Pureflix Announces Date for God’s Not Dead 4

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Following the success of God’s Not Dead, which was 2014’s highest grossing independent film, God’s Not Dead 2 which was the highest grossing independent religious sequel of 2016, and God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness which is the first Christian movie of the year to have seven words in the title, Christian film studio Pure Flix has announced a May 2018 return to the God’s Not Dead cinematic universe with a fourth installment of the franchise.

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Michael Scott addresses the faith-based film reporters.

According to Pure Flix founding partner Michael Scott, Pastor Dave: A God’s Not Dead Story will serve as a prequel reboot to the wildly successful faith-based film franchise, and was secretly being filmed at the same time as God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness so that it would be ready for a summer 2018 release.

“Audiences have continued to show support and interest in the GOD’S NOT DEAD films and their relatable characters.” Scott told a roomful of excited faith-based film reporters while gesturing at a small white board. “The increasingly diminishing success of these films shows that they’re hungry for more… and to us that meant PREQUEL!”

Pure Flix released the official synopsis of the new film on Easter morning at a special sunrise press conference at Pure Flix’s headquarters in Scottsdale, Arizona. The event was hosted by Scott and Pure Flix co-founder and perennial star David A.R. (pronounced “ARGH”) White. Read it below:

Journey to an Arkansas of the early 1990’s in Pastor Dave: A God’s Not Dead Story, an all-new faith-based adventure with the most beloved pastor in the galaxy. Through a series of daring escapades deep within Arkansas’ dark and dangerous university underworld, Dave meets his mighty future best friend Jude and encounters the notorious atheist Jeffrey Radisson, in a journey that will set the course of one of the God’s Not Dead saga’s most unlikely heroes.

“This movie will be full of Christian pop culture references and nostalgia,” ARGH White told reporters as light from the rising sun streamed through the Pure Flix logo-emblazoned stained glass windows. “We’ve expended great resources to be able to secure the rights to a number of hit CCM acts from the 90’s, including the complete libraries of Stryper, Twila, Petra, Sandi Patti, White Heart, and Billy Sprague. All to help give the film an authentic 90’s Christian subculture vibe.”

When asked who would play the character of the much younger Pastor Dave (played by White in the movies), White simply grinned and said that it would be someone amazing. After being pressed a tiny bit more, White admitted that Pure Flix had recently invested in state-of-the-art motion capture technology that would enable him to play a young Pastor Dave himself.

“I’ve been playing this character for almost half a decade, so really, who knows him better?” White asked, slamming his hand on the desk for emphasis. “And the technology will make me look exactly like I looked when I first broke into the business back in the 1990’s.”

When asked if Kevin Sorbo and Benjamin Onyango would also be reprising their roles, White explained that he would be using the mocap technology to also play the roles of Jude and a young professor Radisson, as well as directing the film. He would also be playing most of the supporting roles.

To emphasize his point, White revealed an exclusive video clip of the upcoming film in which he played all the actors seen on screen.

While not much else is known about the film, White documented his experience making Pastor Dave: A God’s Not Dead Story on Twitter and Instagram throughout production — with everything from set photos to shots of his morning coffee. Thimblerig’s Ark has compiled all of his updates in one post, which you can view here.

Pastor Dave: A God’s Not Dead Story is set to open in 3,492 theaters on May 25, 2018.

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What Ministry Resources Are Available For “I Can Only Imagine”, “Paul”, and “God’s Not Dead 3”?

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Last weekend, the movie industry was collectively stunned when the Erwin Brother’s I Can Only Imagine sold $17 million dollars worth of seats (which roughly equals $1.5 billion in concessions) on a $7 million dollar budget, the 4th best opening for a faith-based film ever.

This weekend, Affirm Films’ new Christian-themed film, Paul, Apostle of Christ, will open, followed Easter weekend by Pure Flix’s third film in the God’s Not Dead franchise, God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness. That’s three major Christian-made films opening across the nation in a two week period, films that have been made both as cinematic experiences as well as ministry opportunities.

This is one of the things that sets the so-called “faith-based film” genre apart from most other genres – the idea that the films are meant to be more than just entertainment, but entertainment with spiritual ramifications: an opportunity to learn about the Christian faith in a non-threatening, neutral environment for those outside the faith, or a chance for spiritual growth for people who are already followers of Jesus Christ.

