When Christian films first came onto the scene after the success of The Passion of the Christ, there was a wonderful ground swell of support for independent Christian filmmakers making films that flew in the face of the Hollywood establishment.
However, after recently revisiting many of these films, I was surprised by how unwatchable most of them are today.
Now, outside of the goodwill Christian fans had at the time, in the bright light of today’s standards and with an honest apples-to-apples comparison with other films in the market place, Christian films are still struggling to remain artistically competitive.
As one of these independent Christian filmmakers, I understand with all of my being just how difficult it is to make a quality film project. None of these comments are meant to insinuate, at any point, that we have not struggled with and/or succumb to the flaws mentioned in this post. We just feel we’re never going to collectively get better if we don’t collectively expect more.
Unfortunately, the task for independent Christian filmmakers trying to make quality films is more daunting when you are limited with such standard resources like time, money and access to high quality talent. However, resources are just one piece of the puzzle. Think of how many Hollywood films are a pile of junk. I can guarantee you that none of those filmmakers intended to make a piece of junk. As a matter of fact, films with the most talented artists in the world have made celluloid embarrassments.
So, even if Christian filmmakers had access to as much money and talent as Hollywood, it doesn’t mean the product will be any better or worse. And the reality is that most Christian films are made by first-time or new writers and filmmakers, meaning that the chance of an artistic blockbuster being made from the group is no better than if they came from film school thesis projects.
We’ve talked about this before on the blog and in our podcasts, but it’s worth reiterating. Successful films usually come from a combination of three things:
- A good story
- A good director
- A good cast
Story – One of the most common flaws in Christian films, in my opinion, is that they are sermons first, entertainment second. A good screenplay is hard to write. Writing one that promotes a Christian message can add a challenge to the writing process, but the worst thing that a writer can do, and what happens often in Christian films, is that the story stops so that a character can preach part of the overall sermon being presented in the film. This doesn’t happen in real life and it never happens in good films.
Director – film and TV are visual mediums. Lighting, camera angles, framing and movement can evoke emotion, sometimes even more so than acting. Every shot should be in there for a reason. The project should have a visual style that fits the type of story.
Acting – this is the most consistently weak aspect of Christian films. Our goal as filmmakers is to get the audience to identify with and emotionally attach themselves to the characters in the story. This is impossible if you don’t believe a word coming out of their mouth. We’ve all been there. We’ve all been in the situation where the only person you could get for the role is your brother’s coworker that does community theater, but showing someone perform a role badly is not better than not making the project at all.
The good news is that more and more Christian filmmakers are getting better at their craft and the quality of the films being made today are substantially better than it was just five years ago. But we need to get better, including Sonlight Pictures.
Yes, God may have called us to do this. And yes, God’s message is universal and needs to be proclaimed. But, God is calling us as artists and we need to make sure our end products keep as much of the art in it as possible.
It’s not easy. As a matter of fact, it makes it much more difficult. But, and I can only speak for me, I’d much rather have a project that is just as effective in five years as it is today. And if that means waiting a bit longer to make the project so that all the right artistic pieces can be gathered, then so be it.
God doesn’t make junk. We shouldn’t either.