Friday, November 22, 2013

Transmedia—Is It the Last Great Idea?

We love our buzz words. In fact, every industry from business, science, manufacturing, to marketing all have their own unique set of buzz words. You probably use them in everyday language—out of the box, forward thinking, face time, core competency, boilerplate, and monetize.

Now comes along a new one from the world of marketing and media. The new buzzword that is sweeping Hollywood and the entertainment industry is transmedia. Just like all other buzz words, sometimes its meaning gets lost in the translation. Some people within the entertainment industry, especially at the studio level, are calling transmedia the last great idea. It would seem that the industry is betting the future on this new and emerging concept.

So what exactly is transmedia? It starts with a big idea or concept, which is developed into a story. The question is how do you deliver it in a form of a movie or television show that can maximize its life expectancy and profits? In other words, how do you turn it into something besides a movie or television show?

Transmedia storytelling is about creating multiple platforms and formats. The goal is to use mass media to develop a media franchise. It’s more than just merchandise. That’s been around since the days of Star Wars. The goal is to create an open source where the fans actually take ownership and help create content. You become the artist, and you add content to the original story. Or you enhance the original story.

A perfect example is the hit television series, Lost. Followers created countless websites that catered to fans of the series. The users of the sites created their own mythology, storylines and explanations of Lost. The writers of the show were amazed at the depth and the analysis that the fans brought to the discussion. In reality, the fans had gone beyond the show and created their own world, which was more entertaining than the actual television series.

Transmedia storytelling involves the concept of creating multiple platforms such as video games, books, websites, and spinoffs. But it goes beyond that to include social apps, messaging, phone apps, media plug-ins, and social networks which help create a sense of community. These days, the average Hollywood film costs about $103 million to produce and market. For that kind of money, the industry expects big returns. Although there is a danger in promoting an open source concept, such as transmedia, Hollywood believes it’s a necessity in our current business environment. They are convinced they can create an overreaching narrative structure by implementing the principles of multimedia storytelling.

Today’s “tent Pole” movies are an example of where Hollywood and the entertainment industry is headed. It’s clear that the end game is all about creating the next media franchise, whether that’s Captain America, Thor, The Avengers, or Twilight. Hollywood is interested in creating the next media sensation. Who will step up and fill the shoes of Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean, or Star Wars?

For better or for worse, transmedia storytelling is not only today’s reality but the future. The days of stand-alone movies without the prospects of a sequel or franchise may very well be a fading memory or a distant view in our rear view mirror

Is the Cultural War a Lost Cause?

I think it’s safe to say that most Christians believe the Bible is true and is inspired by God. But, sometimes I think when we read it; we just gloss over it and don’t really look at what it means. Sure, we might think, that’s nice or that’s interesting, however: we move on to the next verse. Case in point, Ephesians 6:12 says, “For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms.”

Interesting scripture isn’t it? Have you ever thought what it really means? It suggests that we are fighting a war, but one that we cannot see which is fought in a different realm than the physical world we live in. How do we apply this in light of the cultural war that Christians have been fighting for the past two generations? Who is our enemy? And who is the battle against?

Are we fighting against Hollywood? Intellectuals, Democrats? Republicans? Homosexuals? Socialists? Humanists? Atheists? Pick any other group that you care to add to my list. I think we have been approaching this issue from the wrong angle. In fact, I believe the cultural war is a lost cause. To go a step further, I don’t believe it was ever winnable in the first place. We are fighting a spiritual battle, not against people in Hollywood or any other place for that matter.

Here’s where I think we have gone off course. First, we want sinners to act like saints. The last time I checked, sinners are sinners. So why are we surprised when they do things that are in violation of God’s laws? I think that many Christians are committed to a course of action where they want to force their will on nonbelievers to conform to our standards. God gave everyone a free will to make that decision on their own. Let me be clear. I am not endorsing sin. But we cannot obtain the results we want through political, social, or any other means. To accept Jesus as Lord and Savior is a spiritual decision that must be made by each individual. That decision is the kind of change that will be reflected in people’s behaviors, beliefs and attitudes.

