Closing the divide between church and Hollywood

In order to end the ongoing culture-war with Hollywood, Christians need to reevaluate how to tackle the film industry.

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Closing the divide between church and Hollywood

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David Vendrell, Writer

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Chimes A&E writer David Vendrell discusses how Christians need to reevaluate how to tackle the film industry. | amazonaws.com

 

In response to my article last week, “Christian films fail by sugarcoating reality,” I received an email from a leader in the Christian film industry that included the following excerpt.

“Bro, we are too many, and you are too late…when we make Christian films, we are following God's orders, not man's or worse… Hollywood’s. It is Hollywood who has brought Sex, Drugs and Violence to the world. In fact, they would not even distribute films unless it had those components in them. Thank God for Christian films, any Christian film,” wrote the individual from the Christian Movie Making Network.

This statement represents the unfortunate divide present between the Church and the film industry as a whole. To start off, I need to clarify an important distinction — Hollywood, the mainstream film industry, comprised of six studios — only makes a fraction of the movies produced every year in the United States. They may have the biggest budgets, the greatest marketing pull and the most press, but that does not mean that they produce every movie. That would be like saying CNN, FOX, ABC and MSNBC represent all of broadcast journalism. The Chimes staff would have my head if I ever made such an assumption.

Despite the leader’s email, I stand by my statement that Christian movies are ineffective in their present form. However, Christians can be effectively involved by following three integral steps. First, the Church needs to understand what makes a great movie. Second, Christians need to support those filmmakers trying to do it right and third, the Church needs to end its culture war with Hollywood.

Filmmaking, like music, creates a pact between filmmakers and audiences. Filmmakers promise to make the best film possible — one that entertains, engages and hopefully provokes. On the other hand, audiences fulfill their end of the bargain by paying to watch the movie; thus supporting the filmmaker’s career. This synergy provides the heartbeat that keeps the industry moving. If we want to be Christians that support great filmmakers and make movies that explore our worldview, we have a lot of learning to do. The Church needs to educate themselves on the criteria and qualities that make a good movie — a study that should cover everything from writing, aesthetics, genre and theory. For centuries, the Church stood on the forefront of making great art. Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Augustine, John Milton, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were masters at their particular crafts. Places like Fuller Seminary, Reality LA, Mosaic and our very own Biola pave the way for this type of excellence.

Secondly, the Church needs to start supporting filmmakers who attempt to honestly engage with the beautiful mess of life through movies. We have a growing number of believers who hunger to become excellent filmmakers, who want to glorify God and search for support for their art. You do not have to look much further than Biola to find such people. Concerning many other fields, the Church does an excellent job of supporting experts and helping them gain traction. We would never dream of sending out a doctor to the mission field who did not have the proper training and skills. Why should we hold our artists and filmmakers to a different standard?

Lastly, we need to end our culture war with Hollywood. This poisonous thinking is harmful on so many levels. By creating a divide, we alienate those that feel a calling to work in this industry. As a filmmaker, there are times where the Church has made me felt left out to dry, that my pursuit to affect Hollywood is a waste of my time and that I am surrendering to the world. This is a shame considering the thousands of Christians in Hollywood craving the Church's support while acting in their role as a body of encouragement in their difficult field. I know executives, filmmakers and actors who have a burning desire to glorify God through movies. We need to stop amputating the body.

In addition, did you know that Hollywood, like any other profit-driven business, has one primary concern? Making money. Hollywood is desperate to tackle the faith-based film market, which is evident by the amount of companies that create divisions solely on making films for this demographic. We should be the ones helping to fulfill that need. I have had conversations with leaders at studios and production companies that have asked, “David, you’re a Christian. What do you guys want to see?”

Let us find a unifying answer to that question.