To illustrate what I mean by this, on the website for I Can Only Imagine, we’re told, “A gripping reminder of the power of forgiveness, I CAN ONLY IMAGINE beautifully illustrates that no one is ever too far from God’s love—or from an eternal home in Heaven.” Paul, Apostle of Christ has a page on it’s website where James Faulkner, who plays Paul in the film, reads portions of Scripture as a tool for Christians observing the season of Lent. The makers of God’s Not Dead 3: Light in the Darkness sayGOD’S NOT DEAD: A LIGHT IN DARKNESS is a powerful reminder that in all circumstances, we are called to be a light for Jesus to a world in desperate need of hope.”

And so Christian-made filmmakers will often develop ministry tools to encourage churches and individuals to take the film as more than just entertainment. This can be interpreted in at least three ways: one, that the filmmakers are genuinely wanting their films to make a spiritual impression on audiences; two, that the filmmakers recognize that ministry resources are another revenue stream and an encouragement to sell bulk tickets to entire churches; and three, a combination of the two.

The second option might seem cynical, but it can’t be disputed that filmmaking – even Christian-made filmmaking – is big business. It’s especially indisputable now that we are living in a time where three modestly budgeted Christian-made films featuring well known actors are being released in thousands of cinemas across the country in two weeks. These films represent hundreds of filmmaking professionals, thousands of hours of work, millions of dollars of investment, and so it makes sense that many decisions connected to these films are directly related to the potential big payoffs that will hopefully accompany them. But at the same time, they are also legitimate means for opening discussions about spiritual and theological issues, and this is where the ministry tools come into play.

What about the three movies being released now? What sorts of ministry resources are they offering? Are they giving away ministry resources, charging for them, or both?

cityonahillOn the I Can Only Imagine website, we are directed to a page that links to a few different things. The first is a link to City on a Hill’s website where the majority of ministry resources are offered, including: a small group study ($39.99); a journal ($14.99); a leader’s guide ($14.99); a church campaign kit ($79.99); and others. Back on the movie’s website, you can also purchase Bart Millard’s autobiography, A MercyMe album, an I Can Only Imagine children’s book, and a host of other things including a bunch of framed art.

The website doesn’t list any free ministry resources other than some free downloadables such as video clips and web banners.

paulA trip to the Paul, Apostle of Christ website finds a much smaller resource operation going on, with more resources being given away. Like I Can Only Imagine, Paul‘s website offers a few free downloadable social media items, but they also offer a couple of ministry resources including a reasonably comprehensive discussion guide and a more concise church leader packet, all available as free downloads.

Interestingly, you’ll find no church campaign kits advertised on the Paul website, but I did some digging around and found out that Outreach is selling one for $49.95.

Our final stop on the Christian-made movie tour takes us to Pure Flix’s God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness webpage and the first thing that struck me when visiting this website was that you can tell that Pure Flix has done this before.

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The main clue is the way they handle the campaign kit. It’s not just a simple Bible study or sermon guide selling from $49.45 to $79.99. Rather, it’s a kit to help your church buy out a theater and hold a premiere event experience complete with optional red carpet (extra $199) and backdrop for photos (extra $370 for a 9’8″x 7’2″ Jumbo Sleeve Banner). How much for this experience? Roughly $2,500. This is being billed as an experience where your church or organization would need to purchase at least 250 seats – essentially buying out the theater – and the cost would include many of the same things you get in a typical campaign kit.

Interestingly – and this is what sets Pure Flix apart from the other companies – you cannot purchase a church campaign kit without the theater buyout.

Here is a video they include explaining their strategy:

So your church’s options are two (A) buy out the theater and give away the tickets or (B) buy out the theater and charge your church members and guests to attend. Either way, Pure Flix is passing the costs down the line and insuring that they will sell out theaters. Is it a good ministry model? A good movie business model? Both?

Interestingly, on Pure Flix’s “premiere partner” FAQ page, they have this question and answer:

 

I Can Only Imagine Spurs Copycat Productions

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This weekend, The Erwin Brothers shocked all of Hollywood when their $7 million budgeted biopic about a Christian musician bowed to the tune of a $17 million take at the box office. The movie’s numbers stunned all the analysts who had predicted it would make a much more modest $1.5 million to $8 million, and unconfirmed reports say that at least two studio executives who passed on the project have resigned and started frozen yogurt shops in their respective hometowns.

Thimblerig’s Ark is fortunate enough to have eyes and ears all over Hollywood, and so we were not so shocked or stunned to find out that wheels were immediately set in motion all over Tinseltown this weekend in an attempt to capture faith-based lightning in a bottle, as they always seem to do when a movie shocks and stuns them. Who can forget what happened after the phenomenal success of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” back in 2002? Six months later we had to endure a spate of copycat movies trying to jump on the wedding bandwagon, with “My Somewhat Large Kazakh Wedding”, “My Huge and Dominating Somali Wedding”, and the surprisingly entertaining counter-programming attempt starring Mr. Bean,  “My Tiny Little Iberian Divorce.”

