The first thing people ask me when they find out I make faith-based family films is, “Why are they so cheesy?”
I am always hoping they don’t mean mine per-se, but in general. Faith is a visceral experience a human being has with a supernatural being and filmmaking is a visual medium. Therein lies a challenge for faith-based filmmakers, trying portray this very intimate internal relationship on the big screen. As my writing partners and I have struggled to portray characters who have a faith experience on screen, I have gained an understanding of how do it. But just like all genres of film, our first job is to tell a story. We have no desire to preach a sermon through our movie, we tell a story, we ask questions, and then hopefully our audience walks away talking about it.
Recently I spoke on a genre panel for the Screencraft Writers Summit. It thrilled me that they included faith-based films along side horror and sci-fi. Faith based films are a film genre. They speak to a specific audience that is tapped in and ready to watch. What is a genre film anyway? Is it a film that asks you to suspend disbelief? Is it a film that sells on its genre instead of a star name? You don’t need stars to sell horror or faith based; the audience is coming for the content. And just as in a horror movie you must suspend your disbelief that ghosts and monsters exist. The same goes for faith-based films, you must suspend your disbelief that a supernatural God exists. Just as horror films have a devoted following; so do faith based films. Last month alone a faith-based film called “I Can Only Imagine,” made for 7 million dollars, went on to gross 77 million dollars at the box office. The horror movie entitled “A Quiet Place” had a 17 million dollar budget and grossed 50 million dollars in its opening weekend. Case in point, they both had an eager audience ready to hop in line and buy that ticket. Word of mouth has kept them both going strong.
“I Can Only Imagine” is only one of many, many faith-based films that have gone on to gross well over their budget in the movie theater. In fact, most of the time they do, and yet every time Hollywood is shocked when they break box office records. I believe the reason faith-based family films do so well in the market place is because they have taken the place of the old fashioned clean family films we grew up with in the 80’s. Remember “Back to the Future” and “The Goonies”? Me too. I miss those films, but for some reason the studios aren’t making them like they used to. A lot of people come up to me at my screenings to tell me they don’t believe in God, but they take their families to my films, because they know they don’t have to worry about their kids seeing anything inappropriate. And I love making movies that my ten-year-old niece can enjoy with her big sister and brother. Also, I think this world could use films about hope, love, peace and joy, and that’s why people are flocking to films with these messages.
To date, the biggest challenge I face hasn’t been avoiding the cheesy element of my films; it’s been breaking into a VERY male dominated arena in the industry. We are all well aware of the lack of female driven films and filmmakers in the entertainment industry. I started creating female driven faith-based films in 2014 and I quickly learned I was entering a challenging arena. There were three faith-based films in the theater last month and all of them were male driven. In fact, when I wanted to create “Catching Faith” as a female driven film; my executive producer was worried there were no numbers in the market place to back it up. This was true, because no one was making them, so how could there be numbers?
Clearly, I have my work cut out for me; but I’m going to keep fighting the good fight. Making female driven films, portraying real women with complex issues, who are not just “the girlfriend.” And even if every studio turns my scripts down, I will still make my own films. These stories need to be told, and in the meantime, I will do my absolute best to bring the quality of faith-based up a notch. As more and more seasoned filmmakers create movies in this genre, I am in good company. They help me pave my way to build my female driven faith-based empire.