3 Reasons Why a Christian Film Industry is a Really, Really Bad Idea

“Too little, too late.”

That’s the phrase that kept coming to mind as I started to write a blog post where I, as a Christian, was going to argue against the building of a Christian film industry.

After all, Christians have been trying – on some level – to create a Christian film industry since movies began, and some would argue even earlier.  There were the Billy Graham films of the 1950’s, the apocalyptic Thief in the Night movies of the 1970’s, and a smattering of attempts by different Christian filmmakers during the 1980’s and 1990’s, but these movies barely registered on the radar of people outside of the church.  As far as Hollywood was concerned, Christian movies were provincial affairs, unworthy of notice.

Mel-Gibson-and-Jim-Caviez-007Then in 2004, Mel Gibson shocked everyone to attention with his blood-soaked account of the last twelve hours of the life of Jesus – The Passion of the Christ, a film that cost 30 million to make and earned over 600 million.

Hollywood finally stood up and took notice.

It was as if Gibson, by successfully tapping into the largely untapped market of the “faith based audience”, had singlehandedly uncovered the fabled lost golden city of El Dorado, and the L.A. conquistadors immediately set about strategizing how to best invade and conquer this shining city on a hill.

The Armani-suited conquistadors didn’t waste time, but began attaching themselves to little-known Christian filmmakers who seemed to appeal to the Christian masses, eventually inking deals with the Kendrick brothers (Facing the Giants, Fireproof), Pureflix Entertainment (God’s Not Dead), Cloud Ten Pictures (Left Behind), and many others – helping provide the finances and distribution channels that would permit these filmmakers and film companies to continue making and marketing their products for the Christian audience.

And in the past couple of years we’ve seen several well-known individuals from outside the filmmaking industry also try to tap into the Χριστιανός zeitgeist – Rick Santorum, Glenn Beck, Willie Robertson, to name a few – all doing their part to try and build up a Christian (or politically conservative) filmmaking industry in their own image, or at least one that lines up with their own personal theological interpretation of the faith or political ideology.

And now, here we have this little blog, a small voice crying in the wilderness, making the argument that creating a Christian film industry is absolutely the last thing that we Christians should be trying to do.


1.  The audience – we want them to hang about, don’t we?

A Christian film industry would only succeed in driving the unchurched audience even farther away than they already are.

Hollywood stood up and took notice with Gibson’s “little indie film that could” because of the massive Christian support.  This huge group of people supported The Passion in a way they hadn’t supported a film before.  According to a Barna survey, roughly half of the movie’s audience identified as born again Christian, and the film was widely backed by Christian leaders of all denominational backgrounds because of the heavy lifting done by Mel Gibson to get them on board.

But the interesting thing about The Passion was how it was also seen by people who didn’t consider themselves religious.  That same Barna survey mentioned that one out of three Americans claimed to have seen the movie, a pretty stunning feat for any film.  Mainstream, indie, secular, Christian, whatever… any filmmaker would dream of numbers like that.

Isn’t that something?  The Passion of the Christ had an incredible return on its investment (both financially and spiritually), and while it was marketed to Christians, it was a movie everyone wanted to see, regardless of their faith.  In fact, I first saw The Passion in a packed movie theater in Almaty, Kazakhstan back in 2004, surrounded by people who had little to no idea who Jesus was, and they were blown away by the film.

But the faith-based movers and shakers seem to have forgotten the wide appeal of Gibson’s film.  Christian films continue to be made squarely for Christian audiences – and if some non-Christians happen to get dragged to the film by their Christian friends, then good on them, but the movies aren’t made for them.

Here’s the rub: if the movies were playing in churches, I wouldn’t have a problem!

But the movies aren’t playing in churches.  They’re playing in cinemas.  In malls and multiplexes.  Where people who don’t go to church like to go on a Friday night.

That’s the problem.

left behindWhat do these people see on their Friday night out?  They see Left Behind (RT score 2) playing beside Fury (RT 78) and Birdman (RT 94).

They see Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas (RT 0) playing beside Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar (RT 73) and Disney’s Big Hero 6 (RT 89).

If you aren’t seriously bothered by those comparisons, then I really wonder if you’re paying attention.

And with every subpar film effort made to expressly please the Christian masses, the respect of the non-Christian for our art and – yes – for our faith – goes down.  Just look hereherehere and here.  Those are films made in our name, folks, and you can almost hear the sounds of doors closing as the unchurched audience sees what is done in our name, and checks us off their list of groups to be taken seriously.

The creation of a Christian film industry will not improve this, and conversely, I contend that it will entrench us deeper into our misguided acceptance of poorly written, preachy, unambiguous films with underdeveloped low-dimensional characters, and cartoonish, moustache-twirling non-Christian antagonists.

2.  People don’t like message movies.  Seriously.

A Christian film industry would excel at creating movies that are heavy on message and light on story and character development.

