How to Improve Christian Video Media for Artists and Audiences
Have you ever had a dream that was supposed to be reality, but it wasn’t quite right? That’s what most Christian movies and TV shows look like to me: a false reality. Why is this misrepresentation so disconcerting to me? We’ll explore the danger in Christians excusing subpar media as well as solutions for both producers and audiences to champion high production value.
The Danger of Misrepresentation
This “false reality” problem has been floating around my mind for a while but it wasn’t until I read a comment recently that it all coalesced. An average Joe (vsimpson321) reviewed The Moment After (1999) saying: “This movie is not suppose [sic] to be like Hollywood movies. Some of those movies are good also. It is a specific evangelism tool.” One way to interpret what vsimpson321 meant is that end times movies produced by Christians don’t have all the vices that make Hollywood movies sinful, instead their goal is to tell “non-Christians” about Jesus (via fear-based Armageddon themes).
What vsimpson321 implied is that Christian end times movies don’t need a good plot, acting, special effects, production value, writing or story, because they aren’t competing with high-budget films. Basically, “Come on everybody, give them a free pass.”
The problem with that mentality is that humans were created with memory and the ability to compare. In fact, the only way these Christians know to beg for the free pass is that they recognize subpar work but don’t want to acknowledge[i] it (or are so zealous for people to like the movies that they attempt to blind others).
Additionally, the “non-Christians” that these “evangelism tool[s]” are geared for, have primarily seen high-budget films (unless you count porn). This makes it an inferior tool since the art should speak for itself. Because God created us to be creators, consistently attempting to do our very best, we should generate world class level content.
Our foundation and solution must be synonymous. If we tell someone to suspend belief at media, we shouldn’t be surprised if they don’t jump at the chance to devote their life to a religion apparently requiring suspension of belief. The flawed premise of unquestioning barbarism is a false representation of Christianity and I believe quite dangerous.
Am I really saying subpar Christian filmmaking is dangerous? Yes, because the truth of Christianity is its linchpin. If Jesus didn’t raise from the dead there’re no point in the charade. So, yes, misrepresenting Christianity as defective and requiring suspension of truth and belief is dangerous.
On the contrary, people should use their memories and abilities to compare quality when presented with Jesus. After all, isn’t Jesus supposed to free us from our bad memories and give us a higher quality of life than we’ve ever known? If a show or film can’t represent that quality, it’s doing more harm than good and shouldn’t be made.
What is especially interesting to me is that Christians who are adamantly opposed to seeing “Hollywood” films are woefully ignorant of Christian media crews’ affiliations. Because Christian films are low-budget, they sometimes have to use cast and crew who have worked on unsavory projects (like porn).[ii]
Additionally, the Hollywood-hating Christians put a lot of faith in producers who often homage that very “trash.” For example, in 1983’s Prodigal Planet, the filmmakers pulled heavily from Mad Max for their post-apocalyptic designs.
Can God Use “Trash” to Reveal His Message?
Do these revelations lessen the impact of Christian films? Should every person involved in production be a Christian or is there an opportunity to share Jesus with others? How would someone prove they are “Christian enough,” up to the Christian audience’s standards?
In some ways, I hesitate using The Chosen as an example. It’s become the frequent (and sometimes overused) model of solid Christian media with high production value. But there’s a good reason for this: it is solid Christian media with high production value. Should we expect everyone involved in the production to be a Christian? Omnes Magazine reports: “In the cast [sic] there are actors of Orthodox tradition and Christians of various denominations, from Jewish families or even agnostics.” Does that have a negative impact? I don’t believe so.
Did you know one of The Chosen’s lead writers and producers, Ryan Swanson, was an assistant on Mr. & Mrs. Smith, acted on Fringe, and wrote The Killing Floor (R) about a literary agent who is stalked? Is Swanson’s filmography a concern, driving us to judgmentally ask, did he work on those projects before or after becoming a Christian? Well, were we able to provide another way for him to pay his dues? Is it possible God used this Hollywood “trash” so that Swanson would bring us media with a spiritual message?
Solutions: Video Media’s Trifecta of Opportunity
I propose a solution easier said than done. Firstly, Christians producing films with either an overt or subtle spiritual message shouldn’t release the work until it looks high quality.[iii] I have a friend who started a project with a pretty good-sized budget (for an independent film) but that dried up. A smaller budget was established without sacrificing quality and that still hasn’t been fully funded. So on the shelf it sits. Not forcing it through by sacrificing quality but waiting. The idea is that if it’s meant to be, it will be done correctly.
We live in an unprecedented time with a trifecta of opportunity: we’ve never had so much technology available to so many people at such affordable costs.
There are many debates on what makes art “good” (here are four theories). When it comes to visual media, I’m less concerned with holding to formulas or expensive budgets. I defer to my earlier point that humans have memory and can compare. In my experience, the vast majority of people can easily recognize poor quality media. My six-year-old nephew and mid-seventies mom are not film connoisseurs, but I’ve heard them comment when dialogue or a visual is “weird.” It’s simply asking: “Do I have to suspend belief while watching?”
Secondarily, the audience shouldn’t excuse subpar media. More importantly, we should be exhorting solid Christian shows and films. We live in an unprecedented time with a trifecta of opportunity: we’ve never had so much technology available to so many people at such affordable costs. The “con” to this is that evil or pointless media can be broadcast by anyone with very few (and hotly debated) regulations. For our purposes, it’s a travesty to have poor quality bubble up and distract from good content.
But the “pro” to our trifecta of opportunity is that more and more talented filmmakers can be seen by more people. I believe that if audiences put their money into quality media (both by crowdfunding and actually paying for media they consume – as I mentioned here) quality projects will be distributed. There are also some production houses who allow you to vote on the content they make, like Angel Studios, who produce The Chosen. But again, this requires Christian audiences to be discerning.
[i] Or don’t want the content criticized for being subpar.
[ii] I’ve intentionally omitted any proofs of this point since directing people to unsavory references (such as porn stars) may be problematic for some readers.