Friday, October 29, 2010

A Guide To Storytelling - Part 3

One of Jesus’ most famous parables is the parable of the prodigal son. It’s a story about a father who has two sons. One son remains on his father’s estate, working the fields and obeying the will of his father. The other son demands his share of the estate now. So the father agrees to divide his wealth.

What follows is a tragic story where the son travels to a distant land and wastes all of his inheritance on vile living--squandering his money on prostitutes. After some time, the son returns home and asks to be hired as a servant. The son then said that he had sinned against heaven and against his father and was no longer worthy to be called his son. The father responds by offering his son the finest robe in the house, a ring for his finger, and sandals for his feet. The father orders the fatted calf to be killed so that they might celebrate the son’s return with a feast.

The older brother is angry and unhappy with the turn of events. He tells his father that he has worked hard for him and never once refused to do a single thing he told him to do. He feels an injustice has been committed. The father goes on to tell him that they are very close, and everything he has is the son’s. We are uncertain whether or not the son accepted his father’s response.

There is no question that Jesus could tell a good story. The prodigal son is all about conflict. The older brother was angry and upset at his younger brother for leaving the estate and throwing away his inheritance, while he had been loyal to his father and had worked hard. The younger brother has internal struggles and has to deal with his past mistakes of wild living. He also feels that he is a failure and a disappointment in the eyes of his father.

It is also a very dramatic story in which the son realizes he has made a mistake in his lifestyle choices and wants to return home. You can only imagine what the scene looks like when the father reaches out in compassion and offers everything he has to the son. It must have been a very dramatic and moving scene. The story is also about personal struggles. Why did the son feel the need to leave? What drove him to a distant land? What was his motivation? Was he unhappy at home? And what about his relationship with his older brother? I am sure that Jesus understood that by telling this vivid story his audience would be asking the same questions.

Jesus gave us the model for storytelling. Over the years, Christians have been telling boring and uninteresting stories. We have lacked imagination and intrigue. Our stories have not been mysterious but often appeared trite and conniving. Who do you think is doing a good job of storytelling? Hollywood has discovered the model. It’s an irony that they have embraced Jesus’ concept of parables to a much greater degree than the Church. Where is the heart of God in Hollywood? It’s in stories. It’s in Hollywood’s version of the parables. And, just like the parables, they are full of conflict, adventure, violence, drama, social issues and redemption.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Guide To Storytelling - Part 2

The parable is interesting because it requires the listener to pay close attention to each detail. On the surface, the story seems to make no sense; however, with close examination the listener can find meaning in the multiple layers of the story. By doing so, truth becomes more real. Most Christians would prefer stories that don’t contain symbolism and metaphors because they require an interpretation. That’s not how Jesus taught. If we are looking for the heart of God in entertainment and media, he will be using symbolism and metaphors to communicate his truth.

Jesus told familiar stories that were tied to everyday activities. He didn’t talk about things that the average person wouldn’t understand. He wanted to connect to his audience. In fact, Jesus was culturally relevant. He lived in a primarily agricultural society; therefore, he talked about farmers, soil, seeds, harvesting, servants, livestock, etc. In the parable of the rich fool in Luke 12:16, Jesus offered a story that all of his listeners could relate to. A rich man produced many fine crops. He decided to tear down his barns and build bigger ones so that he would have more room to store his food. “The rich fool said, and I will sit back and say to myself, my friend you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy. Eat, drink and be merry”. NLT

In the culture that Jesus lived in, having enough food was always a struggle for survival. Those who were listening wanted to be rich. Who didn’t want to have enough food stored away so that he could take it easy and eat, drink and be merry? Finding common elements in the culture that people relate to is essential to good storytelling. Jesus had his listeners exactly where he wanted them. He went on in verse 20 to say, “You fool, you will die this very night. Then who will get it all?” NLT Yes a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth and does not have a rich relationship with God. Jesus found a way to get his message across in a way that people could relate to.

If we want to tell compelling stories and relate to the general audience, we can learn a thing or two from Jesus. Jesus is presenting to us, the Body of Christ, the ultimate storytelling concepts.

Jesus told interesting stories full of drama, conflict and personal struggles. You do not have a story unless you have some form of conflict. Jesus embraced four story concepts, which are the only concepts in the storytelling process--man vs. man, man vs. himself, man vs. nature and man vs. the supernatural. In each one of these story concepts, conflict is essential.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Guide To Storytelling - Part 1

Storytelling was Jesus’ primary means of relating to people during his ministry. Matthew 13:34, says, “Jesus always used stories and illustrations like these when speaking to the crowds. In fact, he never spoke to them without using such parables. This fulfilled the prophecy that said I will speak to you in parables. I will explain mysteries hidden since the creation of the world.” NLT

Jesus understood the power of stories. Throughout the history of mankind, we have been telling each other stories. Today’s film industry is just a reflection of the story-telling process that Jesus embraced. Jesus spoke stories and parables that were saturated with vivid, visual imagery. Everyone wants to hear and see a good story.

