Saturday, July 31, 2010

Hollywood Connect

Until recently, if you were a Christian who wanted to come to Hollywood and pursue a career in film or television, you were, for the most part, on your own. But, over the last few years, a number of Christian-based ministries and organizations have popped up in the L.A. area to serve the needs of Christians who are entering the entertainment industry. One of those ministries is, a web-based ministry that provides resources and information about where to find housing, job opportunities, classes, workshops and how to navigate around the Los Angeles area.

After nearly a year in development, has revealed its revamped and redesigned website. If you have used the old website, you will find this one easier to use, more interactive and far more engaging. There is more media now available to browse through. And you now have three options. You can watch video clips, read articles or listen to audio files. There are several interview clips with working Christian professionals who discuss the ins and outs of working in the entertainment industry. I’m sure there will be more clips added in the future.

The new redesigned site also offers a timeline approach on how web material is organized. It’s broken down by three sections: your arrival in Los Angeles, how you survive in the industry as a Christian, and a section that tells you how to thrive in the industry. As always, there’s an abundance of resources on this site that deal with Christian community, spirituality, and ministries that serve the needs of Christians in the industry.

Pay close attention to the Navigation Section for events, training and workshops available in the Los Angeles area. Quarterly, provides newcomers to the industry with what they call their Navigation Sessions. These are usually hosted by industry insiders and take place at Hollywood Presbyterian Church on Saturday mornings.

Bottom line: If you are thinking about pursuing a career in television or film, this website is a must. Even if you are in high school or film school, begin now to learn from the material they offer. There is no better place on the web that will provide you with practical information about the mechanics of living and functioning in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles. But, more importantly, they provide information about fellowship opportunities and spiritual connections that are essential to your growth as a media missionary working in the film or television business.

Obviously, cannot answer all of your questions or provide you with every resource you need, but it is definitely the best starting place you will currently find. My advice is to start using the website on a weekly basis even if you are not planning to go to Los Angeles in the foreseeable future.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Today’s Rant Part 2

Where did our time go? I talked to so many people today that seem to have little or no time. Why are we so busy? What’s occupying our time? We have 168 hours in a week. That would seem to be more than enough time to do the things the we need to do with time left over. But, for most of us, every single moment is filled with something. I remember back in the 1970s people were writing about how technology would set us free. We would have all of the leisure time that we needed. We would be able to pursue the important things in life. But has that really happened?

Hey, I love technology. But it seems as if technology has had the opposite effect. So many of us are just trying to figure out how to use it while others use it so much they have no time for anything else. We really don’t have the time to think about the important things in life. When is the last time that you contemplated, defined or gave thought or direction to what your purpose or vision is for your life? Those type of thoughts take time. It requires us to slow down and be attentive to the moment. That’s something that’s not occurring in today’s media culture.

I’m not telling you shouldn’t watch a television program or movie. The media culture is much more complex. Our mass media has now reached a point where it creates and defines culture. And by doing so, it has the capability of distracting and filling our time with the things that often are not important in life.

The media culture also has the ability to make us feel guilty. If we are not filling every moment of our lives with something, then we are not being productive. If the media culture is capable of one thing, it is to convince us that we need and should have everything we want. So in order to have all of these wonderful electronic toys, we need to work every moment of the day. Funny thing is we don’t have time to enjoy them because we are always working. Sometimes I think the life we live today is like running on a treadmill. No matter how fast you turn up the machine, you never get anywhere. You are always in the same place.

Maybe it’s time we get off the treadmill. Slow down and start thinking about our lives and what’s really important. Cut some hours. Learn to live with less and enjoy life. It’s just a thought.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

My have the Times Changed!

Back in 1964, Bob Dylan wrote a prophetic song called “The Times They are A Chang’n”. He was right. The counter culture and the Vietnam war changed America forever. Nothing would ever be the same after the 1960s.

The other day, I was thinking about this in the context of how much the media has changed since the time when I was growing up in the 1960s. I was on Facebook, and it occurred to me that I could communicate to anyone on the face of the earth. I could upload my photos and videos and share them with the known universe. That’s enormous power that everyone of us now possess. That was unthinkable in 1975 when I graduated from high school. Hopefully, this won’t make me sound like a dinosaur. But we had no cable television, internet, VCR or DVD player. All we had were four or five television stations. Seems rather primitive.

