Monday, February 28, 2011

Get Low

Get Low is the type of movie that Hollywood has forgotten how to make. Producer Dean Zanuck spent the better part of eight years knocking on every door in Hollywood. He said he was turned down by every major studio at least three times. Period American pieces for adult audiences featuring primarily older actors are a tough sell. But, because of his persistence, Zanuck found the funding and the means to make this film a reality. Zanuck has made an outstanding and authentic American film. This is what filmmaking should be about.

Get Low is based on a true story which occurred during the depression in the 1930s. Felix (Bush) Breazeale, a backwoods Tennessee recluse, had a funeral party before his death. It was a national sensation featured in Life Magazine, and over 10,000 people came to the funeral party.

Get Low is a poetic story which combines elements of comedy, tragedy and drama. The film was directed by first-time director Aaron Schnider, who also wrote the screenplay. Schnider is known as a cinematographer, and it shows on every frame in this film. Get Low is beautifully photographed and exudes Southern atmosphere.

Of course the acting is nothing short of brilliant. America’s greatest character actor, Robert Duvall, plays the hermit, Felix Bush. Bush decides it is time to get low so he heads to town looking to plan his own funeral before he dies. The catch is he wants to be there in attendance so he can hear others telling stories about what they’ve heard about him. Bush apparently has a rather clouded past and is a rather eccentric character. Is he a harmless old man or a threat?

Frank Quinn is portrayed by Bill Murray, who is the local undertaker in need of business. Apparently no one in town has been dying. Quinn is more than willing to help Bush out, especially when he sees a huge wad of cash. Quinn’s assistant, Buddy Robinson portrayed by Lucas Black, is more interested in the reason why someone would want to do this in the first place. He seeks answers. Why would Bush choose a life of solitude away from the world for over 40 years?

Adding to the mystery is Bush’s old flame, the widow, Mattie Darrow, portrayed by Sissy Spacek. Apparently, she knew Bush before his days of solitude. The one man who can unravel the mystery is the Reverend Charley Jackson (Bill Cobbs). He knows the truth and the history behind the events that changed Bush’s life.

The question is does Bush really want to hear what people have to say about him or does he have another motive? To increase the excitement and interest of the funeral party, Bush will give up his prime virgin land at his death, in a lottery in which each participant will put up five bucks to enter.

Get Low is so much more than a movie about a tough old man who is trying to come to terms with his own mortality. This is a spiritual film, a quest to reveal dark secrets and to seek release from past sins and guilt. At its heart are redemption and reconciliation. Sometimes we just don’t feel that we have the right to seek forgiveness so we make our own prison. These are the complex issues that fuel Get Low.

Robert Duvall has always had a special place in his heart for films like Get Low. In fact, you can say it’s his trademark. He has a deep respect for rural people and traditional values. You can see it in his past body of work, such as The Apostle, Secondhand Lions, and Lonesome Dove.

One actor that I hope more people recognize is Bill Cobbs. He’s been in the business for over 35 years but often doesn’t receive the recognition he deserves. Get Low debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival and was acquired by Sony Classics. It grossed over $9 million at the box office. Obviously, there is an audience for films like Get Low. If you are looking for a film from the heart that’s truthful about life and the need for forgiveness and God’s redemptive power, then I wholeheartedly recommend Get Low.

Look for it on DVD. It is currently available and not too hard to find.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Hollywood’s Big Night

This coming Sunday is Hollywood's biggest night for the year. It’s Oscar time. After all the pomp and circumstance, predictions and analyses, it’s actually time to get down to business. This season there’s been no shortage of predictions. The odds on favorite to win Best Picture from most experts is The King’s Speech. Colin Firth and Geoffry Rush are likely to win acting awards as well. With 12 Oscar nominations, The Kings Speech, more than likely will be the big winner.

There have been several changes with this year’s Oscars Show. James Franco and Ann Hathaway are the youngest to ever host the Oscars. Missing from this year’s show will be the traditional movie montages. Producers are trying their best to reduce the total run time for the show. The Oscars will also feature several virtual sets which will represent different eras of film in the history of Hollywood.

Returning will be live performances for each of the nominated songs in the best song category. Oscars have once again nominated ten movies for Best Picture. I think this is a mistake. I understand why they are doing it. It give the Oscars the opportunity to not only embrace independent films but also to nominate big-budget, blockbuster movies like Toy Story 3 and Inception. It used to be special just to receive a nomination for Best Picture. Now it’s like everybody gets nominated.

The Oscars have always been the movie industry’s best opportunity to shine and to put their best foot forward. With dwindling attendance at the box office and DVD sales falling, Hollywood is looking for any opportunity they can find to promote itself. Traditionally some movies which are nominated or win an Oscar do receive an increase at the box office. That’s certainly been true in the case of The King’s Speech. Unfortunately, many of the movies have already finished their theatrical run, such as The Winter’s Bone, which could have benefited from the additional exposure.

