Saturday, March 31, 2012

Do-It-Yourself Dolly

My DIY Dolly from Knut Uppstad on Vimeo.

When you start getting a little more adventurous with your video or filmmaking career, you're gonna want to start thinking about using accessories that make your shots look like gold. But, you don't need to throw down all your hard-earned bullion on expensive rigs. You can make things yourself!

How to make a DIY dolly:

When a videographer thinks about dollies, they think about how they can smoothly capture beautiful and graceful shots on a horizontal track. I'm talkin' about a camera dollies. Knutt Upstadd, shows you how to build your own dolly without tapping into your first-born's immunization fund. All of the materials can be found at your local hardware store, with the exception of the rollerblade wheels which you can easily order online. This dolly shouldn't cost more than $45 dollars to make. Allow yourself about an hour or two to build this thing. It's fun and easy!

Friday, March 30, 2012

America’s fastest growing church

Media has moved from a position of popular entertainment, which includes movies, television programs, music, internet, and social media, to a place where it has now become a media culture. A media culture occurs when our shared consciousness as a people or a society reflects the views, ideas, and beliefs of our media and entertainment, which has now combined to create a force that has never existed in the history of our society. It’s impossible to distinguish where culture ends and where media begins. No space exists between the two.

The media culture has created a new church and a new place of worship that is without a physical address. Its members are unaware that this new church exists or that they are a part of it. It is America’s fastest growing church--the church of media and entertainment.

The members of this church are searching for the truth, but they must experience truth in order for it to be authentic. They are highly influenced by postmodern philosophy. They seek connectivity and two-way communication. They desire to express their views and opinions about life and interact with those who have different views. Social media and You Tube are an intricate part of their lives because they want to be involved in the process. That’s why many in this church make and distribute their own media. They are searching for the truth but do not want to be told what the truth is. They seek a safe place where it’s easy for them to fit in and where they are not required to do anything.

Whether you realize it or not, this media culture does exist. For the majority of the population, it is nothing more than trivial entertainment or harmless popular culture. But I believe this media culture is a crisis for our society. And for committed Christians who are concerned about their faith, it is undoubtedly so because Christianity has lost its impact on the culture. Media and culture have merged to create a “media culture”. By doing so, it is capable of controlling the hearts and minds of this generation. More importantly, the media culture is moving into a position where it will control the direction of Christianity. But perhaps the greatest crisis we face is when we fail to respond to the opportunity the media culture crisis presents to the Church.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Is a picture still worth a thousand words?

What I’m going to write about in today’s blog will come as no surprise to any of you. No great insight or revelations. And I’m sure most of you will agree with the overall concept.

Today, we no longer live in a word-based society. We have transformed into an image-based society over the last few decades, and this has enormous implications for all of us. The world we live in today focuses on the headlines, the sound bite, and, at best, perhaps a paragraph. You remember the old saying, a picture is worth a thousand words?, Perhaps today a picture is worth 10,000, 20,000 or 100,000 words. This new reality that we all must deal with is, in part, due to a rapid development in technology that has led to an explosion of Internet usage, which is primarily an image-based medium.

Images projected on video screens can be found in every aspect of life. The end result is we now have much shorter attention spans thanks to the expansion to an image-based society. We cannot concentrate on any one thing for any length of time. Today’s news and sports channels are crowded with multiple layers of information. Why? Because that’s what’s required to keep our attention.

I have witnessed this firsthand. Working with high school and college age students for the past 25 years, I have seen a significant decrease in the ability to focus and pay attention. I can’t count the times I have talked to students while at the same time they were playing around with their mobile media devices. It’s as if an entire generation has been infected with some sort of virus.

Another casualty and perhaps the greatest tragedy is that reading is rapidly declining. Newspapers are practically dead thanks to the Internet. The National Endowment for the Arts reports that young people between the ages of 15 to 24 read only 7 minutes a day. Seventy percent of 13 year olds do not read daily. Their conclusion is the obvious that young people are reading less.

Focusing on images or pictures and reading a headline or two means you will only skim the surface of any issue or current affairs. We live in an increasingly complex society. Without reading and thinking, we will not be able to have the perspective, insight or knowledge to make informed decisions.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Blue Like Jazz Battles the Christian Movie Industry

Steve Taylor is someone who does not back down from a fight. For the past few years, Taylor has been waging a campaign to bring Donald Miller’s bestselling autobiography, Blue Like Jazz, to the big screen. It’s been a battle to say the least. After initially securing funding for the film, the day before preproduction two major investors decided to pull out of the project. It seemed as if the film would never get made. But thanks to an aggressive campaign launched on, 4,000 people contributed over $350,000. Nobody had ever raised that amount of money on kickstarter for a feature film. It was a testament to the fan base and following that the book has created.

Now that Blue Like Jazz has become a reality, Steve Taylor who directed the film has taken issue with the Christian movie industry's response to Blue Like Jazz. Taylor, who is no stranger to controversy, was known as a cutting-edge contemporary Christian recording artist in the 1980s. Back then, there was an effort in the conservative, evangelical church to ban his music and boycott his concerts.

Taylor posted on the Internet a recent article, Christian Movie Establishment vs. Blue Like Jazz, in which he implies the Christian movie industry has taken issue with his new film. Taylor said the executive pastor at Sherwood Baptist Church, the producers of Fireproof and Courageous, sent out a statement in which he stated that anyone who worked on Blue Like Jazz would not be allowed to participate in any future projects for Sherwood Pictures.

