Thursday, June 30, 2011

The New Priests

George Miller, a renowned filmmaker, said in an interview in 1998 that organized religion had removed much of the poetry, mystery and mysticism out of our religious belief. This caused people to look for answers to their questions about spirituality in other places. He considers the cinema to be today’s new place where people gather and worship as they once did in church. Miller also believes that the cinema storytellers have now become the new priests. I agree. As the new priests, we must learn to use the power of the Redemptive story in order to reach this new church .

The Redemptive story is a classic example of how God works in the lives of his creation. The Bible is basically a redemptive story about man’s fall and God’s ability to transform us. Man rebels against God and commit acts of inappropriate behavior or sin and goes his own way. But, in the end, we are capable of change because God has put within us the ability to recognize the truth and be transformed if we are willing to embrace the truth.

Redemptive stories require a significant character arc to complete the journey and must have a catalyst to initiate the process or journey. It can be a personal awareness within or an outside force. The outside force can be spiritual in nature, such as God, or it can be a force that can be identified as destiny or a grand plan of design. A subcategory of redemptive stories is transformational stories, which are similar, but often the catalyst for change is either an event, a crisis, or a person.

Redemptive films need to illustrate the wonders of God. As Christians we don’t do this very well in film. When it come to miracles, angels, the unexplained, healings or the story of the loaves and fish, our stories seem to be flat, one-dimensional and lacking depth. Perhaps we’re too close to the subject material. NonChristians for some reason seem to be much better at this. For example, Jesus of Nazareth, produced in 1977 for television, is exceptional at exploring the wonders of God. It is a difficult concept to explain, but they do it with simplicity, humanity and the divine in such a way that it moves you.

The wonders of God can also be found in the small things of everyday life which are truly the miracles. We can find the divine patterns of life that exist in the smile of a child and the dawning of a new day. Christian filmmakers often don’t know how to depict the glorious, marvelous and small wonders of God’s grace and love which occur daily in our lives.

Redemptive filmmaking requires the ability to question God. We Christians have a tough time doing this. We don’t want to admit we have doubts and are sometimes confused. Perhaps, we think it is a sin to question God. But that’s not Biblical. Jacob’s name meant deceiver, but his name was changed to Israel meaning one who struggles with God. This happened after the all-night wrestling match at Peniel. We have to ask questions. Where is God when we are hurting? Why do bad things happen? As filmmakers, we have to be willing to ask these questions. If our goal is to be authentic, real and genuine, our audience is asking the same questions. Let’s face it. Christian filmmakers paint a world the way they want to see it. Mainstream filmmakers paint life’s complexities and the world as it is.

The need for redemption requires us to face sin. NonChristians may not call sin, sin, but they are good at depicting it. There is no redemption in the filmmaking process without the ability to portray sin. Our audience will not accept the fact that our characters have gone through this incredible transformation without seeing what their lives looked like before the transformation. They have to see the ugliness. We have all gone through the same experience. Life isn’t always pretty. That doesn’t mean we offer gratuitous, offensive material just for the sake of showing it. But it is part of the journey to redemption. I know for some Christians, this is a difficult concept to accept. But here is something to consider. The Bible is a story of the human condition without God and does contain content that some may find disturbing. We are afraid that if we show sin we are somehow endorsing it. Most Christian filmmakers want their hero or protagonist to be flawless not at the end of the redemptive process but at the beginning.

Redemptive stories do not necessarily offer a convenient and tidy ending. Just as in life, there may not be a fairy tale ending as in “they lived happily ever after”. For example, in Bella, it would have been temping to end the movie with a happy and satisfying conclusion. However, both lead characters had their moments of redemption, which were more reflective of real life. Redemption is a complex process and is different for each of us.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Solution is Nearer Than You Think

Life is full of problems whether it’s school, your job or ministry. There are always problems that must be overcome. At times, the solution seems miles away. We often resort to work-a-rounds or band-aid approaches to address and fix our problems. But they never quite work.

I’m sure right now in your life you have some type of problem that’s keeping you up at night. For me, it’s finding a way fund my ministry, Media Missionary School and Flannelgraph Ministries. I just can’t put my finger on the solution. Of course, it doesn’t help starting a ministry during difficult financial times. But, hey, God never said it would be easy.