I hope you enjoy the Oscars as you root for your favorites. Let’s hope the telecast is entertaining and engaging. Perhaps, the new changes will make a positive difference. Let’s face it. A three-hour plus broadcast can get a little old.

You can catch the 83rd Annual Oscar Awards this Sunday night starting at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Are You Ready to Take the Red Pill?

Finally, after months of rewrites and rewrites, The Red Pill is completed. It is now available for sale at For those of you who are unaware, I’ve spent the last year writing my new book, The Red Pill, The Cure for Today’s Mass Media Culture. It has been an amazing journey. I want to thank everybody who has helped to make this book a possibility.

I’m convinced The Red Pill offers real opportunities to impact our culture and change the world. I challenge you to read the book. I don’t think you will come away the same. You will certainly have a different view of the media and the influence it exerts in our society. The Red Pill offers a unique perspective on faith, media, and culture. It is not a rehashing of what is wrong with television or movies. But this book outlines a plan on how we can partner with Hollywood. Just like in the movie, The Matrix, by taking the red pill, we can begin to see hidden agendas that are often shrouded and presented as the truth. At the heart of the book are five core principles which can be implemented within the Body of Christ to make a profound difference in our culture.

The Red Pill is more than just a media book. It’s for anyone who is looking for answers. It offers a fresh perspective on our faith and how we can better learn to enjoy the journey of life. For those who are considering a career in the media and believe that God could be calling them to be media missionaries, this book is a must read.

There is still much to be accomplished, and we need your help in promoting The Red Pill. It’s taken a tremendous amount of work to get this book published. But the real battle starts now. I believe God gave me this book for a reason. And I know it’s not to sit on a bookshelf but to be read and acted upon and passed along. Please pray about how you can help to get the word out. Consider forwarding the link below to your friends, family and associates and ask them to forward it also. Consider buying a copy for yourself and maybe a copy for your friends. Anything you can do will be extremely helpful, especially prayer.

So, if you are ready to take The Red Pill and discover the truth about today’s mass media culture, the time is now. I believe this is one journey we must all take because our response to the media culture crisis will be in direct proportion to our ability to influence culture and, in turn, proclaim the truth of the Gospel.

To purchase a copy just click on this link:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Like Dandelion Dust

A few months ago, I read a story about Christians who were making movies. It was talking about upcoming projects. The story highlighted the new movie, Courageous , which is currently in development. The film is produced by Alex and Stephen Kendrick from Sherwood Pictures. They are the same folks that brought us Facing the Giants and Fireproof. Their brand of filmmaking is primarily evangelistic in nature and is aimed at a mostly Christian audience.

The story talked about other filmmakers who were taking a different approach. Producers Kevin and Bobby Downes are veterans of the Christian movie business. But they have decided to pursue projects that have a broader and more universal appeal. I was intrigued about a new upcoming movie called Like Dandelion Dust. Could they make a film that is entertaining, uplifting, and honored God all at the same time? The DVD was released just a couple of weeks ago. Now I would have my answers.

Some people might claim that I am over-critical about Christian movies. Well, Kevin and Bobby Downes have given us an excellent and an inspiring film. There’s no other way to say it. This is one to see. The script is outstanding, and the acting is superb. I applaud the filmmakers for getting such top-notch talent as Academy Award Winners Mira Sorvino and Barry Pepper. The story is based on a novel by New York Times Best Seller author, Karen Kingsbury.

Let’s face it. Most Christian movies feel like Christian movies. They don’t feel genuine or authentic and at times feel manipulative. However, Like Dandelion Dust is the real deal. It has a gritier feel. I would go as far to classify it as an art house movie. At its heart, it is a redemptive story with strong universal themes that we all can relate to.

The story is about an adoption that goes wrong and its consequences on both the biological and adoptive parents. Rip Porter, portrayed by Barry Pepper, has just been released from prison after serving seven years for spousal abuse. He has learned that his wife Wendy, played by Mira Sorvino, had his child while he was in prison. Wendy had forged his signature on the adoption papers, and Rip was not aware that he had a son.

Rip wants to put his life back together. After giving up drinking, he decides to sue for custody of his six-year old son. Rip and Wendy are working-class people with limited resources. The adoptive parents, Jack (Cole Hauser) and Molly Campbell (Kate Levering) are well-to-do and live the good life in Florida. They have provided a loving home for Joey (Maxwell Perry Coton). The tug-of-war starts with Joey being in the middle of all of the conflict and heart-wrenching decisions that will change everyone’s lives.

