Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Quality Christian filmmaking - oxymoronic or just moronic?

Sy's comment - I like this! Especially the vacuum cleaner story. Many's a time I've watched a movie, read a book or heard a song and thought, gee, if only my unsaved friends could just see/hear this, they'd fully understand and give their hearts to the Lord! But I was looking through my eyes at the time, not theirs.

The key to anyone coming into a relationship with God is seeing the reality of Jesus (God with us) - whether that's something supernatural, like Muslims in the 10/40 window who experience visions of Jesus, or something more commonplace, like observing God consistently at work in the life of a fallible fellow human being. In fact, that's supernatural, too!

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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Understanding why movies with a Christian message just aren’t making it

By David White
Special to ASSIST News Service

LOS ANGELES, CA (ANS) -- Even after Mel Gibson gifted moviegoers with the unforgettable Biblical epic, The Passion of The Christ, one of the questions most often fielded by Hollywood’s most successful Christian artists is, “When are Christians going to make BIG Hollywood movies?” By BIG, they mean big budget—an option not available to anyone who calls themselves a “Christian-film maker,” unless, of course, like Mel, you are fortunate enough to be able to afford to bankroll your own vision. (Pictured: David White).

The truth is, Christian actors and producers will make BIG Hollywood movies when moviegoers support their efforts by purchasing tickets. The trouble is, there are plenty of self-inflicted roadblocks in the way that are preventing this from happening.

At the risk of offending an entire group of well-meaning, hard-working artists, it seems the “Christian movie” genre carries a carefully earned stigma of mediocrity marked by a steadily growing collection of low budget, poorly produced films. To mainstream moviegoers, the result of the negative association of following the word “Christian” with the words “actor,” “producer” or “film” is that the collective contributions of these artists are automatically defined as less creative and inferior to their secular, mainstream counterparts.

For more than 15 years, I have been fortunate to find success in Hollywood as both an actor and a producer—and yes, I am a devout Christian. My one-man show, Holyman Undercover, that I perform in various live venues—both secular and Christian — is a success as well. I find, however, that being defined only as a “Christian actor” or “Christian producer” doesn’t sit well with me.


Perhaps it is because so many of the movies produced and marketed with the “Christian” pitch rarely realize their full potential, reach their desired audiences or, more importantly, impact the lives of those viewing in a way that is memorable and life affirming. Where is the passion? Where is the commitment to quality? Where is the sold-out devotion to great storytelling?

In fact, so compromised is the response of mainstream moviegoers to most films labeled as having a “Christian message” that they are rendered almost useless as the evangelistic tool most Christian filmmakers pray their works will be.

A highly publicized study commissioned by the Dove Foundation and conducted by Paul Kagan and Associates proved that while some people line up to buy tickets to sex- and violence-laced R-rated movies, G-rated films are more than eight times more profitable. In the wake of that eye-opening study, makers of “Christian” movies are stumped by the figures. They are asking themselves why “Christian” movies aren’t seeing the success their less family-oriented counterparts enjoy. In a climate where family movies are the proven moneymakers, how did this happen? Why are Christian filmmakers—and Christians who are working to produce films with a Christian message—missing the mark?

Those who are fans of these kinds of movies are loyal and want to do what they can to support these kinds of productions. So, why is it so hard to grow the Christian-film market and expand the number of those who are avid fans of this type of family-friendly fare?

The easy answer—and the truth—is because movies with Christian themes are about Jesus and Christians and how their faith affects their daily lives. The general public thinks using the word “Jesus” is the dividing line they don’t want to cross.

The more complicated—and more totally accurate—answer has to do with everything from the quality of the story and who is involved with a project to the complexity and cleverness of a film’s marketing plan. Had any filmmaker other than Mel Gibson attempted a project like The Passion of The Christ, it is unlikely the film would have garnered such an onslaught of media coverage and wide-spread praise—and angst—or enjoyed such amazing box office success. Why? Because Mel Gibson is Mel Gibson after all. He is a great filmmaker, and, most of all, he had a genius marketing plan.

Was it successful because it had a big budget?


Without a good story, budget will mean little.

A film’s lack of success has less to do with the availability of a BIG budget than it does with a lack of creativity and a sold-out commitment to quality in writing, acting and production. It also has much to do with the agenda-based approach to storytelling that has come to plague the Christian filmmaking industry.