Second, many Christians see the world as they want it to be, not as the world is in reality. I hate to break the news, but we no longer live in a Christian society or a Christian nation. If we want to be brutally honest, we live in a secular society or what some people call a post-Christian society. There will never be a heaven on earth no matter how much we desire it. So let’s move on. When you start to see the world as it is, your entire perspective will change. We are foreigners in a strange land with customs, rituals, and beliefs that are in direct contract to ours. In other words, you and I are missionaries. Our goal should be to build trust, relationships and friendships with the inhabitants of this strange land that we find ourselves in. We should be building bridges not burning them.

Finally, we as Americans are not the new chosen people. There’s a fair amount of Christians that believe that America’s purpose is to disperse justice and judgment. I do not see one Biblical reference to support this belief. We are way off course when we incorporate patriotism, love of country, the flag, conservative values, and party politics into the Gospel. In essence, we’re creating a new religion or a new gospel. Jesus was not a nationalist. He saw everybody in every country as his brother.

There is just nothing to gain in continuing to fight the cultural war. It’s time to see it for what it is—a spiritual war, not a physical war. Here’s the best strategy: Love people into the Kingdom of God. Don’t be scared of people who look different, think different, or believe different than you. Engage them in conversation and dialogue. And, as you do, demonstrate the love of God and your willingness to submit to His authority. That will defeat the devil at every turn and will fulfill the one commandment Jesus left us with.—love one another. 

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.

Forecast: 'Hunger Games' Sequel to Set Record Books on 'Fire'


This weekend, Katniss Everdeen steps back in to the box office arena with Catching Fire, the sequel to 2012 sensation The Hunger Games. With a more aggressive marketing campaign and an expanded fanbase, it's practically a foregone conclusion at this point that Catching Fire will top the original's $152 million opening—though it's unclear if it's even possible to go much higher.

Ahead of the release of the first movie, it already seemed like Suzanne Collins' young-adult book franchise was on track to become as big as Twilight or Harry Potter. Still, The Hunger Games exceeded sky-high expectations when it opened to $152.5 million, which at the time was the third-highest debut ever. With strong reviews and good word-of-mouth, the movie held well from there, and ended its run with $408 million—that currently ranks 14th all-time, and is higher than any of the Twilight or Harry Potter movies.

In the 20 months since The Hunger Games reached theaters, plenty of people have discovered the movie at home, and millions of additional copies of the books have been sold. Also, Jennifer Lawrence's star has risen thanks in part to a Best Actress win at the Oscars last year (for her performance in Silver Linings Playbook).

Even with such a rabid fanbase, Lionsgate's marketing hasn't rested on its laurels. The advertising blitz is focused on raising the stakes for Katniss, whose actions during the first movie have inadvertently sowed the seeds of revolution in Panem. Also, to distinguish Catching Fire from its predecessor, Lionsgate has opted to show footage from inside the arena; the lush tropical setting is at least slightly different from the first movie's forest locale.

With an expanded fanbase and strong marketing, it's reasonable to assume that Catching Fire can open higher than The Hunger Games. Unfortunately, without a change in ticket pricing (Catching Fire is once again in 2D only), it's tough to open significantly higher than $152 million—the current 2D-only opening weekend record belongs to last July's The Dark Knight Rises at $160.9 million. One benefit the movie has is its countless Thursday night showings, which should account for a minimum of $30 million. Thanks to that burn-off, there should be enough theater availability on Friday, Saturday and Sunday to fill demand. Ultimately, an opening north of $160 million seems like a safe bet.

With another new movie (Delivery Man) and a few solid holdovers (Thor: The Dark World and The Best Man Holiday), this will be one of the biggest weekends ever at the box office. The current record was set on Dec. 25-27, 2009 when the Top 12 earned $259.9 million.