After all, that is what we’ve been creating, almost exclusively, since the dawn of so-called Christian filmmaking.

But here’s the crazy thing: people don’t like message movies, especially poorly made ones.

elysium-dvd-cover-36Remember how angry Christians got when the rumors hit that Darren Aronofsky’s Noah would be a pro-environmentalist screed?  Why?  Because Christians disliked the message.  Neil Blomkcampf and Matt Damon’s Elysium was roundly blasted by conservatives.  Why?  Because they disliked the film’s liberal message.

The message of a movie should be like the caboose of a train – carried along by the other elements of the film – story, dialogue, character, cinematography, acting – and not the other way around.  The message of a well-made film will hit you hours later when you’re lying in your bed, while the message of a poorly-made message-heavy film will steamroll you over while you’re sitting in the cinema.

Granted, if you like the message that the message movie is presenting, you might fool yourself into thinking that you like the movie, but odds are you really only like the message and you’re tolerating the movie.  Again, if we are producing these films only for ourselves, and we’re showing them in churches on Sunday nights or at youth retreats, then we should feel free to knock ourselves out and preach away.

However, we aren’t making our Christian message movies in a vacuum.  The world is watching, and they are not getting our message because they don’t like our message-heavy movies.

3.   Further self-isolation is a big, short-sighted mistake.

A Christian film industry would drive us to close our ranks even more than we already have.

After all, the hard truth is that people who aren’t Christians already rarely read our books.  People who aren’t Christians already have little to no interest in listening to our music.  They typically don’t visit our blogs, subscribe to our magazines, attend our universities, shop in our gift shops, tune into our television programming, or take advice from our talk shows.  They’re rarely interested in attending our churches, our Bible studies, our home groups, our prayer meetings, or our revivals.

We’ve done quite a good job building a subculture for ourselves, isolating ourselves from the influences of the world, but in the process we’re also isolating our influence from the world!

newswAnd now we find ourselves stuck in the gravitational pull of a cultural black hole.  Religion has always been a huge factor in public discourse in the United States, but since a height of relevance in the 1950’s, Christian cultural influence has been in a steady decline.  In another study, the folks at Barna have shown that this decline will continue so that, unless something changes, by the time my one year old is college-aged, he will be in the definite minority.  I should say that he will be in the minority if he is following Christ – and it is my daily prayer that he will be.  But my son will need to know how to live and work in a post-Christian world.

And that post-Christian world that is coming will have very little interest in supporting or encouraging a Christian film industry.


Believe it or not, I’m not saying that we should never make films for Christian audiences.  We should!   They should be fantastic films, just like films made for any subculture can be fantastic!  But that should not be the focus of our efforts.

Rather, we should focus on those Christians trying to make it in Hollywood right now – writers, directors, cinematographers, costume designers, CGI gurus, etc – who are currently studying and working in the Hollywood system, who need to be built up and encouraged by the church while the church still has the resources and relevance to be able to support them!  Rather than insisting that they produce middling message-heavy stories for Christian audiences, we should be encouraging them to learn how to tell their stories and live their lives within the system that will be there in the future.

We should be building these believing artists up so that they can have an impact on the lives of the unchurched writers, directors, cinematographers, costume designers, and CGI gurus with whom they work.

We should be helping them to make movies whose posters would be proudly displayed on any mall cinema or multiplex.

We should be helping them get the training and experience and connections that they can use to make films that would have big premieres on red carpets with paparazzi and gowns and tuxedos and limousines.

We should be providing them with the proper tools and support so that the movies they make can be well-made enough to be nominated for Critic’s awards and People’s Choice Awards and Golden Globes and Oscars.

Instead of putting all our money and resources into creating movies that we can enjoy in our isolation, we should be investing in our filmmakers who are out on the mission field of Hollywood, helping them to make movies that can take the cultural landscape by storm, that can hit the widest of audiences, and trusting God to use those efforts to reach the unchurched audience how HE would reach them.

After all, we are called to live with that unchurched audience, not in closed ranks, regardless of how much influence we have.  We aren’t to be conformed by the world (Romans 12:2), we shouldn’t be of the world (John 15:19), but we are to be salt and light in the dark world (Matthew 5:13-16) and bearers of a great light to the people who walk in darkness (Isaiah 9:2).

Maybe, just maybe, in our generation or the next – that great light will be seen flickering with 70MM projection on an Imax screen, to thunderous applause.

