Tim Chey’s Suing the Devil • Thimblerig’s Review • Part 1

A month or so ago, I came across a trailer for David & Goliath, a new Christian-made film being released in April.  The film caught my eye because it was a Christian-made film being touted as having an unheard of $50 million budget, and the filmmakers seemed intent on comparing themselves to Darren Aronofky’s Noah, and Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings, making the heady claim that unlike those atheist-helmed endeavors, their film would be “biblically correct in every way.”

Setting aside the “biblically correct” statement for a moment, a few things came to mind as I watched this trailer.  First, why do filmmakers continue to give the people of ancient times British accents?  Second, why do filmmakers persist in hiring caucasian actors to play Middle Easterners?  Third, why – in the age of CGI wonders – would you make a 50 million dollar feature film about David and Goliath, and then proceed to make Goliath seem so… unimpressive?

Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 11.04.12 AM

One of these is a scary giant. The other is a big Canadian. Which is which?

 

But I was curious, because it seemed like the filmmakers were being very persistent and quite verbose in talking up their film.  So, I went searching for more and in the process discovered writer, director, and producer Tim Chey.

tim-pic-1-427x284Timothy A. Chey is a filmmaker who has been making faith-based films for the past several years.  Some films he has either written or directed (or both) include Freedom (with Cuba Gooding, Jr), The Genius Club (with Steven Baldwin), Final: The Rapture (with several actors I didn’t recognize), and the subject of today’s review, Suing the Devil (with Malcolm McDowell).

Curious, I scoured the internet for anything I could find out about Mr. Chey.  I discovered several print interviews with a variety of Christian websites, and a handful of televised interviews where Mr. Chey appeared on Carman’s talk show (the well-known Christian singer who was quite popular in the 80’s), Christ in Prophecy, and other similar broadcasts.  After reading and watching everything I could find, I was left with a split opinion of Mr. Chey, or at least the Mr. Chey we can see online.

On the one hand, in his video interviews Mr. Chey came across as a good natured and passionate Christian, a man who understands that Christians should embrace cinema, and he seemed like the kind of person I would enjoy sitting around with, talking movies.  I also can appreciate that his movies have reportedly had positive spiritual impact, encouraging believers, and even being a tool that God has used to draw people into faith in Him.

On the other hand, in his print interviews, and sometimes on video, Mr. Chey often played the role of the persecuted Christian filmmaker.   Did he truly experience the sorts of persecution to which he eluded?  Or was this a strategy on his part, to stir up some controversy and make his films more interesting to the evangelical audience?

I really don’t know, but I wanted to address two things that he talked about in multiple interviews, that seem to be a recurring theme in the narrative he paints of David and Goliath in particular, and his career in general:  Hollywood’s response to David and Goliath, and Christian criticism of his films.

In an interview on Godvine, Mr. Chey wrote about the resistance he faced finding distribution in Hollywood for his film, saying “The Hollywood studios have rejected ‘David and Goliath’ for being too Bible-based and religious. One studio executive said, “You mention God in almost every scene.”

The reason why the studios decided they would not distribute David and Goliath was that it was too Bible-based?  It talked about God too much?  It was too biblically correct?

Mom's Not Dead for RealHere’s where I have a problem with this suggestion:  2014, Hollywood’s “Year of the Bible”, was the year that the Hollywood movers and shakers watched several Christian-made projects do quite well, including a little evangelical indie Christian film called God’s Not Dead, which made over $80 million in box office and DVD sales.  Hollywood continued to reel from Mel Gibson’s enormous success with The Passion of the Christ a few years earlier, with most of the studios rushing to create “faith-and-family” divisions in an attempt to exploit evangelical Christian desire for entertainment.

After all, Hollywood is a city built on profit, not ideology.  And considering that neither Noah nor Exodus: Gods and Kings were the box office blockbusters that the studios had hoped they would be, and this was largely because the films didn’t please the evangelical Christian audience, one would think that the studios would greet a well-made “biblically correct” film with open arms.

One would think they would smell the box office cash from miles away.

But according to Mr. Chey, his film was too Bible-based, too religious, talked about God too much, was too biblically correct to qualify for anything from the Hollywood studios but rejection.

Does that strike anyone else as… odd?

