The June 2012 issue of Church Executive carries a special section on how congregations are involved in motion picture production, and how Christian film is becoming an expanding and influential part of the Hollywood movie-business. Editor Ron Keener interviewed three individuals by e-mail who are working in faith-based film production and distribution.
Johnny Meier and Dave Stone are actors, directors, screenwriters and founders of Intrigue Films [www.IntrigueFilms.com]; they also star in the new movie One Hit from Home. Adam Hastings is the production and marketing manager at Pure Flix [www.PureFlix.com].
What has changed in the film business where it seems faith-based films are stronger than ever, especially since Passion of the Christ (which seems like a baseline point)?
Johnny Meier: I see a Godly movement happening in the film industry. I feel as if the content of Hollywood films seems to be getting worse and worse (i.e., watch the trailer for Project X), the need for films that offer Christian values and a positive message is ever growing. I think consumers are reaching a point where they are starting to realize that a lot of what Hollywood is producing offers no real value to their lives. Heck, if you are going to give two hours of your life to something it might as well be worthwhile.
Dave Stone: I think The Passion of the Christ portrayed an accurate biblical account of Christ. It was a tough movie to watch because of its inherent content, but a very thoughtful moving piece that touched a very large number of audiences throughout the world! The Kendrick brothers and their ministry at Sherwood Baptist Church have really changed the Christian film industry as well. They are strong Christian men who want to see this world transformed! I believe they are truly guided by God, and they allowed him to use them as a vessel; they press on helping Christian-themed movies change the world. This movement has helped Intrigue Films shape our ministry and has really assisted us in defining our mission of “Changing Culture Through Film.”
Adam Hastings: I think there has been a shift in the heart of Christian artists and more specifically filmmakers. In the past it seems like faith-based films went unnoticed because of the lack of excellence in both production quality and the stories, and that has definitely changed. These types of films also stand out so strongly in a media culture that is incredibly dark and depraved at the moment. I’d like to think that people are craving for something positive deep down.
How would you describe those changes in production, financing, distribution, marketing, and the like over the past few years? Who has been out front on that? Who are some of the “players” in biblically based film entertainment?
Johnny Meier: I think as the demand for faith-based films grows so will the budgets and production values of the films. As a filmmaker, however, I do not feel that you should use budget as an excuse to produce low quality movies. I feel that as Christians we should be striving and pushing harder than anyone else to represent the Kingdom well and we can do that by trying to reach higher with the quality of films we are producing. As far as the players out in front right now, I see it as a two pony race with Pure Flix and Affirm Films out in front of the pack. I feel they are both doing a fantastic job of producing and releasing faith-based films. Also, I feel this goes without saying, but Alex Kendrick really is the trailblazer for all us in this genre of film.
Dave Stone: For us at Intrigue Films, making One Hit from Home was a challenge for sure. Financing was limited; we had no idea about marketing; we had a few solid production contacts but mainly we had God on our side and the perseverance to never stop the momentum. Then once One Hit from Home was finished, we found an excellent distribution partner in Pureflix Entertainment. They not only distribute, but produce their own content. They are already a player but give it a few years, these guys will be big!
Adam Hastings: I think the films made by Sherwood Baptist (Facing the Giants, Fireproof) have really paved the way for other distributors and producers to make an impact on the industry. Our distributor, Pure Flix Entertainment, is also incredibly unique because they are the only film studio that is both producing and distributing films. They are currently releasing more faith-based films than anyone else at the moment.
Can you talk a bit about the financing of faith-based films? What makes it possible in what is usually seen as blockbuster amounts of money needed to get into the film business?
Johnny Meier: With God all things are possible. How else can you explain Facing the Giants being made for $100K and grossing $30-plus million? Fireproof was made for $500K and grossed $60-plus million. Those numbers are staggering and show that if your film has a good message and solid story the potential is limitless.
Dave Stone: It is all about the story. When you have a script that is incredible, the money will come. We look for stories that explore Christian worldviews in their themes. We want the characters to experience the journey just as we have in our own lives, suffering and all. Then, in the end, understanding that we are all redeemed in Christ.
Adam Hastings: The current state of technology gives any creative mind and heart the opportunity to explore the production of all forms of art including film, music and design. It’s really exciting because you no longer have to own expensive equipment and cameras to start producing content.
How are you working with congregations in the premiering or distribution of One Hit from Home? What do you expect from a church in showing the film; how are they chosen in being involved; should churches be taking the initiative in seeking to screen the production?
Johnny Meier: We are working with churches in a variety of ways. Our mission is to “Change Culture Through Film,” and one of the ways we can do that is by making these screenings more than just a movie screening. We are encouraging churches to turn the screening into a fundraiser for a cause at the church where we donate a percent of the DVDs sold at the screening to the given cause. Most recently we did a really cool one for a girl who wanted to take a mission trip. Churches should be taking the initiative to make a screening happening. It is a great way to get people into church who may otherwise never step foot into a church.