A friend came to see me a few weeks ago, and in the natural course of our lengthy, very pleasant conversation, our talk shifted from one subject to the next until we found ourselves talking about, of all things, vacuum cleaners. He immediately set off into a wildly descriptive monologue extolling the virtues of the most amazing vacuum cleaner of which I had ever heard. By the time he was finished telling me about all the really great things it could do, I could hardly wait to buy one for myself. I was really grateful he had shared with me information that I might not have been able to get from someone else who hadn’t experienced what that machine could really do and how it could change my life.

Then I got a kick in the stomach I wasn’t expecting.

He offered to sell me one of those amazing vacuum cleaners at a one-time-only, today-only, low, low price of $69.95.

At the end of our conversation, I realized, sadly, that maybe he really wasn’t my friend at all. Everything that led up to his final sales pitch had simply been a manipulation designed to prepare me for a successful conclusion to his carefully constructed presentation.

Filmmakers producing movies with a Christian message have fallen prey to this same kind of hidden-agenda storytelling, and viewers are rejecting the sales pitch—and the movies. Many times, the Christian filmmaking industry is so intent with what they want to happen after a film is viewed—namely the viewer falling to their knees to accept the Lord Jesus as their personal Savior as the credits slowly roll—that the story they use to present the message becomes secondary. To them, the message of the story, not the story itself, has become the most important element. Now, in itself, a story slanted to a particular viewpoint isn’t altogether uncommon. However, to be successful, it must be told with a no-holes-barred commitment to honesty in its presentation, or the audience can simply feel used and manipulated.

Quality writing, acting and production have taken a back seat to an all-out, get-them-in-the-end sales pitch. Unfortunately, the result is that audiences who feel manipulated and pressured are likely to reject the message altogether.

Something has to be done—and quickly—before our ability to use this format to further the Kingdom of God is lost forever.

It is time to issue a call-to-arms for all filmmakers who aspire to produce quality films that advance the cause of Christ by drawing lost souls home to the One who created them. We need films that encourage and edify believers everywhere and yet still have the ability to impact the lives of non-believers in a positive way.

How can we turn the tide? By turning our backs on mediocrity in Christian-genre filmmaking. It isn’t about BIG budgets. The hearts of searchers aren’t looking for a BIG story. They are searching for a story their hearts know is real.

Great filmmaking is a complicated, multi-faceted endeavor that can’t be oversimplified. While great marketing is as important an aspect of successful Christian films as who is involved in the production, it isn’t necessarily about how much money filmmakers spend on their productions that is the key to success. It is about telling stories about real people in real-life struggles in a way that enables viewers to discern for themselves that the real answers to life’s most difficult questions and situations can only be found in a life lived for Christ.

The Lord has a great sense of humor and the Holy Spirit certainly can—and does—use even the most poorly written, acted and produced Christian films for His purpose. But God’s message of redemption deserves our very best efforts and commitment to quality.

We serve the God of ALL creation and He lives within us. Because of this, mediocrity can never be part of our agenda. It is time makers of movies with a Christian message take that to heart and live it every day.

When are Christians going to make BIG Hollywood movies? When moviegoers support them. And that is only going to happen when Christian filmmakers properly market films based on a strong, creative and superior-quality story.

To contact David White about the views found in this article, or to find more information about his Holyman Undercover Show, visit his website

David White has been a working actor and producer in Los Angeles for over ten years. He was raised in a small farming town outside of Dodge City, Kansas. He went to school in Chicago, then moved to Los Angeles to pursue his dream in the film industry. At 19, David jumped right into the business. Just six months after moving, David landed a recurring role on Evening Shade with Burt Reynolds for four years. David then went on to guest appearances on such shows as: Coach, Saved by the Bell, Sisters, Melrose Place, Martial Law and many others. (Pictured: Burt Reynalds and David White).

In 2000, he produced and starred in Mercy Streets opposite Eric Roberts, Stacy Keach and Cynthia Watros. In 2003, he produced and starred in SIX...the Mark Unleashed opposite Stephen Baldwin and Eric Roberts. In 2004, David produced and starred in the thriller Ghost Soldiers opposite Viscellous Shannon (The Hurricane). This film is still in Post Production. David’s Company currently is in post production on the Frank Peretti film, The Visitation. It stars Edward Furlong, Kelly Lynch and Martin Donovin. "This film is set to be released June, 2005."