Secondly, in one interview, Mr. Chey complained that his films were being mocked by “fellow jealous Christians… saying the acting was bad, script was horrible.”  In another interview he said that one of his personal weaknesses was “not loving those carnal Christian movie critics who continually stab Christian filmmakers in the back.”

“Jealous Christians”?  “Carnal Christian movie critics”?  Ouch.

“The mistake Christian filmmakers make repeatedly,” Mr. Chey continued, “is they give into their fears of being maligned by the carnal, world-loving Christian who drools over Hollywood product…”

“Drooling over Hollywood product”?  Is that just a snarky way of saying Christians who appreciate well-made movies?

Finally, Mr. Chey dropped the bomb.

“One person wrote me and said 7 people went forward to receive Christ after showing ‘Gone‘. I can just imagine these carnal Christians rolling their eyes at the horror of that. But the true horror will be on Judgment Day when Christ says to them, ‘Depart from me for I never knew you.'”

I actually had to read this quote several times to make certain that I understood the ramifications of Mr. Chey’s comments.  If I understood him correctly, Mr. Chey was saying that he had experienced negative criticism from Christians, and that these film critics – because they had been critical of his films rather than just encouraging – were actually “carnal Christians” who would be damned on judgment day.

Because they didn’t like his films?

ytpj63

Having never actually seen any of Mr. Chey’s films, I was now truly interested.  Although as a person who is purposefully critical of Christian-made films, I was concerned that this might lump me into the category of being either a “jealous” or “carnal” Christian.

I ran over to his IMDB page and began looking into his films, especially for the ones available for viewing online (one of the downfalls of living in China).  I passed immediately on his two end-times movies (the most overdone of Christian-made genres), and while his John Newton film looked interesting, I couldn’t find a way to watch it online.

Then this film poster caught my eye.

suing_the_devil_xlg
Suing Satan?  Malcolm McDowell?  A very eye-catching poster?  I was intrigued by the whole idea.  And since Amazon offered streaming rentals of the film, I proceeded to watch.

For part 2, the actual review of Suing the Devil, click here.

This post is a part of my 40 Days (and Nights) of Christian Media Challenge, where I’m doing my best to consume nothing but Christian media.  This has led me to make some good Christian media discoveries, as well as some real clunkers.

Day 16 down.

 

9 Things Hollywood Can Do To Make The Perfect Faith-Based Film

Dear Hollywood,

I know something about you.

Don’t worry, it’s not about a new scandal, and you haven’t been hacked again, as far as I know.  It’s simply this:  you have been trying desperately to figure out how to crack the faith-based film formula, and while you have had moderate success here and there (even a broken clock is right a couple of times a day, right?) you’ve also had plenty of misfires.

I know that you are frustrated.

It must be so disheartening!  After all, everyone knows the formulas for your non-faith-based films that have served you so well: indy Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey; Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat; Robert McKee’s Story, but like Indiana Jones in his hero’s journey, you’re staring at a pile of amazing treasure, and you have the enormous obstacle of a great chasm in the way.

And you don’t have a whip.

wpid-dsc_0314-noexifThe wealth you could accumulate with that formula in your hands is unimaginable, and I know that you’ve thought about it.  With the knowledge of how to successfully tap into those middle America faith-based box office ticket sales, you could finally add the new wing to your beach house in Malibu.  You could finally buy that new candy apple red Jaguar F-type R you’ve had your eye on and park it in your driveway for everyone to see.  You could finally get that plastic surgery you’ve been dreaming of, ever since Renee what’s-her-name got so much publicity for making her big face change.

But you just don’t have a whip.

Well, breathe a sigh of relief my friends, and schedule your consultation with Dr. Grossman, because after months of research by the tireless staff at the Thimblerig Institute for Faith Based Film Studies©, with untold hours spent watching a variety of faith-based film successes and failures, guess what?

We’ve done it.

We’ve cracked the formula.

We know what you need to do.

And we’re giving this information away, for free.

This won’t be as earth-shattering as the mythical memo sent by Christopher Vogler while he was working for Disney, but these nine things might be just what you were looking for.

So get your assistant to take notes.

