Saturday, June 30, 2012

Has Hollywood Found Religion? - Part 3

Do movies today reflect more of a Christian or Biblical worldview? Has Hollywood found religion?

There is no question that the overall content from the six major studios, Disney, Fox, Universal, Warner Brothers, Sony and Paramount, has substantially improved since the early 1990s. There are more movies being produced that reflect positive values and redemptive messages. I’m not sure a film like The Blind Side would have been made 15 years ago.

I believe there are four reasons that explain this turnaround in positive content as well as three issues that we should be concerned about. In other words, it’s not time to throw a party and celebrate yet.

Issues of Concern or I’m about ready to rain on your parade.

Issue 1

Only one in six movies is produced and distributed by the six major studios. That leaves about 500-600 other movies receiving some form of distribution in North America. Where do these films come from? They originate from mid-level studios such as Lions Gate, First Look Studios, Magnolia and others, direct-to-video production companies and independent distributors. If you are looking for plenty of graphic violence, sex, nudity, bad language and other forms of debauchery, you have found it in this lot.

I wish I could tell you I have seen some improvement from films released from non-major studios, but that’s not the case. We need to see improvement in this area. That’s not to say there are not a few movies being produced and distributed from mid-level and independents that offer some redemptive value or Christian content, but it’s very slim.

The emphasis here is on action and especially horror films specializing in torture with plenty of blood and guts. It’s not a pretty picture. This is an area where we need to get more Christians involved in creating independent features that reflect God’s glory and truth.

Some may argue that most people will not see these films in this category. I disagree. Obviously, most receive little or no theatrical distribution, but they do find a substantial life in home video and especially pay cable networks such as HBO, Cinemax and Showtime. The bottom line is they make up the bulk of movies produced annually. And that means they have a big impact.

Issue 2

Feature films from the major studios are only part of the huge media picture. It’s true that Hollywood’s big studios are producing more morally-based content. But that’s only part of a big picture. We have a long ways to go. Video games offer an abundance of violent images which seem to be out of control. Internet-based content offers plenty of problems as well. And, frankly, television hasn’t improved that much over the past ten years. The fact is most people think about spending $10 before they go to the movies. They want something worth their money. So they are less likely to waste their hard earned cash on trash. But often we don’t feel the same way watching a television program because we are paying for it indirectly.

Issue 3

The overall narrative of the media culture hasn’t significantly changed in the past 20 years. We are going to need a lot more from Hollywood’s major studios in order to have any significant impact on the media culture. The message is basically the same. You are the center of your own universe, and you deserve to have everything now. It’s a very self-centered concept, but it is the very heart of today’s media culture. And, in some form, most electronic entertainment and images supports this concept. Frankly, we should celebrate any film that is in direct opposition to this core message. For example, I mentioned earlier two R-rated films from last year, Crazy Heart and Up in the Air. In each film, the main character or protagonist came to an Ah-hah moment in which they realized that there was more to life than their own pursuits, that other people mattered and life did not revolve around what they wanted.

When you embrace this idea, it offers the opportunity for God to enter your life. That’s an important concept to consider. But most media does not embrace this philosophy but rather encourages you to do whatever makes you happy and fulfills your desires.

The Bottom Line

I guess the question is are you a person who sees the glass half empty or half full. What I like to think is that I’m both. I believe in order to have a full glass, you need to understand why the glass is half full. It’s only then that you can move on and achieve the results I think we are all looking for. I want to change the media, specifically the media culture. In order to do that, we need a realistic and honest approach in how we view the media.

The Christian Film and Television Commission’s report to the entertainment industry offers hope for the future. There’s much to be optimistic about. But we have substantial work to do. I just think we should thank God for what he is doing. But, perhaps, this is not the time to celebrate or throw a party. Let’s continue to focus on the issue at hand and change the face of media as we know it.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Has Hollywood Found Religion? - Part 2

Do movies today reflect more of a Christian or Biblical worldview? Has Hollywood found religion?

The overall content from the six major studios, Disney, Fox, Universal, Warner Brothers, Sony and Paramount, has substantially improved since the early 1990s. There are more movies being produced that reflect positive values and redemptive messages. I’m not sure a film like The Blind Side would have been made 15 years ago.

I believe there are four reasons that explain this turnaround in positive content as well as three issues that we should be concerned about. In other words, it’s not time to throw a party and celebrate yet.

Reason 2

A new economic model has emerged. Today the average movie released from major studios costs $103 million to produce and market to the public. That’s a lot of money. With costs dramatically increasing, Hollywood cannot afford any controversy or problems. They are looking to build a big tent. That means they are interested in everybody being potential movie-goers. That includes mainstream teenagers, young adults, families, and the Christian market. When you spend $100 million to make a film, you can’t afford to offend anyone. That’s the economic reality that Hollywood faces today.

Hollywood has abandoned medium-size and low-budget films. They are concentrating on what they call “tent pole” films. Today that is where the profits are. But it also means they must convince everyone to see their films. Otherwise they are looking at a financial disaster.

Reason 3

The new standard is PG-13. Hollywood has found an ally in the PG-13 rating and has turned it into a marketing tool. The PG-13 rating offers the best of two worlds. It’s appealing to teenagers and young adults because there’s just enough edgy material. But, at the same time, Hollywood has convinced you that it’s also family-friendly. It’s quite a balancing act. And with the right marketing approach, it can work. For this rating to be effective, Hollywood has traded in nudity and sensuality and replaced it with suggestive language and innuendos. Violence is still present, but it tends to be less graphic and more stylistic. The PG-13 rating also allows for a few choice words here and there.

Some have suggested that the PG-13 films of today resemble R-rated movies from the early 1990s. There’s no question that standards have changed over the past 15 or 20 years. Hollywood has decided to make less R-rated movies. Why make films that will restrict your audience. It’s bad business. The PG-13 rating allows Hollywood to appeal to a broader audience.

Reason 4

Family friendly is cool. Pixar has single-handedly recreated and redefined family-friendly movies since its conception of feature films in 1995 with the release of Toy Story. Since then, they have released one mega hit after another, including Finding Nemo, Cars, Walle, Monsters Inc., Up and most recently Toy Story 3.

What’s truly amazing about Pixar’s accomplishments is somehow they have made G-rated movies cool. Before they came on the scene, no self-respecting teenager would be caught dead watching a G-rated movie. But today Pixar appeals to everyone. How have they done it? They put the art of storytelling first and foremost. It’s always about the story. Through the use of CGI (computer generated images), they have created characters that are more fully human than humans appearing in live-action films. Because of Pixar, other studios have gotten on the family-friendly, G-rated band wagon. This helps to explain why there has been a 200% increase in family films since the early 1990s.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Has Hollywood found religion? - Part 1

According to the Christian Film and Television Commission, who publishes an annual report to the entertainment industry, positive content and family-friendly movies substantially perform better at the box office than R-rated movies. The Commission reports that since its conception in 1993 there has been a 200% increase in family movies and a 425% increase in positive Christian content. Today they report that 59% of all movies released by the major studios have some positive, specific Christian content or values. The Christian Film and Television Commission’s report is based on actual box-office figures.