So how did Jesus use parables to reveal the hidden mysteries of God? First, he always had a point. All good stories are about something. We are all familiar with the story of the good Samaritan in Luke 10:30-36. In fact, Hollywood has made many versions of this story throughout the years. It’s a story about a Jewish man who is traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho and is attacked by bandits. Laying on the side of the road, he is left for dead. Along came a Jewish priest and a temple assistant, who should have offered help but passed him by. The most unlikely person, a Samaritan, helps the injured man. He soothes his wounds with medicine and bandages his wounds. Then he puts the man on his donkey and takes him to an inn where he can be cared for. Amazingly, the good Samaritan pays all the expenses for the man’s recovery.

In verse 36 Jesus asks this question, “Which one of these three men do you think was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by the robbers?” NCV It is a very profound question. Jesus was making a point that the so-called religious people are often the ones who are more interested in themselves than in loving and caring for people. The Samaritans were despised by Jewish culture and were considered outcasts. So why would a Samaritan offer help and assistance to a Jewish man? That was Jesus’ point. We are all created equal in the sight of God. We all have value. Those we think will not help us can be our greatest allies.

What a great story. No wonder Hollywood has embraced it so often. The good Samaritan story is about ideas. Strong and powerful ideas are what drive great films. Filmmakers can look to Jesus for their inspiration for telling compelling stories.

Jesus used symbolism and metaphors. Often he would start a parable by saying “the Kingdom of God is like”. Why didn’t Jesus say “the Kingdom of God is” and explain it? There is a profound difference between the two. Jesus was telling a story and trying to draw his audience into it. He wanted to make the story mysterious and intriguing because the listener would have to pay close attention and be involved in the process in order to discover the meaning. The parable might say something different to each member of the audience. By using the phrase, the Kingdom of God is like, it became more of a subjective process.

What are symbolism and metaphors? Symbolism and metaphors help to forge a connection between dissimilar objects and themes. This concept is illustrated in the parable of the sowing of the seed. The story involves a farmer planting seed. He threw it across the field. Some fell on a footpath, some fell on shallow soil, some fell among thorns and some fell on fertile soil. Each seed produced some sort of result. Some seeds were successful and some failed. Jesus used symbolism to reveal the meaning of the story. The seed represented God’s message. The soil represented those who heard the message and how they responded

Monday, October 25, 2010

How Do You Start a Movement? Part 2

For some time now, I’ve been trying to start a movement. In fact, that is the mission of Media Missionary School and Flannelgraph Ministries.

So what is our movement? It is based on awareness and education and primarily aimed at people of faith. It involves following 5 core principles that permit Christians to re-engage culture by using mass media and entertainment as a means to interject Christian and Biblical principles into our society.
The Five Principles

Principle 1. Christianity is rapidly loosing its impact on culture. Today the media controls the culture and, by doing so, controls the hearts and minds of the people. That includes young and old, Christians and nonbelievers. It is no longer possible to determine where culture starts and where media ends. They have merged to create a media culture which, in turn, has created a media culture crisis. When we recognize how media is influencing and changing us, we will understand that our perception of media and entertainment needs to change. Then we can utilize the opportunity this crisis presents for positive change by promoting and producing media and entertainment that reflects Biblical truth.

Principle 2. Christians must become media literate so that we are knowledgeable in the language of media and its influence. By doing so, we can unlock the meaning of the message which media communicates and take control of how we respond to the message.

Principle 3. In order to engage our culture, we must recognize Hollywood and the entertainment industry as a legitimate mission field. In fact, Hollywood represents a unique people group or tribe that for the most part has not been reached. They have their own language, customs, and culture. In order to redeem Hollywood and the broader entertainment industry, we must stop blaming them for all of society’s problems and begin a dialogue of reconciliation.

Principle 4. Prayer is the foundation of the Christian faith. Without prayer, nothing is possible. Christianity currently faces a media crisis. Therefore, we must pray for both Christians and nonbelievers working in Hollywood and the broader entertainment industry as well as all other media fields. We must pray for God’s Kingdom to become a reality in the entertainment industry.

Principle 5. The Body of Christ must raise up, equip, train, and support media missionaries to the mission fields of Hollywood and the broader entertainment and media industry. Our purpose is to reseed the culture with mainstream entertainment and media that reflects Christian and Biblical values. We do this by partnering with the mainstream, entertainment and media industry.