Taylor went on to site a recent e-mail from Provident Films, the distributors of October Baby which debuted theatrically on March 23, in which Provident Films made it clear that they did not want the trailer for Blue Like Jazz appearing before their film. Provident distributes Christian-based content and, perhaps, the executives felt that Blue Like Jazz, which some identify as a Christian film, would not be appropriate for their audience.

So what’s all the fuss? Why is everybody so upset? What is it about Blue Like Jazz that has spoken to so many 20-something and 30-something Christians? And, at the same time, why do some in the conservative, evangelical circle find it so troubling? The film is essentially about a Texan teen who grew up in a conservative church and his struggles with faith and the hypocrisy that he faces in his home church.

He eventually enrolls in a secular, liberal college in the Northwest where he faces new ideals and philosophies that challenge his religious beliefs. The movie contains a fair amount of bad language and drinking and features a lesbian character. That alone would send many evangelicals to the exits. Some Christians feel it’s inappropriate for the church to air their bad laundry (as if the world didn’t know that often we do not live up to the standards set forth by our faith). I have not seen the film, but I have met Steve Taylor. He is a man who takes his faith and belief in God seriously. But he is also not fearful to question that faith when necessary. He is the real deal—a genuine Christian who is trying to live out his faith in a very difficult culture.

Taylor is quoted as saying, “A Christian movie genre has formed. Our first goal with this movie is that we didn’t fit into this genre.” It’s clear that Taylor wanted to put some distance between Blue Like Jazz and the Christian movie industry and maybe with good reason. You might remember Bella and The Spitfire Grill. Bella won the Audience Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, and The Spitfire Grill received a similar award at Sundance Film Festival. When both films were released theatrically, they were tied to and branded as Christian films. Both films had received critical acclaim, but because they had been branded as “Christian” films, neither film achieved or connected with mainstream audiences because the marketing put them clearly in the Christian camp. Steve Taylor is determined that will not happen to Blue Like Jazz.

The Book’s author, Donald Miller, makes the case for why Blue Like Jazz is important to many people who are asking legitimate questions about their faith as well as why many Christians may have an issue with the movie. He states, “The average Christian wants clean answers, clean characters…. I was bad when Jesus happened to me, now I became good. Not that I grew up in the church and saw a lot of hypocrisy, and I walked away, and I realized God exists outside the church.” Folks, that is a very profound statement.

If you’ve been around the church for any length of time, you know there is a significant amount of hypocrisy. Perhaps, that’s what the whole fuss is about. Blue Like Jazz is willing to take a hard look at what it means to be a Christian in today’s complex world. How do we deal with our doubts? How do we interact with people who are different from us? How do we live out our faith in an authentic manner? I have a feeling that this movie is going to make a lot of people uneasy, and I think that’s a good thing.

The bottom line is there is plenty of room for filmmakers who want to make Christian movies to go do their thing. On the other hand, if Steve Taylor wants to make a different kind of film, why should the church, especially the evangelical world, push back on his efforts? And if it’s true about the policy that Sherwood Baptist instituted concerning people who worked on Blue Like Jazz, it’s nothing short of a travesty. I think we can all do better than acting like children. God expects more of us.

The good news for Blue Like Jazz is that it’s set for theatrical distribution on April 13, 2012. Roadside Attractions will distribute and market the film. They are known for such nonreligious films as Winter’s Bone and I Love You Phillip Morris. That alone will help distance Blue Like Jazz from the Christian movie establishment.

The early reviews have also been solid. Blue Like Jazz debuted on March 13 at South by Southwest Film and Music Festival in Austin, Texas. Audiences have embraced the film because of its honesty and its ability to reflect the world as it is—not as one that offers easy answers. Perhaps, that’s the heart of the issue. A lot of Christians just want a happy face—a movie that ties up all the loose ends in a neat bow with a perfect and predictable answer to every question in life. That’s not what you’re going to get in Blue Like Jazz. Life is messy! And just like the main character in Blue Like Jazz finds out, life’s also a journey into the unknown, the unpredictable, and the unexpected. It turns out that we all have to find our own way. But the good news is. God does exist outside the walls of the church, and he is active in the world in ways we can barely imagine.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Weinstein Co. to Release Unrated 'Bully' in Protest of 'R'

Following up on an earlier threat, the Weinstein Co. has decided to release Lee Hirsch's documentary Bully unrated instead of going out with an R.

The dust-up over the film's rating has galvanized politicians, Hollywood celebrities, educators and kids across the country. The film about the bullying epidemic in America's schools received an R rating for numerous uses of the word "fxxx."

Harvey Weinstein and Hirsh lost their appeal to overturn the rating by one vote during at a recent hearing of the Classification and Ratings Administration, which has set guidelines about language (violence and sex are more subjective).

"The small amount of language in the film that's responsible for the R rating is there because it's real," Hirsch said. "It's what the children who are victims of bullying face on most days. All of our supporters see that, and we're grateful for the support we've received across the board. I know the kids will come, so it's up to the theaters to let them in."

AMC CEO Gerry Lopez is among those supporting the Weinstein Co. and already has indicated that certain theaters in his circuit would show the film unrated. As a general rule, many theater chains refuse to show unrated titles because they want to support the ratings board, which is administered by the Motion Picture Association of America and the National Association of Theatre Owners.

Bully opens March 30 in New York and Los Angeles. In New York, it will play at AMC Lincoln Square and the Angelika Film Center; in Los Angeles, it plays at AMC Century City, the Landmark and ArcLight Hollywood.

"The kids and families in this film are true heroes, and we believe theater owners everywhere will step up and do what's right for the benefit of all of the children out there who have been bullied or may have otherwise been bullies themselves," TWC president of marketing Stephen Bruno said. "We're working to do everything we can to make this film available to as many parents, teachers and students cross the country."

