Christian film: “Telling engaging, entertaining and redemptive stories in which truth and hope prevail”
Travis Mann is head of production for Mission Pictures International, founded in 2008, and specializing in high quality family and faith-based entertainment for mainstream audiences worldwide. Mann’s focus in his position is for foreign sales, finance, and distribution, and plans expansion into the finance and production of original content.
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. A briefer version of this interview appears in the Editor’s Page of the June issue. Editor Ron Keener interviewed Mr. Mann by e-mail.
What is the focus of your company and why have you personally decided on the faith-based part of the business?
The focus of Mission Pictures International has been to provide a global distribution outlet to producers of inspirational and faith-based films. As head of production, I’m excited to be working with writers, directors and producers earlier in the process to help create high-quality, appealing content – often by simply helping them avoid the mistakes others (and myself) have made in the past. I personally enjoy the faith-based part of the business because I find those stories to be 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.
Can you expand on what your website says: “tell engaging, entertaining, and redemptive stories in which truth and hope prevail”? How does that work into your personal worldview and faith?
Those stories are out there, and despite what you may have heard, Hollywood writers want to tell them and Hollywood stars want to be in them. But like a prospector searching for gold, you have to turn over a lot of rocks to find a nugget or two. My worldview is basically one of free will and free markets. I don’t believe actors, studios and financiers turn down faith-friendly projects because they have some sort of agenda to deny audiences those types of films. Rather, I believe most of the time the screenplays simply aren’t good enough to be competitive in the marketplace.
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?
The changes have been dramatic. 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. 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 factors have combined to create tremendous growth in both the number of filmmakers and the number of films. There’s some incredible talent out there and it bodes well for the future of faith-based entertainment.
Explain how you work in the development and production (not distribution) and what your company contributes.
With any project, it always starts with the script. They say you can’t make a good movie from a bad screenplay – but you can make a bad movie from a good screenplay. Because the screenplay must be strong to even have a chance at success, we work with producers and writers to shape and mold the script so that it’s competitive in the marketplace. What I mean by that is, if the screenplay is good enough, agents and actors will respond to the material. A great story will resonate with them. It will touch their hearts and souls. And when it does, they will want to be a part of it.
Is there a place for megachurches to get involved in film production, and if so, in what way? What should they be cautious about in doing so?
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 that they only want to be involved in a film to tell a story – 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, producers, and so forth. Then if the film doesn’t perform, they bemoan their lack of financial success. 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 – not just a well-known name and a big fee.
What upcoming projects do you have and what can you tell me about it in terms of production, distribution, and development?
We recently signed agreements with two very talented directors for slates of films. The first, Rick Bieber, wrote and directed “The Fifth Quarter” last year, starring Aiden Quinn and Andie Macdowell. He’s finishing up the screenplay for his next project and when he does, we’ll begin approaching actors for the lead roles. Our other new deal is with Rob Johnson, who directed “Jada” a few years ago. We’re going into production on his next project entitled “The Anchor.” It’s a wonderful, inspirational story about a high school runner who must learn to more fully use his God-given talents in order to overcome a series of terrible tragedies in his personal and family life.
When films like “Courageous” and “Facing the Giants” come out, how can congregations effectively use them in their churches to educate, inform, and inspire their audiences? Is there a marketing function that churches might become engaged in and what is useful and appropriate?
Part of our job as producers is to provide audiences, including churches, with the things they need to motivate them to see and enjoy our films. We work to partner with church and ministry leaders to shape study-guides and background materials so that congregations will know about the film, understand why we think they should go see it, and have an opportunity to learn how the film relates to them as Christians. If we’ve done our job right and the film is good, they will tell their friends. It’s my hope that with Mission’s upcoming slate of pictures, people will not only tell their friends from their churches or Bible studies, but that they’ll also be excited to tell their friends from outside the church.
What can you share about the intersection of faith and culture and Hollywood, that you find important in terms of “truth and hope”?
In my opinion, Jesus was the greatest storyteller who ever lived, and the Bible is the greatest collection of stories ever told. It’s all in there – every topic is covered. That gives us as Christians a lot of freedom in the stories we choose to tell. Please pray that we’ll have wisdom and discernment in selecting those stories, and hiring the right writers, directors and actors to bring those stories to life. Motion pictures are the most powerful communication tool yet invented. Christians need to be able to use that tool as effectively as any other group, because when done right, a film goes beyond mere entertainment. It can touch your heart. It can touch your soul. It can even change your life.