Is this true? Do movies today reflect more of a Christian or Biblical worldview? Has Hollywood found religion? First of all, statistics can be used and shaped to present whatever narrative you wish to communicate. I’m not saying that’s what the Commission has done. But have they looked at the complete picture? These are complicated questions with no easy answers.

I’m not convinced Hollywood has found religion. Contrary to what many may believe, Hollywood and the entertainment industry has no political, religious or social agenda. They are not interested in corrupting the minds of our youth. I know you might find this hard to believe. In fact, at one time I believed it. But after talking to many industry insiders, Hollywood is interested in one thing and one thing only, and that’s making money. If they believe that family-friendly movies will make more money than explicit films with sex, language and violence, what do you think they will do?

There is no question that the overall content from the six major studios, Disney, Fox, Universal, Warner Brothers, Sony and Paramount, has substantially improved since the early 1990s. There are more movies being produced that reflect positive values and redemptive messages. I’m not sure a film like The Blind Side would have been made 15 years ago. It obviously had a positive message with a clear-cut Christian worldview. It was a financial success because the studio got behind the film. It made $255 million at the box office and was nominated for Best Picture.

What was also interesting from last year was the number of R-rated movies with redemptive stories. That included Up in the Air and Crazy Heart. But not everything is good news. The Hangover was the sixth biggest grossing movie at $277 million. It contained a heavy dose of sex and debauchery.

I believe there are four reasons that help to explain this turnaround in positive content as well as three issues that we should be concerned about. In other words, it’s not time to throw a party and celebrate yet.

Reason 1

God is at work in Hollywood and the entertainment industry. Even during the darkest hours of Hollywood, God has never left the scene. His Spirit has been moving and influencing filmmakers. Case in point: During the early 1980s, Chariots of Fire and Places in the Heart are two films that clearly presented a Christian worldview. This occurred when many Christians were boycotting and demonizing Hollywood. So, at some level, Hollywood has always been presenting some form of Christian content whether they realized it or not. Perhaps we have not been able to see or define it. And since the early 1990s, God’s Spirit has been moving in this industry.

Today there is a beachhead established in Hollywood with over 5,000 Christians working in the entertainment industry. There is no question they have made an impact on this turnaround concerning positive content in the film industry. On a recent trip, I had an opportunity to interview Christian leaders who work inside Hollywood. Dr. Larry Poland, founder of MasterMedia, has quietly been ministering to entertainment leaders for over 25 years. No one will ever know just how much influence or the impact he has had on the entertainment industry.

I also talked to the executive director of Act One. For over ten years, Act One has been training Christians to write commercially from a Christian perspective for Hollywood. Today, some of their students have reached a point in their careers where they are now working on major television and film projects.

I also interviewed Karen Cavell, Founder of Hollywood Prayer Network, who has been encouraging Christians for the past 15 years to pray for Hollywood and embrace the entertainment industry as a mission field. The fact is there are many Christians in Hollywood who are part of this incredible turnaround. It’s only a beginning. But something substantial is taking place

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Variety Mag Hosts Family Entertainment & Faith-Based Summit

From Wired 4 Film

Variety Magazine hosted a high-powered summit this past Thursday in LA which, surprisingly, was all about Family Entertainment and Faith-based films and programming.  Of course, we at W4F have our fingers pressed firmly against the industry pulse (not usually in a strangulation way) so we knew about this event, I dunno, two to three months…is that the right word?  ’Months’?  Hold on.  No, the word I’m looking for is ‘days’…yes we knew about this event days before it took place.  Possibly hours.

But it was a big one.  Lots of big wigs in attendance and presenting:
Dick Rolfe, Co-Founder & CEO, The Dove Foundation
Ben Howard, Co-Founder, Provident Films
Simon Swart, EVP & GM, Fox Home Entertainment
Darren Melameth, VP, Crown Media Family Networks(Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Movie Channel)
Brad Siegel, Vice Chairman, GMC TV
Dale Ardizzone, COO, The Inspiration Networks
Richard Ingber, President, Worldwide Marketing, Alcon Entertainment
Greg Liberman, President & CEO, Spark Networks
Rio Cyrus, SVP, Marketing, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Arleen Lopez, Project Manager, Faith Marketing (Gril in Progress), Pantelion Films
Brian Bird, Partner, Believe Pictures
John Shepherd, President, Mpower Pictures
Ted Baehr, Founder and Publisher, Movieguide
Michael Van Dyck, Agent, Paradigm Talent Agency
Rich Peluso, VP, Affirm Films, Sony Pictures Entertainment
Jon Erwin, Director, October Baby
Kenn Viselmann, Founder, Itsy Bitsy Entertainment Company & Producer/Creator, The Oogieloves
Charlie Ebersol, Co-Founder, The Hochberg Ebersol Company (THE Company)/Executive Producer, The Moment on USA Network
James Ackerman, President & CEO, The Documentary Channel
Brian Wells, Co-Founder, Flashlight Entertainment
Ralph Winter, Producer, X-Men:Wolverine, X-Men: The Last Stand
Corbin Bernsen, Actor/Producer (Psych, The Big Year)
Dean Batali, Producer & Writer, That 70′s Show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Chonda Pierce’s This Ain’t Prettyville)Lori McCreary, Producer (Invictus, The Magic of Belle Island)
Jason Carbone, Executive Producer (Tia and Tamera, Beverly’s Full House)
I know, right?  How did we not hear about this?  And with all those big brains in the same room, what did they do?  Discuss a moratorium on End-times movies?  Plan an intervention on Mel Gibson? Watch Sherwood Pictures and Tyler Perry print their own money? Did they even settle whether the wafer or the bread loaf was the proper sacremental depiction on film?
Nope.  None of that.
Here’s some things they did discuss, from Variety
[Mark] Burnett enthusiastically spoke of his passion for ["The Bible"] project, a 10-hour epic to air on cabler History next spring. He echoed the sentiment of many panelists at the daylong gathering at the Sofitel Hotel in emphasizing the huge, often untapped potential of faith-based productions.
However, Burnett also emphasized that bringing “Bible” to the screen has transcended business concerns for his company. His wife, thesp Roma Downey, has been on location in Morocco for weeks working as a producer and thesp on the project.
“I couldn’t give a shit about the business model,” Burnett said. “This was about love and faith.”
Ahem, Mr. Burnett.  Puh-LEASE!  We do not use such vulgar words in Christian circles such as “Business Model”.  In fact, most Christian filmmakers don’t give a shipoopi about the business side of production.  Profits?  Pssht?  Marketing costs?  Ha!  Investors?  Please!  More like Donors!  Awesome Academy award winning actors?  Naw, we got my Aunt Sally who teaches 2nd Grade Sunday school.  And her co-star is this dude who was awesome in, like, this 1970 sitcom. And we’re shooting on MiniDV with a script my Dentist wrote.  Why isn’t anyone buying my DVD?


Five points to consider if you are planning on tackling a low-budget feature

1. Find the right story. The story is always the driving force in low-budget filmmaking. You need a screenplay that can follow the right format. For low-budget filmmaking to work, you need to shoot your feature within a 3-week time span. Essentially, your story needs to be a “dressed-up” stage play. Trust me, everybody is using this format from Tyler Perry movies to movies like Death at a Funeral.

