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Christian Hollywood

By Ron Keener

More churches and ministries are producing quality faith-based films – proving that even in moviemaking, Christianity and business success are not mutually exclusive.

I still remember the days when the downtown cinema had Saturday afternoon westerns for a thin dime. Roy Rogers was okay, but Gene Autry was my favorite. (I toured his western heritage center in California some years ago, and a biography came out on him in 2009.)

We all have stories about our favorite stars and “moving picture shows.” But what is new today are the advances in production of films that focus on faith and family. This issue of Church Executive touches on what is happening on that front in Hollywood and elsewhere and, moreover, with congregations that are producing and screening major films themselves.

“The changes have been dramatic,” says Travis Mann, head of production at Mission Pictures International for foreign sales, finance and distribution. The company specializes in high-quality family and faith-based entertainment for mainstream audiences.

“First, there are so many more ministries for Christians who feel called to work in the entertainment industry. The networking and support system has grown exponentially,” he says. “Second, the new technologies have allowed filmmakers to produce pictures at significantly lower costs via high-definition digital video and computer-based editing and post-production systems.

“Third, the Internet has allowed filmmakers to post their movies online in an effort to reach audiences directly. These three factors have combined to create tremendous growth in both the number of filmmakers and the number of films.” Mann says there are some incredible talents in the business and that bodes well for the future of faith-based entertainment.

Mission Pictures provides a global distribution outlet to producers of inspirational and faith-based films. Mann works with writers, directors and producers early in the process to create high quality content, often, he says, by helping them avoid the mistakes he and others had made in the past – and which accounted for the poor reception faith films have had in the past.

Should more churches become involved in feature film production (and three such churches are profiled in this issue)? Says Mann: “I believe there is a place for megachurches to get involved in film production, provided they know and understand their motivation for doing so. Too often, Christians will say they only want to be involved in a film to tell a story or to reach people and will deny they have a profit motive. As a result, they often spend way too much money on the production, overpaying actors, and so forth.

“To my mind, the better approach is to go ahead and be led by your faith, but proceed with extreme financial caution. Be smart about how you spend your money and what you spend it on. Attach talent that will allow you to pre-sell certain foreign territories to lay-off some of your risk. Take advantage of motion picture production subsidies offered by certain states. Work with established Hollywood professionals who have great referrals and a proven track record of success,” Mann cautions.

Wow, Gene Autry and his Republic Pictures never had to worry about all that.

Still, a good film depends on a good story. Travis Mann finds the faith-based story the “most compelling.” “There are no better stories than those focused on someone living out the courage of their convictions against all the world’s obstacles,” he says. Good comment, pilgrim.

Got a question or comment? Email Ron@ChurchExecutive.com

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