the heart of God in hollywood
There are three things I believe that God desires for Hollywood and the entertainment industry. First, he wants the people of Hollywood to know him. Is there any question that God desires all of mankind to be redeemed? And that would include Hollywood and the entertainment industry. That will only happen if the Body of Christ changes its current view of Hollywood and the entertainment industry. We must stop condemning them and see Hollywood as a mission field. They are no different than us. The people of Hollywood need a savior. Most of the people who work in Hollywood are hardworking people who have families and they don't live lifestyles of the rich and famous. Let’s stop blaming them for all of societies ills.
The Body of Christ must commit to prayer. We need to pray for the people of Hollywood to come to know Christ as Lord and Savior. It’s safe to say that the vast majority of the Body of Christ has not committed to praying for Hollywood. And some may believe it is a complete waist of time. And if we are going to reach Hollywood, we must take the next bold step of sending media missionaries. How will they know Him if someone does not tell them about Christ.
Depending on which study you read or who you talk to, only 4 percent of Hollywood and the entertainment industry attend church. Hollywood is a vast mission field. It’s obvious that we need media missionaries to create art that reflects Biblical values. But it is just as important that we need media missionaries working in Hollywood so that they can be a witness and testimony to their fellow peers. Who is going to reach them unless we send people into the mission field of Hollywood and the entertainment industry?
The second key point for God’s heart in Hollywood is that he desires art that reflects his truth. God will do whatever it takes to tell his message. And that includes using nonbelievers. The facts speak for themselves. Over the years, some of the best Christian movies with Biblical truth have been made by nonbelievers. It is quite a list from Truman, the Matrix, Juno, American Beauty and Magnolia. There have been countless testimonies of people’s lives being impacted by mainstream movies created by nonbelievers. God will use and inspire anyone to reflect his truth and glory. If Christians aren’t willing to go to Hollywood, this will not stop God from completing his mission. He is at work in Hollywood, whether we realize it or not. But he is inviting us to join him in his work.
And finally, God wants to impact the audience. The reason that God has inspired artists to create art that reflects his truth is to impact the viewers. All of these efforts would mean nothing unless the art that filmmakers and media makers create can challenge the audience to consider what truth is. It must be thought-provoking and lead viewers to explore the decisions and lifestyles they are currently living. Art should draw the audience closer to God and not further away. It should encourage us to start a dialogue and ask questions about the meaning and origin of what we have encountered at the movies or in the media.
Now that we have a better understand of the heart of God for hollywood, than what kind of movies should we be making that will offer the type of impact that represents the heart of God at work?
Redemptive or Transformational Stories
Redemptive stories require a significant character arc to complete the journey and must have a catalyst to initiate the process or journey. It can be a personal awareness within or an outside force. The outside force can be spiritual in nature, such as God, or it can be a force that can be identified as destiny or a grand plan of design. A subcategory of redemptive stories is transformational stories, which are similar, but often the catalyst for change is either an event, a crisis, or a person. Recent examples are Last Chance Harvey, Michael Clayton, Grande Tornio, Signs, Walk the Line, and Bruce Almighty.
Cautionary tales have been around as long as Hollywood has been producing films. These stories sound a warning and show us the results of our current pathway or lifestyle if we continue on our current path. One of the most famous examples is A Christmas Carol where Scrooge is given an opportunity to see the truth about his life and where his choices are taking him. Cautionary Tales are also about political decisions, social issues and our impact on the environment or nature. They challenge and provoked the viewer to consider other choices in light of what he/she has seen and the likely outcome of our current decisions. These are object lessons in the realities and the bad decisions that we make in life. Current examples include Juno, The Truman Show, Family Man, The Wrestler, and Seven Pounds.
Many Biblical values are never expressed in today’s media but provide some of the best stories. Patience, dignity to all, tradition, smallness, poverty of spirit, fruitfulness, ordinariness, conservation, cherishability, respect for nature, simplicity and contemplation are all Biblical values that need to be explored. In fact, for each Biblical or Gospel value, you can find a counterpart that is often expressed in media. They include immediacy, youth, newness, bigness, wealth, success, glamour, consumerism, disposability, ability to conquer nature, complexity, and constant activity. By embracing Biblical values, we are expressing the heart of God in Hollywood. People need to see the comparison in order to see the truth. Making a movie that celebrates ordinariness as opposed to glamour would be an honest and refreshing change for today’s current media. Some good examples would be Green Mile, To End All Wars, Lars and the Real Girl, Places in the Heart and Up.
Social Conscious Media
There is no question that God has a heart for people. When Jesus was asked which were the greatest commandments he responded by saying to first love God with all your heart, mind and soul and then to love your neighbor as yourself. He didn’t say “thou shalt not” because love is the fulfillment of the law. Media that expresses this concept is embracing the heart of God.
We are called to take care of people’s needs. Matthew 25:34-40 says, “Then the king will say to those on the right, come, you who are blessed by my father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you fed me; I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you invited me into your home. I was naked and you gave me clothing. I was sick and you cared for me; I was in prison and you visited me. Then those righteous ones will reply, Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and showed you hospitality? Or naked and gave you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you? And the king will tell them, I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” The New Living Bible. Films that express social injustice, prejudice, intolerance, hunger, or poverty are examples of how God can work to fulfill his desire for us to embrace Matthew 25:34-40.
Are we doing everything to make this world a better place? Are we expressing God’s love and mercy through our actions. These are many of the themes that today’s filmmakers can explore through socially conscious media.
