Jesus and Hollywood: How Sherwood Pictures Has Caused the Rise of the Christian Movie Franchise

Albany, Georgia is the official Christian Hollywood of the Southeast.

It used to be unthinkable that a truly Christian movie could make it to the big screen.  So it was even more ridiculous to think about a Christian movie making tens of millions in profit: Fireproof was made on a budget of $500,000 and had a gross revenue of $33,456,317. But now, thanks to Sherwood Pictures of the megachurch Sherwood Baptist Church of Albany, Georgia, we might as well expect a new Christian movie to hit theaters every couple of years.

On September 30, 2011, the creators of Fireproof (and Facing the Giants) will be unleashing their newest movie, Courageous. Sorry, Kirk Cameron isn’t in this one. The plot line revolves around four policemen who must learn to apply the same courage they use everyday on the work force in the delicate yet crucial situations that a parent must encounter when raising a child.  I remember when Kirk Cameron’s first Christian movie came out in 2000, Left Behind: The Movie. People from my church promoted it saying, “Come on people, we need to send a message to Hollywood that these are the kinds of movies that people want to see and will pay to see.”  And now, over a decade later, our culture is at a curious enough and open-minded enough point to actually support Christian cinema.

Granted, it’s safe to say that many of us who went to the theatre to see Fireproof had realistic expectations that the acting would be on an amateur level.  And with the exceptions of Kirk Cameron and Erin Bethea (who played his wife), our expectations were met.  Even so, I admit that the message of Fireproof really got to me, despite the “hey, you go to this church… want to be in a movie?” type of casting process.  So I say if a Christian movie can make $33 million dollars despite a desperately small budget, despite using actors with basically no experience, and despite being filmed and directed by a volunteer based production company which is simply a ministry of a church, I’d say I can’t really knock it.

I might even say it’s a bit of a phenomenon.  Sure, Sherwood Pictures could eventually release a real stinker of a movie and therefore end their winning streak; maybe even one so bad that people would stop going to the theatre to see their newest efforts.  But considering that critics outside the church didn’t give Fireproof generally positive reviews for the most part, it’s almost as if we’re all learning that the secular critics’ reviews are simply irrelevant when Christians can make a movie which not only draws in unchurched ticket buyers, but also one that when on to become the greatest grossing independent film of 2008.

Lesson learned thanks to Sherwood Pictures: Enough people will trade top-notch production and professional acting for a movie that to them, even if in their own religious sub-culture, has a new message and is simply relevant.

Firefighters are to marriage problems as policemen are to parenthood.  First Fireproof, now Courageous; what will be the next big idea in Christian entertainment?  I have a few ideas…

Sherwood Pictures should try taking their talents to the small screen:

Christ’s Anatomy

What part of the body are you?

“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” – 1 Corinthians 12: 27

In this powerful new medical drama, Kirk Cameron stars as “Dr. McBeamy”, the strongest light at Albany Baptist Medical Center.  Watch as he mentors the interns in The Way of the Master while still finding time to actually care for his patients.  Also stars his real life wife Chelsea Noble as his wife on the show, so that he can actually kiss her onscreen, unlike his onscreen wife Erin Bethea at the end of Fireproof.

Devoted Preachers’ Wives

You think being happily married to a pastor of a Baptist Church isn’t full of drama?  Think again.

“Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord shall be praised.” – Proverbs 31: 30

From warding off church gossip to making sure her preacher husband’s pinstripe suit and tassel-topped loafers are ready for the pulpit, Candace Cameron Bure (the real life sister of Kirk Cameron) plays Eve Appleton, a faithful mother and wife who finds comfort in the Christian fellowship of her close circle of friends, all who also happen to be preachers’ wives and amazing supermoms.

The Bridegroom

Will you accept this W.W.J.D. bracelet?

“But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Behold! The bridgeroom is coming!  Come out to meet him!’ -Matthew 25: 6

What happens when 25 single and virtuous Christian young women are put in a church with one single and virtuous Christian young man?  Eventually marriage; between one man and one woman.  They’re all looking for love, and surprisingly all for the right reasons! Watch as Ben Wilder, the Bridegroom, takes his contestants on mission trips to exotic destinations like Guatemala and Honduras in a 15 passenger bus (the budget would not allow for helicopters) to find out who shows the best example of the Christian faith, eventually winning his heart.  All to the background soundtrack of Point of Grace.  She who wins the bridegroom’s heart will earn the final W.W.W.J bracelet and a worthy husband.

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Jesus and Hollywood: What’s the Difference between Acting and Actually Doing, Especially as a Christian? (Pondering Profanity, Sexuality, and Violence)

 

 

Seems like a strange pair, but we born-again Christians love our movies and TV just as much as everyone else.  But where do we draw the line?

