Thimblerig’s Three Interesting Things of the Day • May 17, 2016

It’s been a slow few weeks, and considering I have a personal boycott of anything having to do with the presidential election and I’m tired of people arguing about bathrooms, I thought I would reinstate the old “Three Interesting Things” I’ve found recently as I’ve been jumping around the internet.

Today, I’ll be writing about Lecrae, Phil Vischer, and The Flash.

1. Lecrae Signs a Deal with Columbia Records

lecraeThis is tremendously exciting news for a number of reasons. But for me, I’m excited because it shows that secular companies recognize and reward artistic excellence, even when it comes from *gasp* Christians.

This news also flies in the face of the American persecution narrative that is so popular in certain Evangelical circles these days. If things were so bad for American Christians, would one of our top artists be getting deals with major labels?

Let’s take a moment and look at this particular artist.

Over the past few years, Lecrae has had songs reach #1 on the Billboard charts, won two Grammy awards, and has appeared on secular national television performing his music (see the video above). These things wouldn’t have happened if he cared about his artistic integrity less than he did sharing his faith, and I think his story should inspire all Christian artists to work hard on achieving excellence in both things.

Believing artists, take your craft seriously, do it with all excellence, and the world will notice and respond.

2. Phil Vischer’s Patreon Page

You might know Phil Vischer as the creator of Veggietales. Well, I have been a loyal listener of the Phil Vischer podcast for the past couple of years, which I wrote about in a past article. I highly recommend this podcast for those of you who want fun and reasoned discourse on all sorts of important issues. Phil and his co-hosts Skye Jethani and Christian Taylor do a great job breaking down stories of the day and discussing them from a Christian perspective.

Recently, Phil announced that he was starting a Patreon account so that the podcast gang can branch out and do more. I’m personally excited to see what this might mean, and am happy to encourage Thimblerig readers to consider supporting Phil’s Patreon as well.

So, if you aren’t familiar with Phil and his podcast, go check it out!

3. The Runaway Dinosaur

CiM_J7dUoAAK_JaOkay, technically, this isn’t a news story I found online. It’s an episode of my family’s favorite television program, The Flash. And if you don’t watch The Flash, know that it delivers, week after week.

My family loves it, my toddler thinks that he is the Flash (see the video below), and I’ve been consistently impressed by the way the show delivers action with heart. Grant Gustin is the perfect Barry Allen/Flash, and in this past week’s episode (directed by Kevin Smith), the show outdid itself, taking us to places we’ve never been before. And darned if I didn’t get a bit teary-eyed by the way they wrapped up Barry’s time with the Speed Force. Great job to Gustin and the cast, Kevin Smith, writer Zack Stentz, and producer Greg Berlanti.

If you aren’t watching The Flash, then what are you waiting for? Binge the past two seasons and get caught up in time for the summer hiatus.

Photo by Christopher Patey

Photo by Christopher Patey

Having said that, I do have one word of criticism for The Flash and the other superhero programs produced by Greg Berlanti, and I’ll mention it in the off-and-not-likely-chance that he reads this article.

Mr. Berlanti, I appreciate that you are committed to diversity with the programs you produce, attempting to represent all different aspects of our society. For example, I thought it was bold and brave that you made the potentially controversial choice to have the West family be African-American rather than Caucasian, that you’ve consistently had strong female characters as well as male, and that you have quietly introduced homosexual characters, all in an attempt to reflect society.

But, in my opinion, you’ve left out one group of people, and it’s pretty glaring.

Where are people of faith?

Almost 90% of Americans identify as religious, and yet we see no people of faith (not counting ancient Egyptian religion) in any of your superhero programs. No character turns to their religious beliefs to help them grapple with receiving super-powers, no character mourns the loss of another character by praying in (or out of) church, no character reads any sort of sacred text as inspiration or goes to a priest to discuss what is happening in the world, no talking heads discuss the theological ramifications of super beings in the background on Central City talk shows.

It’s a pity, especially when a nuanced handling of the topic could increase the potential power of The Flash, Arrow, Supergirl, and Legends of Tomorrow, putting them over the top of being great dramatic/action television.

So, Mr. Berlanti, as a “fan of faith”, I’d love it if you’d consider representing my people in your programs as well.

By the way, here’s my toddler (Noah, the fastest three year old alive) recreating a Flash sprint through the ferry terminal here in Shenzhen, China, complete with the slow motion scenes. And yes, we are planning on getting him a Flash costume when we are back in the U.S. this summer.

Thanks for joining us for Thimblerig’s Three Interesting Things of the Day! Look for a new episode next week, and feel free to share your own interesting stories!

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Thimblerig’s Ark 2: The Ark Heist • Preview Chapter 2

They made it to the ark, but the danger has not passed.

Someone on board the ark is not what they seem, and Thimblerig discovers that there are plans afoot to steal the Seed of Asarata, the key to life after the flood. Now, to save the seed and the future, he and his company of animals will have to steal it first, right out from under the noses of Noah, the humans, and the wild dogs who protect it.

Thimblerig’s Ark 2: The Ark Heist

For a preview of chapter 1, read here.

Chapter 2

“C’mon Bunco, get me out of here!”

Soapy, the copper-furred orangutan, held onto the bamboo bars of his cage and watched hopelessly at the pygmy elephant standing outside pulled futilely at the twine tied around the bars with her trunk. The two were founding members of Thimblerig’s company of animals, and two of the other con artists who had made it onboard the ark after encountering the unicorn.

“I’m working on it, Soapy!” The pygmy elephant grunted. “You’re supposed to be the pickpocket. Can’t you do anything?”

“It’s tied too tight!” Soapy slapped the bars and flopped down on the floor of the cage. “This is so wrong! I didn’t do anything!”

A flurry of white feathers flew past the pen, circled above, and landed on the top.

“Morning, all,” Shi Lau said. The white duck, also a member of Thimblerig’s company of animals, moved aside so that a midnight-black raven could land beside him, and he almost tumbled off as the room shifted, a regular occurrence as the enormous ark was being continually tossed around by the massive storm outside like a toy boat in a puddle.

“Morning, Shi Lau,” Big Bunco said, sitting down and wiping her brow with her trunk.  “Who’s your friend?”

“This is Yonah,” Shi Lau answered, turning to the raven. “He came for some figs. Yonah, say hello to the mammals.”

“Hello, mammals,” the raven squawked, waving a wing.

“What’s the word?” Shi Lau asked. “Soapy still complaining?”

“Complaining? I’m standing up for my rights!” Soapy countered. “I don’t deserve this!”

The duck poked his head through the bars and laughed. “Quit your griping, Soapy! You got caught in the bird section and you lost your privileges. Don’t you know actions have consequences?”

“Oh, shut your bill, Shi Lau!” Soapy snapped back at the duck, taking a swipe at the billed face, but the duck yanked his head back out before he could be hit.

“Hey, don’t be angry at me,” Shi Lau said. “Be angry at the doves. They ratted you out to Kid Duffy.”

“Don’t remind me,” Soapy said. “Dirty fink wild dog.”

“As if they didn’t mess things up enough in the forest,” Shi Lau said disgustingly, hopping off the pen and sailing down to the ark floor beside Big Bunco. “Lousy wild dogs.”

Before the flood, the wild dogs had been the undisputed leaders of the forest, but they had been anything but benevolent. Ruling over the other animals with fear and intimidation, they had kept everyone firmly under their paws. When the flood came and washed everything away, everyone had expected that life would be different, but they were still being ruled by Kid Duffy, the only surviving male wild dog.

It seemed like nothing had changed.

“I was just trying to make a trade!” Soapy shot back.

“Yeah, Duffy’s not big on black markets,” Shi Lau answered. “He likes things organized.”

“At least he let you be down here with us,” Big Bunco said cheerfully. “He could have stuck you back up with the rest of the apes.”

“Who would he get to carry me up there? The doves?” Soapy grumbled. “And since when are you such an optimist?”

“What’s wrong with being optimistic?” Big Bunco said. “Things could be a lot worse, you know!”

“How could it be worse?” Soapy asked, slapping the bars right behind Big Bunco’s head. “I’m stuck in a cage!”

“For starters, you could be stuck outside the ark!” Bunco said, standing up and facing the ape. “I don’t remember you being that great a swimmer!”

