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.
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 PastorDave: 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.
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 say “GOD’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?
On 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.
A 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.
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.
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?
If my group is not a theater buyout, am I still able to receive a church kit?
No, but we will send you a free digital download of the Dr. Rice Broocks teaching series and Be The Light–Share The Light discussion guide, when you submit your receipt showing that you brought 25 or more people to see the film.
(Psst… interested customer… you don’t have to buy 25 tickets to get those things. They offer them for free on their resource page, along with a student discussion guide and lots of other free downloadables.)
This brings us back to those uncomfortable few questions at the start of this post. Are Christian-made films to be considered business ventures? Are they ministry opportunities? Are they a mixture of the two?
If Christian films are business ventures, then I challenge filmmakers to own that and drop the “Christian” label. Just make good films and let them stand on their own feet. Then, you and your producers can commercialize the product to your heart’s content and it won’t present any sort of conflict with the Gospel.
Conversely, if filmmakers see their movies as ministry ventures, then consider a new way. Forget the business models passed down from Christian publishing and the CCM industry and do something new, something that may be a bit closer what Jesus did. Don’t consider ministry resources as a new source of income, but as an indispensable way helping achieve your true goals of sharing His message.
Especially if your film turns a profit.
Even if Christian films are a mixture of the two, I challenge Christian filmmakers to consider developing ministry resources as a part of the budget, not as a way of making back the budget.
For a great example of an artist who attempted to do this, look to the ministry of Keith Green.
And by the way, while I’ve got you here, when is someone going to do a musical biopic on the life of Keith Green? Erwins? You guys seem to do the period biopic pretty well. Are you listening?
In 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?
With some sort of activity happening tomorrow in the far right side of the country, you may have missed a little announcement from the far left side of the country from a right-leaning entertainment organization.
Yes, over the past couple of weeks, MOVIEGUIDE® has been slowly (and strangely – not sure why they’ve been doing it piecemeal) revealing the nominees for their annual awards show. And as is our tradition at Thimblerig’s Ark (well, starting last year), we present the nearly complete list of MOVIEGUIDE® awards nominees for your pleasure.
The 2016 MOVIEGUIDE® Awards Nominations
Epiphany Prize to the Most Inspiring Movie of 2016
God’s Not Dead 2
Miracles from Heaven
The Young Messiah
Epiphany Prize to the Most Inspiring Television Program of 2016
Agents of Shield: Season 3: Episodes 20-22
The Bridge Part 2
Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors
The Passion: New Orleans
Pocahontas: Dove of Peace
A Time To Dance
Bradley Foundation Faith & Freedom Award for Movies
The Faith & Freedom Awards for Promoting Positive American Values are awarded for entertainment value, for craftsmanship, and for creating programming that is uplifting, moral, insightful, compassionate, and that shows America and its people in a positive light.
Captain America: Civil War
God’s Not Dead 2
Queen of Katwe
Best Movie for Families
The Jungle Book
Miracles from Heaven
Queen of Katwe
The Secret Life of Pets
The Young Messiah
Best Movie for Mature Audiences
Captain America: Civil War
Eddie the Eagle
The Finest Hours
God’s Not Dead 2
Grace Award for Most Inspiring Performance for Movies
Awarded annually to an actor or actress in a motion picture or television program who exemplifies God’s grace and mercy toward us as human beings through their outstanding performance.
Rodrigo Santoro, Ben-Hur
David A.R. White, God’s Not Dead 2
Melissa Joan Hart, God’s Not Dead 2
Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
Josh Brolin, Hail, Caesar!
Rober Pike Daniel, Hail, Caesar!
Jennifer Garner, Miracles from Heaven
Kylie Rogers, Miracles from Heaven
Cliff Curtis, Risen
Joseph Fiennes, Risen
Adam Greaves-Neal, The Young Messiah
Grace Award for Most Inspiring Performance for TV
Natalia Cordova-Buckley, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D
Faith Ford, The Bridge
Ted McGinley, The Bridge
Alyvia Alyn Lind, Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors
Gerald McRaney, Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors
Dolly Parton, Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors
Tyler Perry, The Passion: New Orleans
Devielle Johnson, A Time to Dance
The MOVIEGUIDE® Awards are scheduled for February 10, 2017 at the Universal Hilton Hotel. It’s usually televised a couple of weeks later, but right now that information is not available.
And if anyone from MOVIEGUIDE® happens to read this, I’d love to find out a couple of things from you: first, what is the process for selecting the nominees? Second, why don’t you air the show live?
Finally, for kicks and giggles, here is a picture of Thimblerig’s Ark author Nate Fleming with Dr. Ted Baehr himself. Taken last year at the Variety Faith and Family Summit in Hollywood.
The church had abandoned Hollywood. Then, THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST struck box office gold, studios created FAITH-BASED DIVISIONS, and little Christian films made BUCKETS OF MONEY. Now Christian films have earned over a BILLION DOLLARS for investors and studios over the past thirteen years.
