- - Wednesday, December 13, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

I’ve never understood the divide between the Hollywood studio system and the faith-based film world more than in the past year or so.

Obviously, there are exceptions — particularly Sony Affirm, which seems to be the one company that has bridged the gap for the most part. But other than that, we’re seeing more than ever that the faith-based filmmakers and companies can’t seem to get the budgets and quality levels necessary to reach a wide audience, and the studios can’t seem to engage the Christian audience when they spend the money.

On the surface, films like “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” “Noah,” and “Ben-Hur” should be massive successes. But because faithful audiences are skeptical of nonbelieving filmmakers or actors, they’re staying away. Additionally, when you give them an explicitly Christian film with a believing filmmaker — but on a low budget — they say, “We go to the theater for big movies just like everyone else, why do we have to settle for the little ones?”

The marketing for my film, “The Resurrection of Gavin Stone,” hit all the right notes, but was met with a collective “meh.” I just didn’t make a movie even Christians felt they had to rush to the theaters to see.

I considered wallowing in self-pity and blame-shifting, but it only lasted a few minutes. The business is changing rapidly, and because I need to feed my family, I have to adjust.

It started with my own habits. I realized that some of the best cinema in the world in the last decade has been in television and streaming. And I also realized that I wasn’t going to the theater to see movies like mine either. My stories, and most faith stories, are less epic and more personal and emotional, which tend to work best in living rooms, as opposed to IMAX.

We’re living in the golden age of quality television, and I’m loving it. The problem is that once again, we Christians are a little behind the curve. We were late to the game with theatrical releases, then we had our moment in the sun, and now we’re playing catch up again as the business is shifting. Where’s our “Breaking Bad,” our “Game of Thrones”?

Lucky for me, VidAngel was thinking the same thing. I’m not a spokesman for them, so I’ll keep this short, but their streaming service offers customers the ability to filter out any content they find objectionable. So audiences have a chance now to watch sanitized versions of hit shows if they want. But that still doesn’t get us there. As VidAngel agreed, when I so eloquently put it to them, we still need to create stuff that belongs to us.

So we’re trying something new. I’ve seen every Jesus movie and miniseries out there, but there’s never been an actual episodic TV show about Christ, with recurring characters and new seasons. VidAngel loves the idea, but as per usual, we don’t have the big bucks Hollywood does, so we’re doing a glorified Kickstarter where eager audiences can invest (not donate) in the show if they’re interested.

How do we get audiences interested? We’re giving away the pilot episode for Christmas. It’s already on Facebook and is up to almost 2 million views. Which, seeing as how it’s a short film about the birth of Christ, feels well-timed. So if people love that, maybe they’ll want to see the TV show, which we intend to make next year. And if they don’t, then well, I don’t really know; I’m a Christian filmmaker, I’m a little slow to the jump.

Will it work? We’ll see. Either way, I can’t expect Hollywood to spend tens of millions of dollars on and perfectly execute our stories, and I can’t expect Christian audiences to spend $12 a ticket to see my movie in theaters when a Marvel movie is playing in the screen one door over. It’s time to take it right to them, in their living rooms, and they can decide in advance if they want it.

Dallas Jenkins is a Chicago-based filmmaker currently developing a TV series for VidAngel entitled, “The Chosen.” It is about the life of Christ, but the characters don’t speak in King James Bible verses. You can watch the pilot free at www.vidangel.com/thechosen and on Facebook at /thechosentvseries.


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