My have the times changed. Today we live in a world of mass communication on a level hardly imaginable. Media images are everywhere streaming at us on multiple levels. I have so many channels on DirectTV, I don’t even know what I have. Even the other day, President Obama actually used the words that we live in a media culture. So what does all of this mean to you and me?

First, how has social networking and the internet changed our lives? Sure, we may be more connected. But is it possible that the internet is having the opposite effect? Could we be more disconnected on a personal and emotional level? We can be anybody we want to be behind the safety of our keyboard without fear of real human contact.

Second, now that we are capable of creating our own media and sharing it with the whole world, thanks to UTube. What are we saying to each other, and what is our message? Do we have anything meaningful to share with the world?

Third, how is living in a media culture impacting you and me? It’s something to think about. It has to have some type of impact, doesn’t it? Have you really given it any thought?

Fourth, what is the message being communicated from all of this media we are consuming today? Makes you wonder what you believe and why you believe it.

And finally, what should my response be to today’s media culture? Should I accept it or reject it? Do I have a responsibility to think for myself and not be told what to think? If you are going think for ourselves, that means we are going to take responsibility for what we see and hear. All I am asking is for you to think about it.

When I think about media, we have made giant steps from the early days of television starting in 1950 through 1980. From 1980 to today, our advancement has been as if we have jumped over the Grand Canyon. Can you imagine what the next 30 years will bring? It will be as if we have leaped from the earth to Mars. Some may consider this to be a good thing while others may not. But what we have to do is spend some time trying to understand what it all means, especially for those of us of Faith.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Getting your message out

Let’s face it. Any organization that spends 6,000 hours on monitoring network and cable television over a one-year period knows the importance of media and its impact on society. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Deformation (GLAAD) just published its fourth annual network responsibility index. They want television and cable networks to share real stories about the lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. They want the general audience to understand that we all have common ground in which we all share.

First of all, I am not writing this article to suggest that gay and lesbians do not have the right to be on cable and network television. I believe in freedom of speech as much as the next guy. Everybody has the right in this country to get their message out even if you and I don’t agree with it.

But what strikes me is that GLAAD understands just how important the media is to their cause. They have committed time and resources to convince the general public to embrace and accept the gay and lesbian lifestyle as normal. You do that by presenting positive gay and lesbian characters on television. What they are doing is not by accident but is a strategic and well-orchestrated plan. I only wish that the Body of Christ would embrace the same passion for using media to influence our culture with a Biblical message.

Not only does GLAAD study how much gay and lesbian characters are represented on television, but they also assist in supporting future filmmakers at prominent film schools. It would appear that their investment is paying off. Not only do they support gay and lesbian filmmakers but any filmmaker that will accept their support. This offer comes with no strings attached. But it is a subtle way to buy future influence.

I can’t think of any Christian organizations that are actively at work trying to help and support future filmmakers. Do you think we are missing an opportunity? So what has GLAAD gotten for their money? According to their report, MTV received the first ever excellent rating. MTV had 207 hours of original programming which included 42% of content reflecting the lives of gays and lesbians. Among broadcast networks, the CW was on top with 35%, while Fox came in with 30% and ABC with 26%. CBS received a failing grade with only 7%.

Here’s what surprised me. On cable television, ABC Family had 37% of its content reflecting gay and lesbian characters compared to only 26% over at HBO. Again, the point here is not to say that GLAAD doesn’t have the right to promote their cause or wheel whatever influence they can exert on broadcast and cable television networks. Obviously, they have been very successful at accomplishing their goals.

We as the Body of Christ could learn a thing or two from them. Here’s the bottom line, GLAAD fully understands the importance of portraying gay and lesbian characters on television. Whoever controls the media controls the culture. And GLAAD is fully committed to having a piece of the action. If your message isn’t on television or the media it’s obviously not relevant.

What do we take away from this? The Body of Christ has to do a better job of understanding how we can use media to influence society with our message. And the best place to do that is through entertainment, when people are relaxed and are willing and open to accept whatever comes across their television screen. There’s work to be done. First let’s support future Christians who are studying to become film or media makers, especially those who plan to work in Hollywood and the mainstream entertainment industry.

Let’s take a page out of GLAAD’s playbook. It’s obviously working

Monday, July 26, 2010

Who is the Media Missionary?

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know I talk a great deal about media missionaries. But who are they? First, what is a missionary? For most of us, a missionary is someone who goes to a distant land or culture to share the Good News. So a media missionary also shares the Good News but uses media as the primary vehicle. For most of us in the body of Christ, we would consider the work of the media missionary to be in the following three areas.

