My Christian Filmmaking Birthday Wish

Today’s my birthday.

Let me explain what I want for my birthday. It’s admittedly an odd birthday wish, but the heart wants what it wants.

I want Christians to know that the best thing you can do to help Christian filmmakers is to demand excellence from their craft.

In short, I want the Big Christian Audience to stop settling for mediocrity-as-long-as-the-Message-is-in-place.

Christian, don’t be satisfied just to see your worldview portrayed onscreen, and don’t think that seeing your worldview on screen means a success in filmmaking. Don’t think that even if a gazillion other Christians pay to go see it.

Box office does not equal excellence in filmmaking.

Christian, tell the filmmakers that you want more – that you want the films to stir the pot, that you want films made for you to make you uncomfortable, to make you think, to make you reconsider long-held notions. Not just to scratch where you itch, and reinforce what you already believe. That’s too easy.

That’s what the beancounters think is enough.

But it’s not.

You should have grown tired of being pandered to by now. You should have stopped going to see movies just because you know that the movie will talk about Jesus in a positive way.

Bumper stickers do that. Jesus t-shirts do that. And you should have told them that that is not enough any more.

But you haven’t. And I don’t get it.

At this point, you should be telling them that you want movies to inspire you in surprising ways, to build you up unconventionally. And to surprise you, as a Christian. And to challenge you. Challenge is good. Challenge is what makes you grow.

And you do want to grow, don’t you?

You should be telling them that you don’t want the movies made by Christians to just be the cinematic versions of the books that we publish and the music that we write. Because too much of that is too often too pedestrian, and too self-indulgent, and ultimately – not helpful. Movies take too much time, too much energy, and come too infrequently to be wasted, and yet – time after time – our movies are doing the same thing: preaching to the choir.

We should want more.

We should demand more.

We should demand that the movies should be different. For starters, our movies should be for outside the bubble, too. And for the most part, up until now, they’ve only been for us. Oh, we’ve pretended that they are for folks outside the church, but nobody outside the church is interested, because we’re always so message-heavy, and we don’t appear to consider how they will receive it.

“Collateral damage evangelism”, indeed.

Joe Erwin, the director of Mom’s Night Out and the upcoming Woodlawn said, “…we could quite literally send the Gospel around the world faster than it’s ever gone, wider than it’s ever been spread using this New Roman Road.” And yet, nobody globally is interested, because our films are typically sermons wrapped in pretty celluloid paper, and the world isn’t interested in our sermons.

And openly Christian films will not get wide-release in China, or in most of the Muslim world. So even on a national level, we’re preaching to the choir.

This is the long-short of it all – Christians, we should tell our filmmakers to start making movies for the folks who need the movies to be made for them, and not just make them for us. As much as the choir loves to be preached to, it’s time to remember the people outside who won’t step foot in the building.

Big Christian Audience, if you do this, then it’ll be exactly what I want from my birthday.

Oh, I want that, and a remote controlled BB-8.


Thimblerig out.


3 thoughts on “My Christian Filmmaking Birthday Wish

  1. Happy Birthday, Nate!

    I would love Christian films to give the same attention to detail to their story as Pixar does, dialogue that stimulates my intellect like Aaron Sorkin’s screenplays do, films that gleefully keep me guessing like Hitchcock’s masterpieces. Pull me into the story. Let me awed by brilliant performances and cinematography!

    “Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy.” – Psalm 33:3

    Skillfully! Shouldn’t this relate to filmmaking too?

    Perhaps a lack of commitment to make true art is why so many faith-based films end up in Christian bookstores begging to be sold for $3 each. Right next to the bumper stickers.

  2. Interesting thoughts, and I am trying to grasp more of what you are saying. Just curious, are there any faith or spiritual films that you have liked in the past decade, ones that you would say, “THIS is how to do it”?

    • Hi Michael,

      Someone asked a similar question on Facebook, and I’d like to share here how I answered there:

      First, I would underline a point I made in my birthday wish, and that was for Christian-made films that reach beyond the Big Christian Audience. My answer will be in that context.

      Examples of somewhat recent movies that I believe would qualify as excellent films, because “excellent film” is a rather subjective idea… The Martian, Calvary, Secret of the Kells (I have a thing for Irish movies), Inception, Whiplash, Inside Out, Selma…

      So, when I’m considering what I hope will happen, my dream is for these kinds of excellent stories come from the wellspring of creative Christian minds, and be told by Christian filmmakers. Not only that, but I want the Big Christian Audience to be willing to support Christians working in secular films just like they support the Kendricks or the Erwins. I want this, even if the on-the-nose Gospel message is not there, and the “BCA” has to do a little searching and thinking to find the Message, because it’s embedded in a great story with subtlety and finesse. And by doing so, it stands the chance of being a film that those outside the church might actually want to see.

      So to me, an “excellent Christian film” wouldn’t even be labeled a Christian film at all. It would just be an excellent film that happened to be made by Christians.

      Regarding films made specifically for the Big Christian Audience, my three favorite of the past couple of years have been – Believe Me, Mom’s Night Out, and The Song.

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