One of my favorite TV shows during 4th and 5th grade was surprisingly The Dick Van Dyke Show as it was featured in syndication on Nick at Nite.  It was while watching that show (I was around 9 or 10) that it occurred to me, “Dick Van Dyke is kissing Mary Tyler Moore, but in real life, they may both be married to someone else who has to watch them kiss another person.”  To me, that would just be too weird… and wrong.  As much I fantasize about being an actor in a flash-sideways version of my life in some alternate path I could have chosen for myself a decade ago, I have to acknowledge that as a born-again Christian, there would be an exhaustive list of limitations for me as a legitimate actor.  (Granted, Kirk Cameron got around the “have to kiss another woman” dilemma when he used his own wife as a stand-in at the end of the movie Fireproof.)

That’s not to say that there aren’t born-again Christians who act in mainstream media.  For example, there’s the often-mistaken-as-a-Jew-but-actually-just-Welsh-American actor Zachary Levi, who is the protagonist of the hit show Chuck.  He has been outspoken about his relationship with Jesus Christ.  Click here to see what he said in one of his interviews with Relevant magazine.  I am fascinated by his Hollywood success and his commitment to his faith.  I would love to ask him about this very topic today; specifically this question, “As a Christian, what won’t you do in a role?”  (Zachary Levi, if you’re reading this, feel free to comment and help me out.  Thanks.)

Where does a Christian draw the line when it comes to acting?  I would say kissing another person on stage is harmless except when either or both of them is married.  And what about “love scenes” (scenes that involve sexual activity, with or without nudity)? What about profanity? Are there any words you just shouldn’t say?  Personally, I could easily curse on camera before I could say, “oh my God”; because to use God’s name in vain is breaking one of the Ten Commandments, while cursing is simply a fading taboo of shifting rules set by the expectations of culture.  To me, there are plenty far more destructive ways that words can be used that go against the Kingdom of God, like gossip, malicious sarcasm, and belittling.

Here’s where it gets really tricky.  If you think it’s wrong to curse in a role or play a character who has premarital sex, how is that so different from playing a character who is a murderer?  At least by playing a killer, you’re truly just pretending to play a character who is obviously in the wrong.  But by being filmed semi-nude under covers in a bed, you’re sending a subconscious message that sex between two consenting adults doesn’t necessarily have any spiritual concerns attached to it.

So in theory, in 1983, as a born-again Christian, if given the opportunity to have Al Pacino’s lead role in Scarface, would I, should I, could I?  For it’s time, the movie Scarface contained more profanity than any other film in history.  It was originally rated NC-17 for its violent content.  But in the end, (sorry if you haven’t seen the movie but you’ve had 28 years to see it so I feel okay about giving away the ending) all of Scarface’s sins find him out.  It’s obvious that his life of violent crime led to his own demise and in the end, it wasn’t worth it. Does that mean that this movie teaches its viewers not to waste their lives in a mob, getting  involved with violence and cocaine?  In theory, yes.  In theory, it has positive, redeeming value because in the end, crime doesn’t pay.

That’s something I’ve observed about Christian culture.  It seems most Christians are okay with a character doing obviously un-Christian things if in the end they repent: Unlike the character of Stacy Hamilton, played by Jewish actress Jennifer Jason Leigh in the 1982 movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High, who decides to have an abortion and seemingly goes on to live a completely normal life, never regretting her decision.  I contrast that to the song “Red Ragtop” by Tim McGraw, whether the 20 year-old protagonist gets his 18 year-old girlfriend pregnant and together they decide to have an abortion.

However, by the end of the song, though it’s not explicitly stated, the melancholy mood and subtle lyrics of the song itself convey the message “we can’t undo what we’ve done or beat ourselves up over it, but we do regret and it’s definitely a sad thing that happened”.  Rightly assuming that Country music fans are mostly Christians (simple demographics), they helped the song rise to the #2 position on the Country charts.

Entertain this thought: Ask yourself privately, as a Christian, whether or not you would play the role of a character in a play, musical, TV show, or movie who would do any of the following things:

-use minor profanity

-use stronger profanity including racial or gender slurs, up to the “f-word”

-use God’s name in vain, whether it’s by saying “oh my God” or “G.D.”