Friday, October 22, 2010

How Do You Start a Movement? Part 1

For some time now, I’ve been trying to start a movement. In fact, that is the mission of Media Missionary School and Flannelgraph Ministries. But movements are a funny thing. Whether they are politically, socially or religiously based, they take on a life of their own. Often they start and develop their own rules. What I have discovered, is there is no predicable path or guidebook to follow.

So what is our movement? It is based on awareness and education and primarily aimed at people of faith. It involves following 5 core principles that permit Christians to re-engage culture by using mass media and entertainment as a means to interject Christian and Biblical principles into our society. I’m convinced that our culture is controlled and manipulated by the media. In reality, the world we live in is a reflection of what the mass media culture wants us to believe. Just look at the TV commercials…as in “it says I am”

…. Media has changed our culture and has influenced and infiltrated the Body of Christ. Obviously, this has enormous implications for all of us.

Some have suggested that this explanation or theory that the media is the source of what ails our culture is simplistic and not an adequate explanation. Ockham’s Razor suggests that when you have competing hypotheses then the simplest explanation is usually the correct one and adding anything to that would not be needed. My hypothesis is that the media is the issue and represents the so-called 800 pound guerilla in the room which no one seems to notice.

My theory starts with the fall of man. What is the issue at the heart of Adam and Eve’s disobedience. This condition defines all human beings. It is a direct result of original sin, including the desire to put ourselves on a level with God, which results in man’s desire to be the center of his own universe. In other words, what we want is more important than anything else, and we must have it at any cost. This condition defines who we are. it is at the core of our existence. When we accept Christ as our Savior, we will continue to struggle with this issue.

The media understands this concept Oh so well! They didn’t create the human condition, but they certainly know how to exploit it. So it makes sense logically that if the media wants to control the culture and, by doing so, maximize its power and profits, it would tap into the one theme that defines who we are. The media would make it a priority to learn how to manipulate us and play on our emotions and would make it their goal to understand how we are wired in order to get the responses they desire.

Yes, self-centeredness and the desire for instant gratification of wealth, power and prestige has existed since the beginning of mankind. All the media has done is picked up on this weakness. Because of the power and scope of today’s media, the media now amplifies this message a thousand times over and tells us we deserve it. This is the heart of our problem. The message of the Church cuts against the grain. It’s why people of faith are having a difficult time impacting our culture. Our message is being drummed out and made irrelevant because the media proclaims a popular message that does not cut across the grain. The Christian message puts God first and calls us to put our “brother” above ourselves. That’s not the message you want to send if you want to sell a $50,000 car.

Our challenge and the movement that I am trying to initiate is to reverse the current trend. Christians can use the media to influence the culture for good just as well as those who have used it to capitalize on our weaknesses. We start reversing the trend by first taking the red pill. Read the article on our website called “The Red Pill”. You can click on The Red Pill image on the blue column at the right side of the screen. Then read the following five core principles. I don’t know how a movement starts, but what I can do is share with you what I believe God has revealed to me. I encourage you to seek God and discover the truth for yourself.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Which group are you in ? Part 2

Group 5. The Under-the-Radar Group
This group wants to create non-evangelical, mainstream movies with some level of understated Christian content. The problem is that often the Christian content is just an add-on. It lacks a purpose or a justification for its existence. It feels like the writer is manipulating characters and plot points just for the purpose of injecting some Christian message. This group wants to work with Hollywood, but their primary motivation is not to the art form but to the message. They see the art form as a necessary means to an end. What we are left with is an unrealistic view of life.

Group 6. The Quality Circle Group

This is the most difficult to understand of all of the groups. They see that their primarily responsibility and duty as Christians is to create films and media that reflect quality and excellence. They also believe that their work must be marketable. They embrace moral integrity that treats people with love, honesty, and respect. They also believe that your moral integrity demands that you must serve your employer first and not seek to subvert your employer with hidden Christian motives.

I absolutely agree that Christians must embrace excellence; however, there is something missing that this group doesn’t recognize. A media missionary has more than just a responsibility to his/her employer and the media business in general. There is a spiritual component at play which is the will of God and what He wants to do in Hollywood. It’s not an either/or proposition. You can have integrity, believe in excellence, and create marketable work for your employer while also serving a greater purpose.

Group 7. Media Missionary Group

A media missionary must seek a greater purpose. I am sure most Christians have worked in each of these groups and at times have moved back and forth from one group to another. Are they fulfilling their calling as media missionaries. On some level perhaps. But I believe there is another group that goes beyond these six groups. In some ways, it is like entering a fourth dimension. I call it the Media Missionary Group. There are very few in this group, and most may not recognize that they are part of it.