With the recent successes of Dr. Strange, directed by Christian filmmaker SCOTT DERRICKSON and Rogue One, the first Star Wars standalone film, are the forces behind Star Wars hopping on the faith-based bandwagon? Are budding Christian filmmakers being considered as the new hope for the venerable space-based franchise?
Only time will tell….
“The Erwin brothers, Harold Cronk, Kirk Cameron, they’ve all been discussed, especially for a movie about Yoda, which would involve all kinds of spiritual mumbo-jumbo,” an anonymous source told us. But this source, who met with us in a nearby Starbucks dressed in a stormtrooper costume and calling himself “TR-3R”, went on to say that the Christian filmmakers who have risen to the top are veteran brother team, Alex and Stephen Kendrick, creators of the Christian film hits Facing the Giants, Courageous, Fireproof, and 2015’s War Room.
“The big dogs at Lucasfilm like the Kendrick’s grass-roots style of filmmaking, as well as their overt handling of spiritual issues,” TR-3R said. “They think the Kendricks could take a Yoda standalone to some really interesting places, exploring the spiritual aspects of the Force, maybe telling about how Yoda became converted to the light side in the first place. Me? I imagine it happening in a golden field with lots of sunlight. The Kendricks like to do that. It’s their lens flare.”
Considering the Kendrick’s focus on family issues such as parenting and marriage, we asked the source the odds that a Kendrick-directed standalone film would also explore something of Yoda’s homelife.
“They never tell me the odds, but this is something fans have been clamoring for,” TR-3R said enthusiastically, trying unsuccessfully to sip his coffee through his stormtrooper helmet. “They’ve seen Yoda living as a crotchety old single dude, but was he a good husband? A good dad? He helped train all those force-sensitive kids, but what about his own kids? The big dogs think that the Kendricks could really explore a domestic side of Yoda that we haven’t seen before.”
The source went on to say that a successful Kendrick-directed Star Wars film would also open the door for other filmmakers of faith to step in, as the studio hopes to release a new Star Wars film every year from now until the apocalypse.
When we pressed TR-3R for more details, he grew noticeably agitated and began muttering something about seeing the new VT-16. Then, saying he had to get back to the office, TR-3R quickly slid a folded piece of paper across the table and bolted outside without another word. He jumped into a black 1976 Corvette and drove away.
Incidentally, the Corvette’s license plate read THX-1138.
Unfolding the paper, the first thing we noticed was that it was written on Lucasfilm stationary. It had been stamped multiple times with “TOP SECRET” in bright red letters, and the paper had the heading: “Potential Future Faith-Based Star Wars Projects.”
Then, the following items were listed:
The Force’s Not Dead – set between Episode 3 and 4, a young Luke Skywalker attends Mos Eisley Agricultural College only to find that his moisture farming professor doesn’t believe in the Force. Luke stands up to him, determined to prove that the Force is real. The film ends with an extended Figrin D’an and the Modal Newsboys concert in the cantina while the professor gets run over and killed by a landspeeder outside. Potential director: Harold Cronk. Potential producer: David A.R. White. Release date: December 2019.
Ben Hutt – set in the time between Episodes 3 and 4, Ben Kenobi, masquerading as a Hutt prince, is falsely accused of treason by his adopted brother (a clone soldier in the Republic Clone Army). After spending years exiled in space, Ben returns to Tatooine to seek revenge, but ultimately finds redemption. Possible roles for Ewan MacGregor and Morgan Freeman. Potential producers: Mark Burnett and Roma Downey. Release date: May 2020.
I’ve Got A Bad Feeling I’ve Been Left Behind – also set in the time between Episodes 3 and 4, this film would explore the chaos and mayhem resulting when the Jedi vanish in an instant, leaving behind smoking piles of clothes and lightsabers. Possible starring role for Nicolas Cage as a force-sensitive sceptic. Potential director: Paul LaLonde. Release date May 2021.
Droid’s Night Out – set in the time between Episodes 4 and 5, R2D2 decides to take C3PO out on a night on the town, leaving Luke, Han, and Chewie to take on all of the etiquette and protocol responsibilities at the rebel base. Of course, mistaken identities and disastrously hilarious mayhem results. Potential director: The Erwin Brothers. Release Date: December 2022.
Lumpawarrump’s Saving Life Day – set in the time between Episodes 5 and 6, Lumpawarrump is enjoying the annual Life Day extravaganza thrown by his sister until he realizes he needs to help out his visiting father, Chewbacca, who blames himself for Han Solo’s abduction by Boba Fett. Lumpy’s fresh look at Life Day provides Chewbacca the chance to see that the universe is bigger than his little problems, and that he needs to pull up his Wookie panties and go save his friend from the clutches of the vile gangster, Jabba the Hutt. The film ends with an extended wookie dance-off. Potential director: Kirk Cameron. Release Date: Life Day 2023, or perhaps Festivus.
