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!

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Are Christian Filmmakers Being Tapped To Direct Future Star Wars Stand-Alone Films?

A long time ago in galaxy close, close by…

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.

tr3r“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:

forceThe 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-roomStar 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.

 

The Ballad of Dr. Bill Story, Christian Cardiologist

[This story is dedicated to Christian film critics who actually critique films made by their fellow Christians – just as they would any film – and don’t just give free passes because the films are made “in the family”.]

UntitledI want to tell you about my friend, Dr. Bill Story. Dr. Bill is a great guy; he coaches his son’s little league baseball team, teaches a couple’s Sunday School class with his wife every weekend, volunteers with his daughter’s Scout troop at an animal shelter as often as he can, and more. With Dr. Bill, what you see is what you get. He’s the real deal.

Dr. Bill loves his family, and he loves his work as a cardiologist. He became a doctor because he dreamt of using his gifts as a cardiologist to help share his Christian faith. He says that he wants to heal people’s spiritual hearts as well as their physical ones. He shares that vision regularly with men’s groups and church groups whenever he can.

Dr. Bill is an amazing guy.

Dr. Bill’s patients love him. They come mainly from the churches he visits, because they want to encourage and support Dr. Bill’s dream, and Dr. Bill works really hard to help them with their heart issues. He prescribes meds, diagnoses medical problems, and has even started working on surgery over the past few years, all within the confines of the churches who support him.

When you consider that Dr. Bill didn’t go the traditional route to become a cardiologist, it’s even more inspiring. You see, Dr. Bill trained himself. He read books, talked with others interested in cardiology, moonlighted in a surgery ward, used trial and error, and prayer. And the result? He has accomplished the amazing. He is probably the most dedicated doctor I know.

I really, really admire Dr. Bill.

Recently, Dr. Bill performed major open heart surgery in the main operating theater at the big university hospital in our city. It was huge, because it meant that Dr. Bill was finally going to be able to make an impact outside of his supporting churches. It was covered by all the big secular and Christian media companies, and – maybe you heard about it? If you didn’t watch the live streaming, you really should go back and watch the videos. There were some real harrowing moments when Dr. Bill nearly lost the patient because of some small mistakes (Dr. Bill is only human, after all), and there’s some talk that the patient will have lost some motor functions after he recovers, but he is alive.

Here are some reviews of that surgery, from some of the people who watched the live stream:

“Dr. Bill is a great man of God, and his surgery was an amazing testimony to the power of prayer. Just think about it – he was touching that man’s heart, and that man is still alive today!” Pastor Dale Srudge, Rural Heights, Alabama.

“If my heart stopped, I would want Dr. Bill to be the one to restart it. He has annointed, healing hands.” Mrs. Emma-Lou Johnson, 75. Johnson City, Tennessee.

“That was the best heart surgery I’ve ever seen IN MY LIFE! Dr. Bill is AWESOME!” Heather, 12. Chicago, Illinois.

“When I try to picture a great American Christian man of God, who is promoting American and Christian values from surgery to the sanctuary, from the pulpit to the prep ward, I think of Dr. Bill.” Dr. Ted Bear, DoctorGuide Magazine.

And best of all, because of the support of his church communities, Dr. Bill’s surgery was one of the biggest live-streamed surgeries of the year, receiving an A+ at SurgeryScore. The medical establishment had to pay attention, because the numbers of views were so impressive. There were even folks watching from as far away as China!

Dr. Bill’s life is just one big miracle after the other.

Unfortunately, this high-profile surgery brought out the critics. Biased secular critics said that Dr. Bill’s work was “sloppy”, “amateurish”, and “barely proficient.” Further, the secular critics had the nerve to compare Dr. Bill’s work to the surgeons out in Los Angeles who have been performing heart surgery for years. Given, those surgeons have lost fewer patients then Dr. Bill, and their patients who survived have had fewer complications as a result of their work. But when they look at Dr. Bill, all these critics can do is focus on his mistakes.

This shouldn’t be a surprise, because these critics are secular, and of course they would hold Dr. Bill to a different standard, because he is an outspoken Christian cardiologist.

But what I can’t understand is the Christian critics who do the same thing. The critic over at Christian Medical Today said that Dr. Bill’s lack of training made his operation “irresponsible”, and they suggested that he might want to reexamine how he’s going about reaching his dream. The critic at Relevant Surgery went further, expressing that Dr. Bill should just go back to administering basic healthcare clinics out of his church, but leave the heart surgery to the “professionals.”

I have this response to these so-called “Christian” critics who would attack their so-called “brother”:

Dr. Bill is a committed Christian, he really loves God, and he is doing everything he can to honor God through his surgery. His surgeries may not be as effective as those of his secular colleagues, and he might lose a patient from time to time, but is that really what matters here? After all, he’s only treating other Christians so why would we judge his medical practices by the “standards” of the world?

And don’t forget – surgery is really, really hard. It takes a long time, and lots of practice, and people to practice on, and lots of extra blood, and the scrubs and doctor’s gloves and such. It’s not cheap and it’s not easy, and not just anyone can do it.

Which brings up the big question: if these critics are such experts on doing open heart surgery, why don’t they go out and do some open heart surgery themselves? If they think being a cardiologist is so easy, why don’t they go out and unclog some poor fat bastard’s arteries and see what happens?

They don’t, because they can’t.

Remember the words of Teddy Roosevelt:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds

All the critics can do is complain and make Dr. Bill’s life difficult, not to mention all of the other Dr. Bills out there in the world who could be inspired by his success. Are they jealous? Is their criticism a sign of spiritual immaturity? Maybe they’re just failed medical students who can’t stand seeing someone else become what they were not able to become. I don’t know.

