My friend Mark Joseph wrote an interesting article about the current state of Christian filmmaking in Hollywood. If you're interested in such things, give it a read.
Roger Ailes Knows How to Do It
A future for faith-based films.
By Mark Joseph
On the heels of the Weinstein Company's decision to jump into the
faith-based film market, and a disappointing box-office showing for
The Nativity Story in December, 20th Century Fox's new "Fox Faith"
division recently released two new films Thr3ee, and The Last Sin
Eater, adaptations of popular Christian-oriented novels made on
shoestring budgets. Both opened to severely disappointing box-office
turnout and are prime examples of the problems facing the
Christian-oriented film industry.
Fox Faith was created after 20th Century Fox missed a chance to
distribute The Passion Of the Christ theatrically, but picked up home
video rights. Seventeen million copies later, it has turned out to be
a cash cow for the studio. Fox didn't intend to miss out on
opportunities like this in the future. Thus, the creation of Fox
Faith, which aims, according to its website, to distribute
"faith-based" films. "To be part of Fox Faith, a movie has to have
overt Christian Content or be derived from the work of a Christian
author." As part of what looks to be a growing trend, the Weinstein
company also recently jumped into the faith-based film market.
Fox's creation of Fox Faith has been met with mixed reviews by many
observers in the film and faith community. Some see it as a step
forward, getting faith-friendly fare into the studio system. Others
see it as a step backward, one that will result not in faith-driven
films going mainstream and reaching a broad, values-driven audience,
but rather in the creation of a steady stream of cheaply produced,
second-rate products that will then be marketed exclusively to
religious Americans as "Christian films" and will not be widely
available to more secular moviegoers.
Before studios rush to create faith-oriented divisions to handle
mostly Christian-oriented films, they should consider whether such a
move is wise and whether they desire to make films to be viewed only
by those who want to see their faith in the films they watch or also
by a broad, values-driven audience.
After spending years studying and writing about the formation of the
Christian music industry, it's clear to me that the mistakes and
successes of that industry have much to teach the burgeoning community
of devout filmmakers. While the creation of the Christian music
industry was heralded by some as a chance to bring Christian-themed
rock music to the masses, in reality it became little more than a
subculture of sometimes interesting, sometimes derivative music that
was exclusively marketed and distributed to religious Americans,
outside of the mainstream system. It wasn't until artists like
Switchfoot, P.O.D., Sufjan Stevens, Flyleaf, and Cold War Kids went
outside of that system and signed with mainstream labels that they
began to have the kind of impact they are today having.
Artists, including filmmakers, like to have their art viewed and heard
by as many people as possible. But the Christian music model makes
artists' work accessible only to those in the habit of shopping at
religious music stores or listening to religious radio stations. If
Fox Faith, the Weinsteins, and other similar efforts follow this
model, filmmakers who work with them can expect to reach only a
So, for the faith community, the creation of Fox Faith and the foray
of the Weinstein Company is a good news/bad news scenario, one that
could either lead to a steady stream of interesting faith-driven fare
like The Chronicles of Narnia, The Passion Of The Christ, and Luther,
or sub-par works like The Omega Code, Seven, and Left Behind. Some
fear it may be the latter.
Tellingly, there's the name, Fox Faith, which presumes a number of
things about this country — namely, that the U.S. is a secular nation,
hungry for secular entertainment divorced from morality and faith,
making faith-oriented fare somewhat of an anomaly deserving of its own
division, constituting just another "niche market." This was readily
acknowledged by a Weinstein Company spokesman, who noted, "This deal
fits perfectly into our strategy of acquiring and producing films that
target niche audiences."
There would be a logic to creating a Fox Faith brand if we were living
in highly secular countries like, say, France or Japan. But the U.S.
is one of the most religious nations on earth, where 92 percent of the
people profess a belief in God and 84 percent call themselves
Christians. So perhaps Fox should consider mainstreaming Fox Faith,
folding it into 20th Century Fox, and instead finding a really smart,
secular Hollywood-type to run a new division called "Fox Secular."
It's not that Americans who aren't particularly devout shouldn't be
able to enjoy films, or that Fox shouldn't produce them. But Fox and
the Weinstein Company have the equation backwards: The niche market is
comprised of a rather small group of highly secular Americans who want
a high wall of separation between faith and film, in contrast to the
millions of Americans who hunger for entertainment that references, or
at least isn't ignorant of, their deepest spiritual beliefs and
A reshuffle of the deck at Fox could look something like this: The
newly minted studio, led by an executive who has a better
understanding of the massive faith and family market, could produce
and distribute dozens of faith-friendly films, beginning with a film
version of The Purpose Driven Life (a book with sales of more than 30
million copies), which was published by Fox's sister company
Harper-Collins. A nice $75 million budget and some A-list actors,
complete with a Passion-style marketing campaign, could very well turn
it into the biggest blockbuster of all time.
Fox Secular, on the other hand, could also make an important
contribution by reaching its niche audience, continuing to produce and
distribute important films that speak to more secular Americans. A
Borat sequel would be a good candidate for Fox Secular, as would have
been Kinsey, a film celebrating the life of America's best known
sexologist, released last year by Fox. Perhaps other important secular
biopics on important historical figures like Charles Darwin, Dr. Ruth,
Frederic Nietzsche, Marilyn Manson, and others could be brought to
market on a limited number of screens. Secular Americans deserve to
have inspirational stories in their local theaters, and Fox Secular
would be there to meet that demand, releasing films on, say, 400
screens nationwide and focused on blue states. Occasionally, some of
those films may even cross over to the wider values-driven mainstream
audience outside of the secular niche. After all, there may very well
be some churchgoers who enjoy watching Sacha Cohen play tasteless
practical jokes on suspecting Americans or who want to see films that
feature secular American heroes.
Such a move on the part of a studio like Fox would send a strong
signal to millions of heretofore disenfranchised traditionalist
Americans who have, for various reasons, either never or rarely
attended films in the past 50 years. The sudden appearance of many of
these first-time moviegoers in theaters was one of the key reasons for
the success of The Passion of the Christ.
In 2004, shortly before the film's release, the Los Angeles Times
predicted the film would take in $25 million at the box-office opening
week. When the dust had settled it had instead earned a whopping $115
million—meaning that somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 million
people who were not "in the system" (that is, those who rarely or
never attend movies) had supported a film they were finally interested
Of all the studios, Fox is best positioned to understand this dynamic,
having launched the Fox News Channel in 1996. In so doing, executives
like Roger Ailes understood that America was basically a center-right
nation viewing center-left fare simply because nothing else was
available, even as it hungered for programming that more closely
reflected its values. When Fox finally figured this out, they doubled,
and in some cases tripled, CNN's audience. If and when Rupert Murdoch
and company realize the same lessons are there to be learned in the
film world, it's entirely possible that they will realize
unprecedented profits and discover a new and far larger filmgoing
— Mark Joseph is the author of Faith, God & Rock 'n' Roll, editor of
Pop Goes Religion, and founder of the MJM Group. He has worked on the
development and/or marketing of a dozen films including The Chronicles
of Narnia, Holes and Ray.
Interesting perspective, eh? By the way, the Weinstein brothers, best known for their former company Miramax and extremely edgy fair like The Crying Game, Trainspotting and the extremely controversial NC-17 film Kids, just showed the world how serious they are about the Christian market by launching an initiative to develop six "faith-based" films per year, and picked up general market distribution rights to, of all things, VeggieTales.
Curiouser and curiouser.