-play a character who has premarital sex and never encounters any real negative consequences

-play a gay character who never actually kisses another actor

-play a gay character who does kiss another person of the same gender

-play a heterosexual character who jokingly kisses a person of the same gender on the lips, which happens quite often on Saturday Night Live

-play a serial killer and rapist, though no explicit violence is ever shown on screen and who never curses or participates in any pre-material sexual relationship

-play a serial killer and rapist, though no explicit violence is ever shown on screen and but does participate in some premarital sex and who does some cursing

-play a serial killer and rapist, though no explicit violence is ever shown on screen and but does participate in some premarital sex and who does some cursing, but at the end accepts Jesus Christ as their Savior and from that point on lives a life in accordance to the teachings of Jesus

How is it any more wrong to play a homosexual actor than it is to play heterosexual actor who has premarital sex?  Though both situations are perceived much differently by the general population, when it comes to my understanding of the Bible’s teaching of righteousness, I don’t see how one is any different or worse than the other.  The way I understand it, Jesus died for all sin.  Sin is sin is sin.  No matter what kind it is, it separates us from God and causes every single one of us to need His grace.

Where do you draw the line as a Christian actor? Obviously to be involved in straight-up porno-graphy is out of the question for any sincere Christian.  But there are so many millionths of the scale to get to that extreme.  On the much slighter end of the scale is a man with his shirt off showing off his six-pack while he rides a horse bareback.  Further down the scale is that same man passionately kissing a woman while in a hot tub, both in their swimsuits.  Next is the same man and woman acting out a love scene in bed and though they are actually naked, they aren’t acting having sex underneath the blankets which strategically cover up certain parts of their bodies.

I remind myself that outside the culture of conservative Christianity, in reality the rest of the world behaves its own way regardless of our censorship.  To imagine a real life group of people who in their everyday lives never cursed or had premarital sex (outside of the conservative Christian world) is to me, simply unbelievable.  Taking away the elements of entertainment that are unChristian-like either makes the TV show or movie either A) unrealistic or B) a Christian movie like Facing the Giants.

I also remind myself that the Bible itself is full of violence, premarital sex, rape, and murder. There is homosexuality.  There are concubines.  There are instances were people cursed (like when Peter denied Christ).  The King James Version of the Bible even contains the words “piss” and “ass”.  If the entire Bible were made into an epic movie, could born-again Christians play every role?

But some point, acting is no longer simply just acting.  It’s doing.  So here’s my final thought about all this.  In some technical, annoying way, are we as conservative, born-again Christians actually hypocrites for being spectators of popular entertainment?

Imagine this: Instead of the majority of the cast of Friends and Seinfeld being Jewish, instead they were all born-again Christians.  Because of their faith-based convictions, none of them were willing to use any profanity or be involved in any situations that involved premarital sex.  I know how beloved these two sitcoms are among the majority of Christians I know.  But imagine a world where Ross Geller saying “We were on a break!” meant nothing to us.

Two Questions for You about This Today:

A) As much as we Christians love our sitcoms and movies, would they truly exist if we didn’t support them with our viewership because we ourselves wouldn’t be willing to play those roles the same way?

B) Where would you personally draw the line in regards to what you would or would not do for an acting role, hypothetically speaking, if you were an actor?

I sincerely would love to hear feedback from you, the invisible reader, on either or both of these proposed questions, by leaving a comment below.  You don’t have to leave your name; you can easily remain anonymous if you wish.

If you’re not a conservative, born-again Christian, still free to answer as well… and please know how aware I am that the content of this entire post probably seems a bit… out there.  For all I know, you may find it either laughable or offensive that we believe premarital sex is wrong or that kissing someone’s spouse is both weird and taboo.  But what good is a religion that has no backbone or reasonable standards, despite how counter-culture those limitations may be? Thanks for reading despite the culture shock of it.

Stranger than Deja Vu

Sometimes DJ’s read our minds…

Here’s a unexplainable mystery that has happened to everyone at least once in their lives. I get a random song in my head I haven’t heard or thought of in years, then it comes on the radio later that afternoon. What would cause that DJ to want to play the same random song and what would cause me to happen to listen to that same radio station at the exact same time he played it?

In August of 2007 I was in Dallas for the Great American Trucking Show (made famous from my photo albums on facebook). As I sat down in the hotel lobby to wait for the charter bus to take me to the convention center, The Beatles’ song “Hey Jude” was playing. In particular, it was the end of the song, “Na na na na… hey Jude…”

Ten minutes later I stepped up into the bus and as I found a vibrantly decorated New Mexico–style embroidered seat, the elevator music version of “Hey Jude” was playing. And it just happened to be the end of the song: “Na na na na… hey Jude…”

During my lunch break today I was in a store picking out a card when I heard the worst song ever recorded in history. I’d never heard it before. But it was awful. Sounded like they made up the melody on the spot. Or lack of melody, I should say: “I… miss… you”. Sounded like Amy Grant in the late ‘80’s. As I paid the cashier teen boy, also named Nick, I said, “So the radio station here. Sucks, don’t it?” He politely agreed.

