Recent Short Films and New Projects

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If you click on the header above you will end up on the main page, where you can see 3 different video sections, Short Films/TV, Church Media, and DIY. Each contain several videos for your viewing pleasure; including links to some episodes of the award winning series Peculiar.

Here’s the latest short film from SLM:

And another of my favorites from a while back:

Mean while I’m working on some more short projects.

The major projects I’ve got cooking include a feature length movie about small church politics called Flawed, and a screenplay that’s a biblical epic based on portions of the book of Acts with the working title One Centurion. And there’s a campy comedy about church camp. And lately I’ve been drawn back to the documentary idea Gay Church. Follow the links to find out more.

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4 Reasons You Should Make a “Discipleship” Movie

fcpxOnce in a while religious filmmakers can find themselves drawn into a discussion about Evangelical films versus what I call “Discipleship” films, which are films targeted at people who already have a relationship with Jesus. I have already written about this, and I fall firmly into the “do what God has called you to do” camp. If you feel strongly that films should be evangelical, go produce them.

But, if you are wondering about making a Discipleship film, let me give you 4 reasons to produce that film:

1. Your Primary Audience is Christians. Let’s be honest, unless you have Christian Bale as Moses and a biblical-epic-scale budget and effects, most of the people who see your film are going to already be Christians. “God’s Not Dead” did OK at the box office, but as an evangelical film I think it struck home with people questioning their existing faith more than any atheist who got suckered into watching it by their religious friends. The majority of people attending a religious movie screening will already be believers. Why not focus on growing those folks?

2. People in the church desperately need discipleship. While there are exceptions, generally half of the people who go to a given church are not involved in a small group Bible study. They get all of their teaching from the weekend service. Any pastor will tell you that’s not enough. Far too many people in the pew have much too little knowledge of what the Bible actually teaches, and what it truly means to live their lives according to those teachings.

Teaching truth through story was one of Jesus’ favorite methods. Do you think it is easier for someone to tell you the 3rd point of last week’s sermon or the plot of the last movie they saw? We can attract a Christian audience and teach them something that they can hang onto in the process.

3. The two kinds don’t have to be exclusive. A Discipleship film can have an evangelical element, just as a movie with a strong evangelical message can teach biblical truth to the viewer. Take for instance a movie set in biblical times. A movie on the life of Christ is obviously both a discipleship tool and a depiction of the Gospel message.

4. Movies may not be the best evangelism tool. OK, now I’ve made someone mad. I’m not saying the Holy Spirit can’t use a movie to lead someone into relationship with Christ. He has, he can, he will. What I am saying is that the percentage of faithful that asked Jesus into their hearts because of a movie versus because of a friend talking to them is pretty skewed. Personal evangelism is going to win out every time over mass evangelistic efforts. (I’m talking about Western Culture here.) One reason is that on screen conversions scenes feel really fake. And weird. It’s super hard to capture a scene like this in a way that feels natural. Just because something is hard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it, but a Discipleship picture will probably reach its goal much more effectively than an Evangelical one.

If you are set on using film primarily as an evangelical tool, do it. At some point I will probably write an Evangelical script. Right now most of my work seems to fall into the Discipleship camp. I’m passionate about helping believers develop a biblical worldview. If you are trying to decide what kind of film to make, give the Discipleship movie a shot.

2 Ways Afronofsky’s Noah is Like Other Christian Movies

Screen Shot 2014-08-01 at 6.39.04 PMI confess, I finally saw Noah.

I got it from Netflix. I know, I told everyone to embrace this movie and go see it in the theater. But then the reviews (not the speculations, but actual reviews from people who had seen the theatric release) came out. It was bad. Really bad. I mean… rock people? Wonder why those didn’t make the trailer. Oh right, because they were a horrible plot device. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Because of the hype and controversy, the movie still grossed $43.7 million on opening weekend in the US. $95 million worldwide. It was well on its way to making back the $125 million it cost. It wouldn’t be a flop. So, I decided not to spend my money on a bad film. I don’t mean bad as in unbiblical. I mean bad story.

But, now I have seen it and I can say that it is likely the most unbiblical Bible movie ever made. There is just so much that is way out in left field. That topic has been thoroughly covered by others.

But there are two ways Noah is just like other Christian movies.

Screen Shot 2014-08-01 at 6.29.22 PM1. Heavy handed message. We get it, you think people who eat meat and destroy the environment are bad. Stop hitting us over the head with it.

