I recently read a story over at The Wrap cleverly titled, “Faith-Based Movies’ Box Office Goes To Hell” that reported that the more recently released so-called “faith-based” films did not repeat the box office success of the springtime’s Son of God, God’s Not Dead, and Heaven is for Real. You can see the little chart that they made over on the right.
Among people, the article quoted Phil Cooke, who put forward the contention that films made with faith-based themes (as with any films aiming to connect with a subculture) would do better to wave a flag stating clearly that the film contains Christian values, so that the subculture can recognize that the film is okay for them to view.
I respect Phil Cooke, having had some interaction with him over the past couple of years, and I agree that what he is suggesting makes sense from a bottom-line point of view, but (and you might call me naïve) I’m tired of looking at filmmaking by Christians from the bottom-line point of view.
That’s what Hollywood has been doing since Passion of the Christ, and it’s not resulted in many better made films made by Christians – it’s mainly resulted in more and more films that succeed in preaching to the choir. The sign of whether or not they are successful? The infernal bottom-line – because the successful ones get the church bottoms in the seats, and that is all that matters.
Church, the fact that we expect this from our filmmakers – and that we don’t support them if they don’t package their films in a way in which we can approve – borders on sin.
Think about it. One of the clearest commands in Scripture is Matthew 28:19, where Jesus calls his followers to go out into the world and make disciples. But with our filmmakers, we’re happy for them to keep it in the bubble. We want our filmmakers to massage us, make us feel good, make the sinful world look bad, and help us in our attempts to ostracize ourselves from the rest of society.
If you are in the church, and that is true for you, I have a few very important reflection questions for you:
When will we (the church) wake up and release our filmmakers to go out into the world? When will we tell them to get out there and stop worrying about the subculture – just make good movies that draw all kinds of people? After all, we release our missionaries – and support them financially – to go to the corners of the globe and do all sorts of things – medicine, engineering, teaching, social activism. We do this because we trust that they will be living out their Christian faith as they serve the people to whom they’re called, that they will be Christ’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20), that they will represent us – and Christ – with honor and distinction.
But we don’t trust our filmmakers to do the same thing. When will this change?
When will we stop requiring them to raise a banner that identifies them clearly before we agree to support them? When will our mission-minded churches start to seek out filmmakers laboring in the fields outside the bubble to see how we can support their vision – and not just our own?
Now, if you are a filmmaker and you are reading this, I have a few important things to tell you:
You need to know that there are lots and lots of us in the church that want you to be the next Christopher Nolan, or the next Katherine Bigelow, or the next Tomm Moore, or the next Steve McQueen, or the next George Lucas. We want you to make the big summer blockbusters and we want you to make the quiet art house films, we want you to be nominated for best original screenplay or best actress or best director or best picture. We don’t really care if you are nominated for a Dove Award. We don’t really care if you get the Newsboys or Audio Adrenaline to perform on the soundtrack. We will rise up and call you blessed if you don’t involve Duck Dynasty at all.
What do we want from you? We want you to be setting the standard for excellence in filmmaking. We want to be able to look up at you and smile with the knowledge that you are one of ours, laboring away in the fields of the film industry, confident in the knowledge that you are where you are because the God of Heaven placed you there. Praying for you to have an impact on the corner of the world He’s given you to have an impact upon.
And yes, I do understand that you want to feed your family. I understand that you have to pay your student loans. And I understand that the Christian subculture can potentially give huge returns to small investments.
But do it the same way everyone else does it – by becoming excellent at your craft. Let the Hollywood producers worry about tapping into the faith based crowd, because they don’t really care if you are the one they’re pushing or if it’s someone from outside the family (Evan Almighty, anyone? Man of Steel, anyone? Did anyone see the way they pushed Aronofsky’s Noah? And get ready for the push to support the famously irreligious Sir Ridley Scott and his Exodus).
Forget about all of that, and just make really good movies.
Personally, I’m thinking of writing a faith-based screenplay that focuses on a non-Christian Hollywood producer trying to make a faith-based film. It could be one of the most entertaining comedies of the last ten years, and I could even add “Based on a True Story” as a title card.
Post Scriptum – I am not opposed to films made for the Christian subculture. I just wish we could give as much energy and support to those films being made for secular audiences by believers as we do to those being made for us.
Post Post Scriptum – I just found out that Willie Robertson is executive producing the upcoming Left Behind film with Nicolas Cage.
I don’t have words.