At the recent Variety PURPOSE Family Entertainment and Faith-Based Summit held in Beverly Hills, the question about what constitutes faith-based entertainment came up in various ways. The following are gleanings from two different panels in which the topic came up.
Mike Miller (National Geographic Channel’s Producer for The Story of God with Morgan Freeman): It was a treat from beginning to end and a total success for us. It was not a surprise for us. We know our audience well. We have the premier brand in television for science, adventure, and exploration. This really was an exploration. There were science elements in the show. It was an adventure story with all the travel. It fit our brand perfectly; it fit our audience perfectly. We have a large audience that are people of faith, and we know that, and we wanted to do something special that they would respond to. At the same time not make it overtly religious so that everybody will be comfortable with it. What I mean is, you watch this for six hours and you have no idea what Morgan Freeman personally feels about religion.
He comes across as spiritual. That’s what he wanted to do. It’s not that he’s not religious, because I know him well enough to know. But we wanted to make this show accessible for all audiences. He’s the kind of guy who has books of every religion on his bookshelf. He’s very well versed in many many faiths. So he was the perfect guy. It’s an extension of his natural curiosity and his personal love for this subject. That’s why the show worked. Let’s face it, any other television network would have had, “Hi. I’m William Shatner. God: where is he? what is he? Find out tonight!” And they would send him to the Holy Land and there would be 75 cue cards. That’s your average TV special. But Morgan never read cue cards. Every time he talked on camera, which was often, I always made sure there was a lens right there and he’d just look into the lens like you were the friend going with him and say “Here’s what I think about what I just saw. Here’s what I feel about where we’re going.” It was intimate. It was epic and intimate at the same time.
A question about why some people of faith are making things other than faith-based material led to this response
Michael Carney (Director/Co-writer of the upcoming film Same Kind of Different As Me): I think one of the problems with filmmakers—for me specifically—I think the faith-based thing, all these new categories bother me because it boxes you into an area. I feel like we’ve got this amazing God who created all the imaginations and he’s given us the ability to do so much, right? So to categorize it that way—there’s a certain stigma, there just is in Hollywood, when you say faith-based film. We changed with ours. We didn’t even do a faith-based movie, but because it dealt with faith-based things, it slipped out in the press that we were doing a faith-based film and then automatically there’s just this thing where they look at it differently. Versus going—you know one of the best faith-based films was Braveheart. If there’s ever a faith-based film, William Wallace was that guy. Why are we not making those films? Back in the day you and I wouldn’t have this conversation because you didn’t name any number of those huge films back in the day—Chariots of Fire was incredible but I don’t remember people talking about “that faith-based film Chariots of Fire”. And that was all about faith and God.
So for us as filmmakers, I love to just shed that stuff and go “Look, This is a great story about a guy who’s life is changed. And really pitch it more on the fact that—God’s going to do what he’s going to do. If we have done our job about praying for the film, we don’t have to go in there and preach “come to Jesus” and hit them over the head with that. When they’re sitting in a theater watching the trailers, they’re going to feel something different. That’s how the Spirit works. So when the movie comes on it doesn’t have to be about come to Jesus, they can feel the anointing start to come through the screen, because we’ve done what we’re supposed to do.
Matthew Malek (Producer of the upcoming Martin Scorsese film, Silence): I can translate that into Catholic terms. Things that are good, true, and beautiful, they hit the mark. So if you make things that are good, true, and beautiful, they will reach a wide audience regardless of what the topic is, what the formula is. Faith-based I think is a concept that arose shortly before, but really after The Passion as an attempt to explain a phenomenon that was unexplainable to the studio system: how did we miss this? And that turned into an industry that ultimately I don’t think ever had legs because The Passion was a unique, very filmmaker-specific, lots of controversy—there were many reasons why it did what it did. To try to reenact that model is a wrong way to go. People need to simply go back to making good, true, and beautiful art, and make it commercially responsible—that means not spend 500 times the money you need to—and I have a feeling these movies will start to be seen and Hollywood will understand them more. Because Hollywood tried to do these faith-based films at the big level and simply forgot about the “big” part.