The key to low-budget filmmaking is the ability to move fast. You have to shoot 5 pages a day with the ability to handle 25 – 35 setups per day-- no more than a 6 to 1 shooting ratio. Locations have to be limited to no more than three, with 80% of your film shot in one location. To keep the budget down, have no more than a handful of characters. If you can find a story that meets that criteria, you are in the game. But remember the story has to be solid and have entertainment value.

2. Low-budget is low-budget. Low budget for you is not $1 million. If you want to make a second film, your first film must break even or make money. In order to do that it needs to be “low-budget”. Your rock bottom number has to be less than $150,000.

Recently, someone sent me a script with an $800,000 budget. They have got to be insane. There is no way they are going to raise $800,000. That’s why a lot of film students are not working. They want to start at the top. You have to start at the bottom and prove that you can make a $10,000 feature, then a $50,000 feature. That’s the way the system works.

3. Become an entrepreneur. You’re going to be waiting a long time if you think somebody is going to call you to make your movie. You’re going to have to go out and raise the money. Plus, you will probably have to direct and produce it as well. Most people who make their first movie are able to get the money from their family and friends. However, that won’t work for the second movie. That’s why you have to make Rule Number 2 work for you. If you can build a financial model, you can find investors for your next film as long as you keep the costs low.

4. Make the movie first, then the deal. No one is going to give you a distribution deal without a finished product. Sorry, a script is not enough. For years I read and believed that you get the distribution deal first. It doesn’t work that way. The distributors want you to take all the risks first.

5. Get help. There are plenty of resources available. On our website for free you can check out our guerilla code, guerilla principles and our guerilla guide. There are also lots of resources on line. Just be careful that they are not rip-offs. Buyer beware.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Why You Need To Self-Distribute


Most indie filmmakers make their own movie in the hopes of becoming Hollywood’s next success story.

(Come on, admit it! Hollywood success would be awesome.)

And while I would never discourage indie filmmakers from seeking not-so-indie fame and fortune – with nearly 50,000 feature films flooding the market each year, simply getting your movie made is no longer enough to guarantee success.

For many filmmakers, the process goes like this:
  1. I am going to make a movie, get into Sundance and sell it for a million dollars.
  2. Mom and dad and family and girlfriend and random crowdfunding people, give me money!
  3. Holly crap. I didn’t raise enough money – so I will need to cut my budget.
  4. Who knew practical special effects and pick-up shots were so time consuming?
  5. Dear friends and family and angry girlfriend, we spent your money and the movie is finished!
  6. Oh man – we really can’t fix it in post!
  7. Film festival submissions are expensive!
  8. We just got rejected from Sundance – now what?
  9. We just WON the Best Picture award at some regional film festival nobody ever heard of!
  10. Wait, we have been on the festival circuit for a year and Hollywood has not called.
  11. Holly crap – we just got a call from a sales agent! They want to put our movie on iTunes!
  12. Wait, I just read the agreement and the distribution deal doesn’t pay.
  13. Wait… I can get my own movie into iTunes. Without the middle-man?
  14. Dear friends and family and ex-girlfriend and crowdfunders, we are in iTunes!
  15. I really wish I would have budgeted to self-distribute and market my movie.
Obviously I am using humor to express a point. But if you have made a movie, you have probably experienced the roller-coaster ride of emotions that comes from being a filmmaker.

If you have not yet made your movie, I suggest that you plan a strategy to market and sell your movie from day one. Having this plan will allow you to first explore all traditional distribution options. And this way, if your distribution offer is not a deal, you can move forward.

Think about it. If the best offer is: “We will get you into iTunes” your response should be “so what! I can get myself into iTunes!”

Monday, June 25, 2012

Faith-based films made more money in 2011 than their left-leaning counterparts, reports say

Annual study conducted by Movieguide reveals faith-based films took in more revenue in 2011

What’s a good recipe for box office and DVD sales success? It seems in 2011, pro-America sentiment mixed with conservative values and faith-centered themes equaled a hit.

This according to an annual study conducted by the Christian-focused entertainment advocacy group Movieguide, which found that in 2011, American audiences preferred movies with strong conservative content and values over movies with liberal or left-leaning values by an almost six-to-one margin.

The 760-page report claims that films with a conservative or pro-American edge, such as “Captain America,” “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” “Soul Surfer,” “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” and “Battle: Los Angeles” raked in significantly more box office green than more liberal films like “Red State,” “Super 8,” “J. Edgar,” “Glee” and “Ides of March.”

“People want good to overcome evil, justice to prevail over injustice and liberty to conquer tyranny. They respond to strong heroes and even strong heroines, but they are turned off by radical social engineering and big government programs,” Movieguide publisher Dr. Ted Baehr said of the report, which rates movies using several criteria such as “anti-communist content,” “strong biblical morality,” and “strong pro-capitalist content.”

The study also claimed that the stronger the Christian worldview in the film, the more money it made.

Films considered to have a significant redemptive or religious focus such as “Pirates of the Caribbean: Stranger Tides,” “The Help” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” made more money in theaters last year than those with a non or anti-Christian core, or a mixed/humanist perspective, including “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” The Hangover II” and “The Rum Diary.” In fact, Movieguide’s report asserts that the Christian-motivated movies, on average, earned four times as much in box office returns – $64.3 million as opposed to $15.9 million.

“Most people dedicated to a particular faith are likely to find the violence, substance abuse, sexual immorality, and mocking of traditional values in most modern movies offensive," said Megan Basham, entertainment editor at Christian news site, World Magazine. "The rare well-made film that offers the opposite is going to appeal to church-goers of every stripe."

In addition, Movieguide reports that among the Top 25 DVD sales last year for theatrical movies, 52 percent had at least a small amount of patriotic or pro-Christian content, while only 8 percent were considered to be on the left side of the spectrum.

Baehr also pointed out that more than three quarters of Americans (238 million people) and 2.3 billion people globally, identify themselves as Christians, and Hollywood is finally starting to realize that this niche is an important one.

“When we started Movieguide in 1985, there were only one or two movies being made with a strong, explicit Christian content or values, but now there are well over 50 each year,” Baehr continued. “Every studio now has a Christian film division, and several studios are doing major movies with strong Christian content. And now all of the major studios, not just Disney, are making movies for young children and families.”

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Box Office Report: 'Brave' Hits Bullseye With $66.7 Mil; 'Abraham Lincoln' Soft $16.5 Mil

Brave, continuing Pixar's unblemished record of opening its movies at No. 1, also scored the second-highest June opening for an animated pic after Pixar's Toy Story 3 ($110.3 million). Overseas, the Disney/Pixar title debuted to $13.5 million in 10 markets.

The 3D event pic -- receiving an A CinemaScore in North America -- is Pixar's 13th film and its first to feature a female lead. Brave did skew female (57 percent) but got plenty of male attention.