As if to underline her statement, the storm made the ark shift again, throwing everyone out of balance. Ignoring the sensation, the two friends glared at each other through the bars, the tension was as thick as the heavy rain constantly falling outside.

“So where’s Sheila?” Shi Lau finally asked, referring to the ever-idealistic kangaroo who was usually around. “I’m surprised she’s not here making you feel even worse.”

“Oh she was here, alright,” Soapy said. He flopped back down again, an orange-fur heap on a bed of yellow straw. “She told me not to be upset, but to…”

“Trust the unicorn!” they all said at once.

“Tabitha and Mullins took her to check on Elbridge,” Big Bunco said, returning her attention to the stubborn knot of twine that kept Soapy encaged. “But I think they were just trying to give Soapy some relief.”

“At least somebody cares…” Soapy complained.

“Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time,” a familiar voice said, and they all turned to see Thimblerig step out of a shadowy recess in the wall.

“Ha, ha.” Soapy replied, brightening up. “You better have something to make me feel better.”

“Yeah, where are the figs?” Shi Lau asked, flapping down to the floor beside Thimblerig, trying to poke his bill into the pouch slung over Thimblerig’s shoulder. “We’re getting tired of the grub they keep giving us up in the aviary.” The duck pulled back suddenly, an unpleasant, wrinkled look on his face. “What’s that smell!”

“It’s nothing!” Thimblerig said, pushing the duck away. He plopped down, his back against Soapy’s cage, pulled the empty bag over his head, and tossed it to the floor. “I struck out.”

“Again?” Shi Lau squawked. “I thought you said you could take those reptiles for a bagful!”

“I could, and I still can,” Thimblerig muttered, in no mood to be grilled on his failed con.

“If the figs on Asarata were coulda’s, then all the forest would go hungry,” Shi Lau replied, shaking his head and looking back up at the raven. “Sorry, Yonah. No figs.”

“No worries,” The raven answered, obviously disappointed, but also relieved that he didn’t have to stick around. “I’m going to take off. Don’t want to end up in a cage! See you later, mammals!”

Thimblerig watched the raven flap away, and then turned to the duck.

“Bringing strangers down here for figs? Seriously?” he asked.

“What?” Shi Lau said. “He’s a good egg!”

Everyone groaned, and Thimblerig sat back against the cage, pulled a piece of straw from the floor and started sucking on it.

Over the course of their journey to the ark, the duck had been a constant thorn in Thimblerig’s paw, complaining and doubting him every step of the way. Of course, he’d been right that Thimblerig was a no good con-artist, and the fact that he’d figured him out was probably what bothered Thimblerig the most.

He had been a con. One of the best in the forest, no doubt, and from the start he had intended to take the little company of animals for every fig he could get his paws on, but Thimblerig’s attitude towards them – including the duck – had changed.

The unicorn had seen to that.

“Maybe the raven’s fine, but I think we’re best off just sticking with each other,” Thimblerig said. “Better the wild dog you know then the one that you don’t.”

“Speaking of wild dogs, Thimblerig, can you talk to Kid Duffy? Talk him into springing me?” Soapy’s doleful eyes peered through the bamboo cage. “You were a leader, so maybe he’d listen to you.”

“He’s still a wild dog,” Thimblerig huffed. “He won’t listen to anyone.”

“Except the humans,” Big Bunco said.

At the naming of the humans, everyone grew quiet and nervous, as if by mentioning them one would appear.

The humans.

They walked on two legs, had little fur of their own, and were incapable of communication beyond grunts and making unintelligible sounds. Yet, it seemed that they were the ones who had built the ark, and they were undoubtedly the ones who were in charge.

“Forget the humans, and forget Duffy, we don’t need them,” Thimblerig finally said, standing. “We don’t need anyone.”

“Where you going?” Big Bunco asked as Thimblerig turned to go.

“I have no idea,” Thimblerig said, his voice weary. “So I guess I’ll go lie down.”

The other animals watched with concern as Thimblerig trudged down the big animal-filled room heading towards his own little pen.

Big Bunco found Thimblerig laying on the straw in small pen, staring up at the glowing firegems dotting the rough wooden rafters above. She had to hold onto the wooden slats of the pen with her trunk to keep from being knocked down as the ark rode the massive waves outside, but the groundhog didn’t seem to be bothered it in the least.

“A fig for your thoughts,” she said, sitting down beside him, glad to be lower to the floor where she was less prone to nausea.

“It didn’t bother me, Bunc,” he said quietly, shaking his head. “It hurt my pride a bit, but not really.”

“What didn’t bother you?” she probed gently.

“Blowing the game down in the reptile room,” he said, shifting on his bed of hay. “Can you believe it? I blew a game with an easy mark, and it didn’t bother me.”

“You seemed bothered when you came back up,” she said.

“Yeah, but it wasn’t about that.” Thimblerig sat up, resting his weight on one arm while he looked at his friend. “Ever since what happened out there, nothing’s been the same. My priorities are all out of whack. I’m not the same since before… him.”

Big Bunco nodded. She’d been feeling the same way. Before the flood she’d been content with her comfortable life as a grifter. But her interaction with the believers and her encounter with the unicorn on the road to the ark had her questioning everything. Her priorities, her hopes, her plans – none of those things seemed to matter any more.

“I’m thinking about leaving it all behind,” Thimblerig said, immediately getting Big Bunco’s attention again. He lay back down on the hay and resumed his staring at the ceiling. “The whole racket. I think I’m done.”

“What do you mean?” she asked. “Done with what?

“Being a con,” he answered. “The whole bit.”

“You’re going straight?” she asked, unable to believe what she was hearing.

“Yeah, I think I am,” he replied, his voice getting stronger. “I just have this feeling that it’s not supposed to be my life anymore, that Tannier Isa wants me to do something different, but I’m just not sure what.”

Big Bunco felt like she’d just been knocked in the head with an oversized tree trunk. Thimblerig the groundhog, going straight? Was that even possible? She wanted to laugh, to tell him that animals like them couldn’t just change, no more than a zebra making the switch from stripes to spots.

But she couldn’t, because as much as she might deny it, she’d felt it in herself.

She didn’t know if any of them had really changed, or if it was just being trapped on a giant hollowed-out tree trunk in the middle of a world-destroying flood, but she had a strong urge to avoid the topic. She needed to get away.

“That’s great, ‘rig, really,” Big Bunco said, standing, trying to keep her voice from shaking. The ark pitched from the stern, nearly knocking her back down, but Thimblerig jumped up to steady her. “Will I ever get used to being on the water?” she laughed, feeling shaky in more ways than one.

“We won’t be here forever,” he answered. “The unicorn has a new life waiting for us on the other side of the storm. Trust me.”

For a moment, Big Bunco felt swept up in the fervency of Thimblerig’s words. Could it be true? She realized with a mixture of horror and amazement that she actually did trust him, and the truth of that trust gutted her. After all, the first rule of being a con was: trust no one.

“I’ll see you later, ‘rig,” she said, breaking from him and moving towards the opening of his pen. “Got to go help Soapy break out of his cage.”

“Hey, Bunco?” Thimblerig stopped her. “I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t say anything to the others. Not yet, at least.”

“Sure, ‘rig, whatever you say,” she replied. He smiled and gave her a quick wave, and then settled back down onto the hay.

She shook her head as she wandered away from the groundhog and back towards her friends. She had some thinking of her own to do.

Look for another excerpt in the coming weeks.

Thimblerig’s Ark 2: The Ark Heist will be released on May 1, 2015.

Want to read Thimblerig’s Ark before the sequel is released? Get your copy by clicking on the cover below!

Click book cover to go to Thimblerig's Amazon page

Thimblerig’s Ark 2: The Ark Heist • Preview Chapter

They made it to the ark, but the danger has not passed.

Someone on board the ark is not what they seem, and Thimblerig discovers that there are plans afoot to steal the Seed of Asarata, the key to life after the flood. Now, to save the seed and the future, he and his company of animals will have to steal it first, right out from under the noses of Noah, the humans, and the wild dogs who protect it.

Thimblerig’s Ark 2: The Ark Heist

Chapter 1

“What do you say, pal? You in, or you out?”

Thimblerig the groundhog stared across the makeshift table, trying to read the emotionless eyes of the big green iguana, a feat which was extremely difficult. But Thimblerig didn’t have the luxury of being picky these days.

