Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Building a Better Mouse Trap - Part 2

When talking about the media, Laura Ingraham and other commentators seem focused on nudity, sexuality, bad language, and violence.They see this as the main problem. Unfortunately, they are only highlighting the symptoms of a greater disease. And, as we know, treating the symptoms will not cure the disease. There’s an underlying issue that they are missing.

What’s driving today’s media culture is the relationship between corporations, big business, media companies, producers, directors and writers who have a hidden agenda. They have created a business model where everyone profits whether you’re conservative or liberal. Media and entertainment has one primary message that is essential in making this business model function. The viewer must believe he or she is more important than anything else. “You” are the center of your own universe, and you deserve to have anything you want. This is a powerful message and, most often, is deliberately hidden within the media and entertainment we view.

What’s different today is we have a force that is capable of defining and creating culture unlike anything we have ever seen in human history. And it has tapped into the human condition as an energy source. It has reinforced three principles within our society.

First, media is teaching us that there is no right or wrong. Everything is relevant to the person and the situation; therefore, the concept of sin no longer exists. In the past, people may not have gone to church nor done the right thing, but they knew they were sinning. The things they were doing were against God’s law. They had a conscience. Today, we are developing a society without a conscience. This allows us to do hideous things and not give it a thought or lose a moment of sleep over it. We are being conditioned to believe that we must define our own right or wrong.

The second thing is today’s media has created a sense of entitlement. Whatever we see or want we should have it regardless of the consequences. It is our birthright to have it. This entitlement concept goes well beyond the government providing for us. We don’t care if it’s our employer, credit card, bank account, our parents, or our society in general. We are entitled. It’s somebody else’s responsibly. The media has been very successful in weaving this entitlement mentality through the distortion of the so-called American dream. We have become a nation that loves material things because that’s what brings happiness. Our value is determined by the pursuit of the American dream through possessions and products that define our lifestyle.

The third thing is our mass media is creating a self-centered society. It’s all about “me”. When you can convince an individual that he or she is the most important thing in his or her life, that individual becomes a good consumer. You don’t think about anybody or anything else except what can make you happy. Forget about your family, society, or you fellowman. It’s all about getting yours. A self-centered attitude is the perfect recipe to fuel today’s mass media culture, and everybody is profiting. I’m not saying that consumerism is bad, but the model that we have built is out of control and has the ability to take our society down.

Laura Ingraham might blame Hollywood or the Left for what’s happening to America. But the truth is everybody is participating. While each party is blaming the other, the checks keep rolling in, nobody cares about the consequences. Big business and corporations are making money hand over fist because consumerism and materialism are fueling the American dream.

Final Thoughts

Western civilization, as we know it, probably will not collapse tomorrow. There are still plenty of people who believe in morals and values. Christianity continues to have a strong influence in our society; however, there’s no question that we are facing enormous obstacles. It remains to be seen if future generations will continue to follow Christ or some other type of belief system. As the bible says, there is nothing new under the sun. The “cheese” is the same. We just have more of it these days. What is different though is we have built a better mouse trap thanks to the expansion of mass media and the emergence of today’s media culture.

Monday, July 30, 2012

'Dark Knight Rises' Weekend Box Office: Batman Finale Earns $64.1 Million

Despite much debate on Saturday afternoon over whether the massacre in Aurora, Colo. on July 20 would negatively affect ticket sales for the rest of the summer, "The Dark Knight Rises" easily topped a pair of newcomers at the box office. Thanks to a massive Saturday night bounce (up 42 percent from Friday, according to Deadline.com), Christopher Nolan's Batman finale earned an estimated $64.1 million over the three-day frame.
That gives "The Dark Knight Rises" roughly $289.1 million in North American grosses -- and over $500 million worldwide -- after just 10 days of release. (As the Los Angeles Times notes, Warner Bros. did not officially report "Dark Knight Rises" earnings for a second straight week out of respect for the victims in Aurora.)

While that still counts as a significant gross under normal circumstances, "The Dark Knight Rises" is running roughly $25 million behind "The Dark Knight," which came out in 2008. That could have to do with the Aurora massacre -- nearly 20 percent of potential moviegoers were reportedly still spooked by the tragedy and planning to stay home, according to research released last week -- but also the London Olympics.

 ("The Dark Knight" didn't have to contend with the Beijing games in 2008, as they started in August.)

As for the new releases, "The Watch" and "Step Up Revolution" both stumbled in their debuts. Whether audiences stayed away from "The Watch" because of residual fears, Olympic fanfare or simple disinterest is unclear, but the Ben Stiller comedy flopped during its opening weekend. Despite Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill leading the way, "The Watch" earned just $13.5 million. That's only about $500,000 more than "That's My Boy" earned during its disappointing opening. (Both films are R-rated.)

"Step Up Revolution" fared even worse, with just $11.8 million in ticket sales.

Building a Better Mouse Trap - Part 1

Are things as bad as they seem? Are we living in the worst of times? According to radio host and political commentator, Laura Ingraham, America is experiencing a total cultural and moral collapse. She highlights this in her new book, Of Thee I Zing. She believes the media is the source of America's decline. Of course, she’s not the only one who is pointing this out. Many social commentators believe morals and values are at an all-time low. Is this true?

Is there something different about today’s culture? Just like all complex issues, you’ll find no simple answer. How you address these issues will depend on your worldview. If you are a Christ follower, you have reasons for concern. On the other hand, if you identify yourself as a secular humanist, you probable believe we are living in the age of enlightenment.

Getting back to the question, what’s different today? Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 1:9, “History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new (NLT) and in Ecclesiastes 1:13, “I observed everything going on under the sun, and really, it is all meaningless—like chasing the wind.” NLT

The Bible makes it clear that we’ve seen it all before, and we’ll see it in the future. Human activity and the human condition have not changed over the years. Since the dawn of time, we’ve seen murder, jealousy, greed, corruption, sexual impurity, lust, etc.—the same things we see today.

Laura Ingraham and other commentators would have you believe that sin and bad behavior all started somewhere in the 1960s with the counter culture revolution. I’ve heard many argue that America in the 1950s was something like a utopian society. Most people went to church, believed in God, prayed, and always did the right thing. We believed in morals and values and expressed them in our daily lives. Does anybody really believe this? Perhaps, Ingraham’s concept of America is based on TV shows from the 1950s and 1960s and movies from the 1940s and 1950s that depicted America as a wholesome, family-friendly, and God-centered nation. I somehow doubt we were ever the society that Leave It to Beaver or Father Knows Best would have us to believe. It’s a nice myth.

Sin didn’t just pop up out of nowhere; it’s been with us a long, long time. But Laura is right about one thing in her new book. The media is playing a significant role in helping to advance the moral and cultural decline of mankind. What’s different today is sin in increasing and becoming more public and more acceptable. Laura points to the media as the source of the problem and blames Hollywood elitists for polluting American culture.

