By Kevin Wieter
So you want to intertwine faith and content in the arts. Well kudos to you; the artistic industry needs talented screenwriters, filmmakers, actors, producers, writers to be bold enough to mingle faith and the arts. We all have a potential inside of us to become more than we could ever imagine; to be great. But if you want to be great, first and foremost embrace a concept of greatness from God’s perspective. Jesus ascribed to John the Baptist, that no one was greater, because of John’s servitude. Our Creator, who made us in His image, has given us each a gift we have the privilege to use to glorify Him. It should be no surprise that for some of us that gift comes in the form of creativity, since we have a creative God. It seems when we are truly intimate with our God, coincidently we have fulfillment in our craft. Mark my words, the gift is meant to serve. Apart from our intimacy with God, we can find ourselves meandering down a path that is not exactly what God has intended, which very well may turn out to be a slippery slope leading to self-seeking, self-glorification, self-gratification. However, within that sweet intimacy with God, the opportunity to blossom will come.
There is a movement going on in Hollywood these days where they are waking up to the desires of the Christian community. Okay, may be they are still a little groggy with it and keep hitting the snooze, but nonetheless the voice of the believer is being heard and doors are opening. That is where we can come into service and take advantage of the momentum in place, even increasing that momentum. There is a two-fold service to put into effect. Yes, serving the audience is one way. We can bring a more family friendly environment to the theater; we can touch upon real issues in society and culture, but the difference we bring to this one is that we show how to respond with God’s principles and incorporating how to handle these issues by putting the faith of the characters into practice.
Our other service opportunity is to serve the Hollywood industry itself. They are probably more open to our perspective and knowledge of the faith than we give them credit. Although Noah is the first Biblically based film to be produced by Hollywood in 50 years the theaters have not been silent from independently produced films. So be encouraged- just this year, there are four faith based films that have or will come to the movie theater- God’s Not Dead was the fifth highest grossing movie in America last week only playing on a little over 700 screens; Son of God with independent producers Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, had a great opening weekend exceeding the expectations of BoxOffice.com while it grossed $26.5M; Noah from Paramount Pictures and New Regency Films (Hollywood), is scheduled to hit the screen March 28 (more on this piece below); and Sony is turning out another faith-based film, Heaven is For Real. In years past, the Box Office has seen the presence of faith-based films with The Passion of Christ (Mel Gibbson’s 2004 film) opening at almost $84M with a lifetime Domestic gross $370.7M; Courageous (2011) came in around $9M, opening in just a third of the theaters across the nation, with a lifetime domestic gross of $34.5M; October Baby (2011) $102,000 opening weekend, with a lifetime of $5M; Jumping the Broom (2011) opening at $15.2M with a lifetime domestic gross at $37.2M; Fireproof (2008) opened at almost $7M with a lifetime gross of $33.5M. The Bible mini-series, released on the History channel in 2013, surprisingly caught the attention of Hollywood as it was widely received.
There is an audience of around 90 million evangelical Christians just in the U.S., about 35% of the population. Those are paying consumers. From the consumer perspective, do you think Hollywood would like to reach more customers? Who better to create content for such a particular special interest group than those screenwriters who are part of it? Are you up for the challenge? Hollywood needs us to partner with them to reach such a group.
The film Noah is a good example of this need. Though there has been much controversy surrounding this film well before its release, one thing that has occurred is the reaching out to the Christian and Jewish community. Paramount Pictures, co-financer and distributor of Noah, invited Jerry A. Johnson President and CEO of the National Religious Broadcast and Phil Cooke with the Board of Directors, (though without the film’s director, Darren Aronofsky) and accepted their appeal to add the following disclaimer to all marketing of the film so as not to lead the audience astray believing it is a literal translation.
“The film is inspired by the story of Noah. While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis.”
Additionally, the director and co-writer, Darren Aronofsky, spent about 10 years researching the film to write it as accurately as possible. There have also been multiple pre-screenings of the film with Christian audiences, as well as Jewish and the general public to get feedback on the exact final cut. So while there may not be a final cut that is exactly as the scripturally discerning Christian or the traditional Jew may accept, it is nonetheless a step in the right direction.
It would seem the industry is recognizing the potential in the Christian consumer market. Now they just need the screenplays to fuel this momentum. So we just need to continue to create screenplays that turn into productions that turn into the next film to be released in the theaters to then exceed BoxOffice.com’s predictions to keep the momentum going. The industry needs committed screenwriters who will craft excellent stories to be transformed onto the screen. It is not enough to just write. For a faith-based film to be authentic there needs to be a little faith and trusting in God in the process, dare I say prayer over the content, the structure, the theme, the dialogue, and the characters. There needs to be a humble attitude desiring to serve. Serve who? Serve the people, with a message that will glorify God; to serve those whom we will work alongside…Hollywood.
There is a vast mission field for Screenwriters, both to the audience and the fellow workers in the industry whose talent, knowledge and experience we can tap and should tap. Do not shy away from these relationships. Just as a missionary must do, we must engage the culture, build a trusting relationship with them and then have the platform for them to trust us, listen to us and to the message of the gospel. Jerry A. Johnson compared our role with Hollywood to that of a missionary reaching a primitive tribe of people, to the effect that you wouldn’t try to engage the people by standing on the outskirts telling them all that they are doing wrong. You would appeal to them; gain their trust so that you may eventually share the good news with them. Screenwriters, small and great; screenwriters of the faith rise up and engage the industry and this culture; it’s time to use your God-given gift to tell His stories.
–Kevin is an aspiring writer, and his passion for Christ and creativity have inspired him as an actor, director and screenwriter in the Chicagoland area.