These days.  Just a couple of weeks earlier, the days had been a lot less complicated.  Back then, Thimblerig had been a simple grifter, plying his trade under the enormous branches of Asarata, the Queen of the Jungle, the great fig tree.

And then he met Tannier Isa, the supposedly mythological unicorn king, and everything changed.

It all happened so quickly, too.  One moment, he had been minding his own business, playing his modest shell game for the few figs it could win him, trying to keep his prime spot by the base of the tree, and the next moment he was the leader of a small group of animals, running for their lives from the wild dogs who ran the forest.

And craziest thing of all? He’d gone from mocking the feeble-minded suckers who claimed to believe in unicorns to being a die-hard, certified (or certifiable?) believer himself. Not just one of them, but a leader of a whole group of them.

It had only been a week since he and his little group of believers had scrambled onboard the ark just before the decimating waters had struck. Now he spent his time trying not to think about the world’s destruction happening on the other side of the wooden walls, and getting used to being tossed around like a cub as the ark navigated waves as large as mountains.

And so Thimblerig stole away from his pen in the mammal section and snuck down to the reptiles in attempt to avoid thinking about all of that. And to see if he could win a few figs.

Old habits die hard, after all.

Thimblerig’s nose wrinkled as a terrible smell wafted by. The reptiles had been given a large room deep in the bowels of the great ark so that they could be cool and enjoy the darkness, but unfortunately, the ark had been engineered so that all of the animal waste slid down empty pipes and made its way to the very bottom, a level below the room in which he stood.

How can the reptiles stand it? Thimblerig thought. Maybe their noses work differently than everyone else’s?

“Just give me a minute,” the iguana answered, pulling the groundhog back to the game. He stared down at the three shells sitting on the small rough plank of wood before him. Thimblerig knew exactly what the iguana thought, exactly where he thought the pea sat, and he also knew that it didn’t really matter, because the pea sat exactly where Thimblerig wanted it to sit.

That is, tucked safely under a claw on his right paw.

“Ask for a minute, and I’ll give you two,” Thimblerig, the consummate showman, called for all to hear. “So that your guess may be right and true.”

He looked up at his reptilian audience. Many stared down from their perches on the beams above, some watched while clinging to the walls. It gratified Thimblerig to see so many pairs of glowing eyes looking with curiosity down at his game out of the darkness. If he could get used to the smell, he could really clean up in a room like this, a room filled with gullible believers, unaccustomed to the con. I could get away with anything down here, he thought. No humans, no Kid Duffy, no nobody.

Thimblerig gulped. No nobody indeed, just a room full of animals who – in the wild – would enjoy having a plump groundhog for breakfast. They can’t eat me on the ark, he reminded himself. It’s against the rules.

But as an animal who had made his living breaking the rules, this thought didn’t necessarily make Thimblerig feel any better.

“Alright, I’m in,” the iguana finally said. He reached his snout into a little pouch around his neck, pulled out a dried fig, and dropped it on the table beside the shells. “It’s on the right.”

Thimblerig had rehearsed it a thousand times. “Are you sure?” he asked, crestfallen. “You don’t want to pick the middle one?”

“Yes, I’m sure,” the iguana replied.

“Not the one on the left?” Thimblerig asked.

“I said I’m sure!” the iguana spat, impatient.

Good, good, Thimblerig thought. Emotions lead to mistakes.

“Well, I’m not so sure,” Thimblerig goaded. “I’ll see your fig, and raise you one.” Thimblerig reached into his pouch, pulled out two of his dried figs, and set them down carefully beside the iguana’s lone fig. And then he smiled.

The iguana stared at Thimblerig, either sizing him up or imagining him as breakfast. Thimblerig did his best to lizard-stare the iguana back, not permitting himself to be sized.

Finally, the lizard’s tongue flicked, and Thimblerig knew he had him.

The iguana was pulling out another fig when a screeching voice pierced the darkness of the reptile area.

“Lagar!?!”

A female iguana came stomping through the crowd, scattering reptiles to the left and right on her way to Thimblerig’s makeshift table. Seeing Lagar with his head in his fig bag, the table with figs on it, and a groundhog standing before it all, the female immediately knew what going on.

“You’re betting? Losing all our figs to a furback?”

Lagar slowly drew his head out of the bag, revealing a face full of emotion: Fear.

“No, it’s not like that…” he muttered, with trembling voice.

How humiliating, Thimblerig thought, suddenly glad he didn’t have a mate.

“It’s not like that,” she mocked, moving up so close to the male iguana that her flickering tongue lashed Lagar’s face like a little wet slaps. “We get two figs a day, and you’re dropping them on the table like they grow on trees!”

“Well, they do,” Thimblerig said. And if he had been capable of reaching into the air and pulling words back into his mouth, he would have done it.

“What did you say?” she said, turning to the groundhog.  Over the female’s head, he saw that Lagar was shaking his head, ever so slightly. A warning?

“I just said that figs do grow on trees,” Thimblerig stammered, not enjoying being the target of that withering iguana gaze. “Fig trees, to be exact.”

The female hopped up on the table and stuck her big, green, scaly face right into his smaller furry one. “And do you see any fig trees, furback?” she hissed.

“Um, no,” Thimblerig admitted.

“Then take your rotten figs and your rotten games and get out of here before I call that wild dog to come down and take care of you!”

With a final flick of the tongue, she leapt off the table, scooped the figs into her bag, and pushed her emasculated mate off into the darkness, followed by the rest of the reptiles.

It was only after they’d gone, and Thimblerig was able to breathe again, that he realized that she’d just made off with his two figs as well as her mate’s. Alone with the darkness and the stench, the only light coming from the glowing firegems embedded into the walls, Thimblerig packed up his shells and kicked the wooden board aside.

Yeah, the unicorn had definitely messed up the groundhog’s mojo, and then some. The crazy part was that there was a time when having one of his games self-destruct so spectacularly would have decimated him, but now he wasn’t so bothered by it.

Maybe it’s time to try a new line of work, Thimblerig thought, turning and heading up the ramp back towards the other mammals in the levels above.

Look for another excerpt in the coming weeks.

Thimblerig’s Ark 2: The Ark Heist will be released on May 1, 2015.

Want to read Thimblerig’s Ark before the sequel is released? Get your copy by clicking on the cover below!

Thimblerig's Ark Cover Art

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Woodlawn, War Room, and Unity

Living in China has its benefits – great food, meeting new unique people almost daily, and easy proximity to other equally interesting Asian countries, to name a few things. But considering I am something of a cinephile, the one big negative is my inability to see new American movies unless they are among the 34 movies chosen by the Chinese censors to be screened here.

This unfortunate situation is compounded by the fact that I write film reviews of a very specific, narrow genre of film – the so-called “faith-based” film genre, and faith-based films never make China’s cut of 34 films (but they could… read here to see how). This means I never get to see the films I like to review until months after everyone has stopped talking about them, which doesn’t give me a lot of capital in the relevance market.

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 12.20.50 PMAnd so, with that understanding, I set out to review War Room and Woodlawn, two of the bigger Christian-made film titles that have recently been released to the home viewing market.

These are an interesting pair of films, and their splash into the culture was also interesting, for similar but opposite reasons. First, War Room, a little, relatively inexpensive film made by the Kendrick brothers (Facing the Giants, Fireproof, Courageous) did what Christian films rarely do, and made a huge return on its initial investment (budget of $3M, current box office $72.1M) even though it scored poorly with critics (34% on Rotten Tomatoes). Then, two months later, Woodlawn, a big football movie by the Erwin brothers (October Baby, Mom’s Night Out) set in early 1970’s Birmingham did something Christian-made films never do, and premiered to several mostly positive secular critical reviews (currently 83% on Rotten Tomatoes with 12 reviews), even as it failed to earn back its budget of $25M.

photo credit: www.flickr.com/photos/jdhancock

“I said right hand on green, Alex! Come on, pay attention!”

This intrigued me to no end. Not so much the story of War Room‘s success, as Alex and Stephen Kendrick are the closest thing Christian filmmaking has to a sure thing. The brothers could release a home video of their family playing Twister while dressed like Imperial stormtroopers, and the Big Christian Audience would still turn out in droves.

Actually, I’d probably watch that.

No, I was more interested that an openly Christian-made film replete with overt Christian themes and messages could be received positively by secular film critics, but be relatively ignored by the coveted Big Christian Audience. Especially when one considers that certain vocal members of the Big Christian Audience regularly blast secular critics as being biased against Christian-made films.

