The 2016 MOVIEGUIDE® Awards Nominations

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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

Ben-Hur

God’s Not Dead 2

Hacksaw Ridge

Hail, Caesar

Miracles from Heaven

Risen

Silence

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

Operation Christmas

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

Hacksaw Ridge

Hail, Caesar!

Queen of Katwe

Sing

Sully

Best Movie for Families

Finding Dory

The Jungle Book

Miracles from Heaven

Pete’s Dragon

Queen of Katwe

The Secret Life of Pets

Sing

Trolls

The Young Messiah

Zootopia

Best Movie for Mature Audiences

Ben Hur

Captain America: Civil War

Eddie the Eagle

The Finest Hours

God’s Not Dead 2

Hacksaw Ridge

Hail, Caesar!

Risen

Silence

Sully

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.

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The God’s Not Dead $100M Lawsuit

god is not deadAccording 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.

Again.

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.

The suit can be seen here in its entirety if you enjoy reading legal documents. If you don’t, I’ll summarize.

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 JobsUnfriended 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?

Is it another example why a Christian film industry is a bad idea?

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.”]

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

Unpacking that God’s Not Dead 3 Teaser

godsnotdead2In a recent post, I examined the cases that were listed at the end of God’s Not Dead 2 to see how well they applied to the fictional case presented in the film. My conclusion was that they did not. Click here to read that post, if you are interested.

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.

Second, when overwhelming support came down for the pastors from the right and the left, the mayor bowed to the pressure and withdrew the subpoenas. The subpoenas had stepped over important boundaries, and the mayor admitted it.

Then the pastors sued the mayor for subpoenaing them in the first place, but the suit that was ultimately dismissed by a federal district judge.

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.

Reel Life Imitates Real Life? Really?

godsnotdead2-1Pure Flix has posted the list of court cases they show at the end of God’s Not Dead 2 in a post entitled “Real Life Imitates Reel Life.” (Actually, it should have been the other way around, since the movie was supposed inspired by events in real life. But, that’s not so important).

As you might know, God’s Not Dead 2 deals with a teacher who is sued for discussing Jesus in a history class. The film has been described as being a “wake up call” that is “ripped from the headlines.” As a part of proving the legitimacy of the film’s premise, the filmmakers chose to show a long list of court cases that supported their case.

The interesting thing is that if you look over the list, twenty-three of the cases were situations where a Christian sued someone else, and only eleven were situations where a lawsuit was brought against a Christian – as happens in the film.

And it’s even more interesting that none of the cases mentioned dealt with a teacher being sued for mentioning Jesus in a high school history class, or any other similar situation. In fact, only one case involved a classroom (Brooker v. Franks), and that was a case where a student sues their university. Incidentally, that case was also in the list given in the credits of the first God’s Not Dead.

In Brooker v. Franks, a student was given an assignment that went against her religious beliefs (dealing with adoption and homosexual couples), and so she sued the university, and the university very quickly settled the case out of court. This all happened over ten years ago, and you can read more about it online by searching for “Brooker v. Franks.” I’d especially recommend that you read the professor’s point of view, as he is also a Christian, and claims that he allowed the student to do a different assignment.

But things get more interesting when you look at the bulk of the cases. Thirteen of the listed cases dealt with issues of homosexuality and twenty-two dealt with abortion/healthcare issues. If the filmmakers had chosen their fictional protagonist to take a stand based on her convictions on one of these issues, it would have been a much gutsier move. As it is, the story in the film is just fantasy, and the court cases mentioned, when properly scrutinized, don’t seem to do anything to bolster the legitimacy of the film’s premise.

gods-not-dead-2-1And considering the storyline for God’s Not Dead 3 that was teased in the end-credits scene of GND2, it seems like that film will have even fewer legal precedent legs to stand on.

Thoughts?

After writing this, I came across a more thorough examination of the cases over on Patheos’s The Friendly Atheist. A reading of that more complete dissection demonstrates that Pure Flix’s inclusion of the list of court cases doesn’t actually help their argument at all. But, I suppose just having the list breeze past makes the core audience feel better, because if it’s up there, it must have deep meaning, right?

God’s Not Dead 2: How Will it Do?

godsnotdead2-1This 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.

maxresrrdefaultOf 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?

Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 1.54.28 PMThe 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.

Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 2.25.44 PMWhat 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.

252881heh2. 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.)