"You have to draw men and boys as well to see this number," Disney executive president of worldwide distribution Dave Hollis said. "The themes in the movie -- bravery, fighting for your fate -- transcend gender."

Hollis credited Pixar/Disney animation chief John Lasseter, producer Katherine Sarafian and directors Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman for delivering an "enveloping experience" that drew both families (66 percent) and adults.

One troubling statistic: 3D revenue only made up 34 percent of the Brave's opening gross, furthering worries that families find the upcharge for a 3D ticket too expensive.

Still, family product ruled the box office all the way around. DreamWorks Animation and Paramount holdover Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted fell to No. 2 in its third weekend with an estimated $20.2 million for a domestic cume of roughly $157.6 million. The threequel opened to $60.1 million.

Animation also ruled overseas, where Madagascar 3 stayed at No. 1 for the third weekend in a row, grossing $30.1 million from 44 markets to race past the $200 million mark. The pic has now earned $208.4 million internationally for an impressive worldwide total of $366 million.

Managing only a third-place domestic finish was Fox's 3D genre epic Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. The R-rated film, playing like a horror title, grossed a soft $16.5 million in its opening. Fox had predicted a debut in the $15 million range, considering there are no big stars in the film, but box-office observers believed it could get to $20 million.

Directed by Timur Bekmambetov and featuring Tim Burton in the producer's seat, Abraham Lincoln received a C+ CinemaScore. The pic's cast is led by Benjamin Walker.

Abraham Lincoln, costing $68 million to produce, features the storied U.S. president as a vampire hunter and is based on the novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, who also co-wrote the adapted screenplay. The film is an important test for the "mashup" genre, with Lionsgate queued up to make the film adaptation of Grahame-Smith's book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Fox believes Abraham Lincoln, which skewed male, will have good legs.

"Audiences will continue to seek out Timur's daring and brilliant vision of Abraham Lincoln," Fox's incoming president of domestic distribution Chris Aronson said.

The news wasn't good for the Steve Carell-Keira Knightley indie pic Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, which debuted to $3.8 million from 1,625 locations. The Focus Features title, directed and written by Lorene Scafaria, came in at No. 10, just ahead of fellow Focus pic Moonrise Kingdom, which grossed a pleasing $3.4 million from only 395 theaters for a pleasing cume of $11.6 million.

"It's disappointing," Focus president of distribution Jack Foley said. "The right people turned up to see Seeking a Friend, but they didn't come in volume."

At the specialty box office, Woody Allen's new entry To Rome With Love got off to a strong start, grossing $379,371 from five theaters for a sizable location average of $75,874 -- easily the best of the weekend. Sony Pictures Classics, which distributed Allen's 2011 box-office hit Midnight in Paris, again is handling domestic distribution duties for the filmmaker.

Elsewhere, New Line and Warner Bros.' troubled musical Rock of Ages fell to No. 6 in its second weekend, grossing $8 million for a 10-day domestic cume of $28.8 million. Adam Sandler's likewise troubled comedy That's My Boy fell to No. 7 in its second outing, grossing $7.9 million for a 10-day total of $28.2 million.

Here are the full domestic results for the weekend of June 22-24:

Title/Weeks in release/Theater count, Studio/Three-day weekend total/Cume

1. Brave, 1/4,164, Disney/Pixar, $66.7 million.
2. Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, 3/3,920, $20.2 million, $157.6 million.
3. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, 1/3,108, $16.5 million.
4. Prometheus, 3/2,862, $10 million, $108.5 million.
5. Snow White and the Huntsman, 4/2,919, $8 million, $137.1 million.
6. Rock of Ages, 2/3,470, $8 million, $28.8 million.
7. That's My Boy, 2/3,030, Sony, $7.9 million, $28.2 million.
8. The Avengers, 8/2,230, Disney/Marvel Studios, $7 million, $598.3 million.
9. Men in Black 3, 5/2,462, Sony, $5.6 million, $163.3 million.
10. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, 1/1,625, Focus, $3.8 million.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Local church backs filmmaker’s goal of making Christian movie

St. Catherine of Siena Roman Catholic Church, one of the largest parishes in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, has placed its support behind an independent filmmaker and parishioner with a mission to bring Christian films to a wider audience.

Kevis Antonio, founder of Rising Faith Productions, is the creator behind the film currently titled, “Five Blocks Away.” He wrote the initial screenplay and plans to direct and produce a five-week production schedule in the early fall using members of St. Catherine.

Antonio, 31, said he came up with the idea for his film last summer after attending a movie screening of the Christian film, “Courageous,” produced by Sherwood Pictures, a ministry of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany. In 2008, the company produced the highest grossing independent film of the year.
“I noticed how packed it was and after seeing the film, I thought to myself, ‘Why hasn’t the Catholic Church done a project like this before?’” recalled Antonio.

“You’ve got Sherwood Baptist doing great films that have done very well out in the box office. You’ve got other churches stepping up too, with movies like ‘The Grace Card.’ So I saw the opportunity and started thinking, ‘This is a project that needed to happen.’”

“Five Blocks Away” tells the story of a young man named Anthony Seton, who has his sights set on fortune in the operation of a marketing business with three friends. His dreams begin to crumble in light of new relationships, family turmoil and illegal events, as he struggles to find what really matters in life.

Father John Matejek, pastor of St. Catherine, liked the idea behind the film when Antonio approached him about it. He said he welcomed the church’s involvement as a great way to evangelize.

“I’m never afraid of a challenge, especially in this third millennium, when Christianity is being beat up pretty badly,” said Matejek, a St. Catherine parishioner before entering the priesthood. “I always support my parishioners in whatever they do.”


Friday, June 22, 2012

Forecast: Pixar Aims for 13th-Straight First Place Debut with 'Brave'

Coming off a somewhat quiet weekend, the box office should be revitalized a bit thanks to the release of Disney/Pixar's latest movie. Brave is set to open in a Pixar-record 4,164 locations, 2,790 of which will include 3D shows. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter will also try to battle its way to solid grosses at 3,106 theaters (2,497 with 3D), but its target demographic is too narrow for it to really break out. Meanwhile, Focus Features is releasing apocalyptic comedy/drama Seeking a Friend for the End of the World at 1,618 venues, while To Rome with Love, Woody Allen's follow-up to Midnight in Paris, launches in a handful of theaters in New York and Los Angeles.

It's impossible to discuss Brave's opening weekend potential without first reviewing the unprecedented history of Pixar Animation Studios. Beginning with Toy Story 2 in 1999, Pixar rattled off an incredible nine-straight $200 million movies, which culminated in 2010 with Toy Story 3 (their highest-grossing movie ever with $415 million). Aside from this incredible commercial success, the studio was also being praised for its artistic accomplishments: through their first 11 movies, Pixar racked up 39 Oscar nominations and 10 wins, including six of the first 10 Best Animated Feature awards. Last June's Cars 2, though, proved that Pixar isn't invincible. Not only did it end the company's $200 million streak, but it was also Pixar's first major creative disappointment—it's the company's only "rotten" movie on Rotten Tomatoes, and its only movie to have an IMDb rating below 7.0.