So, fickle Big Christian Audience, why didn’t you guys go out and see a film made for you that the critics actually liked? I don’t get you, and I can only imagine the frustration Christian filmmakers feel, trying to figure you out.

But I digress.

post_reviewsI was finally able to watch Woodlawn this past week with my kids, and for the most part, we enjoyed it. I could understand the critical response to the film, with Frank Scheck at The Hollywood Reporter writing that the brothers delivered “a feel-good, real-life inspirational story in a mostly engaging fashion.” And Joe Leydon at Variety, “the overall narrative mix of history lesson, gridiron action and spiritual uplift is effectively and satisfyingly sustained.” Even Tyler Smith – who, as the host of the More Than One Lesson podcast is a Christian reviewer who doesn’t give Christian films an easy pass  – wrote that with Woodlawn, the Erwin brothers had “thrown down the gauntlet for the Christian film industry.”

Of course, all the reviews also pointed out that the film was not perfect, and there were some problems (not the least of which was the tiresome “the government is persecuting Christians” subplot), but ultimately the critics judged Woodlawn on its merits as a film. And since the conclusions were mostly positive, I think we can all agree that that is real progress in the arena of faith-based filmmaking.

So kudos to the Erwins for the accomplishment, even if Woodlawn wasn’t the Christian blockbuster you were hoping it would be.

But when I went to write my review of the film, a funny thing happened. Being late to the game was a problem once again. But this time it was because for every critique or compliment I’d think about writing, I’d remember that I’d read that same thought – usually more eloquently expressed – in one of the reviews published last fall, when people were actually writing reviews of the film.

In short, I didn’t have anything new to say about Woodlawn. And I didn’t want to write a review when I didn’t have anything new to say. It was a good lesson for me to avoid reviews until I’ve seen the movie, even if I have to wait a few months. You got that, God’s Not Dead 2? You’ll probably have until the summer before I get around to you, unless you want to send me an advanced screener…

I was walking home from work, about to throw out the idea of writing about Woodlawn altogether, when something hit me. No, it wasn’t a bus or a bicycle, (although that is a real danger here in China) but rather it was a big plot point of the film, and a parallel from the film to the true story of the two sets of filmmaker brothers, the Erwins and the Kendricks. And I knew what I wanted to write about.

That is, unity and the mindset of these Christian filmmakers.

imageBefore I get into that, let me go back to Woodlawn for a moment. You have to remember that this film is based on a true story, and the truth is where it derives most of its power. For example, when Sean Astin’s character shares the Gospel with the entire team, and the entire team responds to his call to choose Jesus, an event like that really happened. When, in the film, the team dedicates their season to Jesus – win or lose – that really happened. When, in the film, Woodlawn’s rival team also hears Hank’s message and chooses Jesus as well, that really happened. When, in the film, the two teams become one in Christ, even as they play each other in the championship game at Legion Field, that event really happened.

It’s really important to remember that while the Erwins had to take some creative licence on certain details for the sake of the film, the large events really happened. And that is powerful. Actually, that’s where the potential power in Christian-made films really lies – not in creating unrealistic Christian fairy tales where we show what we would like to see God do in the world, but films that show the world that God really does “show up,” and when He does, He does some pretty amazing things.

Even in the lives of our Christian filmmakers.

If you think about it, the story of the Erwin brothers and the Kendrick brothers could be the same as Woodlawn‘s pre-faith football teams. Two sets of filmmaking brothers, both trying to help establish Christian filmmaking as something to be taken seriously, both enjoying a reasonable amount of success, both trying to connect with the same broad, fickle demographic.

They could be bitter rivals.

Maybe they should be bitter rivals.

But they’re not.

And this is a testimony to the unifying nature of the Gospel.

wl1aRemember the climax of Woodlawn? The big championship match between Woodlawn and Banks, the historic game that brought huge crowds out to Birmingham’s Legion Field in 1974? The interesting thing is that in the film, the game wasn’t noteworthy because of who won or lost the game. It wasn’t noteworthy because it featured two of the best high school players in the nation. It wasn’t even noteworthy because of the record-breaking number of people who came out to see the game.

No, in Woodlawn, the game was noteworthy because of the way the unifying nature of the Gospel brought these two rival teams together. Certainly both teams wanted to win, but the film demonstrated that what really mattered was that both teams were playing in a way that demonstrated the power of God in their lives.

In the same way, of course both the Kendricks and the Erwins wanted their respective films to do well in the box office. In his video essay, “Woodlawn Keynote: This Is Our Time“,  Jon Erwin even talked about the need for Christian filmmakers to be thinking in terms of creating blockbusters with explicit Christian themes and messages, and it was obvious that he was hoping for Woodlawn to take off the way that War Room had.

But for reasons only marketing people might be able to definitively figure out, it didn’t happen. The Big Christian Audience that flocked to War Room and even God’s Not Dead largely stayed home when Woodlawn premiered, even though Woodlawn had all of the requisite beats for a faith-based film, was better received critically, and had many of the same Christian film movers and shakers behind it.

But here’s the cool part – days after Woodlawn was released, the Kendricks posted this on their facebook page:

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 2.50.59 PM

A couple of weeks later, Stephen Kendrick posted this picture on Facebook:

kendrick

The Kendricks were doing their part to let their audience know that Woodlawn was in their wheelhouse, acting as if the Erwins weren’t the competition, even if they were players on a different team.

Even if their films were competing for that same demographic.

The Kendricks were communicating that there was something bigger going on then winning bragging rights for box office success.

And then, as I researched the Erwins, I found that for every interview that mentioned the success of War Room in general or the Kendricks in particular, the Erwins responded in kind.

For example, in one interview Andy Erwin responded to a question that referenced War Room like this:

[We are] honored by those that have plowed the way like Stephen and Alex Kendrick … and so many others that have worked hard to prove there is an underserved market. Hollywood has taken notice and as one of us wins, we all win as Believers in the industry. War Room has done amazing and we are excited to be up next. God is on the move!

Certainly the argument could be made that these filmmakers don’t have a choice but to put on a publicly supportive face, that the circle of successful Christian filmmakers is so small that they have to get along, that even Hollywood filmmakers act like they get along because you never know who you’ll be working with (or for) in the future.

But for the sake of argument, and because I typically like to think the best of people, I’m going to imagine that this display of unity between the Kendricks and the Erwins is not typical Hollywood flattery and apple polishing. Rather, these men are striving to live Jesus’ call for his followers to be unified (John 17:20-23), for the ultimate goal that the world would know Him.

401_401_5And their story inspires me, even as I try to live out my faith. This display of unity in the face of a variety of wins and losses (both box office and critical response) inspires me to do my part to seek unity within the family of God where I am. And it makes me ask; do I look at the work of fellow Christians and see competition to be beaten, or do I see their success as my success, and their failure as my failure, because we’re brothers and sisters in Christ on a common mission in life?

And to put an even sharper point on the question for me, do I even see this when I look at the fickle Big Christian Audience, and all of the people who attempt to service that audience with films, with music, with books, even with the Christian kitsch and tschokies?

What about the Christians who hold different political beliefs than me?

What about the Christians who are in different denominations than me?

What about the Christians who are different races than me?

Do I even champion unity with these people, for the sake of the Gospel?

Do I?

Ouch.

Back to Woodlawn and War Room, neither film is perfect, and to be perfectly frank, neither film is my kind of film. In fact, if I were a “brother” from either family, I would want take these films in much different directions. But while I may not be an Erwin or a Kendrick, I am glad to know that these men are still my brothers in the family of God, and I appreciate that they’ve taught me something important about my faith in the way they live their lives.

In an interview with gospelherald.com about Woodlawn, Jon Erwin said:

Woodlawn is a story about one team making a decision to love God and love each other. What if what we see now began to multiply and what if everyone made the decision to love God and love each other – what difference would that make in America today? If we lived out the sentence that Jesus said 2,000 years ago – “Love God with all your heart, soul and mind, and love each other as yourself.”

Amen, Jon.

Amen.

How George Lucas Helped Shape The Christian Film Industry

A long time ago, in a cinema far, far away…

Episode 1:  A New Resource

It is a period of spiritual war…

war-roomWar Room opened up last weekend in 1,100 theaters around the country, and made an impressive 11 million dollars. Not bad for a movie made with a 3 million dollar budget, and the movie’s just getting started.

