This morning, filmmakers attended a feast – a feast of wisdom and biblical foundations for Christian filmmaking from Bill Reeves, Founder and President of the WTA Group. Reeves shared How to Live Out Your Faith in the Movie Business — Practical Tips for Avoiding the Temptations of Hollywood.
Reeves readily admits he’s no craftsman and wouldn’t know how to use a camera or do much to create a Christian film. But what WTA does is equip filmmakers with the essential tools for getting their films to market. He likened WTA services to four legs of a chair for a filmmaker to sit in: Marketing, Distribution, Licensing, and Financing. They seek to marry the art – creative content for others to consume, with commerce – the activity of buying and selling.
Reeves offered 8 nuggets to prepare filmmakers to love out their faith:
- It’s messy
- No perfect people allowed
- Movie (Art) Content
- Equally & unequally yoked
- Ministry to who?
- Serpents & Doves
- Body of Christ
- Giving it your all
- It’s Messy
“You will be spiritually attacked. It’s not a matter of if, you will be attacked,” Reeves insisted.
During the filming of Fireproof, there were marriages struggling within the team. During the filming of Courageous, they lost someone in a car accident (which also happens in the film). You’re going to get discouraged and wonder why won’t someone give you money, or why can’t you find a director who shares your vision? It will beat you down if you let it.
Expect trials, be prepared, but do not be discouraged as John 16:33b says, “In this world, you will have trials. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
“If you’re doing what God wants you to do, the Lord is still in the business of parting the Red Sea,” he argued. “The Lord can show up!”
A particularly thorny question he often gets asked is how do unbelievers fit into your business?
Some might argue they want everyone to be Christians, others say they want to minister to unbelievers.
“Here’s what it boils down to. What does God want you to do in your particular situation?” asked Reeves.
Unbelievers see what we do and the Lord can get a hold of them through our witness. Working with unbelievers gives Christians opportunities to share one’s faith. Reeves suggested you utilize the best in class at what they do. Just like you wouldn’t necessarily start a Christian shipping business to send a package, you can utilize unbelievers in your craft to do a specific job. Reeves warned about being in a more permanent partnership with or bound to unbelievers in decision-making later.
Another commonly asked question is what kind of content will be allowed in your films?
So Reeves asked, “Do you want to be ‘authentic’ or effective? Stop worrying about being ‘authentic’ and be effective. Do you want to be effective in your storytelling and get to your audience or do you want to be ‘authentic’?”
He urged filmmakers to know your audience.
“Your audience doesn’t want a movie filled with profanity. Do you want to be ‘authentic’ (fill your movie with profanity)? Stop going towards Hollywood and what they say is the right way to make a movie, and take a stand on some issues and be a better filmmaker. That’s my challenge to you.”
What happens when you don’t know what to do next?
Just ask. Don’t stay in the spot of acting like you know all the answers. Filmmaking is messy. Find people that are better than you, and ask for help. He also warned that lawyers and unions are often a necessary part of making films. It’s a headache you’re going to have to deal with.
“I don’t tell you this to discourage you, but to prepare you,” Reeves emphasized.
- No perfect people allowed
He asked some sobering questions to communicate his point here, “How are you going to handle success when it comes? How are you going to handle getting to speak to a group of people? What are you going to do when you make millions of dollars?”
“If pride is a serious temptation for you, get some people around you to hold you accountable very, very fast before you take one more step forward in this business. Because it will suck you in so fast.”
Reeves urged each of us to be honest in our evaluation of ourselves. Romans 12:3 says, “…Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has given each of you.”
“Don’t take on more than you can bite off. Don’t think more highly of yourself than you should, but be confident in what you do know,” Reeves exhorted.
- Movie content
WTA sees products as safe if they have the presence of good and the absence of bad, rather than a strict list of dos and dont’s.
Reeves asked, “What sin can be recreated in a movie?”
He explained their take on it. “Sin doesn’t stop being sin when the camera’s rolling…If an actor can pretend the sin, we’re okay with it. If you need to die in the script, I don’t actually have to murder you to get that on film. I can pretend to kill you, correct?…The line for us is when you actually have to commit the sin to capture the sin on camera.”
- Being equally & unequally yoked
What is the rule at WTA in being yoked with believers or yoked with unbelievers? He turned to 1 Corinthians 6:14-15 for guidance here.
“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” says I Cor. 6:14.
Many Christian publishers and companies have allowed themselves to be sold to secular, mainstream companies in order to gain access to bigger distribution and financial resources.
Reeves noted, “There are plenty of opportunities for our company to be rolled up into a bigger mainstream company, but I’ve been resistant because I’m concerned that we will lose our soul.”
“I want to trust the Lord for the resources of this company, not some big film studio in LA. I want to trust the Lord,” Reeves asserted with conviction.
WTA works with mainstream, secular companies all the time. But they do not want to surrender decision making to those companies.
“We need to guard against permanent relationships with unbelievers. Guard against allowing unbelievers to be key decision-makers. People making core decisions must share your spiritual core values.”
- Ministry to whom?
Reeves urge filmmakers not to just see the ticket buyers or the consumer as who they serve and minister to, but also their fellow crew members, and all the people touched along the way. Be respectful. Be grateful.
“There’s incredible joy in the journey of making a film, because of all the touch points along the way to minister,” he reiterated.
6: Serpents & Doves
When Jesus unleashed His disciples for the first time on their own, He warned them to be as shrewd as snakes, and as harmless as lambs. They were sheep among wolves. So are Christian filmmakers in the Hollywood culture and anytime faith and commerce intersect.
- Body of Christ
I Corinthians 12: 18-22 inspired this concept for Reeves. He related the absolutely incredible hand of God that brought his team together. The Lord brought him a top notch financial advisor adept at forecasting and making payroll. He brought an excellent marketer. People who excelled in areas where Reeves was weak. He acknowledged that we need one another, and we need to surround ourselves with quality talent in diverse areas to balance out one another’s strengths and weaknesses.
It’s also our job to encourage others. If you’re not naturally good at encouraging, work on it, Reeves advises.
“Creatives need a pat on the head. Get adept at encouraging those the Lord has surrounded you with.”
- Giving it your all
Let this motivate you.
“Remind yourself there is someone working harder than you to promote their anti-biblical principles,” Reeves implored.
He also shared a quote from Sean Astin to the Erwin brothers, “You guys are pioneers. Trouble is most pioneers died on the journey.”
Filmmaking takes everything you’ve got. Cast all your cares upon Him (I Pet. 5:7).
While these are not THE key to successful filmmaking, they are good guidelines.
- No foul language
- All Christian lead actors
- Keeping budgets low
Reeves did say this is THE key to successful filmmaking:
1) Seek God’s will.
2) Do your absolute best to execute it.
“If God has defined for you what success is and He’s directing you, you’re already successful,” Reeves argued.
Take heart from Joshua 1:1-9 and be strong and courageous. He will not abandon you.