Caged No More – Review

Lisa_ArnoldLisa Arnold is at a turning point in her filmmaking career. Her directing chops in the faith-based genre are within reach of the Kendrick (Fireproof, Courageous, War Room) brothers’ skills. While she is still known for her acting, she’s quietly becoming a director to be reckoned with.

Caged No More demonstrated her passion for heart touching story. Her technical skills also exceeded the typical faith-based production techniques. Several scenes bumped up into the quality levels typical in TV movies and a few scenes were straight-out cinematic.

She relentlessly went after the audience in Caged No More, giving viewers little time to breath between heart wrenching scenes. She did present some humor to lighten the mood a third of the way into the story, but it wasn’t enough to keep me from gripping my heart as the story escalated. I actually had to pause the DVD twice to allow my emotions to calm down.

cagednomore-screenshots-0002Part of this emotional charge came from Arnold’s subject matter. Caged No More is about the abduction of Jr. High girls into sex trafficking. The last national record I read had >14,000 girls ages 12 – 14 sold annually. That does not include girls 15 – 18. Nor does it count girls from less secure countries. And, it doesn’t count the boys who are also sold.

Caged No More finds an interesting balance with Arnold’s passion, the elements in faith-based films required by churches, and a form of entertainment that keeps the plot moving. Her careful crafting of the message is ideal for introducing congregations to the horrific reality our girls face.

Unfortunately, the film is not one I’d watch again due to the lack of breather moments. Nor am I interested in seeing the sequel due out in 2017, just in case she hasn’t figured out how to lace in more humor for people like me.

cagednomore-screenshots-0030However, if you love to cry during movies, I highly recommend you watch Caged No More and watch the second film in the trilogy next year. It will also give you an opportunity to see why Arnold will soon become the “queen” of faith-based films, standing next to the king Kendrick brothers in the limelight.

As for me, I’ll be trying to figure out how to un-see what was presented so I can get back to a normal life. That’s not to say Arnold didn’t use extreme tact in her presentation, she did, but once you learn what she presents you’ll feel obligated to take some form of action to save at least one girl.

Well done, Arnold! Oh, and give me a call sometime if you want to brainstorm breather moments for your sequel – giving folks like me a chance to watch.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in hopes that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Copyright © 2016 by CJ Powers

Faith-Based Films: Survive or Fade Out

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.

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 7.57.17 PMAfter 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


Why Kendrick Brothers and Miller Confuse Hollywood

Warren Miller EntertainmentWarren Miller Entertainment is the most respected name in shooting action sports films since 1949. I met director Warren Miller when I was at the university. He brought his team to La Crosse Mountain and shot stunt and trick skiers for one of his feature films. He also shot some comedic scenes that included my university drum line skiing down the slopes while we played our marching drums.

In fact the entire Marching Chiefs, our high stepping competitive marching band, also participated in the shoot – Well, at least the ones that knew how to ski. I’m not sure how it happened, but I also ended up playing my marching snare in television commercials demonstrating how wide the newest grocery store’s aisles where. But I’ve digressed.

Miller was known internationally for his great sports films and every university showed his movies regularly. The films drew large crowds based on the exciting tricks and the comedic fails and spills. And yes, our bass drummer took a nasty spill into the snow knocking over several other band members. As for me, I learned how to do 360s and helicopter spins from the trick skiers – After I had taken off my snare drum.

Miller’s films pulled in millions of dollars every year and confused Hollywood. They couldn’t get a handle on why he was successful. When they tried to copy his tactics to capture some of the revenue, the studios failed miserably. Some how Miller was the king of his niche market and made the exact type of films his audience required, complete with his own personal narration on most pictures.

War Room the MovieHollywood has never understood niche markets, especially in the latest genre of faith-based films. The Kendrick Brothers are now the latest source of Hollywood’s frustrations as their “War Room” movie continues to exceed expectations.

Several critics complain about their movies being stories that preach to the figurative choir, which causes Alex Kendrick to laugh, shake his head, and say, “they just don’t get it.” While the critics want the Kendricks to make their films more palatable for those outside of their niche, the brothers continue to make their trademark films for their niche audience.

Stephen and Alex are preachers who know exactly how to create movies that “preach” an important message to their niche audience. Their goal is to help the “church” understand important principles that can be implemented in their lives for the good of their families. They don’t care about the money or expanding the audience, but the witness their films make and the changed lives that result.

SUPER FANThe Kendricks and Miller have the ideal job as a filmmaker, which only comes about when a director finds his audience. They are able to make the shows they want and in the way they want. The great blessing for both comes in the form of super fans that make sure audiences continue to watch every film they make.

In the industry, production companies try to build a fan base of 500,000 people because that’s the number needed to continue doing what the directors of the show love to do. When the numbers are below that point of demarcation, studios and networks start dictating how the shows are made, which confines the director’s talent.

Thanks to social media and the faster flow of information, production companies now only need 1,000 super fans to give the director the same creative control that used to take a half a million fans to achieve. Both the Kendricks and Miller have their 1,000 super fans that support the director’s untainted vision.

Since Hollywood doesn’t understand the power of niche markets, and therefore understands little about super fans, they are forced to work with the Kendricks and Miller regardless of how they might judge the quality or universality of the films being released. In other words, they don’t get it.

Fans are people who like the artist’s work enough to tell a couple people about it. Super fans are people that not only like the artist’s work, but also do what’s in their power to help the artist get noticed. They are the fans that tell hundreds or thousands of people about their art.

I first learned about super fans when I met Miller. He introduced me to one of his super fans that pulled together enough showings for his films that he’d breakeven far before the budgets required. Miller was happy to help his super fan whenever he had the chance.

I’ve heard that the Kendricks also have super fans that are great influencers and leaders of churches. Every time they release a film, their super fans stir entire mega congregations to get out to the theaters and watch the important films.

This confuses Hollywood all the more. The studios and networks all believe that a film lives and dies based on its story and production values, not its message. However, a team of great super fans makes sure the pictures are successful regardless of the filmmakers ability to tell a great story or place high production values on screen.

Thankfully, both the Kendricks and Miller continually improved on their production values as a way of thanking the audience that supported their films. The more they worked on their story, the wider the audience grew beyond their niche.

This expansion is the only thing Hollywood might comprehend, but it may be a while before they understand how niche markets work. After all, Hollywood is too big to comprehend how niche films bless community.

Copyright © 2015 by CJ Powers