First is church media. Anyone who makes media specifically to be used in church would be a media missionary. Many large churches today employ fulltime media directors who create videos which are often used in worship services and later repackaged either for internet or television broadcast. Some parachurch organizations, for example, City on the Hill, in Louisville, Kentucky, create media that’s used in small group studies.

Second, Christians who produce and create Christian movies are considered to be media missionaries. Over the last few years, we’ve seen an explosion of Christians getting into filmmaking. One example is Sherwood Pictures in Albany, Georgia. Alex and Stephen Kendrick have single-handedly reenergized Christian filmmaking. Practically everyone is aware of Facing the Giants and Fireproof.

The third area that most Christians would agree upon as the work of the media missionary is family-friendly programming. Media that reflects morals and values and speak to the family are considered to be safe territory. Perhaps those in this type of work may not be able to preach a blatantly Christian message but are often capable of presenting some Biblical concepts.

But I want to add a fourth area that most Christians have not considered. Can the media missionary be someone who creates commercially-viable products for a mainstream audience? In other words, can we go to Hollywood and make movies and television programs for Christ? Is that possible? For most Christians, this is usually the time that they want off the boat. This concept is just too crazy. How could this fit into our theology? After all isn’t Hollywood the devil’s playground?

But, if this is the case, how can you explain movies such as Bella or The Book of Eli? Isn’t God at work here? Perhaps, we have not seen the whole picture. I’m convinced there are three things that God is at work at in Hollywood. First, he wants to reach the people who are working in this industry. Case in point is that’s why we need media missionaries to go to Hollywood. Without boots on the ground, we are not going to reach anyone. Second, he desires art that reflects his truth and glory. And finally, he wants to impact an audience. When we create art that reflects God’s heart, we can ask questions that lead people to examine their lives and the choices they are making. So maybe this concept of a media missionary is more complicated than you first thought. Perhaps, it doesn’t fit into a neat category for you.

We often say here at Media Missionary School that the work of the media missionary is speaking of Jesus the least but having him most in mind. That’s not the easiest road to follow, but I’m convinced that in the end it is the most effective.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Journey July 24th - Part 7

It’s been some time since my last entry on The Journey. As many of you know, I have written a book, A Media Culture, Crisis or Opportunity, The Rise of the Media Missionary. Part of my journey is to reconnect with how God is at work in the world as well as in my life.

For the last two months, I have been in a holding pattern waiting for God. This is always a difficult place to be. God always requires our patience as well as our obedience to his will. So I am waiting to get the book published. I know God is moving and doing things I cannot see. Perhaps, someone I do not know in a distant city will be moved by the Holy Spirit to release the resources needed to publish this book. So I will continue to hold steadfast and wait for God to move.

In some ways this is also a very difficult time for me. July 24th was my last day at the ministry that I founded back in 1987. It is a bittersweet moment. I am thrilled to be doing what God has called me to do. I have an enormous passion for the work of Flannelgraph Ministries and Media Missionary School. And I am convinced that if I was still at my old ministry, I would not have written this book. But it is also difficult to no longer be at a ministry that came out of the vision God had planted in my heart back in the 1980s. In some ways, it is as if I was never there. That’s difficult to accept even in the best of circumstances. In life, people change and ministries also can evolve and change over time.

So what has God taught me over this past year? These experiences are not unusual. We all face them at some time. They can either make us stronger or destroy us. God has revealed three important things that have helped me get through these challenging times.

(1) We will all face some type of challenge in our lives, whether we lose a job, a ministry or a business, it’s bound to happen. It’s how we handle these situations that will define our character and our relationship to God. In fact, how can we grow spiritually without trials and tribulations?. The Bible makes it clear that we are not to remain static. We are challenged to grow into the fullness of Christ’s grace and image. That can’t happen without a few bumps in the road.

(2) You have to believe in yourself and what God has called you to do. When you start doubting yourself or what God is saying to you, then you’re in trouble. In the past year, God has reignited my passion for his calling. He has put people in my life who believe in the vision God has given me. I can’t tell you how important that is. Doubt will destroy you.

