Variety Family & Faith Summit Review

The Variety Family Entertainment and Faith-Based Summit was Thursday, June 21, 2012.

Kudos to Variety for seeing the need and providing an event of this caliber.  The biggest draw at these events as usual is the networking opportunities.  In person is still the best way to forge relationships.

The lineup of the program was impressive, making one wonder what they will do for an encore.  The room was sold out to the point of standing-room-only seating (Is that an oxymoron?) and there were many new folks to meet.

To see the Variety Review: Click Here "Biz takes notice of family, faith-based media" Variety summit features sneak peek at Mark Burnett's 'Bible' mini

John David Ware and "Survivor" producer Mark Burnett

Mark Burnett flew in from Morocco with a clip from his 10-hour mini-series called "The Bible" (due in 2013). 
Burnett spoke enthusiastically about the huge, often untapped potential of faith-based productions.

My philosophy of approaching the famous and the "put-upon" is simple.  Don't ask for anything but advice.  Don't give a card unless it is asked for.  I got advice from "The Apprentice" creator and "Survivor" producer.  His words ring in my ears as they are the same words I heard at the start of 168, ten years ago.  They are not discouraging, but they are sobering, "You have chosen a very hard road for yourself," he said.

He is correct.  Route 168 has been a very hard road.  But where is the glory to God in an easy victory?  He doesn't like a fair fight if you haven't noticed.  He uses the weak things of this world to influence the strong.  Judges 7:4 says, "But the LORD said to Gideon, "There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will sift them for you there"  (NIV).  In the end, the Lord used only 300 men to defeat the "multitudes" of the enemy.

It's clear that Hollywood still does not know what to think of the whole "faith thing" (no, it was not all Christians at the summit).  Some were surprised at the way the show skewed more toward Faith instead of pondering the ins and outs of the "Family Genre."

Variety's "Family Entertainment and Faith-Based Summit " Logo shows the "Family" part of the equation first.  

Dick Rolf of the Dove Foundation said, "Family" is not a genre.  If it were, then the "Family Genre" would be excluded from the Comedy, Drama, Action-adventure and other genres.  It's not a genre it's a market segment," he said.  

And it's a big one.  Financially speaking, Family is much more lucrative and much easier to sell than faith--ask Disney.  

So, why did the summit skew so heavily toward Faith?  First, because Faith weighs heavily on people's hearts; they want to please their God in their work. Secondly, because it's SO HARD to get it right!  It's so hard to walk the line between compelling entertainment and compelling people to faith and making them feel "preached up."

The very message most central to survival is the one that many refuse to hear in any medium!  So, the artistry with which we produce could be the difference between life and death for some.  Do you believe that?  Does it give you a new focus?

So, what is a Christian film.  The more I hear the banter about what a Christian film should be, the more I'm convinced that we don't know.  At least there is no consensus.

To me a Christian film is whatever the Lord lays one's heart to produce, whether that be a "full tilt boogie come to Jesus party" film or a gritty human drama without the invocation of His name or an altar call.  Truly, I believe that Jesus can use many kinds of vehicles to reach humanity.  Further, I believe we are still in the infancy of what the Lord can and will do thru the medium.  So, we press on. 

Yes, the usual questions were asked on the Variety panels, "Who's got the money and How do I get some?"  But, there were few questions asking "How can we be different?"  or "How can we show our love for God."  Hello?

Pastor David Jeremiah said that our constant struggle to be relevant is the precise thing that makes us irrelevant to the eternal.  But, Jesus taught in parables, hmmm.

Yes, there are arguments on either side of the content debate, but we should never be ashamed of the Gospel.  Sometimes the gospel presentation in films is artistically shameful, but truly, few are willing to attempt this magnificent and near-impossible feat of a compelling "Gospel Film."  Many of the "willing" are also new and inexperienced artists; and Mel Gibson and a few courageous others.  Is it falling on your sword?  Is it pleasing the Almighty?  Or is it making hundreds of millions of dollars?

Many still believe that there's no money in faith films.   This is clearly wrong, but we must be willing to pay the price to make them and to make them great.

Here's a thumbnail of Variety's Family and Faith Show.  It featured analysis on the Faith and Family Film Market from the Dove Foundation and MovieguideNotables were Ralph Winter, Producer, X-Men:Wolverine, X-Men: The Last Stand, Corbin Bernsen, Actor/Producer (Psych, The Big Year) Ben Simon, Director, Brand Marketing at Wal-Mart, reps from Sony Pictures, Fox Home Entertainment, Hallmark Channel, GMC TV, Alcon Entertainment, Believe Pictures, Mpower Pictures, Mission Pictures International and Paradigm Talent Agency.
Some of the fresher questions and ideas explored were: What is the right balance between a compelling plotline and content that fits audience values? Brand placement, High-profile biblical projects (Noah and Moses) from directors Darren Aronofsky and Steven Spielberg.  The mainstream success of Soul Surfer.  Pitching broadly-targeted non-religious themed projects to the faith-based demographic – i.e. Relativity’s Act of Valor, TLC’s Sarah Palin’s Alaska, Alcon’s Dolphin Tale and Sony’s The Vow.  The panels continued with Crossover between larger family audiences and the faith-based demographic, Film Finance for Family and Faith-Based Entertainment: Brands, Investment Angels, Family Content Advocates and the necessity of aligning with certain family-friendly organizations, church groups, pastors and bloggers.  

After the summit, I met with a good friend who encouraged me to look at the audience for my project and the financial numbers (count the cost) and pray without ceasing and involve wise counselors in planning the attack.  Failing to use these tools is foolishness, an unwise use of resources.

Our directive is to keep meeting together as one body to encourage each other and to carry out the will of Him who made us.

As another friend said at the show, nineteen faithful (to evil) changed the world on Sept, 11th 2001 (by flying planes into the World Trade Towers).  What could 19 faithful to Jesus Christ do in 2012?

Finally, I learned some new terms and reinforced some old ones.

Regarding Faith and Family Entertainment: 

Multi-Generational means your film is something that the whole family can watch with Grandma and not have to excuse themselves because they are embarrassed (i.e. the rental car segment of "Plane's Trains and Automobiles").

Value-Affirming means you only offended the Baptists and either the Presbyterians or the Lutherans (with points for both), Faith Friendly means you didn't say anything too terrible or too good either, Faith Impermeable is the term for Hollywoods most mindless tripe ("Showgirls" or Friday the 13th Part 17), Faith Fried is a southern kinda film that is a little greasy but ultimately satisfying, Faith Tossed is a film with just a schmattering of God-but No Jesus, Faith Glazed is like a cruller--the message is pretty syrupy and might give you a stomach ache if you have too much, Faith Garnished is where the story is completely independent of the faith message (like the kale on a salad bar), Faith Seared is when you get a southern baptist preacher involved and it gets loud, and Faith Tartar is the term for for a RAW, RED MEAT KINDA FAITH that is not necessarily refined, but it is really really real ("Machine Gun Preacher" and "To End All Wars").