Friday, May 4, 2012

Blue Like Jazz, Officially in No-Man’s Land

Steve Taylor’s newest film, Blue Like Jazz, is officially now in no-man’s land, a place that has no core or base audience. There’s no way to put a positive spin on the numbers. Last week, Blue Like Jazz grossed only $37,163 at the box office. To date, the film has made slightly over $551,000 in three weeks. It’s not likely that Blue Like Jazz will add much to those totals considering it played on only 46 screens last weekend.

The obvious question is: What went wrong? Considering the movie was adopted from a well-known and respected book by Donald Miller, you would think the film would at least be somewhat successful. After a robust on-line campaign and Kickstarter initiative, the producers of Blue Like Jazz raised the necessary funds to make the movie a reality. All the signs pointed to a successful endeavor.

However, Blue Like Jazz suffered a fate that other similar films have faced. It was too Christian for a mainstream audience and not Christian enough for a Christian audience. Steve Taylor, Director, made a point to distance himself from the Christian movie industry and also made it clear that Blue Like Jazz was not a Christian film. The end result was that conservative Christian audiences who supported movies like Fireproof and Courageous stayed away in droves.

At the same time, movie critics weren’t buying Steve Taylor’s message that his film was not a Christian film. In one case, one critic went as far as to state “Make no doubt about it. The uncredited executive producer of the film is Jesus Christ.”

We can probably have a discussion all night as to whether Blue Like Jazz is a Christian movie. But the truth is it’s a different kind of faith-based film. Blue Like Jazz, unlike other traditional Christian movies, is good at asking questions about the important issues in life. It doesn’t offer any easy answers. It’s a film that explores our doubts about faith. It’s also not afraid to point out the hypocrisies that take place in the church. This type of material obviously makes many Christians uneasy.

Is there an audience for this type of film? At least in my opinion the audience does exist. The problem is nobody has built a road to reach them. And until that happens, films that are similar to Blue Like Jazz will not find box office happiness. You may or may not be a fan of Courageous or Fireproof, but both films averaged over $35 million at the box office. Impressive, right? Compare that to the number that Blue Like Jazz generated. There’s a huge difference.

The producers of Courageous know who their audience is, where their audience is, and how to reach them. They built a road that every Christian filmmaker now has access to. It used to be the hard part in filmmaking was coming up with a great script, funding, a solid cast and crew and, of course, a distributor. But now, the distributor expects you to do all the hard work of finding your audience.

Blue Like Jazz is a solid movie. That’s the sad part in this whole story. It deserved a much bigger audience. But until a road is build and the audience is identified, we can expect the same fate for similar movies in the future.

1 comment:

  1. It is precisely because of this problem that I've had to develop two versions of the same script on an upcoming film, with the only real difference between them some changes in dialogue in a few key scenes. So it's essentially two films in one, each with a separate title, with one version for the faith-based audience and another for the secular domestic & foreign markets. The two-in-one strategy was also one of the main attractions for the New York-based hedge fund now giving the film serious consideration, because it offered them less risk and more potential for profit.