I had an epiphany recently that perhaps offers some hope. I was mailing a copy of my new book, The Red Pill, The Cure for Today’s Mass Media Culture. A friend of mine had given me some black boxes. Honestly, they looked great, but they were made to contain a smaller book than mine. So I took out the insert. The only problem is the book moved from side to side. Not so good. After purchasing some filler, it still didn’t work very well. It was nothing more than a band-aid approach, which didn’t look very professional.

After looking at the problem from every angle, it hit me. All I had to do was turn the insert upside-down, and my problem was solved. I couldn’t believe it. The solution was right there from the beginning. Why couldn’t I see it? In fact, the right solution is usually the simplest solution.

So this got me thinking. In the midst of struggling with whatever problem you and I are faced with, maybe the solution is well within reach. The problem is that it’s sometimes hidden. What we have to do is think differently and see things from a different perspective.

As far as the black box is concerned, once I realized that I didn’t have to remove the insert, the solution was right in from of me. My problem was I was trying to find a solution without the insert because I was mistaken in believing that’s where the solution lay.

Final Thoughts

What about the issues and problems that are facing the Body of Christ? Sometimes problems come in small packages ( the black box ) as well as large ones. We, as people of faith, are facing a very large problem. How do we proclaim the Gospel and fulfill the Great Commission in a world where people do not want to hear the message? Perhaps, if we see things with fresh eyes and approach the problem from a different perspective, we will find the answers we seek. I think we are in a time where we have to rethink what ministry is and what ministry isn’t. This may require us to go back to first base and rethink how we view God and how He is at work in the world.

I’m convinced this will be a revelation to most people. What we may discover is that the problem isn’t as enormous as we think. The solution could be well within our grasp

Monday, June 27, 2011

My Own Love Song

I’ve always been attracted to road movies. It’s the perfect platform to tell a transformational story. Rain Man, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Smoke Signals and The Grapes of Wrath are great examples of movies that are not about the destination but about the journey and what happens along the way.

Road movies present an opportunity for dramatic character arcs and change. Good ones don’t emphasize the physical journey but emphasize the spiritual journey. Olivier Dahan’s latest film, My Own Love Song, is a little gem that honors and pays homage to the road movie concept. This film is about broken people who are often forgotten and cast away by society.

Movies like My Own Love Song have always resonated within my soul. This is a journey often not taken by Hollywood. We are surrounded by people who are downhearted, broken, and poor. I think this film can be described as an allegory about our quest on life’s journey to restore the human spirit in a broken world.

I read several reviews online concerning this film. Most of them had a very unfavorable view of the film. In fact, it was hard to find anyone who had a good word to say. Most saw the movie as disconnected and disjointed. They particularly found the voice narrative and the fantasy elements to be irritating. I don’t think this film is meant to be taken literally. It’s presented in a dream state and, as I said earlier, it’s an allegory. In my view, the critics are off base and completely miss the point. Bottom line—this is an exceptional film and worth your attention. It is very much a spiritual and a redemptive film that presents the grace of God.

My Own Love Song starts out as a road movie where they begin the journey in Marysville, Kansas. It’s a journey into the heart of the deep south. Their destination is New Orleans. Jane (RenĂ©e Zellwenger) is a 30-something, wheelchair bound, ex-singer struggling to deal with her disabilities due to an auto accident. She has a unique friendship and has formed a bond with Joey (Forest Whitaker), a potential schizophrenic who talks to and hears voices from what he calls angels or ghosts.

In a desperate effort to discover if others can talk to angels, Joey convinces Jane to embark on a trip to hear an expert talk on the issue. Joey also has a hidden agenda. He found a letter from Jane’s son inviting her to come to New Orleans for his first communion. Jane had to gave up her son for adoption years earlier due the an accident. She is unaware of the letter and Joey’s hidden agenda.

Along the way, they encounter an assortment of broken and throwaway people. Among the list are Billie (Madeline Zinma), whose husband has disappeared and Caldwell (Nick Nolte), an ex-hippie and musician with a mysterious past. Caldwell joins them on the journey because he needs to get to a gig that is on the way. He needs a singer and thinks he has convinced Jane to sing “just two songs”. However, Jane believes she has lost the ability to sing.

In her own words Jane says, “Nothing is clear in our own world. Nothing happens as we intended it. Will I ever walk again?” All of the characters on this journey will discover the truth about themselves and the world they live in. How can Jane walk again without the ability to walk? Will Jane find the will to reconnect with her son in spite of her limitations? Can she find her voice?’ Is Joey mentally unstable or does he see things other people don’t see?

