Pureflix Announces Date for God’s Not Dead 4

gods-not-dead-a-light-in-darkness

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

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Michael Scott addresses the faith-based film reporters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Christian Film Distributors, What Are You Doing To Your Audience?

This month, three big Christian-made films are being released within a two week period.

I Can Only Imagine, the new film by the Erwin Brothers (Woodlawn, Mom’s Night Out) about the life of singer Bart Millard (of Mercy Me fame) is being released on March 15.

Paul, Apostle of Christ, the spring’s annual sword and sandal Bible movie starring Jim Caviezel (The Passion of the Christ) as Luke the apostle, is being released eight days later on March 23. [editor’s note: it was originally the 28th, but the date was moved up in February]

And God’s Not Dead 3: A Light in Darkness, the third film in the Pure Flix God’s Not Dead franchise, is being released a week later on March 30.

March 15, March 23, and March 30.

Guys, what are you doing to your audience?

First, it’s important to point out the key audience for these kinds of movies. While the people behind the movies probably hope that the films will be seen outside the Christian subculture, the truth is that all three were custom made for the Big Christian Audience. And if believers don’t turn up for any one of these films, then they will have miserable opening weekends, shortened in-cinema lives, and unfortunate box office returns.

So then why release them so closely together? If all three films are depending on the same audience, why put yourself into a position where you’re forcing that audience to choose between them?

Consider the average costs associated with going to see a film in 2018.

(JACOB AMMENTORP LUND/GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO)

According to Deadline, the average price of a movie ticket last year was about $9.00. Time tells us that the average price of babysitting is about $14.00/hour. And then if you want snacks at the movies, you’ll pay around $5.00 for the restrained purchase of a small drink and $7.00 for an equally restrained small popcorn.

Forget about a box of Junior Mints (another $4.00 if you don’t sneak it in after buying the same box at the Dollar Store for, yes, a dollar).

And then we have the miscellaneous costs. Transportation, parking, and dinner before the movie.

Now, let’s imagine a couple with children decides to support these films, but leave the kids at home. They will potentially spend about $80 each time they go, and that’s not including the miscellaneous expenses. So, if they support all three of these films, they will be spending close to $250 in the month of March in movies alone.

I don’t know any couples with children who budget that kind of money on movies.

Heck, you could pay $12.00 a month for unlimited movies on Netflix, including faith-based movies, all while staying in the comfort of your home eating snacks bought in bulk at Costco.

Samson-Malaysia-PosterAnd guys… all of this congestion… it’s so unnecessary! Looking over the calendar of faith-based films being released this year, there really aren’t that many on the docket. Samson, the last big faith-based release, came out in February, but there aren’t that many big budget releases happening this year aimed at Christian audiences.

And yet, we have these three, all jockeying for position, all wanting the same butts in the seats, and all bottle-necked around Easter.

The Christian faith’s most sacred time of year.

I can only imagine that this blog post will somehow find it’s way to the folks who make these sorts of decisions, and so I’m going to close by addressing them directly. And I’m going to call them Monica and Chandler to make it seem more personal, and because I’m currently binging old episodes of Friends.

Hi Monica and Chandler,

I really appreciate what you guys are trying to do by making and releasing films for Christian audiences. I’m grateful that you are exploring how to use the medium of film to promote the Gospel, and how you are improving the product you release with each passing year. Things really are getting better!

But you really need to do a better job thinking through this distribution thing next time. After all, it’s in your best interest to maximize the return on the investments made by the film’s backers, as well as to give your audience the chance to support the work that you do. It’s like if three studios released three superhero movies at the same time. None of them will do as well as they would have if there’d been some breathing room built into the releases. I don’t even work for Hollywood and I recognize this.

I have to confess – most of us don’t know or understand the mechanics of doing what you do, we just know the finished product. We don’t understand the politics behind the relationships of your companies, we just know that we want to watch what your company produces.

But if you claim to share our faith and share each other’s faith, then you need to work together in this sort of thing. Spread things out. Give us some breathing room. Allow us the chance to get our affairs in order between films. Even though we may not turn up to see your films every time like you’d like, you should really remove all the obstacles that would prevent us from doing so, should we want to.

It just makes sense.

Thank you!

Nate
(on behalf of the Big Christian Audience)

The Shack – The Highest Grossing Christian Film To Give Away Free Resources?

shackThis weekend, the controversial faith-based film The Shack crossed the $30,000,000 box office mark. This put the film in fifteenth place in the Box Office Mojo list of highest grossing films marketed to the Christian audience (or as they say, “Movies produced by Christians that promote or embody their religion.“)

Considering that the movie has only been out for two weekends, it will undoubtedly climb higher on the list before all is said and done, and could potentially crack the top ten.

The film’s release renewed heated debate about The Shack, which was a controversial best selling book years before it was adapted for the silver screen. Calls of heresy and blasphemy from respected church leaders have kept many people from supporting this film, a decision that other respected church leaders see as a missed opportunity to share the Christian faith, if a believing movie-goer has the right tools at his or her disposal.

To help solve this problem, and possibly to answer some of the concerns of the detractors, the makers of The Shack put together an impressive, biblically-based discussion guide, as well as other materials, all available on http://theshackresources.com for free.

When I saw that The Shack had cracked the top 15 highest grossing Christian-made films, it made me wonder how the other films on the list handled their ministry resources in a similar way. To help answer this question, I did a simple search for each of the top 15 movies [“The name of the movie movie resources”] and looked for the official resource page provided by the filmmakers or studios. While most of these films have ministry-related products that are sold through Lifeway or Outreach (including The Shack), I was specifically looking at which high grossing films made it a point to give resources for free, for ministry’s sake.

The results of my research were mixed.

15. The ShackResources are free, including hard copies of discussion guides and resource DVDs.

14. FireproofResources are not free.

13. CourageousResources are not free.

12. RisenCombination of free and not free resources, the free resources include a downloadable 14 page conversation starter and a link to a free Bible study plan.

11. The Nativity Story – The film is from 2006, and I was unable to find any working links for resources, free or otherwise.

10. Soul Surfer – No resources available on film website, free or otherwise.

9. Son of GodResources are not free.

8. God’s Not DeadResources are not free.

7. Miracles from HeavenCombination of free and not free resources, the free resource is a downloadable sixteen page discussion guide, no Scripture references.

6. War RoomA whole bunch of resources, more than I’ve seen from any of the other movies, but none of them are free.

5. Heaven Is For RealThe website has a free ten page discussion guide, with Scripture refrences.

4. The Voyage of the Dawn TreaderA free education guide, but no ministry resources.

3. Prince Caspian – A free education guide, but no ministry resources.

2. The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe – A free education guide, but no ministry resources.

1. The Passion of the Christ – The film that started it all, from 2004. I was unable to find an official website for the film, so no resources.

While it saddens me that all of the top grossing Christian films don’t give away ministry resources,  I am heartened by the films that do. Also, I should point out that Affirm Films (the faith-based division of Sony) makes free discussion guides available for the movies they release, many of which are on the list above. You can see those study guides by going to the Affirm Films website.

However, I would encourage Christian filmmakers and producers – especially of films that make impressive profit – to use some of that profit to create tools that people can freely use to share the Gospel, and not just create ministry tools to increase the profit even more.

Thimblerig out.

[update: after the second weekend, The Shack has crossed $42M, making it number 11 on the list just behind The Nativity Story. It’ll push Soul Surfer out of the top ten very soon.]

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 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.

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.