One dud doesn't kill a brand as strong as Pixar, though: many previews for Brave emphasize that it's from the same studio as Toy Story 3, Up and WALL-E, which is quite the compelling pitch. Otherwise, advertisements have made Brave look like a pretty standard princess movie, with the bow-and-arrow-wielding red-head Merida taking the place of more traditional Disney princesses like Snow White and Belle. That 21st-century approach to the princess story will certainly have strong appeal among younger girls and their mothers, though it's unlikely the movie connects with men in the same way as Pixar movies like Finding Nemo or The Incredibles.

Excluding Ratatouille, which was about rats in Paris, every Pixar movie for the past decade has opened to at least $60 million. Current expectations have Brave earning slightly less ($55-$60 million), though no matter what happens it will become Pixar's 13th-straight movie to open in first place.

For a while, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was looking like it could be a bomb on par with 2010's Jonah Hex—after all, it's opening at the exact same time, and also features a titular hero fighting off an army of foes hell-bent on conquering 19th century America. While its initial marketing material was a bit muddled, though, the latest round of commercials has been more successful in establishing the conflict between our country's 16th president and an undead army of vampires, and has also showcased some unique action. It's still only going to reach a very specific audience (young males old enough to buy R-rated tickets), but it should get a large portion of that group given Prometheus's steady decline and That's My Boy's disappointing start. Distributor 20th Century Fox is expecting between $15 and $16 million this weekend.

Debuting at only 1,618 theaters, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is targeting a much more modest opening than Brave or Abraham Lincoln. That's logical, considering the movie's apparent blend of comedy and apocalyptic drama looks like a tough sell. Steve Carell's presence should at least give the movie a bit of a boost: the actor helped similarly-tricky Dan in Real Life open to $11.8 million in 2007, and his brand has held up fine in the years since then. Seeking a Friend's best chance at true success is if it generates strong word-of-mouth coming out of opening weekend, though a 55 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes suggests that might not happen.

Woody Allen's To Rome With Love is opening at five locations—three in New York, two in Los Angeles—this weekend. Last year, Allen's Midnight in Paris had one of the best limited debuts ever with $599,003 at six theaters, and went on to set a new record for the writer-director with $56.8 million. While that's surely given the Allen brand a boost, the success of his movies is almost directly correlated to perceived quality. For example, Allen was hot coming off 2008's Vicky Cristina Barcelona ($23.2 million), but his next movie Whatever Works received a middling 50 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and wound up earning just $5.3 million. While To Rome with Love will benefit from a stronger cast and a higher-grossing predecessor, it also doesn't seem to be clicking with critics and, anecdotally, with those who saw the movie at its LA Film Fest premiere last week. Sony Pictures Classics is planning an aggressive expansion that culminates with a July 6 nationwide launch.

Weekend Forecast (June 22-24)
1. Brave - $64.7 million
2. Abraham Lincoln - $17.1 million
3. Madagascar 3 - $15.3 million (-55%)
4. Prometheus - $10.7 million (-48%)
—. Seeking a Friend - $8.2 million

Bar for Success
It's okay if Brave misses the $60 million standard Pixar opening, though not by much—it really ought to be earning at least $50 million this weekend. With a very wide release and 3D ticket pricing, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter needs to earn a minimum of $20 million this weekend, while Seeking a Friend at the End of the World should be in good shape anywhere close to $10 million.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Money Game

So you want to be a media missionary and make a difference. Let’s suppose you’ve received your training or you have a film degree. Maybe you have some experience and have worked a year or two in your home town as a filmmaker or a media maker. And perhaps spiritually you have your game together. You believe you’ve been called by God to go to Hollywood and make media that reflects his truth and glory. Sounds good. But what now? How do you support yourself? Can you find a job in the industry before your money runs out? Los Angeles is one of the most expensive cities in the United Sates to live.

A good rule is you need at least two years of some type of support to give yourself a realistic chance. Sure, you can find some other job outside the industry to help support yourself, but chances are it won’t be enough. The fact is it’s never easy raising personal support. But trying to raise support to be a media missionary is perhaps the most difficult task imaginable. Whether you’ve been raising support like I have for over 20 years or you are just starting, it will always be challenging. If you are going to the foreign mission field, chances are there are organizations that will teach you and assist you in raising your support. Unfortunately, that’s not true for media missionaries.

Here at Media Missionary School, we have put together a list of ten guidelines to help get you started.

1. Support is a Biblical concept. There is no shame asking for money. You must settle it in your mind that you are not begging, but that you are a worthy investment. In fact, your donors are fulfilling God’s plan by giving to your ministry. And God will bless them for supporting what he has called you to do. The Bible teaches that a Kingdom worker is worthy of his support. Paul, in fact, stopped tent making to preach full time and received support from followers of the churches he founded.

2. Make a list. Most organizations that help in fundraising will always tell you to make a list of your family and friends. This is Fundraising 101. Who do you know? That includes your parent’s friends and the parents of your friends as well as those in your church. These are the people who know you and love you. In fact, they will probably provide the bulk of any support you receive. They are also a good source for potential leads because they can make a personal recommendation.

3. Cold calling. One of the most difficult concepts in fundraising is cold calling. What if you don’t have the personal contacts of family and friends. What then? A good place to start is to find out if there are any Christian business men and women in your community. This requires you to become a detective. Are there any business newspapers or publications in your area? Chances are they have published a list of private or family companies. Your potential donors could own a car dealership, grocery store or a manufacturing company.

Check out company websites for their mission statements. This can give you a good indication whether or not they are open to Christian causes. Do your homework. Find out everything you can about the company and who they support. You want to talk to the business owner if possible. Otherwise see if they have a community relations director. That’s probably the gatekeeper you will make first contact with that will help you in receiving possible financial support. Your best asset is your youth. Christian business people are more likely to help you because you are just starting out in life, and you are willing to dedicate yourself to God’s work. So use it to your advantage.

Other possible sources for support include private or family foundations. Usually you can find a list of foundations that operate in your areas on the web or at your local library. There are also local churches where you can apply for support to the mission’s board. But that’s a long and difficult process and may not be worth the effort.

4. Kill the giants. Fear of failure will derail any chance you have to raise your support. Just like the 12 Hebrew spies who went into the promised land, ten of them came back paralyzed with fear. Only two believe they could take the land. You have to believe that you can enter the land and take what God has given you. Don’t be scared when somebody says no. It is not a personal rejection of you or your ministry. Shake off the dust from your feet and move on. Your worst enemy is fear of what people might say to you. So kill the giants.

5. You only get one chance at a first impression. There’s never been a more true statement. Your first impression must be rock solid. Whether it’s through a letter, e-mail or phone call, have your game together. Know what you are going to say and how you are going to say it. Be clear and precise. Do you know your mission? Do you understand your purpose? What are you doing and how are you going to do it? When and where does your ministry take place? These are the things that you need to be on point and precise.

6. Try to get a face-to-face meeting. If there is a “holy grail of fundraising” for personal support, then it is the face-to-face meeting with a potential donor. It is so easy to say “no” over the phone or through an e-mail. Your mission is to avoid this. Sure, you have to make first contact. But your goal is to wet their appetite and get them interested. Don’t go for the “Ask”. Get a meeting. You’ll be surprised when you sit down with somebody eyeball-to-eyeball. Chances are you will walk out with a check. It requires more time and effort on your part, but the results are worth it.