I think this film does an excellent job describing the human condition and asking important questions. How do we get fixed? Where does that kind of power come from? There is something comforting about seeing people who are disfranchised and forgotten find the power and the ability to connect to others and find a source of strength. I see the Spirit of God at work here. Matthew 11:28 says, “Come, come all who labor and who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. My Own Love Song is also a quest for rest. Are we not all laboring with heavy hearts looking for a source of strength and renewal?

Jane, Joey, Billie and Caldwell are all drawn to seek something bigger than themselves. Their road is the road of restoration and redemption.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Two Hour Window

For years, there’s been an ongoing debate about what kind of movies Christians should be involved in. Is it possible to make mainstream films and at the same time remain faithful to our values and principles as people of faith? Or should we go out of the Hollywood system and independently produce Christian films and media?

As I said, it is an ongoing struggle and a source of conflict for many people. Here at Media Missionary School we talk a lot about media missionaries. We believe it’s possible for people of faith to create art that speaks of Jesus the least but has him most in mind. We believe we can live out our faith in front of our peers while at the same time create media that is thought-provoking, socially redemptive and, above all, truthful.

Media missionaries understand the power of the redemptive story and have the passion and ability to influence what is on the screen as well as what’s behind the scenes. This is my classic definition of a media missionary—an individual working in mainstream media and entertainment and, through his/her art, has the ability to inject Biblical principles into his/her work.

I recently told this to one of my friends who had a rather puzzled look on his face. He said that this sounded like somewhat of an indirect approach. How will they know the Gospel if we’re talking about Jesus the least? Shouldn’t we be direct about our message? Leave no stone unturned. Make sure they hear the Word of God.

His argument sounded reasonable, but is it Biblically correct? Jesus gave us the model. He used parables and storytelling to communicate the truths of the Bible. But he wasn’t always direct. In fact, he was rather mysterious and, at times, ambiguous. He used the concept of “the Kingdom of God is like” versus “the Kingdom of God is”. In other words, he never told his audience what to think. He challenged them to find the meaning in his story. Often, they would walk away not sure what he meant. But they would have something to think about and would have to dig deep to interpret its meaning. Most of the time, Jesus didn’t offer a five-point sermon. He told compelling stories that were full of drama, conflict, and the realities of the human condition. That doesn’t sound like a lot of Christian movies or family-friendly entertainment we produce today.

Most Christian movies fall into the category that I call “the two hour window”. The window opens. The window closes at the conclusion of two hours which is the typical run time of most movies. I believe in an open window approach in which the window continuously stays open. As I see it, I want the audience to be thinking about the movie two hours, two days, two weeks and two months later. That only happens if you connect on a deep emotional level both consciously and subconsciously.

You want your audience to be challenged and reflect on their lifestyle choices, the pathway they have chosen, and how they are treating their family, their fellowman and their relationship with God. But in order to do that we have to offer stories that are honest, broken and willing to dive into the human condition. I believe as people of faith we can present the truth in such a compelling fashion that it will cause people to look for answers. Movies are great at starting discussions and getting you to think. And guess what? That’s exactly what Jesus did through his parables.

Recently I read a response to one of my blogs from an aspiring filmmaker who is a Christian. He wants to produce visually appealing films that are realistic, dramatic, and powerful. He believes the most effective way to do this is to present the realities of life, which sometimes can be very ugly. He believes that sometimes you have to use bad language, violence and other means in order to be effective. Sometimes an element of ambiguity is also necessary. This vision won’t set well with many Christians.

He went on to write that Christian films and family-friendly films are often nonrealistic and seem insincere. I think he’s right. If we want to break through the two hour window, we must leave our audience with something to think about at a very deep level. That won’t happen if we continue to pull our punches.

We can talk about Jesus the least but have him most in mind and get our point across. I’m convinced this approach is neither direct nor indirect. It’s both simultaneously.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Who are We?

Lots of people ask me what exactly is my job. They know I’m the Founder and President of Media Missionary School and Flannelgraph Ministries. But that doesn’t exactly answer the question. Obviously, we’re into education and media. And, frankly, I’ve had a difficult time offering a short version or a convenient 30-second sound bite. What we do and who we are is a bit complex and abstract at times.