While Catching Fire may not be able to expand significantly on The Hunger Games at the domestic box office, it should do much stronger business overseas. The first movie earned a decent $283.2 million from foreign markets, which only accounted for 41 percent of its worldwide total—typically, big-budget movies do at least 55 percent of their business outside of the U.S. Over the last year, though, the fanbase has grown significantly, and Lionsgate's marketing has been geared towards foreign expansion.

Catching Fire
opened early in Brazil and took in roughly twice as much as the first movie. It expands in to major markets like the U.K., Australia, Germany, Spain, China, South Korea, Russia and Mexico this weekend, and should earn at least $100 million by Sunday.

Opening at 3,036 locations, Delivery Man hopes to serve as counterprogramming against Catching Fire. While it may seem like that's insurmountable competition, opening against a major movie isn't a guaranteed death sentence: The Blind Side scored $34.1 million against The Twilight Saga: New Moon, while Mamma Mia! took in $27.7 million against The Dark Knight.

Still, it's unlikely that Delivery Man makes it that high. While its premise has been clearly articulated, the idea of a sperm donor having 533 children isn't necessarily all that appealing. Beyond that, this looks like the Vince Vaughn show, and Vaughn has been struggling a bit lately at the box office. The Internship and The Dilemma opened to $17.3 million and $17.8 million, respectively, and in each of those Vaughn had strong support (Owen Wilson/Kevin James). At this point, it would be a surprise if Delivery Man could reach that level.

After earning $3.5 million over three weeks of limited release, Dallas Buyers Club expands nationwide in to 666 locations this weekend. Meanwhile, The Christmas Candle—the first movie produced by former U.S. senator Rick Santorum—expands in to around 400 locations after a solid limited debut.

The Weinstein Company releases Philomena in four locations, while Disney releases animated movie in to one theater (the El Capitan in Hollywood) ahead of its nationwide debut on Wednesday.

Forecast (Nov. 22-24)

1. Catching Fire - $167 million
2. Thor 2 - $15.7 million (-57%)
3. Best Man Holiday - $15.5 million (-49%)
4. Delivery Man - $13.7 million

Bar for Success

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire needs to at least match the original movie's $152 million debut. Meanwhile, Delivery Man is in fine shape if it can get to $15 million this weekend.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Things Hollywood Won't Tell You

1. "The real nail-biter? Our balance sheet."

Picture it: captains of industry struggling to stay relevant in a world they no longer understand. It may sound like a Citizen Kane-esque cinematic saga, but it's actually the story of today's studio executives, say film-industry watchers. The U.S. box office take dropped almost 4 percent in 2011, to $10.2 billion, marking the second straight year of decline. The root of the problem, of course, is the growing popularity of home viewing via Netflix and other video-on-demand outlets. Last year, consumer spending on video streaming jumped 50 percent, to $3.4 billion, reports the Digital Entertainment Group. The change has as many implications for the movie business as digital downloading did for the music industry. Granted, Hollywood makes some money from streaming sales. But those digital dimes aren't enough. Add it up and you have a potential crisis, says Christopher Sharrett, a professor of communication and film studies at Seton Hall University: "We could well be seeing the end of motion pictures in theaters."

2. "3-D is for suckers."

So what are moviemakers doing to bring more bodies into theaters? They're revisiting an innovation of decades past: 3-D. And not everyone who tracks Hollywood is wild about the trend, saying it's a passing fad. Plus, action films don't always translate well to 3-D. Boston Globe film writer Ty Burr recently carped about the "sins against the visual cortex" perpetrated by 3-D releases Clash of the Titans,Gulliver's Travels and Green Lantern: They "aren't just terribly written, they're terrible to look at, with actors' faces separated from the backs of their heads," he wrote. Of course, Hollywood doesn't quite see it that way. In a 2010 interview, Clash of the Titans director Louis Leterrier praised today's 3-D, saying what viewers see on the screen is "exactly what it looked like on set." But either way, consumers are paying the price for the new-old technology: Admission to a 3-D flick is generally $3 extra.

3. "Movies are thinly veiled commercials."