9 Things Hollywood Can Do To Make The Perfect Faith-Based Film

1.  The Perfect Christian Film needs to look good.

This first point seems pretty obvious, but the history of faith-based film may lead you believe that Christians like films that aren’t shot and edited well.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Recent films have proven that Christian audiences want their films to look as good as Hollywood’s best, so don’t try to save money by hiring a kid just out of film school.  Pony up the dough and get competent, experienced people to shoot, sound, and edit the film.

Don’t worry.  You’ll save money on acting, as the mass of faith-based audiences don’t seem to mind amateur actors, especially if said actors play supporting characters, and they are outspoken Christians in real life.

Save more money and get your cousin who went to music school to compose the soundtrack on his Yamaha MOX6 keyboard.  The score is inconsequential as long as you can get a few songs by current contemporary Christian musicians to play over the opening and closing credits.  That’s the stuff the audience will eat it up.

Look here for some recent popular CCM options.

2.  Message is King.

samuel-goldwyn-producer-pictures-are-for-entertainment-messagesGood news!  You can also save money on screenwriting, as typical faith-based audiences are mostly concerned about the message rather than the story.  That being said, it’s important that you run your message by a few friendly Christian leaders to make certain that it’s kosher before releasing the film, which will also probably get you some good bullet point quotes you can use to further promote your film.  And while certainly the film should have some entertaining moments of drama and comedy to keep the audience engaged, ultimately you can forget Samuel Goldwyn’s Western Union quote.

It’s all about the message!  Say that to yourself a few times to let it sink in.

3.  How to Write Characters for Faith-Based Films.

Since we’ve established the importance of the message in faith-based films, we should take a moment to explain what should take place in the creating and writing of characters, so as to avoid confusion.

KEVIN-SPACEY-American-BeautyThe protagonist should be noble with few flaws, and the flaws he or she has should be pretty minor.  We don’t want any Lester Burnhams (Kevin Spacey in American Beauty) or Colin Sullivans (Matt Damon in Departed) sneaking into the casts of our faith-based films.  And if you make the bold choice of having the protagonist wrestling with his or her faith, something miraculous should happen to help convince or reassure the hero that he is following the right spiritual pathway.  Forget suffering servants, the faith-based audience wants the hero to live in victory!

As to the antagonist, it is helpful if the antagonist is written to be fairly one-dimensional, with underdeveloped motivations for being opposed to the hero or the faith that the hero represents.  The antagonist exists solely to stand in opposition to the protagonist, and we needn’t spend an inordinate amount of time on the motivations.

Also, seriously consider having the antagonist pray the prayer of salvation at the climax of the film, possibly even right before he or she dies.  Yes, that would be a big encouragement to the audiences, even if you have to sort of force the situation.

Such an ending is highly recommended, and should not be considered hacky or manipulative.

4.  More on the Writing…

I know, for something that doesn’t seem to be so important for faith-based films, we are spending quite a bit of time on the subject of writing.  Isn’t that strange?  But research is research, so we continue.

There are several things that you may be used to having in feature film scripts that you don’t need to spend too much time worrying about in the faith-based scripts you will develop: symbolism, metaphors, allegories, subtlety, structure, interesting narrative, poetry, innovation, creativity, ambiguity, unanswered questions, analogies, euphemisms, paradoxes, satire, irony…

oh, you get the idea.

Just avoid being provocative, and focus on being on the nose and didactic, and you’ll do well.

5.  Christians like their celebrities, too.

korie-and-willie-robertsonIf you can get a celebrity to cameo in your film, it will be a sure draw to the box office.  It can be a singer, an actor, a sports star, a reality TV star, a journalist, or even a pastor!  As long as the celebrity is an inoffensive household name in Christian homes, they don’t even have to act well!

Christian or not, having a pseudo-famous name attached will somehow make the film seem more legitimate, and if there is some question about the faith of the celebrity, it will also get the faith-based audience talking about the film as they wonder hopefully if the celebrity is a Christian, too!

More publicity for your film, right?

6.  Faith-based = Family Friendly.

DoveApprovedSealBlueHiResA faith-based film should always be viewable by all members of the family, which means that it should avoid rising above a rating of PG.

That being said, you can potentially get away with a PG-13, but that should probably only be for scenes of mild violence, or a mildly bad word or two if you’re being really edgy.