Recently, I was challenged to put our mission and vision on one page. Believe me, that’s not easy for me to do. But it was a great exercise. It challenged me to focus my thinking. First of all, I am a missionary without borders reaching a new people group that is currently not being reached. This new people group speaks the language of media, the language of visual image and the language of visual storytelling. They are part of the new church of media and entertainment.

The important thing to remember is, as a civilization, we are transforming from one based on written communication to one based on visual communication. Obviously, this has enormous implications in the spread of the Gospel Message.

As a result, my ministry can be defined as an advocacy group, a missions organization, a media ministry, and an educational institution. They are all linked together and necessary to complete our mission. We advocate the development of visual storytelling for global outreach. As an advocacy group, we offer resources, information and education for the Church and the Body of Christ on issues of faith, media and culture. I do this by providing classes, workshops, and seminars.

We are a missions organization designed to help and support media missionaries on a practical, spiritual, and emotional level. We’re dedicated not only to their professional success but, more importantly, to their spiritual and emotional growth and effectiveness as a media missionary. I know of no organization that is honestly tackling this issue. We have mission organizations that help and support foreign missionaries, but nobody is helping those who are called into mainstream media to reseed the culture with a Biblical message.

We are a media ministry which provides content through Media Missionary TV and this website We provide online resources that support current and future media missionaries. We think that it’s important to create content that emphasizes stories of media missionaries working on the front lines of the entertainment industry. Our mission is to tell their story and provide resources and information that will inspire the next generation of media and film makers who have embraced a missional approach to their work. How will the Church support such efforts if they don’t know their stories.

And, finally, we are an educational institution. No, we are not trying to be a four-year college or film school. That is not our mission. But we are an institution that focuses on faith-based training and film camps for students who are interested in pursuing a career in media and entertainment.

We do want to build a physical center where we can train and develop visual storytellers and media missionaries. How I see this working is a three-week program in the summer for high school students and a three-month program for adults. The center will be a place where individuals will come and study in a community setting.

I’m interested in preparing the messenger as well as the message. And that’s not the focus at the university and college level. Ours is a spiritual journey.

Well, there you have it—my explanation of what I do. We are an advocacy group, a missions organization, a media ministry and an educational institution working in unison for one mission—fulfilling the Great Commission.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Rabbit Hole

One of the themes that Hollywood loves to explore is loss. I’m sure you can think of a lot of examples where this has played out, especially concerning the loss of a child and the effect and impact it has on the parents.

Usually we are subjected to two hours of painstaking agony. We get a front row seat as we watch the lives of the parents fall apart and disintegrate. Seldom is there any hope or the ability to reconnect as a couple and once again find the beauty and happiness of life.

John Cameron Mitchell’s latest film, Rabbit Hole, is a film that breaks the traditional mold of most movies that deal with the subject of loss. It’s an exceptional film that features outstanding performances from Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart and Dianne Wiest. Rabbit Hole is about how we survive loss and how we find a way back to living our lives. The pain of losing a child is undoubtedly devastating. So what makes this film truly remarkable is the ability to overcome loss and find hope.

Becca Corbett (Nicole Kidman) and Howie Corbett (Aaron Eckhart) are a happily married successful, suburban couple enjoying the good life before they lose their four-year old son. Eight months later, they are still struggling to pick up the pieces. Whereas Howie finds comfort in the familiar trappings of his son’s drawings, possessions and his son’s dog, Becca sees only pain. The resulting conflict of how they deal with loss is the driving focus of the movie.

Becca and Aaron are on a collision course that has the potential to not only destroy their marriage but also their lives. Both are trying to cope in different ways. Becca connects with Jason (Miles Teller) who was driving the vehicle that struck and killed her son. Somehow, they form a unique bond and relationship. Aaron considers an affair with Gabby (Sandra Oh), whom he meets at a support group for parents who are dealing with the loss of a child. Further complicating the situation is Becca’s relationship with her sister, Izzy (Tammy Blanchard), who recently discovered she is pregnant as well as her relationship with her mother, Nat (Dianne Wiest) who is dealing with the loss of her son. Nat continually compares her loss with Becca’s loss which infuriates Becca.

Rabbit Hole is a complex story with complex relationships. It also poses some other interesting questions. Becca is upset with many of the comments made at her support group referencing God and why he would take away a child. One of the parents in the group states that God must have needed another angel. Becca came back with “Why couldn’t he just make one.” It appears that Becca was brought up in the church and perhaps blames God for what has happened. Becca’s mother, Nat, has found comfort in God through her loss. This theme also serves as a source of conflict between Becca and her mother.

