AFM and the Faith Film - Do The Pastors and The Pew Control Our Views?




It's only recently that the term "Faith Films" have been a separate genre in the entertainment industry, but Hollywood and independents have been doing uplifting films for some time.  Many done independently, however, were message and preaching heavy and did not pay attention to the key facts of story, character and emotion. 

Sunday morning at the AFM Studio in Lowes Hotel, a packed room gathered to hear "The Passion of Film - Beyond the Pulpit and Pew"  with sales agent Barbara Mudge moderating.  On the panel were Scott Glosserman of Gathr Films, Mike Medavoy of Phoenix  Pictures, and Ash Greyson of Affirm -Sony


Mr. Glosserman's who has developed Gathr Films says that the industry is bifurcated. What is the difference between a faith film and films that have faith? We are still searching for the formula. "A film can be rejected by the Christian audience just having a kiss in it.  Many parts of the religious films are geared only to serving the pastors."  On several films, he has been told to pray for the film.  Scott has created a new way for movies to have successful theatrical releases.  He pre-sells tickets with the help of passionate movie captains.  Unless they have enough for a screening, the movie does not get shown so at least there won't be an empty theatre with just 2 attendees.

AFM - Faith Film Seminar - Scott Glosserman, Mike Medavoy

Ash Greyson's studio is in the process of coming out with God Is Not Dead #2. (Though it's been shown that often the sequel films do not live up to the higher expectations of the first film.  Mike Medavoy says you cannot just put #2 on a feature and expect people to flock to the theater.  "It must be so good that word of mouth will bring people in.  The story, even for a sequel, must be great with a wonderful story and good actors. It's urgency that causes people to come to the theaters.")

"The audience has to be serviced and not sold." Ash tells the audience. This applies not only to faith audiences, but to all genres with their own particular and devoted needs.


"One can be embraced by the faith community and not be a pure faith film."  He commented that even a film like Selma, filled with Bible quotes, might do less than a movie like War Room.  Ash also indicates you have to know what you are up against.  One cannot bring your film out at the same time as Star Wars and expect a good showing.


Mr. Medavoy, whose been an agent, head of several studios, multi-award winning producer of films like Dances With Wolves, Shutter Island, Platoon, and others, has filmed 331 pictures -and is about to shoot his 322nd.   With a homing instinct for great stories, he tells writers and filmmakers that --"It's not enough to find a story YOU like.  You have to find something that most people would like."  In order to find these, Mike Medavoy says you have to ask yourself "What do I have in common with others? What do I need to say here?"


His forthcoming movie - a true story -33 - deals with the 33 Chilean trapped miners who languished underground for 69 days with only three days of food.   Mike had a personal connection to the story because he, himself, had lived in the country for ten years. 

33 - A new film by Mike Medavoy

An uplifting story, 33 is told from the POV of not only the trapped men- what they went through, their faith - some who waived and others who remained firm, but their families and the government.  A family member had said "I don't know if God will give up, but we never will." The foreman, himself, had basically given up, as many do in these situations. (The fact is that this type accident is typical for such a dangerous profession. As many as 12,000 miners from the many countries that mine lose their lives each year in these disasters.) 


People do like true events, since it brings in an established audience, but the writers have to know how to shape the story to get the most emotion out of the story.  Since there are so many similar stories, it didn't hurt that both CNN and BBC covered the event. 


As a student of humanity who majored in history and political science, Mike enjoys learning new things about people.  "I ask the questions as do others of faith - Who am I? What am I doing here?"  Every writer- producer has to ask themselves the same thing no matter what type of story you are working on?


Mike Medavoy says "A good story is a good story.  I don't think about the market until I make the film.  Look at Rocky.  So many people turned it down, but I saw the raw emotion in it and it became a hit.  It was a story about people who had faith, which is an important element in daily life for people of all religions. 

AFM - Ash Greyson; Mike Medavoy, Scott Glosserman

"The story has to be commercial, and you always have to think of the bottom line. There is always the battle between the creatives and the banks. It costs approximately 300 million just for the studio to open its doors.  Then they need the money to produce the movies."  Ask if there is an audience for this film. Why will people like it?  What are the feelings portrayed in the story and what will the audience come away with?

 "It's not how to make a movie that everyone wants to see (as most new filmmakers believe about their films)…but will this core audience will want to see it?  The challenge is making a movie that people will emotionally engage with.  It's the thrills and car chases that the younger audience often likes, it's the characters and the people.  Too often the older crowd is being ignored.


"One has to be aware of the foreign sales.  70% of the money comes from overseas sales.  The story has to one that will appeal to them, as well. Look for movies with a great message and not necessarily a great pastor.  You can do a faith movie without preaching and being overt.  It's all about emotion."


Barbara Mudge of Worldwide Film Entertainment commented that there are only a few territories that she can sell the Christian movie to since many of them are Protestant oriented.  For countries like Spain and Germany, for example, since they have a Catholic majority, these films often go straight to DVD.


Many of the "Christian" movies contain universal messages of uplifting hope as the recent film, Hoovey.  But the producers for this -and others similar - ignored general audiences and sent it only to churches and the closed Christian community to be seen.  (I had been invited to watch it because of the magazine.  Even though I am not Christian, I still enjoyed the film and felt the uplifting emotions.  And felt sad that they were not allowing others outside of their closed group to view the movie.  I think they movie could have done reasonably well had they opened it up and thought of other audiences.)


 You, the filmmaker, have to decide if you want your story to be successful (money-wise) or not and who your audience will be.  However, even the strict Christian communities now will often not tolerate films that pure preach and no story with poor actors. 

AFM 2015

A faith movie doesn't have to preach to Christian audiences only.  The message of the story, which should be subliminated and mixed in with the story, needs to take a back seat to the character and the character's emotion so that the audience. themselves, comes to the conclusion you want without your force feeding them. 


So go out there and write and produce your story with good characters that will appeal to actors  with a universal message of hope, faith, overcoming obstacles, integrity and honesty and you will capture a larger audience….just maybe you'll be touted as a faith film, too. 



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