Star War Room – set in the time between Episodes 6 and 7, Han Solo and Princess Leia’s marriage is in trouble, and it will take the efforts of the strange, wizened old Miss Maz to help Leia learn to tap into the force and save her marriage. The film ends with an extended force-enabled jump rope competition. Possible roles for Sadie Robertson as a young Leia and Alden Ehrenreich to continue playing young Han. Potential director: The Kendrick Brothers (if the Yoda movie is a success). Release Date: December 2024.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, David A.R. White and Pure Flix are being sued for God’s Not Dead. For $100,000,000.
That’s one hundred MILLION dollars.
And no, they are not being sued by a horde of angry atheist philosophy professors. Rather, they are being sued by a duo of fellow Christian filmmakers.
The new lawsuit is brought to you by director and producer Michael Landon, Jr (the son of Little House on the Prairie‘s Michael Landon – not relevant, but interesting) and writer Kelly Kullberg, wherein they allege that Pure Flix used Kullberg’s story ideas without proper credit or remuneration in God’s Not Dead.
According to the suit, Kullberg and Landon wrote the script for a film called Rise, based on the story of a fictional Christian university student being harassed by an atheist philosophy professor. At some point while the script was being developed, Kullberg pitched the idea in detail to a potential investor, that person went on to share details of the story with Ted Baehr from Movieguide®, and Baehr shared those details with David A.R. White while they were on some kind of a “working vacation.”
The suit alleges that White and others in Pure Flix had been struggling to break story for Proof, an apologetics film they’d been developing, and this was the subject of his and Baehr’s discussion on said vacation. Further, the suit alleges that Baehr went on to tell White elements of Kullberg’s story that had been told to him by this potential investor, perhaps unaware that these elements were the intellectual property of Landon and Kullberg.
The next thing you know, Pure Flix drops Proof and not long after makes God’s Not Dead. That movie, as we all know, went on to make buckets of money (the suit says $140,000,000, but the internet says it is closer to $100,000,000). Either way, the overwhelming success of God’s Not Dead enabled Pure Flix to expand their operations exponentially; they developed a distribution wing that allowed their films to open wider than ever before, they became more involved in film production, they expanded their presence in the overseas market, and perhaps most significantly, they started a Netflix-esque home streaming service to attempt to meet the needs of the enormous faith-and-family-film demographic.
Interestingly, a similar lawsuit was brought against Pure Flix last year for $10 million. In that suit, producer John Sullivan and writer/actor Brad Stine alleged that they had also developed a script that closely followed the God’s Not Dead story line, the aforementioned Proof. But in their case, they had actually been working closely with White and Pure Flix to develop the script before they’d been dropped like a soggy eggroll.
[editor’s note: the suit doesn’t actually say anything about a soggy eggroll.]
Kullberg alleges that White was so inspired by the ideas behind Rise that he pulled out of Sullivan and Stine’s script, hired new screenwriters to write God’s Not Dead, and the rest is history.
On the one hand, it’s interesting that in both cases, White allegedly heard details from both story ideas, and details from both versions wound up in the finished product of God’s Not Dead. In Landon and Kullberg’s case, the similarities are pretty staggering, and it makes quite a compelling argument that it could very well be a case of copyright infringement.
On the other hand, people come up with similar ideas all the time, especially in Hollywood. Just look at these somewhat recent examples: Jobs and Steve Jobs; Unfriended and Friend Request;Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down. In the case of the atheist professor and the Christian student, both Landon & Kullberg and Sullivan & Stine developed the same basic idea independently. Not to mention that that variations of that story have been floating around for years.
So, what do we do with this? Is it typical Hollywood shuck and jive, just with a somewhat “sacred” bent? Is it another example of how absolute financial success corrupts absolutely? Is it more proof that Christians in business are just as susceptible to temptation and greed as anyone in business?
Maybe. Maybe not. But it is a situation worth looking at as a cautionary tale (regardless who might be right, and who might be wrong), especially for Christians who are looking at getting involved in business or the arts, or just about anything where windfall profits are a possibility.
Meanwhile, those of us on the outside will sit back and watch how it plays out. Personally, I’m rooting for this to be resolved amicably, and then for Pure Flix to do the very meta move of developing this as the plot for God’s Not Dead 3.
Written by all six screenwriters, of course.
By the way, click this link to find some more details about the development of Sullivan and Stine’s screenplay by screenwriter Sean Paul Murphy, who was working with White and Pure Flix to help develop the script along with his writing parter, Tim.
[edit: Some people have commented that if the script wasn’t copyrighted, then Landon and Kullberg really don’t have a case. If you read the entire suit, you’ll see that Rise was copyrighted. The suit says, “Kullberg registered the Rise screenplay with the Writers Guild America in 2010 and with the United States Copyright Office in 2012.”]
Last weekend, Saturday Night Live aired a movie teaser that was a parody of the Pure Flix film, God’s Not Dead 2. In the parody, a religious baker is forced to go to court to defend God’s honor after she refuses to bake a cake for a gay couple.
As you might imagine, the response has been across the board. On the pro-SNL trailer side you have people saying this:
Cineblend called the parody “hilarious” and said that it was “one of their best pieces in the past couple of years.”