We may never discover in this life why bad things happen to good people. But this film certainly provides a platform for discussion on the issue. Some find comfort in God while others blame him. Perhaps, ultimately what makes Rabbit Hole a redemptive story is it’s sense of optimism and hope that we can overcome and continue to find a way to move forward.

Nat said it best when she told Becca that the pain never goes away. It’s something that we carry forever. But she found that the loss changes over time. She said she found a way to live with it, and that’s OK.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Three Cardinal Sins of Low-Budget Filmmaking - Part 2

Low-budget doesn’t have to mean low quality. Although the odds are against you, it’s possible to deliver the goods. I’ve watched countless low-budget films and have been involved in the production of both low-budget television and film projects. So I’ve made every mistake possible. From my experience here are three deadly sins that catch most people off guard. You never see them until it’s too late

Mistake No. 2 – Casting bad actors in supporting roles.

Most low-budget filmmakers do a good job finding a couple of decent actors to play the primary and leading roles. But what about the three or four supporting roles? They are equally crucial. Although your principle actors will most likely make up 70 or 80 percent of your screen time, you’re supporting actors are capable of derailing all of your hard work and effort. Although their role on screen may be limited, bad acting sticks out like a sore thumb.

It appears that in the supporting roles we’re just trying to fill out the roster, and it looks like we’re just pulling people off the street. Bad idea. I realize that whatever funds you have are going to pay your leads. So what’s the solution?


Look for nonprofessional actors who are playing an extension of themselves. Why work with bad actors that can’t act? Find someone who isn’t really acting because they are naturally playing the part. Sometimes you have a better film working with nonprofessionals.

Mistake No. 1 – Bad Dialogue

The problem with bad dialogue is you never know it’s bad dialogue until it’s too late. Everyone is so involved in the production process and focusing on making the film that bad dialogue somehow just slips through. It becomes painfully obvious during the editing process when the pieces are finally assembled. You think to yourself, how did we miss it. This is awful. Nobody would really talk like this or say something like that. Too late.

The sad fact is you might have a good story and a good concept on your hands. But it doesn’t matter if the dialogue is just not up to speed. Dialogue is the hardest thing to write. You can learn the mechanics of scriptwriting, but the gift of dialogue is pure talent.


No easy answer. Your best bet is to get honest feedback from multiple sources before you decide to make your movie. I realize you’re probably in love with your script, especially if you have written it. But if you don’t get an honest assessment, you could be looking at a train wreck. Find money in your budget to bring in a good writer who can help with dialogue. I’m sure all of the seminars and workshops you attended told you that it’s always about story. In the world of low-budget filmmaking, that’s even more true. It’s about the script but especially the dialogue.

Now you’re ready to make your movie. You know how to compensate for lack of action. You’ve found the right people who can play the roles, and you’ve got a fantastic script. And it didn’t cost you $30 to buy that film school book. Just remember to add me to the credits as an Associate Producer.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Three Cardinal Sins of Low-Budget Filmmaking - Part 1

You’ve bought the $30 film school book, paid for the 2-day film school DVD set, and you’ve gone to every seminar and workshop imaginable about low-budget filmmaking. You’ve done your homework, and you’re ready to make your first film.

If you’ve paid close attention, you’ve discovered the two most common mistakes that most people make when starting out in the business—soft focus and bad sound. You have determined not to go down that road. You’ve taken the experts’ advice and found a qualified and highly confident Director of Photography. You’ve also found a sound expert who has all the right equipment to capture good sound on location. Maybe you’ve even gone a step further and enlisted the help of a friend who can score your film. So do you have all the bases covered? Are you ready to make an excellent low-budget feature?

Low-budget doesn’t have to mean low quality. Although the odds are against you, it’s possible to deliver the goods. I’ve watched countless low-budget films and have been involved in the production of both low-budget television and film projects. So I’ve made every mistake possible.

From my experience here are three deadly sins that catch most people off guard. You never see them until it’s too late.

Mistake No. 3 – Failing to compensate for lack of action.

Chances are that if you are doing a low-budget feature, you don’t have money for special effects, CGI, car chases or explosions. Most low-budget films suffer from lack of action. Often the film feels like nothing is happening. But you can compensate for this if you know what you’re doing.

