Guild-goers got the rare inside baseball on making Christian films from some of the industry’s leading experts. Here’s just a small taste of the nuggets of truth shared in this afternoon’s filmmakers panel.
- Moderator Stephen Kendrick
- David Evans – Eye Doctor turned filmmaker, Director of Grace Card and Indivisible
- Judd Brannon – Director of Champion
- Stephen Preston – CEO Red Sky Studios, has been sound mixer/designer on 29 films
- Bill Reeves – Founder and President of WTA Group
- Ben Howard – Executive Vice President, Provident Films
Q: What do you wish someone would have told you before heading into battle?
Ben: I have two messages for you.
1) Don’t be intimidated by the folks here. They don’t know what they’re doing anymore than you do.
2) Surround yourself with people who know more than you.
Bill: In following your passion, and living your gifting, learn by getting in the trenches. Learn by doing. What you need is the hand of the Lord on what you’re doing.
Stephen: Know why you’re doing what you’re doing. If you’re not doing it for the right reason, it’s just a job. But if you know why, they’re you’re fulfilling your calling.
Judd: Be confident in your vision. Surround yourself with others who share your vision. Bathe everything in prayer, because there will always be opportunities for spiritual warfare and need to be prayed up.
David: Be prepared for people to say ‘No.’ God has a person who will come alongside you. Commit your plans to Him. He’ll bring it together for you.
Bill: We think it’s the audience who we’re serving, but think of it as a pie. Certain slices are geared for the church, but there are other audiences that want to be served, too, who want romance, action, or adventure. We need to serve those audiences, too.
Ben: There is a business component to making your movie. Yes, you want to make good art, but you’re not pitching me a movie, you’re pitching me a business. Who’s the audience? Why do they care? How will we tell them about it? What’s your plan for marketing it.
Q: How do you balance making films with family?
Stephen: Our wives can be more understanding of our absences, but it’s much harder on the kids. We don’t want them to come to resent what we do. Sometimes all we have is Facetime to interact with our kids while on set. So one time, I went a got the game Battleship and played it with my daughter over Facetime. Do everything you can to spend time with them, even while you’re away.
David: My wife is the administrator in my eye medical practice. We do that together. So when making films, try to make it so it feels like we’re doing that together, too. Find ways to integrate your family into your work.
Q: What should filmmakers do and what would you do differently on your next film?
Stephen: Can’t just have one copy of your film on a hard drive. Need back-up, redundancy. The biggest thing is to manage risk and without that, it’s pointless.
In shooting digital, you have to have an IT strategy. Hard drives fail all the time.
David: If you can get actors excited about a project, it spreads. Get actors willing to spread the vision, raise it up to the highest level possible.
Judd: The more time you can spend in pre-production is saves you on the set. Allows you to have more time to be creative on the set. The other thing I would do differently on a personal level is to be more intentional about sharing my faith on the set. A lot of my crew are not believers. I would like to be more intentional about sharing my faith with them.
Q: What makes you say ‘No’ to a film?
Ben: In a practical sense, we look at content. But we do have some rules (while trying not to get too legalistic). Some things differentiate us. 1) Profanity (deal breaker) 2) Sexually inappropriate material 3) Bad theology.
What we do look at is your business plan. Did we enjoy your film? Is it entertaining? Is it just preaching at me or is it also entertaining?
Kendrick – If there’s poop in the punchbowl at the end, who passed it up along the way. The Writer, director, editor, actors all approved it. All of those people should have flagged it to get that out. Something is wrong if it gets that far. In Daniel 1, Daniel, with God’s favor, appealed to the authorities over him and to change it. So use your influence to appeal to authorities over you like Daniel to get material out.
Bill: Use your influence; hold your ground on questionable content.
Q: What’s your favorite God story or moment?
Ben: Kendricks brought Facing the Giants to us, they had made it for $100,000. We put $500,000 into it to get it ready to market. When it got rated PG because of ‘explicit Christian content,’ that gave us a ton of buzz. It made $1 million on opening weekend and grossed $10 million total. God did that. We could have never done that.
Bill: 1) Opening weekend of God’s Not Dead. 2) When our documentary on Is Genesis History? beat Beauty and the Beast. 3) When a married couple who was divorced for 29 years got back together because of Fireproof. 4) When Love Dare, companion book to Fireproof, sold 100,000 copies in the first week. Made New York Times bestseller list and other countries started calling and asking for it to be printed in their language. But the top God moment was when the Chinese government called. We told them it had God and Bible verse in it, and they said, ‘We don’t care, if it made the New York Times bestseller list, we want it.’
So many people won’t go to church with you, but they’ll go to a movie with you. They’ll read a book you give them.
Kendrick: If we can get to the point where instead of ‘I want to impress the world,’ to ‘Lord, how can I impress the world with what YOU can do?’ That’s the goal.
David: 1) On the Grace Card, my wife and I had dumped everything we had into that film. It was very risky. We took it to Provident and an hour outside Nashville, before we even got home, they told us to take the movie off the shelf, they love the film, we’ll take it.
2) On Indivisible, we were looking for just the right location to film the moments in the movie — many heartbreaking moments, it needed to be right. There was this one house. We could sense God’s presence there. But the husband had just gotten back from Afghanistan and they had three small children. We felt like we couldn’t ask them to leave their house for two weeks to film there. So we looked at others. But we kept coming back to that one house. We found out, that since we came, the family had been praying everyday that God would use their home for this film.
3) I was standing next to Judd in dinner line last night and he shared with me that Grace Card had inspired him to make a Christian movie.
Q: We’ve on been on projects where we’ve gotten burned, but you’re obviously not bitter guys. You worked through it. Speak to relationships a minute. The importance of maintaining them.
Ben: When we have problems with other people, it’s usually you that have the problem. We’re all flawed. Ask yourself, what’s my part to own, to take responsibility? Begin fostering good relationships.
Bill: Relationships are the key to everything we do. Feel called to the gatekeepers in our industry. We care very much about the person who buys the ticket, but if we haven’t been Christ-like to the people we’ve worked with along the way, then the ticket sale was worthless.
This is what matters. Relationships with the people on this stage. I wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize that. Relationships get you through it.
Stephen: When you work on a film, you become family. As Stephen (Kendrick) says, ‘Stay in your lane. Do it to the best of your ability.’ But you have to play well with others.
Romans 12:18 says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
Judd: One of my crew member’s biggest takeaways from the film was how we, Christians, on the set, are quick to forgive each other.
David: We have moments of heartache and faced with major challenges. When faced with those challenges, face it head on. Deal with it as early as you can. It’s hard to go back and change the tone on your set later.
Kendrick: Apologize quickly; forgive quickly. Don’t blame everyone else. Take ownership. Take the bullet. Otherwise, we’ll become bitter. Deal with it quickly. Burying it never turns out well.
People around you are constantly under appreciated. Thank people a lot. Do it constantly.
Q: Ben and Bill, share the vision a minute. Where do you see Christian filmmaking going from here?
Ben: Christian film industry is young. Still a belief out there in the wide world that filmmaking isn’t that great. I challenge you, in the stories you tell, continue to pursue Christ. But don’t learn Christian filmmaking, learn filmmaking. Become a great filmmaker.
Bill: In the book Finding Common Ground, it says we’ve been a generation trying to harvest souls. But the premise of the book is, what if Christ isn’t coming back for 10,000 years? So what else are we supposed to do? Here’s the vision. We as Christians are no longer the principle voices in the culture. While some say run away from Hollywood, I’d say run full bore into it. It needs you. We lost our voice because we didn’t embrace how to share the truth with the world through this gift of filmmaking.