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.