford it, we just put it on credit. The media culture has helped form a narrative that has made this practice acceptable and convenient.

5. The redefining of the American Dream. For decades we have debated about the origin and the definition of the American Dream. For many the American Dream is about family, home ownership, justice, freedom/security and fair play. But many argue that today the American Dream is more about wealth, power, materialism and consumerism. Today we believe in a “bigger is better” concept. I’m convinced that today’s media culture manipulates images from the traditional American Dream to create a new mythology that supports and reinforces a new American Dream, which is “You deserve to have it all”. Or in other words, it is my right as a human being. Therefore, the American Dream must always be expanded. It’s not enough to own two cars. Now each member of the family must have a care. There’s no stopping this expansionist view even if it’s detrimental to the development of our society. Those who argue against this concept or believe that we should live within our means or perhaps live with less are branded with severe criticism.

Monday Part 3

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

What is a Media Culture? - Part 1

If you read my blog on a regular basis, you probably know I write a substantial number of articles revolving around the subject of the media culture. But what exactly is a media culture? The media is pretty straightforward. Practically any form of electronic entertainment makes up the media. This would include television programs, movies, internet content, video games, news and virtually all other forms of electronic images.

The concept of culture is more complex. It certainly involves more than going to the opera. Culture is a shared consciousness of a particular society. It affects our behaviors, attitudes and beliefs. Culture, by its nature, helps to define our worldview and point-of-view. This process helps us to interpret the world around us and acts as a lens through which we view politics, religion, philosophy, and lifestyle choices. Culture also plays a major part in the development of our institutions such as government, schools, and churches.

Put quite simply, culture provides the framework in which society functions and operates. Obviously, not everyone within our culture thinks alike or has the same view of our world. But culture provides a baseline or foundation in which acceptable behaviors or customs are allowed to occur.

In theory, culture should drive and define our society. That’s the way it has worked throughout the history of mankind. But in the past few decades, something unique has happened to American. Where culture should drive media, today we live in a society where media defines and creates culture. That’s why I call it a media culture. In fact, the two are indistinguishable from each other. It’s impossible to determine where media ends or culture begins.

The media culture has had the added effect where we have created a society which is more uniform and harmonious. I’m convinced we are far more compliant and willing to conform to the central message driving today’s media culture. Many may argue how is this possible in light of a society which seems to be divided. Obviously, there is a great debate about the future of America. There seems to be a great divide between Democrats, Republicans, Liberals, Conservatives and Progressives. There is also a generational divide between baby boomers and millennials. But are we really that different in our philosophy and thinking?

I believe that below the surface of our public discord we will find a society that is far more influenced and controlled by the media culture than anyone can possibly believe. Although we may express our feelings and viewpoints differently, we are motivated by the same forces. Whether we are on the right or the left, we have embraced a philosophy that positions us in the center of our own universe. In other words, we are self-centered. Without a doubt, this is the core message of today’s media culture.

So some questions remain. Why do we have a media culture? Who benefits from it? And what proof can I offer to you of its existence and impact? First, why we have a media culture is a very long story. Chapter 2 of my book, A Media Culture, Crisis or Opportunity, The Rise of the Media Missionary helps to explain the origins and the development of our current modern media culture. Second, business primarily benefits from the existence of a media culture. In order to maximize profits, business must control the culture. But business cannot do this without the help and support of the media. It’s through the use and the manipulation of the media that business controls and dominates our culture.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not one to believe in conspiracies. No, I don’t believe that aliens crashed in Roswell in 1947 and the United States government participated in a massive cover-up. Nor do I believe in Bigfoot. And I certainly do not believe that JFK was assinated by the CIA or the FBI. And I don’t believe business leaders gather to discuss how they are going to dominate and control our culture in order to sell us their goods and products. Whether intentionally, unintentionally or organically, a media culture has emerged in our society.

Friday part 2

Monday, June 14, 2010

Why is it Easier to Believe a Lie than the Truth? - part 2

If history has taught us anything, it is that believing in a lie is easier than believing in the truth. I believe there are five areas in which we, as the Body of Christ, have compromised our core beliefs. It starts with the media culture, and it ends with the media culture.