Below are a few good places to start if you want to find some Christians to support in Hollywood.   Just click on the logo to go to the organization’s website:





38 thoughts on “3 Reasons Why a Christian Film Industry is a Really, Really Bad Idea

  1. Great article… Speaking purely as a non-christian raised in a conservative christian home.:) — Since moving from LA to Tennessee, where christianity dominates, I’ve noticed that young christian males like their movies to have at least one (if not all) of the following: swords; wizards; bloody battles; zombies; muscled warriors facing oblivion played by actors who scream their lines, their heaving chests dripping with in sweat and gore. Honestly, if the Frank Miller/Zach Snyder folks adapted the top-ten bible stories, they could probably bank on every Southern dude 12-80 seeing the films at least seven times — dragging countless others along. I think Gibson’s “Passion” connected with that some of that audience. I think Ridley Scott’s “Exodus” could be even more on target. While the bible’s “chosen people” themes can be problematic in a multi-cultural world, the stories it contains are off-the-charts epic. And, like with any market, there’s a saturation point and a risk of audience fatigue if you do nothing but crank out big, bloody bible movies –or– try to launch a bunch of all-bible-all-the-time movie channels. But there’s no reason these movies can’t crossover, be profitable and become a significant part of our annual film production mix. As you mentioned, part of the success of these movies will rely on the core christian audience accepting that every writer/producer/director won’t be a christian and every adaption won’t necessarily agree with a particular denomination’s understanding of the KJB source material. There are a lot of variables to look at. But, IF that audience is ready to be part of the mainstream, I think the mainstream is ready for them. –wt

    • Thanks, Wig Engine, for the thoughtful comment. I think Bible-based movies are alright, and as long as you’re prepared to never please everyone with the interpretation you make, they can work well. However, I long for the day when Christians are making Guardians of the Galaxy, or Hunger Games, or Gone Girl – allowing those worlds to be viewed through the prism of the Christian viewpoint. I read a great article recently that asked why Christians couldn’t make an allegory like Breaking Bad that really delves into ugliness of sin – and I agree. I’m hopeful for those filmmakers who are climbing the ranks, and who have professed a public faith. Like Scott Dickerson, who made The Exorcism of Emily Rose and is currently signed to direct the new Marvel property, Dr. Strange.

      • “Breaking Bad” is a great example… I’ve had a few Bryan Cranston vs. Kirk Cameron conversations with church-going friends/family. “Fire Proof” and “Breaking Bad” are actually very similar tales at their core — both about men who are facing life-altering, real-world dilemmas. However, “Fire Proof (trying sooo hard to be family-friendly and righteous) comes off flatly self-righteous, disingenuous and completely forgettable — while “Breaking Bad” (nasty, gory, violent, foul-mouthed as a TV show can get) was a morality tale that became part of our nation’s social consciousness. So if you judged both as if they were sermons, which one was more successful?

    • Shalom

      As a Man of GOD I have dedicated long hours of my nights to Christian movies since two years.
      It was a research aiming at discovering this tool and checking if movies may be a usefull tool for me to spread the revival message entrusted to me by GOD.
      So what is my conclusion?
      I must acknowledge that after two years I have come back to the conclusion written in the Bible: in the Book of Romans chapter 10 verse 17
      So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the WORD of GOD

      Apart from a marvelleous movie on King Hezekiah available for free on youtube and which is biblical, all the other so called christian movies I have watched since two years are widely far away from the HOLY SCRIPTURES. This is a pure satanic seduction!

      So I will cling unto my usual audio radio programs and my Christian books available for free on internet.

      Definitely, seeing ( a movie) does not bring faith. Hearing ( from audio preachings or a book one is reading) can bring faith if the audio preaching and christian books are Biblical.


      Rev Apostle Joseph TOUBI

  2. Great article and true. If more people felt like this and acted on it, we would see a paradigm shift in the industry. Don’t forget about the 168 Hour Film Project. This international festival is raising up filmmakers around the world. Teams create a film in a week based on a Bible verse. It’s all about telling great stories. Check it out at http://www.168film.com

  3. Love your thoughts here, especially your third point. Jesus did not isolate himself and neither should we. Yes, it’s nice to have a subculture and a Christian book store I can go to to find something specific, but we will never see a non-Christian drop inside.

    What do you think about the Exodus movie coming out soon? From the previews, it looks like it could possibly be a faithful adaptation. But then again, I thought that about Noah too and was SO disappointed.

    • Hi starwarsanon,

      I’m sure there will be parts that are faithful to the Exodus story the way we’ve heard it, and there will be unusual parts. That’s to be expected when you’ve got an established filmmakers interpreting a story that he sees as myth, but also coupled with the experience of Noah. I’m sure the studios were freaked out by the negative response that Christians gave Noah, considering that they thought that particular subset would flock to see it. They lost a LOT of money by letting Aronofsky put up his unorthodox interpretation, and I’m sure that factored into what they let Scott do. But, only time will tell! People are gunshy to see it, that much is for sure. Me? I watched Noah with the understanding that the director wasn’t making the movie for us, and I didn’t mind it so much. But I can see why so many people did.

      • I guess what shocked me with Noah was the fact that it strayed SO far in terms of the whole Noah going to murder his grandchild thing. It really upset me. I fully expected liberties to be taken as it was a Hollywood blockbuster hopeful, but not that far. So I was in the shocked camp.

