Emmy Magazine’s Interview with Kurt Schemper, Korey Scott Pollard, and Gary David Stratton

SERIES INTRO: Soul-Nourishing Practices in a Soul-Deadening World

“The entertainment industry is no different than any other place with lonely people searching for gladness.”  -Emmy Award-winning producer, Kurt Schemper

by Gary David Stratton, PhD • Senior Editor

Emmy Magazine isn’t the most likely place for insight into spiritual formation.

“A writer for Emmy magazine is on the phone for you.” At first I thought our PR director was pulling my leg. College professors don’t get calls from Emmy magazine, even if they are moonlighting as the Executive Director of a community of Christian entertainment industry professionals seeking to train and equip storytellers to enter mainstream Hollywood.  Act One had been in existence for over a decade and even though we had graduates writing, producing, and directing on numerous TV shows and more than a few feature films, no entertainment industry press had ever called our offices before.

Kurt Schemper changed all that.  A producer for A&E’s critically acclaimed reality program, Intervention, Kurt had just become the first Act One graduate to win a prime time Emmy Award. The writer on the phone, Libby Slate, was fascinated by Kurt’s connection to a Hollywood Christian community. But, what really impressed her was how the Act One community had lived out our faith by rallying to aid former staff member Rosario Rodriguez after her gang-related shooting while walking in the tawny L.A. neighborhood Libby called home. (Read story here.)

Libby wanted to know if Emmy could do an article highlighting Kurt and Act One’s unique mission in Hollywood.  Kurt and I readily agreed, and director Korey Scott Pollard (House, Grey’s Anatomy, Monk, Nashville, Rizzoli and Isles, Lie to Me, The Middle, Jack Ryan) signed on to represent the Act One faculty perspective.

Kurt posing with his new hardware.

As Kurt, Korey and I prepared for our interview, Korey pushed for us to be ‘really ready’ to express exactly what we wanted to say. Our conversations turned to how difficult it is to thrive spiritually in Hollywood, and interviewer Libby Slate graciously picked up on this theme.

In the course of our conversations Kurt mentioned that one of his college professors at Judson College encouraged him to pursue his calling to Hollywood by quoting Frederick Buechner:

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

Kurt’s response was, “My deep gladness is Jesus. The entertainment industry is no different than any other place with lonely people searching for gladness.”

The idea of finding “deep gladness” in Hollywood really resonated with me, especially as I contemplated what a “soul-deadening” place Hollywood can be for many industry insiders. So in my interview, I told Emmy, “We’ve found that the spirituality taught by Jesus is an ideal starting place for guiding industry professionals on a soul-nourishing spiritual journey.”

That language resonated with Emmy readers as well, and soon opened doors all over Hollywood. Now it leads to this new series entitled, “Soul-nourishing Practices for a Soul-deadening world: Finding the Voice of Your Own Gladness in Hollywood and Beyond.”

My hope is that these posts will help filmmakers, educators and other culture makers find their own “deep gladness” through the soul-nurturing practices Jesus taught his first followers over 20 centuries ago. Not mere religious practices targeted at greater self-righteousness, but spiritual practices targeted at nurturing a deeper connection to God.

We officially launched the series earlier, but today I thought you might want to read the original Emmy article. (I couldn’t figure out how to post it directly, so you’ll have to download the article as a pdf.)  Enjoy!

Click to download Emmy Magazine Article PDF

 

NEXT:  Connecting to the Life of God in Hollywood, the Ivy League, and Beyond – Soul-Nourishing Practices in a Soul-Deadening World

TONIGHT! Rebranding Christianity, with filmmaker & author Phil Cooke

FREE Teleseminar

 

Thursday, July 16th, 7-8pm EST

Dear Friend,
phil_cookeIn a truly post-Christian America, Christians find themselves ostracized, misunderstood, marginalized, and often the victims of seemingly unmerited and scathing accusations. It seems in today’s world, Christians are known more for what we’re against than what we’re for.But, the truth is Christians are some of the most giving people on the planet, committed to their families, churches, and communities. It’s true we’re far from perfect, but if most Christians are decentindividuals who strive to love and serve others, what went wrong?Phil Cooke is on a mission to show Christians how to fix our “branding” problem in America.

Phil Cooke is a writer, television producer, and media consultant based in Burbank, California, as well as a critic of some aspects of contemporary American and American-influenced Christian culture. He is a fundamentalist Christian and, as Scott McClellan of Collide Magazine wrote, “At times, Cooke may appear to be Christian media’s biggest critic but, as he is quick to point out, he criticizes because he loves.”

He is a long-time producer of nationally known religious and inspirational programming, and has worked for such clients as Billy Graham, Oral Roberts, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, The Salvation Army, Mercy Ships, The American Bible Society, and the YouVersion Bible App. Cooke produced Billy Graham’s most-seen program, “Starting Over,” which reached around 1.5 billion people in 200 countries in one day. Joel Osteen said, “Phil Cooke is one of the greatest communicators of our generation.”