One recent example is The Sunset Limited. Here’s a film that’s 90 minutes long and features two actors in one room. That’s it. Doesn’t sound very exciting, does it? But actually it’s captivating and completely holds your attention for the entire 90 minutes.

The last thing you want to do, whether you’re a big-budget or low-budget filmmaker, is to bore your audience. Find a way to keep them engaged. Your task is to create tension and the feeling that something is about to happen. If you don’t have money to shoot a certain scene with action, reference it as an event that happened off-screen and allow the audience to fill in the blanks.

These are common techniques that were used in The Sunset Limited. They also used simple tasks, such as making tea, into an action-oriented event.


Utilize the editing process to overcome the lack of action by using creative editing concepts to show action. Make sure you have a significant number of cover shots. A good editor will know how to compensate for the lack of action. Make sure that you find someone who understands his/her role and the shortcomings your film will present. The main point is to plan for it in advance.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Where Are You?

I know you’re out there. I’m just not sure where you are. God has given me a vision for media and how we can use it effectively for global outreach. And I’m convinced I’m not the only one who has been given this vision. Yes, you are out there somewhere. You feel the same way that I do. You know there is something terribly wrong with the world. You probably feel the Church has been ineffective in reflecting the true nature of Christ. You know media is a problem, but you also feel that somehow it’s the solution. You’re not sure how to express or articulate how you feel. And when you talk to people about these issues, they seem to look at you as if you are speaking a foreign language. You just don’t have the words or haven’t connected the dots to make it seem sensible and reasonable.

Whether you work in the media and entertainment industry or in some other occupation, it really doesn’t matter. If God’s given you a vision for media, He’s given you the vision. We need each other. I need you, and you need me. I want to provide you with the resources, information and knowledge that I’ve accumulated for the past 25 years in my search for the truth and on my quest to fulfill my calling as a media missionary.

My part is to build Media Missionary School, both a physical and virtual place of ministry, and to inspire others to duplicate it. I need your help to continue to do what I am doing, so that I can help you to fulfill the mission and the calling that God has given you. So we need each other. That’s the bottom line. So where are you?

Do you want to change culture? Do you want to change the world? Then the first step is to develop visual storytellers for global outreach. That means that we will need to raise up, equip, train, and support media missionaries to the mainstream media and entertainment industry. In order for that to happen, we will need to develop the messenger and the message And none of this happens unless we can educate the Body of Christ on issues of media, faith and culture. That’s why we need each other.

God may very well be calling you to play a part in this mission. First he may call you to actually work in the media as a media missionary. Or he can be calling you to work at the local church as a conduit to inspire, mentor and raise up media missionaries. I want to help you to fulfill your calling and the vision God has put on your heart.

One thing is for sure—that nagging or impression from God will not go away. You may not have all the answers, or perhaps none of this completely makes sense. But I’m sure you are part of the puzzle and have part of the solution. I hope to help you to fill in the missing pieces.

We are not called to serve on an island. That’s why we need each other to fulfill our destiny and calling. One of the reasons that Christianity has hit the wall is because we are all doing our own thing. We are one Body with many parts, and each has a function to fulfill. My part is to empower you, inspire you, and give you practical information and knowledge that will allow you to fulfill your purpose. Together, we can serve as one to fulfill the Great Commission through the use of media and entertainment to evangelize the entire globe.

Where are you? You most certainly are out there. I am praying that God will connect us. With his help we can find each other and put the pieces together.

Here’s how you can find me:

Harold Hay, President and Founder
Media Missionary School and Flannelgraph Ministries

Phone: 859-918-6220.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Chariots of Fire

This month, we are screening the 1981 film Chariots of Fires at Friday Night Flicks. It had occurred to me that I have never written an official review of this film. I consider Chariots of Fire to be one of the best films from the 1980s. It certainly is the best example of how a faith message can be incorporated into a mainstream film. In fact, if you want to see a portrayal of a Christian who reflects the nature and character of Christ, you will find no better example than the character of Eric Liddell.

From the opening scene, Chariots of Fire invokes deep emotions that have captivated audiences for over 30 years. It certainly captivated me as I watched the British national track and field team training for the upcoming 1924 Olympics to be held in Paris, France. The scene evokes the sense of optimism, hope and victory as each team member is running on the beach in unison.