But it’s more than just the media. Media is no longer just media, and entertainment is no longer just entertainment. They have become something greater than their sum. That something is difficult to express in thought or words. The best way I can describe it is as a media culture or a force where media and culture have combined as one. This force is now capable of creating, shaping and defining a reality that we all accept as normal. In other words, what we see and heard in the media, we accept as truth and thus becomes important in our lives. The things that we don’t see become unimportant even though they could hold the greater value.

We no longer think about faith, Christianity, and belief as important and valuable because they are no longer reflected in any significant form in our media. The mass media acts as a giant amplifier helping to increase the effects of sin. It communicates the importance of wealth, power, sex, influence, materialism and consumerism as the things to desire and aspire to. Mass media therefore is the perfect vehicle or delivery system to highlight the human condition. That’s what’s fundamentally different today. Media is only a conduit. I believe in the power of media and that it can be used in a positive fashion to lead people to the truth. Unfortunately, in our society, it’s primarily being used in a destructive manner.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

‘The Bible’: Mark Burnett, Roma Downey Unveil Their Epic

Executive producer Mark Burnett of “Survivor,” ”The Voice” and “The Celebrity Apprentice” will deliver the biggest project of his TV career next year: “The Bible,” a 10-hour miniseries.

His producing partner is his wife, “Touched by an Angel” star Roma Downey, who plays Mary, the mother of Jesus.

The couple unveiled clips of the made-in-Morocco epic Monday at the International Christian Retail Show in Orlando.

“We don’t go out there waving a flag about our faith and belief,” Burnett said. “We decided to do this, and if we’re going to do it, to do it seriously.”

The plan is for the miniseries to premiere early next year on the History channel. Clips from the recently completed shoot received a standing ovation at the retail show. The scenes focused on Abraham, Moses, Jesus and key moments in the Bible.

In introducing the clips, Downey told the crowd her whole body was shaking. She said they were just back from five months in Morocco.

“It’s a passion project for Mark and myself,” she said. “We managed to get through this job without killing each other.”

Burnett said the project made their faith stronger. “We’ve worked three years on this,” Burnett said. “We love it. We believe in it. There’s a responsibility to the world to bring fresh visual life into this, as you can see in the way we told the political story here of the pressure on Pilate, the pressure on Caiaphas.”

Other scenes were action-packed, and Burnett said he hopes to reach viewers who aren’t familiar with the Bible.

“It’s the most important sacred text,” Burnett said. “Without this Shakespeare wouldn’t have existed, let alone ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘Game of Thrones.’ ”

The clips had a gritty realism unlike many biblical epics, and Hans Zimmer (“The Dark Knight Rises”) supplies the musical score.

“A lot of things in the past were donkeys and sandals,” Burnett said. “This is like a feature film. It looks like a $100 million feature film.”

He declined to discuss the budget but said it’s “substantial” although “certainly not $100 million.” The production had three directors and a crew of 200.

Downey is the best-known name in the cast. “‘Touched by an Angel’ still airs every day all over the world,” Burnett said. “Roma gets offers every week. Turns everything down. This is the first role Roma has really stepped up and played.”

She said the casting of Jesus was most important. “We had some actors lined up, but we felt we hadn’t found the perfect actor,” she said. “We put it out in prayer circles to all of our friends and community.”
Shortly thereafter, they met a Portuguese actor — Diogo Morgado — and immediately realized he was perfect casting when they saw him walking toward their house.

Burnett said they consulted experts on every point in the script. “We’re just going down the middle and telling the stories,” he said.

“We had a lot of offers for this. We chose the History channel carefully,” Burnett said. “This is a big thing. This could actually be bigger than Hatfields & McCoys,” which was a ratings sensation for History. “There’s a bigger audience for this,” he added.

“We had a lot of offers for this. We chose the History channel carefully,” Burnett said. “This is a big thing. This could actually be bigger than Hatfields & McCoys,” which was a ratings sensation for History. “There’s a bigger audience for this,” he added.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Sexual Content in Movies May Predict Teen Sexual Behavior

A recent study has found that exposure to sexual content in movies increases the chances of children adopting risky behavior later in life.

"Adolescents who are exposed to more sexual content in movies start having sex at younger ages, have more sexual partners, and are less likely to use condoms with casual sexual partners," said Ross O'Hara, currently a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Missouri, one of the authors of the study.

For the study, researchers analyzed sexual content in nearly 684 blockbuster movies between 1998 and 2004. They found that even movies with G and PG ratings had high levels of sexual content (such as heavy kissing) and that most recent movies do not portray safe-sex methods.

In the second part of the study, they asked 1,228 participants, between the ages of 12 and 14, to report which movie they had seen from a list of 50 randomly selected recent movies. The researchers then conducted a follow-up survey of these participants after 6 years. Participants were asked about their sexual behavior like when they had their first intercourse, use of a contraceptive method, number of sexual partners, etc.

Research has shown that there is a causal effect of sexual content in media on sexual behaviors of adolescents. Other studies have shown that teen-centered films almost always have sexual content in them. Experts say that exposing children to content that is more consistent with actual sexuality can help them think critically about their sexual behavior.

Much research has shown that adolescents' sexual attitudes and behaviors are influenced by media. But the role of movies has been somewhat neglected, despite other findings that movies are more influential than TV or music," O'Hara said.

Sensation seeking attitudes

Researchers say that sensation seeking attitude, a type of personality trait, may explain why young boys and girls undertake risky activities. Biological changes plus a desire to experience novel things pre-disposes many children to this kind of behavior.

"These movies appear to fundamentally influence their personality through changes in sensation-seeking, which has far-reaching implications for all of their risk-taking behaviors," O'Hara said.

Media as the main source for sexual information

Researchers say that sensation seeking personality may not be the only reason behind teens' risky sexual behavior. To many American children, 57 percent, media is the only source available to get sex-related information and sometimes about how to deal with a complex emotional problem. Thus teens, at times, can't differentiate between reality and fiction, according to the Association for Psychological Science.

The study will be published in a forthcoming edition of Psychological Science

Read more at http://www.medicaldaily.com/news/20120718/10926/sexual-content-media-teens-us.htm#1joxY074rRpUGb2U.99

Which group are you in ? Part 2

Group 5. The Under-the-Radar Group
This group wants to create non-evangelical, mainstream movies with some level of understated Christian content. The problem is that often the Christian content is just an add-on. It lacks a purpose or a justification for its existence. It feels like the writer is manipulating characters and plot points just for the purpose of injecting some Christian message. This group wants to work with Hollywood, but their primary motivation is not to the art form but to the message. They see the art form as a necessary means to an end. What we are left with is an unrealistic view of life.

