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Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Brief Plea for Excellence in Christian Film

Under my review of Courageous, I had a commenter take umbrage to my opening remarks concerning the lameness that permeates the typical Christian film.

He writes,

It's a church. It's not Hollywood. They don't drop tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars glorifying sex and materialism.
The preamble to this post sounds like one of those people who goes to a worship service and then critiques the sound quality and the talent of the musicians.

Allow me to expand upon my response I made to him:

The fact that it is made by a Church causes me to have even greater expectations for the quality of the film.  They should WANT to make their movie outstanding.  I reject the idea that because a local church, or low-budget "Christian" production company, makes a mediocre film that was cheaply produced at least "they’re not like Hollywood and their million dollar materialistic sex movies."  Are we to expect that only Hollywood should make good films? 

I noted two examples for comparison: Inception and Hugo.  I suggested them because both films are engaging and interesting to watch.  They are well crafted.  I understand that both, particularly Inception, are laden with special effects which would be extremely cost prohibitive for a low-budget Christian film.  But I am not saying that if a Christian film isn't like Avatar (God forbid) that it isn't worth watching.  I am just pleading for some excellence in film making. 

But what sort of Christian films are there?  I am subjected to eye-raking movies like The Encounter, In the Blink of an Eye and similar direct-to-DVD slop that isn't worthy of the Hallmark Channel or in the case of Six: The Mark Unleashed, the SyFy Channel. 

I did note in my review of Courageous that I liked the film overall.  But still, it lacked in certain areas, which included the acting.  Sherwood Baptist in Georgia is a large church and they have gained millions of dollars not only from movie ticket sales of their films, but also in DVD purchases and other merchandise. They have the money to invest into making a film with greater production value.  I want them to have a greater production value not because they can get their films in theaters or have more wordily recognition, but because Christians should strive for excellence. 

Now my commenter responded to this thought by suggesting they spend their money on missions or other spiritual areas.  That may be, and good for them, but how does that excuse them from pursuing excellent in film making?  Another commenter responded to our exchange by stating that a Christian production company may run into trouble with available talent.  In other words, the level of talent typically on display in Hollywood produced film is unavailable and cost prohibitive for Christian oriented production companies. 

I don't agree with that.  I live in the LA area.  I know good actors who are Christians and they would thrill at working on such a project.  They wouldn't ask for a multi-million dollar fee like Tom Hanks would get, but they certainly don't want to work "for free" just because it's perceived as Gospel "ministry." It’s their craft and they should be consider worthy of their labor.

The same can be said about the production talent.  There are many fine individuals who operate cameras, lighting, sound, and editing, and they know how to make a movie.  Hollywood doesn't have a corner on the market in either acting or production, they just pay well.  Though Christian production companies may have low-budgets, in these two areas, it is where they need to be willing to count the cost in my opinion. 

But for some reason Christians are content to compromise. They either compromise on production value, which makes the vehicle that carries the Gospel they wish to proclaim a joke because it is laughable and unwatchable. Or they compromise the message of the Gospel because they believe it hinders the watchability of their film.

Now, I have high hopes for Sherwood pictures and wish them all blessing as they go with God, but the fact that they are a "church" should actually mean something with what they produce.  Believe me, if I attended a church whose sound system was terrible and the choir was off key all the time and the people didn't really care to fix the problem to make the worship better, because in their mind what truly matters is good intentions, I would truly wonder about the leadership of that church.

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5 Comments:

Blogger Robert said...

Fred,

What I'd recommend, then, is for somebody to try to get these actors, producers, etc. in touch with the people at Sherwood or other groups and try to get them to work together. Or maybe get a group of committed Christians to fund a movie where this talent can be assembled together. This might actually draw a larger audience and in turn present the Gospel to unbelievers, as well as provide funding for missions and other areas of ministry.

8:59 AM, April 11, 2012  
Blogger fred said...

Hi Fred,

Sherwood is not, as far as I can tell, a group of investors who is looking to apply its money toward the production of a movie. They are a group of Christians who desire to make a movie as a ministry. The group of people includes the actors, the sound guys, the camera guys, etc. All of these people wish to participate in the creation of their movie. Similarly, Christians often participate in construction projects or provide food to homeless. They are all simply forms of ministry. But, if we apply your logic to these other ministries then folks should stop doing construction projects and hire professional (okay, Christian professional) carpenters because those carpenters may be able to do a better job. They should stop cooking for the homeless and hire professional chefs for the same type of reason. If you were critiquing food rather than movies, what would you say about the homeless shelters? That they should let the professionals handle it?

If someone wants to tap into the abundant Christian talent in and around LA, more power to them. Until them, I say we let Sherwood do its thing.

5:48 AM, April 17, 2012  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

fred, (not the owner of this blog) writes,

Sherwood is not, as far as I can tell, a group of investors who is looking to apply its money toward the production of a movie.

What difference does that make? You do all things with excellence no matter what you spend your money on.

Similarly, Christians often participate in construction projects or provide food to homeless. They are all simply forms of ministry. But, if we apply your logic to these other ministries then folks should stop doing construction projects and hire professional (okay, Christian professional) carpenters because those carpenters may be able to do a better job.

You had better do a "good" job because you may not be able to pass an inspection, or the house burns down, or the roof leaks. With this logic, a well-meaning church could get a bunch of big-hearted guys who "can swing a hammer" and build some houses. But you have construction standards to consider. You have to sheet rock it, mud it, paint and wall paper, put in windows, etc. Of course, that is all after you lay down plumbing and electrical and do other similar things, hopefully all built upon a foundation that you hope your construction guys laid properly. Do you want some mediocre guys doing this work for you, or professionals who know their business?

They should stop cooking for the homeless and hire professional chefs for the same type of reason. If you were critiquing food rather than movies, what would you say about the homeless shelters? That they should let the professionals handle it?

Not sure if you know anything about homeless shelters, but I do. Their kitchen has to operate by the same standards as any "for profit" food establishment. Do you want people who know what they are doing, or risk the county shutting you down because you went with a bunch of people who were "really willing to serve?"

Fred

6:15 AM, April 17, 2012  
Blogger Robert said...

I'd actually look at these analogies a bit differently. I'd say with the home-building analogy, it'd be the difference between the Home Makeover show rolling up and doing the work vs. a group of men who are handy coming together to build something for a family in need. And with the homeless shelter, it'd be the difference between having Bobby Flay (or insert any other celebrity/top rated chef here) cook the dinner instead of a guy who runs a sandwich shop.

Again, I'd go back to my recommendation for anybody who is dissatisfied with the quality of Christian movies available...get the right people together and ask them to make a quality product. However, I don't think we need to tear down groups that do their best and are improving (which I think Sherwood seems to be doing). It is much better than having a film company take a good Christian story and take Jesus totally out of it and have Scripture taken out of context (I have plans to prosper you - applies to Israel). I am referring to a movie that had good quality acting, but the context of the true story was twisted by the production company.

1:45 PM, April 17, 2012  
Blogger fred said...

Hi Fred,

Those are a nice couple of red herrings you threw out there. I'm sure you know that I'm not talking about passing inspection or regulatory compliance. And, of course I'm not advocating leaking plumbing and rancid food. I'm talking about aesthetics and taste. For example, I can grill a burger for a person in need that will meet all legal requirements concerning health and nutrition. Most people might even say it tastes pretty good. But, I'm sure the folks at your local high end steak house can create something that would blow my best efforts away. So, does that mean that I should just pack it in and leave it to the pros?

8:40 AM, April 18, 2012  

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