Made by filmmakers Alex and Stephen Kendrick, who also made Facing the GiantsCourageous and Fireproof, War Room is the latest offering in the burgeoning Christian film industry (read my thoughts on that idea here), and stands to turn a healthy profit, as all Kendrick-made films since Facing the Giants have done, thanks to good grass-roots style marketing and the legions of loyal Christian fans who consistently turn up to support their films.

Christian filmmakers, Kendrick brothers included, have been learning quite a bit from their secular counterparts these past few years – how to make a film look and sound better, how to help actors act better, and even (on the rare occasion) how to write a better screenplay.

But the thing that really stands out? How to turn a profit.

And this is what has gotten the attention of the big boys in Hollywood.

Of course, making money from art is not a new thing for Christians. Back in the days of Bach and his contemporaries, musicians and artists were commissioned by the church to create, giving us beautiful and important work that continues to be cherished today. Locally, churches have been paying artists for ages to minister as organists, choir masters, worship leaders, and praise band members.

And it’s also not a bad thing. “Don’t muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” Paul said in the book of Timothy. In other words, when people work hard, they should be able to enjoy some of the benefits of their labor. In filmmaking, that means if someone makes a movie, and it earns buckets of money, that filmmaker should be able to have a few buckets for themselves to do with as they please – even if the film is being made as a “ministry” or an “outreach”, and not just as typical profit-grabbing entertainment.

Of course, there are more and more potential buckets available for successful films. We have the obvious box office buckets, but if the film has been distributed in the traditional way, the majority of those buckets go back to the studios and distributors. So another option is the bucket of merchandizing.

And there are lots of buckets in movie merchandizing, even with Christian-made films.

Warrom-DisplayUnlike secular movies, where the merchandizing can run the gamut from video games tie-ins to kid’s meals at fast food restaurants, Christian-made movie merchandizing primarily means the creation and selling of what the Christian marketing world calls resources.

What are resources? One kind of resource is the study guide. These are written so that Christians can watch the film with their Sunday school or small group and then engage in a Bible study inspired by the film, and it’s something that is particular to the faith-based film genre. For example, Marvel doesn’t typically mass produce study guides to the MCU movies, nor does J.J. Abrams write study guides for his films, although they’d probably sell if they did.

[Undoubtedly they’d sell. Note to self: pitch study guide idea to Kevin Feige and J.J. Abrams]

But resources can also mean many other things, from church campaign kits, books inspired by the film, and original soundtracks featuring favorite CCM artists.

And then there’s the typical kitsch and tchochkes – baseball hats, coffee mugs, t-shirts, notepads, plush dolls, little wooden crosses, and the like. I would imagine secular companies have to be impressed by how effective the Christian Corporate Machine has become at taking films from idea to screen to marketplace.

For example, long before it ever bows onscreen, a film like War Room has been so incredibly well-strategized, planned, marketed, and produced, that I’m surprised the ever-popular Chick-fil-A wasn’t signed on for some product placement.

I can see it now… Ms. Clara goes into her War Room to pray, but when she’s sure nobody’s looking, she pulls out a bag of waffle fries and a white styrofoam cup of sweet iced tea emblazoned with that curly red chicken head…

Yeah, maybe that wouldn’t have worked.

Regardless of how they do what they do, it’s interesting to see how Christian filmmakers have joined their secular counterparts in mastering the business of movie marketing cross promotion and tie-ins.

And do you know who we have to thank for the overabundance of “resources” being produced for Christian-made films?

George Lucas.

star-wars-george-lucas-alec-guiness

Episode 2:  The Merch Strikes Back

It is a dark time for movie merchandizing…

Yep, George Lucas.

That George Lucas.

You read it right, dear reader. I’m making the claim that George Lucas is the reason that every time a new faith-based film opens, the Christian bookstores and websites fill up with all sorts of movie-themed “resources” that help bring in more buckets of money for Christian retailers, publishers, filmmakers, producers, marketers, and everyone else involved in making and promoting Christian-made movies.

Most people under the age of 30 probably don’t realize that prior to Star Wars, movie marketing cross promotion was pretty insignificant. Yes, you had the occasional attempt to take advantage of the buzz created by a movie by making a strange toy version, like the odd “for ages 6 and up” shark game made by Ideal Toys when Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 6.48.53 PMJaws became such a monster hit. Certainly, toys and merchandise and even Christian-produced resources had been made based on movies and television programs, but usually with fairly limited success.

And then, when George Lucas took us to that galaxy far, far away, things changed.

The key is found in one of the biggest blunders in movie studio history. Because Star Wars was seen as such a risk, Lucas made a deal with Twentieth Century Fox that he would take a cut in directing fees in return for having all the rights to licensing and merchandising, and then he sold the toy rights to Kenner for a flat fee of $100,000 per year.

Kenner was so unprepared for the popularity of Star Wars that they didn’t make near enough toys for the demand. If parents wanted to buy their child a new Star Wars toy for Christmas in 1977, they were forced to give the child a voucher for Star Wars toys that would not be manufactured and released for months, and Kenner went on to sell a staggering $100,000,000 worth of Star Wars toys during the first year alone.

That’s one hundred million dollars.

Worth of little plastic action figures and such.

For a movie that nobody had wanted to make.

In one year.

Since that time, the franchise has gone on to make well over 27 billion dollars, with only about 4.3 billion coming from the movies. That means around 23 billion dollars of revenue has come from merchandizing alone.

And with Lucas’s innocuous little space opera, not only was a merchandizing juggernaut born, but a new way of making movies as well. Suddenly, films started being greenlit based on how much peripheral material could be marketed alongside it, as well as potential box office.

trekblog1

The Star Trek Happy Meal.

It’s hard to imagine, but there was actually a time when McDonalds and other fast food places didn’t sell Happy Meals connected to movies. In fact, McDonald’s first Happy Meal was an attempt to cash in on the space craze created by Star Wars, and it was based on 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Read this article for more information on the way the Star Wars marketing phenomenon evolved over time, impacting the majority of movies being produced, both then and now, both secular and Christian.

Episode 3: The Return of the Faith-Based Filmmakers

The Kendrick Brothers have returned to their home in Albany, Georgia…

And so now we live in a time where it is standard operating procedure for potential merchandizing to play a heavy role in the making of movies. And while Christians may not yet be at the place of the summer blockbuster, where merchandizing often seems to lead the film, we are definitely at the place where merchandizing is being utilized to bring even more profit to those who made the faith-based film.

And profit is important, even in the Christian film industry.

But I want to end this blog post with a pretty radical suggestion.

If we must have a Christian film industry, what if that industry did things differently? What if the movers and shakers made the decision to not be swept away by dreams of big box office and profit, like all the other film industries are, and like many of the other Christian media industries seem to be? What could be done, if we determined that we were going to be a counter-industry industry?

What if our Christian film industry – as a whole – pulled a Keith Green?

keith-green1Keith Green was a very popular but quite radical Christian singer in the 70’s and early 80’s, who famously (or infamously) gave away his records, telling people to pay what they were able, and he required Christian retailers to give away a copy of his cassettes for free with each one they sold, all to help spread the Gospel. Green’s giveaways reportedly sent shockwaves through the Christian music and retail industries at the time, but Green was known to be an uncompromising person when it came to his convictions.

And if today’s successful filmmakers of faith started insisting on doing something similar, imagine the modern day shockwaves!

What if many of those resources developed for movies made on a shoestring budget, but movies that turn out to be popular enough to go on to rake in ten or twenty or even forty-five times that in box office, were just… given away?

The study guides, the bible studies, the church campaign kits, the prayer journals, the baseball hats, and the little wooden crosses all available for whatever potential customers could afford to pay, even if it is nothing at all.

All to help spread the Gospel.

I know, I know… it’s a crazy idea.

I know Christian producers have to pay salaries, and I’m not suggesting they don’t. I know that Christian filmmakers want to be able to afford to plan out their next projects, and they should certainly do what it takes to do that. I know that some – like the Kendrick brothers – pour much of their film profits back into their home churches, and they should obviously continue to do that as they feel led.

And I know that they all need to put bread on their own tables, and provide for their families, and they certainly shouldn’t be muzzled while they are treading out the grain.