Group 6. The Quality Circle Group

This is the most difficult to understand of all of the groups. They see that their primarily responsibility and duty as Christians is to create films and media that reflect quality and excellence. They also believe that their work must be marketable. They embrace moral integrity that treats people with love, honesty, and respect. They also believe that your moral integrity demands that you must serve your employer first and not seek to subvert your employer with hidden Christian motives.

I absolutely agree that Christians must embrace excellence; however, there is something missing that this group doesn’t recognize. A media missionary has more than just a responsibility to his/her employer and the media business in general. There is a spiritual component at play which is the will of God and what He wants to do in Hollywood. It’s not an either/or proposition. You can have integrity, believe in excellence, and create marketable work for your employer while also serving a greater purpose.

Group 7. Media Missionary Group

A media missionary must seek a greater purpose. I am sure most Christians have worked in each of these groups and at times have moved back and forth from one group to another. Are they fulfilling their calling as media missionaries. On some level perhaps. But I believe there is another group that goes beyond these six groups. In some ways, it is like entering a fourth dimension. I call it the Media Missionary Group. There are very few in this group, and most may not recognize that they are part of it.

The Media Missionary Group is under the control and direction of the Holy Spirit. Their faith defines who they are as a person, not their filmmaking or media making. They are motivated by something more than what they want. They recognize God at work and join Him in that work. Their work in essence becomes an act of worship to the Lord; therefore, their responsibility and calling is to serve Him through their art. Sounds easy. Right. Not really. It comes with years of experience, wisdom and knowledge.

Becoming a media missionary is a long journey. At some point, you are no longer pursuing projects that you believe will reflect Christian values, but those projects start to pursue you. I called it the fourth dimension because it is entering into a supernatural, spiritual realm. This is a place that will be different for every person. What this looks like will be between you and the Holy Spirit. Without His supernatural influence, favor and enabling, your role as a media missionary is like walking a high wire that can be dangerous and full of pitfalls. When you enter into the Media Missionary Group, you are not concerned with genre, rating, or how marketable the project is. You stop thinking about it. The main reason why we fail in the role of a media missionary is because we are trying to do the work and make the decisions in our own power. The media missionary has no agenda except to do the will of God. Ultimately, it will not be what we think it should look like.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Which group are you in ? - Part 1

How do you function in the entertainment industry as a media missionary so that you can complete your calling. In a practical sense, what projects should you work on. What roles should I accept or reject. How do I function as a Christian in this business. What is my responsibility as a Christian in this industry. These are some of the basic questions that students often ask. These questions get to the heart of the role and purpose of a media missionary. Ask these questions to Christians in the industry, and you will receive many different answers.

The concept of a media missionary is very much a work-in-process. Some Christian see themselves as media missionaries. Some do not. In fact, it’s quite possible that some Christians who reject the label as a media missionary are actually closer to being one.

Seven Christian Groups Working the in the Industry

I have identified seven groups of Christians that work in the entertainment and media industry, some within the system and others outside the system.

Group 1. Full Message Group

This group consists of Christians who predominately make evangelical films. For them the message is more important than viewing filmmaking or media making as an art form. They usually have a laundry list that needs to be checked off, which usually includes a full representation of the Gospel message and spiritual laws. Undoubtedly, a conversion scene will be portrayed at some point in the film. Most people in this group work outside of the Hollywood system.

There is a subgroup I call “Full Message Light”. Although the message is still important, they do believe that the entertainment value of the film has some merit. They are also not as likely to be as dogmatic in the need to check off every item on their laundry list.

Group 2. Conquerors

This group views media in a militaristic way and believe they are at war. Their goal is to infiltrate and conquer Hollywood for Christ. Their strategy can best be summed up as a Trojan horse approach. By entering Hollywood, they can inject mainstream movies with Christian values. In doing so, they can take over Hollywood from within. The problem with the Conquerors is that they don’t view Hollywood as a partner; therefore, they are unlikely to be employed for any length of time. Their rigid philosophical approach to filmmaking and their moral convictions make it difficult for them to relate to anybody in Hollywood. Most likely they are forced back to the Full Message Group.

Group 3. Positive Values Group

This group loves movies and believes in the power of media. They believe that entertainment, first and foremost, should be innocent and harmless. They create positive and uplifting entertainment that reflects family values. No darkness is allowed within their films, television programs or media in general. They are primarily interested in producing G or PG films.

Group 4. Positive Values with an Edge

This group supports many of the principles of the Positive Values Group. But they aim their material at a slightly older audience. They are willing to look at more complex moral issues as well as explore the human condition. They may on occasion support some R-rated movies, such as Schindler’s List and Shawshank Redemption. But, for the most part, they do not venture beyond the PG-13 rating.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Old Road

Welcome to the journey! It’s amazing the older you get, the less you know about how God really works. I’ve been a Christian for 34 years and have been in ministry for over 30 years. I started a media ministry in 1987 and went into full-time ministry 12 years ago. When you think you have nothing new to learn, that’s when you are in real trouble.

God has me on a personal journey to discover his nature, character and personality. It’s time to re-evaluate everything. You would think that after being a Christian for as long as I have there would be nothing new to discover. But you would be wrong. As I go through this process, he wants me to talk about this journey and to be open, honest and transparent. I’m sure this is a journey we can all take. At some point in our lives we are all going to ask who is this God we serve and what is his plan.

I have no plan other than to see where God is at work and join him in that effort. So I ask God each day, what should I be writing about. As I went out on my daily run, he showed me that my passion and love for the open road is a metaphor and a guide for my journey to discover how God works in our lives. I have driven across the country over 20 times. Most people think I’m crazy. I have been on practically every remote or off-the-beaten-path highway you can imagine. I particularly have an interest in Old Route 66. It is the ultimate old highway. It has been called The Mother Road. Amazingly, much of it is still intact, but it is not easy to find or follow. It requires dedication and determination. In many ways it parallels our walk with God. You have to work at it in order to follow the path.

I’m convinced that God can be found out there on the old road. Don’t look for him on the interstate. Why do I like the old road? You never know what’s around the next corner. There’s always something new and different. I find it to be mysterious, magical and often a spiritual journey. Each curve offers a different view. Perhaps the next diner will be the ultimate dining experience. Or what new fascinating roadside attracting could be lurking around the next dip or corner? The open road offers a sense of adventure and excitement. Nothing is more thrilling than getting up early in the morning, checking your map, getting your first cup of coffee and hitting the pavement. As the sun comes up, there is a sense of uncertainty and excitement in the air. Who knows what the day will bring. There is no other experience quite like it.

Perhaps our journey with God should be just like this. So why do I think God is out there on the old road? In life we are always offered a choice. We have free will. If you want to, you can live your life on the interstate, or you can travel the back roads. It’s always our choice. The interstate offers a predictable experience. No matter where you are whether in Florida or Michigan all interstates are basically the same. It’s a very easy place to become complacent and indifferent. If you have been on one interstate, you’ve been on every interstate.