No one wants to have any message shoved at them. Tell the story. Trust your audience to see the themes. You don’t have to be so obvious to get your message across. Your audience is media literate. They will get it.

Screen Shot 2014-08-01 at 6.27.37 PM2. Convenient plot devices. Oh, you don’t want to deal with Noah taking hundred’s of years to build the ark? OK, just create a fictitious race of rock people and have them feature prominently in the film.

It’s just unbelievable. There’s no reason to add them to the story. Noah needs help to build the ark? Rock people. Noah needs help to defend the ark? Rock people. We need a reason for the division of humanity and an origin for the bad guys? Rock people. They are such a large part of the film story that we have to wonder how the biblical story ever got told without them. Frankly, it’s lazy. It’s unnecessary and it clouds the bigger story… which apparently in this version is that men are evil and eat meat and destroy the world, so they must be cleansed from the earth.

Blake Snyder in Save the Cat talks about this particular plot mistake. He calls it Double Mumbo Jumbo. He says that “audiences will accept one piece of magic per movie. It’s The Law. You cannot see aliens from outer space land in a UFO and then be bitten by a Vampire” or in our case you can’t have the “Creator” supernaturally destroy the earth and save one family in an ark AND have a race of fallen angels walking around in rock bodies. There are lots of common story mistakes, and many religious films have them. So does Noah.

The moral? A huge budget can’t fix basic issues in your film. No amount of ILM created CGI can cover them. An all star cast can’t save you from them. Even this blockbuster suffers from the same things that many religious projects do (my own included). Don’t worry that your budget isn’t million of dollars, or your actors aren’t A List. Just tell a good story. If you do that you’ll be miles ahead of a most movies.

Can Christian Media have Characters Who Swear?

noIn one of the scripts for the show I originally had a character use the word “hell.” That isn’t so strange for Christian film, since we talk about the very real place called hell sometimes. But in this instance, the word “hell” was preceeded by two other words: “What the…” I later changed that line.

Why would I write it? The use of that word in that scene accomplished two things:

It showed the emotional state of the character. He was angry. He was not in control of himself, and even though he normally would not use this phrase, it came out. He was not emotionally mature enough to handle the situation without resorting to use of this word. This guy was hacked off.

It showed the spiritual maturity of the character. He’s a kid. Grew up in the church, but didn’t have the maturity to respond in a more Christ-like manner. This line gave clues to later events in the script.

So, it had a purpose. It wasn’t just for shock value, but it illuminated the character.

A friend who is in the show called me on it. At first I was resistant to changing the line. But I relented. It wasn’t necessary to make the point.

But it brings up a good question: Can Christian media have characters who swear? Is there ever a time when using crass language would be acceptable. I’m not talking about taking the Lord’s name in vain. And I’m not talking about showing profanity in a positive light. There are plenty of passages talking about proper speech, and avoiding obscenity.

But in the course of story telling, is it sometimes more efficient and effective to place a curse word in the mouth of a character rather than try to show that same thing in another manner?

Frankly, I don’t know.

Evangelism or Discipleship: What is the Purpose of Christian Film?

vs megaWho are you making your movies for? What’s your target audience for the TV show?

I’ve sat in rooms while people debated this for hours. One side was adamant that we should not expend resources making films for Christians, but we should only make content for non Christians, we should only do films with Gospel-centric messages. Period. There was no room for discussion. The other side was less strict, and while they understood the appeal of evangelism films, they felt that discipleship was a major component of much Christian content, teaching Christians is a worthwhile expenditure of resources. That pretty much summed it up, but there was still a couple of hours of discussion anyway.

My perspective was simple. God gives each and every person a purpose in life. If he has called you to make video content, then tell the story he as called you to tell. Some stories will be for non Christians. Some will be for Christians. That’s OK. God gave you an unique vision. Maybe you have a passion to tell the Gospel story. Maybe you want religious people to live a pure life. Whatever it is, do that.

My show is for Christians, about living with a biblical worldview. The script I’m working on is about what it means to be a part of the body of Christ. Obviously not evangelical. Those are the projects I’m working on now. Maybe the next one will be more evangelical.

Bottom line, do the project God has given you a vision for. Do it and do it well. Let others debate the merits of evangelical vs disciple-making films. While they debate, you create.

Cultural Amnesia and Religious Freedom

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There are days I wake up and I just wonder, “Are you people crazy? Did you wake up and forget everything from the last thousand years or so? When did you develop cultural amnesia?”