Buzzfeed said that the parody was “brilliant” and “spot on.”
Vulture said the parody was “inspiring”, although there may have been some tongue in the cheek of that one.
Others have been just as clear regarding their less positive feelings about the parody:
In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, actor Pat Boone called the parody “anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, cowardly, “diabolical” and even demonic.”
And when Pure Flix founder (and most-active-actor) David A.R. White linked to a story about the trailer on his Facebook page, fans of the God’s Not Dead movies were quick to rush to the film’s defense, saying things like:
“This movie must have really rattled the enemy’s cage.”
“Evil will never let a good thing go unchallenged, and your movies are very good things. That SNL would mock you means you have arrived, Mr White. Your success is huge so go make more good movies!”
“If SNL did a skit about Allah, there would be a bloody war. Why is it ok to bash Christianity but no other faith?”
“The simple fact is that if they are mocking it, they are afraid of it. Despite the blasphemy and ignorant childishness of the liberals at SNL, this is a victory for Christians.”
“This is disgusting. But it qualifies as persecution, doesn’t it. If they hated us, they hated Him first, but I hate to see God almighty mocked this way. But it’s like what was said in the first movie. “How can you hate someone that you say doesn’t exist?””
And the kicker…
“Hell will be full of SNL individuals.”
Here’s the rub…
SNL was not mocking God.
I know, I know… the name of the parody is “God is a Boob Man”, which on the face of it, seems to be making fun of God and mocking those who believe in God, regardless of their faith (after all, “Allah” is the Islamic word for “God”).
But SNL wasn’t aiming at God with this parody, they were just using the idea of God to push the message of their parody video.
Using God to push an agenda or to earn a profit is something that people of all religious persuasions have done for years, including Christians.
So it’s not that.
SNL wasn’t mocking Christianity.
Yes, there’s a line where the baker says, “Christians are the most oppressed group in this country.” But it’s not an unearned jab. A cursory examination of the comment section of any story about Christian persecution in America demonstrates that there really are Christians in America who feel that we are oppressed. Otherwise, there’s not another mention of the Christian faith anywhere in the trailer.
If SNL intended to mock the historical Christian faith, they could have done a lot more to “Christianize” the character. The baker’s not even wearing a cross necklace, for heaven’s sake!
So, if they weren’t mocking God or Christianity, who or what were they mocking with this parody video?
SNL was mocking the God’s Not Dead movies.
I think this is pretty obvious. The God’s Not Dead movies are infamous for the way they negatively portray people who are not Christians. With their villainous Atheist professors, their non-believing heartless businessmen boyfriends, their violent Muslim and Chinese fathers, their Satanic ACLU lawyers, their spineless separation of church and state school boards, they’ve done a pretty good job calling everyone else awful, and Christians the only good in the world.
Basically, they’ve been asking to be parodied for quite a while now. I’m just surprised it took so long before it happened on the big stage.
So we Christians can calm down on all the calls of blasphemy, sacrilege, and anti-Christianity. Parodying and mocking the films of Pure Flix is not the same as parodying and mocking God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, or the Church.
[And if I might add, Pure Flix is acting in a dangerous and irresponsible manner by permitting and even encouraging the conversation to imply that they are the same thing. Pure Flix should be the ones stepping out and saying what I’m saying, but I don’t see that happening. It’s almost like they are happy for the controversy. It’s almost like they are fully aware that it emboldens their fans, and they know that SNL just gave them a big gift…]
But I’m getting off topic.
Let me just to say it one more time… THE FILMS OF PURE FLIX ARE NOT THE CHURCH. They are bits of entertainment in pop culture, just like superhero movies and sports flicks, and they are wide open to parody and ridicule as much as anyone or anything else.
That’s just a part of the game.
But having said all of that, Pure Flix was not the only target of SNL’s ire, and maybe not even the primary target. Or, maybe they were, but SNL just so happened to hit a more important target in the process of parodying God’s Not Dead.
SNL was mocking FAITH-BASED FEAR.
You know what I’m talking about, right?
I’m talking about the fear that Christians are losing something because of the color of a coffee cup at Christmas.
I’m talking about the fear that Obama is a secret Muslim who wants to forcibly convert you to Islam.
I’m talking about the fear that same-sex marriage will turn Christians gay.
I’m talking about the fear that baking a cake for a gay wedding will somehow cause more harm than refusing to do so and going to court over the issue.
I’m talking about the fear that dark forces are plotting how to take our children and indoctrinate them into rampant social liberalism.
I’m talking about the fear that our neighbors are dangerous because they wear the head covering of a certain religion, or because they have different colored skin then we have, or because they come from a part of the world that makes us nervous.
I’m talking about the fear that public schools might teach our children about other religions.
I’m talking about the fear that took a low level state bureaucrat in Kentucky and made her into a folk hero for not doing her job.
I’m talking about the fear that encourages Christianity-themed movies that demonize just about everyone who isn’t a Christian for the sake of helping us feel better about ourselves as Christians.