Universal themes speak to a broad audience on issues we can all relate to. They include hope, family, sacrifice, love, forgiveness, courage, determination, overcoming obstacles, the underdog, etc. These are central themes we can all find some level of agreement and common ground. They are perfect subject material for filmmakers and media makers to express God’s heart in these matters. They are essentially the building blocks of the Bible. Recent films include Slumdog Millionaire, Pursuit of Happiness, Freedom Writers, Great Debaters, and Sweetland.
Relevant and Timeless Themes
Movies and media that are both relevant and timeless speak to contemporary audiences about current affairs and issues and are also capable of being relevant to future audiences. The Best Years of our Lives from 1946 is a classic example of a story that was relevant after World War II and very capable of speaking to current generations. It is a story about returning World War II veterans attempting to readjust to civilian life. The issues expressed in this film are just as relevant today because many soldiers are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan facing similar difficulties. This is great filmmaking when you can be relevant to your age and speak to future audiences.
An example of a film that I believe is currently relevant and will also be timeless is Up in the Air. The film’s main theme strikes a nerve with today’s audiences because it highlights our current economic climate. With high unemployment being an issue on people’s minds, audiences can relate to this film because they can see themselves adrift wondering who they could count on or lean on in uncertain times. Up in the Air examines our lives in an impersonal culture that is becoming increasingly isolated from human contact. In some sense, we all feel like we are living up in the air as the characters in this film who are physically, emotionally, and professionally adrift.
The human condition can be very fragile. Life is always unpredictable. How do we handle these types of issues in uncertain times? Where is God in all of this? There are no better themes more relevant than the human condition. This is where people live. It’s how they feel. As media missionaries, these are timeless ideas worth exploring.
Here are 10 guidelines that mainstream filmmakers understand about making redemptive films.
1. Your movie must have entertainment value. People watch films to be entertained. Some Christians have made entertainment a dirty word. When people watch films and television, they are relaxed and more receptive to the message contained within the story. Often, they will reexamine their lives or be challenged to be a better person.
2. Filmmaking is an art form. The art must come first. For most Christians, the message is first. Audiences will not accept this and will see it as a form of propaganda. We must recognize that the divine can be found in art. We understood this for centuries. But, somewhere along the way, we have forgotten this. Film is not a good forum for a 5-point sermon. If we make great art, it has the capacity to move the human heart.
3. Films need to have an emotional impact. Emotions move people; therefore, our characters need to be believable as well as our dialogue. Nobody will accept the redemptive process if you are not successful in taking them through the emotional journey involved in the process of change.
4. Films work better with metaphors and symbolism because you keep the audience engaged in the story. This is a concept that most Christian filmmakers have failed to understand. Metaphors and symbolism help to forge connections between dissimilar objects and themes. We need to realize our audience has the intelligence to figure it out on their own. Stop telegraphing every story element or plot point. Remember, Jesus said in his parables the Kingdom of God is like….
5. Films are a great forum to ask questions. Christians love to ask questions, but unfortunately, we also love to give all the answers. We really don’t want our audience to have to think for themselves. This doesn’t work for film. Jesus used parables as his principle storytelling technique. He often asked questions, but he seldom gave they answers. It was his audience’s responsibility to find the answers.
6. Redemptive films need to illustrate the wonders of God. As Christians we don’t do this very well in film. When it come to miracles, angels, the unexplained, healings or the story of the loaves and fish, our stories seem to be flat, one-dimensional and lacking depth. Perhaps we’re too close to the subject material. NonChristians for some reason seem to be much better at this. For example, Jesus of Nazareth, produced in 1977 for television, is exceptional at exploring the wonders of God. It is a difficult concept to explain, but they do it with simplicity, humanity and the divine in such a way that it moves you.
The wonders of God can also be found in the small things of everyday life which are truly the miracles. We can find the divine patterns of life that exist in the smile of a child and the dawning of a new day. Christian filmmakers often don’t know how to depict the glorious, marvelous and small wonders of God’s grace and love which occur daily in our lives.
7. Redemptive filmmaking requires the ability to question God. We Christians have a tough time doing this. We don’t want to admit we have doubts and are sometimes confused. Perhaps, we think it is a sin to question God. But that’s not Biblical. Jacob’s name meant deceiver, but his name was changed to Israel meaning one who struggles with God. This happened after the all-night wrestling match at Peniel. We have to ask questions. Where is God when we are hurting? Why do bad things happen? As filmmakers, we have to be willing to ask these questions. If our goal is to be authentic, real and genuine, our audience is asking the same questions. Let’s face it. Christian filmmakers paint a world the way they want to see it. Mainstream filmmakers paint life’s complexities and the world as it is.
9. Filmmaking is a visual medium. The key to making great films is to think visual. How do we visually illustrate the personification of art? How do we express emotions—anger, frustration, indifference, internal struggles? Redemptive stories require expressing the intangible in a tangible, visual form.
10. Redemptive stories do not necessarily offer a convenient and tidy ending. Just as in life, there may not be a fairy tale ending as in “they lived happily ever after”. For example, in Bella, it would have been temping to end the movie with a happy and satisfying conclusion. However, both lead characters had their moments of redemption, which were more reflective of real life. Redemption is a complex process and is different for each of us.
You can be a media missionary wherever God decides to plant you. The most important thing to discover is what God is saying to you. Christian filmmakers don’t necessarily have to go to Hollywood to make redemptive films. When we, as filmmakers, forget about our agenda or what we think a Christian movie should look like, then I am convinced God will be able to speak to us. How God is at work in people’s lives is the best inspiration for making movies and media that can reflect his glory and truth. We do not need to create Christian cinema or a Christian film industry. It serves no purpose. God is already at work in the film and media industry. As always, he requires our obedience to serve his will and his interests.