Surprisingly Entertaining

Alone Yet Not AloneThis morning I read the headline “Surprisingly Entertaining” and I couldn’t figure out if it was a cut or a pat on the back for the filmmaker. After giving some thought to it, I realized it was both.

The headline introduced an article about the latest Christian film Alone Yet Not Alone, which received an original song nomination that was rescinded in a bath of controversy. The headline was a positive stroke for the filmmaker who made the movie entertaining. The negative side of the comment was a statement about the lack of entertainment value in Christian films.

I’ve written a lot about the Christian film industry this year, as it has emerged into the limelight. The most fascinating elements of its adolescence include arguments on what makes a film Christian, fans supporting films based on message instead of quality and entertainment value, and the lack of hours the cast and crew typically put into honing their craft to achieve mastership of their skills.

The unique combination of these issues has settled the argument in Hollywood and among industry leaders who have labeled Christian films as a genre. Even the top theatrical revenue reporting organizations have referenced the same label. Yet, many Christian filmmakers continue to argue that Christian films are not a genre unto themselves, as their films can fit any genre.

However, no matter what the Christian producers try to clarify, there isn’t a large Christian film association that can dictate anything differently than what the masses and industry has deemed to be the case. Nor can anyone suggest things are different from the massive number of Christian films that all fit into the same category.

The bottom line is that very few Christian films are entertaining and it’s therefore a surprise when one picture entertains – thus the headline.

The foregone conclusion is that audiences want entertainment value. Christian producers on the other hand want to preach a message or need to preach in order to fulfill the demands of their investors. I believe that need to fulfill certain religious requirements comes from leaders who have preached for years the “sins” of entertainment and therefore need to justify their entrance into the media with overt religious content in order to distinguish it from “sinful” entertainment.

But entertainment is neutral. It was never a sin. Certainly there is wholesome entertainment and there is secular entertainment, but neither in of itself is sin. It’s man’s reaction or choices that brings about sins or blessings. The media is neutral and can be used to bring a single message into the mind of the audience, regardless of what that message is.

I’ve worked on hundreds of television episodes for several networks and shot seven films in my career. But none of my moral and wholesome shows were ever labeled “Christian”, so I can’t relate to those who set out to make Christian films — Although three of my pictures were released to the “Christian” marketplace.

However, I can relate to audiences, as I’ve watched films from all genres and I have concluded that the number one goal of all filmmakers that want to touch millions of lives is to entertain them. And, if they can make a single life altering point within the context of their film they’ll receive a significant response from gratified viewers.

In other words, the less entertainment values in a film, the smaller the viewing audience, and, the more universal the story the greater the audience. This simple formula dictates which Christian films get large distribution and those that release direct to video for showings in churches. It all comes down to the film’s level of entertainment.

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