I’m talking about the fear that we will soon be rounding up teachers and putting them on trial for mentioning the name of Jesus in a public school history class.
I’m talking about the fear that our faith isn’t as influential as it once was, that our voice isn’t as loud as it once was, and that our opinion doesn’t matter like it used to.
And this is the most offensive thing about the parody trailer, that it shows us who we really are, and what we’re truly afraid of. It shows us that we are not being salt and light as much as we are being pains in the butt. It shows us that we are being ruled by our fear in the eyes of the culture.
See, fear is a very powerful thing, but it’s not real. It’s based on what we think could happen, whether those fears are founded or not. And it’s not supposed to be a part of who we are as the Church, and it’s not supposed to be a part of who we are as individuals who claim Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
And yet in America we are letting fear set the agenda for just about everything we do on the public stage.
Christians, that’s just not right.
So, instead of getting upset and up in arms over the SNL parody video, we need to take it for what it is – a parody lampooning Pure Flix films, and a parody lampooning our un-Christlike fears, and a mirror reflecting who we can often seem to be as Christians to the rest of the world.
We should take it, learn from it, and let it encourage us to be the kind of Jesus follower that God wants us to be.
And in the spirit of God’s Not Dead flooding their end credits with court cases that have little to do with the cases presented in their films, I leave you with a list of Bible verses that have everything to do with how a Christian should handle fear.
In response to my post, a blog guest named Gail commented:
As to the teaser at the end of the movie–did you know that ministers in Houston, TX fought against the ruling that they were supposed to bring their sermons into City Hall to make sure they were not preaching against homosexuality–there is legal precedent to stand on here after all.
To clarify what Gail means, God’s Not Dead 2 ended with an ominous post-credits scene, in which we see Pastor Dave (David A.R. White) being taken away by police because he had been subpoenaed by the government to turn in his sermons.
This scene was included as an obvious Marvel-esque teaser to what would be coming next in the God’s Not Dead Cinematic Universe (GNDCU).
I was familiar with that case in Houston, and I remember being outraged when it happened. After all, you imagine some cold war communist government demanding sermons from churches, but not America. However, I hadn’t really done much reading about it in quite a while. So, inspired by Gail’s comment, I went and did some digging.
My digging produced three interesting things about that situation as it relates to the God’s Not Dead movies, and in particular – to the teased situation for God’s Not Dead 3.
First, in that situation in Houston, the subpoenas were issued as a part of the discovery process because some Christians had filed a lawsuit against the city of Houston. They’d filed the suit to try and halt some legislation with which they disagreed. The pastors, while not a part of the lawsuit, were intimately involved in the issue at the core of the lawsuit. You can read about that here.
Third, and this one is the kicker: many liberal groups – including the ACLU – came down on the side of the pastors. In fact, during the heat of this, the ACLU issued a statement in support of the pastors which said, among things:
“The government should never engage in fishing expeditions into the inner workings of a church, and any request for information must be carefully tailored to seek only what is relevant to the dispute.”
Do you think God’s Not Dead 3 will be based on any of that reality?
Will they change the story to show that Pastor Dave’s sermons were subpoenaed because Christians had sued the government, and not because someone was suing Christians?
Will they truly rip the story from the headlines and have the charges dropped when everyone realizes that subpoenaing a pastor for his sermons is a massive overstepping of civil liberties and legal boundaries?
And the big $60,000,000 question – will the same filmmakers who made the ACLU the black-hearted villains of GND2 have the courage to have the ACLU supporting the civil rights of Pastor Dave in GND3 – as they do in real life?
Only time will tell, I suppose. But to be honest, I’m not hopeful.
This weekend marks the release of the sequel to 2014’s surprise faith-based hit, God’s Not Dead. The new film, creatively called God’s Not Dead 2, is expected to do well among the target demographic, but only time will tell if Pure Flix has another megahit on their hands.
Hollywood screenwriters couldn’t have written the story of the first film, because nobody would have greenlit the production.
In that story, the writers would have invented a small Christian production/acquisition/distribution company and called it Pure Flix. That company would produce two or three feature length Christian films a year that would typically go straight to the DVD rack at the local Christian bookstore, and while the company would be solvent, it wouldn’t exactly be the next Disney.
As a part of this usual routine, the small Christian production company would release a low budget movie about a student working to prove to his atheist university professor that God is not dead. But, taking advantage of the new interest in the faith-based film genre, the company would arrange a wider distribution then usual for their films, getting it released in over 700 theaters.
Of course, being a small film with no A-list actors, and being a “faith-based” film, most people wouldn’t have this movie on their radar. But, the writers of our little drama would create a massively successful grassroots marketing campaign that would cause the faith-based movie to explode out of the gate. And then, the little film with a budget of around two million dollars would go on to make over $90 million dollars, combined box office and home video sales.
And Pure Flix would live happily ever after.
