Monday, March 12, 2012

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.

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