The Media Missionary Group is under the control and direction of the Holy Spirit. Their faith defines who they are as a person, not their filmmaking or media making. They are motivated by something more than what they want. They recognize God at work and join Him in that work. Their work in essence becomes an act of worship to the Lord; therefore, their responsibility and calling is to serve Him through their art. Sounds easy. Right. Not really. It comes with years of experience, wisdom and knowledge.

Becoming a media missionary is a long journey. At some point, you are no longer pursuing projects that you believe will reflect Christian values, but those projects start to pursue you. I called it the fourth dimension because it is entering into a supernatural, spiritual realm. This is a place that will be different for every person. What this looks like will be between you and the Holy Spirit. Without His supernatural influence, favor and enabling, your role as a media missionary is like walking a high wire that can be dangerous and full of pitfalls. When you enter into the Media Missionary Group, you are not concerned with genre, rating, or how marketable the project is. You stop thinking about it. The main reason why we fail in the role of a media missionary is because we are trying to do the work and make the decisions in our own power. The media missionary has no agenda except to do the will of God. Ultimately, it will not be what we think it should look like.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Which group are you in ? Part 1

How do you function in the entertainment industry as a media missionary so that you can complete your calling. In a practical sense, what projects should you work on. What roles should I accept or reject. How do I function as a Christian in this business. What is my responsibility as a Christian in this industry. These are some of the basic questions that students often ask. These questions get to the heart of the role and purpose of a media missionary. Ask these questions to Christians in the industry, and you will receive many different answers.

The concept of a media missionary is very much a work-in-process. Some Christian see themselves as media missionaries. Some do not. In fact, it’s quite possible that some Christians who reject the label as a media missionary are actually closer to being one.

Seven Christian Groups Working the in the Industry

I have identified seven groups of Christians that work in the entertainment and media industry, some within the system and others outside the system.

Group 1. Full Message Group

This group consists of Christians who predominately make evangelical films. For them the message is more important than viewing filmmaking or media making as an art form. They usually have a laundry list that needs to be checked off, which usually includes a full representation of the Gospel message and spiritual laws. Undoubtedly, a conversion scene will be portrayed at some point in the film. Most people in this group work outside of the Hollywood system.

There is a subgroup I call “Full Message Light”. Although the message is still important, they do believe that the entertainment value of the film has some merit. They are also not as likely to be as dogmatic in the need to check off every item on their laundry list.

Group 2. Conquerors

This group views media in a militaristic way and believe they are at war. Their goal is to infiltrate and conquer Hollywood for Christ. Their strategy can best be summed up as a Trojan horse approach. By entering Hollywood, they can inject mainstream movies with Christian values. In doing so, they can take over Hollywood from within. The problem with the Conquerors is that they don’t view Hollywood as a partner; therefore, they are unlikely to be employed for any length of time. Their rigid philosophical approach to filmmaking and their moral convictions make it difficult for them to relate to anybody in Hollywood. Most likely they are forced back to the Full Message Group.

Group 3. Positive Values Group

This group loves movies and believes in the power of media. They believe that entertainment, first and foremost, should be innocent and harmless. They create positive and uplifting entertainment that reflects family values. No darkness is allowed within their films, television programs or media in general. They are primarily interested in producing G or PG films.

Group 4. Positive Values with an Edge

This group supports many of the principles of the Positive Values Group. But they aim their material at a slightly older audience. They are willing to look at more complex moral issues as well as explore the human condition. They may on occasion support some R-rated movies, such as Schindler’s List and Shawshank Redemption. But, for the most part, they do not venture beyond the PG-13 rating.

Wednesday Part 2

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Calling - Part 2

How do we get started in discovering God’s will for our lives? Am I called to be a media missionary? Should I go to Hollywood or make independent Christian movies? I believe the question we should be asking ourselves is what is God’s will and where is He at work? If we are going to know God’s will, we must have a relationship with him that is authentic and personal. Unless you spend time with him, you cannot know his character, his motives, or his purposes. Just like in dating, you spend time with a person to get to know him/her. God is no different. By reading the Word, spending time in prayer and meditation, and spending time with fellow Christians who have a committed relationship with Christ, we start to understand who God is.

You cannot accept Christ as your Savior, walk away, and expect to understand your calling. By developing a personal relationship with God, you will come to know what you believe and why you believe it. In doing this, you will realize that God’s first plan for your life is to turn total control over to him. For most of us, this is a difficult concept to accept. We will resist and fight this. We will try to make a deal with God. We will turn over some parts of our lives in order to get what we want. In other words, we try to bargain by saying, if you let me go to Hollywood and make movies, I will give up this or that.