Of course, if there’s one thing that is true, it’s that finding box office success is like catching lightning in a bottle. For Pure Flix, this has proven to be the case with the less than spectacular results of their follow up films, Do You Believe? ($14.5 million on a $2.3 million budget, still quite respectable, but undeniably the film was riding on God’s Not Dead‘s coattails) Faith of our Fathers ($1.3 million on an undisclosed, but probably pretty small, budget), Woodlawn ($17 million on a $25 million budget), to name a few. The company has also acquired and released several other smaller films, and has turned profits by keeping production costs low.
But the question remains: was the success of God’s Not Dead just an aberration? A fluke? A luck of the draw?
The folks at Pure Flix, in a series of pretty brilliant business moves, made the wise decision to not put all their eggs in the God’s Not Dead basket. For example, they took some of those GND profits and bought out a fledgling faith-based streaming service, turning Pure Flix into the premiere faith and family filming streaming service. Finally, the name “Pure Flix” makes some sense as a faith-based alternative to Netflix. Second, they took some more of those profits and developed their own U.S. theatrical distribution wing that would enable them to put more of the box office revenues back into the company rather than into the coffers of the traditional distributers. Also, they invested even more profits in building up their international wing, Quality Flix, in an attempt to build the reputation and potential revenue for that coveted international audience.
What they didn’t do with that money is decide to give away their ministry materials. So yes, for $22.95 you too can purchase a God’s Not Dead 2 DVD study kit. This stands in opposition to smaller faith-based films that gave away their study kits, including Captive and The Young Messiah.
Come on, Pure Flix… you can do better than that.
But I digress.
All in all, whether or not you appreciate the films released under the Pure Flix banner, you have to appreciate that they have developed a good business model.
Which brings us back to what is arguably the most anticipated film on the Pure Flix slate, God’s Not Dead 2. Box-office-wise, there are three possible outcomes of this film’s release:
1. GND2 will flop, and not earn back its budget.
This won’t happen. Although Pure Flix hasn’t released the budget of GND2, I’m guessing it’s probably around $10 million (edit: they released the budget, and it was $5 mill). GND2 would have work pretty hard to not make that back considering the fact that GND was such a hit.It also helps that GND2 will be bowing in over 2,000 screens, which is three times the number of theaters as GND. So, making back the budget is pretty much a given.
2. GND2 will repeat or surpass the success of the original.
This won’t happen. God’s Not Dead was a bonafide phenomenon, and it’s extremely difficult to replicate something like that. And considering that this film has mostly a new cast and no A-list actors, there isn’t anything new to bring in a new audience.
3. GND2 will turn a respectable profit, but nowhere near GND.
This is the most likely option, and it’s all about the timing.
GND came out in 2014 during “the year of the Christian film,” when the genre was just starting to gain traction. Since that time, we’ve seen plenty of faith-based films bomb at the box office, even with the occasional success story. GND2‘s big challenge is that a swarm of other faith-based films were released in the past six weeks (Risen, The Young Messiah, Miracles from Heaven, TV’s The Passion), and so God’s Not Dead 2 will be going up against some pretty serious faith-based film fatigue.
The faith-based film fatigue will mean that GND2 will probably not see the multiple viewings or experience the FOMO factor that we saw with GND in 2014, and those things are the keys that make a small budget genre film like this become a phenomenon.
That being said, the film will do better than most would in this climate because of franchise name-recognition.
And so, my prediction is that God’s Not Dead 2 will end its run at about $40 million. Not bad on a $5 million dollar budget.
(edit: as of April 11, the box office is just over $14 mill, so it looks like my estimate was quite high. Still, profit, but not a phenomenon like the first one.)
(edit again: now, this is interesting. The day GND2 was released, it was #4 in the box office, and #5 was another faith-based film, Miracles from Heaven. After April 1, GND2 slipped behind Miracles, and has stayed behind it every day since, even though Miracles was released three weeks earlier. So, GND2 wasn’t just not a phenomenon, but it couldn’t even beat another faith-based film that has been out three weeks. Miracles has earned over $50 mill on a $13 mill budget, btw. Source: Box Office Mojo.)
Regardless, GND2 will be financially successful, which means that in a couple of years we can expect to see God’s Not Dead 3, officially making this series the first serious theatrical faith-based film franchise.
In celebration of that fact, I’d like to suggest to Pureflix that they open up the naming of GND3 to the internet. I have to admit that my motives are not entirely pure in this suggestion, as such a competition would likely give us a film named something like God’s Not Dead 3: Boaty McBoatface.
And that would give me unending joy.
But there are some other interesting ramifications of this new Christian film franchise for Pure Flix… could it lead to the creation of a GNDCU? Just like Marvel has the MCU, could we have a whole series of spinoff films from the God’s Not Dead universe?
I can see it now – God’s Not Dead: The Martin Chronicles. In this film, Martin (the Chinese student) returns to China to prove to his strictly traditional atheist father that God is, in fact, not dead, and is surely alive, and he could take the Newsboys with him to help prove it. (Note to Pure Flix: “Newsboys” in Chinese is “新闻男孩”)
GND:TMC could be made in partnership with a Chinese film company, and could be the movie that really puts Quality Flix to work, opening the door to the company being the first faith-based entertainment company to do serious business in the soon-to-be largest film market in the world! Of course, to be accepted by Chinese censors, they’d have to take “God” out of the title, and probably most of the overt Christian language. But still, it could mean new chapter in the life of Pure Flix Entertainment LLC.