7. Put it in Writing. Nothing will impress potential donors more than a well-written ministry plan. Never go to a meeting without one. It should contain your budget, how you are going to spend your time, and what type of results you expect. And, of course, no plan is complete without a well-written mission or purpose statement. So take some time, get your thoughts together, create a plan and put it on paper. It also helps to add graphics and design work to give it a polished finish.

8. Demonstrate your passion and enthusiasm. Nobody will support you or give you money if you are not passionate about your ministry. This has to come from the heart and, obviously, it must be sincere. Be enthusiastic that you have a plan for real change and you are going to make a difference. The key to passion is to have the right balance. Sometimes you can turn off donors if you have too much passion and enthusiasm. So find the right tempo.

9. Build relationships with your donors. It’s wonderful that they have decided to support you and that you have left their office with a check in hand. But this is only the beginning. Don’t expect them to continue to support you if they only hear from you when you need money. Your goal is to build a long-term relationship. In order to do that, you must stay in contact and let your donors know what you are doing and the results you are achieving. There are plenty of ways you can accomplish this—through e-mails, blogging, a website, newsletters and electronic newsletters. The point is stay in contact.

10. Stay positive. There are some stretches in raising personal support when nothing seems to be going right. No one will return your calls or answer your e-mails. Let me tell you by personal experience, it’s very easy to lose hope and convince yourself it’s not going to happen. You must stay positive and focus on the good things God is doing in your life and through your ministry. Often we don’t see what God is doing below the surface. Many times he is preparing the way and already creating opportunities that we have yet to see. Without question, raising personal support requires us to be patient and to wait for God to move. It can be a test of our obedience and willingness to trust God for our provision. Remember, it is not the donors who are providing your support. It is God. Your donors are only a vehicle that God uses to show his provision.

Wednesday, June 20, 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.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Christian Movie Connect Episode 35 - Rodney Marett

Rodney Marett of the Gideon Media Arts Conference & Film Festival talks to Christian Movie Connect host Cheryl Ariaz Wicker about how he and his wife Lori started this annual film festival that brings together a large number of filmmakers and media personalities with a view to giving them a venue to showcase their talent and craft. With several tracts, including a film school, music, marketing, acting, screenwriting, graphic arts and novels, and more, the conference is a much-awaited yearly event that happens in August in North Carolina. For more information about the Gideon conference and film festival, log on to

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Box Office Report: 'Rock of Ages,' 'That's My Boy' Flop in Their Debuts; 'Madagascar 3' Still Rules

Despite it's all-star cast, "Rock of Ages" ekes out $15.1 million opening; "That's My Boy" grosses $13 million, marking Adam Sandler's worst opening for a comedy in eight years.

Comedy took a beating at the domestic box office over Father's Day weekend as 1980s jukebox musical Rock of Ages and Adam Sandler's R-rated That's My Boy did dismal business in their debuts

Instead, it was holdovers Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted and Prometheus that continued to top the chart, staying at No. 1 and No. 2 respectively with $35.5 million and $20.2 million.

Rock of Ages topped out at $15.1 million to place third; That's My Boy grossed $13 million to come in No. 5 after being bested by holdover Snow White and the Huntsman ($13.8 million).

Madagascar 3, from DreamWorks Animation and Paramount, fell less than 42 percent from its opening weekend and has earned $120.5 million in its first 10 days of play domestically and a resounding $277.5 million worldwide (the toon also won the international race in grossing $53 million for the weekend).

Twentieth Century Fox's Prometheus, falling 60 percent, has now earned $88.9 million domestically.
The soft performances of Adam Shankman's musical Rock of Ages -- with an all-star ensemble cast including Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand -- and That's My Boy are major disappointments for their respective studios and stars, and particularly Sandler.

Rock of Ages, from New Line and Warner Bros., received a so-so B CinemaScore. The movie came in far behind Shankman and New Line's 2007 Hairspray and Universal's 2008 Mamma Mia! Both of those movies -- likewise based on hit Broadway films -- opened just north fo $25 million.

One issue for Rock of Ages was that it failed to rally younger moviegoers, despite leads Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta. Nearly 75 percent of the audience was over the age of 25, the demo that most relates to the film's music. Females made up the majority of those buying tickets, or 62 percent.

"The numbers aren't great. It's hard to fathom since the movie plays so well," Warner Bros. president of domestic distribution Dan Fellman said. "I'm still optimistic we can overperform during the week because of women."

Rock of Ages also fell flat overseas, where it grossed a sobering $4.1 million from 10 markets. It came in No. 3 in the U.K. and Australia with $1.7 million and $1.4 million, respectively.

Both Rock of Ages and That's My Boy cost just under $70 million to produce.

Sony's That's My Boy, earning a B- CinemaScore, marks Sandler's lowest debut for a comedy since Spanglish in 2004 ($8.8 million). The film, pairing Sandler with Andy Samberg and Leighton Meester, is the actor's first R-rated comedy since Funny People, which opened to $22.7 million in July 2007.

"Sure we had hoped for more. It is a crazy, off-the-wall raunchy R-rated comedy that audiences laugh like crazy at. Kudos to Adam for mixing it up," Sony president of worldwide distribution Rory Bruer said. "We love being in the Adam Sandler business."

Sandler has been one of Hollywood's most consistent stars in terms of box office performance, although last year's summer comedy Jack and Jill underperformed domestically, cuming roughly $74 million.

That's My Boy played fairly evenly among males (54 percent) and females (46 percent), even though the picture had been tracking best among younger males. The comedy did succeed in luring younger moviegoers, with 52 percent of the audience under the age of 25.

Elsewhere at the box office, Sony's Men in Black 3 grew its worldwide gross to $544.3 million, while specialty titles The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Moonrise Kingdom continued to land on the top 10 chart domestically.

From Fox Searchlight and directed by John Madden, Marigold Hotel came in No. 8 with $2.2 million from 1,184 theaters for a North American cume of $35.1 million. Focus Features' Moonrise, from director Wes Anderson, continued to expand nicely, grossing $2.1 million from 178 theaters for a cume of $6.8 million

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Future of Faith-Based Filmmaking: What is a Christian movie?

By Mike Rinaldi

Christian Movie, Faith-based Film, or Christian Worldview Movie? Can you tell the difference?

What is or isn’t a Christian movie?What is the difference between a “Christian” movie and a “Faith-based” film? Many people use the terms interchangeably but they are very distinct things. The distinctions may appear too subtle to make a difference, but believe me, when you talk to studio executives and marketing departments… they are acutely aware of the distinctions. So you, the screenwriter, must be aware also.

There’s a perception that the majority or entirety of actors and crew– pretty much everyone involved in the films– are Christians.This is generally not the case. Some Christian movies are produced by churches utilizing a lot of volunteers and in those cases, it tends to be that the majority of folks involved are Christians, but this is a minority of the Christian movies. It’s not a requirement for Christian movies to use only Christian people in the production and this has no bearing on the definition of a Christian movie. The movie is defined by its content.