3. We like our show. Have we turned Sunday morning into a Broadway production? Don’t get me wrong. I like technology just as much as the next person. There’s nothing wrong with using videos, theatrical lighting, or drama during church services. But when it gets in the way of God, then it’s become a problem. When every moment on Sunday morning is programmed, is there any place for God or the Holy Spirit to move? Especially when churches have three or four services, every element is on a schedule. Somehow we have believed the lie that people must be entertained and that we have to create the ultimate experience in order for people to come back week after week. What about creating an atmosphere for a Holy Spirit experience for once?

4. We live by a schedule. Christians are just like everybody else. Our lives are programmed by our schedule. We have to check our Blackberry every five minutes in order to keep on pace. For most Christians, we fit Sunday morning in and perhaps a mid-week small group and a once-a-month trip to the food pantry to help the poor. But what we don’t have time in our schedule is to think about who God is. What is his character? And how do I serve his will? And are we really changing our world? These things require attention to the moment. They require the ability to think or to contemplate. But today’s media culture does not allow us to do that. We must occupy every moment of our time with some activity in order to be productive. The schedule dictates who we are and determines our lives.

5. We serve a media culture. All of the above would not be possible unless we serve a media culture. Yes, I said it. Christians serve the interests of today’s media culture just like every one else. And, by doing so, we are just as likely to accept and desire the instant gratification of power, wealth, materialism and consumerism. The media culture goal is to put you and I at the center of our universe. In one form or another, we become our own god. What we want and desire is more important than anything else in life. By doing this, we can almost justify anything in life—profit at all costs no matter who gets hurt in the process. The media culture has changed the Body of Christ, and we don’t even realize it. That’s the true tragedy. It’s truly heartbreaking to realize we have been deceived, and few of us recognize it.

God will have a perfect Church. It may not be today. But, perhaps in a hundred years or a thousand years. The question is will we wake up and start to reflect the church God desires? Will we become the people of God that God desires, or will be continue to be defined by the media culture? Will we leave a godly legacy for our children or grandchildren or a form of Christianity in name only? These are the questions we must ask ourselves if we are willing to ask them in the first place. Unless we are willing to take an honest look at the media culture and its consequences, we will only fool ourselves into believing we are changing this world. Believing a lie is always easier than believing the truth because it requires no effort on our part. We simply go with the flow.

Our leaders, society and the media culture tell us what to believe so why not keep believing it? You will not be a popular person if you question the conventional wisdom of today’s media culture or what the Church considers to be the work of God. Don’t expect to make any friends. But if you want to think for yourself, then ask yourself the above questions. Take an honest look at yourself, your motives. what you believe and why you believe it. It will lead you to the profound truth that we are not doing what God wants us to do, but we are puppets of the media culture. And, ultimately, it will lead to God’s truth about you and the world we live in. The truth is never convenient. But it is the Truth worth fighting for.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Why is it Easier to Believe a Lie than the Truth? - part 1

If history has taught us anything, it is that believing in a lie is easier than believing in the truth. Keep telling the lie over and over and sooner or later it becomes the acceptable truth. In fact, the bigger the lie the better. Adolf Hitler understood this concept. Through his manipulation of state-run media and films such as Triumph of the Will, he convinced the German people to accept Nazism and national socialism. And, by doing so, this led to the death of over 50 million people, including millions of Jews who died in concentration camps throughout World War II.

He convinced a nation that elimination of the Jewish Problem or so-called Final Solution would lead to a perfect society. Obviously, this did not work out as planned. Even by the end of the war, most Germans were convinced and believed that Hitler would lead them to the ultimate victory. We always pay a price for believing in lies.

Joseph Stalin was also successful in convincing the Russian people to accept his brand of totalitarianism, which led to the death of millions of people and enslaved an entire nation for decades. It seems that through time itself we continue to accept the lie over the truth because it is what we choose to believe. In many cases, it is a convenient truth that serves our purpose and interests.

Today, we do the same thing. Bigger is better. Money can fix all of our problems. The American Dream is about materialism and wealth. Government is capable of creating a utopian society. All of these are lies in one form or another. But the biggest lie of them all is what the Body of Christ believes about itself. We are convinced that we are changing the world and impacting culture for the cause of Christ. But, in reality, we are being changed by the culture and the media to reflect the same condition that exists throughout the world. Yes, we are just as self-centered as so-called unbelievers.

