Talented Collaboration

It’s a small world in the Christian film market. Just about every filmmaker knows the Kendrick brothers. Other names within the field include: Ralph Winters, John David Ware, John Robert Moore, Kyle Prohaska, and David Nixon to mention a few. Additional names quickly rise for those filmmakers who frequent key Christian film festivals and workshops like the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival, Gideon Media Arts Conference and Film Festival, and the Biola Media Conference.

Even though the Christian Film market now has a “who’s who” list in filmmaking, one thing has yet to happen that is frequent in the secular field: Creative partnerships.

Hundreds of people flock to see anything created by Pixar, who managed to have a dozen box office successes back to back since their Toy Story foundation in 1995. Their track record of having ALL of their films in the top 50 highest grossing animated films of all-time is amazing.

Developing a company that has averaged $602 million in gross box office dollars per film was only made possible through creative partnerships. George Lucas of Lucasfilm started the Graphics Group as part his computer division. The group created incredible special effects that won numerous awards. Unfortunately, Lucas was not able to make the division profitable and under the recommendation of John Lassiter, prepared to spin it off.

Steve Jobs of Apple fame, acquired the young company and added to the mix tech savvy Edwin Catmull as President of Pixar. This unique partnership with Lassiter shifted the company from a computer graphics organization into a great animation studio – All because of their joint love for seeing computers developed into a great medium for telling story.

It seems to me that Christian filmmakers have some of the greatest stories worth telling, yet many are still working in isolation. Surrounded by some of the best in the industry, you would think that friendships would be developed that lead to collaboration. In fact, since filmmaking is a collaborative art form, I questioned why it hadn’t already happened and explored a couple possible reasons.

One thing I noticed when attending secular film conferences is how willing everyone is to help each other learn new techniques and improve their craft. When attending Christian conferences it seemed that most attending were still star struck caused by some level of glamour. This elevated some filmmakers to a higher artificial level that gave them something to lose if others caught onto their tricks of the trade – Causing filmmakers to withhold important lessons from each other.

The other notable difference is that secular filmmakers pick a craft within filmmaking that they are good at and practice it until they are the best. Most Christian filmmakers feel compelled to be the writer, director, producer, editor and sometimes actor on every film project, not to mention manage distribution, leaving mastering any given job a distant dream.

I can’t help but wonder how things might be different if Alex and Stephen Kendrick wrote a film produced by Ralph Winters and David Nixon, with distribution managed by John David Ware, directed by Kyle Prohaska, and acted in by John Robert Moore. With each one having a growing audience and the ability to fit into the above positions, my speculation would suggest the film could be an independent success story.

But what are the odds of this combination coming together?

In the secular film market, the creatives share the joint desire to tell a great story. However, in the Christian film market story isn’t always a prime consideration, nor do all aspire to it. Instead, some Christian filmmakers focus on evangelism. Some might be in it for the sake of God’s art. One might see no problem working with secular crews in order to use the best craft, while another wants people that are right before God, so God can honor his or her film.

The list of variations is almost exhausting to review. All because Christian filmmakers share different passions when it comes to their filmmaking approach. So, until each filmmaker gets to the place where they’ve mastered the wearing of multiple hats, or they change their approach, Christian films will not be able to compete against the likes of Pixar.

Copyright © 2011 By CJ Powers
Photo © Disney/Pixar

12 thoughts on “Talented Collaboration

  1. So that begs the question – what is the goal – to please God or to compete with Pixar et all? I know the answer for me and I’m willing to collaborate with all who share a common goal. If God directed me to become allied with those with a different worldview, I’d do it, but not unless. For what does it profit a man to gain the world and lose his “well done faithful servant” greeting at the gates of Heaven?

  2. I think we would see a lot more collaboration if the necessary funding is in place. Most Christian filmmakers, who wear many hats, make their films close to home with friends and family. If they had a large enough budget, I would guess that they would crew up with other talented Christian filmmakers and actors. But they would have to know who they were and how to reach them as well. There remains a communication void when searching for opportunities in this niche market. And when opportunities present themselves they rarely have any financial gains attached, so a filmmaker cannot travel to work on a film that shoots only on weekends and can’t pay room, per diem, and paycheck.

    There are some who have risen to the top in filmmaking. But they need to hire the best for their projects and often the Christian filmmaker just isn’t good/experienced enough or local enough to get on their crew and they don’t know how to even approach the topic or have the connection.

    Money is obviously not the only problem, but it is a big one. I could go on and on. There’s so much more. But I won’t…. yet.

  3. I totally identify with these thoughts! I am an independent christian filmmaker and I have noticed that it would just be so much more productive and profitable, would reach larger audiences and different countries, if we just had a better sense of collaboration. I had this feeling specially this year when coordinating a christian film contest in Brazil and tried to contact and partner with other initiatives and none wanted to share. Like Robert added, there is a communication and funds issue. How can we solve that if many times we have to do everything?

    Thank God we had a good connection with Gideon Film Festival, which sponsored us and gave us more credibility. I am SO grateful for them! We are now strugling to shoot the film that won our contest since there is no support of specialized or experienced people with us. Like you said, I have to be the director, the producer, the designer, the publisher and the actor! I sincerely wish I could share these activities, but… with who?? How do we get mentoring on getting funds, partners and building a cast and crew? We do have all top-range equipments that would make some productions jealous. But equipments alone cant produce a film by itself. Sometimes I wonder one of my favorite directors and producers would make themselves available and come here to help us in this project! Well.. why not? I like to dream high!