Our sources tell us that soon after the numbers started rolling in, representatives from all the major production companies started rolling out to Nashville to strike deals of their own with Christian songwriters in an attempt to have the next “I Can Only Imagine”. Yes, as we were tucked all snug in our beds with visions of Bart Millard dancing in our head, deals were being struck and IPs were being purchased all across Music City.

Here are just some of the movies that are reportedly now “in the works”:

1. “God of Wonders”  written by Marc Byrd and Steve Hindalong was reportedly purchased by representatives of Lucasfilm, who – our sources tell us – were impressed by the intergalactic themes of the song. Inspired by the partnership model set by the Erwin Brothers, George Lucas will reportedly co-direct with Steven Spielberg, and there’s talk that they will take a common last name “Lucberg” to complete the brother effect. Sources say that The Lucberg Brothers have north of $200M set aside for this big budget sci-fi worship project.

2. “God of this City” written by Chris Tomlin has been picked up by Christopher Nolan’s Syncopy Inc, with Nolan attached to direct. Our sources tell us that Nolan was attracted to the urban feel of the song, and imagines a biopic of Tomlin – shot entirely with practical effects – where we learn about the singer’s rise in the Christian music industry – having a string of number one hits, selling out coliseums and amphitheaters – while also learning Tomlin’s lesser known story of dressing as a dark avenging angel and fighting crime on the side. Tom Hardy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are rumored to be considering the part of Chris Tomlin.

3. “The Warrior Is A Child” by Twila Paris. There is little information about this collaboration, but sources tell us that helmer Patty Jenkins met with Paris for several hours at a back table in Nashville’s Frothy Monkey, pounding out details. One source suggested that certain words were overheard (“armor”, “sword”, “mystical beam of light”) that suggest that Jenkins is planning on taking Paris’s life story mythological, possibly piggybacking on the success of Wonder Woman to make the classic CCM artist’s story into a rousing action adventure film.

4. “Awesome God”, “Step by Step”, and “Screendoor on a Submarine” by Rich Mullins. A reboot trilogy planned around the life of the late singer/songwriter Rich Mullins is apparently in the works with helmer Michael Bay. Bay was said to have met with representatives of the Mullins estate in a double wide trailer outside of Wichita, Kansas where he laid out his plan to tell Mullin’s life story as an “explosive trilogy triptych” using each song as a framing device for each movie, the final movie being filmed entirely underwater in a screened-in submarine. Reportedly, the earlier low-budget indy film “Ragamuffin” will be decanonized and now officially referred to as a “Mullins Legend”.

5. “Friends” by Michael W. Smith. One of the most surprising acquisitions has to be Martin Scorcese’s purchase of Michael W. Smith’s evergreen song, celebrating the joy of Christian friendship. Does this signal a change of direction in the venerable director’s career? Is he moving away from serious dramatic films into the realm of lighthearted buddy movies? Or, will Scorsese take this staple of Christian high school graduations in a surprisingly dark direction? Only time will tell.

Thimblerig’s Ark Podcast Episode 9 • PureFlix’s original sitcom, “Hitting the Breaks”

Screen Shot 2017-09-09 at 11.07.49 AMIn the ninth episode of the Thimblerig’s Ark Film Review podcast, I give my thoughts on Pureflix’s first attempt at an original sitcom. The show, which is exclusively available on Pureflix’s streaming service, follows the Wilcox family as they relocate to rural Colorado from Atlanta. It’s a strange throwback to the sitcoms of the 1980’s and 90’s, almost a time-travel show in some ways. Does it work?

Follow this link to listen to the podcast, and then let me know what you think!

The Thimblerig’s Ark Film Review podcast is a part of the More Than One Lesson family of podcasts, and you can listen to it as well as other great film podcasts by visiting More Than One Lesson.

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“All Saints” Movie Review

(Guest review by K.B. Snodgrass)

All Saints is based on the true story of a dying church in Smyrna Tennessee and the unexpected events that surround Pastor Michael Spurlock, who is spending his first call as an Anglican minister, pastoring the remaining twelve members through the shut-down.

In the opening scenes, we meet the remaining older members of the church with their quirky personalities, and see how their little community has suffered loss as a bigger, more modern church has taken prominence in the community. We can see Michael’s heart, wanting to soften the hard blow his parishioners are preparing for. We realize that Michael and his family are not planning to put stakes in the ground in Smyrna. It is a simple stepping stone for a more prestigious call.