The truth is that there is no difference between us and the secular culture. Obviously, this won’t win me a lot of friends in the Church. And others would say how is this possible. Look at the megachurch and the market-driven church. It is successful, powerful and has unlimited resources. Surely it must be impacting the world. In America today we have churches of 5,000 - 15,000 people and more, who are capable of doing anything they want whenever they desire to do it. But is that evidence of a church where the Body of Christ is impacting the culture, or is it an example of how the media culture has manipulated the Church?

Perhaps, this is a thought-provoking concept. Lies are always convenient and ultimately help us to cope. To look at the truth requires us to look at ourselves. And to do that, we may not like what we see. I believe there are five areas in which we, as the Body of Christ, have compromised our core beliefs. It starts with the media culture, and it ends with the media culture.

1. We do what we want. God is at work in this world. The question is will we join Him in his work. Most Christians would say that’s exactly what we are doing. But is it? If that were the case, I am convinced the Body of Christ would look completely different. Would we be so interested in buildings, property, equipment and programs? Would we redirect our energy and resources to the things that really matter to God such as people? Just because we have large impressive buildings doesn’t mean we are impacting the world for Christ. I’m convinced we do what we want because it’s what we want to do. Then we tell ourselves it’s the will of God so the we can feel better and justify our actions.

2. We promote a friendly gospel. Dare I say it? To use the word sin? Let’s face it. We don’t talk a lot about things that make people uncomfortable in church. The message today is I’m good and you’re good. God loves you. We love you. And you should love yourself. Obviously this is a true statement, but it reflects only a part of the Gospel message. Sure, we want to feel good about ourselves, but that shouldn’t be the goal of the Body of Christ and the Church. Unless we deal with the sin issue, we cannot reflect the glory of God and grow into the image of Christ. Is it possible that some churches are scared to preach the full Gospel because we might offend some big donors who might take their money elsewhere? Whether directly or indirectly, have we toned down the message. We now live in a numbers-driven culture. Big numbers are impressive. They indicate success and power. Have we bought into the message of the media culture?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Brick and Mortar – Going the Way of the Dinosaur

Last week, I went over to my local video rental store. And, much to my surprise, it was closed. No warning. One day it was there. The next gone. No. It wasn’t some obscure local video store. In fact, it was the number one rental video chain in the country, Blockbuster. Perhaps, you’ve noticed by now brick and mortar video stores are going the way of the dinosaur. In other words, they are going EXTINCT.

In fact, Hollywood Video and Movie Gallery have also called it quits.  After several reorganizations and bankruptcies, they just couldn’t find a way to make a go of it. So what does all of this mean to you as a consumer? And, if you are a future filmmaker, do you have a future?

First of all, I don’t see home video disappearing any time in the foreseeable future. None of this will hurt the big studios like Paramount, Sony, Warner Brothers, Fox or Disney. They will find a way to continue to distribute their product. So don’t worry about finding your favorite Hollywood blockbusters.

As brick and mortar stores are closing, new platforms are emerging, such as Red Box, Netflix, Streaming, Downloads, and Pay-Per-View. So you definitely have choices. There are four key areas where you will feel the greatest impact. First, price. Movie rental stores basically priced themselves out of existence. Most major chains charged nearly $5 to rent a movie. Ouch! The results were predictable. Consumers rebelled and looked for cheaper alternatives. And they found them in the form of Red Box and Netflix.

Red Box kiosks can be found almost anywhere. They offer enormous value. You can rent a movie for one night for only $1. That’s a deal people are looking for. Netflix offers DVDs by mail. Pay one flat fee per month, and you can watch as many movies as you please.

So what about selection? Consumers are used to a wide and diverse selection of titles at traditional brick and mortar stores. That’s not found at Red Box because they are interested only in major Hollywood titles. Netflix does offer an extensive library of both DVDs and Blurays. Pay-Per-View, which can be found on most cable and satellite systems, can offer you only a limited selection of major movies. Basically, you are going to have to work a little harder to find more obscure movies and independent features in the future.