As time goes on we either do one thing or the other. We give up more control of our lives or hold on to our control. But if we are willing to allow God to control more of our lives and the decisions we make, he will invite us to join him in his work. We will reach a point where we really want to know what God’s will is. God will begin to speak to us through the Holy Spirit, through his Word, prayer, circumstances and the Body of Christ to reveal his purposes and his ways.

God will do whatever is necessary to get our attention. We will have to decide if we are willing to make the adjustments in our lives to do what he is doing instead of what we want to do. Some people call this a crisis of faith. I believe that it is when we totally surrender to the will of God that are willing to give up our passion and our dreams in order to do and accomplish the will of God. For some of us, that might mean accepting the fact that we are not called to go to Hollywood and make movies. It’s at this point that we truly experience God by obeying him. He then accomplishes his work through us. In the end, you might very well be called to be a media missionary to go to Hollywood and make movies and TV shows. The question is, are you willing to give it up to serve God. That’s the central issue that surrounds the crisis of faith.

Discovering God’s calling and plan for your life is always a process. It will take time and sacrifices, but, in the end, you will ultimately have to readjust your life and join him in his work and not yours.

Another thing to consider in discovering your calling is the intersection of your passion, your dreams, and your strengths. When the three come together, this can help you understand what God’s plan is for your life. But looking only at your passion and not considering your dreams and strengths can be misleading. Passion speaks to the heart. For example, when I was in high school, I had a passion to be a ball player. In my heart I wanted to be a major league baseball player. I certainly had the passion, but I lacked the talent. It was not my strength. It was my dream because it is all I thought about. Dreams are a matter of the mind. But, again, I lacked the talent. Only when the three come together can we begin to see how God is working. You must look at the complete picture.

Finding God’s will is dependent on a life focused on God, his activity, and our decision to deny self. No one can tell you what God’s will is for your life. Only you can find that out by diligently seeking him and being purposeful in how you live your life.

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Calling - Part 1

When I became a Christian in 1976, people told me right from the start that God had a plan for my life. I was made for a purpose. There was a reason why I was alive. There was something that God wanted me to do. In other words, I had a destiny and a calling to fulfill. That made me special and unique in the sight of God. I soon learned that all of us are special and unique because we all have a calling that is tailor-made for each one of us. Over time, my views concerning a calling have not changed.

But finding your calling is by no means an easy process. It can be downright difficult. Why? Because we have to get ourselves and what we want to achieve in life out of the process of God using us to fulfill His purposes. It has taken me years to discover my calling and purpose. So what have I learned along the way?

Your view or opinion of a calling will depend on how you see God. Is he a personal God involved in our daily lives, active in the affairs of this world? Or is he a distant God who created the universe and turned it over to man? If God is a distant God, that means you really have no purpose other than to do what you think is right. And, frankly, that’s a recipe for disaster. As far as I can tell by studying the Bible, God is clearly involved in the affairs of man and desires a personal relationship with his creation. The Bible says that when we diligently seek Him we will find Him. If he is a distant God, he would be inaccessible.

Many Christians also believe that only some have been called, but that’s not true either. Galatians 1:15 says, “But God had special plans for me and set me apart for his work even before I was born.” NCV Isaiah 49:1 says, Before I was born, the Lord called me to serve him. The Lord named me while I was still in my mother’s womb.” NCV Sounds to me like we all have a calling; however, our view of a calling is rather narrow. It depends on how we view the world. For some of us, the world is divide into two parts, secular and sacred; therefore, a calling must be sacred, such as being called to the priesthood or becoming a pastor or a missionary in Africa. That would exclude a career in film or television or becoming an electrician or even a politician. But God has no division. Everything in life is sacred. That makes finding your calling even more complicated.

However the one thing that is not complicated, if you are a follower of Christ, you are called to spread the Word of God. The how part of spreading the Gospel takes into consideration your unique calling as well as the part that you will play in the Body of Christ. Therefore you can be a missionary working in Hollywood producing mainstream films as well as working as an engineer in NASA. We each have a specific, unique skill set to fulfill the mission of spreading the Word of God through our vocation.

Monday Part 2

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Joneses

Sometimes a movie will surprise you. I have seen thousands of films over the years, and I usually feel like “I have seen this movie before”. Where’s the originality or the willingness to explore new territory? So I had little or no expectations when I took a look at the new film, the Joneses. I expected this film to be nothing more than a silly or stupid comedy with a heavy dose of sexuality thrown in for good measure.

The Joneses stars veteran actors David Duchovny and Demi Moore. You might remember Duchovny from his days as Fox Mulder in the X Files. Demi Moore was the highest paid actress during the 1990s with big hits such as Ghost, Disclosure, and A Few Good Men. Both actors have had less than stellar performances or opportunities in recent years.