Releasing an unrated film in New York and Los Angeles will be far easier than in America's heartland, and the option of tweaking the film remains open so that it could go out with a PG-13.

A Glittering New Frontier

By the early 1920s, men like Carl Laemmle, William Fox, and Louis B. Meyer came to control and dominate Hollywood and movie making for decades to come. Amazingly, a few individuals would now have the power and influence to create movies for the entire American population and the world. They would decide which films would be made and which ones would not, which ideas would be expressed and which ones would be discarded. They would decide what was important and what was not. Never had so much power been placed in the hands of so few men.

In the 1930s, Louis B. Meyer, President of MGM, viewed America as a glittering new frontier, decent but tough-minded, full of God-fearing but gun-slinging Americans who were shrewd, unpredictable and unbeatable but also open-hearted and family loving. And he depicted this view in the movies he produced.

Meyer and his fellow movie moguls offered a vision of America that people wanted to believe and were willing to accept. It made us feel good about ourselves. Meyer understood that it was good for business. The majority of studio heads had no political or social agenda. They were interested in one thing and one thing only—making money. Was their view of American life realistic? It offered no racism, prejudice or social injustice. It defined America as a land of opportunity, champion of individuals, and defender of the poor. It offered no insight into how Americans really lived their daily lives.

The moviegoer saw no instances of alcoholism or domestic abuse in family lives. In Meyer‘s world, good always triumphed, and evil was punished. Every family embraced moral values and practiced faith and patriotism. The cowboys were good, and the Indians were bad. This view of America has perpetuated itself to this very day. We think of the 1930s through the 1950s as the ―good old days. In some ways, Hollywood had no choice but to reflect these views because that‘s what Americans wanted to believe. This was reinforced by a production code, which was imposed on filmmakers by both Protestant and Catholic churches.

We came to view ourselves by what we saw in the movies in the 1930s and 1940s and television programs from the 1950s, including shows such as Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best, as a representation of the real America. But in reality it is a mythology created by Meyer and his fellow studio heads that created a version of America that only existed in the movies. This is evidence of the power of media—that we are willing to accept a lie over the truth because the lie makes us feel better about ourselves. It raises the question of what else are we willing to accept as the truth

Monday, March 26, 2012

Box Office Shocker: 'Hunger Games' Third-Best Opening Weekend of All Time

Making history, Lionsgate's The Hunger Games opened to an astounding $155 million at the domestic box office, the third-best debut of all time and the best for any film opening outside of summer.

Hunger Games -- the big-screen adaptation of Suzanne Collins' best-selling young-adult novel starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth -- also reeled in the biggest opening for a nonsequel.

"It was the perfect storm. Having the first film in a franchise to be so gigantic is amaing. We had a great book and a great director in Gary Ross," said Lionsgate president of marketing Tim Palen, whose team is credited with a savvy campaign.

Domestic box-office revenues were up a whopping 78 percent from a year ago, thanks to the might of Hunger Games, which changes the fortunes of Lionsgate and gives the studio an instant tentople franchise. Lionsgate will make three more films by splitting the final book in Collins' trilogy into two movies.

Overseas, Hunger Games turned in a more muted performance for a solid bow of $59.3 million from 67 markets. The foreign tally, which came in ahead of the international debut of the first Twilight film, puts Hunger Games' worldwide opening at $214.3 million.

Hunger Games is projected to place No. 1 in virtually every foreign market, but it did best in English-speaking territories, particularly Australia, wehre it debuted to $6.7 million. Hunger Games turned in $7.5 million in the U.K. despite unseasonably warm weather, which often keeps consumers outside.

In North America, the tentpole came in not far behind the $158.4 million earned by The Dark Knight in its July 2008 debut. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 holds the record for best debut with $169.2 million in summer 2011.

Among the past films that Hunger Games surpassed in its opening weekend were Spider-Man 3 ($151.1 million in 2007), The Twilight Saga: New Moon ($142.8 million in 2009) and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 ($138.1 million last year).

Hunger Games drew an A CinemaScore overall on Friday night, with those under age 25 giving it a glowing A+ and those over 25 an A-. Tweens and teens turned out in force for the film, with 39 percent of the audience younger than 18, according to CinemaScore exit polling.

Part of the movie's strength is that it is appealing to males as well as females, unlike the femme-heavy Twilight franchise, another blockbuster film property based on a young-adult book series. Males made up 39 percent of Hunger Games' Friday night audience.

"The numbers just kept growing and growing. And based on the trajectory of the weekend, we are going to have an unbelievable hold. We are going to play and play," Lionsgate executive vp distribution David Spitz said. "I think that when we initially looked at this property, we thought we were going to have Twilight numbers in terms of females, but we didn't."

Hunger Games also played like a family film, evidenced by its strong Friday to Saturday hold. The film fell a narrow 25 percent, while the Twilight and Harry Potter films fall anywhere from 44 percent to 60 percent.
According to CinemaScore, 49 percent of those showing up to see Hunger Games were under age 25; Lionsgate's exit polling showed that 44 percent were under 25.

Hunger Games played in  4,137 theaters at the domestic box office, including 268 Imax theaters, which turned in a hefty $10.6 milion for a per-screen average of $40,000, a record for a 2D nonsequel.

Elsewhere at the domestic box office, Sony and MGM's Jonah Hill-Channing Tatum comedy 21 Jump Street stayed strong its opening weekend despite Hunger Games. The R-rated pic fell 41 percent to $21.3 million, putting its domestic cume at a heady $71.1 million.

