Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Success of "Blind Side" Opens Doors

The massive success of The Blind Side has shocked Hollywood and opened studios to a market they're still trying to figure out--the heartland. Stories about Christians or Republicans are rare in the mainstream movie world, but seeing as how over half the country attends church regularly, it would stand to reason that more films portraying people like this would be made. To their credit, studios are working to appeal more to this market, which is difficult because many of these pepole aren't traditional moviegoers.

Hopefully, that will open some opportunities to filmmakers like me, who understand that market and how to appeal to it, and who have stories to tell from that world. I've said before that it's imperative to tirelessly prepare for the moments when the industry shifts and starts looking for something that you have to offer. Even when I'm not making a movie, I'm working overtime to make myself a better filmmaker, because I want to be ready when studios say, "We need more stories from the heartland," or "We need filmmakers who can relate to the faith-based audience."

In my book-reading and movie-watching, I've been concentrating on filmmakers like Frank Capra. I just read his book of interviews, and I'm about to read his autobiography. The next movie I watch will be Ben-Hur, and after that Capra's "You Can't Take It With You." These are films that were hugely successful with heartland audiences, so I want to understand what made them tick and learn from their success and artfulness. When you see a trend devleoping in Hollywood, look for films in the past that were successful the last time that same trend developed.

I happen to know that my favorite book of all time is being developed as a feature film at a studio. It's a story set in exactly the kind of church I grew up in and covers themes and characters that I know inside and out. I'm going to be a candidate to direct it, so I'm already preparing my pitch for the interview I'll have when they're looking for directors. I hope to convince them that no one knows this kind of film better than I do, so I'm going to make sure that's actually true.

Of course, first things first--I have to finish "What If..." and make sure it's great.

"What If..." Post Production Video Blog #7

Hear the latest regarding picture correction, DVD Commentary and "ADR" with the actors, and an update as we get closer to completion. Includes some images from the film. For this and all the other video blogs, check out

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Can "Christian films" appeal to the mainstream?

A couple of days ago, a good friend of mine and pop culture analyst emailed me to challenge me on some of my recent blogs and choices in my career. Specifically, he thought I was making a mistake by talking about making a "Christian movie" and broadcasting myself accordingly. See my articles on Big Hollywood ( I've maintained that embracing the core Christian market and making a lower budget film marketed primarily to the church crowd is a smart business decision as well as something that gives me the chance to make a good film in a market that hasn't had too many good films.

He found illogical a comment I'd made about hoping my film would still appeal to all markets. He said that that was unlikely because of the fact that the film was being marketed as "Christian" and added the following:

"...but if you feel you have to do this then I think you should at least count the cost and understand that this way of securing the base is by definition exclusionary and uninviting to those who are not already predisposed favorably toward Christianity and Christian movies."

I responded with the following...might be of note, even if you disagree:

Yes, the MARKETING isn't necessarily "inviting" to those who aren't fans of "Christian films," any more than the marketing of a horror film as a horror film isn't necessarily inviting to those who aren't fans of horror films. That said, it's certainly a worthwhile goal to make the FILM appealing to all.

Note what I said--"we always want the film to appeal to everyone." I didn't say "we want the marketing to be geared to everyone." There's a big difference.

I'm making a film that follows the conventions and boundaries of films that qualify for the Christian market. No language, no lust, include the gospel message, uplifting ending, etc.. Because of that, it's a waste of resources to try to market the film to everyone. Marketers know this in every genre or niche--if you've got limited resources, make the most of them by targeting the already existing marketplace.

However, my goal was to make a film that followed these conventions that would also be enjoyable and worthwhile to those who end up seeing the film who aren't evangelicals. That's not fantastical or a contradiction at all. They might come across it on TV, they might have it given to them by their Christian friends, they might read a positive review (critics do review Christian films), they might be big Debby Ryan or Kevin Sorbo fans, or in some cases, they might be curious to see a "Christian" film. I have many liberal agnostic film geek friends who say, "I have no problem with Christian films in general, I just want to see a good one."

What makes a movie successful long-term is word of mouth. The very law of averages dictates that some non-Christians will see the film early on, and if they happen to like it, they'll tell their other non-Christian friends. It behooves me to make a film that at least has a chance to get good word-of-mouth among non-Christians; it's a bonus.

I'm not a sci-fi fan AT ALL, but after enough people told me The Matrix was cool, I saw it and loved it. I don't like horror movies, but Paranormal Activity got enough good reviews that I figured it was different, so I saw it.

But the fact is, no one, not a studio or private financier, will spend the money on this film to market it to anyone but the base. As frustrating as that is, I have to adjust to it and act accordingly, and I know how to appeal to the base. But that doesn't mean I can't still make a good film that many non-Christians can like, too.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

My latest article for Big Hollywood...

I write about my attempt to actually make a good "Christian" film. Check it out here.