Throughout the entire film, God’s mercy and grace are ever present. There is an opportunity for all the characters to find the ability to forgive themselves and seek redemption. The message doesn’t overwhelm the film or have a forced agenda but allows it the freedom to find its own voice.

I certainly hope more Christians embrace this philosophy. These kind of films work. Surprisingly, it made only $352,000 during its theatrical release and played on only 60 screens. Like Dandelion Dust deserved a much larger release. Finally, here’s a Christian movie that can speak to a mainstream audience. I just don’t understand why they couldn’t have gotten a larger distribution deal.

The film certainly received a substantial amount of critical acclaim. It won the 2009 Audience Award for Best Drama at the Heartland Film Festival, plus 25 other awards in numerous other film festivals. The good news is Like Dandelion Dust is easily available on DVD. I picked it up at Wal-Mart for only ten bucks, a real deal. It’s also available for rent in Red Boxes. So, finding it will be no problem.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Art of the Pitch - Part 2

Whether you’re a director, producer or writer, at some point, you will need to learn the art of the pitch. No matter if you are a low-budget or independent media or film maker, or whether you work in the studio system, you will need someone to either greenlight your project or fund your film or TV project.

I want to share what’s worked for me over the years. I have been in countless pitch sessions whether it’s to raise money or to pitch a program idea to a network or TV station, it’s all basically the same approach.

I’ve nailed it down to five points that’s helped me. By following this formula, you concentrate on the big picture. If you do that well, the small things will take care of themselves.

Number 3

Are you knowledgeable? Have you done your homework or your research? Trust me. If you don’t know what you are talking about, almost any professional in the business will be able to detect that you don’t have any idea of what you are doing. You might as well head for the door because the pitch session is over. Being knowledgeable means you must able to handle any question that is thrown your way. In other words, think it out before you get to the meeting. I’ve had questions asked of me that I never saw coming. Don’t be a deer in the headlights. As you gain experience in pitching, it does get easier. Here’s one thing that can help. Know something about the people you are pitching to. I understand this sounds extremely basic.

Over the years, I can’t count the times that people have come to me with an idea, concept, or script or were looking for a job and didn’t know anything about me or my ministry. There’s no other way to put it except to say that this indicates that this is someone who’s not on top of their game. If they had just spent ten minutes online looking at our website, they would have been light years ahead. If they had done their research, they would have realized we were not the right organization or ministry to be pitching to in the first place. Don’t waste your time or theirs. Know their interests and passion and what they will support before you ever schedule a meeting.

Number 4

Have a plan. If you’ve been successful in establishing your credibility; you’ve been capable of projecting confidence, and you are knowledgeable about your project or idea, you are in the game. They have listened to the concept or the big picture, and they like what they’ve heard. Now they want the details. Have a plan. Have something in writing. This is the part of the presentation of the who, what, where, when, why and how.

You can do this by PowerPoint, video, flip charts—whatever you are comfortable with. The important thing is that it look professionally produced. In every pitch session, you have to read your audience. Some people like a lot of information, and other don’t. So it’s important to know when to stop and not overwhelm them. The best advice is to come over-prepared. But don’t use it unless you need it.

Number 5

Closing the deal. It’s amazing that you can do all the above steps flawlessly and still walk out of the room without a yes. The final step is the most critical in the entire process. Almost anyone in a pitch session will have some reservations no matter how good your project or idea sounds. Your goal is to close the deal. Don’t put yourself in a situation where they can say yes or no. If you give them that choice, chances are you’re going to lose. Give them a choice between Option A or Option B. Both lead to the answer you want.

For example, if I was pitching my show to a network, I would ask them do they want the program in a 28:30 format or in a 30 minute format. Somehow, this approach just works. By suggesting in this manner, it’s as if everyone in the room has agreed that the project is a go. Obviously, it doesn’t work every time, but I have had success with it.

Let me say it one more time. Never give them a choice between yes or no.

Bottom Line

There’s no easy answers on how to know the art of the pitch. You just have to do it and keep doing it. The biggest challenges are getting over your nervousness and getting feedback. Sometimes you never know what you are doing. It’s those nervous habits that can sometimes destroy a pitch session. Maybe you’re taking your hand to your mouth or you’re fidgeting with your tie.

Practice makes perfect. Work with some friends. Pitch your ideas or concept and let them critique you. Just try not to get too overwhelmed. Take a deep breath and just breathe—easy in and easy out.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Art of the Pitch - Part 1

Whether you’re a director, producer or writer, at some point, you will need to learn the art of the pitch. No matter if you are a low-budget or independent media or film maker, or whether you work in the studio system, you will need someone to either greenlight your project or fund your film or TV project.