Many moviegoers may recall how a trail of Reese's Pieces lures the alien out of hiding in E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. That's classic Hollywood product placement, circa 1982. Attracting an alien nowadays would require much bigger bait: Hollywood has increasingly come to rely on Madison Avenue for income. Indeed, product placement has doubled in value since 2005, to an estimated $1.8 billion. This blurring of the lines between entertainment and advertising -- a practice consumer advocates condemn -- has become so ubiquitous someone even made a movie about it: Documentarian Morgan Spurlock, of Super Size Me fame, spoofed the trend in his 2011 picture Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (he financed the $1.5 million film through sponsorships). But Hollywood argues that it's a necessary part of doing business -- and that ticket sales alone don't cut it: "Somebody has to pay for all this content to be created," says Lindsay Conner, a Los Angeles attorney who has represented film studios.

4. "New York? Chicago? It's all Vancouver."

When Hollywood wants to use a particular city as a backdrop, it faces a choice: scout out settings and deal with potentially pricey or problematic local production crews, or head to a place that has a similar look and is eager to please, particularly when it comes to government financial incentives. Frequently, it chooses the latter, regardless of the possible visual compromise. As a result, some states, such as Michigan and Louisiana, have become hotbeds of production. And Canada -- especially the cities of Toronto and Vancouver -- has become such a hub that it's been dubbed Hollywood North. Even when a specific location is central to a plotline, filmmakers won't hesitate to shoot elsewhere. A case in point: The 2002 Reese Witherspoon romantic comedy Sweet Home Alabama was shot largely in Georgia, because it offered scenic locations and a solid crew of film professionals, explains Michael Fottrell, the film's executive producer. An added bonus, says Fottrell: Some New York scenes could be filmed in Atlanta.

5. "We boost sales by limiting your options."

It should come as no surprise that Hollywood times the release of youth-oriented "popcorn flicks" to the out-of-school summer months. But it might surprise people just how far studios take the timing game the rest of the year: If they deem a film unlikely to make a splash at the box office, industry observers say, they'll release it on a slow, off-season weekend -- so it won't have to compete with higher-profile fare, and so it will require fewer marketing dollars. In short, by minding the calendar (as well as the competition) and ultimately limiting options for moviegoers, studios are able to sell more tickets to movies that might otherwise be commercial disappointments, explains Paul Dergarabedian, president of's box office division. "The scheduling of release dates is like a giant chess match," he says.
6. "We scratch Washington's back..."
Yep, even Hollywood has a lobbying arm: the Motion Picture Association of America, which spent more than $2 million wooing elected officials last year. And its positions aren't always popular with either the public or politicians. Recently, the association, under the stewardship of former U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, pushed for antipiracy legislation designed to keep films from being easily shared and copied online. But the bills were seen as restricting the overall use of the Internet and failed to garner support. After Congress put the legislation on hold, Dodd warned that "those who count on 'Hollywood' for support need to understand that this industry is watching very carefully who's going to stand up for them when their job is at stake." That led some critics to charge that the MPAA was bullying legislators and prompted an online petition asking the White House to "investigate this blatant bribery." The Obama administration declined to comment on the petition.
7. "Based on a true story...loosely."
Truth is often stranger than fiction, which explains Hollywood's enthusiasm for telling true stories. There's just one problem: Sometimes reality gets in the way of the narrative or spoils the tone of a film. So Hollywood changes it. Not everyone necessarily has a problem with that, though. Chris Gardner, the homeless man-turned-financial whiz whose story was chronicled in the 2006 Will Smith picture The Pursuit of Happyness, says he understood why the film's creators changed the age of his son. In real life, the events played out when his child was still in diapers; in the movie, he's 5. The reason? It's hard to capture those poignant father-and-son moments without dialogue, so the child had to be of speaking age. Overall, says Gardner, "I could not be more happy" with the film
8. "What you see isn't what you'll get."
If you've ever felt cheated after seeing a movie that failed to deliver on what its trailer promised, you're not alone. Moviegoers are increasingly sounding the alarm that Hollywood plays a game of bait-and-switch, building marketing campaigns that present a false sense of a picture's style or subject matter. And at least one film buff has gone to the courts to make the case: A Michigan woman filed suit in September against a Hollywood distributor, saying that she was led to believe, through advertising, that the Ryan Gosling thriller Drive was about, well, driving. Instead, the film "bore very little similarity to a chase, or race action film," the suit alleged. And the reaction from Drive producer Graham King? "It's called marketing, you know?" he said in a 2011 interview. The suit was dismissed in March.
9. "We've got a bad case of sequelitis."
It's not an actual illness, but sequelitis is the term movie critics use to describe Hollywood's obsession of late with pictures that have a numeral in their title. Of last year's 10 highest-grossing films worldwide, nine were sequels. (The lone exception? The Smurfs -- and even that's practically a sequel, since the little blue creatures gained earlier fame as stars of an animated television series.) But if moviegoers are happy to buy tickets to these pictures-cum-franchises, who's being harmed? Movie mavens maintain it's stifling originality and resulting in the further commercialization of an industry that's already overcommercialized. "It's like, 'We can milk anything,'" says Sean Phillips, executive producer of the Yahoo Movies website.
10. "Of course we recycle. It pays."
Sequels may represent the artistic equivalent of recycling, but Hollywood also profits from its real leftovers. As recently as a decade ago, studios extracted silver from the physical prints that theaters sent back following a film's run, resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in added profits, according to Edward Jay Epstein, a film-business expert and the author of The Hollywood Economist 2.0. And today, the industry channels used props and costumes to auction houses that cater to the growing market of movie-mad collectors. The only problem with the squeeze-every-penny-out-of-a-picture mentality is that it's part of the "culture of the suits," Epstein says. In that culture, extra pennies go straight into studio coffers or toward blatantly commercial projects -- say, another Smurfs movie. Sure enough, a sequel is already in the works.

