I went to the all-day family entertainment and faith-based summit called “Purpose,” put on by Variety. I saw panel discussions on Faith in Mainstream Entertainment, How to Win the Faith Audience, Representation of Religion in Entertainment and others. This was not a conference for wannabes or Christian subculture, these were successful writers, producers, and executives, key decision makers and content makers in Hollywood. The real thing, people working with studios and networks making and marketing content related to the family and faith audience, or as my colleague Matthew Faraci of Inspire calls it, The “values audience.” (It’s more than just faith, it’s about cherished values that go along with that faith).
I have been involved as an independent filmmaker in Hollywood for a long time and I have experienced my share of cynicism with a system and people who are late to the party of recognizing and respecting the interests of this huge demographic of faith and values audience. But I have also been frustrated with the “faith-based” genre for its cheesy sermonizing and lack of excellence in craft, which to my mind disrespects God by disrespecting creation and beauty. I’m a Christian, and I don’t believe the message of many Christian movies. (Is this the fault of Christians with low standards pouring money into crap or the fault of a media culture that fails to provide for their demographic needs, thus resulting in Christians supporting lesser quality because it’s the only thing that respects them?)
But there is hope growing in Hollyweird.
Studios and networks finally see that there is money to be made in respecting faith and values audiences. As Paradigm agent Michael Van Dyck pointed out, sadly, these gatekeepers still don’t quite understand the demographic beyond their own stereotypes, but they are getting better as they hire more individuals that do get it. Yes, you have the abysmal failures like Noah and Exodus, but then you have the screaming successes of Miracles from Heaven and When Calls the Heart.
Some of those successful storytellers of faith were Devon Franklin, producer of Miracles from Heaven, Patrick Aiello, producer of Risen, Matthew Malick, producer of Scorsese’s Silence, Rick Rekedal of Dreamworks Animation, Jonathan Merkh of publisher Simon and Shuster, Writers Cary Solomon of God’s Not Dead, Bryan Bird of When Calls the Heart and many others.
The key to a growing presence of Christians in Hollywood has been in this generation ceasing seeing Hollywood as Sodom and Gomorrah to flee from without, but rather seeing it as a mission field to go into and influence from within.
Several memes rose within the conference in most all the panels.