(3) You must be willing to forgive even if the people don’t believe they need to be forgiven. The point is, it’s not for their welfare, it’s for yours. Unforgiveness only hurts you not the person that you believe has wronged you. Here’s something I learned a long time ago but is difficult to put into practice. You must make a decision every day to forgive, and it cannot be based on your emotions. Forgiveness must be a decision. Don’t trust your emotions. They are usually the last thing that lines up. So make the decision to forgive and move on.

The bottom line is I am in a much better spiritual place today than a year ago. And for that I am grateful. I welcome God in my life and what he is doing. So I will continue the journey out on the old road where I know God resides.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Today’s Rant

I used to be a fan of cable news networks. But, frankly, they are making me lose my lunch. News networks are supposed to report the news. They used to do something called journalism. You remember. Investigative reporting. But is that what we are being offered today? If you watch MSNBC and Fox News, you would think we were on two different planets. Both networks have turned news into entertainment for our amusement. Neither seems interested in reporting the news but would rather tell us what the news means as if we are not intelligent enough to figure it out on our own.

Do you remember the truth? I’m not sure either network really cares about the truth other than to promote its own agenda. Fair and balanced? You’ve got to be kidding me. Whether the news is from the right or the left or Democrat or Republican, it is now all about spin. I’m not saying that everything on these networks is necessarily unfair. But it seems to be the general direction each is headed. It’s just part of our culture and a reflection of the media culture that we live in.

Would you really watch if you didn’t have people yelling at each other? I realize that conflict drives story. But we are talking about things that impact the future of our nation and the welfare of our children and grandchildren. This is important stuff. It’s so frustrating to see people get criticized who want to sit down and have an actual dialogue or discussion. Compromise had become a dirty word. The news networks seem to be interested only in demonizing the opposition.

What sacrifices are we willing to make to turn a profit and increase audience share. We must demand a return back to real authentic journalism. Let’s start reporting the news without spin and analysis. I often hear people talk about taking back our country. What about taking back fairness and just reporting the news.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

How Does the System Work? - part 2

I wish I can tell you that if you went to film school, you would receive all of the inside information about how the system works. Chances are you’ll get a good education on cinematic theory but not on practical business knowledge. There are two primary systems, the studio system and the independent model. More than likely, in the beginning you will work in the independent model. As time goes on, you will work in both the independent and studio systems.

So how do you prepare now and learn about the system? First, you need some training. Whether that’s film school or some type of film academy, it’s essential that you get some professional, competent training. I suggest further that you get some practical work experience in your home town. If you want to direct, start directing now. If you want to produce, start producing now. If you want to be a cinematographer start doing it now. Odds are you will have to put in a lot of hours with little or no pay to learn the business. Eventually, if you are serious about learning the system and working in the industry, you will have to go to Los Angeles. That’s what everyone inside the industry has told me if you want to work full-time in the business. Contrary to what other’s may tell you, the industry still takes place in Los Angeles.

But, don’t ever think about going to Hollywood without the right preparation  Otherwise, no one is going to take you seriously. I’m assuming that most of you who read my blog are Christians and perhaps consider yourselves media missionaries. I suggest you follow They provide good intelligence and resources about job prospects, where to live, support groups, and further training in Hollywood. They also conduct quarterly orientation sessions for newcomers to the industry. This is a great opportunity for you to connect with working professionals in the industry. They suggest that before you think about coming to Los Angeles to live and work, you first should plan a vision tour. In other words, go out to Los Angeles for a week, attend the orientation session and meet some people. I recommend that you meet with several of the ministry leaders which you will find on the Hollywood Connect website. I am convinced that within a week you will have more than enough information to decide if you have been called to Hollywood. You will also have a better understanding of how the system works.

And, finally, industry insiders say that there are three primary ways that you can break into Hollywood and the entertainment industry. First, become an entrepreneur and make your own movies. If you can raise your own money, write your story, direct your film and produce it as well, you are on your way. Many well-known filmmakers who work in Hollywood have followed this pattern. One example is the Jay and Mark Duplass, who have made a number of successful low-budget independent films including Baghead, which helped their career. They have gone from a $15,000 budget to their current movie Cyrus, which has a budget of $7 million. Of course, not everybody can write, direct and produce their own material. So the following next two options may be your best choice.

Second is through the internship program. If you are in the right school or program with the right connections, you can very well be at the front of the class. It takes about three internships to get your first real job in the industry. The Los Angeles Film Study Center has over a 70% placement of its graduates within the industry. They are obviously connected. They have a relationship with practically every major studio and production company in Los Angeles. Before you decide which program or college to enroll in, take a hard look at the internship program and the connections that your school or program offers.