But you should definitely avoid the temptation of making a film that shows the unfiltered ugliness of sin or the unbridled passion of love, so that you might earn the coveted Dove Seal of Approval, the earning of which indicates to all of your potential audience that you have successfully made an absolutely inoffensive movie.

7.  Movies Based on Bible Stories

Don’t do it any more.

Trust me on this.

Just don’t.

8.  Speak the Language.

gift_of_singlenessIf you were going to make a film for a teenage girl audience, you would make certain to use current idioms and expressions in your film to help make the film more accessible.  In the same way, make certain to pepper modern Christianese throughout your film, and you will be loving on your faith-based audiences, showing them true fellowship, even in the buckle of the Bible belt.

To help you with this, I refer you to the excellent online resource, The Dictionary of Christianese.

9.  Help the Audience Spend Money.

If you’ve been to ComicCon, you know that those fans love to spend their money on merchandise that ties into their film obsession, and faith-based audiences are the same.  So make it easy for them!  You might not be able to make an action figure of your movie’s characters, but you could always have a well-known pastor write devotional materials connected to your movie which will be sold in Christian bookstores all across the fruited plains, and would sell like autographed dancing Groot Bobbleheads at ComicCon!

In fact, if you do the devotional material first, you can write your movie based on the material and not the other way around.  After all, don’t forget that it is the message that matters.

6977lDoes your main character wear a special piece of Jesus jewelry?  Merchandise!  Does he or she (usually he) say some sort of catch phrase?  Slap that bad boy on a t-shirt and make it merch!  Get that merch into Lifeway and Family Christian Stores!  But don’t just stop there, also get it into WalMart, Target, and other major retailers who will sell anything to make a buck.

Everyone makes money, and everyone is happy!

There you have it.  If you are a clever, intrepid, go-getting Hollywood producer, you should be able to take these tips and blaze the trail for conquering the faith-based film market.  The heavy lifting has been done for you by our crack team at the Thimblerig Institute for Faith Based Film Studies©, and now all that’s left for you to do is to take it and make it a reality.

Shhhh… can you hear it?  Is that the purr of a Jaguar’s engine?

 

 

 

 

Thimblerig’s Ark • FREE Christmas Download!

As a special Christmas gift to you, Thimblerig’s Ark will be available as a FREE Kindle download from December 24 to December 28, 2014 (PST)!  Please help spread the cheer by passing on the good news!  Share this exciting info on all your social media platforms.

If you tweet, you can just copy this onto your Twitter feed starting on Christmas Eve:

You know about , but not the animal’s story. It’s not what you’re expecting. Thimblerig’s Ark, FREE DOWNLOAD!

4.5 out of 5 stars on Amazon!

“Thimblerig’s Ark is a really fun book with lots of action and lovable characters.” 4-LAN

“a great read, it kept me interested and I was completely invested in the story!” Lena K.

“Quirky characters set up a gentle tale with a solid message behind it.” Mark L.

“I’d recommend this book to animal lovers who like adventure stories with a touch of comedy.” stansby

“It has been a real pleasure to read this book full of adventure, humor, vivid and well developed characters…” Andrey

Thimblerig's Ark Cover ArtThimblerig is a little groundhog with big problems.

He’s a loner con-artist who’s losing his mojo; the wild dogs who run the forest harass him at every turn; he’s having vivid nightmares of apocalyptic floods; and worst of all, he believes he sees unicorns when everyone knows unicorns are only the stuff of legend.

But what one animal might call a problem, Thimblerig calls an opportunity.

In a moment of inspiration, he comes up with the ultimate con: persuade as many suckers as he can that a world-ending flood is coming; the fabled unicorns have told him where the only safe place will be; and only he can lead them to safety.

All for a reasonable price, of course.

When the flood really does come, Thimblerig has a choice: either save the ones who trusted him, or lose everything.

And that’s when he discovers that his problems have only just begun.

Inspired by an Irish pub song about why the unicorn missed out on Noah’s Ark, Thimblerig’s Ark is a Narnian-style fantasy novel that looks at how the animals all made it there in the first place, focusing on a con-artist groundhog named Thimblerig.