Currently David is in Pre Production on the Vietnam film "To the Wall" and also starring in his own One Man Show, The David White Show: Holy Man Undercover! It is a cross between the HBO comedy specials (Robin Williams, Chris Rock etc…) meets a multi-media Vegas routine.

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Thursday, June 09, 2005

Interview with Don Hahn

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Tuesday, May 31, 2005

From: SO YOU WANT TO BE IN PICTURES? -- Interviews and Articles By and About Key Men and Women in the Entertainment Industry

By Dr. Ted Baehr, Publisher of MOVIEGUIDE®

HOLLYWOOD, CA (ANS) -- EDITOR’S NOTE: This insightful article complements Dr. Ted Baehr’s new book SO YOU WANT TO BE IN PICTURES? It is available in a special section of to everyone who buys the book. SO YOU WANT TO BE IN PICTURES? is a comprehensive book on movies that every Christian interested in becoming involved in the entertainment industry and every Christian who wants to redeem the entertainment industry (and the culture!) will want to read. It shows Christians how to use their faith to change the culture of Hollywood and how to develop their screenwriting, acting, directing, producing, and behind-the-scenes interests. Some of the best and the brightest people of faith and values in the entertainment industry share their secrets of how to make a great blockbuster movie!

Over the last fifteen years, worldwide audiences have been thrilled by the stunning, memorable family movies entitled, WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT,HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. These movies boasted several “firsts” in the areas of animation technology advances, digital enhancements, and colorization.

The producer of these movies, as well as other beloved classics such as LION KING, EMPEROR'S NEW GROOVE and ATLANTIS, is the talented Don Hahn, of the Walt Disney Company.

Don attended Cal State Northridge as a music major and art minor. “I never studied film. I studied opera, musical theatre, and orchestras, and I was always interested in storytelling, drawing, painting, and color theory. I saw the art side of movies as more of an inspiration than the story side. I think movies can be too self-referential sometimes… too insular. I get inspiration from life, nature, other characters and people. I think there are more interesting ways to make films… films inspired by reality.”

Producers are Coaches

Don feels that his job most closely resembles that of a coach on a football team. “I’m not calling plays or passing the ball, but in every way I’m responsible for pulling a team together, creating the project, creating the idea, encouraging the gifts and talents that help the team work together. I’m coaching them to get the best work out of them. I get to work with amazing people. They’re the best musicians, artists, and technical people in the world. We all work much better together than separately; no one could make a movie alone. Joint collaboration makes a movie great. I especially appreciate my core team – the storyteller and songwriter of each project. If we understand each other, it’s powerful. I feel lucky to have them in my life.”

Favorites Project vs. Best Experience

When asked what his favorite project has been, Don responds with, “Oh, that’s hard. That’s like asking ‘Who’s your favorite child?’ I guess if I were pushed I’d have to say BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. I had a great team, the response was so great, it won Best Picture nomination, and it had fantastic direction and lots of innovations. It was an interesting time back in ’91.”

Don feels that it’s less about favorites, though, and more about quality of experience. “With ROGER RABBIT, LION KING and THE HAUNTED MANSION, I learned so much. I worked with different teams and very different stories. Each project had different stories that surrounded it, and each gave me great life experiences that I drew from on subsequent projects. I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to produce films that involve both live action and animation, and I know it’s rare that I’ve gotten to work with both. MARY POPPINS was both, and that always inspired me. I produced ROGER RABBIT, and PETE'S DRAGON, which were both the combination deal. It was a lot of fun.”

It’s all About Talent

When asked about the potential for people of faith to get involved in Hollywood, Don responded with, “There’s an open door for people of talent. There are no barriers beyond that, honestly. There are many people of many varieties of faith – Christian, Muslim, and Jewish, who are all very successful, but it has little or nothing to do with their faith. Hollywood’s all about talent. A person who has an interesting idea or perspective, has done his homework, and learned the craft of filmmaking, that’s what it’s about. It’s all about the talent and ability to deliver something fresh and entertaining.”