Dave Stone: Initiative is a great thing. We are setting up church screenings and have an easy system set in place if you want to screen One Hit from Home. Usually we set a screening date about two to four weeks out so you can have sufficient time to advertise. Intrigue Films can provide you with a copy of the trailer to show at your services plus any digital artwork you need for slides, if you would like to bring an actor from the film to your church to sign autographs, etc. This can all be arranged through contacting Intrigue Films directly.
Adam Hastings: Another really exciting element to this “shift” that we’re discussing is that churches are incredibly excited to get behind the movies that are being released. It’s an honor any time a congregation is willing to support a specific film. We’d encourage any willing church to start a movie ministry, and Pure Flix Ministry makes that very easy. Our movie can be purchased for licensing from their website at www.pureflixcinema.com.
How does your film work into your personal worldview and faith?
Johnny Meier: My film work is my worldview. As a writer, I find it hard to separate the two. I just want to find film topics that are true to me and the things that God puts on my heart.
Dave Stone: One Hit from Home is a personal story that means a lot to the production team. We explore themes such as suffering, redemption, father-son relationships and mentorship. This movie really brings a message that speaks to our generation about the forgiveness and redemption of Christ.
Looking at the entertainment (film) business today, how have you seen it change over the past 10 years and what do you think about its future when it comes to faith-based entertainment?
Johnny Meier: The future is bright and vast! I feel that we are only scratching the surface right now on the potential of these films. I cannot wait to see the amazing content that Christian filmmakers offer audiences in the coming years. Coming from a background in athletics, I have a competitive streak in me and I feel that if you are going to do something, you should strive to be the best at it. So, I want us to get to the place where faith-based films are the gold standard of filmmaking and not the other way around. Faith-based films should, and will eventually, be the best films produced.
Dave Stone: We are not going away. In the last 10 years, Christian films have grown in the quality of story, production, and the overall messages that are able to reach much wider audiences. In fact, there is a thirst for faith-based entertainment. People want more. People need more. People are demanding more! We hear all the time that parents want more movies that they can take their whole family to see. We try to allow the Christian themes in our films to flow through the movie in order to be used as a vessel to spread the Gospel to the world in an inconspicuous way.
Should some churches be more engaged in film and telling stories in film that goes beyond what they use in a Sunday morning service? Should more look to doing what you are doing, and why should they, or not? How can churches be supportive of the storytelling you are doing?
Johnny Meier: I feel that we all have a call and God uses different people in different ways. I think you need to be true to yourself and the call that God has put on your life. For us, that translates into finding creative ways to share biblical principles and messages. For me, I am always looking for ways in stories to have the audience experience the meaning of the movie through the actions and events experienced by the characters, versus just talking about the message.
If I have heard one ongoing complaint about faith-based films, it’s that we talk too much about the message in the movie versus experiencing the faith journey through plot and character. But, again we have to be real careful when dealing with this because sometimes talking about the message may be needed to get a point across and someone in the audience may need to hear that spoken message. It all comes back to listening to what God it telling you to do.
Dave Stone: An ongoing Christian movie ministry at your church is a great way to engage new members and open discussions about their faith and any issues they have that are holding them back from the faith. When you begin a once-a-month movie outreach, people will know that you are not going away. Your church attendance will grow and the effect your church family can have on the community is limitless.
Members can invite their non-Christian friends to a movie. That’s easy! When people connect with a film, they have a sense of knowing what the character is experiencing. If they see a main character in a film make a life change, they may believe they can change themselves. It can be empowering. Movies have shaped generations. Jesus told parables, and movies can be visual parables that spread the Gospel message to the world.
The world isn’t always kind to stories or to people like you who tell those redemptive stories. What has been the reception you get when talking about what you do to unbelievers? The press release says you are “committed to changing culture through film.” Big order; what do you see now about our culture and how do you plan to make that impact? A bit at a time?
Johnny Meier: A big order indeed! I feel in terms of pushback toward these types of stories you just have to rest in the fact that you are just walking out the task that God has prepared for you and that he is going to give you the strength needed to face any adversity along the way. Actually, I feel that we need to expect adversity when we are walking in our call, because every person in the Bible experienced it. We are fully committed to our mission and it all starts with the content we produce. I feel it is imperative that we are putting out content that is godly and founded in a Christian worldview. I actually want to see the day that faith-based films become what is “pop culture” instead of movies like Twilight.
What’s the next production you plan to release, and what is its theme?
Johnny Meier: The next script is in the works, although I really don’t want to give too many details out about it right now. But, I can tell you that we are trying to create a faith-based film like nothing anyone has seen yet, so stay tuned.
What other aspects of your work do you want to tell our readers, and what might you say to congregations about their involvement or support?
Johnny Meier: I would just like to tell everyone that this is a team effort. It is up to filmmakers like us to produce the highest quality content possible, but then its up to the consumer to support the content. So, I encourage people who want to see more Christ-centered films produced to show their support. If we want to see the production values of these movies go up, we are going to need the demand from consumers. So, instead of renting Friends with Benefits or No Strings Attached on a Friday night, rent Courageous.