The third way to break into Hollywood and the entertainment industry is through the role of the production assistant. Find out who hires the crews, which are the production managers, unit managers, and the director of production. Get to know these people and build relationships. Obviously, this means you are starting at the bottom, but that’s the way the system works. If you can be the best production assistant possible, then chances are you will be rehired for the next project. Go beyond the call of duty and become a problem solver. Then the next time you might actually move up to being the assistant to the production manager. And then you may become the second assistant director on the next project.

Not everybody who works in Hollywood or the entertainment industry fits conveniently into the above categories. You’ll find that many people have a somewhat unconventional story on how they broke into the business. One example is Ralph Winter, a well-known producer for films such as Star Trek, X-men and Wolverine. Winter did not go to college to pursue a career in film. He has a degree in history. Winter worked for a department store producing educational and training videos. With that type of background, it would seem that he would be an unlikely candidate to become a major Hollywood producer. So how did he do it?

There are three concepts that Winter followed. First is the rule of proximity, which is being in the right place at right time. You can’t learn this in a textbook. Some people just have a knack for seeing opportunities. In Winter’s case, he worked in Los Angeles near the industry. That’s a huge advantage. Second, as they say in this business, it’s not what you know but who you know. Ralph Winter had a friend who worked at Paramount Studios. When a job opened in the editing department, he recommended that Ralph pursue the opportunity. With his help, Winter got the job. The truth is people like to work with people they know and trust. Third is the rule of leverage. It’s a long way from the editing department to being a producer who makes movies with over a $100 million budget. I’ve heard Winter talk often about leverage. When you have something that somebody needs, and they have something that can help you, you work together to achieve the results that both parties want. Doing so helps you to move forward. By using leverage, Winter eventually made his move and became a producer on the Paramount lot. It’s a very unorthodox story.

The bottom line is Winter applied all three principles to turn his story into a success story. He worked in industrial video making training videos. There are thousands of people across the country who do that job every day. Many of those people could be in Ralph Winter’s shoes today. Sure, Ralph’s talented, but there are talented people everywhere. But in Winter’s case, he was in the right place at the right time, which gave him an incredible opportunity. This is how the system works. Sometimes it makes sense and sometimes it doesn’t. The best advice is to give yourself the best opportunity you can. Have a plan and be in a position that when the opportunity arises you can step into it. Don’t make the fatal error of being complacent or just trying to slide by. You need to be proactive and seize the moment.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

How Does the System Work? - part 1

Recently, someone asked me how the system works. What they were referring to is how Hollywood and the entertainment industry functions. To narrow it down further, how do I get a job in the business? How do I get my movie made? And how do I get a distribution deal? Those are basic questions that everyone trying to break into Hollywood and the entertainment industry struggles with. Is there a system? If I know the system, will it lead to my success in the industry?

First of all, there is no one-stop place that can tell you how the system works or how the entertainment system functions. But, thanks to the internet, blogs and social networking, there is an abundance of information available. It just means that you might have to dig in order to find useful information that’s applicable to your situation. Here are five things that I have learned about the entertainment industry and Hollywood throughout the last few years.

First, Hollywood and filmmaking are businesses. Second, Hollywood is about marketing. Third, first make the film then make the deal. Fourth, you have to start at the bottom. Fifth, talent is not a guarantee of success.

Let’s start with filmmaking is a business. I’m sure this is not a revolutionary concept to most of you. That’s why they call it show business. There’s no show without the business. To understand the system is to understand how movies are made, financed and distributed. One of the best resources I have found for practical information is a book written by Dov S-S Simens, From Reel to Deal. Simens’ book is worth its weight in gold. It’s primarily written for anybody who is interested in learning what it takes to create a successful independent film. You won’t find a lot of creative, artistic or cinematic concepts in this book, but you will a find common sense approach to filmmaking. Simens is a Hollywood insider who understands how the system works.

Second, Hollywood is about marketing. For every dollar Hollywood spends on producing a movie, they will spend 51 to 57 cents to market the film. What that should tell you is that a significant amount of the people who work in the entertainment industry do not make movies, but they are involved in the business and marketing side of filmmaking and media making. So if you want to understand how the system works, you must first understand how films are marketed. That requires you to read the trades such as The Hollywood Reporter and Box-Office Mojo. These are good resources that analyze box-office results and trends that are occurring in the industry. Know what’s hot and what’s not. If you want to find out how the system works, you will have to do your homework. The more you do your research, the clearer the patterns become visible.