Some of this is a bit subjective and you’ll hear some audiences (or even people who avoid movies all together) disagree on the nuances.Some of the defining points may even be fluid. But I’ve worked with many producers of Christian and Faith-based movies and continue to work regularly with the top producers and distributors in these genres. So as best as I can convey the definitions, here they are.

Compare, contrast, tell your friends.

Christian movie

*Contains a Christian worldview
*Prescriptive (not descriptive)
*Made primarily for Christian audiences
*May or may not contain subtext (but even if it does, it’s theme and message must be stated verbally by at least one character– even if the intent is clearly understood visually or subtextually)
*Usually contains a minimum of one quoted Bible verse
*Usually includes no cursing, not even “hell” or “damn”
*Contains no overt sensuality, definitely no sex scenes
*Generally produced by Christian producers
*Budget rarely exceeds $1 million
*A studio (Sony Affirm, Fox Faith) may distribute, but likely won’t produce
*Indicative stars: Kirk Cameron, Stephen Baldwin, Rebecca St. James
*Indicative studio, prodco: Sony Affirm, Sherwood Pictures, PureFlix

Film examples:

Facing the Giants
What if…
Mercy Streets
One Night with the King
The Ultimate Gift

Faith-based film

*Contains a Christian worldview
*Descriptive storytelling (not prescriptive)
*Theme (may not have a “message” per se)
*Made for Christian and secular audiences
*Contains subtext
*May or may not contain a quoted Bible verse
*May include mild cursing such as “hell” or “damn”
*May contain some sensuality, but probably no sex scenes
*May or may not be produced by Christian producers
*Budget may exceed $1 million
*May be produced by a studio
*Indicative star: John Schneider
*Indicative studio, prodco: Fox Faith, Downes Brothers Ent., Walden Media

Film examples:

Soul Surfer
Like Dandelion Dust
Jonah: A Veggie Tales Movie
The Chronicles of Narnia
Blue Like Jazz

Christian worldview movie

I coined this term to clear up the confusion caused mostly by Christians who run around willy-nilly categorizing movies as Christian even though the movie doesn’t fit their own criteria. They do this because the movie does communicate a Christian worldview (whether or not that was the intent of the filmmakers) and they want to label it as such. So Hollywood and Christians, you can start using this term now. You’re welcome.

*Contains a Christian worldview
*Descriptive (not prescriptive)
*Theme (may not have a “message” per se)
*Made for secular audiences
*Contains subtext
*Often produced by a studio

Film examples:

The Book of Eli
Raiders of the Lost Ark
The Blind Side
Paranormal Activity
The Village
Tyler Perry Movies**
Stranger than Fiction
The Passion of the Christ*
A Serious Man
Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?
The Lord of the Rings

*Bible Epics from the golden age of Hollywood are given their own category, not referred to as Christian or Faith-based films. (The Passion of the Christ is really the modern contribution to this category, but that throws people off so I included above in Christian Worldview. People are often baffled why it‘s not considered a Christian movie so if you‘re surprised, you‘re not alone.)

Bible Epics

Film examples:

The Ten Commandments
The Greatest Story Ever Told
The Robe
The Passion of the Christ

Friday, June 15, 2012

Is America Finished? - Part 2

Seems like everybody is talking about the decline of America, especially if you are watching the news networks. Every night, there is a parade of gloom and doom—out of control deficits, trade imbalance, wars, talk of wars, financial collapse, and oil prices. And those are just a few of the ongoing topics. So is America Finished? Are the glory days gone?

I go into great detail about these issues in my book, The Red Pill: The Cure for Today’s Mass Media Culture, so I am only going to cover a few key points. Television has re-engineered the way we think and view the world. We desire to have the things we see in television programs and commercials at all costs. I believe this has transformed our society. We work longer hours, weekends, and sometimes even during our vacation time. Pursuing this unending appetite of consumerism has required both parents to work.

Of course, I know the argument is that we only want to provide the best for our families. But what does that mean, and how do we define what the best is all about? There is a price to pay—a bill that’s coming due now. For the past few decades, all over America generations have received an abundance of material goods, but they haven’t received the spiritual goods. I’m not sure we can do both. Time at the office has its consequences. The question is: Who’s raising our kids, really? Could it be today’s mass media culture? Have we created a society that is self-absorbed, unwilling to sacrifice, and is always looking for “what’s in it for me”? Is that the America that Colonel Andrei Denisov described in Amerika? We could be well on our way.

Practically every study conducted has indicated a sharp decline in morals and values in our society today. Each generation preceding from World War II has been less likely to embrace a Biblical worldview. Our media culture has taught us that it’s all about me and what I want. Burger King says, “Have it your way.” Right?

If America fails, it will be from within. And it most likely will be a spiritual decline, not a military or financial collapse. My formula for success is to forget about the second or third car, and spend more time at home and less time at work. Model Christianly and the attributes of Christ as an example for your family. Live the life that Jesus talked about in the Gospels. Become real and transparent to yourself and your community. Put others first, reach out to your neighbors in need, and do the right thing. Make sacrifices. You are not the center of your own universe. It’s a lonely place there.

Let’s stop fighting among ourselves and start learning to cooperate. These are the steps that lead to a re-emergence of the American Dream.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Is America Finished? - Part 1

Seems like everybody is talking about the decline of America, especially if you are watching the news networks. Every night, there is a parade of gloom and doom—out of control deficits, trade imbalance, wars, talk of wars, financial collapse, and oil prices. And those are just a few of the ongoing topics. So is America Finished? Are the glory days gone?

I recently watched an old television mini-series from 1987 that gave me some insight on this topic. You probably don’t remember “Amerika”. It was one of the most controversial mini-series ever produced. In fact, it’s never been aired again. And it’s almost impossible to find it on DVD. Amerika is about the collapse of the United Stated as we know it. It starts ten years after a bloodless coup d'├ętat, which leads to Soviet occupation. The mini-series follows the final days of the breakup of the United States. What emerges are several new countries, which are created in the image of Eastern Bloc satellite states.

What strikes me about this mini-series is the basis for the American decline. Colonel Andrei Denisov, the KGB Soviet administrator for the Central District, describes to Peter Bradford, a local county administrator from Nebraska, the reason why America collapsed. He says you lost your country before the Soviets ever landed on your soil. America had lost it's passion and it's willingness to sacrifice. You were self-absorbed in your own world. He goes on to say how could we not win.

So what does this have to do about current events? Yes, we no longer have to worry about a Russian or Soviet invasion. In fact, there is no military power on the planet that can challenge our capacity for military supremacy. And contrary to what other people may tell you, we are still an economic powerhouse. There is no nation on this planet that can match our wealth. But there is something inside of us that is destroying the very fabric of our society. It’s like a virus that’s eating away at us from within.

This isn’t about Obamacare. And it’s not about whether the Democrats or the Republican control the Congress or about a $14 trillion deficit. Of course, these are important matters that must be addressed. But the issue I speak about concerns the soul. It’s in the spiritual realm and where it is being manifested—the basic family unit. It is the destabilizing, the fragmentation, and the disintegration of the family that has the potential to destroy America. Have we forgotten the most important roles in life—to be a good husband, a good wife, a good father, and a good mother.

