Hollywood Finally Notices Success of Christian Films

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Hollywood has finally noticed the success of Christian films such as last fall’s War Room and 2014’s God’s Not Dead!

Los Angeles, California – Alex Boese of the Spaghetti Harvest Media Marketing Group (SHMMG) of San Bernardino, California announced at a press conference on Monday that his company has decided to take a page from the faith-based handbook. This year, SHMMG will begin encouraging studios to release secular film advertisements with relevant Bible verses.

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A big Hollywood power lunch meeting from the 1950’s.

“At a recent big Hollywood power lunch meeting at Soho House,” Mr. Boese said, “I convinced some of the town’s biggest players that using the Bible is the best way to attract the elusive faith-based audience, a key rising demographic that has proven to have very deep pockets when they feel they are being serviced.”

Mr. Boese went on to explain that “faith-based” films (also known as “faith and family” films, “family-based and faith-building” films, “faith, family & family, faith” films, and “building family and faith in the faith and family building” films) have gained popularity over the past few years, in large part thanks to the grass roots social media marketing efforts of the small independent studios which produce them.

A key way these studios have utilized social media is by producing images showing key verses from the Bible and a logo of the film that can be easily shared from Christian film fan to Christian film fan. Often the images will also show stills from the films to help drive the Bible verse point home.

“If we want to attract that F&F audience, we have to play by their rules,” Mr. Boese commented. “If that means using the Bible to sell tickets, then so be it. After all, if the Bible is good enough for Christians as a marketing tool, then it’s good enough for us.”

Mr. Boese’s comments were briefly interrupted as a man started shouting about cheapening Scripture by using it to sell products, but he was quickly ushered out by SHMMG employees. The incident was quickly forgotten by those in attendance. [note to editor: consider redacting this paragraph]

Mr. Boese ended his presentation by revealing several different advertisement mockups that SHMMG had developed. He announced that these Bible advertisements would be likely soon begin showing up on each respective film’s social media feeds, pending approval of each film’s marketing department.

“This is a new day of partnership between Hollywood and the faith-and-family-based community,” Mr. Boese said confidently. “And by the way, using the Bible this way should help us to sell a LOT more tickets.”

Time will tell, Mr. Boese. Time will tell.

For more information, read this article.

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Thimblerig’s Film Review • Christian Mingle

christian-mingle-poster01Last night Mrs. Thimblerig and I sat down to watch Corbin Bernsen’s 2014 romantic comedy, Christian Mingle.  We thought it was fun, entertaining for a romcom (admittedly not my favorite genre), and good for a date night for a Christian couple.  And while it was not perfect, I turned it off thinking Christian Mingle might even be one of the few Christian-made movies that could play well with a non-Christian audience.

Movie synopsis:  Gwyneth Hayden (Lacey Chabert) is a frustrated executive at an ad agency.  She’s frustrated because she can’t find a decent man and she feels like her life is at a standstill.  Inspired by the happy looking couples on a late-night commercial for Christian dating site christianmingle.com, Gwyneth pulls a desperation move and joins the site, even though she is not really a Christian.  This forces her to begin a crash course of studying the Christianity so that she can make her “faith” appear to be believable. When her first date from the site, Paul Wood (Jonathan Patrick Moore) turns out to be a keeper, she works harder and harder to become a believable Christian so that she can keep him.  Will she ever find true love?

The goal of Thimblerig’s Film Reviews is to see how well movies made by Christians (or with Christian involvement) accomplish the five challenges I set forth in my blog post, What’s Wrong with Christian Filmmaking.  

Let’s see how Christian Mingle did.

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1.  Take more risks

315824When I consider this category, I think in terms of the risks a film takes with the core audience, which in the case of Christian Mingle, means Christians.  And considering the film’s similarities to Sex and the City, probably more specifically Christian women.  However, the film’s protagonist is a non-Christian (or a nominal Christian at best) pretending to be a committed Christian, and so her journey isn’t necessarily risky to that target audience.

The film took more risks with Paul, by actually having a somewhat wishy-washy male lead who allows himself to be manipulated and controlled by the women in his life.  His character raises the question – do we have the personal strength and integrity to do what we think is right, even if it goes against the plans others may have for us?  Are we willing to step out and do something uncertain and even dangerous with our lives?  The best part of the film is when Gwyneth confronts Paul with the truth of his passivity.

The film is definitely risky for a non-Christian viewer.  If that viewer identified with Gwyneth at all, then they would be forced to confront their own preconceived notions and prejudices against Christians, and to take stock of their own life choices.  The problem is, I don’t know how many people who aren’t Christians would be willing to sit down and watch a movie that takes its name from a Christian dating website.

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2.  Challenge your audience

Once again, this movie is primarily aimed at the faith-based audience, and as a member of that demographic, I didn’t find it very challenging.

The one big exception might be Gwyneth’s co-worker, Pam.  At the end we find out that she is also a Christian, but she never said anything.  Gwyneth even calls her on this, but she replied, “it’s not my style”.

How often do we find people in our circle who are in obvious need of spiritual guidance, but we avoid having those conversations because “It’s not my style”?

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3.  Recognize that art is art and the pulpit is the pulpit

For a movie that dealt with explicitly Christian themes, including a protagonist who is wrestling with her faith, this movie was surprisingly not preachy.  While Gwyneth comes to Jesus, it’s a process, not an “aha!” moment.  Nobody lying in the streets after being hit by a car, getting served the prayer of salvation by a random passerby.