They are all running for different reasons—God, country, King, national pride. The question is “in what order”. The heart of the story is about two very different people. Harold Abrams (Ben Cross) is an English Jew who is looking to overcome prejudice and find acceptance in the English hierarchy. He enrolls in Cambridge University and sees running as a way to achieve his goals. Eric Liddell, a Scotsman, (Ian Charleson) is the son of missionaries to China. He is a man of conviction and states “I believe that God made me for a purpose. But he also made me fast, and when I run, I feel his pleasure.” Liddell believes running will give him the opportunity to bring glory to God and an opportunity to proclaim the Gospel. Both men are on a collision course as they train and prepare for the Olympics. It’s clear that their motives, reasons and methods are radically different. But their destinies are linked.

Chariots of Fire is based on a true story. The part of the story that shocked the world was Eric Liddell’s refusal to run in the 100 meter heat because the event fell on the Sabbath. He faced enormous pressure from his country, including the Prince of Wales and future King of England. His refusal set off a firestorm of criticism. Is God first or is your country first? Is national pride more important than your integrity and beliefs.

The questions that Chariots of Fire pose are just as relevant and timeless today. What defines Eric Liddell is an important question. He is not being self-centered nor is he arrogant in his faith. I believe the movie does an excellent job depicting the character as a man who is defined by his faith. If you separate his beliefs and integrity from who he is, he would not have the strength or the will to win the race.

Harold Abrams, the son of Jewish immigrants from Lithuania, is also fighting his own battles. He faces enormous odds in discovering his identity and purpose. Abrams is trying to run his race. But what is the source of his power. Liddell asks the question, where does the power come from to see the race to the end. It is the central question of Chariots of Fire. Two very different men. Two very different belief systems. Each will have to find the source of that power in order to fulfill their destinies.

I find it hard to believe that a movie that depicts such powerful and compelling Judeo Christian beliefs could ever have been produced, yet alone win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Chariots of Fire was a surprise winner at the 1981 Academy Awards beating out films such as Reds, On Golden Pond and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Over the years, the film has received a fair amount of criticism for being the worst film receiving the Academy Award for Best Picture. But this small, low-budget British film is worthy of all of it’s critical acclaim. I just don’t see the critic’s beef. You have to wonder if they just don’t like the movie’s central theme and message.

Bottom line. if you haven’t seen this film or if you’ve seen it multiple times, Chariots of Fire will inspire you and provide a perspective and insight on how you can see your race to the end.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Romantic Comedy, Rebecca St. James scheduled to shoot in Cincinnati

The Romantic Comedy, "A Strange Brand of Happy," starring Grammy Award-winning artist Rebecca St. James has been scheduled to shoot principal photography in the Greater Cincinnati area this during August and September. The film is being produced by Rebel Pilgrim Productions and Vineyard Cincinnati Productions. The screenplay was written by Brad Wise, who will also serve as Director. Vineyard Cincinnati pastor and star of the poker mockumentary "Hitting The Nuts", Joe Boyd, will star alongside Rebecca. If you would like to be a part of this project as a production assistant, an extra, or helping supply shooting locations, meals for the crew, or otherwise, please contact Isaac Stambaugh at

Friday Night Flicks

Friday June 17th we will feautre "Chariots of Fire." One Friday each month Vineyard Cincinnati is hosting a movie night. You can watch a movie and engage in discussion about its meaning and spiritual significance. Free refreshments and drinks. 7pm to 9:30pm on the campus of Vineyard Tri County in Springdale. For more info contact Isaac Stambaugh at

"Fenced Off" trailer released

Rebel Pilgrim productions and Vineyard Cincinnati recently release the official trailer and website for the independent racial drama "Fenced Off." The film is still in post-production but may be screened as early as this fall. For more information visit

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Company Men

I often ask my film students what kind of movies as Christians should we make. Of course, the classic example would be transformational or redemptive films. But one category that is underserved and overlooked is relevant and timeless themes.

The Company Men, is one example that serves this category well. Ripped from the headlines, this film is one that practically everyone can relate to. With the current economic downturn, millions have lost their jobs. Who hasn’t been affected at least on some level? Somehow I believe even future audiences will have no problem finding The Company Men just as relevant.

This is one of the best films I’ve seen this year. It debuted at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and received substantial critical acclaim. The Company Men features an all-star cast including Ben Afflack, Kevin Costner, Chris Cooper, and Tommy Lee Jones. Some might suggest this film does not contain a strong faith message, but I disagree. Faith is essential in surviving difficult and challenging situations. And, believe me, the characters in this film are going to need all the faith they can find in order to survive.