Universal and Illumination's Dr. Seuss' The Lorax came in No. 3, grossing $13.1 million in its fourth weekend for an enviable domestic gross of $177.3 million.
For full results, see below.

Domestic Box Office, March 23-25
Title/Weeks in release/Theater count, Studio/Three-day weekend total/Cume

1. The Hunger Games, 1/4,137, Lionsgate, $155 million.
2. 21 Jump Street, 2/3,121, Sony/MGM, $21.3 million, $71.1 million.
3. Dr. Seuss' The Lorax, 4/3,677, Universal/Illumination, $13.1 million, $177.3 million.
4. John Carter, 3/3,212, Disney, $5 million, $62.3 million.
5. Act of Valor, 5/2,216, Relativity/Bandito Brothers, $2.1 million, $65.9 million.
6. Project X, 4/2,068, Warner Bros., $1.95 million, $51.8 million.
7. A Thousand Words, 3/1,787, Paramount/DreamWorks, $1.93 million, $14.9 million.
8. Safe House, 7/1,330, Universal, $1.39 million, $122.6 million.
9. Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, 7/1,340, New Line/Warner Bros.,  $1.37 million, $97.2 million.
10. Casa de Mi Padre, 2/478, Lionsgate, $1.1 million, $3.9 million.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Coming Soon The Media Missionary's Journey

By Harold Hay
The following is the introduction from my new book The Media Missionary’s Journey: A Roadmap for Commercial and Spiritual Success

Chances are if you’re reading this book, you are interested in pursuing a career in the media, film, or television industry. Furthermore, it’s safe to say that your faith and belief in God are also important aspects of your life. The real question is how do you balance the two and achieve the results that are pleasing to God while at the same time obtain a certain degree of success in your career. It can be a very challenging endeavor in light of how the media industry functions. After all, won’t you be forced to make compromises in your beliefs and values?

My first book, The Red Pill: The Cure for the Mass Media Culture explores what a media missionary is and is not. Media Missionary School defines a media missionary as one who creates art that speaks of Jesus the least but has Him in mind most, by living out our faith in front of our peers and by creating media that is thought-provoking, socially redemptive and above all, truthful. A media missionary understands the power of the redemptive story and has the passion to influence what is on the screen and what is behind the scene.

I wrote this book as your personal resource to help direct your pathway. The Media Missionary’s Journey: A Roadmap for Spiritual and Commercial Success is not only about how to break into the industry but also explores why faith is essential for your success in this business. Of course, this raises an interesting question of what exactly success is.

The dictionary defines success as: (1) the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; and (2) the attainment of wealth, position, honors or the like. Wikipedia sees it as an achievement of an object or goal. Of course, this raises two more questions. What are you attempting to do, and what is your objective or goal?

I think it’s safe to say that God views success differently than how our culture or society views success. The Media Missionary’s Journey: A Roadmap for Commercial and Spiritual Success is talking about a different kind of success. The front cover of this book depicts a row of theater seats. In one sense, the media industry is only interested in putting people in seats. Success can be viewed in terms of profitability. You as a media missionary certainly desire to achieve the same results: however, in order to be truly successful you have to go a step further. The media missionary sees success in terms of communicating a message that can impact and change lives.

Through visual media, our goal is to create stories that challenge the viewers to reassess their lives and the decisions and lifestyle choices they make. In reality, there is no success unless we get people in the seats, but, at the same time, we must have a message that points people to the Truth. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. Whether that’s getting people to the movie theater, sitting at home on their couch watching television, or sitting at the computer screen. It’s all about having an audience and then having something profound and important to communicate. If you can accomplish both, not only will it be pleasing to God but will also provide you and your family a reliable income.

Reading this book will require you to re-evaluate everything you think about Hollywood, the entertainment industry, and what success looks like. Your success will be determined in the spiritual realm: therefore, it will be more difficult to analyze. Sometimes, success can take years to come to fruition. You may never actually witness its total completion. Your success is about influencing the lives of the people around you within the industry and creating art through film and television that can impact viewers. You are changing the face of Hollywood and the broader entertainment industry and, by doing so, you are transforming culture. Are you interested in that kind of success?

The Media Missionary’s Journey: A Roadmap for Spiritual and Commercial Success can only serve as a guide. This is not a one plan fits all because no single plan can fit everybody’s path. Your roadmap will be different because it is also based on your gifts and talents. That’s why it is so important to understand God’s will for your life, which is a major theme throughout this book.

For over 20 years, I have been working on putting all the pieces together concerning faith, media and culture. This book is a culmination of all of that work and research. No matter if you have gone to film school or not, you will find this information critical for success on your journey. Everything from fundraising, low-budget filmmaking, steps you should be following today, deciding if you need to go to film school, your calling, how to break into the business, learning about the Hollywood system, and how to make your first movie are included in this book.

The journey starts now.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Forecast: 'Hunger Games' Targets Record Books

The big-screen adaptation of Suzanne Collins' international best-seller finally hits theater on Friday, and it's riding a wave of anticipation unheard of for the first movie in a prospective series. The Hunger Games is set to play on at least 10,000 screens at 4,137 locations, which is the widest release ever for a non-sequel and for a movie released by a non-major studio (in this case, it's from mid-major studio Lionsgate). With pre-sales at nearly-unprecedented levels, it now looks like a foregone conclusion that The Hunger Games will score one of the top openings in movie history.