The Joneses could serve as a comeback of sorts for both David Duchovny and Demi Moore. Their performances prove that they still have what it takes. Both were engaging and delightful, while being personable. In fact, The Joneses is a solid movie with an unpredictable story line. Although, it is not a faith-based movie, it does offer a cautionary tale about the ugly side of the American Dream. Without giving away too many details, the plot goes something like this: David Duchovny plays Steve and Demi Moore plays Kate, his wife. Steve, Kate and their two teens move into an upscale neighborhood. They seem to be a perfect reflection of an all-American family with a beautiful home and all of the accessories in life. But do they have a hidden agenda? Or are things as they seem? What follows will surprise you as the film takes a U-turn most audiences will not expect.

The Joneses is a film worth checking out. I’m surprised it didn’t gain more attention. It debuted in September during the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival. It received mostly positive reviews. It’s hard to understand why it received only a limited theatrical release and made only $1.4 million domestically.

I have a difficult time understanding why good films that have something important to say don’t receive more support. The Joneses is worth your time and effort. I must caution you that it does contain some language and sexuality, which is obviously inappropriate for younger audiences. But the positive elements of this film clearly outweigh the negative content for more mature and discerning audiences. It is currently available on DVD.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Rant, How Far is Too Far?

As I have said before, Monday is always a good day for a rant. Maybe I should call Monday Rant Day. So here goes. Do you think filmmakers have a responsibility to the public? Do they sometimes go too far or cross the line by depicting excessive violence or sexuality. Is there such a thing as good taste? If there ever was a recent example that makes the case for crossing the line, the filmmakers in the name of being edgy, provocative or controversial crossed that line in the 2010 film, The Killer Inside Me.

I realize there are plenty of other films that offer up more violence and sexuality than this film, but it is the nature and how it is presented in The Killer Inside Me that is totally unacceptable. And I am not the only one who makes this case. Several reviewers of the film feel that the film is exploitive in it’s depiction of violence toward women. Two scenes in particular absolutely destroy this film. I don’t have a problem with violence or exploring the darker side of the human experience, but there is a way to do it in good taste that respects the audience.

Director Michael Winterbottom had a lot going for him. This film is stylish and mesmerizing in its use of film noir in recreating the early 1950s of West Texas. Casey Affleck is outstanding in the role of Lou Ford, the town deputy, who also is a killer and sociopath that nobody expects. But the filmmakers destroy the noir atmosphere by excessive and unnecessary violence and sexuality. They indulge in it to the point of sickening the audience. I frankly don’t understand the point. What’s so frustrating is they potentially had a good character study. Why, why, why throw it all away?

The Killer Inside Me was made for about $13 million. The numbers tell you everything you need to know. In the name of art, the filmmakers decided to do it their way. It debuted in January 2010 at the Sundance Film Festival. It was sold to IFC for only $1.5 million and made only $600,000 at the box office. Looks to me that the investors will never see their money.

It’s time to send a message. I don’t advocate censorship or banning movies, but I do think we need to have a good dose of common sense. There’s no need to depict this type of brutality and voyeurism. In fact, one could make the case that the filmmakers wanted us to enjoy the experience because it went on and on. Maybe other filmmakers should complain and object and say there is a line you do not cross, and we do have a responsibility to the public. Let’s not make the mistake by justifying what they did as artistic expression. Here’s one film I suggest you skip.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Hitting the Nuts

The next few days promise to be an exciting time for some local filmmakers here in Cincinnati, Ohio. After almost two years of hard work, the locally-produced film, Hitting the Nuts, will have it’s world premier on October 9, 2010, at 8 p.m. at Hollywood Casino in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. The premier is part of the week-long Cincinnati Film Festival. Tickets are currently available but going fast. Two other dates are also scheduled during the festival at the Esquire Theater located near the University of Cincinnati. Tickets are available for October 11 at 7 p.m. and October 12 at 5 p.m.

Hitting the Nuts is a mocumentary in the tradition of A Mighty Wind or For Your Consideration. Hollywood Casino is an appropriate location for the premier because the film’s plot revolves around an illegal Texas hold’um card game that takes place at a morgue in Scott County Indiana. Most of the film was shot right here in Cincinnati, which served as a backdrop for the Indiana locations.

The movie features an odd assortment of characters who, for one reason or another, must win this tournament. It is an offbeat comedy featuring some of the best improv actors from the Los Angeles area. Joe Boyd, the teaching pastor at Community Vineyard Church in Springdale, Ohio, wrote and directed the film. Boyd also stars in the movie as the Amish farmer is a veteran of the film industry and has worked in improv in the comedy clubs in Los Angeles. He also had an on-going role in the daytime soap opera, General Hospital. The idea for Hitting the Nuts originated while Boyd worked in Los Angeles. But it wasn’t until he moved back to Cincinnati that all of the pieces fell together.