        I also think you make an EXCELLENT point that these directors interpret the stories in the Bible as a myth. I never thought about it that way. Ever. It really opened up my eyes and I’ve been thinking about it on and off since you wrote that. If I saw a movie on Buddha, Zeus, Ra, or any other religion, I would a) know nothing about the history or true story so b) would not notice if anything was grossly changed and then c) think to myself, “Who cares? It’s juts a myth”. So how can I expect any different if a non-Christian director decides to take on a Christian film? They go into the Bible story, take what they want/need, and flesh it out with other parts that they think is attention-grabbing for an audience.

        Hmmmm. This makes it hard for us to see good Christian films in mainstream, you are right.

      • I think it makes it hard to see good Bible story films, but not Christian films if you think in terms of themes and ideas.

        As I’ve said before, and many others have said, non-Christians make incredible Christian films all the time! They’re just not held back like we are.

  4. Pingback: 3 Reasons Why a Christian Film Industry is a Really, Really Bad Idea, by Nate Flemming | Two-Handed Warriors

  5. Isnt there a difference between Biblical films and Christian Films? why is any story in the OT considered Christian? The problem I have with most christian films is that they are cheesy. The Bible is full of action, adventure, violence all which “Christian” film makers dont seem to get. You can only make so many Jesus, Noah or Moses movies. Example: If a movie is violent, which by the way the Bible is filled with tons of it Christians say its not Christian, if thats the case the Bible is not Biblical either. Thats why were doing everything to make sure our Biblical movies are raw, as the Bible is written,

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  9. I am going to politely disagree with you. Not with your personal desire for having Christian film-makers in the mix in Hollywood but with the road to get there.

    There are so many examples of great singers who break out into the mainstream, and when you read their bio you find out that they used to perform in the Church choir. The Church was the incubator and nurturer of the talent which developed to a capacity to shine on the world stage. Look at how the Christian music industry has come along in the last 5 years or so. The quality of music is on par with secular music and the number of true musicians (as opposed to Christians who can sing a bit) electing to make their career in that genre is increasing.

    The same can be true for Christian movie makers. Talented people need a space to hone their craft, and there is no reason why a Christian movie industry cannot be that space. The Christian movies produced in the last decade have noticeably increased in production quality. I have just watched October Baby and it is a visually very appealing movie. The quality is on the rise. And the financial success of these early endeavors are a small launching pad for future movie makers. The main problem I see is that the low budgets mean that you usually have a producer who is also the writer. A more developed Christian movie industry would see high quality script writers submitting stories to producers. This would be a watershed change in the quality of the stories.

    There is one thing clear to me about the current crop of Christian movies. They are disliked because they present Christian archetypes as characters. These characters are noticeably better than ourselves. Whilst you might criticise the dialogue driven story of Fireproof, you are still hit with a realisation “hours later when you are lying in bed”. It is “that character is better, more courageous, than me and I need to lift myself up to that level”.
    In modern Hollywood movies, the characters are always worse than you, and the message you are left with is “I’m okay but society is screwed up”. This is why I think critics mostly hate these movies, even though they couch their criticism in other words that don’t do justice to the small budgets they were made with. They simply reject the archetypes being presented. But Jesus is the greatest archetype. We need to lift ourselves up, lest we sink down with the culture.

    Make no mistake, I see a real separation occurring now. The culture is sinking to a level where Christians cannot relate to it. It is as if they are being held fast from above and are peeling off the culture as it descends. It is happening in Christian music, it will happen with Christian movies. It gives Christians a space where we can be wholly open to the message contained in the story. IMO, the separation will be good because we will see the Christian movie industry as a shining light for our culture. Nobody likes a watered down message. Give it to us as forcefully and as truthfully as you can.

    • Hi Andrew,

      Thanks for your response, and for being a part of the dialogue.

      Yes, CCM is better now than it was. And I find it intriguing that most CCM labels these days have been bought up by secular music companies. So, the quality of the work has grown as the secular companies have exerted influence. I wonder what that says about the future of Christian-made film?

      Regarding your suggestion that up-and-coming Christian filmmakers can hone their craft from within a Christian film industry, I don’t disagree that it can happen, I just question how well it will happen, given the current state of things. 

Let me give an example. Imagine a person wants to become a doctor. In that person’s town, several Christian doctors – who were essentially self-educated – have a cooperative, and they take on students. The person who wants to become a doctor has a choice: First, he or she can go to that cooperative and learn how to be a doctor from those self-educated doctors. Or, second, that person can apply to and attend a secular medical school. Which choice will help make that person the best doctor he or she can be? Which choice would make the doctor you would most trust to treat your sick child?

      As much as I appreciate what homegrown Christian filmmakers are accomplishing, I would much rather watch a film made by a Christian who has been trained in the trenches of a Hollywood feature film than a film by a Christian who has learned from other Christians who essentially taught themselves. This is why I think the church is missing the boat by not being more proactive supporting believers who have made the move to Hollywood, and who are learning their craft from the best, all while trying to be salt and light. This is why I trumpet the work of organizations like Act One and the Hollywood Prayer Network every chance I get.