Find a Like-Minded Environment, If Possible

According to Don, Disney is naturally a family medium, in keeping with his faith and values. “It’s not often that moral dilemmas come up in my environment. It’s the reason I work at Disney. I could have worked and still can work anywhere else, but there’s a great spirit in this company, and the kinds of movies they promote make it a great place for people with strong values to function well.”

“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, FINDING NEMO and MIRACLE are all examples of fun, cool-to-watch, incredibly successful films financially. They’re also spiritually connected, positive family movies about overcoming obstacles. Our movies are always obstacle-related, not faith-related or religion-related. Though like any other company, there’s plenty of great water-cooler talk about politics and religion, that’s not what our work is about. Sure we’re humans that read the paper, watch TV, and like to gossip. But if you want to know the truth, most of us who work here are stuck in a state of perpetual adolescence. We’re kids, so we tell stories and make movies about pigs and lions and little lost fish. We dream in ‘cartoon’ at night.”

Excellence Rules

Don Hahn believes that producing animation and live action movies takes a combination of talent, skill, and luck. “Luck is being in the right place and right time. You have to understand the industry enough so that you’re not stunned. It’s a business, and it depends on excellence and quality to make money. Make yourself excellent. Hire the job candidate who is most excellent – the one with the best qualities, instincts, and knowledge. Don’t skip the knowledge part just because it’s not fun. Don’t be like the piano player that doesn’t want to practice his scales. Spend time learning, drawing, understanding the craft, seeking out mentors, and immersing yourself in the industry.”

Never Give Up!

In order to make it in the industry, believes Don, one must find his natural talents and gain knowledge of his craft. It takes persistence and patience, he says, so most don’t stick it out. “They give up. But that’s part of the talent, is persisting. I’ve had to persist through a lot of seemingly closed doors in my day, and there’s always a level of frustration in every endeavor, but I’m fortunate to have known the people I’ve known and that I’ve made it long enough to have done the things I’ve done. Persistence is definitely the key.”

Be Relevant

The common thread in great movies, says Don, is relevance. “So often movies and stories are told that are unrelateable to mainstream audiences. They’re distant and abstract. The audience has to relate to the characters on the screen, whether it’s an animated elephant or a live pirate character. In good movies audiences have some feelings about the protagonist’s dilemma. If they can’t understand the characters, or they’re unredeemable jerks, audiences will feel squeamish, frustrated, even let down. If they’re not real enough, they’re not relateable, and you’ve got a bad movie.”

Transcend Targeting

When asked what the major target audience is for his films, Don says, “I never try to have a conversation about target audience. A good movie, or a satisfying movie, transcends the idea of a target audience. For instance no one liked Lizzy McGuire more than me. Good movies don’t punish parents; they’re as entertaining for the parents as the kids. Yes, we do have generalities of targets, but the most successful movies are relateable to audiences from 6 to 85. For example, in LORD OF THE RINGS one can’t point to the film and say, ‘This was our target audience.’ It was for all of us. Just like the majority of the movies Disney produces.”

No Bad Dreams

The goal of a good Disney film is to excite and entertain, but not truly scare, it would seem to at least one of its producers. “Intense movies really bother me,” admits Don. “It’s a personal thing. For instance, BRAVEHEART was a work of powerful filmmaking, but the graphic images stayed with me for a long time. I just don’t think people need that gratuitous violence in their gray matter.”

It’s Not Called “Show Friends!”

Producer Hahn reminds us Hollywood wannabes that the entertainment industry is, indeed, a business. “Movies have to, for most part, be profitable. That’s the goal. Sure, there are some rare exceptions, like the movies made simply for the art, but the entertainment industry has to have profitability at its heart. Financiers want to know, ‘Is this movie relevant? Excellent in quality?’ People don’t want to pay $10 and feel ripped off. They want to come away saying, ‘I loved those characters.’ Where quality and entertainment meet in a movie, the money will follow.”

Most animated movies are made from between $15 and $100 million dollars, says Don. “One of lowest, most restricted budgets I had was with BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. We had to do so much corner cutting, put in overtime… It was a pressured financial situation. We had to make something fantastic for a low price. As the producer, I had to be responsible to that, to understand the business of it all.”