One thing we are all looking for is convenience. All of the new platforms certainly make it easy to rent your favorite titles. Push a few buttons on your remote, and you can see major releases on your cable and satellite systems. On your trip to the grocery store and you can easily spot a Red Box kiosk. Netflix offers your movies through the mail with self-addressed envelopes. It doesn’t get any easier than that. Traditionally video rental stores were anything but convenient. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. Long lines and, most often, you could never find the movie you were looking for.

When they get around to writing the history of movie rental stores, the one thing that I’m convinced that led to their demise is late fees. I can’t think of one time when I was at a video store where a customer did not have a complaint about late fees. Late fees made many people stop renting movies at brick and mortar stores. When most late fees were totaled up, it would have been cheaper just to buy the movie. It was totally ridiculous. Traditional video stores dug their own grave.  The good news is late fees have been eliminated from most of the new platforms. You know what the price is going in. And there are no surprises.

What if you are a filmmaker or work in the business?  Or perhaps, you are a film student and are concerned about your future employment opportunities. As you know, the movie industry is always a fluid business. No one can predict the future. But I have an uneasy feeling about the demise of traditional brick and mortar stores. And you should be concerned. Video stores needed to fill shelf space. Most major studios combined could offer only a total of three new titles per week. But on average most video chains like Blockbuster or Hollywood Video offered anywhere from 14 to 16 new titles. Most of these movies came from mid-level studios, direct-to-video and independent distributors.

The new platforms, such as Red Box, are concerned only with major Hollywood films. It’s quite possible that independent studios could be squeezed out of the market. And that means less opportunities in the future. To put it bluntly, distribution could dry up, eventually resulting in less movies being produced. That’s not good for you as a filmmaker or for consumers.

One of the great benefits of brick and mortar stores was that they offered a form of democracy for low-budget filmmakers. There was your film, an obscure title, right next to major $100 million Hollywood films. It gave you an opportunity to find a mainstream audience. The newer platforms will make that much more difficult. It will be more challenging for consumers to discover and find your film. Sure, downloads and streaming may provide some alternatives for mid-level studios and independents. But there is something about picking up a DVD cover and examining the plot and artwork. It’s not the same experience online. You might find a niche audience, but can you break out into the mainstream.

In some ways, I’m sorry to see brick and mortar stores closing. I think we are losing something in the process. Only time will tell if we have less choices in the future.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Raising Support - part 2

So you want to be a media missionary and make a difference. If you are going to the foreign mission field, chances are there are organizations that will teach you and assist you in raising your support. Unfortunately, that’s not true for media missionaries.

Here at Media Missionary School, we have put together a list of ten guidelines to help get you started.

5. You only get one chance at a first impression. There’s never been a more true statement. Your first impression must be rock solid. Whether it’s through a letter, e-mail or phone call, have your game together. Know what you are going to say and how you are going to say it. Be clear and precise. Do you know your mission? Do you understand your purpose? What are you doing and how are you going to do it? When and where does your ministry take place? These are the things that you need to be on point and precise.

6. Try to get a face-to-face meeting. If there is a “holy grail of fundraising” for personal support, then it is the face-to-face meeting with a potential donor. It is so easy to say “no” over the phone or through an e-mail. Your mission is to avoid this. Sure, you have to make first contact. But your goal is to wet their appetite and get them interested. Don’t go for the “Ask”. Get a meeting. You’ll be surprised when you sit down with somebody eyeball-to-eyeball. Chances are you will walk out with a check. It requires more time and effort on your part, but the results are worth it.

7. Put it in Writing. Nothing will impress potential donors more than a well-written ministry plan. Never go to a meeting without one. It should contain your budget, how you are going to spend your time, and what type of results you expect. And, of course, no plan is complete without a well-written mission or purpose statement. So take some time, get your thoughts together, create a plan and put it on paper. It also helps to add graphics and design work to give it a polished finish.

8. Demonstrate your passion and enthusiasm. Nobody will support you or give you money if you are not passionate about your ministry. This has to come from the heart and, obviously, it must be sincere. Be enthusiastic that you have a plan for real change and you are going to make a difference. The key to passion is to have the right balance. Sometimes you can turn off donors if you have too much passion and enthusiasm. So find the right tempo.