How do you get people to do something you want them to do? That’s the basis of the pitch—explaining your idea or concept in a way that’s intelligent, logical, emotional and workable in the shortest time possible. The trick is to do it in a concise manner. The chances are you’re only going to get one shot and one shot only. As you can see, a pitch session can be very stressful.

You can find all kinds of resources and theories on how to do a successful pitch. There’s no shortage of books or information, which can be found online. And I’m sure most of it is fairly good.

I want to share what’s worked for me over the years. I have been in countless pitch sessions whether it’s to raise money or to pitch a program idea to a network or TV station, it’s all basically the same approach.

I’ve nailed it down to five points that’s helped me. By following this formula, you concentrate on the big picture. If you do that well, the small things will take care of themselves.

Number 1

You must establish your credibility. Are you credible? Are you the person you say you are? I can guarantee you that the first thing on the minds of the people sitting across the table from you in any pitch session isn’t about your project or your idea but about you. Can you pull it off? Can you actually deliver on your project?

How do you establish your credibility? In the media business, it’s often more about your perception than about reality. If you want to be a director or producer, then start acting like one. You have to believe in your mind and your heart that you belong in the room. If you don’t believe it, they won’t.

Establish your credibility by being and acting professional. It’s all about how you carry yourself, your dress and your mannerisms. Remember to shake somebody’s hand firmly and look them straight in the eye. Talk with authority. Trust me. You do the little things, and they will add up and make you credible.

Number 2

Confidence. Are you confident in your talents and abilities? No false confidence. Don’t say you are more than you are and don’t promise something you can’t deliver. Is your confidence from God?

Confidence is like a virus. If you project it, it has a way of infecting people. In any pitch session, the people across the table want to know that you actually believe in your project. If you don’t believe in it, they certainly won’t. Do you have confidence in the outcome? Then make your case.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Ralph Winter - Filmmaker

Ralph Winter is perhaps the most well-known Christian filmmaker working in Hollywood today. He has produced some of Hollywood’s biggest hits, including the Star Trek, Fantastic Four and most recently X-men series. How has Winter accomplished what seems to be the impossible—a Christian who has been accepted by the mainstream Hollywood community?

Winter is trusted with over $100 million budgets on a regular basis. Perhaps no other Christian working in Hollywood can make that claim. I have been fortunate to hear Ralph Winter speak on several occasions. What strikes me is Winter is a down-to-earth sort of guy, a man with balance, substance, and common sense. He believes his success is based on his integrity. A studio will respect you if you keep your word, stay on budget and on time. As a producer, he routinely delivers projects that are marketable, entertaining and, above all, profitable. With that kind of success, Winter has built a reputation as a Christian that can be trusted.

He is very open about his faith. He makes no apologies for his Christian beliefs and will pray for anybody who wants prayer. Winter makes every effort to inject Christian values into his films but will not turn them into Christian films. I have heard Winter say on many occasions that film is a good place to ask questions but not a good venue for giving answers.

His entry into mainstream Hollywood seems almost effortless. Winter studied history at Cal-Berkley. He took a job at Broadway Department Stores and ended up producing training videos. He took that experience and found his way into the post-production department at Paramount Studios. It’s amazing how many people go to film school and never end up working in the industry, while many working in Hollywood have no film degree or educational background. As in the case with Winter, there are many pathways into this industry.

In many ways, Ralph Winter has become the voice for Christians who are working in Hollywood today. He has found a place of acceptance by building relationships and keeping commitments. He states his family and ongoing Bible studies keep him grounded. He also says that having a life beyond the film industry is vital. Winter is also dedicated to helping the next generation of filmmakers who are Christians. He is part of the Biola Task Force and a regular contributor to conferences and seminars on Christians in Hollywood.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Maybe Hulu Had It Right After All

I was thinking just the other day that television has been our pal for over 60 years. But, truth be told, television is probably more like our family—the kind of family that you don’t mind coming over and staying for a while. The box has become America’s most influential piece of furniture. We have made it the centerpiece in our homes and have given it a prominent place of stature in our family or living rooms.

So, I have a question for you. Have you ever wondered how television has impacted your life? For good or bad? I was reading some statistics that’s astonishing. By the time the average person graduates from high school he or she would have spent 18,000 hours watching television. That includes over 330,000 commercials. As adults, most of us will spend on the average over 4 hours a day watching TV. That’s a lot of time. Hey, if we’re spending that much time on any given activity, it has to have some type of impact. Right?

Maybe Hulu had it right after all. A couple of years ago, they ran a commercial campaign which launched and promoted their new website. It was a funny, entertaining and facetious commercial featuring Alec Baldwin. Hulu is a web-based site where you can view television programs online. If you missed it in real time, it gives you another opportunity to view your favorite show.