But regardless of what the long term future holds, in the short term, God’s Not Dead 2 will surely be opening in theaters this weekend, and will make plenty of money, even while being panned by most critics (my Rotten Tomatoes prediction? 18%).
But the question remains – will the movie be good? That’s a question for another blog post.
For my (somewhat snarky) review of the first God’s Not Dead 2 trailer, click here.
For my (not-so-snarky) review of God’s Not Dead, click here: Part I and Part II.
A few weeks ago, Disney released the trailer to Star Wars Episode VII, and it nearly melted the internet. Over the next day, article after blog after youtube video appeared dissecting the trailer, and giving the audience the opportunity to respond with excitement and anticipation about the upcoming sure-to-be-blockbuster.
In the world of Christian-made films, we don’t have blockbusters in the traditional sense of the word, but we do have the films of the Kendricks brothers and Pureflix Studio. They are the Big Boys of Christian-made film, and they make our blockbusters, the movies that the Big Christian Audience eats up the way twelve year old boys eat up Transformers movies.
And yesterday, the internet melted for the Big Christian Audience as the trailer God’s Not Dead 2 was released. For those who many not know, this upcoming film is the sequel to 2014’s surprise megahit (over $90,000,000 made from a $2,000,000 filming budget), God’s Not Dead.
Well, the trailer only had about 9,000 views when I started writing this, so “melted” is probably not quite accurate, but “the internet blipped” just doesn’t have the same pizzazz.
Either way, this is a movie based on a successful pre-existing property, and so it’s worth noting that the first full bit of information has been released.
One thing about Christians and pop culture that you should know, we like to do things that other people do, but we do it about three years later, and we don’t do it quite as well.
And so, in that spirit, modeling the secular tradition of over-analyzing movie trailers, I give you…
Opening Scene: The movie opens with an old man in his pajamas making an important sounding statement about belief while we see a montage of Little Rock, Arkansas, the old man praying, and Martin – the Chinese student from GND (it is a sequel, isn’t it?) – reading the Bible in a church.
Pajama man says:
“In this day and age, people seem to forget that the most basic human right of all is the right to believe.”
And… I’m starting the trailer feeling confused.
Someone is trying to take away someone else’s right to believe, and someone else is forgetting it? How can you take away a right to believe? Belief isn’t an action, like voting or eating anchovies, it’s something that you have inside of you. Even in the most difficult of situations and under the most intense persecution, people can still believe, even if they have no rights of religious freedom.
But, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from observing American Christian culture over the past couple of years, it’s that we hate the idea of people taking away our rights, even it’s not happening as much as we like to think it is. See, what’s really going on (in a nutshell) is that the rights of other people are being strengthened in an attempt to find a balance. But when you have been on the stronger team all of your life and you find your team not holding the power that it once held, the cry goes out of PERSECUTION!
Even though it is not persecution, by any stretch of the imagination. It’s just a loss of influence and power.
This reminds me of a particular person in history… a guy who had all the power in the universe and he purposefully gave it all up, emptied himself of all the power, and became nothing – for the sake of everyone else.
Hmm… I’ll have to think about that one.
So then, this is “the hook”, a purposefully provocative statement meant to rile up the Big Chrisitan Audience out the gate. It will certainly be clarified as we proceed through the trailer.
And so we continue.
Next Scene: We shift from pajama man to a long shot of a government building with a large crowd of demonstrators chanting something that took me a couple of viewings to comprehend: “Teach don’t preach!”
Ah, and the pieces fall a bit more into place.
The angry protestors want teachers to be teaching and not preaching, so apparently someone has been preaching in the classroom.
But, wait, don’t they want a good thing? Sure, it’s nice to have preaching in schools if everyone in the school has the same belief, ala private religious schools, but what if the school is public? What about the kids who have different beliefs? What if the preaching is something from a religion that you don’t subscribe to? As a Christian, I don’t want a Buddhist teacher preaching the importance of being a Buddhist in school.
Seems like extending that same courtesy is the Christian thing to do.
But I digress from my over-analyzation.
Next Scene: This scene is a quick bit of foreshadowing as we shift to a school and Robin Givens talking on the phone. We have scenes of school buses, Melissa Joan Hart walking down a school hallway smiling at the students, and Givens reciting an ominous list of things that apparently can’t happen in the school:
“No prayers, no moments of silence, nothing!”
Sidebar: We’re starting to see where some of that massive GND profit has gone (besides the purchase of an online Christian film streaming service) – Pureflix has hired actors we actually know. We first saw this in their GND followup, Do You Believe?, a film that also had a bevy of familiar actors. Will it help GND2 be a better film than GND, which was a critical failure, even if it was a financial success?
Only April will tell, and she’s not talking.