    But everyone here is so closed in their box. And I feel sad because in Brazil, all that people know about christian film is Facing the Giants and Left Behind. In fact, people dont have the slightest idea that there actually ARE so many other movies being produced outside.

    And that’s not (only) because they dont look for this information, but also because these productions are not advertised here. And many times they dont even have Portuguese or Spanish subtitles. Hey PRODUCERS! I offer miself to translate and advertise movies over here! But please, let’s get it done! Like if all christian market could speak English… Brazil is such a huge market that is being wasted for lack of collaboration. Such as other Portuguese and Spanish speaking countries.

    The thing of evangelism and different beliefs are a big obstacle indeed that we have to learn dealing with. However we could have in mind that the same way that there is no perfect church, we don’t have to be so critic to expect 100% perfect movies. That’s when we use our God given brain to think and filter the information that comes in instead of a blank acceptance of everything, just because it is “christian”. I Thessalonians 5:21 “Test everything. Hold on to the good.”

    May God help us on this!

    The film we are producing is http://www.geracaodedeusofilme.com.br
    And the contest was http://www.suaideiapodevirarumfilme.com

    PS: I wish those sites were also in English, but as I also needed to be the webdesigner I didnt have time to manage translating them. It does have though an app of the right side of our film website to translate it to English.

  4. Some good points – but I think it should be noted when starting out, on a micro-budget, it is necessary to master multiple skills to some extent. This approach wasn’t possible 20 years ago – you pretty much had to start out as a PA or something and work your way up. But as new filmmakers move up the “foodchain”, and takle more ambitious projects, it does become necessary to collaborate more. But I believe the future belongs to those who are willing to learn whatever skills are necessary to create their art, as they will be able to succeed on the smaller projects that will lead them to the larger ones – whereas those who stick to a single craft will have trouble in the world of micro-budgets. Also one note about Pixar – Ed Catmull actually started the whole thing, and it was he who brought on John Lasseter, because he knew he could never be good enough as an artist to accomplish his vision. But you are correct – Catmull himself attributes the incredible success of Pixar to the fact that they have a culture where artistic types and technical types are free to (and if necessary forced to) work together to create their films.

  5. Something to ponder; there are 30, 000 Christian denominations due to differences in preferences (among other things). Collaboration among churches often seems difficult unless their interests (preferences) are nearly identical. So factor that in with story telling or film making which yields more preferences and you have huge obstacles to overcome. In the secular world they are interested in production quality that is marketable and sells. As mentioned they also have access to huge funding and resources. Some are good story tellers such as Pixar and as mentioned have created a very talented collaborative team. They know the audience they are targeting and how to draw them in. Funding is a big deal even for low budget independent film makers because you can only do so much with limited funding. Making the next film becomes more difficult and after a while the volunteers and favors can be abused and therefore they diminish. So consider (1) Preference of opinion in how to tell a story (2) Preference of opinion on who the story reaches (3) Preference of opinion on what it requires to make a quality film. (4) Motive for doing a film

  6. Well aren’t you just too pitiful! Aren’t you righteous! How can you not compare yourselves to New Testament pharisees? Even Christ said He did not come for the righteous, but to seek and save the lost. Yet here you are secluding yourselves from the rest of the world. Why isn’t God blessing you financially? Maybe it just might be because of your extreme pride, arrogance and vanity. So you don’t want to play in the sandbox with the rest of the world and be a testimony to the rest of the world? Then be happy in your exclusivity. Be happy without being richly blessed.

  7. Or maybe the best way to please God is by telling good stories that would compete with companies like pixar. However as long as “Christians” are more focused on telling stories with “Jesus and conversion ” as their focal point instead of just good stories, than they will rarely be good stories that speak to people’s hearts. I find it interesting that most of Jesus’ stories didn’t include his name or a conversion process but spoke truly to the heart of the listener. The reality is that some of the best movies like LOTR or blindsided spoke the most to non-Christians but was’t labled as a “Christian” film

  8. @Jeff Warren – Jesus also said that all men will know you are my disciples by your love for one another – and extreme sarcasm is a strange way to show that love. Criticize yes – but your response is more like “biting and devouring one another”. And with Fireproof the Kendricks and Sherwood Baptist made approximately $33.5M domestic gross on a movie that cost approximately $500K to make – that’s a 60:1 ROI – LOTR made about $990M domestic and cost $340M to make – an ROI of about 3:1 for the US theater market. To say nothing of the host of movies made by Hollywood each year that either don’t earn their money back, or barely do so.

  9. Pingback: Top Posts of 2011 | CJ's Corner
  10. “Most Christian filmmakers feel compelled to be the writer, director, producer, editor and sometimes actor on every film project, not to mention manage distribution, leaving mastering any given job a distant dream.” As I take the moment to catch up on your newsletters, CJ, I run into your profound statement above. I believe this to be true from my limited experience trying to pitch the many scripts I have. It does not serve God well, this one-man band show. What does is the slow steady growth and conviction in your God-given craft. It is a sad commentary, that those who have studied and applied the time into their specific gifting are looked at as limited and are easily overruled. That’s not to say that flexible collaboration is not necessary. If one is to be part of the “body”, the connection to the whole would be essential; collaboration is that connection. I’d love to throw my multi-genred pile into that! 🙂

    • There are a group of Christian women actors who have started a small group to encourage each other and help all find their next project. Maybe it’s time for screenwriters to form a coalition that can help producers understand the wealth of stories available to be shot. Good luck in your endeavors. Oh, and let me know when you organize a screenwriter’s group. 😉

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