Is the World Evil ?

Is it possible that God is speaking to us through media and entertainment? Can you have an encounter with God at the movies? To answer those questions depends on your view of theology. I believe in keeping things simple. Theology doesn’t have to be a big mystery. Your theology is really about who God is. What is God’s nature? What is God saying? What is God about? What does God want me to do? Does God have a plan or vision for my life? Your theology is based on your answers to these questions. And based on your answers, this is how you are going to view the media. How are you going to interpret films? Will you see God at work or not at work in the media? Also your philosophical approach to life will have an impact on your theology, as well as your generational and cultural viewpoint.

Much of the church has embraced a conservative approach to theology. It is one that is very popular throughout the Body of Christ. It recognizes sin is everywhere. The Bible is reduced to a singular story. We live in a world full of sin in need of salvation. Many Christians see the world as bad or evil; therefore, all entertainment and media must also be evil. If we adopt this viewpoint, we are missing a golden opportunity to engage our culture through media and entertainment. 

I John 2:15-16 says, “Do not love the world or the things of the world. If someone loves the world, then love for the Father is not in him because all things of the world—the desires of the old nature, the desires of the eyes and the pretensions of life—are not from the Father but from the world.” THE JEWISH BIBLE

Most people read this scripture and conclude that the world is evil. But is it? Are you telling me when you love a beautiful sunrise that’s evil? Is that not the reflection of the glory of God in His creation? It’s impossible for me to believe that God would not want us to love His creation. This is where I think we get it wrong, It’s not about the love of the physical world or what it offers, but it’s about our attitude. It concerns a proper order of what God has created for us. When we love the things of the world more than we love God, we are putting them above Him. The scripture is really about the old nature. When we embrace God, we will have a proper order of how we view everything in life. This allows us to enjoy His creation and see His glory reflected.

Unfortunately, some Christians have concluded that the world is evil; therefore, Hollywood is evil. So we have fought back with our protests and our boycotts. But nothing is simple in this relationship between the Church and entertainment and media. We have a love/hate relationship. While we are condemning Hollywood, we are embracing some of the things they offer. We want their positive value and family-friendly programming. But I think we fail to see the overall picture of how and where God is at work in entertainment and media. 