But I’m so frustrated that too many of the other Christian industries appear to be too much industry and not enough Christian. And since the film industry is the youngest of them all, and it’s the industry closest to my heart, why can’t it be the one to change course and do something different, and radical, and refreshing – even if it seems crazy, and unindustrial, and unprofitable?

After all, they thought Luke Skywalker was crazy for switching off his targeting computer when he was making that infamous trench run.

And Luke wound up saving the rebellion.

SZSjFpl

God bless, and may the force be with you…

Always.

Update 1:  I just found out that the producers of the upcoming movie, Captive, are giving away a ton of resources on their website.  All the sorts of materials that are being sold on the War Room website are free for the Captive folks. I was already looking forward to seeing Captive, and now it’s even moreso!  Good job, Captive!

Update 2: I’ve heard some encouraging news.  Apparently, Giving Films – the production company behind the upcoming film, 90 Minutes in Heaven, have committed to giving all the profit they make from the film to charity.

That’s what I’m talking about.  Way to go, Giving Films!

Passion, Purity, and Pez: A Memory of Elisabeth Elliot

This morning, when I read the news that Elisabeth Elliot died, I was sad, but not for her. I was sad for her family and friends, because I know that they will miss her, but I wasn’t sad for Elisabeth Elliot. If I could live a life even a tenth as full as the life she lived, if I were able to influence even a fraction of the number of people she influenced for the sake of the Gospel, if my life pointed to Jesus even marginally as much as hers did, then I would consider my life to have been well-lived. So rather than mourning her passing, I want to share a couple of memories of when I was privileged to meet Elisabeth Elliot, and I share these memories as a way of celebrating her life.

It was the mid-1990’s, I was in my late 20’s, I was single, and I was living in one of the most beautiful cities on earth – Charleston, South Carolina. I was working full time for the resident theater company at the Dock Street Theater, and I was attending East Cooper Baptist Church, one of the largest churches in the area, where I was a regular part of the single’s ministry.

IMG200310293959HIWhen my friend John and I heard that Elisabeth Elliot was coming to town to speak, we – as good Christian singles – recognized the moment as a perfect double date opportunity. This was, after all, Elisabeth Elliot – an actual living legend and hero of the faith – the former missionary who gained fame for ministering to the Huaroni tribe in Ecuador, the very people who murdered her husband and his colleagues, a story made famous in the book Through Gates of Splendor.

Not only that, but Elliot was also a prolific writer, authoring many books that should be required reading for followers of Jesus, including a biography of missionary Amy Carmichael, a biography of her late husband Jim (who most young Christian men want to emulate at some point), and Passion and Purity, which was one of the most convicting books I ever read on the subject of dating – and a book that is possibly one of the most counter-cultural books a person could read these days.

So, yeah… a perfect double date.

Being the complete goober that I am, and wanting to impress my date that night, I brought the ultimate impress-your-date accessories to the Elisabeth Elliot talk: a couple of Pez dispensers. Inspired by an episode of Seinfeld, I offered Pez to my date during the middle of the talk, with thankfully less explosive results.

Afterwards, we stood in line for the opportunity to meet Mrs. Elliot, and while we waited, I commented that everyone seemed to be talking to Elisabeth Eliot very earnestly, pouring out their hearts, sharing deep things in their brief two or three minute audience.

“That has to be emotionally exhausting,” I said, “listening to so many heart-felt things from so many people all of the time. I should offer her a Pez.”

“You should what?” my date asked, laughing.

“Offer her a Pez,” I replied. “Seriously, she would probably really appreciate something different.”

“Offer Elisabeth Elliot a Pez? Elisabeth Elliot? You won’t do it,” she said, and she looked back at John for confirmation. He just smiled and shook his head.

He knew me well.

“Here, you hold Gonzo as a backup,” I said, handing her my second favorite dispenser. Then I turned and started planning what I would say when I reached the living legend. I figured I had about five minutes until it would be my turn.

“This is Elisabeth Elliot we’re talking about here,” my date insisted, no longer laughing. “And you’re going to offer her a Pez?”

“She’ll love it,” I replied. “It’ll thrill her to hear something different.”

 As I inched my way towards my moment with modern evangelical destiny, I began to get nervous. This was Elisabeth Elliot, after all.

I tucked Kermit into the shirt pocket of my blue Oxford and wiped my now-sweaty hands on my pants. Whatever I said to her would have to be simple and to the point. I didn’t want to take up too much of her time. I needed to say what I needed to say, and get out.

And then, too soon – much too soon – it was my turn.

There I stood, before Elisabeth Elliot. The Elisabeth Elliot. The woman who had been married to Jim Elliot. The woman who’d had the strength of faith and character to forgive the people who had taken Jim from her. The woman who had more wisdom, life experience, theological understanding, and humility in her little finger than I had in my entire body.

She looked at me expectantly from her seat at the small, round, wooden table, ready to hear what I had to say. She was so distinguished and regal, but also open and friendly, and behind her, her husband Lars stood like a protecting force. He was quite the imposing figure.

I hesitated.

Maybe I shouldn’t do this? This woman had experienced so much in her life, had helped so many people, and she was more than just a woman, she was also a beloved icon of my faith.

And I was going to offer her a Pez?

I chanced a glance back at my date, and her eyes were wide. She shook her head almost imperceptibly, pleading. Then I looked at John, who stood beside her. He nodded.

His nod said exactly what I needed to hear.

You got this.

Emboldened, I turned and sat down across from Elisabeth Elliot, and launched into my hastily prepared, mostly unrehearsed speech.

“Mrs. Elliot, you have helped so many people through the years with your words and your writing, including me. I have been inspired by your story, and the way that you challenge my generation. But I know you hear this all of the time, and so rather than just telling you, I want to demonstrate my appreciation.”

To this day I don’t know if it was my imagination or not, but it seemed that Lars leaned closer with a concerned look in his eye.

I ignored him and pressed on.

“And so, Mrs. Elliot, I would like to offer you a Pez.”

What happened next happened two different ways. First, is the way it happened in my mind, and second was the way that it really happened.

In my mind, I smiled a charming smile, reached into my shirt pocket and pulled out Kermit. In one fluid motion, I set him on the table in front of Mrs. Elliot, and pulled back on the frog’s head to reveal the lemon flavored candy within. She, of course, laughed with delight and received the proffered Pez. She smiled up at Lars, who visibly relaxed, and then she turned back to me, leaned forward, and placed her hand on mine. Conspiratorially, she whispered, “I really needed this, young man. Thank you for being so clever and unique.”

The moment was magical, and certainly my date was suitably impressed, and at this point, a second date would be assumed. I would walk away from this night a hero, Christianity Today would issue a special edition just to name me one of the 25 under 25 most influential young Christians, and then the pièce de résistance, Billy Graham himself would invite me to The Cove to join him in some North Carolina barbecue.

That was what happened in my mind.

Following is the way it really happened.

I did do my best to smile a charming smile, but when I reached into my shirt pocket and pulled out Kermit, his oversized plastic green head caught on the lip of the pocket. I gave a little yank, forcing his head back, and ejecting Pez candies all over the table and the floor in front of a wide-eyed Elisabeth Elliot.

Thinking quickly, I turned back to my date and blurted, “Give me Gonzo! Give me Gonzo!”

il_fullxfull.302083276She shoved Gonzo into my waiting hand, and I whipped back around, set the hook-nosed Muppet Pez onto the table in front of Elisabeth Elliot and pulled back the head to reveal the waiting candy.

I’m sure only half a second passed between Gonzo’s appearance and Elisabeth Elliot’s response, but for me it seemed like time had slowed to a near-complete halt. There I sat, Gonzo in hand, smiling a lunatic smile at one of my faith heroes, and waiting to see if the rest of the incident would play out like it had in my mind.

It would not.

“What… is… that?” Elisabeth Elliot asked, staring down at poor Gonzo as if I were holding a squirming cockroach and not a beloved children’s character.

“It’s Pez,” I stammered. “It’s candy from a cartoon character’s head.”

Seeing that I wasn’t going anywhere until she had pulled a little tablet of candy from under Gonzo’s chin, Elisabeth Eliot reached over and pulled one out, and smiled at me. I’m sure it must have been the same smile she reserved for delusional men on the subway who insisted that they were actually the President of France.