Third, first make the film then make the deal. I used to think that Hollywood worked like this: Make the deal or, in other words, get your distribution lined up. Find your money and then make the film. Guess what? The system does not work that way. Most want-to-be filmmakers never make their film because they are trying to make the deal first. Dov S-S Simens’ book goes into great detail about how to make the film first and what’s required for first-time filmmakers to make the deal.

Fourth, you have to start at the bottom. Once in a while, you will hear about an incredible success story in which a recent film school graduate gets a three-picture development deal from a major studio. Sure, somebody does win the Lotto. But it’s usually a one in a billion shot. Nobody gets to make a $30 million film in their first outing. Here’s the truth about the system. Make a $20,000 digital feature, then make a $200,000 low-budget movie, and then make a $2 million art house film. And, if you have been successful in these projects, perhaps you will get the opportunity to make a studio feature. Start at the bottom and work your way up. In order to get to the next level, you must at least break even or return a profit to your investors. Otherwise, they will not continue to finance your next project. In reality, most filmmakers make their first film by raising money from their friends and family. But that can take you only so far. At some point, you have to be successful in returning an investment. That’s how the system works.

A few months back, I had a first-time filmmaker send me a script and perspective for an $800,000 budget feature. I seriously doubt they have any hope of ever raising that kind of money. It’s a simple formula. Start at the bottom and work your way up.

Recently, a friend completed a full-length feature with only a $2,000 budget. He shot his film in eight days with limited locations, actors and resources. He was able to get all of the equipment, crew and talent to donate their services. If he had to pay for everything out-of-pocket, his expenses would have been $50,000 to $75,000. But, thanks to his entrepreneur spirit and ingenuity, he found a way to get it done.

Here’s how it works. Most people write a script and then try to raise the money necessary to turn the screenplay into a movie. But the smart money is to start with what you have. If you have $2,000 or $5,000 or $100,000, write a story that fits your budget. That’s exactly what my friend did. I have a post on my blog about low-budget filmmaking concepts. You can find the formula that explains this concept and how it works.

Fifth, talent is not a guarantee of success. Most people in Hollywood are extremely talented. Likewise, most people in Hollywood are extremely unemployed. Talent can take you only so far. It might get you in the door, but it’s no guarantee it will keep you there. I have written an article on my blog on what it takes to work in this industry. The article will provide you with the insight and formula that can help guide you in your career development.

Part 2 on Wednesday

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Return of the Family Movie Night

Last Friday night, NBC aired its second family movie, The Jensen Project. NBC is part of a partnership with Procter & Gamble and Wal-Mart to produce a total of four family-oriented movies. The first film, Secrets of the Mountain, aired back in April. The next movie, A Walk in My Shoes, is planned for broadcast in the fall. The final project will go into production later in the year. NBC has billed this latest effort to bring back family-friendly entertainment as the return of the family movie night.

All parties involved believe each movie can lead to the development of future TV series. The ultimate vision is to resurrect ABC’s popular TGIF or “Thank God It’s Friday” concept. You might remember starting back in the late 1980s and running through 2000 ABC had a successful lineup of family-friendly shows such as Perfect Strangers, Family Matters, Different Strokes, and Full House. We welcome NBC, Procter & Gamble, and Wal-Mart’s efforts. It will undoubtedly be an uphill battle thanks to a recent court decision where “the FCC's regulations on indecency were struck down by a federal appeals court that termed them "unconstitutionally vague," essentially loosening strictures against profane language on the small screen.”

We all know that the family hour has been virtually dismantled by network television, and if this new ruling stands, network television may join their counterpart cable networks with more content that embraces blatant sexuality, profanity and violence. So The Jensen Project is a welcome relief from what could be coming our way in the near future. Broadcast television networks are under an enormous amount of pressure. They have watched their audience erode over the past years thanks to the fragmentation of the viewing public and the narrowcasting of new cable networks. Most cable networks today offer an abundance of new and original programming. Some of it, in fact, is very good.