But the old highway is different. There is nothing predictable about it. Each road is different. It has its own course, direction and flow. You have to pay attention because the road has many curves, dips and corners. You cannot put God in a box on the old road. But on the interstate, we are convinced that God is predictable.

The interstate is also convenient. We know exactly when and where the next rest stop, town or interchange will be. It’s also fast and efficient. It allows us to make our plans and meet our goals and objectives. It give us a sense of control.

The old highway is anything but that. Here you have to slow down and take your time. This is always the key to see where God is at work. How do you see God when you’re moving at 70 or 75 miles per hours when you have your own plans and goals to meet? The old road offers no convenience. At any time you can be caught behind slow-moving traffic. Who knows? The next town could be 50 miles ahead with no rest stops.

The interstate is also comfortable. It has smooth pavement. If you have been on the back roads, especially Rt. 66, you know it’s anything but smooth. In fact, the pavement is broken and has been patched up. I think that’s a good representation of our lives as we grow in our faith. God wants us to continue to grow, and it only happens when we encounter life’s bumps and dips. Can you really encounter God on a smooth surface? Did God really call us to a life of convenience?

The old road also follows the contour of the land. It zigzags across the landscapes as if it’s always been there. It fits into the image of the land. The interstate is anything but that. We have recreated the landscape to fit into the needs of the interstate. We have removed mountains, hillsides and valleys and have created elevated bridges to remake the land to fit into our plans. It’s not hard to see God out on the old road where the road flows naturally around rivers, valleys and mountains. On the interstate, we can create God into an image we are comfortable with. On the old road, we have to fit into what God has done and is doing as we flow with the natural landscape of the road.

The interstate is also safe. It is a divided highway with wide lanes. It represents technology and the advancement of man. But you can have a false sense of safety because the interstate has a lot of traffic and people on it moving in the same direction. It becomes easier to convince yourself that this is the right way to go. Because driving the interstate requires little effort, it can also lull you to sleep and you are unaware of danger. The old road is anything but safe. It has oncoming traffic, blind curves and accessible side roads. The old road requires you to be alert and prepared for anything. When driving late at night on a desolate highway in the middle of nowhere with the next town miles ahead, it is just you and God. Is our journey with God supposed to be safe and without dangers? If everything is safe, why would we need God? Are we supposed to be on the edge depending on him to protect us? A journey on the old road requires trusting in God for our protection and provision.

The old highway is connected to the land, people and places that it visits and occupies. It’s a place that you can feel alive and feel the presence of God. You can meet real people with real stories. The interstate offers a disconnected experience. From your window it is as if you can view life without ever experiencing it.

And, finally, the interstate is about a destination—getting somewhere, fulfilling a goal or objective. But the old road is more about the journey. It’s about what you learn and experience along the way and about how you have grown in your faith. It allows you the opportunity to know God better. It’s easy to stay on the interstate. It requires no effort whatsoever. It allows you the opportunity to go with the flow. But if you are like me, you are ready to take the next exit off. Life starts at the off ramp. There is a different road out there—the road less traveled. It offers excitement and adventure. I’m sure if we want to find God, he is more likely to be there on the old road than he is on the interstate.

Trust me. It’s worth the time and the effort to find him out there on the old highway

Monday, July 23, 2012

Why are Artists So Disconnected from the Church?

Can you imagine a world without art? Think about it. No poetry. No paintings. No color. No books. No music. No Dance. No sculpture. And no films. It would be a grey and unimaginary existence. Art helps us connect with our humanity. Ultimately, it can reveal the divine which exists all around us. In many ways, I think that’s exactly the purpose of art—to reveal God’s glory and majesty.

I believe that when we create art it’s through the creative process that we are closest to God. God is a creator. And if we are made in the image of God, at least at some level when we create we are mimicking the very nature of God. After all, isn’t God the supreme artist? He created an amazing canvas—the world you and I live in. And I have no doubt that he is asking each of us to follow his lead.

However, over the years, the subject of art and its relationship to the Christian community has often been controversial and problematic at best. I describe it as a love/hate relationship. I’m not sure the Church completely understands the heart and the mind of the artist.

For over 30 years, I’ve been involved with artists. I’ve come to realize that they often don’t think like most of us do. Not wishing to speak in generalities, I have come to some conclusions. Artists tend to be sensitive, fragile, and wear their emotions on their sleeves. They are easily hurt and offended. They are free-spirited and open to new ideas. They are unconventional and don’t fit into neat categories. The bottom line is creative people just think differently and are more likely to think out of the box. And sometimes that scares the Christian and faith-based community.

As a result, through mistrust and misunderstanding of the artist, the Church has not provided the type of support and encouragement that I think is necessary in helping our artists grow and mature. In fact, I think we are losing our artists at an alarming rate.

Recently, The Barna Research Group published some groundbreaking research. They concluded that 84% of 18–29 year olds that identify themselves as Christians do not understand how their faith has any relevance to their vocation or career. Amazingly, 20% of all young people in the church feel they have a calling to the arts. But if they feel there’s no relevance between and their faith and their vocation as a writer, musician, or filmmaker to name a few then we are missing the best opportunity we have to fulfill the Great Commission, build the Kingdom of God, and be a witness for Christ. What a tragedy! Then the world gets the brightest and the best artists. Think about it, their talents could have been used for for a higher purpose.

One of the major mistakes the Church has made over the years is to force artists to create art that conforms to the image of what the Church believes art should be. In other words, it’s like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. It’s a sad story. But the Christian community prefers its art to be explicit, leaving nothing to the imagination. They would prefer art that can be best described as an instruction manual with detailed diagrams, with no possible discussion about its meaning or origin, and with nothing left to the imagination.

Case in point: The Contemporary Christian music industry is a great example. I worked as a television producer for years on a Christian music video show. There was a joke in the industry that if your song didn’t contain at least three references to Jesus, it wouldn’t play on Christian radio. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know. But I do know that most Christian radio stations had stringent requirements as to what constituted a Christian song. And if you didn’t meet those criteria, you didn’t get on the air. As a Christian recording artist, that meant you wouldn’t sell records or tickets to your concerts. In short, you wouldn’t have a career in contemporary Christian music very long.

Off the record, I met many Christian recording artists who felt they were being held back and who also felt they had to conform to somebody else’s standard as to what they thought art should be. They had no freedom to be the artist they were called to be. Their creativity was cut short.

But this goes on all the time in the Church. If it’s outside of the orthodox of what we think is acceptable, it gets rejected. Now I know in some places in the faith community things have gotten better over the past few years; however, there is still much work to be done. If a young person who felt a calling to go to Hollywood and be a filmmaker went to their mission’s board and asked for support, would they get it? Can you be an artist and go into the secular mainstream world of media and entertainment? Can your art reflect God’s majesty without being explicit? Is there a way you can express the heart of God that connects people to his love and forgiveness that’s totally outside of what we would expect to see in the Church. I think we can do that. And that can be done through art as long as we allow the artist to tap into the divine no matter what that looks like.