I thanked her, scooped up the other Pez candies with as much dignity as I could muster, and walked past my giggling friends, my only solace being the knowledge that as bad as that had been, my friends had to go after me.

Part 2

beeson20021024finished003-540x350A few years later, I was studying for my Master’s of Divinity degree at Beeson Divinity School on the campus of Samford University. Beeson is an excellent institution of higher learning, a terrific training ground for people looking to go into ministry or pursuing higher education. It is a place of rigorous academic study, and challenging theological settings.

And somehow, I had been elected president of the student body.

Being president of the student body gave me unique access to visiting dignitaries, including Elisabeth Elliot, who spoke in our chapel in May 1996.

At that time, I was dating a young woman from Kazakhstan who was at Beeson working on her Master’s in Theological Studies. I’d told her my Elisabeth Elliot story, and thought that Mrs. Elliot’s visit was an opportune time to impress my girlfriend by seeing how well Elisabeth Elliot remembered that crazy kid in Charleston.

Following her talk, Elisabeth Elliot and her husband Lars sat in the student center, and they welcomed people to come up and talk with her. With my Kermit Pez firmly in hand, and with my girlfriend beside me, I approached the table and asked if we could sit. She smiled and gestured to the empty chairs.

“Mrs. Elliot, you probably don’t remember me, but a few years ago back in Charleston I heard you speak. Afterwards, I was able to talk with you, and when I did, I embarrassed myself by offering you a Pez. Well, since that time, I’ve had a fantastic time telling people that story, and so as a sign of my gratitude, I want to offer you something.”

I glanced at Lars. He didn’t move this time. But he was listening.

I sat Kermit on the table between us, and smiled.

“I’d like to offer you a Pez.”

This time, I was completely confident. I wasn’t trying to be cheeky, my supportive girlfriend sat beside me, and certainly Elisabeth Elliot would remember the incident from before. In my mind, she would laugh, say something like, “I remember you!”, take a Pez, and the story would have come full circle.

I would be a hero, once again. The dean of the seminary would put me on cover of the next newsletter, Christianity Today would put me on their list of the 29 under 29 most influential Christians, and Steven Curtis Chapman would call me to ask if I could teach him a thing or two about playing the guitar.

That was what happened in my mind.

Following is the way it really happened.

“What… is… that?” Elisabeth Elliot asked. Again.

“It’s Pez,” I stammered. “It’s candy from a cartoon character’s head.” Again.

Elisabeth Elliot smiled a very patient smile, and again, she took a Pez. Without having any candies to clean up, it was easy to stand, say thank you, and leave.

“I’ll stay a little longer, if that’s okay,” my girlfriend asked, and Mrs. Elliot nodded. I backed away, wondering what my girlfriend wanted to talk to Elisabeth Elliot about.

They talked quite a while, and my girlfriend ended up invited to Elisabeth Elliot’s hotel for breakfast the next morning to continue the conversation. Turns out they talked about me quite a bit, and they discussed my girlfriend’s frustration that she didn’t know where things were going with us. That I seemed afraid to commit. That I seemed to be obsessed with Pez.

Looking back, I realize that while it might be exhausting to have people come to you constantly, pouring out their hearts, looking for guidance and wisdom at their times of great need, Elisabeth Elliot did this for years, gladly and inexhaustibly. My only way of understanding this is that she must have felt such gratitude towards her Savior, who met her in the jungles of Ecuador at her time of greatest need, and that it was the least she could do.

And so I am not sad that Elisabeth Elliot has died. I’m grateful for her life, for the legacy she left behind, and for the witness that she will continue to be to countless individuals through her writings and her story.

And I smile when I think that she is with Jim and the others, missionaries and Huaroni alike, worshipping and praising the Lord whom she loved so much.

How could I be sad?

By the way, I don’t know the details of the conversation between my girlfriend and Elisabeth Elliot, but I do know that it was a very important conversation.

That girlfriend has been my wife now for nearly twenty years, so it was a very important conversation, indeed.

Thimblerig’s Interview • Screenwriter Andrea Nasfell, Mom’s Night Out

My first foray into screenwriting came back in the summer of 2007, when I took part in Act One’s Writer’s Program, and experienced my first taste of the Christian community in Hollywood. That time was transformational to me as I learned about the craft and business of screenwriting in a faith-focused context, and I enjoyed the relationships I gained as I became a part of the ever-growing Act One alumni community.

MNO_OfficialPoster_LowLast May, I was thrilled to hear that Andrea Nasfell, another member of the Act One community, had written Mom’s Night Out, that rare film made for the faith-based market that would be released widely, in over 1,000 theaters.

When I finally had the opportunity to watch Mom’s Night Out, I loved it. I especially appreciated the casting choices, the quietly subversive and revolutionary nature of the film, and the writing, which I found to be funny, smart, and heartfelt. Mom’s Night Out was one of my favorite films of the year, and I continue to be proud that it was written by a fellow Act One alum.

You can read my review here.

Last January, I had the surprising pleasure of taking a screenwriting class taught by Andrea as a part of Asbury University’s Master of Digital Storytelling program. It was a tough academic experience, where we were required to produce quite a bit of writing in an eight-week period, but I loved every minute of it. It reminded me of my time at Act One, and I really felt like I was in my element.

When the course was over, I presumptuously approached Andrea and asked if she would mind sharing some of her thoughts about being a successful Christian screenwriter with the readers of the Thimblerig’s Ark blog, and she graciously agreed.  I’m happy to present that interview to you.

andreaNate

First of all, please tell a little bit about yourself.

Andrea

I always wanted to be a writer, even as a little girl. At first I thought I would be a novelist, but then in high school I fell in love with movies and realized they have to start with words on a page. So I got a copy of Syd Field’s Screenplay and tried to figure it out. I studied Media Comm in college and went to L.A. for a semester to study film. I was hooked – I loved L.A. and knew I wanted to stay. Luckily, my fiancée was just as excited about L.A. Now he’s my husband and he’s a producer. We live in Burbank with our two kids who were both born here in California.

Nate

How did you become a screenwriter?

Andrea

It’s a gradual process, but it starts with lots and lots of writing. I attended the Act One program, and that was a huge jumpstart for me. I met a mentor who was a working screenwriter, and she is still a good friend. I joined her writer’s group and they put me through the ringer. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I developed my voice. Finally, a friend from Act One met a producer looking for a writer for an indie film. He read my work, I pitched a take on his story, and he hired me. That script never got made, but later that producer formed a bigger company and I have written ten scripts for him since.

Nate

Please describe your working day as a writer.

Andrea

I have to write in the hours that my kids are in school, so that’s how every day is structured. Drop them off, make coffee, write, pick them up and try to be present with them rather than in my work at that point. It’s not always easy, especially when there are deadlines. There is a lot of juggling that happens.

Nate

Congratulations on the success of Mom’s Night Out, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Can you tell a little about your involvement bringing Mom’s Night Out from idea to screen?

Andrea

At the red carpet premiere of Mom's Night Out

At the red carpet premiere of Mom’s Night Out

The process started when David White at Pure Flix came to me asking if I’d be interested in writing something for moms. There had been a number of successful faith-based films for men – especially the Sherwood movies – but nobody had tried the female audience. David and Andrea had just had their second baby and she was very interested in a movie about motherhood. So I pitched them this idea and wrote it for hire for them, with the expectation that it would fit into their TV or DVD model at the time. But then Kevin Downes – a friend of David’s – read it, and he took it to the Erwins. All three of them had two children under the age of 3 or 4 at the time, so they “got it” immediately and wanted to be involved. Kevin acquired the film to make with Jon and Andy, whose October Baby success got Sony into the picture. It kept getting bigger from there. Jon rewrote it to make it more cinematic – he had significantly more budget and was able to add scenes and characters, honing it to get the actors he wanted, which he did. The nice thing was that I felt like they really understood the original vision, and they kept the main skeleton of the story the same, while adding some really fun things. So in the end, I still felt like it was my movie, even though Jon had kind of made it the “deluxe” version!

Nate

The film had some great laugh-out-loud moments. Who are your comedic influences – from the worlds of screenwriting, standup, television, or elsewhere?

