- - Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A decade ago, something happened in the filmed entertainment world that I believe has been both a blessing and “a curse”: The advent of the modern “faith” film.

A few films which were clearly “sermons on film” got made and had very substantial box office returns. That’s the blessing. They had wonderful messages and were very well received by many in the church. That was also a blessing. Those films touched many lives and I am thankful for them! However, suddenly overnight, a philosophy of thinking began, which held that the only way “faith” projects could succeed is if they were filled with “on the nose, overt faith messages,” appealing to very few outside the church. That is where the “curse” comes in. People began telling us it was impossible to attract both a faith audience and a mainstream secular audience with the same content. But we knew that wasn’t true. Suddenly, history was being rewritten.

Over 20 years ago, I co-created a mainstream prime time television series for NBC, (“Against the Grain”), which got amazing reviews in virtually every secular newspaper and outlet in the nation. Newsweek called the pilot of the series “a true dramatic gem.” The Kansas City Star said, “If Norman Rockwell were alive and could write scripts as well as he paints, this is the script he would write.” The Hollywood Reporter wrote, “A cut above. The script sparkles.” And a well-respected Christian organization (labeled by many on the left as a “right-wing” group) said essentially, “This is a great show and every Christian should watch it.”

What!? Organizations as disparate as those agreed on the quality of an entertainment program that clearly had “faith” and Judeo-Christian principles at its core? Yep.

And I’ve been blessed to have had the same experience for two other very successful television series I’ve co-created (“Doc” and “Sue Thomas: F.B. Eye”), as well as several movies my team and I have written, produced and/or directed.

Those projects have impacted millions and millions of people around the world with our message, but if they had been made only for the choir, they wouldn’t have had that kind of impact. Something must first be received (and watched) before it can have impact! The notion that a film or a television show can’t cross faith and cultural lines was false then, and it’s been false ever since.

I hope (and believe) we’re coming back to the idea that the quality and artistic value of the content are as important as the message — and that all messages aren’t required to “hit us over the head.”

Our soon-to-be released film, “Vanished/Left Behind: Next Generation” is playing as well with non-Christians as it is with Christians. We’re thrilled about that. We’re even more thrilled about how young audiences (teens and tweens) feel about the movie! The hundreds of kids who’ve seen “Vanished” say they view it in the same vein as “Twilight” or other YA films they love. They’ve told us, “Don’t call this a Christian film! It seems like a regular movie. We love it.” We’re very happy to take their advice!

I’m not saying people should stop making films that are only for Christians. There will always be an audience for them and some do a great service touching and changing lives! They continue to be a blessing. But I hope we also recognize that it’s important (I personally believe, even more important) for the church to support films and television shows that are more nuanced — ones made for a broad audience — as well. Of course our content can’t just be “nice” either. There needs to be a reason it exists beyond entertainment, something valuable for the audience to experience. But let’s acknowledge that doesn’t always need to be a “conversion scene.” We must believe that if we have something of value and truth in the film, the audience will find it. My hope is that we can again trust the power of filmed entertainment and good storytelling — and the well-known adage in our business: less is more! If truth goes out, it will be received. Any day that happens is a blessing.

Dave Alan Johnson is a writer/producer/director who has created over $400 million of content — both film and television — in Hollywood. His newest film, “Vanished / Left Behind: Next Generation,” is in theaters nationwide for a special one-night event on Sept. 28. You can find a theater near you at TheVanishedFilm.com.

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