Christians as a 'Niche' Market?
As Hollywood continues to catch the "faith wave" by making and marketing more movies to Christians, some of the industry's major players gathered at a conference in Los Angeles last weekend to discuss the pros and cons of the relatively new trend.
While some are excited about the potential of these efforts, some are also frustrated about the "bad art" that has already spun out of these initiatives—including Dean Batali, a writer who served as executive producer on That 70s Show for six years.
"I'm quite angry at God, actually," Batali told CT Movies. "I'm angry that he has blessed bad art—even certain Christian films that have been seen by a lot of people. It makes me angry as an artist, because they're bad. Just because people go see it, that doesn't make it good."
When asked if it's inappropriate to complain about the quality of films that present the gospel, Batali answered, "This is my frustration: The gospel written on toilet paper still saves lives. There's power in the gospel."
But he wants Christians to strive for excellence, rather than settling for sentimental entertainment: "I want to see movies about people who don't get pregnant and don't win the state championship … and who go ahead and praise God anyway"—an apparent reference to Facing the Giants, where everything goes right for the protagonist (wife gets pregnant, team wins it all) once he gets right with God.
We interviewed Batali and others at the 12th annual Biola Media Conference, which features Christian leaders in the entertainment industry, forward-thinking and creative folks who give seminars and put their heads together to ask questions like, "What's working? What isn't? What next?"
All those questions were on the table at the conference as speakers and experts discussed Hollywood's newfound initiatives toward the Christian market—including FoxFaith and other similar studio "brands" aimed at a faith-based audience.
"How many of you are now more confused than you were before the discussion started?"
So asked author and director Phil Cooke, tongue firmly in cheek, after moderating a lively discussion from a panel that included Batali, Fox Home Entertainment exec Simon Swart, writer/producer Brian Bird, author/producer Mark Joseph, and screenwriter Cheryl McKay.
The crowd laughed appreciably at Cooke's question, but it was fitting in the wake of a discussion that at times seemed more like a debate.
It is a complicated, difficult, exciting time for Christians involved in movies, TV, and digital media. As Hollywood rushes to capitalize on money to be made in the "faith market," each of the panel's experts has been caught up in the action.
The panelists agreed that Christians must overcome many challenges in order to make faith an acceptable topic in American art and entertainment again. But how should Christians go about that? And are these new "faith-based entertainment" divisions at major studios going to help us?
A call for great stories
But many others have more noble aspirations. Some hope to produce TV shows and movies that address issues of faith more seriously. Some want to create Christian characters who aren't the typical prime-time "child molesters and lunatics" (to borrow Cooke's generalization). And some want the world to forget the fact that Christian media has a reputation for being mediocre, sentimental propaganda.