I hear about news stories questioning evangelical adoption and threatening court martials for “Proselytizing” in the military, and I wonder if these people just stepped out of a cultural bubble. These are just a couple of recent examples, but this is a trend in America.

America has its problems, but we are still the greatest nation on earth. People literally risk their lives to come here. People kill themselves to stop our way of life. We are the land of opportunity, we are the land of the free.

This didn’t happen in a vacuum. Our culture developed over time and had lots of influences, and one of the big ones was the faith of our own people. I could list quote after quote of founding fathers, and point you toward different books that explore what the world would be like if Christianity wasn’t around, and tell you all the good things that came out of people believing in Jesus Christ. And I could disarm the critics by pointing out how many people were killed in the name of religion versus how many have been killed by people without religious belief. And we could go a couple of rounds debating the merits of faith in the public square.

But I don’t have to. Because good or bad, religion has been a major part of western civilization and a major part of the USA.

And look at how good we turned out.

Even if you hate organized religion, you have to admit that the basic tenet of freedom of religion hasn’t stopped America from becoming the greatest nation on earth. Even if you think that belief in God is the root of all idiocy, the USA still did OK.

So this new wave of vehement animosity about faith really bugs me. No one is making you believe in anything. No one is forcing your kids to believe in anything. So people talk about their faith? Get over it. You have the freedom to talk about whatever you believe, or don’t believe. Don’t want evangelicals to adopt kids? Go adopt all of them yourself.

What’s that? My religious morality is infringing on your new found moral code? You think the world would be even better if we would just keep our views to ourselves? Odd, I think it would better if irreligious people kept their views to themselves. You don’t like it when religious people campaign for laws that reflect their viewpoint? Tough. Welcome to a Democratic Republic. Don’t like the laws? Vote for people to change them. I’ll do the same.

This country was founded on freedom. It was founded on a lot of other things, too, but we can all agree that freedom is a huge part of our Constitution.

So, lets get back to that. Constitutional Freedom. And stop acting like we don’t have a past that includes freedom of religion. Stop using “tolerance” as a baseball bat to crush anything different from your view. Go live your life, and be free. And let religious people do the same.

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Peculiar Fundraising Update

cover supportWe have been in the middle of a crowdfunding campaign over at IndieGoGo for new episodes of my show, Peculiar.

We have 19 days left. We are 22% toward our goal. We passed the 2nd donation level… which means we released a 2nd Reveal Video. When we hit certain levels of donations, we reveal a little more about the new episodes. This one exposes a few of the themes for upcoming shows:

And in case you missed it, here is the first level Reveal Video:

So now you are up to date on the campaign! Next Reveal Video will be out when we hit $2000.

We need your help to make this happen. You can do something “Peculiar” and support Independent Christian TV! Even if you decide not to give any cash, you can use the tools on the page, right under the video, to share the campaign with your friends.

Independent Christian TV and Crowdfunding

independtv[Note: There’s a link in this article to the current crowdfunding campaign for the next season of Peculiar.]

I don’t know if this classification already exists, it probably does. To me, it means Christian TV programming that is not financially supported by another organization.

There are many shows that are a part of the broadcast ministry of a church, or attached to a network. Or supported by a ministry of some kind. Then there are shows that are out here, just making TV. If they are set up as non profit, then they are most likely ask for donations on their show and pay for their air time, continuing the paid time/donor model of religious programming.

Last week I was at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention. I talked with 18 different stations and networks about airing Peculiar. Many seemed interested. As hard as it is for me to believe, it seems like I have the only Christian sitcom out there. (Surely, someone else is doing something similar…)

But almost every station and network has a problem with my show. It’s aimed at the wrong demographic. That doesn’t mean they won’t air it, but the fact is, my 18-35 year old target is too young for their audience. It’s a vicious cycle.

Young adults don’t watch religious programming. So Christian program producers don’t make programming that appeals to them, they focus on people they can reach. They do shows for 35-50 year old women, and people age 50+. Then, when a young adult flips through the station they don’t ever see anything they want to watch, so they don’t watch religious programming. And the cycle rolls on.

There are some exceptions out there, but generally large Christian networks don’t do programming for young adults. I talked at length with one network rep, and he seemed very interested in the show. They are creating a new commercial network (trying to navigate the changing nature of religious broadcasting, looking to the future when paid time won’t be viable anymore) but their target is age 35-50 women.

Smaller station are more flexible, and I have several that should begin broadcasting the show as soon as I can get the episodes to them. I hope to find at least one larger network that will take a chance on us.

