A Letter to Hollywood (How to make a Biblical movie for Christians)

Dear Hollywood,

May I just begin by saying I am a fan! Yes, I am a Christian, and a Pastor but I am also a fan of what you do.  I love movies, I love story, I love the passion and hard work that you put into your films.  I also know that when I say “Hollywood” I am really talking about thousands of people throughout the world.  I know many parts make you up and that you are not all in one accord or even have the same mission but It is hard for me to convey all that and everything you are in a word, so I am going to use the overly simplistic name “Hollywood” because I would like to share this opinion with all your many parts.  I am a Christian that hopes for the best when I hear you are doing a movie based on a Bible story or a Christian hero.  I strive to always give you a chance and try very hard to show you grace.  This is the kind of Christian/Fan I am.  With that said, I would like to share with you some things that I think could help you reach us better.  I know you are trying, I want to help! I thank you for trying.  I know many people have given you there opinion in the form of angry rants saying ambiguous things like “Just make a movie about the story in the Bible!” or “Stop ruining our Bible/Hero!” Just like every other job it is hard to improve if people aren’t clear on how to improve.  I also know it is hard because as story tellers you are compelled to tell a unique story like no one has ever done before.  Here are some tips that I feel might help you reach our demographic (as large and diverse as it is) and still allow you freedom to tell a unique story:

  1. USE CHRISTIAN DIRECTORS

I know, when I say this you hear discrimination.  It gives you pause but let me explain before you stop reading.  You see, it is hard to work on a project or a story you do not believe in. In a recent interview, Sam Raimi was asked about Spider-man 3, a film that he even admits didn’t work.  As the reason why it didn’t work he stated “I really didn’t believe in all the characters.” I understand what he is talking about, it is hard to invest so much hard work into a property you don’t believe in.  When this happens a director is tempted to change the characters to be something he or she is more comfortable with.  When a director does this then you lose the people passionate about that character.  The same goes for Biblical Characters.

I am not advocating that you hire directors that have worked on low quality, independent Christian films.  I am not saying you should hire a director that constantly says “here I am, I am a Christian.” I am not even saying you need to make a judgment call on who is a “good Christian” just find someone who believes in the characters!  They are out there.  This is why I hope that Scott Derrickson’s project Goliath moves forward.  Derrickson is a perfect example of who I am talking about.  I can tell you from his previous movies that we have a different view when it comes to theology, but he believes in the character and has a fantastic and visual style that I would like to see utilized in other genres other then his normal “horror.”

Recently, WB went looking to cast a female director to direct Wonder Woman they found Michelle MacLaren.  12 Years a Slave was directed by Steve McQueen, the Butler was directed by Lee Daniels.  It is not discrimination to give a project to a person who has a connection to the story that goes deeper than mere interest.

  1. DO NOT CHANGE THE MESSAGE OF THE STORY

I know, you are probably tempted to say “A movie is a story, not a sermon” I understand that, I really do but these Bible stories have messages ingrained in the story. They are similar to how fairytales have morals to the story.  You know, like when it is finished you could say “and the moral of the story was…” it’s like that.  Beauty and the Beast has a message of beauty that goes deeper then skin.  Bible stories have messages too.  It would upset fans of “Beauty and the Beast” if you made it into a movie about affordable health care.  Think of Christians as hardcore fans of the source material.  They would become upset if you turn the story of Noah, a story about living righteous in and unrighteous world and foreshadowing salvation into a story about environmentalism.  Even if you don’t quite get the “moral of the story” it would be best to leave it message-less instead of inserting one.

  1. ENTER A STORY FROM A NEW CHARACTER

I get it, you have tried to do straight forward retellings of stories and somehow it didn’t turn out.  You unintentionally offended people.  People became upset.  Anger was thrown around.  You had to put up with a lot that you are probably wondering “Why do I even try, I can’t seem to please anybody! I just can’t make a movie about the Bible that pleases people yet feels new!”  I understand if you feel this way.  Please don’t give up! I am writing this so that you don’t give up. Could I recommend this point? You are right, you have not had much success retelling the Bible stories, try this! Enter the story through the eyes of a new character.  A Character that is not in the Bible but whose life is swept up but what is going on in the story.  There are plenty of examples of this.  Ben-Hur is a perfect example, considered a Christian classic yet the main character is factious. You could tell the story of Joshua from the point of view of someone in his army who is concerned about his family at home and who is watching from a distance the events portrayed in the book of Joshua.  You could enter the story of Daniel from a Babylonian who is watching this Daniel and seeing his strange attitude.  The character could even become inspired by Daniel, after all, the King was.  You tried a little bit of this in Noah, and it would have been fine if you also followed the first two tips.

  1. USE CHRISTIAN FICTION AS A GUIDE

Speaking of “Christian Classics” the Christian fiction industry has somehow managed to write fictional stories about the events of the Bible that have pleased Christians.  Read them, find out how they did it.  You don’t need to do those exact stories but try to figure out how these stories where able to be told and please Christians yet still seem like new stories.  I would even go so far as to say, yes, spend the little bit of extra money and get the rights to those stories that have worked.  Paul L. Maier’s Pontius Pilate, any book by Cliff Graham, Lynn Austin is doing good work in this area and Ted Dekker, a New York Times Bestselling Author just wrote A.D. 30.  It might be worth your while looking into getting the film rights to those.  You don’t need to advertise to the mainstream public who wrote it, but you might want to create an separate advertising campaign for Christians where you do highlight the author and Christian appeal.

  1. DON’T GIVE UP!

I still have hope! I am praying for you! And not in a condescending way. Please don’t give up.  Try to crack the code.  I hope these tips help.  I want you to succeed in the Christian market, I know a lot of fellow Christians who also want you to succeed.  Even the ones who can sound angry, most of them want you to succeed, they are just not great at saying it.

Thank You for taking the time to read this, I continue to pray for you and hope for your success and prosperity.  Grace and Peace to you!

(If any of my friends or readers agree with these points, please comment your support.  Feel free to share this letter.  I am not expecting it to make a difference but this is my opinion and it would be cool if it reached someone who could.)

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