But it’s sad. And it’s especially sad when you remember how great Dr. Bill is, and how wonderful and inspiring his life dreams are. Why can’t the critics just realize that, and get on board the Dr. Bill train, where the destination is Peace, Joy, and Happiness?

Dr. Bill has a big open heart surgery scheduled for the middle of summer, and rumor has it that he’ll be operating on his first atheist. I’m sure it will be publicized in all the big Christian podcasts, magazines, websites, and so on. When it comes, you can help Dr. Bill by making sure you support it. Gather your youth group, your Sunday school class, your small group Bible study, and buy the group licence to watch that live stream. Buy the Dr. Bill Study Guide and Prayer Journal and give a copy to your friends! Convince your pastor to use the four week preaching series, “Give Us A New Heart, the Dr. Bill Story Story” and don’t forget to invite seekers!

Most especially, go onto Healthy Tomatoes, the surgery review aggregator, comment, and give Dr. Bill a high rating. Remember, by doing all this, you will be helping to send a message to the Big Medical Establishment that we want more cardiologists, doctors, and surgeons just like Dr. Bill!

What’s REALLY Offensive About The SNL Parody of God’s Not Dead 2

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:

The Blaze said it was “sacrilegious.”

CharismaNews said it was “blasphemous.”

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.

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 5.58.01 AM[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.

Not fearful.

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.

Psalm 23:4

Psalm 27:1

Psalm 118:6

Psalm 115:11

Psalm 103:17

Deuteronomy 31:6

1 Chronicles 28:20

Isaiah 41:10

Isaiah 41:13

Isaiah 54:4

Matthew 10:28

Romans 8:15

1 Corinthians 16:13

Hebrews 13:5-6

1 Peter 3:13-14

1 John 4:18

2 Timothy 1:7

Christian Moviegoers, Do You Even Know What You Want?

Woodlawn-PosterJon and Andrew Erwin’s Woodlawn just scored another fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the 9th positive review out of ten, giving the film a pretty solid 90% rating, although with an admittedly small sampling of reviews.

As I wrote about before, this sort of thing is unprecedented in the world of Christian-made filmmaking. Phil Vischer’s animated “Jonah: A Veggietales Movie” was the previous high-ranking film of the genre with a 65% from 55 reviews.

And yet, curiously, as of this writing, Woodlawn has only made about 5.5 million in ticket sales in 1,553 theaters. At this time in War Room‘s release, it had made over 15 million in 1,135 theaters. God’s Not Dead had made 12 million in 780 theaters.

The only conclusion I can reach is that compared to War Room and God’s Not Dead, or even the much less overtly Christian faith-based football movie, When The Game Stands Tall, the Big Christian Audience is not supporting Woodlawn.

And I just don’t get it.

Fellow Christian moviegoers, brothers and sisters who make up the casual movie-going target demographic for Christian-made films, I don’t understand you.

I really don’t!

So often I’ve heard you complain about how badly you want Hollywood to make movies that you can take your families to see, movies that reflect your values, movies that treat your faith with respect. I’ve heard you gripe that Hollywood – which you abandoned a long time ago – doesn’t get you, your wants, and your needs for entertainment.

But then, when one of your own makes just the sort of film that you’ve been clamoring for, a film that apparently rises above the standard “Christian movie”, a movie that is actually a pretty good movie, with high production values, recognizable and respected actors, and a compelling and relevant true story, what do you do?

The vast majority of you just… stay home.

55c2a97f776f726211004f8dAnd the craziest thing? Woodlawn is a film that is right in your wheelhouse. Up until now, the audience has been largely Christian, and that audience has given the film a CinemaScore of A+ (the last time a film did this? War Room, which you turned out for in droves). Woodlawn hits all the right beats for a Christian-made film, with faith-based film regular/hobbit/Goonie/Rudy – Sean Astin – sharing the gospel right at the top of the film, the film also features a sympathetic Christian protagonist struggling to be true to his faith and his life’s calling in the face of immense opposition, and it winds up with a feel-good rousing sports-related climax.

This is a film that was made for you, but for some odd reason, you aren’t there for this film.

I don’t get you, brothers and sisters. I really don’t.

The thing that I really don’t get is that with Woodlawn, this movie that was made for you, we also have a Christian-made movie that is actually being treated kindly by secular film reviewers, and this doesn’t typically happen for Christian-made movies.

War Room? 37%. God’s Not Dead? 16%. Little Boy? 20%. Do You Believe? 18%.

Woodlawn? 90%.

And you aren’t showing up to support it.

So, members of the Big Christian Audience, just so you understand what you are doing by not supporting Woodlawn: you are sending Hollywood a clear message that quality filmmaking doesn’t matter to you.

To be honest, at this stage of the game, I’m not sure what matters to you, and I’m one of you! Imagine how perplexed the suits in Hollywood must be!

And it makes me wonder – do you even know what you want?

The real irony is that Woodlawn director, Jon Erwin, defended you when Mom’s Night Out was getting high audience praise but low critical reviews. In an interview with The Blaze, Erwin said, “What you see is a group of underserved people who have not felt appreciated who now have an outlet and a voice and an ability to celebrate themselves,” Erwin said of the fans’ positive reviews. “Hollywood and the mainstream press doesn’t understand these people.”

Hollywood and the mainstream press aren’t the only ones.

Fellow movie-going Christians, thanks to the mega-mixed messages that you are sending to the filmmaking gatekeepers, thanks to the way you are being so flakey of your support of quality Christian-made films, the next few years of Christian-made filmmaking will probably be pretty interesting.

But not in a “quality Christian-made film” way. Rather, it will probably interesting in a “more of the same old, same old” kind of way.

Thanks so much for that.

And yes, that was sarcasm.