My hope is that the networks will not abandon quality programming for the sake of crude, sexually-charged content to attract viewers. Not everyone on cable television resorts to this tactic. I believe audiences are looking for well-made programs that are entertaining and thought-provoking, which brings me back to the producers of The Jensen Project. Hopefully, they can be successful of bringing back family programming. At least it’s worth a try. The original vision for programs like Secrets of the Mountain and The Jensen Project started right here in Cincinnati, Ohio. Brian Wells, who is a former P&G executive and pastor of Crossroads Church, spearheaded the effort to bring family-friendly programming back to network television. It’s quite an accomplishment to bring Procter & Gamble, Wal-Mart and NBC together. Most people believe it would be impossible to resurrect the family hour, but Brian Wells believes otherwise. Is there room on network television for family shows? Only time will tell.

A lot has changed on television since the days of the TGIF concept. For one thing, most of the networks have abandoned Friday and Saturday nights. They practically consider it a wasteland. They put little effort, money and resources into reaching Friday and Saturday night audiences. Perhaps Brian Wells and his team can change that.

But they will have to prove their case that the audience is there and wants family-friendly programming. If the family movie night is to become a reality, they will have to make their case in the ratings. The Jensen Project scored a 1 rating with a four share and reached 3.9 million people on its broadcast premier. Even by today’s network standards, those numbers will not cut it. But to be fair, it is a tough sell to find an audience in the middle of summer while most people are either on vacation or involved in outdoor activities. It will take a financial commitment from P&G to provide the resources for production as well as Wal-Mart’s commitment to buy the advertising time necessary to establish a new family movie night on network television.

Brian Wells may be able to win the hearts and minds of the kid audience, but he will have to score with the key 18 to 49 demographic. His biggest competition could be the DVD player and Pixar. I’m not sure that the family night movie has ever gone away. Today, most people have DVD players and a library of family-friendly films. In fact, Pixar has reinvented and defined family entertainment that truly speaks to the entire family, including teens and adults. Who doesn’t have a copy of Toy Story, Cars, Finding Nemo, Wall-e, and Up. Most kids don’t mind watching these over and over and over.

So the bottom line is the programming has to be excellent and intelligent. If this thing is going to work, the adults are going to have to want to watch. However, people have gotten out of the habit of reserving Friday and Saturday nights for family movie time. So Brian Wells and his team have their work cut out for them.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Summer Film Camp

Summer camps aren’t what they used to be. When you were in high school, what did you do in the summer for fun? Well, last week several high school students decided to give up a week of summer (July 5-9) to attend the 2010 Media Missionary School and Vineyard Film Camp. What they did was amazing. They had to come up with an original story, then shoot and edit their project within one week while, at the same time, attending classes on film production. Although they had a blast, it was a lot of hard work to accomplish their projects.

On Friday afternoon at 2:00 p.m., we had a gala showing of their efforts. Nearly 60 people attended, including family and friends. We here at Media Missionary School and the Vineyard wish to thank everyone who made this week an enormous success. Hats off to all of the media professionals who gave up their time to work with the students throughout the week. But, most of all, I want to thank the students themselves for their passion, energy, creativity and determination to reach the goal of producing a film. And, finally, a big thanks to the parents and family who support the ambitions and dreams of their young filmmakers.

Here are the films produced throughout the week as well as some of the behind-the-scenes photos.

SWITCH - produced during the 2010 Media Missionary School Film Camp from Media Missionary School on Vimeo.

SERVED - from the 2010 Media Missionary School Film Camp from Media Missionary School on Vimeo.

THE BUS STOP produced during the 2010 Media Missionary School Film Camp from Media Missionary School on Vimeo.

COFFEE TALK from Media Missionary School on Vimeo.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Are You Ready to Go Blu?

Now that you’ve bought that new hi-tech, high-definition television, are you ready to upgrade your current DVD player to a new Blu-ray disc unit? It’s a question that many people are thinking about. But, is now the right time? I’m sure you can notice a big difference between high-definition and standard definition television. There’s no question about it that after watching high-def, you will have no interest going back to regular television. You’re hooked.

Now that Blu-ray players have dropped dramatically in price over the last year, perhaps you are ready to make your move. Before you rush out to the store, here’s a few things you might want to consider. Yes, Blu-ray discs are amazing. But they come at a price. New releases are typically priced anywhere from $25 to $35. Catalogue titles, which are movies five years and older, will run you somewhere between $20 and $25. Ouch! That’s expensive. So when does it make sense to buy Blu-ray vs. standard definition DVDs?

Here are five buying tips you should think about before making your next purchase.