An hour later I’m back at work. I call our legal guy to ask him a question about a title for a vehicle. I’m put on hold. There could only be one song in the universe that plays in elevator music form. Yes. It was “I Miss You”.

This “hear a song on the radio, then the next song I hear is that song, but the elevator music form of it” event has happened to me twice in the last two years. With a little help from some co-workers and a consultation with Wikipedia, I found out more about the worst song ever recorded in history. “I Miss You” was a 1985 hit by a group called Klymaxx.  It’s worse than any song a Hollywood actor recorded during the 5 months they tried to also have a career in music. It’s bad, man. Bad.

Not important in the grand scheme of things, but if nothing else, this “deja vu song” concept sometimes happens to us.  During what would have been another ordinary day. 

Do you, the random or regular reader, have any weird stories like that?  I’m currently collecting them in my mind.  It’s fascinating.  You can leave a comment about it.  I will care.  I will read it.  I will be fascinated.  I want to know this truly doesn’t just happen to me.

Manspeak, Volume 11: Responsibility

People tend to accept that there is a difference between what is normal in the movies and what is normal in reality, and for the most part we know not to confuse the two. In the world of Hollywood, a 39 year-old playboy bachelor who is “too free-spirited” to get married simply lives for himself in his classic arcade-filled apartment. And he is cool. He is Owen Wilson. Adam Sandler. Vince Vaughn. But in reality, this guy is not cool at all. He’s a guy who needs to grow up.

Because here in reality, we equate responsibility with manhood.

There is of course a false, glamorized idea that a man is defined by his freedom; a lifestyle where he needs to answer to no one. In this unspoken concept the ultimate goal in a man’s life is to win the lottery and never have to change diapers.

But this man is not the kind we truly respect. Instead, we admire a man who while he is still young, gives up his freedom to be become responsible to another human being in marriage. And then of course, within the next few years he is expected to become a father. And an involved father, at that. Responsibility is what helps a man to be normal and have a purpose.

A funny and true proverb I heard a lot in college was this: “Well-behaved women rarely make history.” On the same token, men without real responsibilities are rarely respected. So much of life is showing up and participating. And in order to do that, a man must actively become involved in other people’s lives. The closer I get to age 30, the further away I am from being able to relate to what it’s like to be a child, and therefore the more aware I am that I once was an annoying kid.

I think back to all the hours my dad patiently listened to me tell him all the Ninja Turtle trivia I knew. And the way he made sure I had the coolest project in science and social studies class each time. And since he knew I didn’t like sports, he became the leader of a Cub Scouts group to inspire me to be involved in an extracurricular activity I actually enjoyed- being an adventurous boy with my friends. I couldn’t have really known it back then, but his sincere involvement in my life has everything to do with who I have become as an adult.

It’s amazing how much one man’s involvement makes or breaks his child’s life. I was blessed and still am. I still need my dad. I still learn from him.

And now I’m not all that far from being in the position he was in the early 1980’s. I will become the man looking into the googly eyes of a helpless baby, both of us completely clueless. But that’s the way God planned it. No instruction booklet on how to be a parent. Instead, it all comes down to the humility of a man who makes a conscience effort to be responsible.

“My dad’s been dead for more than 20 years. I still want him to be proud of me.” –Dave Matthews, taken from the linear notes from his solo Some Devil album

wild things 2

Manspeak Table of Contents:

Volume 1: Humor http://wp.me/pxqBU-1i
Volume 2: Heroism http://wp.me/pxqBU-1m
Volume 3: Filtration http://wp.me/pxqBU-1p
Volume 4: Stance http://wp.me/pxqBU-1s
Volume 5: Movement http://wp.me/pxqBU-1v
Volume 6: Law http://wp.me/pxqBU-3h
Volume 7: Bromance http://wp.me/pxqBU-3W
Volume 8: Relaxation http://wp.me/pxqBU-6a
Volume 9: Appearance http://wp.me/pxqBU-6f
Volume 10: Exploration http://wp.me/pxqBU-6O
Volume 11: Responsibility http://wp.me/pxqBU-8v

Manspeak, Volume 7: Bromance

It’s not simply a fad. It’s much more complex than that. It’s not simply a gimmick to make more money in the theatres. It’s a clue that we as Americans have missing been out on something. The newfound popularity and acceptance of bromance is simply a realization that men were meant love each other, not just women.