It’s Big Bucks, Folks

When asked about the expenses on an animated film, Don tells us “Big money goes to the labor pool of animators, and the voice cast would be a more minimal cost. We’re paying people to sit at a drawing board and painstakingly draw out each scene. For instance, there were close to 600 animators per major movie about years ago, but now the movies require less due to the impact and efficiency of computerized animation advances. Other crew needed for an animated picture include musicians, sound effects guys, or “Foley artists.” In THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, we used thirty animators and one hundred clean up people, or the folks who draw in the details after the initial rough drawings.”

In-House Development Works

Don and his team don’t get many scripts sent to them, they say, mainly because they don’t solicit from outside sources. Don develops projects himself with writers, and mostly does movies based on favorite kids’ books. ATLANTIS was an original, but HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, LION KING and ROGER RABBIT were novels. LION KING was also adapted from a novel. “You never know where the stories are coming from. We rarely read anything from the outside. We’re more likely to find good ideas and hire writers to carry them through. Actually, the writer on HUNCHBACK was a first time screenwriter. He had been an intern and Disney, then a staff writer. Then, we just trusted him with a big one. Obviously, he did a great job.”

And just as obviously, Don Hahn does a great job as he continues to entertain the world with his colorful, well-produced Disney animated classics. More, more, more!

* * *
EDITOR’S NOTE: If you appreciated this article and want to know more about how you can redeem the mass media of entertainment and/or become involved in the entertainment industry, please read SO YOU WANT TO BE IN PICTURES? Dr. Baehr’s book is available in bookstores and at When you buy a copy you get access to many informative articles from top Hollywood talent and executives.

* * *

(c) baehr, 2005
NOTE from Dr. Ted Baehr: For more information from a Christian perspective, order the latest MOVIEGUIDE® magazine by calling 1-800-899-6684(MOVI) or visit our website at MOVIEGUIDE® is dedicated to redeeming the values of Hollywood by informing parents about today's movies and entertainment and by showing media executives and artists that family-friendly and even Christian-friendly movies do best at the box office year in and year out. MOVIEGUIDE® now offers an online subscription to its magazine version, at The magazine, which comes out 25 times a year, contains many informative articles and reviews that help parents train their children to be media-wise consumers. MOVIEGUIDE® also regularly broadcasts several international TV and radio programs hosted by Dr. Baehr. Also, if you want to train your family to be media-wise, call 1-800-899-6684 in North America to order the book, video or audio version of THE MEDIA-WISE! FAMILY, Dr. Ted Baehr's latest book. © baehr, 2001

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Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The Music Baton

I got this from Sandra ages ago, and haven't posted anything about it until I bought some more CDs! ;)

I don't know any bloggers well enough to pass this on direct, but if you're reading this and you have a blog - consider the baton passed! Put something similar on your own blog and link to it in the comments here.

Total Volume of Music Files on my Computer:
I have 130 hours of music ... 6.8 Gigs... so I haven't got as many as Sandra. Yet :)

The Last CD I Bought was:
Whew. I bought about 7 in one sitting... they were (from memory)

  • The Matrix Reloaded theme music
  • The Matrix Revolutions theme music
  • Star Wars: The Phantom Menace theme music (fantastic!)
  • Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers theme music
  • "Shine" soundtrack
(getting the idea I like movie soundtracks? They're magnificent for creative inspiration. But that's not all, I also got:
  • 13 Years of Herbs
  • Bob Marley the Early Years (or similar)
  • Katchafire single (Giddy-Up)
  • King Kapisi Single (Reverse Resistance) - that guy is so talented
Song playing right now:
Anakin's theme from The Phantom Menace (well, actually the TV's on, but that was the last song playing)

I've also got lots of music recorded off vinyl LPs - some vintage Christian music (2nd chapter of Acts, Barry McGuire, Phil Keaggy), some classical stuff (a lot actually, lots of Beethoven), and some sort of nice old music (Barbara Streisand, John Denver, Neil Diamond).

5 Songs I listen to a lot or that mean a lot to me:
"Painting Pictures of Egypt" by Sara Groves
"Grace by which I stand" by Keith Green
"Jesus Walks" by Kanye West
"Orange Crush" by REM
"Mezzamorphis" by Delirious

Actually, I don't listen to any of those that often, but me and them go back a long way, and they have all helped me.

Now you've read this, the baton is in your hand!