THE FUTURE?

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.

Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 2.10.48 PM

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.

Thimblerig’s Guide for Watching Christian Films (for People who aren’t Christians)

Christian films.

Fifteen years ago they were found almost exclusively on the shelves of Christian bookstores. Online streaming at that time was virtually non-existent, they didn’t typically play on the regular movie channels, there wasn’t a “Christian Film” section at Blockbuster video, and the odds were that if you were outside of the Christian subculture, you would never see a Christian movie.

And then, in 2004, everything changed.

The Passion of the Christ, the highest grossing independent film of all time, sent an electric jolt through the American film industry. Realizing that an audience actually existed for movies that talked about the Christian faith as something other than a punchline, the major Hollywood studios wasted little time setting up “faith-based” divisions to try and figure out how to best exploit service this previously-neglected demographic.

posterSince then, non-religious theater-goers have seen more and more “faith-based” films being advertised on the coming attraction posters of their local cinemas. Films with ecclesiastical names like “Heaven is for Real”, “God’s Not Dead”, and “Ninety Minutes in Heaven” starring well-known Hollywood actors such as Nicolas Cage, Greg Kinnear, and Jennifer Garner were – for the first time – sharing the stage with typical secular films.

In this brave new world, a regular Friday night movie-goer could walk up to their local megaplex and inadvertently wind up sitting in a movie made by Christians, largely for Christians, and walk out afterwards feeling as if they’d just watched The Big Short without Adam McKay’s explanatory fourth wall breaks.

And so, as Lonely Planet helps guide confused travellers wandering the globe, I’ve developed this guide to help non-religious folks understand what might have just happened if they accidentally wandered into a Christian film.

thimblerigs-film-reviews

*caveat – these are generalizations, and specific Christian films may or may not follow these guidelines. Thimblerig accepts no responsibility for such films.*

1) Christian Films are often written in Christianese

The first thing you need to learn when visiting any country is how to say important phrases in the local dialect. Watching Christian films is no different, as our films are peppered with the dialect of the early 21st century American Christian, a dialect known as Christianese. And for some reason, we don’t do subtitles.

[Note to Pureflix: consider adding subtitles to God’s Not Dead 2]

how-to-speak-christianeseSome basic samples of Christianese that you may encounter in our films:

“Does he know Jesus?” – “Is he a Christian?”

“Does he really know Jesus?” – “If he’s a Christian, why doesn’t he go to church?”

“She’s lost, and needs to come to Jesus!” – “She’s not a Christian, but she should be. And she should attend church regularly.”

“You need to ask Jesus into your heart.” – “You need to become a Christian.”

This is usually followed by “The Sinner’s Prayer”, a prayer that a person recites to become a Christian. This a controversial prayer in Christian circles, because it is not Biblical, meaning that it’s not found in the Bible.

“They have a heart for the lost.” – “They want people who aren’t Christian to become Christian. Oh, and they want them to attend church regularly.”

“God is telling me…” – “I have an opinion that I want to share with you, and by putting God’s stamp of approval on the comment, it will have weight and gravitas. Even if it is just my own opinion.”

“I’m blessed!” – has different meanings, depending on the context. If the person has just gotten something good, it means, “God’s given me some good stuff!” If it is said in response to a personal inquiry, it means, “I’m doing fine, thank you.” Ultimately, it’s an attribution to God for whatever is happening in the Christian’s life.

So, in a Christian film, you might find dialogue like this:

This is just a cursory introduction to the language of many Christian films. For more detailed information about the Christianese dialect, I’d recommend that you visit the Dictionary of Christianese.

(Incidentally, if anyone in the Christian film industry would like to option my Bob and Dave script, please let my people know.)

2) Christian films typically tell much more than they show

One of the most important lessons a traveler can learn when exploring a new part of the world is the importance of saying “I don’t understand” rather than “that doesn’t make sense.”

And if there’s one thing about Christian films that doesn’t make sense to people it’s our propensity to tell. Yes, our films tell. They tell, tell, and tell, and then they tell some more, much more than they show, breaking that cardinal rule of storytelling.

“There’s too much exposition in that Christian film,” the secular critics complain. “They tell us everything!”

However, just as you have to take culture of origin into consideration when watching a foreign film, the Christian film viewer who is not actually a Christian should take the culture of origin into consideration.

And Christian culture loves exposition.