Baldwin start out at the Hollywood sign where he says, “They say television will rot your brains. That’s absurd. Like a banana will only soften the brain. To go all the way you need Hulu to turn it into mush.” It turns out that Baldwin is actually an alien, and he’s using Hulu to turn our brains into mush so they can be scooped out and consumed by the master alien race. The final tagline for the spot reads, “Hulu, an evil plot to destroy the world.”

Could Alec Baldwin be right? Perhaps, he really is an alien. Just kidding. No I don’t believe there is an evil plot to destroy Western civilization or undermine the morals and values of our youth. And, I’m certain there are no aliens pursuing some mass invasion. Hollywood executives do not gather on Monday morning to discuss their evil intentions of polluting our minds. They are not in cahoots with aliens. I guess it would be more comforting if that was the truth.

However, Alec Baldwin did get something right. Perhaps, television has softened our brains. Maybe it’s just easier for television to do the thinking for us. I’m sure you’re probably thinking right now, what’s the big deal. I’ve been watching television and I’m fine.

I’m just like you. After a hard day, I just want to relax. I just want to sit down, watch the tube and chill. No heavy lifting. All I want to do is to put it on cruise control. The TV networks understand this well. They want to give you what you want. The networks are in the business to make money. No evil plot.

That’s why we get programs like Hawaii Five-O. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of this show. But the format works great for television. It’s simple and doesn’t require you to do a whole lot of thinking. Like most scripted programming these days, it follows a predictable formula. Bad guys commit a crime. Our heroes, the Hawaii team, springs into action. They catch a break, discover the plot and who and where the bad guys can be found. And after a chase or two or an explosion, the bad guys go down hard and are brought to justice. Same formula week in and week out. Just add some pretty pictures and some pretty people for eye candy, and you’re on your way to becoming a television producer.

Network executives have known for years that most people don’t want to watch complex television shows, such as Kings or Caprica. Both lasted only one season. They required the viewer be actively engaged and understand what is actually happening. Often it’s not about what we can see on the screen, but it’s more abstract and less defined. It’s what’s occurring in the minds of the characters or in the subtext. Remember, we just want to relax and not be challenged. Perhaps, Edward R.Murrow put it best. He understood the future of television and its potential to be used for both good and bad. He warned of the dangers long before others understood what was happening in our society. In 1958, he said that television is being used to distract, delude, amuse, and insulate us from the realities of life. By watching television, you would find evidence of decadence, escapism and insulation.

Murrow said that the American public has a built-in allergy to unpleasant and disturbing information. Murrow campaigned that television should reflect and offer a public discourse on matters of public policy and issues that impact society. But he believed because of the elaborate structure of networks, advertising agencies, programmers and sponsors, that the positive use of television would not become a reality. Television networks understood the human condition and what we really wanted to see. We were not interested in seeing the truth because that would be too unpleasant.

As Alec Baldwin says in the Hulu spot, television has indeed softened the brain. Perhaps that’s our legacy. Maybe today we can no longer think for ourselves. Whatever the box says is fine with us. No evil plot. We’re merely doing it to ourselves.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Sunset Limited

Hats off to HBO! They have set the standard of excellence for original programming for over 30 years. No other cable or broadcast network can match their achievements. They take risks that others would not dare to consider. Case in point—their latest film, The Sunset Limited. Can you imagine trying to pitch this to any other network? A story about two characters locked in one room for 90 minutes. No special effects. No car chases. No explosions. No action. In fact, no extras or background actors. That’s right just two actors. It doesn’t get any simpler than that.

But it gets even better. The movie is basically a philosophical dialogue about the nature of belief, the meaning of life, the existence of God, the human condition, faith and science. Can you hear the laughter? Most network or studio executives probably wouldn’t have given you time to finish your pitch. More than likely, they would have called security and had you escorted from the building.

But HBO is an innovator. They see possibilities where others do not. I’m sure that’s why they support projects such as The Sunset Limited. The story opens in a rundown apartment in a dilapidated neighborhood where two characters are locked in a struggle of life and death. The professor, Tommy Lee Jones, has tried to commit suicide while the preacher, played by Samuel L. Jackson, has saved his life and convinced him to return to his apartment. From this point on, the two men go back and forth in a philosophical discourse on the topic of faith versus science.

At stake is the professor’s life. He is a man who has no belief in God, people or himself and is convinced he deserves to take his own life. To say he is in a very dark place is an understatement. On the other hand, the preacher is a man with his own demons, convinced he can save the professor by sharing his encounters with God while serving hard time in prison. But the professor views death as a comfort, doesn’t want an afterlife of any sort and is content with his undoing. He says, “If I thought that in death I would meet the people I’ve known in life, I don’t know what I’d do. That would be the ultimate horror.”