Bobby Walker (Ben Afflack) is a successful upward mobile, corporate white-collar worker who enjoys the good life. But after loosing his six figure income due to corporate downsizing, he has a difficult time adjusting to the new realities of his situation. But he’s not alone as two other divisions within his company are eliminated. Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper) is one of the corporation’s oldest employees. Approaching the age of 60, he’s also given the pink slip. Division head Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones) clashes with corporate CEO, James Salinger (Craig T. Nelson) his best friend and college roommate over the company’s decision to keep stock prices high by cutting costs which means eliminating thousands of workers. Ultimately, Gene is also forced out of his position. Now, all three men must face difficult decisions. How will they survive?

This film is more than just a film about loosing a job. What defines us as a person? What’s really important? What can we live with, and what can we live without? For some of the characters, their job and career define them as a person. They simply do not know how to function without the job. But others will have an opportunity to see there’s more to life than the corporate grind.

The Company Men provides a framework and a discussion about the dysfunctional nature of today’s corporate world and business environment. Tommy Lee Jones’s character, Gene McClary, seems to understand what has gone wrong with his company. Gene says, “We used to make things –build ships—now we just move stuff from the inbox to the outbox.”

Another element to the film is Bobby Walker’s (Ben Afflack) brother-in-law, Jack Dolan (Kevin Costner) who speaks for the blue-collar worker as he questions the moral integrity of corporate America’s attitude toward the working class. Both Bobby and Jack constantly clash over this issue.

Obviously, this can be a difficult film to watch if your are going through the unpleasant experience of job loss. The Company Men is realistic in it’s portrayal of the unrealistic expectations in the fulfillment of the American Dream. When did it become acceptable to put greed and wealth before the welfare of those who do the work that makes the company successful in the first place? This film does a remarkable job of exploring complex issues.

Despite the tragedies that it depicts, The Company Men is a film that embraces a message of hope. For each character, it really depends on if they are willing to wake up and realize what is truly meaningful and important in their lives. Sometimes a job loss or other tragic situations can serve as a wake-up call. That’s certainly true in the case of Bobby, Phil and Gene. The only question is will they wake up in time to change the course of their lives for the better?

Also, a tragedy in our lives can put us on a course that is better than where we were.

NOTE OF CAUTION: The Company Men is rated R for some language. The film is currently available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Role of Sundance

By Thomas S. Green

I found the atmosphere of Sundance to be both inviting and welcoming of questions and dialogue. Countless times after film screenings I would ask the people I sat with what their thoughts were and what the films they had seen meant to them. The majority of people were strangers I had never met. Without fail, everyone was willing to be open in their thoughts and opinions. This was a main characterization of my experience with the Sundance community. Numerous times on the bus trips between venues I started conversations about films. At other times I would passively listen as people talked sharing their experiences. What I noticed was that through conversation and exposure to alternative viewpoints, people’s perceptions could be softened if not changed.

On more than one occasion I talked with people at Windrider who had seen a film that they saw little value in, only to reconsider their initial position in light of the value that someone else had ascribed the film. One time while I was out to dinner with a friend we met a homosexual believer who saw Higher Ground. As we dialogued about it, the man said that he thought it was alright. After me and my companion shared why we enjoyed the film and what it meant to us he said shaking his head, “I guess it was really, a pretty good film now that I think about it.” After our conversation ended and we parted ways there was a sense that we were all three edified from it.


While I initially expected to be overwhelmed by a place I assumed would be hostile to my beliefs, I discovered a freedom to be open about my thoughts and opinions, especially in regards to my faith in Christ. In my summation this proves that the greater Sundance community is robust place open to discussion and the free flowing exchange of thoughts and ideas. Equally, the spiritual encounters I shared concerning the films I viewed and the people I engaged in discussion with demonstrate that Sundance is both a place where Christians can be challenged in some positive ways as well as partner in the shaping of peoples perceptions through sharing their own thoughts and beliefs.

Thomas S. Green is a recent graduate from the MFA Communications and the Arts program at Regent University. Thomas is passionate about filmmaking and exploring opportunities on how faith can be incorporated into the arts. He has moved back to his hometown, Cincinnati, where he is currently working on multiple film projects.