I had a good time coaching two filmmakers recently. They both wanted to learn as much as they could from my experiences and had the exact same questions. The only obvious difference between the filmmakers was the genre they work in. One made Christian films and the other horror films.
But there was a second, less obvious difference. The Christian filmmaker talked from the perspective of being a part of the “Christian film industry,” while the maker of horror films talked from the perspective of the movie industry. This is a bit confusing, since there is only one global film industry.
The Christian filmmaker became angry when I explained that there was only one film industry. He ranted on about the differences between the Christian and secular film industries. However, as a consultant, I had to bring the truth to light.
The thing that makes an industry is the joint economic activities between businesses, moving from concept to deliverables, in a given field.
To clarify my point, I asked several questions. Can you please name one lighting and grip company that is part of the Christian film industry? He couldn’t. Then can you please name one Christian theater chain? He was silent. Can you at least diagram a flowchart for me of how the Christian film industry works from concept to the screening of the film? He looked at me puzzled.
The Christian film industry does not exist. Yes, there are Christians who act. There are also writers and directors who work in the film industry and live by faith. Some theater owners are Christian. There are even some Christian sponsored film organizations. But, there are far too many holes in the theoretical Christian film industry business model for it to actually exist.
The horror filmmaker wanted to learn what steps to take in order to be successful in the film industry. The Christian filmmaker didn’t want to know how to fit into the industry, but rather how to be successful in his own marketplace. And, his definition of success was getting his message to those that already agreed with him, while stating that his films would reach outsiders.
When the conversation got to release strategies, I talked about how the industry uses a film release calendar to maximize revenue. I took the opportunity to suggest that if a Christian film industry existed it too would have a calendar accessible by all Christian filmmakers. But, it doesn’t exist.
Based on my understanding, the reason it doesn’t exist is because Christian filmmakers are not concerned about overlapping release dates or the revenue that a film generates. They are solely interested in getting their message to those who agree with them. Some using the term, “preaching to the choir.”
I have no problem with a group of people working to create their own industry. In fact, I love growth and expansion. However, until Christian filmmakers have numerous businesses that specialize in all aspects of filmmaking from soup to nuts, or, should I say from concept to popcorn, it is imperative that they learn how to work within the general film industry.
All filmmakers, regardless of genre, must become experts to compete in the current marketplace. They also must create a fan base that loves their work and style, as super fans are the ones that create each filmmakers future.
But what are your thoughts? Does a Christian film industry exist? If so, how would you define it?
CJ, you make a lot of great points in this article and I couldn’t agree with you more. This is so important for begining Christian film makers to understand. I recall my own early experience believing that there were two completely separate industries, one of which being a Christian Film Industry just waiting for me to come along and revolutionize it. I thought of myself as the up and coming director destined to make the Christian film industry turn the heads of the lost, so greatly in need of it’s message.
For years I couldn’t understand why I was stuck and why all my contacts and resources weren’t getting me anywhere. I was stuck because I was trying to be a part of an industry that didn’t exist!
Ceating such an industry would not be impossible, but it would be pointless and counter productive. While there is already a huge target audience to market these theoretical products to, they would be the only audience. As you say, we would only be preaching a message to people who already agree with us.
My hope is that other young Christian film makers read this and are exposed to the truth early on.
Whether you are a christian who is strictly mission minded or a christian who wants to be successful in the industry you have to learn to network with the people who are going to take your product to the right audience. Jesus Himself said it’s the sick who need a doctor, not the healthy.
I’m glad you’ve changed your perspective to a more productive one. Spread what you’ve learned to those following in your footsteps.
I would suggest that those who think of themselves as part of “the Christian film industry” (myself included) understand that it is developing and in it’s infancy and therefore all the working parts are not yet in place. We also understand that there is an overlap with the film industry as a whole. I believe the real desire is to operate outside Hollywood, and that is the reason for the distinction. As for the idea of “preaching to the choir,” the choir can use some preaching to. One only needs to look at all the Barna surveys to see that the church is, indeed, greatly in need of all parts of the great commission. Let’s not belittle this ministry.
I agree with you view about the “choir” also needing the messages that film can bring to bear. I also agree that making films outside of Hollywood is a great idea for all independent filmmakers. As for the “Christian Film Industry”, here are some thoughts to consider…
The film industry was officially organized in 1927 and included Christians. In fact, some of the equipment used back them was invented by Christians. By 1933 the “Church” administrated the Hayes Motion Picture Code. Not a single studio would release a movie to theaters unless it got the church commission’s stamp of approval, which meant the screenplay had to be acceptable in the eyes of the “Church.”
However, in the 1940’s, several Christian organizations felt that Hollywood was not a place the Church should reside or participate in. Several Christians withdrew from the film industry. The Christian film office that approved all scripts eventually closed its doors in 1963. A Gay and Lesbian organization moved into that very same office and as the studios continued to send scripts to that address for approval, a different group of people determined what made a film acceptable for viewing.
Now partly independent from Hollywood, the production and distribution “libraries” took films (16mm) from conception to release through churches, bypassing theaters. In 1974, the Christian Film Distributors Association was launched – The Christian film industry was birthed. However, some Christians stayed in the mainstream marketplace and continued to make Christian films for the general marketplace.
But, when VHS tapes came out, the CFDA held firm to 16mm until it was too late. Churches had switched to VHS and 16mm projectors became a thing of the past. With the popularity of VHS, the CFDA collapsed and with it the Christian film industry. Years later the International Christian Visual Media (ICVM) association was birthed. It allowed for all formats of distribution and has been working to rebuild the Christian film industry ever since.
However, Disney and other companies were now competitors for the church market and licensed their titles with churches. With some Christians still in Hollywood and the weaker state of the ICVM, Christian filmmakers were divided.
At the turn of the century, Christian films were all produced independently and outside of Hollywood. While, homegrown groups desiring to rebuild the Christian film industry made some films, others were made by seasoned professionals and released through mainstream distributors. Today, both types of filmmakers exist. One group trying to create their own industry and the other well integrated into the existing industry.
Will the Christian film industry get rebooted? Is it possible with so many Christians now in the main film industry with no reason to leave it?
You say the Christian film industry is in its infancy, but it is actually trying to be “reborn”, if you will. However, there are many who believe Christians should continue to market to the Evangelical marketplace, while staying founded in the general film industry. With Christians divided on this topic, will the Christian film industry be able to be rebirthed and survive changes in the marketplace, while in competition with Christians in the general film industry?
I don’t know the answer, but will enjoy watching it play out.