Andrea

I fell in love with movies in an era when there were a lot of successful “comedies with heart” and those were the films I wanted to emulate — Father of the Bride, Sister Act, Mrs. Doubtfire, even going back as far as Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Back to the Future, and Tootsie (which I think is probably the best comedy of all time). I also really loved those movies like Adventures in Babysitting, Bringing Up Baby, or It Happened One Night where everything goes wrong in one long, zany day or night. More recently there was Date Night, which I had high hopes for, but I felt like they bowed to the modern need for “edginess” in a way the story didn’t require. But those in particular were inspirational films to me. I’m sad we’ve gone a different direction with comedy in recent years because I think the heart part of the comedy is what makes them endure. Those are all still terrific movies when you watch them today.

Nate

What was your role in Mom’s Night Out while it was being filmed?

On the set with Jon and Andy Erwin

On the set with Jon and Andy Erwin

Andrea

The screenwriter doesn’t usually have much to do once the cameras roll. Occasionally I have been called up to adjust a scene or help solve a logistics problem by adjusting the script, but in the case of Mom’s Night Out, I visited the set in Alabama for a couple of days and that was it. It’s such a joy for a writer to visit though – it’s like seeing your imagination come to life. To watch as a huge group of people bring words to life is very exciting.

Nate

Looking back on the experience, is there anything you wish you could change about the finished product? Any scenes that you wish you could have added, or wish had been left out?

Andrea

I really loved Jon’s version of the script, and we had talented and hilarious actors who added their own bits to it – I was really happy in the end. The only thing I wondered about was the fact that in the early drafts both Sondra (Patricia Heaton) and Izzy (Andrea Logan White) had careers that were discussed more explicitly. I think, had those elements of their character remained in the final version, it might have opened up a better conversation about all types of moms rather than pegging them all as stay-at-home moms (which many of the films’ critics assumed, but was not ever said explicitly in the film, except about Allyson.)

Nate

I was frustrated that Mom’s Night Out was the criticized for “reinforcing traditional gender roles” and for featuring a protagonist who was a stay-at-home mom. How do you respond to those criticisms?

Andrea

Sarah Drew as Allyson

Sarah Drew as Allyson in Mom’s Night Out

I was frustrated too! We fully expected to be panned by critics because of the faith elements of the movie, but that was almost overlooked completely. We were shocked that a movie that was supposed to be a love letter to moms, recognizing their hard work and allowing them to laugh at their frustrations was called “anti-feminist” and criticized for daring to have a stay-at-home mom as the protagonist. I always thought the point of feminism was for we as women to be able to choose our own paths and not be limited by any societal expectations. But apparently that is true only if you choose a full-time career. One of my pet peeves is when women turn on each other instead of giving a hand up, so my biggest frustration was with female critics like the one who said, “Why didn’t she just quit whining and get a nanny?” Wow. I think many of them saw the film was rewritten by a man and directed by two men and completely disregarded my involvement. But Jon and Andy chose this film because they saw the joys and pains of their own wives and wanted to recognize them.

The other side of that coin is that the male characters were criticized for being incompetent, which is completely untrue if you think carefully about it. Anything that seems like incompetence (excepting Marco, I guess) is in Allyson’s imagination, not what actually happens. The rest is a series of unfortunate mishaps that they handle quite well, in my opinion. It’s a comedy, people. Lighten up!

Nate

As a Christian, what are some of the challenges you have faced being involved in the film industry?

Andrea

One of the challenges is that I’m just not interested in writing the things that are “hot” in the marketplace, so I have to find other niches to fit in. I’m not interested in writing Bridesmaids (and I actually sat in the theater in front of some women who walked out because they thought Mom’s Night Out was going to be in that genre and it wasn’t). That’s just not my style. So I don’t fit in a lot of places, and I often have people tell me, “You should get a meeting at Hallmark.” That’s fine too, but I think there is a mainstream movie audience that wants wholesome but still funny and adventurous stories. And many of them are not opposed to having issues or characters of faith in them. The problem is that many of those audience members are gun shy, because the marketplace is flooded with stories that are cynical, raunchy or just disappointing. They’ve been burned, and movies are expensive, so it’s hard to get them out to the theater.

Obviously one of my own biggest challenges has been meeting the expectation of a “Christian movie audience” as perceived by producers while also creating something artistic and true. It’s a very difficult position as a writer, when the marketing team and the producers need that moment that seals the deal for pastors, while at the same time you want to create something challenging and artistically beautiful. It’s a balancing act and it’s not always in your control. (I’ve had scenes added to scripts on-set, because the producers didn’t think they had enough on-the-nose content for marketing the film.)

Nate

How can Christians outside Hollywood support Christians working in Hollywood?

Andrea

Go see their movies! The only thing that matters to decision makers in Hollywood is money. That is the only thing. You will get more of whatever makes money. Period. And they stay employed and making more product when that happens. Certainly pray for them to find opportunity and stay strong in their faith as well.

Nate

What are your thoughts on Christian filmmaking? Where do you see it going in the future?

Andrea

I never make predictions. There are too many unexpected blockbusters and surprising disappointments. It’s good old William Goldman, “Nobody knows anything.” But I will say that, in my experience, there are a lot of secular companies recognizing the potential of the church-going audience and trying to figure out how to capitalize on it. Some of them are going to succeed and some of them are going to fail. They need good Christian artists to help as cultural language-translators to figure it all out.

Nate

“Faith-based” films are typically also expected to be family friendly, but the Bible is often not family friendly. How would you advise Christian artists as they think about portraying the grittier sides of life?

Andrea

I don’t know if I completely agree with this, but I understand how it might look that way from the outside. There are certainly movies like The Song, Blue Like Jazz, To End All Wars and others that have been fine to delve into certain grittier subjects. It’s just like with any secular movie genre – each movie is made for a particular audience, and a good amount of Christian movies make a bundle of their money from church licensing or word-of-mouth from pastors and other Christian leaders. Those people are going to be hesitant to bring films into their church building or to send their parishioners to the theater if it’s going to bring them blowback over offensive content. So yes, the filmmakers consider that and cater to it. My opinion is that we should choose film content that matches the audience we serve, rather than sanitizing or dumbing down the content to the point that it doesn’t seem real. If you need it to be church and family friendly, choose a story about churches or families rather than about war or drug addiction. Make those movies for a different audience and be okay with them not being shown in church. Maybe you’re actually making a mainstream movie that happens to have elements of faith, instead of a movie branded by faith-based production and distribution.

You’re right that the Bible isn’t family friendly, but the Bible is told in words and not pictures that take viewers through experiences the way movies do. I’m sure blood squirted everywhere when David chopped off Goliath’s head, but we should consider how helpful it is to glorify that moment if we’re making that movie. As artists we can be responsible to the spirit of a grittier piece while at the same time being responsible to the audience that experiences it.

Nate

What final advice would you give to Christians who want to become involved in any aspect of filmmaking?

Andrea

IMG_9964

The Nasfell family at the premiere of Mom’s Night Out

I’ll go back to my Father of the Bride and Planes, Trains and Automobiles hero and quote Steve Martin. “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” There are lots of reasons why people get opportunities in Hollywood, and some of them aren’t related to talent. But nobody keeps working in Hollywood without talent and hard work, and that’s the only part you can control. The worst thing for Christians in Hollywood are those filmmakers who come out here saying “God called me” but yet they aren’t talented and they won’t put in the work. Yes, God can open opportunities, but you have to be prepared enough to take them.

Nate

Finally, do you have any projects in the pipeline that you’d like to share?

Andrea

I have a couple of films in development and one that is shooting right now. I can’t share too much, but it’s another comedy, set in a mega-church, and I’m really excited for you to find out more soon!

A big thank you to Andrea for taking the time to answer my questions, and for openly sharing her experiences and her thoughts about screenwriting and filmmaking for people of faith.

To find out more about Andrea:

Andrea Nasfell on Twitter: @AndreaNasfell

Andrea Nasfell on IMDb: IMDb

Andrea Nasfell’s blog: ahundredhats.wordpress.com

Mom’s Night Out: www.momsnightoutmovie.com

And if you enjoyed this interview, check out past Thimblerig interviews!

Michael B. Allen & Will Bakke, makers of Believe Me

Author and Filmmaker Bill Myers

Richard Ramsey, director of The Song

Doc Benson, writer and director of Seven Deadly Words

Tyler Smith and Josh Long, co-hosts of More Than One Lesson podcast

Stay tuned to the Thimblerig’s Ark blog for more interviews with artists doing interesting work in the name of Christ, and come join the Sacred Arts Revolution conversation over at Facebook!