Can the preacher save him? Can the preacher hear the right words from God? It’s deep stuff—compelling and captivating for the entire 90 minutes. I never got bored. The dialogue was totally believable from start to finish. You could feel the tension and struggle of both characters.

Folks, television doesn’t get any better than this. Obviously, a story like this would never work without two heavyweight actors of the quality and caliber of Samuel L. Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones. Both drive the story, and you can expect them to be nominated for future Emmys.

The Sunset Limited is based on a play by Cormal McCarthy and is a perfect example of the kind of movies I wish Christian filmmakers would tackle. I consider The Sunset Limited to be more Christian-focused than most typical Christian movies are in the usage of Christian content.

This isn’t a preachy movie. Both presented compelling arguments. It’s clear that it was made for a mainstream audience. The Sunset Limited gives you something to think about. It presents the issues of faith, God, and the human condition in such a way that the audience must ultimately decide for themselves who’s right or who’s wrong. Do I have the right to take my own life? Do I have the right to believe and do what I want to.

The material is treated with intelligence and is never heavy-handed. No formula. No agenda. And yet, the grace of God shines through in this film. For those who want to make a Christian film or become a media missionary, I consider The Sunset Limited to be required viewing. I think we can all learn a thing or two about how to make a movie that talks about God in a way that actually speaks to people.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Go Forth O' Pioneer - Part 2

A recent advertising campaign by Levies suggests that advertisers have realized for years that images and myths created by the American Dream can be good for business. What exactly is Levies selling in their “Go Forth, O’ Pioneer” advertising campaign? Practically every image you can think of that expresses patriotism, youth and the American way of life is portrayed in these commercials.

The narration evokes a strong sense of purpose and destiny. “America centre, of equal daughters, equal sons, all alike, endeared, grown, ungrown, young and old, strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich, perennial with the earth, freedom, law, love, and, finally, Go Forth America.” That’s an incredible amount of symbolism just to sell a pair of jeans. What Levies is really selling is their version of the American Dream. We, as pioneers, have a destiny to control and occupy the land, to become prosperous, and we can all do it by wearing Levies. Oh, and by the way, Levies are made in China.

Levies is just one example. There are countless others who use the same advertising strategies. This past Super Bowl, Chrysler ran a two-minute spot featuring rap artist, Eminem. The ad asked the question, “What has a city that’s been to hell and back know about luxury?” It invokes images of an old dying city, but rekindled it with a spirit of optimism as it portrayed the people of Detroit determined to restore past glory. The final tag line of the spot reads, Imported from Detroit. What Chrysler is selling is not cars but a restoration of the American Dream. The meaning of this message is somewhere deep inside of us in our subconscious, and as Americans ,we can all relate to this message. And Chrysler understands this completely. We grew with the original dream. But nowadays media makers, politicians and advertisers are prepared to take advantage of or our concept of the American Dream to create new meanings to the American Dream for their advantage.

The bottom line.

The American Dream is up for grabs. It’s anybody’s guess who will ultimately redefine it. But one thing is for sure. Whoever does will control the fabric of our society. I put my money on the mass media culture. They have the means and the motivation to do it. The question is, are we paying attention. Do we realize what’s at stake, or do we just nod our heads and continue to spend our money, our savings, and our future and charge our way to the American Dream?

And did you know that Chrysler spent $12 million to run this add which they got from the bail out from the American people.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Go Forth O’ Pioneer - Part 1

Have you ever wondered what the American Dream represents? What does it mean? Have you really thought about it? I’m sure it’s something you don’t think about on a daily basis. We all have an opinion about the American Dream. We’re probably not aware of it, at least not on a conscious level. However, somewhere deep in our subconscious the American Dream and all of the images that represent it can be found.

There are those out there trying to find a way into our subconscious in order to use the American Dream to their advantage. It goes on all the time, and it’s a really big deal. If you start to pay attention, you will notice that the American Dream is discussed a lot in our news coverage, in our media, in our entertainment and especially in our politics. Whoever can define the American Dream—its origins and purpose – will ultimately control the future of our society and our nation. The battle for who defines the American Dream is ongoing. And you will hear a great deal about it as the new political campaign cycle begins.

This past weekend at the Conservative Political Action Conference or CPAC, Presidential candidate, former Minnesota Governor, Tim Pawlenty, said this: “We need to restore American confidence, American optimism, and America’s hope for the future. We need to restore the American Dream by restoring American common sense.” It seems that these days everybody wants to restore the American Dream. What ever that means is anybody's guess.