I mean, loves exposition.

preaching-1The best example of this is found in a style of preaching called “expository preaching,” where the preacher spends days or weeks studying a passage from the Bible in depth, and then on Sunday morning, they stand in front of the congregation (audience) and explain everything the passage has to say, verse by verse – sometimes word by word.

The preacher will go deep into the cultural and historical significance of the passage of Scripture, even down to the meaning of certain key words in the verse’s original language of Hebrew or Greek.

The idea behind this is that if one can come close to understanding the original meaning of the ancient document, one might better understand what God intended by that Scriptural text, and better figure out how it can be applied to our lives today.

Oh, and by the way, we Christians also love application.

So, in a nutshell, we explain the message very specifically in church so that there is no chance of confusion, and so that the listener can apply it to their own lives. Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to the uninitiated that we do the same in our films.

Rather than criticizing our films for being over-expositional, maybe secular critics should critique how well our films handled that over-exposition.

3) Christian films are generally Christian wishes being fulfilled cinematically

It’s important to understand the mentality of people when you visit a foreign country. What do the people of that country hope for? What aspirations do they have? How do they view the world?

Some people misunderstand the Christian mentality. They think that we’re a bunch of “pie in the sky in the sweet by and by” people, avoiding reality and clinging to a fantasy about a benevolent old guy who lives in the clouds.

That’s not the case, though. Christians know the reality of the world. We know perfectly well that things can be really, really bad. That things can go south in an instant. But we also know how we wish things were (or in Christianese, how we pray for things to be). So, our films are typically a strange amalgamation of reality and fantasy wish-fulfilment.

For example, we know it’s tough to raise kids, and so our films have no problem showing struggling parents. But we also love a good redemption story, and so in our films someone prays and the runaway kid will make a big personal change (Christianese, repent) and come back home, prodigal-style. This is what we wish would happen with every errant child.

Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 3.10.14 PMWe also know that marriage is tough in reality, and that not all marriages survive, and so our films will show the difficulty of marriage. But we also believe that God can repair any relationship, and so in our films someone prays and ultimately our film marriages work out. This is how we wish marriages would always work out.

In reality, we know that God always answers prayer but that sometimes the answer is “No.” But in our films, we like to focus on when God says, “Yes!” For example, someone prayed to win the big game? Check, game won. Someone prayed to restore the broken marriage? Check, marriage restored. Someone prayed for the sick person to be healed? Check, healing has happened, and death has been defeated.

We like our films family friendly, non-offensive, and easy to watch. We like our films to make us feel better about ourselves as Christians. We typically avoid subjects like the certainty of death, the reality of doubt, and the in-the-dirt nastiness of the mistakes that we make in life. It’s just nicer when things turn out alright, isn’t it?

If you love happy endings, you’ll love watching our films.

4) Christian filmmakers are not infallible 

No country you visit is perfect. You know that amazing 5 star hotel, right on the beach? Just a half mile down the road you’ll find people sleeping in hovels and working for pennies. That tourist site that houses ancient ruins that you’ve always dreamed of seeing? It’s all managed by a corrupt government of cigar smoking fat cats who could care less about the orphans running on the streets.

It’s the same with Christian filmmaking. Our filmmakers are not infallible, and they will make strange decisions, and they will focus on curious things from time to time. You don’t have to forgive us for that, but we do hope that you’ll understand.

godsnotdead2-1For example, if you are paying attention to Christianity in America right now, you might notice that many church leaders are promoting a persecution narrative for American Christians (rather than for global Christians who are actually being persecuted). This might be perplexing to you, because you know that American Christians actually have incredible freedom to practice their religion. But the narrative is out there, and it’s even worming its way into our films.

You see, for the longest time, American Christianity has been the big kid on the block politically, financially, culturally, and other -ally ways, but it’s not the case any more. We American Christians are still coming to terms with the fact that we’ve lost power and influence, that our voices aren’t as loud as they used to be, that people often simply don’t care what we think any more.

And we’re certain that – as a result – persecution is coming.

And even though we’ve had our expository preachers tell us that according to the Bible, persecution is a guaranteed part of the Christian experience, we are still terrified that it will really happen. Because we like the “Christians are victorious!” narrative. Remember our wish-fulfillment filmmaking? We want to wind up on top, even though that pretty well goes against everything Jesus taught.

