Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thoughts on faith-based filmmaking

This is an interview I recently gave for a magazine on the topic of faith-based films and the retail market.

2008 Trends -- Faith & Family Films

Looking back on 2008, what happened in the world of faith and family films? How did this portion of the industry grow, change, or regress?

It's hard to say if it's growing or regressing, but it's definitely changing. The studios are proving that they only know how to reach one part of the Christian market, and that's the core church crowd, the crowd that showed up for "Fireproof." And they're also showing that they don't know how to do it themselves; they need Christian filmmakers to make the films and even spearhead the marketing.

The market is growing, but I fear that it's only growing in one direction. I think we're getting further and further from the idea of a mainstream faith-based film; any faith-based films are going to get pushed into one particular box.

Looking forward into 2009, what trends or changes are studios anticipating?

There will be more films like Fireproof--lower budget, straight-on Christian movies marketed directly to the church crowd. The idea of doing a faith-based film and then marketing it like a mainstream film is going to be less viable.

How can retailers prepare for 2009?

They need to develop stronger and more direct relationships with the Hollywood studios, and make sure that they're communicating clearly what they want and need. The studios are listening more than ever.

What products do you have coming out in 2009 that retailers should start to have on their radars?

We're developing a couple of films with Pure Flix Entertainment(Hidden Secrets, The Wager) that we're very excited about. Jenkins Entertainment plans to have a bigger role in this growing movement.

What can retailers do right now to help capitalize on Christmas DVD sales?

The Christian market is really starting to embrace faith-based films; we're where Christian music was 20 years ago. As Christian films get better and more common, the retailers need to really communicate that to their consumers. Movies can be a massive business, but right now, the consumers don't really look at their local Christian store as an outlet for a wide range of choices.

How has the level of "Christian filmmaking" improved over the past few years?

It's improved in some ways, in that the the production is being taken more seriously, the actors are getting better, etc., but we've still got such a long way to go. We've got to find a way to be more artistic, as opposed to just turning the camera on to film a message. And if we increase the artistic quality of our films, which is glorifying to God (the greatest artists of the early centuries were Christians), the audience will start to appreciate that part of it even more, and we can increase sales. And better yet, we might even make a film good enough to be appreciated by non-believers on a mass scale.

Where does "Christian filmmaking" need to go to continue to be relevant to consumers?

In addition to getting better artistically, we need to offer a wider range of genres and storylines. Romantic comedies, teen dramas, even crime stories need to be considered.

Looking out 5+ years, where will this portion of the industry be, or what is your hope for the future of faith and family films?

It can only get bigger. There's such a big audience, and it's being underserved. As long as we continue to make better films, the industry will grow. My ultimate desire is for there to be more mainstream films with Hollywood-style production values and size that come from a faith-based perspective, as opposed to the current status of Christian films being set apart from secular films. But until the market supports that, we have to work within the system and hope to improve it.

Is there a phrase that accurately describes this type of filmmaking other than "faith and family" or "Christian?"

I wish there was.

How do you anticipate VOD or any other type of downloading video service affecting how retailers sell their products in brick and mortar stores?

They should be in conjunction. Hopefully, the retailers can be part of the VOD movement.

How would you motivate consumers to purchase or even to just begin being interested in faith and family films?

It's all about word of mouth. If a retailer has something really good to offer, the audience will embrace it. Retailers haven't always had much to be excited about.

Why is it important to support faith and family filmmaking efforts?

Because film is the most important medium of all time in communicating messages. Films combine every audio and visual element imaginable, and for the last 50 years, Christians have backed off and let filmmaking be controlled by people who don't share our values. That's our fault. But that can change if the films we make are successful, so consumers must vote with their dollar and help these films succeed if they like them. If they make money, then more will be made, and we'll have a better chance of impacting culture.