Can we make sense of the American Dream? Historian, James Truslow Adams, popularized the phrase “American Dream” in his 1931 book, Epic of America. Adams summarized the American Dream in this way “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement regardless of social class or circumstances of birth. The idea of the American Dream is rooted in the United States Declaration of Independence, which proclaims that all men are created equal, and they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Somewhere along the way there has been a calculated and a deliberate effort to redefine and hijack the American Dream. Who benefits and profits, and what are their motives? Is the American Dream today more about consumerism, materialism and wealth rather than patriotism, freedom, justice, and liberty? Has our media and our mass media culture decided for us what they think the American Dream is? is it nothing more than selling jeans or automobiles. Does evoking the phrase, American Dream, enable politicians to gain power and control over people who are trying to achieve the mythical American Dream?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Media Missionary School TV

On February 7, 2011, we shot a pilot for our new television program called Media Missionary School TV. Our host, Bekka Prewitt, interviewed yours truly, Harold Hay. I had an opportunity to talk about my new book, The Red Pill, The Cure for Today’s Mass Media Culture. The book will soon be published by Amazon and will be available for sale through their website.

Media Missionary School TV is an exciting and innovative concept. The program will feature compelling stories about Christians who work in the mainstream media in Hollywood and the broader entertainment industry. There are stories that have never been told concerning Christians who are living a missional lifestyle and making incredible contributions to further the cause of Christ in the world of media and entertainment. Media Missionary School TV will also explore issues concerning the media and how it impacts all of us on a daily basis.

Future programs will be shot in Los Angeles as our own Bekka Prewitt will be moving to Hollywood to pursue a career in acting. Bekka will serve on the front lines as a true media missionary. This puts her in a unique position to talk to fellow actors, directors, producers, and writers about their relationship with God and their careers in the entertainment industry and how the two work together.

Media Missionary School TV further plans to partner with other Christian entertainment ministries in Hollywood to tell their stories to a national and international audience. We hope to inspire young people to seek careers and opportunities to become media missionaries.

The pilot will serve as an introduction. Later this month, Media Missionary School TV will be traveling to Nashville, Tennessee, for the National Religious Broadcasters Convention. We plan to meet with several representatives from the national networks to discuss distribution. A total of four specials will be produced in the first year. Each one-hour program will run quarterly starting in late June or early July of 2011.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Mumblecore - Part 3 The Story of The Zone

The next major obstacle was the need for a place to shoot the program. A few months back, our local newspaper had run an article about me leaving my job and starting a media ministry. They thought it was an interesting story. Why would someone who had a successful career suddenly decide to give it up and pursue the prospects of starting a Christian ministry. I had produced a local access show called Victory Videos for over ten years. I felt God was leading me to take it to the next level. I had one call from someone who read that newspaper article. It turned out to be one of those God opportunities.

He was running a non-profit ministry near the University of Cincinnati and had space available. He was willing to offer it to me for free. It was in the basement of an old church. To say that it needed work would be an understatement. But I saw possibilities. I brought in a few of my friends who worked in the business and told them what I was thinking. And, quite frankly, they told me that I was crazy. There was no way you could shoot a television program in this space. But as an independent low-budget and entrepreneur, you have to see things that other people don’t. Yes, the ceiling was too low, and it would be impossible to install a standard lighting grid. However, there’s always work-arounds. We made the space work. Hey, it was free. With a little bit of imagination, determination and lot of black paint, I had a studio.

Next, I started making more deals. I can’t emphasize this enough: I had no money. I somehow talked a lighting and staging company to allow me to use their lighting system for several months at no cost. It was one of the longest test drives you can imagine.

I called all my friends and asked for favors. The bottom line is I got all the equipment I needed and the resources that were going to be necessary to get on the air—we got it all.

It wasn’t until 5-1/2 months after WCPO decided to air the program that we got our first check from a donor. At some point, you are going to need money. No the check wasn’t for $250,000 or even $100,000, which is the type of money I needed to get the show up and running in the first place. But God met our needs. And we received $20,000. Never has $20,000 ever been stretch further. We were able to finish the renovations on the studio, buy the lighting system and build a non-linear editing system.

In 2000, this was nothing short of a miracle. There were few editing systems available. And most, such as the Avid, were all priced well above $50,000. Through a friend of a friend, we found an engineer who worked for a local company that was developing a new editing system. For pennies on the dollar again, this company built an editing system for less than $10,000.

The reason I want to share this story is to show you that this is a process that you have to live day-by-day. I could have thought of a million reasons why I should have just given up. Every day had its share of trials, tribulations, and obstacles. But it all worked out.

The studio was renovated by volunteers. Most of the people I didn’t know. For three weeks, they came night and day, tearing walls down, putting up drywall, ceilings, electrical, etc. All we did was pay for materials. Remember the second rule of low-budget filmmaking. We didn’t pay retail.