Friday, July 20, 2012

'Dark Knight Rises' Opens to Record $28-$30 Mil in Midnight Grosses Amid Shooting

Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises enjoyed record-breaking midnight business -- but now faces the tough task of rolling out amid real-life violence that left a dozen people dead and many others injured after a masked man opened fire in a Colorado theater.

So far, Warner Bros. has no plans to change the film's release plan. Dark Knight Rises opened at 12:01 a.m. Friday in more than 3,700 locations across the country, including the theater in Aurora, Colo., where the shooting occured.

By midday Friday, Dark Knight Rises will be playing in more than 4,400 theaters in North America.

Insiders at various studios say they've heard of no theater closings because of the shooting, but they'll be watching to see how the tragedy affects box office.

Insiders at Warners say the shooting was an isolated incident and that Dark Knight Rises is doing strong matinee business after earning as much as $30 million -- if not more -- in midnight runs. The movie could score the second-best midnight gross of all time if it exceeds the $30.2 million earned by The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn -- Part 1, which had the advantage of being released in 3D

"The company is devastated, but everything is moving forward," one Warners executive said.

In 1999, grosses for The Matrix weren't impacted to a major degree after a shooting inside a theater that left three people did.

Forecast: Can 'Dark Knight Rises' Top 'Avengers' Opening?

Christopher Nolan's Bat-trilogy concludes this weekend with The Dark Knight Rises, and audiences appear poised to rush out in unprecedented numbers to find out exactly how "The Legend Ends."

The Dark Knight Rises
is debuting at 4,404 locations, which is the second-widest release ever behind The Twilight Saga: Eclipse's 4,468 theaters. With over 70 minutes filmed using IMAX cameras, the movie will play at a record 332 IMAX locations, and it's a foregone conclusion that it sets a new record in that format. The bigger question is whether The Dark Knight Rises can steal the opening weekend record away from The Avengers, which established an insanely high bar when it debuted to $207.4 million in May.

If anyone can beat The Avengers, though, it's Batman, who is arguably the most popular character in American pop culture. 1989's Batman set the opening weekend record at the time with $40.5 million; that was eventually topped by Batman Returns ($45.7 million), which was then beat by Batman Forever ($52.8 million). By the time Batman and Robin opened in 1997, though, the pervading silliness had sullied the franchise, and the movie was a financial disappointment at $107.3 million total.

After an eight-year hiatus, Warner Bros. hired up-and-coming writer-director Christopher Nolan to reboot the franchise. Nolan's first installment, Batman Begins, opened slowly but went on to earn a very respectable $205.3 million. The movie was also extremely well-regarded—it has an 8.3 rating on IMDb—and found a very strong after-life on DVD and TV.

Three years later, sequel The Dark Knight pitted Batman against his most-famous foe, The Joker. The anticipation of seeing that conflict play out in Nolan's universe was only amplified by Heath Ledger's untimely death, and the movie went on to set a record with an incredible $158.4 million debut. It ultimately closed with $533.3 million; both the opening weekend record and the total have been passed twice in the years since, though that doesn't lessen the accomplishment. Aside from being financial successful, The Dark Knight is also one of the most widely-seen and widely-liked movies in recent memory: it ranks eight on IMDb's Top 250 list with an 8.9 rating from over 729,000 users.

While initial marketing for The Dark Knight Rises may have relied a little too much on past glories (the first teaser seemed to feature more old footage than new), the campaign eventually found its footing by focusing on a few key areas. First, and most importantly, it's clearly been conveyed that this is the final installment in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy ("The Legend Ends" has been plastered all over the material). Considering studios would prefer to milk a cash cow for as long as possible, this definitive ending is almost unheard-of for an original property. What makes it even more enticing is that audiences don't have the slightest idea how the story will end: in the case of Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith, for example, moviegoers were generally aware that Anakin Skywalker was on his way to becoming Darth Vader.

There's an obvious void in this installment without Heath Ledger's Joker, so the second main tenant of the campaign has been an emphasis on the conflict between Batman and Bane. Many billboards position the two foes facing off against each other, and commercials and trailers tease plenty of physical and mental battles. A hero is only as strong as his villain, and in this case Warner Bros. has done a nice job raising a B-level villain up close to A-level status.

The final major selling point has been the inclusion of Catwoman, played by Anne Hathaway. The gritty saga has to this point been very male-oriented, and the only top-billed female in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight was whoever was playing Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes, Maggie Gyllenhaal). In order to connect with women, who aren't quite as enticed by all the comic book violence, the campaign has given plenty of exposure to Hathaway's sexy, strong character, and it should go a long way to convincing the fairer sex to give this a shot.

A popular debate over the past two months has been whether or not The Dark Knight Rises can top the record-setting $207.4 million Avengers debut. It's an uphill battle, for sure: The Avengers had a boost from 3D ticket pricing, and opened at a time when there wasn't really any competition. Additionally, The Dark Knight Rises has an insanely long runtime (164 minutes) which will prevent it from getting in as many showings per screen as The Avengers.

That being said, there are a handful of things working in favor of The Dark Knight Rises. First, the movie is guaranteed to have a much bigger midnight opening than The Avengers. Four years ago, before midnight movies had really taken off, The Dark Knight set a then-record with $18.5 million. The opportunity to be one of the first to see the conclusion has sparked ridiculous midnight demand among fanboys, and theaters are adding more and more showtimes to accommodate this demand. At 3,700 midnight locations, The Dark Knight Rises should earn at least $30 million, which gives it an early leg up on The Avengers ($18.7 million).

Also thanks to the proliferation of digital projection, theaters should be well-suited to handle the surge of opening weekend demand for The Dark Knight Rises. Yes, Ice Age: Continental Drift and to a lesser extent The Amazing Spider-Man will hold on to most of their screens, but other movies are going to get pushed aside to make room for Batman (at the Arclight theaters in Hollywood and Sherman Oaks, for example, the movie appears to be playing on at least six out of 14 screens this weekend). Tracking indicates that there's more pre-release interest in The Dark Knight Rises than in The Avengers, and if that gap is significant enough, then The Dark Knight Rises can overcome its ticket price disadvantage and claim the all-time opening weekend record.

Since the main selling point appears to be that it is the final installment, a good way to come up with a range for the opening weekend of The Dark Knight Rises is by looking back at other popular series finales. For its five-day opening, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King earned $124.1 million, which was a 22 percent improvement over The Two Towers. Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith jumped 44 percent over its predecessor with a $158.4 million four-day start, while Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 was up 35 percent to $169.2 million over opening weekend. Based on these figures, The Dark Knight Rises should be in line for somewhere between $193 million and $228 million.
Thanks to an attention-grabbing campaign, the exorbitant pent-up demand, and the insane popularity of its predecessor, it's likely that the movie winds up on the higher end of this range, and barely beats The Avengers's $207.4 million record.