9. Build relationships with your donors. It’s wonderful that they have decided to support you and that you have left their office with a check in hand. But this is only the beginning. Don’t expect them to continue to support you if they only hear from you when you need money. Your goal is to build a long-term relationship. In order to do that, you must stay in contact and let your donors know what you are doing and the results you are achieving. There are plenty of ways you can accomplish this—through e-mails, blogging, a website, newsletters and electronic newsletters. The point is stay in contact.

10. Stay positive. There are some stretches in raising personal support when nothing seems to be going right. No one will return your calls or answer your e-mails. Let me tell you by personal experience, it’s very easy to lose hope and convince yourself it’s not going to happen. You must stay positive and focus on the good things God is doing in your life and through your ministry. Often we don’t see what God is doing below the surface. Many times he is preparing the way and already creating opportunities that we have yet to see. Without question, raising personal support requires us to be patient and to wait for God to move. It can be a test of our obedience and willingness to trust God for our provision. Remember, it is not the donors who are providing your support. It is God. Your donors are only a vehicle that God uses to show his provision.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Raising Support - part 1

So you want to be a media missionary and make a difference. Let’s suppose you’ve received your training or you have a film degree. Maybe you have some experience and have worked a year or two in your home town as a filmmaker or a media maker. And perhaps spiritually you have your game together. You believe you’ve been called by God to go to Hollywood and make media that reflects his truth and glory. Sounds good. But what now? How do you support yourself? Can you find a job in the industry before your money runs out? Los Angeles is one of the most expensive cities in the United Sates to live.

A good rule is you need at least two years of some type of support to give yourself a realistic chance. Sure, you can find some other job outside the industry to help support yourself, but chances are it won’t be enough. The fact is it’s never easy raising personal support. But trying to raise support to be a media missionary is perhaps the most difficult task imaginable. Whether you’ve been raising support like I have for over 20 years or you are just starting, it will always be challenging. If you are going to the foreign mission field, chances are there are organizations that will teach you and assist you in raising your support. Unfortunately, that’s not true for media missionaries.

Here at Media Missionary School, we have put together a list of ten guidelines to help get you started.

1. Support is a Biblical concept. There is no shame asking for money. You must settle it in your mind that you are not begging, but that you are a worthy investment. In fact, your donors are fulfilling God’s plan by giving to your ministry. And God will bless them for supporting what he has called you to do. The Bible teaches that a Kingdom worker is worthy of his support. Paul, in fact, stopped tent making to preach full time and received support from followers of the churches he founded.

2. Make a list. Most organizations that help in fundraising will always tell you to make a list of your family and friends. This is Fundraising 101. Who do you know? That includes your parent’s friends and the parents of your friends as well as those in your church. These are the people who know you and love you. In fact, they will probably provide the bulk of any support you receive. They are also a good source for potential leads because they can make a personal recommendation.

3. Cold calling. One of the most difficult concepts in fundraising is cold calling. What if you don’t have the personal contacts of family and friends. What then? A good place to start is to find out if there are any Christian business men and women in your community. This requires you to become a detective. Are there any business newspapers or publications in your area? Chances are they have published a list of private or family companies. Your potential donors could own a car dealership, grocery store or a manufacturing company.

Check out company websites for their mission statements. This can give you a good indication whether or not they are open to Christian causes. Do your homework. Find out everything you can about the company and who they support. You want to talk to the business owner if possible. Otherwise see if they have a community relations director. That’s probably the gatekeeper you will make first contact with that will help you in receiving possible financial support. Your best asset is your youth. Christian business people are more likely to help you because you are just starting out in life, and you are willing to dedicate yourself to God’s work. So use it to your advantage.

Other possible sources for support include private or family foundations. Usually you can find a list of foundations that operate in your areas on the web or at your local library. There are also local churches where you can apply for support to the mission’s board. But that’s a long and difficult process and may not be worth the effort.

4. Kill the giants. Fear of failure will derail any chance you have to raise your support. Just like the 12 Hebrew spies who went into the promised land, ten of them came back paralyzed with fear. Only two believe they could take the land. You have to believe that you can enter the land and take what God has given you. Don’t be scared when somebody says no. It is not a personal rejection of you or your ministry. Shake off the dust from your feet and move on. Your worst enemy is fear of what people might say to you. So kill the giants.