With over 24 million copies in worldwide circulation, The Hunger Games has drawn abundant comparisons to the Twilight series: both The Hunger Games and Twilight are extremely popular genre-oriented young adult franchises that feature a love triangle between a female protagonist and two hunky suitors. That's about the extent of the association, though. While romance is the main focus in Twilight, in The Hunger Games it takes a backseat to an action-packed survival story set in a dystopian future. Thanks to these sci-fi elements, The Hunger Games has appealed to young men in a way that Twilight never really could.

Without mincing words, this is by far Lionsgate's biggest release ever—their current highest-grossing movie is Michael Moore documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 at $119.2 million, which is a figure that The Hunger Games could legitimately eclipse within its first three days in theaters. Largely due to expectations that The Hunger Games will be a massive hit, Lionsgate's stock price has risen 75 percent so far this year, which indicates just how much the company has riding on this title.

Considering what's at stake, Lionsgate has executed about as well as one could expect here. They hired a reputable director (Gary Ross of Seabiscuit and Pleasantville) and an Oscar-nominated up-and-coming star (Jennifer Lawrence), and shot a reportedly faithful adaptation on a budget under $80 million after tax rebates. Lionsgate then spent a light $45 million on prints and advertising that focused almost exclusively on the events that occur prior to the games in order to set up the high stakes without revealing too much. The icing on the cake is the surprisingly strong reviews—as of Thursday afternoon, it's at 87 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes—which should help generate additional ticket sales from more discerning adult audiences.

So, how high can The Hunger Games open? Industry tracking is showing incredibly high levels of interest across all ages and both genders, with the greatest interest obviously coming from younger women (though young men aren't really far behind). According to Fandango, it has sold out over 2,500 showtimes and currently ranks as the third-highest advanced ticket seller ever behind The Twilight Saga: New Moon and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. Those movies opened to $142.8 million and $169.2 million, respectively, and were both highly-anticipated sequels.

Based on the information available, The Hunger Games should open higher than 2010's Alice in Wonderland ($116.1 million), which will give it the top opening ever for a January-April release and also the best debut for a non-sequel. The big question is whether it can pass The Twilight Saga: New Moon's $142.8 million opening (best in the Twilight franchise)—while that is entirely possible, I'm going to play it a little safer with a forecast below $140 million.

The Hunger Games is also opening in at least two-thirds of the international marketplace, and should wind up scoring over $200 million worldwide (domestic plus foreign) this weekend.

Even though all of the attention is going to be on The Hunger Games this weekend, Toronto International Film Festival sensation The Raid: Redemption also opens in at least 13 locations in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Washington D.C. Sony Pictures Classics has an extensive roll-out planned for the action-packed martial arts movie over the next few weeks, and with strong word-of-mouth it could wind up becoming one of the bigger foreign language movies of the past few years.

Weekend Forecast (March 23-25)
1. The Hunger Games - $135 million
2. 21 Jump Street - $23 million (-41%)
3. The Lorax - $12.7 million (-44%)
4. John Carter - $7.3 million (-46%)

Bar for Success
Based on the aggressive forecast inflation that's taken place in the past week (and I'm not exempt from this), if The Hunger Games makes less than $100 million this weekend it may be perceived as a disappointment. That would be unfair, though, since it's a non-sequel opening outside of the more traditionally lucrative Summer months. Realistically, The Hunger Games should be viewed as an unqualified success if it debuts to over $80 million, which is the plateau at which it indisputably sells more opening weekend tickets than the first Twilight movie.

Yesterday’s Science Fiction is Today’s Reality

Can you imagine a world without the Internet? What about cell phones or satellite television? I’m not sure most of us could survive without Facebook or Twitter. It’s almost impossible to imagine such a world.

But the fact is all of these amazing technological wonders really haven’t been around that long. When I was in school back in the 1970s, we had no cable, VCRs or, for that matter, DVD players. Those things were in the realm of science fiction. You might remember in the old Star Trek television show in the 1960s where Captain Kurk and Spock would pull out there trusty communicators to talk to their ship the Enterprise. Nowadays, we use our cell phones to talk to anybody on the planet.

Futurists have coined a term called ATAWAD—any time, any where, any device. That means you can have access to your media whenever you want, wherever you want, and on any platform. Another term which has become popular in the last couple of years is called screening. Experts tell us that practically everything we will do in the future will require some type of video screen. But not only will we be watching the screens, they will be watching us. These screens will have the capability to anticipate our needs and wants by tracking our eye movement and other sensory responses. Our relationship with media is becoming more symbiotic. We are becoming one with technology. Yesterday’s science fiction has quickly become today’s reality because these things are already taking place today.

But what has all of this technology brought us? Today, we live in a new age of communication. And that has enormous implications. For centuries, we have communicated by a verbal language. And for the past 500 years, thanks to the printing press, we have communicated by the written word. As the old song goes—Times are Changing. Today, we are primarily communicating by visual image. What does this mean for you and me as communicators of the Good News? What challenges and opportunities does this present for Christians?

First of all, a new people group without borders has emerged. A 12 year old boy in Egypt and a 16 year old girl in middle America are now speaking the same language. They have more in common than you can imagine. They share a common identity. They are likely to engage in the same rituals, practices, customs and beliefs.

What is their common language? They speak the language of media. They speak the language of visual image. They speak the language of visual story. Where do they learn this language? It originates mostly from Hollywood through the entertainment media that is distributed throughout the world.