      That being said, I do recognize that (for example) the Kendrick brothers have learned a LOT since the days of Flywheel and Facing the Giants, and they certainly have quite a bit to teach an up-and-coming filmmaker. I’m glad to hear that in making their latest film, they involved several young filmmakers in the process as an experiment in mentorship. I pray that the seeds they plant will grow healthy, creative, risk-taking filmmakers.

      Regarding your comment about the archetypal characters in typical Christian films, I do agree with your observation, but not wholly with your conclusion. While having a character who demonstrates qualities better than ourselves (Superman, Aragorn, Aslan, and even – yes – Jesus), typical Christian films do this way too much with their Christian characters. For me, I want to see true-to-life characters who struggle, who make good and bad decisions, who find strength in making hard decisions. For example, I was extremely encouraged by the relationships shown in The Song, because the main character makes some pretty terrible choices, but ultimately finds redemption. The same with the Rich Mullins character in Ragamuffin.

      Regarding the Christian response to critics, I’d invite you to read an article I wrote on that subject. You can find it here.

 Thanks again!


      • Thanks for responding Nate. You’ve given me a few points to consider. I think I’ve got something to say about critics in that blogpost.

        I think we are talking about a chicken and egg thing here. What comes first, the technical skills to produce great Christian movies, or the industry that produces great Christian movies. I’ve got a brother in law who was just passionate about making movies. He did a one year film industry course, landed a low level job which turned into and editing role on a well known television show. He has just finished sub-editing a big budget Hollywood movie and was hand-picked for another big budget movie. This is all in Australia, which has a very limited number of movies being made for Hollywood. As far as I can see, the pathway through Hollywood is already there for people who want it and want to work really, really hard. However, my brother in law has gone into it the movie industry with the idea to make Hollywood movies, not to hone his skills in order to make Christian movies some time later. I don’t think you can serve your apprenticeship as some kind of spy, learning the tricks of the trade. The industry is very competitive and is sorted into cliques. People work with people they know and trust. You have to start at the bottom and prove yourself. A director will bring all their own technical people onto a job because he knows they will perform. You see various packs of actors who work with and support each other through supporting roles in each others movies. Therefore, it seems to me that if you want a career in Hollywood, you have to invest yourself 100% in Hollywood. It just doesn’t make sense to serve an apprenticeship, building trust with certain producers and directors only to jump ship by going into Christian movies later.

        There is also a chance that if you expose your Christian identity in Hollywood, you will find your career sidetracked. There are many examples of this happening in today’s culture. And without trying to sound alarmist, there is a growing trend among liberal atheists in entertainment who are getting less liberal about religion. Take Chris O’Dowd as one example who is quoted as saying the following:
        “For most of my life, I’ve been, ‘Hey, I’m not into it, but I respect your right to believe whatever you want’. But as time goes on, weirdly, I’m growing less liberal. I’m more like, ‘No, religion is ruining the world, you need to stop!’.
        “There’s going to be a turning point where it’s going to be like racism. You know, ‘You’re not allowed to say that weird shit! It’s mad! And you’re making everybody crazy!“
        How many people in the movie industry have to have their PR people draft an apology in order to limit damage to their reputation in the industry for something they have said, yet Chris O’Dowd does not feel the need to get his PR people involved. It is becoming more and more okay for people in entertainment to air anti-religion views with impunity. If I was a Christian going into Hollywood, that would be very concerning to me. I would feel the need to hide my Christianity.

        That’s why I think it is very reasonable to have a Christian movie industry develop itself independently. Noone has to hide their faith. If they are unsure of how to proceed on a certain day, they can get together and pray for guidance.

        But where I do agree with you is that we should demand movies of increasingly better quality, in all aspects of their production. And I think the current producers of Christian movies are acknowledging the technical weaknesses in their productions. So the only way I can see this happening is to support what we have, and pay the $15 or $25 for a Christian DVD, to keep the current distribution channels open. We just got Netflix here in Australia. Despite there being over 100 Christian titles on US Netflix, we had 4 in that category here. They consisted of “the Passion of the Christ”, “Zeitgeist”, “The Secret” and some atheist documentary. This is how I see Hollywood supporting Christian viewers. So I hope you’ll excuse me for wanting to fight for the content that I want to see, even if it’s not quite up to scratch at the moment.

  10. I think I’ll respond to your blog about critics here because it includes the points about archetypes.

    It was interesting to read one comment on Rotten Tomatoes about “For Greater Glory” in which the critic said that the movie was so much from a Catholic Church point of view that they doubted the truth of the message. This was despite the fact that it was really freedom of religion that was the centerpiece of the movie, not the Catholic Church. It has 18% approval rating on RT.