Coming soon:  Thimblerig’s Ark Book Two: Forty Days and Nights

 

Thimblerig’s Three Interesting Things of the Day • November 12, 2014

First of all, NaNoWriMo continues, and we’re nearing the middle of the month.  The middle of the month in NaNoWriMo is typically the time where we separate the men from the boys, the women from the girls, and the dogs from the cats.  It’s the time when we find out who is really serious about finishing 50,000 words in thirty days, come hell or high water.   I wish I could say it’s the time when one’s writing becomes really spectacular, but unfortunately, it’s when the quality of the writing starts to become sacrificed on the alter of word count.

In honor of the middle of the month, I give you Gandalf the Grey, and his experience with NaNoWriMo.

NanoGandalf

I do have to say that if I make it to the finish line, I am going to have a very precocious eleven year old girl to thank.  I teach 6th grade here in China, and my class is doing the NaNoWriMo Young Writer’s Program.  We spent the month of October in intense preparation, and part of that was allowing the students to choose their own writing goals.  Most students chose around 15,000 words in the month, but one ambitious student chose 30,000.  When NaNoWriMo began, she made it her new goal to beat me, and so while I’m writing close to 2,000 words a day, so is she.  Currently, she has about two hundred words more than I do, so I’ve convinced her to up her final goal to the adult level of 50,000, and she has agreed.

This has worked out really well for me, because now I base whether or not I will quit for the day on her word count, rather than if I’ve reached my daily goal, so I’m being pushed forward.  50,000 words, here I come!

Speaking of young people, my own eleven year old daughter took an extremely cute picture of her seventeen month old brother, Noah, who has just discovered how to make duck lips.   The picture she took was so cute because Noah is standing much like an adult might, if they were striking a heroic pose.  I absolutely love this picture.

noah duckface

And of course, the more I looked at this picture, the more it reminded me of one of the promotional posters that Darren Aronofsky put out for Noah.   And since our Noah shares the name, I thought it might improve the poster a bit to get rid of the sour looking Russell Crowe, and give Noah a more upbeat expression.

The Real NoahNow that would have been a spectacular movie.

And finally, I give you John Oliver, and the Salmon Cannon.

Now, considering that I’ve used several hundred words here that should have been on my NaNoWriMo novel, I’m going to go ahead and close it up.

See you next week, with the next three interesting things I can find!

P.S. On principal, I refuse to include Too Many Cooks in my list.  I just refuse to do it.

 

You think you know the story of the ark? Think again.

You already know about Noah.

Just wait until you read the animal’s story.

“I found the pages flying by…”

“a breath of fresh air…”

“not just for children…”

4stars

Four and a half stars on Amazon!

Thimblerig is a little groundhog with big problems.

He’s a loner con-artist who’s losing his mojo; the wild dogs who run the forest harass him at every turn; he’s having vivid nightmares of apocalyptic floods; and worst of all, he believes he sees unicorns when everyone knows unicorns are only the stuff of legend.

But what one animal might call a problem, Thimblerig calls an opportunity.Thimblerig's Arc_3 (1) copy

In a moment of inspiration, he comes up with the ultimate con: persuade as many suckers as he can that a world-ending flood is coming; the fabled unicorns have told him where the only safe place will be; and only he can lead them to safety.

All for a reasonable price, of course.

When the flood really does come, Thimblerig has a choice: either save the ones who trusted him, or lose everything.

And that’s when he discovers that his problems have only just begun.

Author Nate Fleming at a book signing at the Bookworm, Chengdu, China - summer 2014

Children’s book author Nate Fleming at a book signing at the Bookworm, Chengdu, China – summer 2014

Author Nate Fleming at a a book signing at the Binding Time Cafe in Virginia, summer 2014

Children’s book author Nate Fleming at a a book signing at the Binding Time Cafe in Virginia, summer 2014

 

Purchase and/or download Thimblerig’s Ark today!

Thimblerig’s Ark Flood Sale!

One of the cool things about publishing your own books on Amazon is that you are able to set your own deals from time to time.  In this case, I’ve decided to offer Thimblerig’s Ark for only 99¢ for a limited amount of time.  In a couple of days, the price will go up to $1.99, and then a couple of days later it will go up to $2.99, before finally returning to the normal price of $3.99 a couple of days later.  So skip over there post haste and get a wonderful novel for the same price as a 99 cent cup of coffee!  Or a 99¢ movie rental!  Or a 99¢ pair of sport socks!  Or a 99¢…

Well, you get the idea.

