The Phil Vischer Podcast is one of the few podcasts I listen to consistently. I love the thoughtful conversations about important topics, the relaxed and comfortable atmosphere created by hosts Phil Vischer, Skye Jethani, and Christian Taylor, and the humor. There’s a lot of laughter each week, and considering all the difficulty and trouble in the world, a good dose of laughter is a welcome addition.
Phil is best known for creating Veggietales, as well as for voicing many of the characters on that long-running video series. He has an amazing story, and you can read about it in his fantastic book, Me, Myself, and Bob: A True Story About Dreams, God, and Talking Vegetables. I’ll also link a video from Biola University at the end of the interview, where you can watch Phil talk about the rise and fall of Big Idea Productions. It’s well worth your time.
I’m so grateful that Phil agreed to take a few minutes to answer some questions so that readers of this blog can get to know him better. I highly recommend that you give his podcast a listen, and also consider joining Phil and the gang in supporting their new Patreon page so Phil can do all sorts of new and fun things!
Phil, most people know your work, even if they might not know your name. Why don’t we start with a little bit about who you. Who are you and where do you come from?
Hi, I’m Phil! I was born in Muscatine, IA, moved to the suburbs of Chicago when my parents split up while I was in junior high, and now live in the vicinity of Wheaton, IL with my wife and two youngest kids. I make stuff. Vegetables, puppets, Bible-teaching videos, podcasts and such. I used to think of myself as a filmmaker, but now I really think of myself as a communicator.
Can you tell us some of the folks who have influenced you the most creatively?
Walt Disney and Jim Henson, obviously. (Animation and puppets!) But also Monty Python and the films of Terry Gilliam, Wes Anderson, the Coen brothers and Tim Burton. I tend to favor witty Brits for some reason. (Terry Gilliam’s bizarre British children’s film Time Bandits was a huge influence on me.)
How about your spiritual or theological influences?
C.S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton (I tend to favor witty Brits), as well as N.T. Wright, Dallas Willard, Henry Blackaby and A. W. Tozer.
What are your top three favorite films, and why?
That’s tough. Three films that I love … Gilliam’s Time Bandits, Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, the Coen brothers’ O Brother Where Art Thou and The Hudsucker Proxy.
Speaking of films, we talk about Christian films quite a bit on the Thimblerig’s Ark blog. What are your thoughts on the state of the faith-based film industry and where do you see it heading in the future?
We seem to be in the same position as the Christian music industry in the mid-1970s. Sales were growing and artists started to realize that Christian music was something you could actually do for a living. Like – for real. That brought a huge influx of new artists, expanding the industry greatly through the 1980s and into the 1990s. New record labels, better distribution, higher quality production, more talented artists. By the late 1990s, Christian music was so good that new artists realized they could sign with secular labels and pursue much broader audiences. They didn’t need the Christian cocoon to survive, and so Christian labels began to atrophy even as Christian artists made more impact on the world. This same dynamic could be happening now with Christian film, where suddenly it appears that Christian filmmaking is a viable business. Right now we’re building the Christian infrastructure (marketers, distributors, financiers). But ultimate success would be to discover we no longer need distinct Christian infrastructure – that Christian filmmakers are proficient enough that they can move seamlessly in the secular film industry. That’s a ways out still, but it’s a good goal.
You obviously know your way around family-friendly entertainment, but considering that the Bible is often not very family-friendly, can a Christian artist create content that is not family-friendly without compromising his or her faith? If so, how would you recommend they go about it?
Sure – there’s a fair amount of non-family-friendly art created by faithful Christians. I’m thinking of horror films in particular. Scott Derrickson’s The Exorcism of Emily Rose and the two Conjuring films are two examples of Christian filmmakers succeeding in bringing their point-of-view to art that will never get shown in churches. The fact that horror films are the example shows something very important: There has to be an audience for the stories you want to tell. Scott Derrickson in particular made Emily Rose because it represented an intersection between stories of faith and stories that the world was interested in seeing. Exorcism. Horror films are easy to market. Just like Kendrick brothers films are easy to market. A non-family-friendly faith film in another genre might be much, much harder.
Turning to your podcast, “The Phil Vischer Podcast” has been one of my favorite podcasts for the past couple of years, although I’m still not a fan of the ukulele. What made you decide to start a podcast, and what have been your biggest challenges as you’ve sought to build your audience?
I can’t answer your question until you apologize to my ukulele. He’s crying in the corner right now. I was having these interesting conversations in my head (I’m an introvert), and sometimes at Q&A sessions with college kids after speaking. I thought I should share those conversations with more people. As for building an audience, we haven’t really done anything. As a result, our audience isn’t terribly huge! But it’s still fun.
Recently, you celebrated your 200th podcast episode. Congratulations! Having started my own podcast that lasted all of five episodes, I know that 200 episodes is quite the accomplishment. On that episode you talked about your new Patreon crowd funding account. Can you talk about what led you to creating the Patreon page, and what some of your plans for using the support you raise?
I got to the point where the podcast probably needed to get more organized if it was going to continue – which meant I needed a little help. Which meant I needed to pay someone for that help. Which meant there needed to be a source of income. We’ve talked about sponsorship before, and may still do that, but Patreon was a better first step.
Do you have any final advice for Christians looking to get involved in the entertainment industry – Christian or otherwise?
Just do it. Make stuff. It’s really easy to make stuff, develop a sensibility and a voice. Use YouTube and Vimeo and iTunes to get your work out there. The key is to begin making stuff for zero or near zero budget to see if your sensibility can attract an audience. If the first thing you want to make is a $40 million feature, forget about it.
What are the best ways people can follow you (Twitter, Facebook, etc)?
Yes and yes! Go to philvischer.com. Sign up for my emails. I’ll then follow YOU all around with email!
Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, Phil!
You’re welcome! Keep on rigging your thimble!
That we will, Phil. That we will.