Weekend Forecast (July 20-22)
1. The Dark Knight Rises - $214.7 million (new record)
2. Ice Age 4 - $26.6 million (-43%)
3. The Amazing Spider-Man - $16.7 million (-51%)
4. Ted - $13.7 million (-39%)

Bar for Success
The Dark Knight's opening weekend theater average adjusts to approximately $40,000 in 2012 dollars. The Dark Knight Rises needs to match that figure, which translates to $175 million across its 4,404 locations.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Is Family Friendly Programming the Cure?

If you are in pain or feeling sick, you usually go to your family doctor. You want a proper diagnosis. It’s not enough just to treat the symptoms. You want a cure for what ails you. In some instances, your life may actually depend on a correct diagnosis.

What about the media? Some say the media is sick. Obviously, you can find plenty of violence, sex, nudity and bad language. But are these just mere symptoms or the actual disease? Is there a cure? Recently, there’s been an increased effort to produce more family-friendly programming that emphasizes traditional family values. Several individuals, along with various organizations and foundations, are spearheading the effort with increased funding to create both family-friendly movies and television series. The goal is to restore the traditional family hour back to network television.

It’s a lofty goal. But, again, are we treating the right patient? Is the media really the issue? I would agree that family-friendly programming is part of the answer; however, it’s neither the beginning nor the end of a real cure for what ails our culture. The real patient is the media culture, which I define as a force that is capable of creating our reality. Often this is a false reality that we accept as normal and routine.

The media culture can be expressed in four broad concepts. First, it is a life that is lived in the marketplace where everything becomes a form of commercialization. As a result, our worth and value is determined by the size of our bank account. Making money has become our first priority. It seems like everything in life has to be monetized.

Second, the media culture is driven by consumerism. We are convinced to spend all of our money on things that we really don’t need. We are told that our next purchase will bring fulfillment and happiness; however, seldom is this ever the case. Consumerism drives our society. Without it, our entire economy would crash.

Third, the media culture is powered by advertising, marketing and branding. We become the products that we use. Our identity and lifestyle are wrapped around the media we consume and the products which are advertised within that media. It’s a form of psychological brainwashing.

Fourth, the media culture is attained through celebrity. We have been conditioned to want our 15 minutes of fame. Because “it’s about me”, we want to be noticed and exalted. We want to be important just like the people we see in the media. We are taught that we can be just like them; therefore, we seek status, power and recognition. The media culture has an overwriting theme that ties all of these elements together. Its central message is whatever you want or need you should have regardless of the consequences. Everything revolves around what you want; therefore, you are the center of your own personal universe.

When I talk about a media culture as the patient, most people’s eyes sort of gloss over. They want simple answers. It’s just easier to blame the media. Many people believe we can solve our problems by changing the face of media and entertainment with more family-friendly programming. However, the truth is that complex problems require complex solutions. There is no easy answer. As I said, programs that emphasize traditional family values are a good start. But our real problem is addressing the media culture, and that requires a completely different approach than just trying to fix the media.

The reason I wrote my book, The Red Pill, The Cure for Today’s Mass Media Culture, is to address these issues in detail. I believe it offers a correct diagnosis with real solutions. I hope you’ll take a look at it. It’s going to require some time and effort on your part; however, it will change your perspective and view of how you see God at work in your life as well as in every aspect of our society. Putting the principles that are within the book into operation won’t be easy.

It involves awareness, understanding the real issues, coming to terms with how we have been influenced as people of faith by the media culture, educating ourselves, changing our perspective on Hollywood and the broader entertainment industry, understanding how God is at work in Hollywood, redefining what a mission field is, the power of prayer, rethinking how we deal with artists in the church and, ultimately, the raising up, equipping, training and supporting media professionals who think and work as missionaries.

The bottom line is unless we deal with the media culture and its impact on our society, we will continue to have a challenging and difficult time fulfilling the Great Commission and building the Kingdom of God. At the moment, we are stuck in neutral and slipping backwards

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Power of Film

I often talk about the power of film. I’m convinced that movies are the most unique form of all media. There is something remarkably different about the effectiveness and impact of a movie compared to television shows, video games, web content or any other type of electronic image. In fact, film transcends all other forms of media. That means they have a unique place and influence in our society. It’s through films that we can express our wants, fears, hurts and desires. Cinema has a unique ability to shape public perception while educating and enlightening our society. There is no question that movies have changed our perceptions and influenced and impacted the very fabric of culture and our nation. Movies challenge us individually to consider our lifestyle choices as well as the pathway we are currently pursuing.

So why do movies have this unique ability than other media forms? What makes them different? Why are they more capable of communicating powerful messages? Here are five concepts that separate film from all other media experiences.

1 The cinematic experience. There is something very different and profound about entering a dark theater. It is perhaps the last place that we truly shut out the outside world. Where else do drop off of the planet for two hours. No cell phones, beepers or electronic media devices allowed. Think of it, when most of us go on vacation, we check our e-mails. Movies at the theatrical level have our total, undivided attention. If we are spending ten bucks, most of us want to get our money’s worth. We are not in control of the cinematic experience. We cannot hit pause or rewind. We are totally immersed in both sound and image. There is nothing like the big screen because it creates an experience more real in some ways than life itself.

2 Movies are about something. A few years ago, I heard an industry insider say that movies are about something or at least the good ones are. He is absolutely right. Films are not like television shows or web-based content because they are typically anywhere from 90 to 120 minutes in length. In other words, you have to have something of importance to drive two hours of content. Plot will not get it done. Movies require a theme. The characters must need something in order for movies to work on an emotional and psychological level. Movies work best with big ideas such as justice, forgiveness, redemption, freedom, social change, philosophy, or political change. Movies work on a big canvas so they require something important to say in order to hold our attention and interest. Why do films such as Casablanca, Citizen Kane or the Wizard of Oz hold up after all of these years? Because they were all about something. In the case of the Wizard of Oz, it was about finding your way back home and also the thing you seek the most, you always had it within your possession. Those are universal themes that are just as relevant today as they were at the time these movies were produced.

3 The group experience. Where else do we gather with total strangers to share an experience such as viewing a film? We laugh together, cry together and are frightened together. There is something powerful about a group experience. It validates the importance of the message that a film expresses, and most often we see films with friends and family. It always invites a discussion. Afterwards, we may go out to dinner or for coffee, and we often ask each other, “How did the movie impact you. What did you think about this character or that particular scene? Did you understand what the movie was about?” What other forms of media can you think about where we have this kind of profound discussion and dialogue.