    I recently watched “No” on netflix, which has a 93% approval rating, despite the directors choice to shoot the film using camera technology from 1980s television. I found the movie hard to watch. And some have criticised the movie for focussing too much on the PR campaign of the Pinochet plebiscite rather than the grass roots freedom movement in Chile. So, here you have two movies, a Christian story about fighting for freedom which has 18% approval despite a big budget look and another which has 93% approval despite being technically inferior. Both are historical and both have been criticised for not being fully truthful to the full history (how many movies are fully truthful?) I personally liked both movies about the same.

    Being a critic is very subjective. It is always about using the knowledge of how films are made to justify your opinion of the movie. It is never about evaluating how well the various technical aspects were executed to in order to arrive at a conclusion that the movie must therefore be a good one. It is always opinion first, “I didn’t like it – and here is the evidence I use to support that opinion” or “I liked it – and here is the evidence I use”.

    So I guess I have two points. The first one, is that if people are going to criticise Rotten Tomatoes, they have to speak the language of a film critic. You have to be able to point out how their justifications don’t necessarily lead to the conclusion. It is obvious that just because a movie has an amateur look, it can still be highly regarded, and vice verca.

    The second is that Christian movies can fall into their own genre. Within that genre there can be multiple sub-genres, each with their own story telling devices. Like I said earlier, the use of archetypes to inspire the viewer is a valid device that is rarely used in Hollywood movies (Superman is no longer an archetype. He is as flawed as the rest of us), but that doesn’t make it illegitimate. If I understand Christianity correctly, if it can be summarised, it is about faith in Christ and following Him: love of God, love of neighbour, taking up your cross. To accept Christ as Lord is to want to make your body a temple for the Holy Spirit. This will have consequences for the characters that are displayed. Yes, many of them are going to have their own crosses. But it is not necessarily going to result in a standard Hollywood “flawed character”. In the books of Lord of the Rings, archetypes were put in a great battle of good versus evil and they stayed true to their archetypes. It was providence which dictated the unfolding of events. In the movies Lord of the Rings, the same characters were shown with weaknesses. In this they strayed from JRR Tolkiens intent and I don’t think it made them better characters. It is in this that I think modern critics are largely ignorant of what Christian movies are trying to do. Maybe they never studied this genre of films in college. Maybe as Christian movies develop we will be able to identify them as being an archetypal movie versus a more human study of suffering.

    In the end, a work of art stands on its own. It does not have to conform to the paradigm of what a critic considers a “good movie”. If it is enjoyed, if it resonates with its audience it is a success. Even if it doesn’t, it still simply exists. It has been created.

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  12. In the 16 years since faith-based films emerged in the public eye the same shortcomings have been repeated over and over again yet the Christian film industry, despite this persistent criticism, continues to pump out these same “poorly crafted” movies. So I think the greater question is why. Why are we unable to move into a place of influence? Why are we unable to shape the industry from the inside out? To be the innovators, the benchmark for everyone else?

    I think the Christian film industry is overall content with its present position in America and will maintain its current trajectory unless we focus our efforts on understanding the WHY, the thing that drives it.

    • Because they are the safe movies. Look at the recent Bible movies that took risks… they were crucified by Christians. Noah, Exodus, these were incredibly risky movies – the choices they made, the way they made audiences (even Christians) re-examine their preconceptions about Scripture… this is the kind of prophetic work our filmmakers should be supported to do – but the guys holding the purse strings will only ever play it conservative. Hoping for another preach-to-the-choir mess and success like God’s Not Dead.

      • I think the “safe movies”, as you call them, are a by-product of the WHY.

        As I see it, the issue at hand is the American Church has felt and continues to feel powerless to Hollywood and its influence on the America. When Hollywood broke free of the Church’s control in the late 60s (i.e. the end of the Production Code), the American Church retreated, bitter and defeated, and did their own thing. Making their own movies and distributing them to local churches (I remember those screenings growing up). The point is, the Christian film industry was partially established out of a spirit of rejection.

        So one segment of the Church has made an enemy out of the lost. The other half, ironically, rejects the first half; the half that already feels rejected. Hollywood, in turn, rejects both halves because “Christian” has negative connotations. And the cycle continues. There’s a lot of fear here. And it’s holding us back.

        I believe to become the culture changers the Lord purposed we, as the Church, need to dole out a lot of forgiveness. Forgiveness to Hollywood; to Christian filmmakers, past and present; to the financiers of Christian movies; to Christian audiences; and anyone else I’m forgetting. We’ve made this battle about earthly things (e.g. storytelling, craft) when the battle is in the spirit realm. We need to allow “perfect love to cast out all fear”.

        Nehemiah wept and repented first, aligning his whole being with the Lord. Then he sought the wisdom of the Lord as to how to proceed. The result, crazy favor and protection. You have been blessed with quite a following – people listen to you. I want to encourage you, if resonate with my sentiments (and I’ve made any kind of sense in all this), to use this microphone the Father has given you to lead people towards a response of love rather than rejection.