America is good at teaching men masculinity: Rocky, Rambo, The Terminator, He-Man, GI Joe. It’s been ingrained in us our whole lives. We don’t have a problem accepting the fact that men are meant to be tough. Men are born to protect and defend. I think we do that pretty well. But while the bald eagle holds 13 arrows in one claw, he also holds 13 olive branches in the other.

Living overseas in Asia taught me a lot about American men. Though I was told that there were a lot of transvestites in Thailand, it wasn’t until my second summer over there that I was able to recognize them. I then came to the conclusion that the reason there are so many men living their lives as women there is because it is not culturally acceptable to be gay in Thailand, at all.

So when it’s not acceptable in a country at all to be gay (as compared to America where it’s not popular but there’s a growing level of acceptance), to take out the possibly of any men around being gay, it affects the cultural behavior of a nation. Men can be close without any possible thought of the other thinking he is sexually attracted to him. And even more relevant, there is not so much a possibly of awkwardness because of that. In the Philippine’s, it is common for men show their friendship publicly by holding hands.

But before there was Jackie Chan & Chris Tucker, before there was Owen Wilson & Ben Stiller, before there was Joey & Chandler, there was a time when men truly weren’t afraid to hug and be close. It simply symbolized their friendship but was nothing more.

My eyes were opened when I read Moby Dick in college. The 1851 novel was written in the American-Romanticism period, and while the theme of Christianity is more obvious than Season 5 of LOST, something else that really captured my attention and even became the topic of my final paper for that class was the bromantic relationship between the protagonist Ishmael (a 5’ 9” New England native) and his ship mate Queequeg (a 6’ 7” South Seas tribesman of mixed race).

The two men quickly become best friends and the narrator, Ishmael, is not reluctant to elaborate regarding his friendship. They simply slept in the same quarters and were close friends, but reading it with today’s mindset can make it easily be interpreted differently:

“How it is I know not; but there is no place like a bed for confidential disclosures between friends. Man and wife, they say, there open the very bottom of their souls to each other; and some old couples often lie and chat over old times till nearly morning. Thus, then, in our hearts’ honeymoon, lay I and Queequeg—a cosy, loving pair.”  -Herman Melville (Moby Dick)

Something else that really opened by eyes to bromance was when I started paying close attention to Jesus and His disciples in the New Testament. They were not hesitant to show physical affection for each other. At the Last Supper, look at Peter’s physical closeness to Jesus during dinner.

“Then, leaning back on Jesus’ breast, Peter said to Him, “Lord, who is it?”  -John 13:25

Imagine 12 dudes eating dinner in today’s society and one leans back on the other’s chest to ask him a question. Completely not acceptable.

Even this week I ran across something odd in the Old Testament as I was finishing up Genesis. This is where Jacob is blessing his sons before he dies:

“He called his son Joseph and said to him, ‘Now if I have found favor in your sight, please put your hand under my thigh, and deal kindly and truly with me. Please do not bury me in Egypt.”  -Genesis 47:29

In their culture, a son could make a vow to his father by placing his hand under his father’s thigh, or as my Bible’s study notes explain, it was a gentler way of saying his “procreative organ”. Think of how not acceptable that is today.

We’ve obviously come a long way since Biblical times regarding same-sex friendship and closeness. But even the culture that was present 158 years ago in Moby Dick paints a completely different picture compared to what is acceptable in American same-sex friendship today. The title of Moby Dick itself serves a perfect example of how far we’ve come. Add to that the fact that the story involves the close friendship of shipmates. That’s a lot of joke material for a 15 year-old boy to work with.

In fact, in recent decades there have been critics of Moby Dick claim that the book has homosexual undertones. Key phrase: “in recent decades”. For its time, the behavior found in the novel was not seen at all as a curious thing. It was normal back then.

I say it’s no wonder that today’s culture loves bromance. Men were made for close friendship with other men but are taught to hide their feelings because it’s not masculine to show them. When I think about it, several of my top favorite movies of all time have a heavy dose of bromance: Rocky 3, Plains Trains and Automobiles, Zoolander, Pineapple Express, Band of Brothers. And Hollywood knows it’s a winning formula.

The truth is, compare the box office sales of pretty much any Judd Apatow and/or Seth Rogan movie (bromantic comedies) to any romantic comedy made since 2005. Bromance wins every time. Romance, on the other hand, can be an unpredictable thing.

The best 3 minutes of recorded bromance, courtesy of 1982:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h0qVUn4797g

All pictures with the “JHP” logo were taken by Joe Hendricks Photography:

Blog- www.photojoeblog.com

Website- www.joehendricks.com

bert-and-ernie

Originally posted in April 2009 on facebook as “The History of Bromance”, which helped inspire the Manspeak series.