If we want to continue to spread the Gospel, we need to understand their language. If visual image is now the future, we must raise up visual storytellers who can speak that language. Unfortunately, for the most part, we are not speaking their language. So the question is how do we raise up visual storytellers who understand the power of story and have the ability to communicate it with a missional approach

Thursday, March 22, 2012

CMC Episode 29 - Arledge Armenaki

Award winning Hollywood cinematographer Arledge Armenaki talks about his career and shares tips for filmmakers on Christian Movie Connect. Arledge is credited for more than 30 movies and television documentaries, including “Dennis the Menace,” “Club Fed,” “Focus on Africa,” and the well-received faith-based film “Wesley,” about the life of celebrated preacher John Wesley. For more information on Arledge, go to:

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Big Year

What passes for comedy in movies these days usually can fit into two categories? They’re either mean-spirited or crude and vulgar. You can find tons of crude sexual humor and a multitude of bathroom jokes in today’s media choices.

Let’s face it. Good comedy is hard to write. Maybe that’s why writers turn to the easy way out and offer up the same ole tired clich├ęs and sexual humor. Good writers understand that audiences want more than insults and demoralizing, hate-filled remarks that are usually directed at body parts. Can we find a movie that goes a different direction ?

One film that deserves a second look is The Big Year. It was released in 2011 and, for the most part, went completely unnoticed. It made only $7 million at the box office. How is that possible with a cast that includes Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson? And here’s the thing. It was actually hilariously funny without being crude and mean-spirited. Yes, we can do better. And The Big Year is a classic example of comedy done right.

The film was based on Howard Franklin’s book, A Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature and Fowl Obsession. Perhaps audiences were confused and thought this was an “Animal Planet” special. Yes, the movie is about bird watching, but, like all good movies, it’s about something more than its subject material.

I know what you’re thinking. How can bird watching be funny and interesting? Director David Frankel of “The Devil Wears Prada” fame offers an interesting story of three men who are at a crossroads in their lives. One is having a mid-life crisis, one a late-life crisis, and the other is pursuing a life-time dream.

Owen Wilson plays Kenny Bostwick, who is the ultimate birder. He holds the world record for observing 732 different bird species in North America in one calendar year. Birders call it “A Big Year” where they follow the bird migrations throughout North America in an attempt to set the record for the most sightings. It’s a scramble to get from one place to another sometimes without any notice. Weather patterns create havoc and keep the birders on their toes. It amounts to a year on the road in hot pursuit of getting there first.

Kenny set the record several years ago but has caught the itch to once again reclaim his fame; however, he has serious competition from amateurs Brad Harris played by Jack Black and Stu Preissler played by Steve Martin. Brad is a thirty-something dreamer wanting to put his mark on the bird-watching community. His father, Raymond Harris, played by the veteran actor Brian Dennehy, thinks his son lacks focus and purpose in life. Their relationship is a source of conflict and frustration for Brad.

Stu, on the other hand, is a successful businessman, who has always dreamed of A Big Year. He has finally decided to retire and pursue his dream; however, his company is determined to pull him back into the corporate world that he’s trying to escape.

All three men are on a journey for the ultimate prize of being the world’s top birder. The challenges are overwhelming. And the mayhem and comedic escapades are just the beginning as these three cross paths. In reality, the film which is billed as a comedy is an allegory for the things that are truly important in life. Some of our characters are going to make choices that will enrich their lives while others will be forced to make sacrifices that could cost them dearly.

It’s a fascinating film. The Big Year was shot mostly on location, and the scenery is breathtaking. So if you love nature, you’re certainly going to appreciate The Big Year. However, you don’t have to be a bird enthusiast or a nature lover to enjoy this film. Who hasn’t wanted to take a year off and purse their dream whatever that may be? And, maybe along the way, you discover a thing or two about yourself. Perhaps, that’s the beauty of this picture. We can all in one way or another put ourselves in the position of Brad, Kenny and Stu. I think we all would like to have A Big Year.

This is a movie you may want to add to your film library. There are plenty of touching moments that will tug at your heart. I love the spirit of The Big Year. Yes it’s funny, delightful, and inspiring. In many ways, it’s an honest reflection of our hopes, dreams, and what we aspire to become as a person.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

It was all clean wholesome entertainment

I was born in 1956 smack in the middle of the baby boomer generation. To put it another way, I’m a full-pledged member of the TV generation. In my house, the television was always on. I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t on. It started in the morning through game shows into the afternoon when my grandmother watched soap operas and all the way into the evening programming, ending with the 11 o’clock newscast.

For my generation, television was our baby sitter. It was a real bargain. Our parents put us in front of the tube. We were happy, and they were happy. Nobody asked any questions. Nobody thought about whether or not there would be repercussions. It was all clean, wholesome entertainment. Remember, these were the days of Leave It To Beaver and Father Knows Best.

Recently, I started to think. Did our parents really understand what was going on? Did they realize there were consequences for our society? The TV generation learned well. We grew up with television and wanted to be part of the industry. Later on, we would perfect the use of television by learning how to control and manipulate our audiences. By doing so, we would change the course of culture. Our parents were just looking for a cheap babysitter.

I have a number of friends who work in ministries that are addressing the issues that impact our society from drug use, alcoholism, teen pregnancy, sexual addictions, pornography, and the abortion issue. Most of these issues started to emerge in significant numbers during the 1960s and exploded throughout the 1970s. It kinda makes you wonder. Could there be a connection between television and the rapid increase of social problems?

Stay with me on this one. Think about it. What happened when television came into our homes? I know that if you weren’t there firsthand, this may be a difficult concept to understand. But overnight television became our friend. Our pal. We made it the center attraction in our living rooms. Although a television was expensive to buy, by 1960 practically every American family had one. As I said earlier, in my house the television was always on. Maybe that’s the point I’m trying to make—not that television is either good or evil, but the fact that it became a dominating and controlling factor in our lives. We couldn’t stop watching. We became addicted to the tube. And whatever the tube said was truth and all important.