Joining Boyd in the production of Hitting the Nuts are Vineyard staffers Isaac Stambaugh, the line producer for the film, and Brad Wise, who served as one of the producers. Mark Denny, the Director of Photography, helped to make Hitting the Nuts look like a film having a more substantial budget.

Several other people involved with the project attend the Vineyard church. Most volunteered their time and their talents to make the project possible. Our own Media Missionary School’s host, Bekka Prewitt, was the film’s first assistant director.

Hitting the Nuts was shot in August of 2009 with a budget approaching nearly $200,000. The film was one of the most substantial projects shot in Cincinnati in some time. The producers are hoping that this is the beginning of a film industry here in Cincinnati as they plan to produce several more films here in the local area. They also expect to secure a distribution deal with Rivercoast Distribution during the Cincinnati Film Festival. This could put Hitting the Nuts in a theater near you. Expect a DVD release as well.

For ticket prices and information, go online at

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Red Pill, Part 2

Obviously, there’s no physical red pill that exists that you can take that will allow you to see the world as it really is. I wish it was that simple. But it’s more of a process that requires time and energy and a commitment to pursue the truth. A good place to start is to continue to read Media Missionary’s School blog and website. We offer a ton of resources and articles that can help you on your journey. I’ve also written book that I’ve re-titled “The Red Pill, A Cure for Today’s Mass Media Culture”. It can offer you insight and perspective into the strategies and techniques of today’s modern media age. But this is only a start. None of theses resources are intended to tell you what to think but only to serve as a guide to help you to take control of your life and the decisions you make.

I believe taking the red pill is a five step process.

Step 1 starts with awareness. We are all too busy rushing around thinking about the future and doing what someone else tells us we are supposed to do. You have to take time to slow down and live in the moment. It’s important to be aware of our environment and the world around us. That requires us to pay attention to the moment. Our lives are a journey. But often we are only interested in the destination. What we fail to understand is that our life is a process, and what happens along the way or the journey will define who we are as a person.

Step 2 requires us to question everything. We can no longer accept things on face value. Just because we see it in the news or hear it in the media does not make it true. Taking the red pill means we must ask questions and press for answers. And that means questioning all of our institutions, for example, government, schools and the Church. Most often we just assume the world is supposed to be a certain way or this is the way society tells us to live our lives. But why do we accept it as normal?

Step 3 is to learn the language of media. If we don’t understand the strategies and techniques that media employ to hold our attention and distract us, we will always be subject to its control. The only way to truly be free is to become media literate. By doing so, we will understand the multiple, layered media images that are being communicated through today’s mass media culture.

Step 4 requires us to readjust and examine what we think to be true and know why we believe it to be true. By following steps 1 – 3, we reach a place where we have to readjust our lives. It will require some difficult decisions. We must examine what we believe, where that belief came from and why we believe it. More than likely, this will affect the decisions we make and where we spend our time and our money.

Step 5 is where we decide from this point forward that “I will no longer be told what to think, but I will now think for myself”. This might not make you the most popular person. Taking the red pill’s ultimate destination is freedom. And freedom carries responsibility. You have to take the responsibility to stand up for the truth and, most often, reject the status quo. You must be willing to pay the price for freedom. It will be worth it in the long run.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Red Pill

Most of us have seen the 1999 film, The Matrix, starring Keanu Reeves as Neo. In the movie’s most critical scene, Neo faces a difficult choice between taking the red pill or the blue pill. I think we all face the same decision in our daily lives. We just don’t realize it. In Neo’s world, life is good, safe, predictable and convenient. Sound familiar? But the world he lives in that he believes is real is actually a fabrication and doesn’t exist.

The blue pill allows him to the opportunity to go on and live his life in this artificial or contrived reality. The red pill will offer him the chance to see things as they actually are. Once he takes the red pill, there is no going back. He will have to face the truth no matter how unpleasant or unpredictable. It will require him to think for himself and be accountable for his actions. So Neo rejects the status quo and takes the red pill.

The Matrix started me thinking. What would we do if we were faced with the same decision? Is the world we live in and the life we live real? Or has it been created by an outside force? Most of us will never get a choice this black and white. But it is an intriguing question. Would we take the red pill if it offered us real answers? If we could understand the decisions we make and why we make them; what we believe and why we believe it; and what it is really based on, would we take the red pill?