Who Am I to Think I Can Change Anything

Have you ever had a discussion with someone that had the potential to change the direction of your life? For good or bad. If you haven’t, I guarantee you that at some point it will happen. And the thing is you might of heard the same words or statements from other people in the past, but this time its different. Somehow the words went to the heart and made an impact on a very personal level. You will have a choice to make, continue on your pathway or abruptly change your course.

A few years ago, I remember having a talk with this guy that utterly shook my world. He was a total stranger, and I don’t even remember his name; however, I do remember that he held a major position within a well-known Christian organization. We were talking about the media and how Christian could make an impact in Hollywood. His words still haunt me today.” How do you think you are going to change Hollywood? How can you have a positive influence in media and entertainment when it seems that you have very little to work with?” Perhaps, from his perspective, I must have seemed crazy.

I was attending a banquet in an old church ( Old St. George in Cincinnati ) that had been converted into a ministry center. A few months earlier I had left my job and founded a media ministry and moved into the basement of Old St.George. This gentleman I was talking to was sitting at my table and had just finished a tour of the building. He asked me what I was doing. I told him I worked in the building, and I had founded a new ministry called Victory Videos.

We were planning on launching a media and training ministry for the development of future media missionaries. We had recently acquired air time to launch a new show on our local ABC affiliate, Channel 9. I also told him we were in the process of building a studio in the basement of the building. I’m sure he could hear the excitement in my voice as I said that we wanted to change culture by producing positive and uplifting entertainment with a Christian message. It’s then that he made the above comments and gave me a look I will never forget. I looked at me as if I was an alien with three eyes. I’m sure he was thinking there’s no way you can change anything or make a difference. He had seen my space. He knew it was a makeshift studio at best with little equipment.

I don’t remember how I answered his question. I’m sure I said something like with God all things are possible. To be honest with you, my confidence was shaken. Maybe he was right. How could I change anything working out of a 130 year old church basement, 2,500 miles from Hollywood with no money or resources? I don’t know if this guy had given up. Maybe he thought the problem was just too big and too complex. Perhaps, he was right. No one person can make a difference. The odds are too overwhelming. Who was I to think I could change anything?

I had a decision to make. Do I move forward or throw in the towel? I know I heard from God to start this ministry. But this guy was right. I had nothing. The next few days were pretty rough, but I was determined to not let this guy talk me out of the decision I had made. So I pressed on. And I learned something along the way. First, you just have to show up and make yourself available. Second, you’ve got to believe that it’s possible to change things. In other words, YOU can make a difference. If you don’t believe this, nothing is going to happen. And, finally, you just have to let God move. Just be a conduit and let Him use you.

Victory Videos went on to do amazing things. We aired on 15 networks and over 200 TV stations worldwide. We had hundreds of e-mails every month from people being impacted by our broadcast. Many people who went through our training program are actually working in Los Angeles as well as elsewhere in the media and entertainment industry. Maybe the best way I could have answered this guy’s question was to say I realize I can only have so much influence and I can only change so much. But if I have influence on one person, that one person can have influence on people that I don’t have access to. That’s how we can make a difference.

We never really get to see the big picture or the influence we really have. It doesn’t make it less true because we don’t see it. Today, I want to give you a word of encouragement. You can make a difference no matter what obstacles you face. And don’t listen to the people who are telling you it’s impossible to change our world.

Whether you work in the media or film industry or any other job, let God use you where you are planted. See your workplace as a mission field. I encourage you to adopt a missional lifestyle by building trust, relationships and friendships. I’m convinced we can change our world by living the principle that Jesus has taught us. We just have to believe it’s possible.

I’m glad I didn’t listen to this guy all those years ago. Trust me. I was discouraged. But I picked myself up because I still had faith that I could make a difference as long as I wasn’t doing it by my talents or in my strength. Don’t stop believing because belief is all we really have. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Forecast: 'Ender,' 'Birds,' 'Vegas' All Target Solid Debuts

From Box Office Mojo

After an October that was strictly feast or famine, the box office looks to level out a bit this weekend. All three new nationwide releases open at over 3,000 locations, and all three have the potential to start with over $20 million.

