On Making Movies

Last week some friends of mine posted some links about Christian movies, such as God is Not Dead, Fireproof, etc. Their comments were good and I wanted to follow up with a few random comments of my own on movie making. These are in no particular order.

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 45. By the way, this also means we need older Christians involved in the movie making business.

Second, I am grateful for the men who are making these movies. I do not always agree with everything they do, but they are trying and paving the way for the next generation. Critics should be more humble. It is not easy to make a good movie, just take a peek at all the trash on Netflix that somehow still got made.

Third, but Christian movie makers need to be open to criticism. Many Christians insulate themselves from criticism. Just because you are doing it for Jesus doesn’t mean you get a pass. In fact, it should mean exactly the opposite.

Fourth, men who are rooted in good stories will make better movies. Part of the problem is that our educational system, public and Christian, has gotten rid of many great stories. If we want the next generation of movie makers to make better movies, we need to give them better stories. Here is where a classical education can be helpful. Shakespeare, Beowulf, Faulkner, Dickens, and of course, the Bible all fill our minds with great stories. If we absorb these stories we will make better movies. Here is also the reason Christians need to study great movie directors. They know how to tell a good story.

Fifth, having a good story on paper does not guarantee a good movie. We need Christians who understand what a visual medium is supposed to do. A movie is not a lecture or a novel or even a short story. It may be similar to those things, but it is also different in many ways. Christians need to examine how this particular medium can be used to get people to see the world as God made it. Again studying great movies can be a tremendous help here.

Sixth, movies are not preaching or evangelism. A Christian movie is not a substitute for Sunday morning worship, telling your neighbor about Jesus, or having an evangelist preach at the local college campus. A movie cannot do the work of a minister or an evangelist. I think this is the most helpful thing a Christian movie maker can understand. Your movie cannot do what the preaching of God’s Word does. So don’t shove it into that hole. Let movies do what they are supposed to: tell a story using words and pictures.

Seventh, Christians need to find ways to present sin on the screen in a way that does not cause a sailor to blush but is real. This is a difficult balance, but not impossible. Surprisingly, horror movies can give some guidance here. Often what is implied, but not shown, is most effective. The great directors, such as Alfred Hitchcock, were masters of the unseen. Even something as ugly as rape is fit for a Christian movie. But it must be done well, which means it can be neither pornographic, exploitative, nor simplistic. Here, in my opinion, is one of the greatest deficiencies in Christian movie making: sin is one dimensional. Christian movie directors need to watch great secular movies (and TV shows) to get a handle on how to present sin rightly. The Devil with horns or the wicked man who is always converted is not true to Scripture.

Eighth, but Christians should not be afraid of putting a hero on the screen either. In many ways, having a true hero, who is good, but also has faults is more difficult than putting a wicked man on screen. Often the good guy in a story comes across as fake. Antiheroes are all the rage these days. But we have a real hero in Jesus Christ. Somehow that idea needs to be translated to the screen without us having to actually make a movie about Jesus.

Ninth, 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.

Tenth, 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. So 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 branched out into what I would call “mainstream” movie making.

Eleventh, we need people who see movie making as a vocation, not a fad. ┬áMovies are all the rage today. 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 the movie making business for God when the reality is he is getting into it for his ego. Movie making is just like being an architect, auto mechanic, or business manager. It is a job that needs to be done well and to the glory of God. We don’t need more Christians who want to be hip and reach out to the hip people of the world through movies.

Twelfth, Christian movie makers need to tell Christian stories. The content and structure of a Christian movie should reflect God and the world he has made. However, this does not require every movie to be a visual depiction of evangelism or to wear God on its sleeve. Horror, action, animation, drama, sci-fi, rom-com, comedy, period epics, can all be permeated with a Biblical worldview/perspective without being overt. There is nothing wrong with being overt, by the way. But usually the most effective movies are the ones that are not overt. We don’t go usually go to the movies to be preached at.

Thirteenth, there is nothing wrong with Christians making movies just 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 won’t change your life. But they are fun, exciting, and well-made. There is nothing wrong with Christians making these types of movies.