If you aren’t a Christian, then our cries of persecution in America probably seem ridiculous to you, and might even serve to create more and more animosity from you towards us.

And in a height of irony, I can imagine the animosity building to the point that our focus on making movies that stoke the fires of fear could actually turn out to be the catalyst for actual persecution. In other words, I can imagine that our fear of persecution could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Wouldn’t that make an interesting Christian film?

5) Christian films are hopefully evangelistic

Countries that have bustling, successful tourist industries convince people that when they visit, they will never want to leave.

Christian filmmakers have a similar goal with their films. If you are not a Christian, they hope that their films tells about the Christian experience so clearly that after watching you will also want to become a Christian (Christianese, give your heart to Jesus). 

“Really?” You say, befuddled. “Then why use all of the insider language that I don’t understand? Why break the traditional rules of storytelling to the point where I’m too distracted by exposition to see the value in being a Christian? Why all this talk about persecution when all I see is Christians making noise? Why does it seem less like these Christian films are trying to attract me, and more like they’re trying to push me away? Why do they make it so hard?”

I know, I know. Reaching you with our films seems more like an afterthought, and your becoming interested in Jesus as a result of our films would just be some sort of religious collateral damage.

The only thing I can say is that Christian filmmakers are working in a business. An industry. And they have to serve multiple masters, just like all filmmakers, and that affects the films that are made, no matter what the hope of the filmmaker might be.

Christian filmmakers have to please their investors, who are usually also Christians. And they are often Christians who love expository, on-the-nose, don’t-mess-around preaching. They can be less interested in artfulness and more interested in admonition. Their purpose is communication usually at the expense of craft. Their goal is to put out the Message, and the medium is simply utilitarian, like a jeep or a Swiss Army knife.

Also, since Christian filmmaking has started to become big business, the filmmakers also have to please the secular studios, who might be footing the bill for distribution or marketing. And the studios need to be convinced that the product that the Christian filmmaker is developing is going to put the behinds of the Big Christian Audience into the cinema seats.

who-is-your-audienceThis means that Christian filmmakers have to ultimately please that Big Christian Audience.

Make one misstep, and the Big Christian Audience won’t turn out, and the filmmaker might not get the chance to make a second faith-based film. Play his cards right, and he stands to make a 2000% return on his film’s initial investment, which will make everyone happy. His career will be set.

So you can see, that even if a filmmaker has a heart for the lost, and a desire to see thousands of people come to Jesus, her ability to make a film that would actually be evangelistic is restrained by the forces pulling her in other directions, forces that – ironically – want to be evangelistic, too.

6) And by the way, we make a lot of End Times movies

Statistically speaking, if you accidentally walk in on a Christian film, it’s likely to be a movie dealing with the end of the world, or the End Times. This might be connected with #4, and I’m not going to say a lot about it other than to say that for some reason, we have a certain segment of the Christian filmmaking community that is absolutely fascinated with the end of the world.

This is even though in Matthew 24:36, Jesus himself told us that nobody will know when the end will come. Go figure.

You can see an amazing IMDb list of Christian End Times movies here.

Thimblerig’s Guide to Christian Films is woefully incomplete, but what do you expect from a blog article? If you truly want to see an actual guide, then feel free to start me a crowdsourcing campaign, or put me in touch with the fine folks at Zondervan, and we’ll see what we can do.

Meanwhile, may this guide help the next time you stumble into a movie starring Kirk Cameron or Kevin Sorbo, or the next time your well-intentioned Christian friend invites you over and pops in a movie made by a pair of brothers named Kendrick. Maybe, because you have some insight into their culture and mindset, you’ll better appreciate their intentions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

God’s Not Dead 2 – Thimblerig’s Trailer Over-Analysis

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…

gnd2-cover

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:

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 11.12.40 AM

“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!”

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 12.11.55 PMAh, 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.

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 1.08.44 PMNext 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.

Right?

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…”

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 12Ah, 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.

We're_at_War

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.

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 3.19.53 PM

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.

The nerve.

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.”

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 4.24.01 PMQuick 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.”

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 4.20.35 PMCut 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?

liahonlp.nfo-o-7dd

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.”

dana-carvey-snl

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?

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 6.18.42 AM

What is the quite original song that the trailer shows the Newsboys singing?

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 7.01.51 PM

And finally, the question on everyone’s mind…

Do the Robertsons make an appearance in GND2?

dd