4 The journey. Movies most often are about the human condition. What makes us human? Films have the capability of taking us on this journey as we seek answers. We can relate to this because at some level we are all on our own personal journey trying to make sense of the world we live in. All films are part of some journey. It’s expressed through what writers call the “character’s arc”. Films can transcend both space and time. In fact, we can see a character’s entire lifespan in a film. It’s through this process we can see how characters change, whether they are moving toward the truth or away from the truth. We can witness a conflict of values as characters wrestle with their inner demons to move from vice to virtue. Movies are the only form of media that has the ability to present this type of character arc and development. Through this process, we can see our lives played out in the characters portrayed on the big screen.

5 The suspension of reality. When does a movie stop being fiction and take on the form of reality? If the filmmakers have done their job well, there is a point at which the audience crosses a threshold where they start to believe what they see in a movie is reality. It’s no longer a film but a reflection of the real world. I’m convinced that film is the only form of media that can do this convincingly. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about when a movie has the ability to transport us to a different time, age, world, or even a different universe. Can you think of a film that has done that for you? When the experience became so real that you forgot you were watching a movie. When this happens, truth can be communicated on a very deep, personal level. You care very deeply about the characters, their fates and their causes. You can imagine how God can use this experience in our lives to reflect His glory and truth.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Star Wars Effect

What is your favorite movie or television show? Who are your favorite bands? Chances are you probably will not have trouble naming them. But can you discover a pattern to what you like? Some movies and music will stay with us forever. More than likely, your favorites will be from your youth. If you are in your teens or 20s, the music you like now will, undoubtedly, be your favorite music 20 or 30 years from now.

Contemporary music, television, or movies will never have the same impact. For example, I’m in my 50s, and my generation grew up and came of age in the 1970s. So most of my contemporaries like the same music I do, such as the Eagles, Pink Floyd, The Who, and Led Zeppelin to name a few. In other words, I like just about everything that fits into classic rock.

My favorite move is Star Wars. I can’t imagine a movie that will ever have a greater impact on my life. It captivated my imagination and helped me to differentiate between good and evil. It wasn’t just the special effects that caught my attention. It was the ideas being expressed in the film—that one person can make a difference and that we had to combat and face evil no matter what the cost.

Star Wars helped shape my worldview. We are the most accepting of media influence at a younger age. That’s why Star Wars had the opportunity to speak to me on such a profound level. I call it “the Star Wars Effect”. As we get older, this effect starts to diminish. Our worldview becomes more rigid and resistant to new ideas. What we see and hear before we’re 20 will have a major impact on the person we will become as an adult.

Never underestimate the Star Wars effect. You might be surprised that what you believe and why you believe it may have originated from movies, TV shows and other media sources you viewed while growing up. Recently, I watched a couple of films I hadn’t seen in over 30 years. I had forgotten much of the plot; however, I picked up on a few things that seemed strikingly familiar: certain words, speech patterns, and thoughts that are part of my daily life, may very well have originated from these films.

Here’s my main point. If all of this media influence is capable of shaping our worldview, what impact does it have on our decision to accept Christ as our personal Savior? The Barna Group says that 85% of Christians made their decision to accept Christ before age 20. Furthermore, there is only a 6% chance of becoming a Christian after your teen years. What you see and hear before the age of 20 is absolutely critical to your development as a person.

As followers of Christ, we need to embrace and encourage the production of media that supports Christian principles, especially when it is geared to younger audiences. Perhaps, our best opportunity to reach youth as well as older adults is through entertainment and media. Most people have heard the message over and over and, frankly, they are sick of being preached at. But, when you are watching a movie, you are relaxed and more open to the message.

Films can portray and express the total human condition. We can see ourselves in the characters, both good and bad. Movies can help change our perspective and can lead us to ask questions about our own lives. Films express our wants, fears, desires, hurts and conflicts. Media has a unique ability to educate and enlighten us. Movies challenge us to consider our lifestyle choices as well as the pathway we are currently pursuing.

Considering there is only a 6% chance that you will become a Christian after 20, it’s pretty obvious that our current forms of outreach are not effective. Maybe, we should take a closer look at how we can use media and entertainment to reach the world for Christ.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Box Office Report: 'Ice Age: Continental Drift' Stays Afloat with a $46 Million Opening

Ice Age: Continental Drift, the fourth installment in Fox’s prehistoric toon series, didn’t exactly sizzle at the North American box office this weekend, but the movie, which saw its cast of characters head to the open seas on a melting iceberg, kept afloat with an estimated $46 million opening.

Of course, the Ice Age movies have been a phenomenon in international markets. 2009's Dawn of the Dinosaurs, which amassed $886.7 million worldwide, did nearly 78 percent of its business in foreign territories. And the new movie is also showing real strength abroad. Internationally, it grossed $95 million for the weekend, where it has been battling The Amazing Spider-Man for supremacy over the past few weekends. The fourth Ice Age movie's international total to date is $339 million (versus Spider-Man's current international total of $320.4 million) and its worldwide tally has reached $385 million.

"This is the third sequel in a very successful franchise, and we couldn't be happier," said Chris Aronson, Fox president of domestic distribution. "We had a bigger opening weekend than we had with the last one, and it's going to be phenomenally successful. We're on pace to gross probably close to $800 million worldwide, and to do that with the fourth movie in an animated series in remarkable."

The one new wide release to muscle into the crowded North American multiplexes, the 3D animated movie from Blue Sky Studios which took over 3,881 theaters,  captured the top spot, as Sony’s Spider-Man, which dropped just 44 percent from its opening weekend, shifting into second place with $35 million. The film is expected to cross the $200 million mark domestically today to hit $200.9 million by the end of its second weekend.

In foreign markets, Spider-Man snagged another $66.1 million so that its international collections now stand at $320.4 million, and its worldwide tally is $521.5 million.

The PG-rated Ice Age, directed by Steve Martino and Mike Thurmeier, didn’t reach the heights of the second movie in the four-pack, 2006’s Ice Age: The Meltdown, which hit a series high by opening to $68 million. But it did check in on par with the original 2002 movie, which bowed to $46.3 million, and was ahead of the last film,  Dinosaurs, which opened to $41.7 million. The exact opening number may be beside the point, though. The Ice Age movies have been remarkably consistent, grossing between the first’s $176.4 million and the last’s $196.6 million domestically.

With an approving Cinemascore of A-, the newest Ice Age movie is positioned to play well with family audiences over the coming weeks, even if it has had to contend with the continuing strength of Spider-Man and will face the sure-to-be-a-blockbuster arrival of The Dark Knight Rises next weekend. Noting that the last Ice Age movie succeeded despite a date on the calendar between Transformers and Harry Potter entries, Aronson said, "We know full well where we are dated and feel very good about that spot."

The fourth Ice Age augmented its established cast of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Queen Latifah and Denis Leary – Leary, who also appears in Spider-Man gets the weekend’s most valuable player award – with a multi-ethnic line-up of new voices that included Jennifer Lopez, Wanda Sykes, Drake, Nicki Minaj, Keke Palmer and Piolin. That gave the Fox marketing forces plenty of new elements to work with, and the movie was playing particularly strongly in Hispanic markets.