You can start all the companies you want and make all the money you want, but if your family is a mess, you have nothing. You may not agree with my conclusions. But I believe we are consumed and infatuated with materialism and consumerism. Today’s media machine is nonstop in its description of the so-called American Dream that has been redefined. Here are the things you need and must have to be happy and content. Thanks to television, this is the message that’s been drummed into us for over 60 years.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Putting their faith in film: ‘Jackson’s Run’ feature begins shooting in Southern Indiana

By Tom May

Lights. Camera. Action!

Don’t be surprised if you hear those words as you are driving around Floyd and Clark counties during the first two weeks of June.

Southern Indiana is providing the backdrop for “Jackson’s Run,” a movie written and produced by two Hoosiers — Chris Robinson and Daniel Lennox. The movie follows the coming-of-age struggles of Jackson and the turmoil it causes to those closest to him. The film weaves a thread of faith into its real-life tapestry and fits the genre carved out by such recent Christian movies “Fireproof” and “Courageous.”

Christian movies like these normally have a couple of strong weekends at the box office, but usually draw nowhere near the numbers that a major studio release would garnish. The Christian movie industry looks to perform a much deeper ministry through DVDs and supporting materials. The movie provides the basis for worship and small group experiences. Discussion guides, curriculum and devotionals accompany the release of the DVD.

Robinson said churches are already inquiring about the availability of such material and support for the “Impact Challenge” — a significant church outreach described in the movie. The real goal of the movie is to encourage people to look to God in the midst of struggle and difficult times. Faith provides the direction when the path seems hidden.

But even Christian movie producers know there are no “HOLLYWOOD” letters carved into the hillside leading up to Floyds Knobs. Why choose a setting near Jeffersonville for this story?

Robinson, a Floyd Central and Indiana University Southeast grad, explained it was a combination of his interest in his home area and the fingerprints of God.

“I am not one who sees God directing every step of my life, but the way he brought Dan (Lennox) and I together and the way he cleared the path for our partnering with Eastside Christian Church was humbling,” he said.

More at

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Defining Principles of the Media Missionary

The media missionary is not concerned with genre, ratings, marketability, or the level of Christian content contained with any media or film project. Their work becomes an act of worship with no division between the sacred or secular. The media missionary approaches each project with no defined agenda other than to recognize God at work and their willingness to join him in that work.


A media missionary has a distinct calling from God to serve him in the area of media and entertainment. For the most part, it is a calling to reach a broader or comprehensive audience. His or her purpose is to reflect God’s glory and truth in the media he or she creates. In order for a media missionary to complete or fulfill his or her calling, he or she must be willing to submit and be under the control of the Holy Spirit. The journey to become a media missionary starts first with recognizing the calling. If you choose to assign a title or not to assign one is not important as long as you recognize you have a purpose and a calling to fulfill. In fact, calling yourself a media missionary in front of your peers may be more of a hindrance or obstacle to your calling.

A Love for the Industry

Without a respect and love for the people that work in the entertainment industry, it is impossible to fulfill your calling as a media missionary. A media missionary will live his or her life in a way that will reflect God’s love and grace for those in the industry.

A Student of the Filmmaking Process

We have a responsibility to be proficient in all aspects of filmmaking and media making. Our work should excel in the areas of production values and artistic expression. There is no excuse for not being a student of the filmmaking process. A media missionary must study and learn the art of filmmaking and media making.

Redeem and Reform

A media missionary desires to redeem and reform the industry from within. In other words, we must go, work and function in the mainstream media and entertainment industry. It requires us to live out our faith on a daily basis. The only way that we can redeem or reform the industry is through the power of God’s presence in our lives. If we approach our work in this manner, it becomes more than just a vocation or job. It becomes an act of worship to God.

Sees Hollywood as a Partner

A media missionary understands that Hollywood is not the enemy. We do not go to this industry to subvert it. Our agenda is not a Trojan Horse approach. We seek a partnership with Hollywood. God can help us to make films and media that speak of Jesus the least but that has him most in mind. This concept is the heart of a media missionary and the relationship that we seek with the media and entertainment industry. Adopting this approach will put us in a position to make media that is more Christian in nature than Christian films or media have been in content. We should never use media as a form of propaganda.

The Parables of Jesus

Media missionaries must be culturally relevant and learn to communicate to a broad audience. Our inspiration comes from the parables of Jesus. He taught us how to tell stories that are engaging, thought-provoking, honest and truthful. He used symbolism and metaphors to communicate complex truths in order to make them understandable. His stories always had a point and were never boring. As with Jesus’ stories, our stories need to be Biblically based and contain truth that lead people to the Father.

Find Point of Entry

Filmmaking is not about giving all of the answers, but it offers a venue in which we can ask questions. The media missionary’s role is to find a point of entry where we can link some aspect of our culture back to the Gospel message. We have the opportunity to ask questions — Where is God when I hurt? Does he care about me? Is he still present? Why is nothing in my life working? These are often questions our film characters are asking, if not externally at least internally. Often the audience will identify with these characters because they want the same answers to these questions.

We often spend too much time giving contrived answers and overlook what our audiences’ real questions are. What are their situations? Crisis pregnancy? Divorce? Sickness? Job loss? What circumstances and struggles are they facing? Poverty? Single parenthood? Addiction? Low self esteem? Situations and struggles provide the media missionary a point of entry to speak to a broader, more comprehensive audience.

The Mentor

A media missionary is a mentor to the next generation of filmmakers and media makers. Future media missionaries require a mentor, based on the Paul/Timothy relationship model (mentor/ disciple). This relationship involves a lot of work that is often inconvenient and requires dedication, tenacity and commitment. But it is necessary if we are to create disciples who understand how to use media to communicate God’s love, grace, glory and truth. Media missionaries are often developed through on-the-job training with the help of a seasoned, veteran media missionary to help guide and direct them.


Do you love your audience more than what you are saying to them? The media missionary must build trust with his or her audience. We build trust when we respect our audience. If they are willing to give us two hours of their time, it is our duty to create a product that is entertaining. The media missionary must put art first and the message second. We rely on God to reveal his truth through the art. We don’t have the power to change anybody’s mind unless the Holy Spirit is involved in the process.

Our responsibility as a media missionary is to get out of the way and allow God to do what he is going to do. It’s not our job to tell the audience what to think. All we are required to do is to develop a relationship with our audience. God will do the rest. Speaking with mercy, compassion, and kindness in our work will be more powerful than the words we use in our art. Media missionaries are motivated not by outrage but by outreach. Where, in the past, Christians have branded Hollywood in a negative light, our mission is to view Hollywood in a positive light so that we may enter into a discussion and dialogue with them.

Our mission is to restore the image of God. We are motivated to express truth and then allow our audience to respond on a deep, profound emotional level. We recognize that our current culture is motivated by postmodern philosophy. We must express art in such a way that they can experience truth in a relevant fashion that speaks to the heart.