But when a group of Karen refugees from Burma show up one of their last Sundays, Pastor Spurlock becomes interested in their plight. “I’m a pastor,” he claims, “And they’re members of my church.” Even with the plans for selling the building to developers in the works, Pastor Spurlock begins to do what he can for this refugee community, eventually entreating the general council to keep the doors of the church open long enough to attempt a farming venture that he hopes will provide for the immigrants as well as pay the overdue mortgage on the church building and allow it to remain open. The idea for the venture comes as Michael seeks direction and wisdom from God. God answers in a rain shower, which Michael reveals in a conversation with his wife. (No cheesy, wordy prayers spoken by this pastor. They all take place in his heart, or at least the audience can assume that was what happened in his quiet reflective moments).

It sounds like a predictable feel-good movie, but along the way there are many unexpected twists and we are drawn into the story of the refugees, who fought in the jungle wars of Burma before ending up at a refugee camp in Thailand and coming to America. Their endeavors are not without difficulty. They struggle with the same things all farmers do: the need for rain, the cost of seeds, finding buyers for their crops. As the farm takes shape, Pastor Michael’s character is tested, as are his relationships.

The strength of this movie is its plot and script, a story which has already told itself in a way that only God can write. The dialogue is believable, although at times poorly delivered, and the only preaching was where preaching was supposed to be. It is a story about a pastor, after all. Those scenes were kept short but poignant, leaving the viewers to draw their own conclusions.

The themes are buried in a well-constructed script that subtly brings out things we all struggle with. Questions of our duty to the poor and lost, God’s call for our own lives, the way a marriage struggles and redefines itself through trials, and what to do when God allows for a not-perfect ending to your story. Michael clearly struggled with man’s plan versus God’s plans, and is often called out on that question by others. The answer to that struggle is addressed at the end of the film.

Overall, the plot and the script keep the audience engaged enough to put up with what occasionally poorly delivered lines. It took a few scenes for the actors to get their cadence, and admittedly some of the actors feel low-budget. But experienced actor John Corbett raises the bar for everyone and carries the story quite well himself.  After the opening scenes, which include an appearance of Christian comedian Chonda Pierce, the acting falls into a better rhythm. Using the refugees from the actual All-Saints church as actors created an authentic feel.  It was hard to tell that they were acting, as they perfectly played perfectly their roles of strangers in a strange land.

There is humor scattered throughout the film, but unfortunately a lot of the lines that were meant to be funny fall flat due to acting, or perhaps directing. The better humor was in a subtle irony that came out in various ways as characters’ lives intersected, such as the grumpy widower farmer who finds a comradery with Ye Win, the leader of the Karens.

Cinematography was my biggest complaint. In various shots, the framing was such that it almost felt like the camera was being held at an angle. The church itself is a beautiful building, and I wanted the camera to capitalize on the architecture and stained glass windows, but instead it was almost ignored, and at times we saw half of a banner or a strangely framed wooden beam that didn’t fit. At one point a harvest moon made an appearance, but it was mostly a missed opportunity for the artistic glimpse it could have been. There’s also an awkward end of scene shot in which the camera zooms in on a headlight in a rainstorm for several long seconds, taking away from the power of the scene that we’d just watched. Speaking of lights, there were several scenes where the lighting felt artificial, mostly in attempts to make it look dark inside. Perhaps those are personal preferences, but it seemed that the artistic eye of the technicians and cameraman needed a little honing.

I liked the movie. As far as faith-based films go, it was probably the best one I’ve seen since “The Song”. Not just for the story and the realistic portrayal of realistic people who have doubts and failures, but for the gentle reminder it gives of the way God works in every circumstance of our lives. Through lost jobs, marital strife, self-doubt and suffering, All Saints gives viewers a glimpse of the hope we have in Christ. There was no watered down theology to complain about. When the question is raised by Pastor Spurlock’s son Atticus why God would let something fail, Pastor Michael simply answers with a broken, “I don’t know.” But despite the struggles, Pastor Spurlock and Ye Win show us how God uses everyday people and every day situations to accomplish his purposes through faith. The movie doesn’t sugar coat things, but it does leave us hopeful. And who doesn’t want a little hope these days?

K.D. Snodgrass is a freelance writer, an aspiring crime fighter, a wife, and a mother of four. She enjoys spending time outside, reading, and of course, going to the movies. You can contact her at batlancer@gmail.com or visit her blog, The Rough Draft.  

