A Few Differences: Faith-Based and Redemptive Films

© Argus - Fotolia.comThis week I was asked about the difference between faith-based films (a genre), as defined by Hollywood, and redemptive stories (not a genre). One person asked why a film couldn’t be both. Another inquired about who created the definition. And, the biggest question was, “Why do redemptive stories generate 10-20 times more revenue than most faith-based films?”

Since its difficult to categorize the two for comparison (one being a genre and the other one not), I’ll do my best to answer the questions based on known presentation and marketing information.

The faith-based genre definition was generated by a marketing department and ad agency. The team’s task was to release a picture to a market and generate 2.5X more revenue than the picture and prints cost to make. In order to do so, the team had to describe the picture in the right way to the right audience and convince them to purchase tickets.

All of the major studios did the same over several years and watched the measurable results. The definitions were adjusted with each release until the marketing departments and ad agencies were able to reproduce positive results with multiple titles. The elements involved in reproducing similar results led to the definition of the faith-based genre, which was supported by church audiences. However, with the definition in place, it didn’t stop Hollywood from trying to market non-faith-based films as faith-based films.

The biggest difference between faith-based and redemptive stories is in the delivery of the message(s). Faith-based films typically preach or teach one or more messages, while redemptive stories visually demonstrate one message. Please understand that one type of film is not “better” than the other, but very different.

For instance, if it’s done in the right light to raise the significance of the story’s redemptive value in the eyes of the audience, a redemptive story has no problem (within reason) demonstrating non-gratuitous violence, language and sexuality. The bigger you want grace or mercy to appear at the climax of the film, the greater the depravity must be demonstrated in order to create the emotional contrast – Known to most as story conflict.

In a faith-based film, conflict and depravity are rarely demonstrated, but instead are alluded to, for fear of making someone in the audience feel uncomfortable or lead them astray. Because of this choice, the emotional contrast can’t be visualized and therefore the messages are presented through dialog – teaching and preaching.

In other words, redemptive stories are filled with conflict, highly emotional, visually demonstrated, and can be a part of any genre, while faith-based stories are safe and explained, but most importantly are labeled as a genre unto itself.

We also see this affect in the funding requirements. Church funded films must be safe, not lead anyone astray, and many times present the Gospel message, driving filmmakers to create faith-based films. Privately funded films must create a profit, which forces filmmakers to heighten the conflict, visual and emotional contrast within the story.

The market is large enough for both faith-based and redemptive stories to coexist, however, marketers still need to work on differentiating the two types of films. There’s nothing more disappointing than sitting in a theater to watch one type of film and find the other playing on screen.

As for the difference in revenue, it’s anyone’s guess. The best argument I’ve heard suggests that few people want to be told how to live (faith-based), but most want to learn from watching other’s experiences (redemptive).

Copyright © 2015 by CJ Powers

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