Opening at 3,407 locations, the long-awaited big screen adaptation of sci-fi novel Ender's Game has the best chance at taking first place. Originally published in 1985, the book has amassed a significant following in the three decades since. That can be a deceiving metric, though, as plenty of adaptations with strong fanbases have only done so-so business at the box office (Eragon, The Golden Compass, and many more).

For a book adaptation to be successful, the marketing needs to find a way to reach beyond the core fans and convince general audience that it's worth checking out. In this area, Ender's Game has struggled a bit. From a story perspective, it's unclear what the immediate stakes are—mankind fended off an alien invasion at some point in the past, but it's hard to tell if there's another one on the immediate horizon. That wouldn't be as big an issue if there was a compelling central character for audiences to rally behind, but unfortunately ads have largely focused on Harrison Ford's gruff military commander instead of title character Ender.

Additionally, Ender's Game may be constrained a bit by the sci-fi genre. Aside from Gravity—which isn't really sci-fi anyway—the genre has had a tough time this year. Elysium and After Earth, for example, opened to just $29.8 million and $27.5 million, respectively, which were both disappointing given their budgets and marketing spend. Without really connecting with mainstream audiences, it's likely that Ender's winds up at around the same level.

One positive sign for Ender's Game, however, is its strong pre-sales data. Fandango is reporting that it's currently outselling Oblivion and Pacific Rim, both of which opened over $37 million.

Free Birds
, the first fully animated movie from effects house Reel FX, opens at 3,736 locations this weekend. Relativity Media has driven awareness with an aggressive marketing campaign, though it hasn't been the most compelling material. Instead of pushing the inventive story (turkeys travel back in time to end Thanksgiving!) commercials have focused exclusively on hijinks that look like they could have been cherry picked from any number of past animated movies.

The movie does have one serious advantage, though—it's opening after an October in which only PG-13 and R rated movies were released. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 dominated the market, though that's basically run its course. As a result, Free Birds will be essentially the only choice for family audiences this weekend, which guarantees a solid debut. Relativity is currently expecting $16 to $19 million, though an opening north of $20 million seems within reach.

Playing at 3,065 theaters, Last Vegas has the potential to be a surprise hit. CBS Films has rolled out a broad, appealing marketing campaign that's connected with generally underserved older audiences. They've also executed a serious word-of-mouth screening program, though the movie only has a 41 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, so it's unclear how strong that word actually is.

It also has iconic stars Robert DeNiro and Michael Douglas, though the real box office draw here may be Morgan Freeman. This year alone, Freeman has lent strong support to Olympus Has Fallen, Oblivion and Now You See Me, all of which opened over $25 million (with Olympus and Now You See Me being major surprises). CBS Films is expecting much less from Last Vegas (around $14 million to start), though they also expect it to be a word-of-mouth hit over the next month or so.

Universal is releasing About Time at 175 theaters this weekend ahead of a planned nationwide expansion next week. The time travel romance is from the director of Love Actually, which has created solid interest among women. Still, with a limited release like this, it's likely that the movie earns less than $2 million this weekend.

In very limited release, Dallas Buyers Club is opening in nine theaters this weekend. The movie has received strong reviews that have specifically called attention to Matthew McConaughey's lead performance, which should drive a lot of initial interest from arthouse audiences. At this point, though, it would be surprising if its story (an HIV-stricken man smuggles drugs in from Mexico) resonates with average moviegoers.

Finally, critically-acclaimed slavery drama 12 Years a Slave expands to 410 theaters and could come close to $5 million.

Forecast (Nov. 1-3)

1. Ender's Game - $26.2 million
2. Free Birds - $22 million
3. Last Vegas - $18.3 million
4. Bad Grandpa - $16 million (-50%)
5. Gravity - $13.6 million (-32%)

Bar for Success

Ender's Game ought to be opening to at least $25 million this weekend. Meanwhile, Free Birds is fine at $20 million, while Last Vegas is in good shape at $15 million.