Meanwhile, I am finding out more each day why no one does what we are doing. They have to fund it somehow. With no large church or ministry or network to finance the show, how do we pay for it?

First, we do it for next to nothing. Quality suffers, but not as much as you would think. You have to be smart, efficient, and be able to cast a clear vision for why people should give of their very precious time to your project. When I showed the rep at that network our promotional piece that listed the ideal budget for each episode, he was shocked that I could do an episode for $5000. I laughed. I told him that was the ideal budget, what I would like to raise so I could pay the people involved a little something. We shot the first 6 episodes of Peculiar for under $3600. Total. Not everyone will have the resources I do, but you can reduce the cost dramatically. I call what we are doing micro-budget.

Second, we use crowd funding sites to raise money. Right now (through April 4th) we are raising money for the new season. We went with IndieGoGo this time, but for the first episodes we used Kickstarter. Both platforms (and many others out there) offer independent TV and filmmakers the chance to find the money for their projects. There are a lot of things that go into a successful crowdfunding campaign, more than I have space for here. So do you homework before you launch.

Meanwhile, we work at it. Keep moving forward. Keep doing freelance work to pay bills.

Ministers of The Reconciliation

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 ESV

I was doing my reading in my new plan from the Youversion Bible App and I hit one of my favorite passages, 2 Corinthians 5.

I love this. God could have used anything, anything to spread the Gospel. But he chose to use us. WE are the ministers of reconciliation. We are ambassadors for Christ. God chooses to work through us, to make his appeal for reconcilation to himself through us.

Want to know why I do the ministry work I do? Because we are ambassadors for Christ. I am a minister of reconciliation.

Gay Church: a biblical perspective on faith, worship and homosexuality.

{UPDATE: Obviously, years later, I haven’t made this film. But the idea is still here. I still haven’t let the domain name go. Still praying about this one.}

purple church
Would you watch a documentary like this:

Gay Church
A biblical perspective on faith, worship and homosexuality.

It’s easy for Christians to sit in our pews and take shots at people who live lives that are foreign to us. I don’t have a problem with standing on biblical truth against sinful behavior. I do have a problem when we church goers ignore our own sin in order to feel superior to those we have taken a stand against. We stand against those dirty people doing dirty sins.

I have to wonder, is our own life that much cleaner in God’s eyes? What does God see when he looks at my church and the gay church across town?

This documentary is about faith, worship and homosexuality.

Is it possible for a church that preaches that homosexual behavior is equal to heterosexual behavior to experience the presence of God in worship? What’s it like to be Christian and gay? What is the real difference between a gay church and my church?

The Bible is clear about homosexual behavior being sinful. This documentary isn’t about that. If you want to know whether homosexual behavior is wrong or not, this isn’t the movie for you. I grew up in the Southern Baptist Church. I am a licensed and ordained pastor. I went to a Southern Baptist seminary. And I think homosexual behavior is wrong. I also think that pre marital sex, adultery, and most cases of divorce are wrong.

A gay church is a church full of sinners. Of course, my church is a church full of sinners, too. I’ve never been to a gay church. The only difference that I know for certain is that a gay church openly discounts whole sections of the Bible. But just like the gay church, we have plenty of people sitting in the pews of my church who are in relationships that are sinful. They might give lip service to what the Bible says about their lives, but they don’t actually live their life any different. And we expect God to show up every single week when we gather for worship.

What is the spiritual life of a gay Christian like? Can you be a practicing homosexual and be a devoted follower of Christ? How does worship differ from worship at my church? How does a gay church handle divorce? Pre marital sex? Adultery? Does the pastor ever preach from Leviticus, or Romans 1, or out of anything else Paul wrote?

These are some of the very real questions I have about this issue. And in our ever changing cultural landscape, they are questions that every Christian should consider.

“Gay Church” will discover the answers to these questions. With interviews from clergy and laity from all sides and perspectives we will piece together a biblical perspective, and call for examination of our own lives as we move through moral and cultural issues.

I’m seriously considering trying to make this film. Part of it is just curiosity. Part is a need to address this issue from a biblical perspective. You can’t ignore this issue. The world is changing. Chic Fil A took heat because the owner affirmed traditional marriage. Louie Giglio got uninvited to the Presidential inauguration because of a sermon he preached 15 years ago. Christians who ignore the issue of same sex attraction will be ill prepared to live in the coming world.

Controversial? Without doubt. The fact that we do not honestly address these kinds of questions is one of the reasons that many younger people leave the church. We don’t need to be afraid of this issue.

So, would you watch a film like this?