The $20,000 only went so far, which brought me back to the place where low-budget filmmakers will find themselves. Your opportunity to become a deal maker. I had to go back to the church that was doing our editing and providing our cameras. It was bold move to go there in the first place, but to go there again was insane. They agreed to produce six more shows and to provide the cameras for one year at no cost. What else can I say. That’s God.

I’m not telling you that first year wasn’t hard. And after all of these incredible things, there were always plenty of reasons to quit. Including myself and a staff of four, we were all working for nothing and would not be paid a salary for several months. Eventually, the money would come. We would find advertisers. Donors were stepping up. But we had to hang in there in the meantime.

That first year was special. And I want to thank all the people who made it possible. Many I know, but a lot of volunteers I didn’t know, who volunteered their time because they saw the vision and the greater good. We may have produced this show on a low budget. But it didn’t look low-budget. In fact, we got many compliments about how good the program looked on the air. You would have never know the look of the set was done with smoke and mirrors.

Most people thought it was a large space we were shooting in. When they actually visited the set, they were surprised and shocked. It’s amazing what you can do with camera angles and good lighting. You can make anything look good on television.

Over the years, the show improved and we eventually won numerous awards, including Best Program from The National Religious Broadcasters at their 2008 convention. It’s an incredible story. And if God has called you into filmmaking and media making for his glory, you will have your own incredible story.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Mumblecore - Part 2 The Story of The Zone

I’ve never let the lack of money stop me. In 1999, I had a meeting with the general manager of WCPO Channel in Cincinnati, Ohio. I pitched a new program concept at that meeting. A faith-based television show that would compete with Saturday Night Live. I was prepared, had done my homework, and brought my demo reel. After conferring with his program director, he decided to put the show on the schedule. I would have six months to deliver the first program. After that, we would have to air 23 consecutive new programs. It sounds challenging, even under the best circumstances. If you know anything about television, most of the experts told me that at the very minimum I would need $250,000 to make this possible.

Here’s what the general manager didn’t know. I had no professional video equipment, no broadcast quality cameras, no staff, no studio, no lighting or audio equipment, no budget and few prospects. What was I thinking? I’m either a fool or completely insane. Which is it? But I took a huge leap of faith. If they agreed to broadcast it, I would find a way to get it produced. Just like most low-budget independent filmmakers, you have to take one step at a time.

I believed it’s what God called me to do. I prayed about it and sought guidance. I allowed the Holy Spirit to direct and guide me. What else could I do? I didn’t have $250,000. In fact, I was living off of my savings. Like so many artists, I was unemployed.

So how did I do it? First, my story will not be your story. God has a unique story for you. But I can share some of the details. The most crucial need was finding cameras and an editing system. I met a gentleman a few weeks prior who had moved from California back to the Midwest. He had worked in the industry as an editor and was extremely knowledgeable. He had taken a position at a local church as an assistant pastor and media director. The church that he worked for had bought a top-of-line Avid, non-linear editing system. You can probable count on one hand in 1999 the number of Avid systems that were in our city.

I made a bold move. I arranged to meet with him and pitched the show. Would the church be willing to edit the show and provide the cameras? And, of course, I needed this all to be for free. That’s a tall order. The only thing I could offer them was full credit as the production company and one 30-second promotional spot which would air in the program.

If you are going to be a filmmaker, especially a no-budget filmmaker, you have to become a deal maker and a negotiator. That puts you on the road to becoming a producer. How do you get people to do things at no or little cost? Are you a good horse trader? Remember the second rule of low-budget filmmaking is never pay retail. After a second meeting with the senior pastor, the church agreed that they would produce the first eight shows and grant usage of all of their video production equipment. That was God!. Let’s face it. This was the deal of the century.

Now I had a shot. I had made an opportunity. The next things you have to do as a low-budget producer is to get people involved in your project. Can you articulate your vision? Can you find people who will volunteer their time? Any good low-budget producer will tell you that you have to give people a reason to want to be part of your film, TV or media project. For some people, it is an opportunity to get into the business, for others it’s experience or working on your film can be good for your demo real. That’s a message you have to sell to volunteers.

Here’s one example that has worked for me. Say you’re looking for a director of photography. But you have found a confident and capable camera operator who one day desires to be a DP. Your project could be his or her ticket into fulfilling a dream. Everybody wants to move up. Your task is to evaluate their gifts, talents, and ability to see if their can do the job. It’s how I built my team, by using volunteers who were usually one or two levels below the job they wanted to do.

Because I had already been producing for a number of years, I had already built a contact list of potential crew members. So finding people who wanted to work on the new television show wasn’t that difficult. If the show was a success, there was the prospect that they could be hired part-time or full-time.

Because the money wasn’t there during the first season, our crew had to volunteer their time. It wasn’t until the second season that paid positions became available. As I said, if God is in it, and it is his will, things work out.

Part 3 - Friday