      • Hi Kerwin,

        Thanks for the thoughtful response. I would disagree on one thing – that the separation happened because of Hollywood pulling away in the 60’s. It goes back much farther than that – to the church (at least the Protestant church) letting go of any possible influence from the very beginning – when the former vaudeville guys made the move from NYC to LA in the early part of the 20th century and started film. Lots of Christians rejected movies way back in those days, and we didn’t really begin to see the potential in film until the late 60’s. So, we’re pretty late to the game.

        I will agree that we need to be people of forgiveness, but I would also add that we need to be willing to let go of our pride and realize that we have a lot to learn from the professionals. The attitude I’ve seen from some Christian filmmakers in this regard is just mind-boggling to me, as I wrote in my article.

        Also, while I definitely agree that the battle is spiritual, I’d also argue that it’s earthly, too – found in the need for us to do things in as excellent way as possible (storytelling, craft, etc).

        And while I don’t think my microphone is very influential (if it is, then it’s a definite example of The Balaam’s Donkey effect in action), I hope I do come across promoting a response of love! If I’m coming across as promoting rejection, please let me know how so I can deal with that.

        Thanks again!

      • Hi Nate,

        With regard to forgiveness + the humility to learn from others, we are in complete agreement. I worked my way up the in the Industry from PA to now Post Producer, and everything in between. I’m a better filmmaker for every one of these experiences and the knowledge I gained now acts as a springboard to my future goal of directing.

        I still place a greater emphasis on forgiveness, though. One reason for the current state of Christian films is they are fundamentally a reaction to Hollywood. Mainstream films are “poisoning” our culture with all the swearing, sex/nudity, violence, and worldly views so Christian filmmakers declare their movies will have the opposite and thus becoming a cinema based on lack. And why?

        It goes back to rejection. Rejection leads powerlessness, and powerlessness to hopelessness. And hopelessness to a spirit of poverty. So it doesn’t matter how technically proficient Christian filmmakers become, if at the core is this belief of rejection then it all means nothing; love has to be the foundation (1 Corinthians 13). Everything else is gravy.

        Your article is entitled “3 Reasons Why A Christian Film Industry Is A Really, Really Bad Idea” and each of your three arguments highlights the negative. These feel to me like messages of rejection. And I know. I used to get really frustrated with Christian films and filmmakers (ok, at times I still do). I couldn’t figure out how they could get everything wrong, breaking every rule of filmmaking. I ranted and raved – a lot. But, long story short, the Lord worked in the last 10 years to soften my heart, to expose my pride and break it. Every day I have to intentionally surrender my own sense of rejection – in film, in family, at work, etc. – so I can give life to the atmosphere around me. I have to remind myself daily that I’ve been equipped by Christ for building up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12-13).

        With that said, Nate, I don’t believe you’re even close to a donkey. Your blog actively engages people of all religious backgrounds in meaningful and respectful conversations. Not an easy task in this day. You’re obviously anointed with favor and I believe the Lord wants to remove the weight of any disappointment or resentment you have towards the Christian film industry so you can “run with endurance the race that is set before” you (Hebrews 12:1).

        “I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!
        Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”

      • Hi Kerwin,

        Thanks so much for the encouragement, and the good word. I especially appreciate your thoughts on my expectations and feelings towards Christian filmmaking. I try to approach that segment of our family with grace, because I know that most folks involved in filmmaking have good intentions and worthy goals. Also, I know how hard it is to make ANYTHING, and I respect when people give creating a go. And I also try to avoid being snarky, but may not always succeed.

        Your comment influenced my recent film review – I approached it more looking for the positives, as well as exploring the things that I didn’t feel work, and I think it wound up being a balanced review as a result.

        Glad to have you visiting the blog!

      • Hi Nate,

        I enjoyed our “conversation” and am honored you would adopt some of my ideas. Be blessed with an abundance of grace in all your endeavors.

  13. I can see where you are coming from, but I still don’t understand your logic.
    I am a strong, 17 year old Christian, and I happen to be one of those who hopes to build the said Christian industry. (Web site: hesalivestudios.wordpress.com)
    I also can see your main point; we should not use a “in your face message” that rams down people’s throats. I agree completely on that point.

    However, I disagree with your alternative. For me it feels way too much like “diplomacy”, Hollywood has already gone too far, they KNOW they get more money from family friendly films; but they refuse to make them. I feel that talking those few Christians inside of Hollywood and asking them to take a stand is tame, too tame for what we are facing today.

