Recently my son spent some time with another young man who was visiting our church with his family. Both of these boys are eleven. They talked about movies. But they did not talk watching them. They talked about making them. How many young men are out there who want to make movies or act in them? Humans love stories. We love to hear them and we love to tell them. As our children grow we should expect them to write great stories. But we should also expect them to direct great stories. Here are some thoughts on the present state and suggestions for the future growth of Christian movie makers.
First, Christian movie making is in its infancy. Hopefully, in time, the industry will gain maturity and wisdom in how movies are made. We need to give these men time to grow up. We can’t expect a six year old to act forty-five. By the way, this also means we need older Christians involved in the movie making business. Maturity often comes with age. Unfortunately, too many Christian film makers are young.
Second, I am grateful for the men who are making these movies. I do not agree with everything they do, but they are paving the way for the next generation. Critics should be more humble. It is hard to make a good movie, just take a peek at all the trash on Netflix that somehow still got made.
Third, Christian movie makers need to be open to criticism. Many Christians, especially in the arts, insulate themselves from criticism. Just because you are doing it for Jesus doesn’t mean you get a pass. And this doesn’t just mean criticism from other Christians.
Fourth, if we want the next generation of movie makers to make better movies, we need to give them better stories. Our educational system, public and Christian, has gotten rid of many great stories. Here is where the older practice of a classical education can help us with a very modern issue; how to make good movies. Shakespeare, Dante, Beowulf, Steinbeck, Dickens, and of course, the Bible fill our minds with great stories. If we absorb these stories it will go a long way towards making better movies.
Fifth, a good story on paper does not magically become a good movie. We need Christians who understand what a visual medium is for. A movie is not a lecture, novel, or short story. Words on a page are not the same as dialogue plus images. Christians need to examine how this medium can be used to help people to see the world as God made it. Studying great directors can be a help here. You may not agree with Scorsese or Spielberg or Fincher, but they should be studied none the less, much as one studies Hemingway or Twain when it comes to literature.
Sixth, movies are not preaching or evangelism. A movie cannot do the work of a minister or an evangelist. This is one of the most helpful things a Christian movie maker can remember. Your movie cannot do what the preaching of God’s Word does. Don’t shove it into that hole. Let movies do what they are supposed to: tell a story using words and pictures. They can pave the way for the preaching of the good news, but they cannot be a substitute for it.
Seventh, Christians need to find ways to show sin in a way that does not cause a sailor to blush but is realistic. This is a difficult balance, but not impossible. Older horror movies can give some guidance here. What is implied, but not shown, is often most effective. We are used to seeing everything so we forget the impact of not seeing, but still knowing. One example of this is in the Coen Brothers’ film, No Country for Old Men. The villain meets the main character’s wife. We know he is going to kill her. They talk inside the house. Then we see the bad guy on the front porch wiping blood off his boot. Nothing is seen. But everything is understood. Great directors, such as Alfred Hitchcock, are masters of the unseen. Evils, such as rape, adultery, dismemberment, etc. can all be a part of a Christian movie when we understand this. These scenes should not be pornographic, exploitative, nor simplistic, but they should sufficient impact. The one dimensional nature of sin is a great deficiency in Christian movies. The Devil with horns, the wicked man who is always converted, or the happy ending for all is not true to Scripture or experience.
Eighth, piggybacking on my last point, Christian movies do not have to end with an altar call, be explicitly about God, be sappy, void of sex, violence, and language, or end with the couple sitting contentedly watching the sun set. Saul committed suicide and his body was cut into pieces. David’s son killed his incestuous half-brother. Jehu piled up heads. Judas hung himself and his guts spilled out. Paul was stoned and then walked back into the city. The structure and content of Christian movies should reflect God, his ways, and the fallen world we live in. But all genres, horror, action, animation, drama, science -fiction, comedy, period epics, and even romantic comedies and almost any topic can be used to do this. Too many Christians view Hallmark films as the paradigm for making their movies instead of the Scriptures.
Ninth, on the flip side, Christians should not be afraid of putting a hero on the screen. Antiheroes are all the rage these days. But, in many ways, having a true hero, who is good, but not perfect is more difficult than putting a wicked man on screen. Often the good guy in a movie comes across as one dimensional. But we have a real hero in Jesus Christ. Somehow that idea needs to be translated to the screen without us having to make a movie about Jesus. Along with this, we should not be afraid of happy endings either. The world really does end with overwhelming joy for those in Christ. Some of our movies should as well. Just as Hallmark films should not be our paradigm, neither should the nihilistic darkness that represents so much of modern movies and TV shows. Just as there is Saul there is also David. Just as there is Judas, there are the faithful disciples who see the risen Christ. Just as there is Jezebel there is also Ruth and Esther.
Tenth, we need rich Christians to finance the movie making endeavors of other Christians. A good product does not always require money, but it usually does. Money does matter.
Eleventh, it is okay for Christians to make movies for a narrow audience. Secular people do that all the time. Many movies that play at places like Cannes are narrow in their audience appeal. If Christians want to make movies that are primarily apologetic, just for church goers, or a documentary about the evils of public education that is fine. The problem is that we have not yet effectively branched out into “mainstream” movie making.
Twelfth, we need Christians who see movie making as a vocation, not a hipster fad. Movie stars and directors are the gods of America. They are rich, pampered, and most of all cool. It is easy for a Christian to think he is getting into movie making for God when his ego is the real motivation. He chooses to make movies to fill a need in himself instead of as a way to serve. Movie making is like being an architect, auto mechanic, or business manager. It is a job that needs to be done well, to the glory of God, and as way to love our neighbor. We don’t need more Christians who want to be hip and reach out to the hip people of the world through movies. We need Christians who view movie making and all its side jobs, lighting, costumes, etc as a calling that requires skill, training, and diligence. We need normal, grounded, men in the movie business who have wives, children, go to worship each Sunday, and have done something besides make short films with their phone.
Thirteenth, there is nothing wrong with Christians making movies for fun and entertainment. It is odd that many Christian movie makers and those who love the secular, small budget, indie movies both believe movies must be profound to be worth making. They disdain movies that are just for entertainment. But there is nothing wrong with Guardians of the Galaxy or Jason Bourne. They are McDonalds, instead of the local steak house. They are the Saturday morning t-shirt instead of a three piece suit. They usually won’t change your life. But they are fun, exciting, and well-made. There is nothing wrong with Christians making these types of movies.
There is more that needs to be said, especially about how Christians interact with the Hollywood complex and all her wickedness. But in the end, God, His world, and the people who live in it are amazing. There are millions of stories out there, some true, some not so true, and some pure myth that can be told. There are tragedies, comedies, horror stories, and love stories. Christians can and should be telling all these types of stories. The glowing screen presents many dangers for God’s people, but like any tool it also presents an opportunity to tell the world Who we worship and what the world He made is like.<>