And remember, you don’t need to own a Kindle to read this book!   You can also download a free Kindle app for any device here, and then you can read Thimblerig’s Ark on your Ipad, or your Android, or your Atari 2600!

What are you waiting for?   Run over there now and download Thimblerig’s Ark for only 99¢!

Oh.  I didn’t realize that you had another tab open.  Sorry.  My bad.  Go on about your business.

That is, if your business includes downloading Thimblerig’s Ark for 99¢!

Title Black

The Christian Perception Problem at Comic-Con

I was perusing my twitter feed today, reading a bit from folks who’d been enjoying the madness that is Comic-Con when I came across this:

I was a bit surprised, having never been to Comic-Con (I missed my one chance when I was in Los Angeles a few years ago.  I still regret not going).  Christian protestors?  What’s this all about?  And so I went to Mr. Google to ask him what was going on, and I found this surprisingly kind and evenly-told story over at Verge.com:

 

For Comic-Con’s street preachers, hate gets results

I was surprised, but not, to find that a variety of Christians feel led to stand outside the pop culture beast that is Comic-Con to try and share the Gospel.  It makes sense, considering that you have a huge captive audience of largely unchurched youth who are heavily invested – can I say obsessed? – in and with the entertainment culture.  I do believe that God calls some to be street preachers, and I have heard some really good ones in my day, who are able to communicate the offensive message of the Gospel in a way that is well-received by some who have open hearts.  However, as I read this story, I found myself thinking…

There we go again.

It’s that Christian perception problem, rearing its ugly head once more.

Why does it happen?  Why do Christians – who represent the amazing and fantastic Good News of Jesus Christ – come across to much of the world as being hate-filled, small-minded, and (as the Verge writer said) showing the ugliest of faces?  Yes, the idea that we all sin can be offensive.  Yes, the idea that we need a savior, and that Jesus is the only savior can be offensive.  Yes, the idea that hell is real and many people are going there can be offensive.  But does that mean that we have to be offensive?  There are many adjectives I would use to describe Jesus (who Christians are supposed to emulate), but offensive is not one of them.  And yet so many Christians think that it is their calling to offend, by being hateful, small-minded, and ugly in situations like the one described by the writer of the Verge article.

As I was reading this article, I started thinking that it’s sad because there were plenty of Christians in attendance at Comic-Con.  But these Christians were not having any articles written about them.  They were not making obnoxious noise for Jesus.  They are just quietly toiling away for their faith.

From the inside of Comic-Con.

I thought that it was sad that we aren’t reading stories about these Christians, because I know they are there.  They are writing movies that they want to premiere at a future Comic-Con.  They are creating new comic books that they’d love to have featured on the floor.  They are plotting novels that would be read by the multitudes that attend.  They have the same goals as the guys standing outside with their signs and their tracts, but they have invested their lives to impact not only the crowds at Comic-Con, but the culture at large.

But then I started feeling less sad about this, because of the cool, unspoken, unwritten-about thing about these men and women:  they are being much more effective than the ones who are standing outside, holding signs and handing out tracts.  They are living the same lives of the youth attending the pop culture beast that is Comic-Con, to a point.  They walk beside those youth on a daily basis, at work, in their neighborhood coffee house, on the internet.  They understand them because they love the movies, they are just as excited about the trailers being revealed, they are also willing and enthusiastically standing in the long lines for the opportunity to hear the stars talk about where their favorite shows are going, just like the youth the ones outside are trying to reach.

I want to take a moment and celebrate those quiet Christians at Comic-Con who are walking the floor, buying the merch, wanting the autographs, trying to network, because they deserve to be encouraged and supported.  They are the ones who are presenting the offensive message of Christ in a way that the Comic-Con youth can receive, and they deserve our prayer and our respect.

And I hope that they get that movie made, and that it finds a huge audience at a future Comic-Con, and I can’t wait to stand in line to hear them talk about it, if I ever get a chance to attend again.

Please take a moment and read my blog post, “What’s Wrong with Christian Filmmaking“, and join the Sacred Arts Revolution.

And my novel, Thimblerig’s Ark, will be available for 99 cent download from July 29 to July 31.  Please give Thimblerig a try!