In fact, the film has some nice moments of Gwyneth wrestling with God after Paul finds out the truth about her deception.  This led to some nice un-preachy moments in a film that could have been very didactic.

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4.  Provoke your audience by raising questions without necessarily giving the answers

This is the challenge where Christian Mingle let me down.

christianmingle2Five minutes before the end of the film, I was surprised and excited that it seemed like we were going to see a resolution of Gwyneth finding contentment in her singleness.  What a completely counter-culture way that would have been to end a romantic comedy!  The girl NOT getting the boy, but getting something of much greater worth.

Imagine if Gwyneth made her way to Mexico to teach, and Paul showed up on another mission trip with Kelly and the others.  He sees Gwyneth, and we see the question in his eye about the choice that he made, and we’re left with the idea that he might just do the right thing and go with the girl he was supposed to go with.  But he doesn’t do it.

And we see that Gwyneth, while impacted by seeing her old flame, is going to be just fine.

That would have been spot on brilliant.  But instead, the film took the easy Hollywood route, and ended with the girl getting the boy after all.  Ah, what a missed opportunity!

But I suppose with a romcom, it has to happen.

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5.  Tell good stories

Ultimately, even with the disappointedly predictable ending, this was a good story.  There aren’t many Christian romcoms out there, and Bernsen and company did a good job.  The movie had a few welcome surprises, as it played around with traditional movie structures.  For example, the protagonist’s dark night of the soul doesn’t occur when her deceit is uncovered, but when she is wrestling with God afterwards.  And while she does get the boy at the end, that is just the icing on the cake.  She’s already found true love in her very real Christian faith.

And really – how often do you see a female protagonist fighting to win a man’s love by embracing his religious beliefs?

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Final Score:  3/5 Golden Groundhogs

Final thoughts:

1.  I don’t think Mrs. Thimblerig would mind my saying that the best thing about this film was Lacey Chambert.  I wasn’t a Party of Five fan, or a Mean Girls fan, or even a Lost in Space fan, but I’m now a fan of Lacey Chambert.  She did a great job carrying this role, and was adorable to boot.

2.  I wish filmmakers would give the “…for Dummies” trope a rest.  It’s just not that funny anymore.

3.  I’m fascinated by the way former Hollywood names and recognizable faces are showing up more and more in Christian-made films.

Day 24 • 40 Days (and Nights) of Christian Filmmaking

24-Logo.svgIt’s been a very interesting day 24.

First, I started the day by wading into the American culture wars, and losing a Facebook friend over the gay wedding cake baking issue.  My point?  As Christians, we should consider responding to people the way Jesus responded to people, with more concern about the people we’re interacting with than our rights as Americans.  I was disappointed that my Facebook friend – who identified as a conservative Christian – was so adamant, obstinate, and even insulting (which is what ultimately led to his de-friending me).

Conversely, I’ve been encouraged by the numbers of Christian friends who have chimed in since, recognizing that living as Christians in 21st Century America is not simple, and acknowledging that our role as followers of Jesus might take us to some uncomfortable places.

We 21st century American Christians have a really hard time divorcing our Christian faith – which should be paramount – from our American citizenship.  Over the past few years, it seems like God may have been working pretty hard to demonstrate to us that our hope should not be in our wealth, in our security, in our political party, in the president that we would prefer to win, or even being the dominant cultural force.  At the end of the day, most faithful Christians in history have lived under difficult circumstances, and we shouldn’t be surprised if our experience is anything else.

In fact, we might even find that we’re growing stronger in our faith when our lives are watered with difficulties, rather than stagnating in the pools of comfort and ease, which is what most of us really want, at the end of day.

MV5BMTc1NDU0MzgyNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjQ3MDg1MzE@._V1_SX640_SY720_Second, I ended the day by watching the first episode of A.D. The Bible Continues, the brainchild of Roma Downey (how did she ever go from playing an angel to being the Mother of Christian Filmmaking?) and Mark Burnett (and how did he go from Survivor to being the Papa?).

I have mixed feelings about the start of this mini-series.  On the one hand, I’m glad to see that someone with some clout in Hollywood has the courage and the vision to tackle this project.  Nobody has really ever done what the dynamic duo is doing, and so kudos to them for the ambition.  I’m really curious to see where they take this series, and what they do with the early church.

On the other hand, the first episode didn’t really grab me.  It seemed rushed, in a hurry to get through the crucifixion, which hit me as odd.  Also, I disliked the way that it was written, as if everyone really knew who Jesus really was.  Nearly every line seemed to be filled with the truth of Jesus’ importance, even though it hadn’t been proven yet, which made me feel like many of the lines weren’t earned.

For example, when Pontious Pilate questioned the guard who was responsible for expediting Jesus’ death, it seemed especially pointed that the filmmakers were trying to prove to the audience that Jesus was dead.  It was – as they say – a lot of telling, rather than showing.

It seems like we Christians just really have trouble with writing with subtlety, don’t we?

I am going to stick with the mini-series, because I am curious where they’re heading and how they’ll get there.  I’m expecting a lot of on-the-nose dialogue (which should please the majority of my Christian brothers and sisters, unfortunately), and I don’t expect many surprises, and at the end of the day, I’m guessing that the mini-series will just be alright, but nothing special.

But it does give me something to watch, and for that I’m grateful.

But why – again – do people in the Bible have to speak with British accents?  I just don’t get it.  But at least they had some diversity in the casting!

Day 24 in the bag.

By the way… a Christian-made film I’m looking forward to?

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