I was asked what direction I saw faith-based films headed. The answer is difficult to explain without getting into the proper dollars, art, and story structure. All three elements must be present for a film genre to survive, but most “faith-based” films are void of all three.
I’ve attached a financial chart (provided by The Numbers) of what many have labeled as faith-based films to help my explanation.
After chatting on the phone with co-producer Andrew Wallace of Heaven is for real and talking with the original writer of the story, Todd Burpo, I learned that the film was produced like a regular independent Hollywood film – Not a faith-based film. It had the standard budget of $12MM, a cast of well-known faces, artistic choices, and a strong story structure. The sum of its elements drove the box office to cross the $100MM mark.
Miracles from Heaven followed suit in maintaining Hollywood standards, artistic choices and a $13MM budget. While the film is still in theaters, it has crossed the $60MM mark. And again, it was not shot as a faith-based film.
God’s Not Dead and God’s Not Dead 2 were both shot as faith-based films. Neither film used a good story structure, artistic value was lacking, and the budget was an estimated $1.5MM each. With the sequel lacking all the key elements, there’s no surprise that the film is tanking.
The original, God’s Not Dead, arguably made money while lacking those same elements. However, the film’s success was attributed to its gimmicky marketing push that went viral thanks to the Newsboys – Something the sequel didn’t reproduce. In other words, the marketing campaign overcame the lack of key elements.
Risen took a Movie of the Week (MOW) approach. Reducing the film’s artistic choices to that of an MOW budget, keeping it below the $60MM threshold. Woodlawn, however, had no surprises being shot like a faith-based film and reaping its expected rewards.
Hollywood style films will always out perform faith-based films, unless the filmmaker pulls together their own large fan base like the Kendrick Brothers.
The real question behind the survival of a Hollywood production that includes the three key elements versus a faith-based film that does not, is which process is sustainable and reproducible?
The Kendrick Brothers have a sustainable fan base for their films that will support them for years to come. However, they have not been able to reproduce themselves in any of the film’s they’ve supported (The Lost Medallion and Beyond the Mask). They share and attribute their success to prayer and a team void of sin. Unfortunately, filmmakers who have followed that model have not reaped similar success.
The Hollywood process, which includes some who are without sin and pray, reproduces itself extremely well. The system drives individuals to become masters of their craft using an effective apprentice model. The system focuses on great story structure, artistic value and the appropriate budget to achieve success.
Because the faith-based film process is not reproducible and is unable to launch others like Alex and Stephen Kendrick, it will fade away until someone else brings new life to Christian films down the road. After all, the Christian film genre was created twice before and both times it faded away.
As for the Hollywood approach, it’s been around since the early 1900s with no end in sight because it’s easily reproducible. Those who follow this process understand that story is king, not message. They also understand that to demonstrate an emotional win for a character, the story must first demonstrate his or her original depravity – The greater the contrast, the greater the story.
Copyright 2016 by CJ Powers