    Instead we need to focus on GOD. Pray to Him, to work in people’s hearts. For those who make the films make GOD honoring ones. That said, I do not think a movie message is the right way to go, I agree completely with that. However, a more effective move is to build a company that the Christians in Hollywood, Disney etc. will WANT to work in. I feel that an approach that hides GOD in the film (GOD is in there, and so is the message but it is not being thrust upon people, they are more likely the realize the message as they lay on their bed that night ), but include talent, special effects, in depth character development, and excellent sound effects. I am making what I call “the thousand dollar Gamble”. That is people aren’t going to care what is in the film as long as it has the awesome effects, quality acting, etc.

    He’s Alive Studios has yet to launch, as of yet, I the founder am the only one on board. Google search doesn’t even recognize the site yet. I still feel however that the right approach is the one I said above, and further detail on my site.
    May the Grace and Peace of our LORD JESUS CHRIST be with you.

    For the Kingdom and Glory of GOD,
    The Founder of H.A.S.

    • Hi,

      Thanks for the comment. And I wish you the best in your efforts to make films that glorify God. Looking at your blog, it looks like you have some ambitious projects on the drawing board, and I definitely applaud ambition. Also, I think it would be great to have a Christian-led film company with the reputation of a Pixar – the kind of place where everyone wanted to work. It happened with Big Idea (Veggietales), but that company also fell apart. (I’d highly recommend Phil Vischer’s story about the rise and fall of Big Idea – it’s a great cautionary tale for believers).

      I’m curious… you mention that you are 17. What is your experience with filmmaking? Do you have any intentions to go to film school, or attend a film program at a regular university, or the like? Or maybe you plan to intern with filmmakers to learn on the ground? Or is the plan to just educate yourself using trial and error? I’m curious, again, because of the epic scope of the projects you list on the blog… these aren’t little romcoms you can shoot with an iPhone! To do them justice, you’ll definitely need training. I’d love to hear your plans.

      I do have one disagreement about your comment. You wrote that Hollywood refuses to make family friendly films. But a quick Google search for “family friendly films”, turns up example after example of feature family-friendly films made by Hollywood filmmakers. You’re right… if they make money, Hollywood will exploit them. Even Christian films are starting to experience this as Hollywood gets more in the business of making films for the Christian audience.

      The long-short of it all is that if a Christian screenwriter writes a great family friendly screenplay, then they’ll have just as many opportunities to have it made as a non-Christian. But, their odds increase if they’re in Hollywood – working in the system – to earn the right to get it made.

      That, or they’ll have to have a rich uncle who will pay for it all.

      Thanks, and I look forward to hearing back from you!

  14. As far as experience right now I don’t have much, I’ve been an extra twice. For future I am planing to go to Liberty University, or doing an internship with Advent Film Group: http://www.adventfilmmakers.org. They have a very intensive internship program that includes screen credits. They are my first choice.
    I actually just recently watched the three part session where Phil Vischer talks about how Big Ideas fell apart, it was definitely sobering but it reminded me that I need to make GOD my focal point.
    Hollywood does make some family friendly movies I agree, but not as much as they used to, which is part of the reason I decided to completely break with them.

    As far as a rich uncle I’ll admit I don’t have one. But I do have an extremely rich Father, and He’s been teaching me just how much prayer can do, from keeping dishwashers running to helping sick people get better. 🙂
    As of now i’m just following what I feel GOD wants me to do, and am waiting for the next steps.

    • Sounds good.

      I’ve heard good things about Liberty’s film program. I’d also recommend Regent, Asbury and Biola. I’m not familiar with Advent Film Group, but they look like they have some interesting things going on.

      The important thing is that you get trained, so you don’t just repeat the cycle of technically poorly made Christian films. I give you props for working in that direction. I think a lot of people let their sense of God’s call blind them to the fact that they are not equipped, and they end up not achieving their full potential because they see God as a magic genie who will just magically impart abilities to them.

      Incidentally, I just came across this article about Pete Doctor, the Pixar director who made Up and the upcoming Inside Out, and I present him as an example of a believer working within the industry, making some truly excellent material, and reflecting Christ in a very positive way to his non-Christian peers.



      • I read the article, it was very interesting!
        As far as prepping I agree 100%, I do need to be trained, but also the idea of working with the colleges or internship will result in a solid network which is also important for launching anything. 🙂 As far as equipment I definitely won’t be using I-Phones, they just don’t work very well. I’m actually an amateur photographer self- taught. But I am always looking for a way to learn. And have reached the conclusion that some things (like cameras) just don’t take good videos. In the long run I hope to get my hands on “RED” equipment, though at that point it will outdated I think. Most of the projects are for once I have the better equipment. At the moment I trying to come up with several “starter” projects. I hope this summer will leave time for that….

        Thanks for the help!
        Founder of H.A.S.

  15. Pingback: How George Lucas Helped Shape The Christian Film Industry | Thimblerig's Ark

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  18. I agree, we need Christians willing to make ‘big’ films in different genres without preaching through movies. We need films that carry the Christian worldview that can reach new audiences without shoving an obvious message down people’s throats.

  19. Pingback: Hollywood and Christianity | Media

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