1. Does the movie you are planning to buy have repeatability? Let’s face it. Most movies are a one and done deal. You’ve seen it once, and you have no interest in taking another look at it even if it was a good movie. But there are some films that demand repeatability. Obviously, this is subjective to the viewer. For example, I can’t wait for Star Wars to be released on Blu-ray. I’ll be there on the first day of release. Do you have personal favorites that you watch on an annual basis? Then purchasing a Blu-ray disc would make sense.

2. Is the film you are considering visually interesting? Obviously films heavy on special effects and CGI (computer generated images) are always good candidates for a Blu-ray purchase. Science fiction, action-adventure, and movies shot in exotic locations are the perfect reason for you to upgrade to Blu-ray. All of these films are classic examples of eye candy. Avatar, Up, 2012 and Out of Africa make perfect sense for Blu-ray compared to small-budget, independent dramas that offer little in visuals.

3. Is the film you’re considering purchasing epic in scope? Movies that span time and distance and operate on a huge canvas were made for Blu-ray. Any movie over 150 minutes in length and tells a big story requires a big screen, high-definition television and a Blu-ray player to do it justice. Most of these kinds of movies were made in the heyday of Hollywood, and they are just starting to make their way to Blu-ray. If you are going to buy Doctor Zhivago, North by Northwest, Gone with the Wind, Godfather or Patton, why would you buy it on anything other than Blu-ray?

4. What is the quality of the video transfer? Here’s a dirty little secret about Blu-ray. Not all Blu-ray discs are created equally. In fact, some are only slightly better than their DVD counterparts. It all depends on the quality of the video transfer and the compression rate of the video file to create a master. Some studios, for example, will not create a new master for catalogue releases. They will use the same DVD master, which may or may not be a high-definition transfer. That’s a rip-off to the consumer because they are charging you $25 to $35 for a slightly better DVD. The reason they do it is because it is expensive to commission a new video transfer master. The good news is that most new movies do offer an excellent video transfer and compression which leads to an outstanding image and resolution.

To date, there have been about 1,600 movies released on Blu-ray. Only 100 movies have scored a perfect five-star rating from Hi-Def Digest, the rating which is considered to be reference quality. If Blu-ray is done right, it will offer a 3-D pop. In other words, it has a three-dimensional look and feel. I recommend that before you spend your money you check out the films rating on Hi-Def Digest. Anything less than four stars may be questionable. Why spend your money if you’re not getting the resolution and detail you expect?

5. What about the artistic intentions of the director? Frankly, some movies will look no better on Blu-ray than they will look on DVD. If the director intended the film to have a dark, dim or dingy look, that’s exactly what it will look like on Blu-ray. Bright colors, well-lit scenes and outdoor shots look great on Blu-ray. But some films just don’t offer that type of content. There’s no question that there’s better resolution on movies like The Road and The Book of Eli, but they have a toned-down color palette and an over-all bleak appearance due to the director’s intention of creating a post-apocalyptic world. You might want to consider saving yourself some money and stick to the DVD version.

Finally, currently only 16% of the home video market belongs to Blu-ray. That means that 84% of all discs sold are still good ole DVDs. In fact, DVDs are the most successful electronic product ever produced. I don’t see DVD going away any time soon. DVDs offer consumers good quality and, for most people, the picture and resolution still work. I’m convinced if Blu-ray discs are going to be universally accepted, the prices will have to fall. The studios are waiting for the consumers to change their minds, but most people are not willing to upgrade to Blu-ray.

Here’s a secret that works for most people. You can up-convert your standard DVDs to near high-definition resolution with an HDMI output from your DVD player to your high-definition television. No, it will not be Blu-ray quality; nevertheless, for most people the picture quality is more than enough. DVDs in some ways are their own worst enemy. Most of today’s high-def televisions have built-in scalers which are capable of upgrading DVD to 1080p or 720p high-definition resolution. So you have to decide. Stick to standard DVD or pay the extra cost to go to Blu-ray.

My bottom line recommendation is to buy a new Blu-ray player because the costs have dramatically decreased. You can pick one up for about $100. But don’t buy everything on Blu-ray. Use my guidelines to help you decide when it makes sense to spend your money on Blu-ray. You might also want to consider looking into the used market. Any store that sells used CDs will probably sell used DVDs and Blu-rays. You can save a bundle of money. For example, I recently purchased Avatar for only $12 compared to $30 new at Best Buy and $25 new at Wal-Mart. It pays to look around for alternatives such as the used market.