Furthermore, we stopped interacting with each other. We had less family time. Less time to throw the ball in the back yard. Less time to check in on our daily lives. Less time for help with homework. Less time to be creative. Our lives became separate. In some families, even during the dinner hour, the television would still be on. Do you see a pattern here?

If the family unit doesn’t know what’s happening in each other’s lives, will we be able to see issues that could become problems? Our ability to connect and be united as a family started to disintegrate. Perhaps, this helps to explain why the family today is in critical condition.

If anything, with the acceleration of technology and mobile media devices, we now live a world in which you can access your media any time, any place, any device. What do you think that’s doing to further break down the family unit?

There’s one other point to consider. As baby boomers, our parents bought into the message that television was communicating. They determined to have it all no matter the cost. What they saw on their shiny TVs was The American Dream. A new house in the suburbs with a white picket fence. The finest automobiles Detroit could build. Modern appliances. A swimming pool. Dream vacations. Fashionable clothes and a lifestyle that only their parents could dream about. Who wouldn’t want it? That’s what television was selling. And we were buying.

But what about the cost? How much time would our parents have to spend away from home working long hours and sometimes weekends. In some households both parents had to work to achieve the American Dream. And what was the effect on the children? My generation. The TV generation. Our babysitter taught us well. Perhaps we learned too well. And we have passed it on to our children. And they have mastered it.

It’s never too late to change our course and the course of our children and grandchildren. We still have time. But in this media-saturated culture, we have to learn how to create some space so we can once again connect as a family.

Monday, March 19, 2012

All good stories are about something.

God Desires Art That Reflects His Truth. How does God inspire filmmakers to reflect his glory and truth, especially nonbelievers? How does this process play out?

First God can speak to us through the storytelling process. One example is the Bible. Theology is primarily a story which starts in Genesis during the creation process and ends in Revelation with God’s ultimate destiny for mankind. Therefore, storytelling must be important to God. He has used it as his primary means to communicate to his creation.

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

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

So how did Jesus use parables to reveal the hidden mysteries of God? First, he always had a point. All good stories are about something.

Jesus used symbolism and metaphors. Symbolism and metaphors help to forge a connection between dissimilar objects and themes.

Jesus told familiar stories that were tied to everyday activities. He didn’t talk about things that the average person wouldn’t understand. He wanted to connect to his audience. In fact, Jesus was culturally relevant.

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

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

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Weekend Report: Audiences Report to '21 Jump Street'

With its broadly-appealing premise, popular lead actors and well-executed marketing campaign, 21 Jump Street cruised in to first place at the box office this weekend ahead of two-time winner The Lorax. Meanwhile, John Carter crashed in its second outing, and Casa De Mi Padre cracked the Top 10 despite opening in less than 400 locations. With only one major new release, though, this appears to be the first weekend of 2012 that will see a year-over-year decline.

21 Jump Street
opened to an estimated $35 million from 3,121 locations. That tops Jonah Hill's Superbad ($33.05 million) for highest opening ever for a comedy set in high school. Also, with the exception of Jackass 3-D, 21 Jump Street had the top opening for an R-rated comedy outside of the Summer (May-August).

The action comedy also compares well against other TV adaptations from the past decade. It wound up slightly below Get Smart ($38.7 million) and S.W.A.T. ($37.1 million), but it was higher than The Dukes of Hazzard ($30.7 million), Starsky and Hutch ($28.1 million), Miami Vice ($25.7 million) and The A-Team ($25.7 million).

The marketing for 21 Jump Street was a textbook example of how to sell a movie properly. Early and often, the trailers and commercials clearly laid out the premise, defined the main characters and unleashed a solid number of jokes. It didn't hurt that the movie starred likeable actors Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, and that it was actually pretty good—it generated lots of buzz from word-of-mouth screenings held around the country over the past few months, and it was also well-received by critics (87 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes).

The audience was 53 percent male, which is a fairly low number for an action comedy and suggests that Channing Tatum probably helped draw more women to the theater than would otherwise have attended. Half of the audience was under 25 years of age, and that group awarded the movie an "A" CinemaScore (though across all audience members the movie received a more lukewarm "B" score).

Dr. Seuss' The Lorax
fell 41 percent to an estimated $22.8 million in its third weekend. So far, the animated hit has earned $158.4 million, which is more than the final tally of Horton Hears a Who! ($154.5 million). Through 17 days, the movie is only trailing Despicable Me by around $3 million, and it looks like a foregone conclusion that The Lorax will wind up finishing with over $200 million.

Coming off its disappointing $30.2 million opening last weekend, there was still a chance that John Carter would hold up in the long-run and close above $100 million. That hope was all-but-extinguished this weekend, as the movie plummeted 55 percent to an estimated $13.5 million. It has now earned $53.2 million, which trails nearly all comparable titles including Prince of Persia and 10,000 B.C..

Project X
succumbed to direct competition from 21 Jump Street this weekend—the found footage party comedy fell 64 percent to just over $4 million. Through 10 days, the movie has made $48.1 million.

A Thousand Words
eased 39 percent to an estimated $3.75 million. That's a much better drop than Silent House, which was off 69 percent to $2.1 million. The two movies have now made a paltry $12.1 million and $10.6 million, respectively.

Will Ferrell's Spanish-language action comedy Casa De Mi Padre debuted in ninth place with an estimated $2.2 million despite only playing at 382 locations. That's not a great start, but it's also a lot better than it could have been given the language barrier and the mild marketing push from Lionsgate/Pantelion. The audience was 51 percent male and 68 percent Hispanic, and Lionsgate is planning to add 25 to 30 new markets (50 or so theaters) in the coming weeks.