Thimblerig’s Ark Podcast Episode 8 • The Faith-Based Film Label Controversy

Film Label Controversy

In the eighth episode of the Thimblerig’s Ark Film Review podcast, I give my thoughts on the recent controversy that has been swirling since producer Mark Joseph discussed the need to get rid of the “faith-based” film label in an interview with Fox News. Joseph’s comments created quite a stir, and prompted a response from a few different people in the faith-based film business, most notably filmmaker Dallas Jenkins (“The Resurrection of Gavin Stone”), who disagreed with Joseph’s arguments.

Follow this link to listen to the podcast, and then let me know what you think!

The Thimblerig’s Ark Film Review podcast is a part of the More Than One Lesson family of podcasts, and you can listen to it as well as other great film podcasts by visiting More Than One Lesson.

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And just a head’s up… Thimblerig’s Ark 2: The Ark Heist will be coming out in just a couple of months. Keep your eye out for the sequel to Thimblerig’s Ark!

Thimblerig’s Ark Podcast Episode 7 • Shadowlands

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In the seventh episode of the Thimblerig’s Ark Film Review Podcast, I start a new series where I examine Hollywood’s attempts to tell “our” stories, or stories that are important to Christians. To that end, this week I took a look at 1993’s Oscar nominated Shadowlands, directed by Richard Attenborough (Ghandi, Elizabeth), written by William Nicholson (Gladiator, Les Misérables), and starring Anthony Hopkins (Silence of the Lambs and bunches of other movies) and Debra Winger (Officer and a Gentleman, Terms of Endearment)

Shadowlands tells the mostly true story of the unlikely relationship between C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidman Gresham. Lewis, as most people know, was the writer of the Narnia Chronicles, the Space Trilogy, and dozens of other books dealing with everything from writing to Renaissance literature to Christian theology.

I chose to review this film because Lewis is the unofficial patron saint of Evangelical Christianity and I wondered how his life story would be handled by people with no faith-based agenda. The film is a masterpiece of biographical filmmaking, widely considered to be Attenborough’s finest work, with high praise for the acting of both Hopkins and Winger. But even still, it’s been criticized by Lewis devotees for not being entirely factual. I look and respond to these criticisms in the podcast.

Also, I’m very interested in what the Christian audience wants from Hollywood if they are making our films, and why the Christian audience should want Hollywood to tell our stories in the first place, and so I discuss these ideas as well.

I would be curious to know what people think of this subject, and so I’d invite you to comment after you’ve taken a listen.

The Thimblerig’s Ark Film Review podcast is a part of the More Than One Lesson family of podcasts, and you can listen to it as well as other great film podcasts by visiting the More Than One Lesson website.

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Thimblerig’s Ark Podcast Episode 6 • The Resurrection of Gavin Stone

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In the sixth episode of the Thimblerig’s Ark Film Review Podcast, we look at 2017’s The Resurrection of Gavin Stone, directed by Dallas Jenkins (What If?), written by Andrea Gyertson Nasfell, and starring Brett Dalton (Agents of SHIELD), Anjelah Johnson-Reyes (Bon Qui Qui), Neil Flynn (Scrubs), D.B. Sweeney (Taken 2), and former WWF celebrity Shawn Michaels.

The Resurrection of Gavin Stone is a comedy about a washed-up former child star who is forced to do community service at a local megachurch, and pretends to be a Christian to land the part of Jesus in their annual Passion Play, only to discover that the most important role of his life is far from Hollywood.

In this episode, we review the film (how many golden groundhogs did it get?) as well as look at the state of comedy in faith based filmmaking. Also, we uncover a brilliant metaphor for the state of faith based filmmaking hidden in the scenes of Gavin Stone. 

You can listen to this episode as well as other great podcasts by visiting the More Than One Lesson website.

And oh! You can also read an interview I conducted with screenwriter Andrea Gyertson Nasfall after her last big comedy, Mom’s Night Out by clicking here.

Thimblerig’s Ark Podcast • Episode 5

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In the fifth episode of the Thimblerig’s Ark Film Review Podcast, we look at 2016’s Wildflower. Directed by Nicholas DiBella, and starring Nathalia Ramos and Cory Longo (among others), Wildflower is an unusual film in that it’s a Christian-made thriller that doesn’t have anything to do with the Rapture. I was especially excited to have a nice long conversation via Skype with Mr. Dibella and his partner, producer Jim Pavone.

The Thimblerig’s Ark Film Review Podcast is a part of the More Than One Lesson podcasting family. Check out this and other episodes as well as other great podcasts at morethanonelesson.com.