A fourth installment in an animated series is a rarity, and Continental Drift demonstrated the franchise’s continuing appeal by attracting both family and non-family audiences. Its demographic breakdown was evenly split 49 percent male, 51 percent female, and was just as evenly split between under- and over-age-25 moviegoers. It took in about 35 percent of its total gross from 3D screens.

Among the frame's other sophomore titles, Oliver Stone's drug drama Savages, which opened last weekend in the fourth spot with $16 million, moved down to sixth position with $8.7 million. The Universal release has collected $31.5 million to date. Paramount's concert film, Katy Perry: Part of Me, which bowed last weekend at number eight, held on to that slot as it took in an additional $3.7 million, to bring its domestic total to $18.6 million.

The R-rated comedy Ted and the R-rated drama Magic Mike both continued to play strongly. Although Seth McFarlane's Ted moved from second to third position, it picked up $22.1 million to bring the Universal release's purse to $159 million. Steven Soderbergh's Mike held onto the fifth slot as it lured in another $9 million to bring the Warners release's bank account to $91.9 million.

Despite the arrival of Continental Drift, a couple of other animated movies also figured in the top ten. Disney/Pixar's Brave, in its fourth weekend, was number four with $10.7 million and a gross-to-date of $195.6 million. DreamWorks Animation/Paramount's Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted hung on to the tenth slot with $3.5 million as it climbed above the $200 million mark to hit $203.7 million.

Rounding out the top ten, Tyler Perry's Madea's Witness Protection, in its third weekend, was number seven. The Lionsgate release took in $5.6 million, bringing its total to $55.6 million. Focus' resilient indie offering, Moonrise Kingdom, although playing in just 924 locations, secured a spot in ninth place with $3.7 million and a new total of  $32.4 million.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

New studio focuses on faith-friendly flicks

Bobby Downes is no stranger to faith-friendly films and now he's looking to make even more of them for the global market with the launch of his own studio, EchoLight.

Downes has worked on no less than 12 films to date, one of his most recent being Like Dandelion Dust starring Academy Award winner Mira Sorvino.

The first film to be released under EchoLight has its premiere in Hollywood this Saturday ahead of its DVD release on 3 July.

25 Hill tells the story of a young boy and an old man both affected by tragedy who find the faith to go on as they ready a car for the All-American Soap Box Derby.

The film is written and directed by Corbin Bernsen (Rust, Psych, L.A. Law). He stars in the film alongside Nathan Gamble from A Dolphin's Tale and Ralph Waite from TV show "The Waltons".

The soundtrack features music by Dove Award winners Third Day and Brandon Heath.

"At a time when we're intent on rebuilding our country, it's great to celebrate a community event that starts at the family level, showcases our competitive spirit and speaks directly to children about the importance of our family traditions and history," said Bernsen.

Other films slated for release this year are "Undaunted", documenting the early life of Josh McDowell, and "I Am ... Gabriel", starring Dean Cain from TV show Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, and John Schneider, of October Baby.

In addition to the films releasing this year, EchoLight is also on the hunt for new films to distribute as well as new film concepts to turn into movies for the faith-and-family arena.

"At EchoLight, we are taking films from concept to release and working with filmmakers to distribute their already-produced work," says Downes, President of EchoLight.

"It's a one-stop platform for quality filmmaking and faith-and-family content," adds EchoLight chief executive Gen Fukunaga.

EchoLight has just started work on a new feature film starring Erin Bethea, who played Kirk Cameron's wife in Fireproof.

Read more at http://www.christiancinema.com/catalog/newsdesk_info.php?newsdesk_id=2091&src=rss

Friday, July 13, 2012

Forecast: Fourth 'Ice Age' Drifts Into Theaters

In a fairly obvious attempt to stay away from The Dark Knight Rises, the major studios are only releasing one significant movie this weekend.

Ice Age: Continental Drift is debuting at 3,880 locations this weekend, 2,731 of which are playing the movie in 3D. This is only the second significant animated franchise to reach a fourth installment following the Shrek series, and each subsequent chapter has been more successful than the previous one for Ice Age. The most recent entry, 2009's Dawn of the Dinosaurs, earned a very good $196.6 million domestically while setting a foreign animated record with an outstanding $690.1 million haul. It was also well-liked for the most part, scoring a 7.0 rating on IMDb.

Since 2009, though, the landscape for animated sequels has become much more treacherous at the domestic box office. Shrek Forever After tumbled 26 percent from its predecessor, while Kung Fu Panda 2 and Cars 2 fell 23 and 21 percent, respectively. Those were at least better than Happy Feet Two, which lost over half of the original's audience, and non-animated family sequel Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, which was off 39 percent.

Of course, over that same time period there's Toy Story 3, which earned an incredible $415 million, and Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, which is the first entry in its franchise to pass $200 million. These two movies thrived because they appeared to offer something different, something new: for Toy Story 3, it was the daycare setting, while Madagascar 3 had Europe and circus wigs.

For Continental Drift, it's a bit harder to tell what differentiates the movie from the previous Ice Age installments. Some previews make pretty clear that the gang is lost at sea this time around, while others focus on the pratfalls of the Scrat character. There are also some efforts being made to keep the series hip and fresh with the addition of Jennifer Lopez, Nicki Minaj and Drake to the voice cast. None of that provides the coherent, enticing message that was there for the last movie: its Ice Age, but with dinosaurs.

Another challenge for Ice Age is its place on the calendar. Summer 2012 has already seen two $200 million animated movies with Madagascar 3 and Brave, and it's tough to say if there's room for another big hit. Two Summers ago, Despicable Me managed to overcome a similar problem and ultimately earn over $250 million, though that had the advantage of being an original movie.

The point of all of this is not to say that Ice Age: Continental Drift will perform poorly: it's a stable franchise that has plenty of fans, and it's positioned well as the only new nationwide release this weekend. It is, however, very difficult to imagine it getting close to The Meltdown's $68 million debut (Dawn of the Dinosaurs opened on a Wednesday, so it doesn't provide a great opening comparison). Fox is currently expecting an opening in the high-$30-million range.

It's also important to note that, in this case, the domestic performance doesn't really give a good picture of the movie's overall success. Through Wednesday, Continental Drift had already earned $238 million overseas, and it should wind up close to the last movie's record-setting $690.1 million foreign haul.

Forecast (July 13-15)
1. Ice Age 4 - $48.5 million
2. Amazing Spider-Man - $33.5 million (-46%)
3. Ted - $21.2 million (-34%)
4. Brave - $11.2 million (-43%)

Bar for Success
Six years ago without 3D, Ice Age: The Meltdown earned $68 million on its opening weekend, and the two other major animated movies this Summer have also opened north of $60 million. Ice Age: Continental Drift doesn't need to get quite as high: anything over $50 million is a good start for this four-quel.