Next Scene: A title card, “They denied God’s existence”…
Wait. What? Who denied God’s existence? Who is this they they are talking about? I’m started to feel a little frightened… the filmmakers couldn’t be trying to frighten us, could they?
Of course not, because as Christians, we believe that God is sovereign, fear isn’t real, and anxiety is not a Fruit of the Spirit.
Next Scene: A quick two-shot montage of clean-cut students watching intently in school (it is a movie, after all), and then we find out who they are, these evil people denying God’s existence.
“Think of the other children out there, who are subjected to their repressive belief system…”
Note: you have to put a dramatic pause between “their” and “repressive”, and over-emphasize “repressive.” Like this:
“…subjected to their… REPRESSIVE belief system…”
Ah, so that’s the way it’s going to be, is it? Instead of having the evil, moustache-twisting atheist professor as we had in GND, we’re going to have an evil, moustache-twisting atheist bad guy from Robocop.
Actually, I do know that this actor played Leon Nash, one of the bad guys in Robocop, I’m just not sure who he is supposed to be playing in GND2 yet.
Next Scene: Another montage, this time with a voiceover by the face of Pureflix, David A.R. White. The montage is Martin walking, Martin standing up in church as David A.R. White enters, David A.R. White praying, and David A.R. White speechifying to a group of concerned looking individuals.
“If we sit by and do nothing, the pressure that we’re feeling today will be persecution tomorrow. We’re at war!”
And there it is. Those three words are undoubtedly the theme of this film, and the place from whence (along with potential box office receipts) every idea in this film is coming.
Forget all that stuff about the sovereignty of God. Just be afraid, because if we don’t do something, PERSECUTION will result.
Actually, the thought just occurred to me that it’s quite likely that persecution could come, and be the result of the attitude of antagonistic Christians in the “culture wars”, as well as a by-product of Christian-made movies like God’s Not Dead (1 & 2) that seem to revel in being insulting and belittling to people who believe differently than we do, or who don’t believe at all.
Wouldn’t that be ironic in a strange and sad way?
Next Scene: Another title card.
Ah, so first they denied God’s existence, and now they want to silence His message.
“They”, again, being Leon Nash from Robocop, and his evil sidekick who dared to wear a Robocop helmet.
Next Scene: Back to the school, where we find Melissa Joan Hart lecturing on non-violence with a picture of Martin Luther King Jr on the screen behind her. And we proceed through several different scenes, held together by dialogue.
MJH: “What makes non-violence so radical is it’s unwavering commitment to a non-violent approach.”
Student: “Isn’t that sort of like what Jesus meant when he said that we should love our enemies?”
MJH: “Yes. You have heard it said, love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
Quick shot to a kid pulling out his cell phone and then cut to Robin Givens walking with MJH in the hallway:
RG: “One of your students sent a text to their parents. Did this happen?”
MJH: “If you’re asking if I responded to a student’s question, then yes.”
Cut to serious man in a suit in a serious looking meeting room looking all serious.
SM: “And your answer incorporated the words of Jesus.”
Cut to woman with the first actual southern accent we’ve heard so far, in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Little Rock, Arkansas.
Southern Accent: “What were you thinkin’, Grace?”
(Ah, Melissa Joan Hart’s name is Grace. I wonder why they chose that name?)
Next Scene: Cut to Grace sitting in a living room with ruggedly handsome lawyer, Tom Endler.
Endler: “The Thawleys are asking that you be fired, Grace, plus revocation of your teaching certificate.”
The stakes have never been higher.
But hold on one second… don’t teachers have the right under federal law to discuss their religious beliefs as long as they do so in an objective manner? In the scene they showed, Grace looked to be pretty darned objective, but of course, it was only a quick clip. Maybe she does cross the line and openly preach? If so, of course she will get in trouble. If not, I don’t understand why the school throws her under the bus, because she’s well within her rights.
But again, only April will tell.
Next Scene: Cut back to serious man, having another serious conversation with other serious people.
SM: “How do we make this go away and not get blood on our hands?”
Wait a minute. That sounds familiar. Where have I heard that sort of phrasing?
Ah, that’s right.
And the answer to the serious guy’s question, given in hushed, conspiratorial tones…
“We’ll let the ACLU do it.”
Next scene: Cut to Leon Nash, who has apparently quit working for Clarence and has taken up with that bastion of evil and ne’er-do-wellingness, the ACLU.
“We’re going to prove once and for all… that God is dead.”
(Okay, read that sentence again, but then hit play on the youtube video right after reading it.)
End of over-analysis part 1.
That took a LOT longer than I thought it would take, and I’m not sure if it’s worth it to take the time to write the second half of my over-analysis. I’m not paid anything to do this, and I’m trying to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days, and so, I might just let it go.
However, if you’d like me to continue, then leave me a message here, and if enough people are actually interested, I’ll continue. Otherwise, you can just watch the trailer and imagine what I might have said about the rest of it.
A hint, the rest of the analysis would have answered questions like this:
What book is ruggedly handsome Tom Endler reading so intently?
What is the quite original song that the trailer shows the Newsboys singing?