Friends with Kids
expanded to 640 theaters but fell 26 percent to an estimated $1.5 million. The romantic comedy has made $4.23 million through 10 days.

With an estimated $840,000 from 254 locations, Jeff, Who Lives at Home fell pretty firmly in to the underachiever category in its opening. For a solid comparison, the Duplass Brothers' last movie Cyrus earned $1.28 million from only 200 locations in its fourth weekend in theaters.

Nicolas Cage continued to drift further toward irrelevance this weekend. His latest action thriller, Seeking Justice, opened to just $260,000 from 231 locations for a terrible per-theater average of $1,126.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

How do movies or television shows affect my decisions, values, and behaviors

Most people, including Christians, consume media without processing its purpose, goals, and message. We don’t ask challenging questions about its authenticity. Therefore we become sponges absorbing everything we see and hear.

How do movies or television shows or any media affect my decisions, values, and behaviors? Have you ever thought about it? Have you assumed that they don’t? Do you think it is something we should consider? These questions could be answered in a media literacy program.

What is media literacy? In the past three years, I have taught media literacy to over 100 students. Only five students had ever heard of the subject. Media literacy teaches and unlocks the language of media. It contains five elements. (1) It helps to define the message media communicates. (2) it reveals the purpose behind the message, (3) It identifies how the message impacts the individual. (4) It identifies how the message influences behaviors and shapes perceptions in society. (5) It offers resources on how we can take control of our response to the message.
We should be teaching media literacy in children’s church, junior and senior high school classes, as well as to small groups in every church in America. It is essential curriculum. Most of us have no idea what the real message is in today’s media. For example, I often use Starship Troupers in my media literacy classes because it seems like an innocent sci-fi, action thriller. The film is set in the future with earth battling an alien species of bugs on a faraway planet. Seems harmless. Or is it?

Could the film be communicating a political message that casts doubt on our very way of life. It can even be an anti-American film. Director Paul Verhoeven weaves an interesting tale in which he believes government is misleading and lying to its citizens. They are convinced that war is good and just. But the people are being misled and are unaware of the government’s true intentions. The government is only interested in their agenda. They want the natural resources of the alien planet. Some believe Verhoeven’s real purpose was to criticize America’s political and military objectives not only in the Middle East but globally as well. Is America becoming a new totalitarian and fascist state?

So is this innocent science fiction or political commentary? How do we know? Could this movie have an impact on your beliefs? I’m sure your first answer would be an absolute No! But what about on a deeper, subconscious level?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Have we become sponges ?

What would it be like if we couldn’t read or write? How would you use the internet? It would be impossible to get a job. In today’s society, reading and writing are essential skills. Or can you imagine living in a foreign country and not knowing the language? Simple things like using the transportation system or ordering from a menu at a restaurant would be challenging.

Knowing the language is essential for navigating through life. Just as we need to be able to read and write, developing media skills is now just as important. Media has its own unique language. It consist of design, structure, meaning, and syntax. For Christians it is absolutely essential that we understand the language of media.

In John 8:32 it says, “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” We need to know the truth and not just what anybody calls truth. Is what the media communicates to us really the truth? Or is it a distortion of reality? Understanding the tools and language of media will help us to be discerning. By not understanding the language of media, we are held captive to any message which the media wishes to communicate. Our goal as Christians is not to be subject to the control and influence of media.

We now live in a media culture that surrounds and envelopes every element of life. Our best defense is to become media savvy. For the most, part we don’t understand what we are being exposed to. For example, we would consider a G or PG movie to be relatively safe. And we would view most R-rated movies as offensive. But in reality, the G or PG movie today could contain more anti-Christian and anti-Biblical content than the R-rated movie. In fact, the R-rated movie could be a redemptive film which embraces Biblical views. Often we make assumptions that are not based on the facts.

Most people, including Christians, consume media without processing its purpose, goals, and message. We don’t ask challenging questions about its authenticity. Therefore we become sponges absorbing everything we see and hear.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

God , Art and Truth

How does God inspire filmmakers to reflect his glory and truth, especially nonbelievers? First, most Christian media makers embrace a platonic story concept. Their stories can be seen as a model for behavior to guide us to morals. Platonic stories tend to be more about ideas than reality. Good is represented by a protagonist while evil is represented by an antagonist. In the platonic world concept, there are no gray areas. Everything is either black or white.

Most nonChristians as well as some Christians embrace an Aristotelian story concept where the viewer is faced with a purgation of emotions. These stories will be more subjective and will lead us into our inner conflicts. It’s often a journey into fears and desires that we do not want to confront.

The Aristotelian stories will challenge us to identify with the characters, which often results in the process of discovering our hidden primal feelings. The end result is that they may offer us insight into our lives; however, they do not necessarily offer a clear, moral message. Aristotelian stories require the viewer to be more involved in processing the importance of the story and its impact on your life. They tend to reflect the world as it is compared to platonic stories which reflect the way the writer would like the world to be. God can use both story concepts. Many Christians have problems with the Aristotelian concept because they cannot see God at work in the process. The Aristotelian stories require us to deal with the internal struggle within us, which is a messy endeavor because truth becomes more illusive and intangible.

Aristotelian stories are ambiguous and never paint the world as black and white. They allow you the opportunity to draw your own conclusions and decide what you believe is true and untrue. Although some may suggest that Aristotelian stories support the idea of relevant truth, I believe God can use these stories more effectively than platonic stories because the viewer is more actively engaged in the story process and tends to ask legitimate questions about the nature and purpose of life.