If you’ve read my blog, you probably realize that the world we accept as normal, I believe is manipulated and controlled by today’s mass media culture. In other words, the world you and I live in is a reflection of today’s media and the reality it has created. I’m convinced most of us probably wouldn’t take the red pill because, frankly, the truth is just too scary. And I think the majority of us think we already know and understand the world we live in so there’s no need to take the red pill. However, that’s not the case. The media has done a snow job on us. The media has been successful in helping to distract and insulate us from the realities of life and the things that are truly important. Our mass media culture reflects this. It has created it’s own matrix, and we have bought into it. I would go as far to say that the media culture has rewired our brains and the way we think.

The lives you and I live today take place in the marketplace. Everything is now a form of buying and selling. Life itself has been commercialized. How we make money seems to always be our first priority. Our existence seems to be driven by a never ending appetite of consumerism. More is better. We must have everything and have it now seems to be the message that today’s media is communicating. Even the American Dream has been hijacked and perverted by this form of consumerism. Our lives are also defined by advertising, marketing and branding. We become the products that we use or consume. We are told that the next purchase will make us the person we have always wanted to become.

The ultimate goal of life itself is to achieve celebrity, to become important and successful no matter what the cost. Does any of this sound familiar? Are we on a treadmill with no hope of ever getting off? Perhaps the red pill can offer us hope to escape this false reality. Today’s mass media culture has placed you and I at the center of our own world. Everything revolves around our wants and needs. It has helped to reinforce our own self-importance along with instant gratification of wealth, power and prestige. Would you agree that this is in direct contrast to the basic, simple teachings of Christ? As difficult as this may be to accept, we have all bought in some degree into the mass media culture. That includes people of faith.

Breaking out of this stranglehold will be no easy endeavor. Who doesn’t want a lifestyle or even a Christian faith that is safe, convenient, comfortable and puts us in control? However, that is not what the Word of God has called us to nor is it the reality of the Christian faith. Symbolically, we can continue to take the blue pill, but this leads us away from what God intends for us.

So if you decide to take the red pill. And start down this road, and begin to think for yourself and to question everything, there is no turning back. Nothing will ever be the same again. The Bible says the truth will set you free. But do you want to know the truth, and do you really want to be free. I guarantee you, there will be a price to pay for this freedom.

Friday, October 1, 2010

A Bold Move

Any time a church steps out of the boundaries of traditional ministry, it’s a bold move. This is especially true when it happens to venture into the world of filmmaking. The Vineyard Community Church based in Springdale, Ohio, which is located near Cincinnati, Ohio, has made this bold move and is currently in production on it’s first, full-length featured film. Most of the people involved in the unnamed project work at the Vineyard or attend the church. Brad Wise who is the creative director for the church serves as the film’s director and writer. Teaching pastor, Joe Boyd, who has a background in the film industry in Los Angeles, is the executive producer. The Vineyard’s video coordinator, Isaac Stambaugh, who is the former producer for the syndicated Zone television program, is credited as the director of production and the first assistant director.

Much of the remaining crew, including production assistants, extras and grips will donate their time to the project. In fact, this is not a big-budget affair. In industry speak, it would be considered to be a micro-budget film. Isaac Stambaugh will more likely consider it to be a no-budget film. With no expectations or little money at stake, this gives the Vineyard an opportunity to test the waters into the world of filmmaking. But it does offer potential rewards if the film can find distribution and a potential market. It is a labor of love for all who are involved. Joe Boyd sees this as a first step for the Vineyard, who may very well be in the process of launching a future production company.

Brad Wise has also written another script that will likely go into production the spring of 2011. The working title for this project is called A Strange Brand of Happy. It has a significantly larger budget and already has a commitment for a theatrical release. If everything comes together as planned, the Vineyard Community Church will be in a unique position. Joe Boyd’s vision is to create, produce and market faith-based films to a mainstream market.

Currently, there is no church or religious organization that has attempted this goal. Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia has produced films such as Facing the Giants and Fireproof. But their movies are mostly aimed at a faith-based or Christian audience. The Vineyard believes they can offer compelling stories that point the audience to Christ and, at the same time, offer solid entertainment value.

Their current production, which is yet to be named, is a classic example of this concept. This film deals with prejudice and racism. It is a timely topic considering the debate that rages in today’s headlines. The story revolves around an idealistic, young, white social worker who moves into a predominately African-American suburbia community. He discovers that he may not be as enlightened as he believes he is. The main character finds a suspicious bag in his back yard which he believes could be cocaine. What surfaces is suspicions and prejudice that lie right below the surface. The film examines what we really think about each other and our misconceptions that we’d rather not discuss. It’s an excellent topic that the Vineyard believes is relevant and capable of reaching a large audience.

The film will wrap by mid-October. Expectations are that the movie will be ready for distribution sometime in early 2011. The Vineyard Community Church has taken a bold step. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the months and years ahead. Will they be able to accomplish what no one else has done—to create faith-based films for a predominately nonChristian audience?