Tag Archives: Christian movies

Progress report on The Prodigal Project

The Prodigal Project continues, step-by-step, inch-by-inch, closer to reality.

Last week we finished the second draft of the screenplay. Calling this the second draft is somewhat misleading. We essentially started over, so perhaps we should call this the first draft of the second version.

If you’d asked me a year ago if we’d be working in this genre, I’d have said, “no way.” But here we are. It’s a movie about a church making a movie about Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son. It is a comedy with a heavy dose of satire, designed to attract a distinctly non-church audience… but with a message for both Christians and non-Christians.

We’re processing feedback from several readers. No doubt we’ll rewrite several times between now and the time we begin production.

The church’s Communication Team has initiated the process of establishing a separate entity – Bell Tower Pictures – to produce the movie. It will be an LLC (Limited Liability Corporation) under Virginia law, and will seek certification by the IRS under section 501c3 of the tax code – which means that it will be a non-profit corporation that can accept tax-deductible contributions.

We believe this project provides an opportunity for cooperation among many individuals, organizations and churches. So we’ve initiated conversations with some of these potential partners about joining us by providing money and in-kind support. So far, the response has been positive and enthusiastic. We’re also seeking support from our own church, of course. This morning we presented our request in a meeting of church leaders considering priorities for the 2013 church budget. Next week we have the opportunity to ask for support from the First Baptist Church Endowment Fund.

We’ve been working on the legal incorporating documents for Bell Tower Pictures. That includes a clear, concise and accurate description of who we are: Bell Tower Pictures is an independent, non-profit corporation focused on producing, promoting and distributing high-quality Christian-themed film, television and web projects. Our mission is to entertain and inspire, telling great stories that reveal spiritual truth.

Next week, we’ll begin production of a promotional video, which will be a key part of the Bell Tower Pictures website.

These are busy, exciting days as we see the vision begin to take shape.

Let us entertain and inspire

I finally got around to watching that Christian movie that’s been sitting next to my chair for the last three months. I knew I needed to watch it. Everybody at church who’s seen it says it is great.

“Have you seen it?” they’d ask

“Well, not yet,” I’d confess.

I felt guilty. But I was dreading the two hours I’d have to spend with it. I knew what was coming. The protagonist will cry when he reaches the bottom of his arc. Somebody will preach at me. And somebody will accept Jesus or make a commitment to live a better Christian life. That’s the “Christian Film Formula.”

Cover of "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

To be honest, I’d rather spend time with one of my favorites: “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”

But I “needed” to see that movie, so I loaded it up and settled in for the tears, the sermon and the altar call. The movie did not disappoint.

It was well-made. Great lighting, camera work, editing, and music. I laughed. I cried. I was inspired.

I’m a Christian. As a member of the choir, I was effectively preached-to. And the makers of the film claim “thousands coming to Christ as a result” of their movie.

There’s a market for these films. Sony and Fox have each set up distribution divisions for Christian and Family Movies. There are more than half-dozen web sites that specialize in the distribution of Christian and Family DVDs.

But I wonder how deep the market penetration is among folks who are not part of the religious establishment.

It seems to me there’s a niche waiting to be filled: really good movies that entertain and inspire, and will appeal to people outside the Christian cocoon… movies that tell great stories with a voice that’s neither preachy nor condescending.

Let’s face it: our culture is less churchy than it was for our parents and grandparents. Much of society yawns at our well-intentioned efforts to “reach” them with the Gospel. But we really do have some good news to share. So how do we do it?

Obviously, the best way to preach the Gospel is to live an authentic Christ-like life. Do the things that Jesus did. What’s the old saying? “Preach the Gospel. If necessary, use words.”

Sometimes, words are helpful, too. But what words? And how to speak them?

My younger son and I were walking around Greenville, South Carolina’s downtown area on a recent Friday evening. We came upon a young man, standing on a box, preaching judgment and condemnation from a Bible he waved in our faces. Is that the way to communicate the love, joy and hope offered by God through Jesus? I don’t know. And I surely don’t want to judge the young man, who must have been doing what he believed to be God’s will. After all, there’s plenty of precedent for that approach in the Bible.

But really… must we take ourselves so seriously? Can’t we lighten up a bit? We have some great stories to tell. Let’s have some fun telling them. We can even poke a little fun at ourselves… Lord knows there’s plenty to laugh at.

Remember how Jesus started his Sermon on the Mount? It wasn’t, “Repent or you’re going to hell!” It was, “Blessed are you…”

Our little writing and production group is passionate about breaking out of the “Christian Film” mold to produce something that entertains and inspires those beyond the typical audience for such movies.

It won’t come across as the typical, sanitized, well-scrubbed Sunday school tale. In fact, it might be perceived as a little irreverent. We’re not trying to, but we’ll probably offend some of our religious friends. But who knows? Maybe a few Christians will be entertained and inspired, too.

I think that’s what happened when Jesus first told the story of the Prodigal Son.

We quibble over words and fail to tell stories

I was inspired and challenged this week through a blog post by Gary Furr, pastor of Vestavia Hills Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.

He was commenting on a recent decision by Lifeway Christian Stores to remove the movie “The Blind Side” from its shelves because it contains profanity and a racial slur.

Read his entire post. It’s worth the time and effort.

What struck me between the eyes was his challenge to us creative types in the church.

Furr talks about UVa professor James Davison Hunter’s 2010 book, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. He says, “Hunter surveyed the Christian landscape and concluded that not only is Christian impact on the culture waning, the Christianity that wants to affect it is weak and superficial. While we make great impact on individuals and meet many needs, it does not tend to move the influence makers of our society.

“Nowhere is this lack of depth and power more evident than in our engagement with the arts. Those who tell the stories, produce the art and who debate world changing ideas are not, by and large, among Christians. This is not a problem, he says, that can be overcome by forceful politics, organizing or by withdrawing into the artistic ghettos of our churches where terrible or, at best, mediocre art is produced to satisfy the internal audience but which makes virtually no impact on the larger culture and particularly those who are the shapers of culture.

“The antidote is not to somehow regain some imaginary lost control of the culture but to think more brilliantly, achieve more truthfully, and to produce more beautifully the genuinely great ideas, art and cultural expressions that will, finally, draw by their intrinsic and persuasive superiority.”

Dr. Gary Furr

He says this is most often not the path we choose. “In short, we quibble over words and fail to tell stories. We are horrified about avoiding improprieties, all the while serving, supposedly, a gospel whose book tells unflinchingly disturbing, violent, cruel, and even vulgar stories about adulterers, philanderers, thieves, and every other kind of human with a failing. In the telling of those stories, the artistic power of it continues to help us talk. Our Savior is a man hanging naked on a cross, surrounded by blasphemies and lies.”

Furr’s prophetic words come at a crucial point in the development of The Prodigal Project.

There’s nothing sanitized in Jesus’ story about the young man who wished his father dead, and then went off to squander his inheritance on prostitutes and wild living. Nor is there anything appropriate about the outburst of his older brother when the young prodigal returns home with his tail between his legs. It is in contrast to those earthy, despicable, yet all-too-real characters that we gain a better understanding of a loving, forgiving Father who goes out to invite both sons to the party.

I pray that, in retelling this most beautiful of Jesus’ parables, we will, as Furr exhorts, “think more brilliantly, achieve more truthfully, and produce more beautifully” so that younger and older sons of our culture will be drawn to a portrait of the Father who embodies grace, love and second chances.