Wednesday, September 27, 2006

And the Oscar Goes To...

The issue of the Christian community's attitude to film and media has been a fascinating eye opener for me this past year. Oh I knew the successors of the "Moral Majority" were still out there looking to catch TV programmers out if a suggestive wink was proffered on our screens before 7.30pm...but I didn't know that the sense of moral insecurity bulwarked by a celluloid siege mentality was quite so endemic to such a wide cross section of the body of Christ. I'm not sure how they manage to complete their "Bible in a Year" programmes without confronting the sometimes harsh reality of life - at least they won't be challenged by what they see at the movies.

This posture of cranium enveloping silica insertion is something you won't find over at Filmguide - well you will find it, you just won't find it going unchallenged! Anyways I find it refreshing. I came across this fascinating letter to a new division of Fox - "Fox Faith" raises parallel issues as they relate to the concept of "Christian Film". Some of the bits that stood out for me I highlighted...

Making "Christian" Movies: An Open Letter to Fox Faith
by Marc T. Newman, Ph.D.

Dear Fox Faith:

I read with great interest about 20th Century Fox's launch of your new entertainment division that is dedicated to the production of Christian and family-friendly films – particularly when the About Us section on your website clearly defines your intent: "To be part of Fox Faith a movie has to have overt Christian Content or be derived from the work of a Christian author." As a new brand, I recognize that money may not flow too quickly to your division; perhaps that explains why most of the films will have small budgets -- around $5 million – and that many titles will go straight to DVD. I want to assure you that I, and millions of other people who are hungry for good films, wish you only the best. And, even though the advice comes to you unsolicited, I'd like to share with you a few thoughts on how you might achieve your goal.

The Trouble With "Christian Films"

One of your biggest marketing battles is to convince Christians to see "Christian films," [what a MAGNIFICENT understatement!] a label which, over the years, has come to be nearly synonymous with "bad movie." I was heartened by your desire to skip the proselytizing. Thoughtful writers who happen to be Christians, such as Dorothy Sayers, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Flannery O'Conner would all agree with this choice. The job of preachers (and Christians everywhere) is evangelism. The job of movies is to tell great stories. [amen] Great stories can move us, affect our world view, cause us to consider ideas that we had never entertained before, and lead to open doors for spiritual conversations – but they cannot substitute for them. When films push too hard to preach or moralize, they tend to fail miserably. C.S. Lewis, when asked whether the world needs more Christian writers, replied, "No, we need more writers who are Christian." What Lewis meant was that Christians who want to be writers need to hone their craft so that their stories are compelling to anyone who might read them. He was not interested in ghettoizing a narrow niche of minor, or outright bad, literature written by Christians, for Christians. May God bless you in the search for great new screenwriters and filmmakers who are Christians, and may the Church recognize the need to raise up and support committed, creative artists.

The Audience

Most Christians are grown-ups. [I thought this was an unsubstantiated assertion...] It is unfortunate, but many Christians associate "Christian films" with dull, badly produced movies whose major recommendation is that they are inoffensive to your average 8-year-old. [Another unfounded assertion: I think most 8 year olds are offended] As a result, they do not watch them or select them on DVD. When contemporary films are made about encounters between the Church and, for example, the world of gang-bangers, the "Christianizing" technique of sanitizing the language of the gangsters simply results in an utter lack of authenticity [Yo mother dear, I'm gonna bust a cap in your arm...]. Within Christian circles most are looking for age-appropriate stories with accompanying ratings. I would not show Amistad to a 10-year-old, but I might to a mature 16-year-old. It is a fine film and has a seamlessly-integrated Christian message.The Passion of the Christ demonstrated that Christian audiences are not opposed to violence in films as long as it is authentic and, ultimately, in the service of a higher good. (Those who argued that the violence in The Passion of the Christ was gratuitous know nothing about scourging or crucifixion.) Sure, bad guys can shoot, but good guys should be able to shoot back or otherwise engage the sword to exact justice. Christians also are no strangers to sexuality (they do have kids, after all, and have read The Song of Solomon), but while watching violent behavior is unlikely to cause people to go out and commit similar acts, watching naked people coupling gives rise to lust. The old-fashioned method of fading to black to indicate impending sexuality still works if artfully employed [I've never managed to fade to black...]. The key is quality storytelling. Christian audiences want to be engaged, not lulled into a saccharine coma. That said, unlike some film reviewers who appear to want all films to be dark, edgy, coarse, and offensive – Christian audiences (like most other people) are not opposed to sentimental films (meaning films that evoke just sentiments). They just don't want them to be sappy.

Production Values

I am admittedly a little nervous about the fact that Harrison Ford's salary per film (as reported on the Internet Movie Database) would eat up nearly half of your budget for an entire year's slate. Don't get me wrong. I know that some great-looking pictures have been made for little money. The Illusionist has a beautiful period look, and cost only $16.5 million to make. End of the Spear (a biopic about Christian missionaries) had terrific production value for a $10 million film. But even the "shot on home video" look of Little Miss Sunshine cost $8 million. Show production values – don't skimp. If Christians would have been willing to support poorly-scripted, shabbily-shot Christian movies, the Left Behind films would have been box-office hits.[comment of the letter] As it was, the domestic box office take on Left Behind was less than the projected budget for one of your films.

While not every film can be a summer tent-pole production, most Christians would still rather see fewer titles with greater quality, than a lot of cheap, inoffensive, bland movies. Seek out intriguing stories, pay for clever screenwriters, put a beautiful, well-produced film up on the screen and, just like Field of Dreams told us, "They will come."

Honest Interest

Christian audiences are slowly becoming more media-literate. They have learned their lessons about studios trying to manipulate them into staging boycotts of films offensive to their faith. They will not deliver to studios that they perceive as merely pandering to them. What they want is for you to take them seriously and have an honest interest in their concerns. The vast majority of Christians go to the cinema along with everyone else when a story is good. They will not turn out for films with "overt Christian Content" if the movie is otherwise bad. I think that there is a small, but growing, number of young actors, screenwriters, cinematographers, and directors out there that can deliver the goods, and who create from a Christian worldview. I have seen their work at places like the Angelus Film Festival. And, if you will excuse this brief aside to the other readers of this letter, if the Church continues to complain about the content of films coming out of Hollywood, but will not emotionally, materially, and spiritually support those in our congregations who gravitate toward the arts, then we are the equivalent of those who, as C.S. Lewis explained, "laugh at honor and are surprised to find traitors in our midst." [how true is this?] If we want the product, we need to encourage our producers.

It is my most sincere hope that you will be succeed in creating movies that reflect the worldview of thoughtful Christian filmmakers. I believe that if you do this job well, you will discover that your audience far exceeds your target demographic. After all, who doesn't want to see a great movie?

You can check out the site that this from - You can sign up for weekly reviews if you like that sort of thing, but I prefer the fix I get at filmguide!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"cranium enveloping silica insetion"

took me a while but I think I have it; "head in the sand"?