In the “Hollywood Film and Faith” Facebook group, a recent article was shared – “Why Christians Movies Are So Terrible” (click here) – which kicked up some dust-bunnies. I went to write a paragraph or two, but the preacher or writer in me (can’t decide which was being bad) couldn’t stop there. Here’s my full response.
I’m a 25-year pastor and converted novelist who moved to Los Angeles two years ago to get on the screenwriting dancefloor. I believe in the power of art to change hearts and culture because I was won to Christ as a freshman while watching the original “Ben-Hur” (balling my eyes out at the end, while sitting alone in the student lounge of Burge Hall at the University of Iowa – voted one of the top party dorms in the nation that year BTW.)
The movie so changed my life that in seminary, while studying church history, I wrote a 400-page novel as well as a mini-series script as a sequel to that story, just for fun. To this day, in my mind Ben-Hur remains the target of what “Christian” filmmaking should strive to be (minus the 4-hour length): rich characters, beautiful story-telling, faith-friendly but not faith-based, with a nuanced spirituality that sneaks up on you till it pierces your heart.
It was in the years following Ben-Hur that Christians began to run for the exit seats (as Ted Baehr pointed out in his comments), leaving a decades-long void in Hollywood that we have now been trying to reoccupy in recent years.
I’ve done my share of grousing over the years about the quality of Christian films. (See here. And here.) The same trends afflict “Christian fiction”. I attended a national conference several years ago where all the chatter was on how Christian publishers were about to turn a corner toward embracing more real and edgier story-telling. Yet when push came to shove, it was Amish romances for which they wrote checks.
But I think having been here for a couple years, and immersed myself in everything from background acting to conferences to pitchfests and writing groups, I’m not nearly as down-in-the-mouth about our future as the writer of the article we’ve been kicking around here.
This is just one man’s opinion, but I think we need to press forward with the determination that this is going to take at least a generation to figure out. And (with Mr. Baehr once again) there are sprigs of hope all over the place.
Being new to town, I am astonished by the number of solid believers who have immersed themselves at all levels in the belly of the beast here. Some are starry-eyed and counting on that “Jesus-magic” (as someone said) to help them whisk around the board directly to “Go”. But most seem to have their wits about them, and are ready to dig in, and do the hard work of mastering their craft.
We need to press forward with the determination that this is going to take at least a generation to figure out.
Additionally, there seems to be consensus of what needs to happen to get Christian-storytelling to the next level. The criticism leveled by the writer of the article is yesterday’s news. Most everyone I’ve met talks the talk. We know what the target is, but getting there is still foggy. We’re seeing the Promised Land from across the river.
This is where I felt a second article that was referred to – “The True Mission Of Faith-Based Films” (click here) was so spot-on. The author writes, “Is it really because there isn’t a market for these kinds of movies… or is it because those in Christian entertainment don’t have the marketing prowess, ability, faith, or desire to develop this market?”
What I heard the writer saying there is: “Having learned a formula for how to make an occasionally profitable Christian film, are we going to stop there? Are we going to settle for the low-hanging fruit and just copy the formula? Or will we push forward from this beach-head and kick some movie-butt for Jesus.” (You may have heard him say something differently, but that’s what I heard.)
Another hopeful sign is what’s happening at the grass-roots. John Ware’s “Film 168” group has cultivated a movement of film-makers fine-honing their craft through the production of shorts. The story-telling and craftsmanship found in many of these projects is impressive.
Additionally, what’s happening as we speak in faith-friendly film schools and programs is also tilling the soil for something special in days to come.
So if you find yourself in the trenches of Christian artistry of any kind, stay the course and stay encouraged. And encourage one another. Critique the jots and tittles, planks and specks, out of each other’s work (it’s iron sharpening iron to make the steel stronger.) Don’t expect Jesus to clean up your sloppiness. Instead, do your best because it’s for Jesus.
ear Clifton is a pastor, writer and screenwriter. His blogs and devotionals can be enjoyed at his ministry website: trainyourselfministry.com and his writing website: blclifton.com. Bear is the author of “Train Yourself To Be Godly: A 40 Day Journey Toward Sexual Wholeness”, “Ben-Hur: The Odyssey”, and “A Sparrow Could Fall”, all available through Amazon.