During this teleseminar training call, you’ll discover:

  • What branding is, and what it isn’t
  • What happened to Christianity from a P.R. perspective
  • What branding and religion have in common
  • How to handle public opinion on the gay marriage issue
  • Why public perception is often received as reality and what to do about it
  • What Christians can do to help fix the branding (or perception) of Christianity in culture

 

To join Phil for this FREE webinar, register here

Master Shots: First and Final Frames of 55 Films Side-by-Side, by Jacob T. Swinney

The Meta-Story  and Worldview of many films is discernible from little more than their first and final shots.  Don’t believe it?  Watch this video! 

Jacob T. Swinney on Vimeo

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Final shot, Birdman (2014)

 

What can we learn by examining only the first and final shot of a film?

This video plays the opening and closing shots of 55 films side-by-side. Some of the opening shots are strikingly similar to the final shots, while others are vastly different–both serving a purpose in communicating various themes.

Some show progress, some show decline, and some are simply impactful images used to begin and end a film.

.

See also:

Inside Out Screenwriting: What’s My Final Image? by Jeremy Casper

Birdman Ending: Why That Obscure Final Shot Makes Total Sense, by Catarina Cowden

MUSIC: “Any Other Name” by Thomas Newman

Films used (in order of appearance):
The Tree of Life 00:00
The Master 00:09
Brokeback Mountain 00:15
No Country for Old Men 00:23
Her 00:27
Blue Valentine 00:30
Birdman 00:34
Black Swan 00:41
Gone Girl 00:47
Kill Bill Vol. 2 00:53
Punch-Drunk Love 00:59
Silver Linings Playbook 01:06
Taxi Driver 01:11
Shutter Island 01:20
Children of Men 01:27
We Need to Talk About Kevin 01:33
Funny Games (2007) 01:41
Fight Club 01:47
12 Years a Slave 01:54
There Will be Blood 01:59
The Godfather Part II 02:05
Shame 02:10
Never Let Me Go 02:17
The Road 02:21
Hunger 02:27
Raging Bull 02:31
Cabaret 02:36
Before Sunrise 02:42
Nebraska 02:47
Frank 02:54
Cast Away 03:01
Somewhere 03:06
Melancholia 03:11
Morvern Callar 03:18
Take this Waltz 03:21
Buried 03:25
Lord of War 03:32
Cape Fear 03:38
12 Monkeys 03:45
The World According to Garp 03:50
Saving Private Ryan 03:57
Poetry 04:02
Solaris (1972) 04:05
Dr. Strangelove 04:11
The Astronaut Farmer 04:16
The Piano 04:21
Inception 04:26
Boyhood 04:31
Whiplash 04:37
Cloud Atlas 04:43
Under the Skin 04:47
2001: A Space Odyssey 04:51
Gravity 04:57
The Searchers 05:03
The Usual Suspects 05:23

Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for “fair use” for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use.

Would Major TV Networks Be Interested In My Faith Based Show Idea? by Phil Cooke

Tips from leading Hollywood consultant

In Hollywood, nobody cares that you’re a Christian. They’re more interested in your ability to actually produce a popular television program.

by Phil Cooke, PhD • President, Cooke Pictures

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Strong Sunday prime time ratings for “A.D. The Bible Continues,” especially among 18-49 year olds, will only drive current interest in faith-based projects.

With the success of “The Bible” TV series, and “Finding Jesus” on CNN, I’ve been getting plenty of inquires from people who want to get other Christian ideas picked up by a secular network. In many cases, they’re starting from the wrong perspective. The first step isn’t getting your show idea on a network. The first step is finding out what the network is interested in programming. With that in mind, here’s a few critical principles about how to get a secular network to look at your Christian program idea:

1) Start by looking for cultural events that would make networks more open to a Christian influenced program.  For instance, a number of years ago, I realized the anniversary of William Wilberforce abolishing the slave trade in the British empire was about to happen. Since he was driven by his Christian faith, I pitched PBS on a one hour documentary on Wilberforce’s life. They loved the idea and not only did it get a national broadcast on PBS, but it was privately screened at the White House. So – what’s trending in the news right now that would make a network interested in your idea?

2) Think ahead.  My friend, movie producer Ralph Winter says that making a big budget movie isn’t about what’s popular now. It’s about what will be popular 5 years from now, because that’s how long it takes to make a major movie. It’s really not much different with TV projects. So look into the future. Once “The Bible” series was successful, I received a ton of proposals to do something similar. Likewise, once Noah hit theaters, I had a bunch of Noah projects pitched to me. But they’d already been done and networks weren’t interested. The question is – What’s next?

Continue reading

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An internationally known writer and speaker, Phil Cooke has actually produced media programming in nearly 50 countries around the world. In the process, has been shot at, survived two military coups, fallen out of a helicopter, and in Africa, been threatened with prison. And during that time – through his company Cooke Pictures in Burbank, California – he’s helped some of the largest nonprofit organizations and leaders in the world use the media to tell their story in a changing, disrupted culture.

How Hollywood Keeps Out Women, by Jessica P. Ogilvie

And the beat-down goes on 

The numbers for women in Hollywood trail far behind the percentage of females in executive positions in other heavily male-dominated endeavors, including the military, tech, finance, government, science and engineering

(Illustration by Darrick Rainey)
(Illustration by Darrick Rainey)

In 2005, Diana Ossana was in the green room at the Venice Film Festival, elated. Brokeback Mountain, the film she’d shepherded into being after reading Annie Proulx’s short story in The New Yorker eight years earlier, had just won the Golden Lion, top prize at the festival.

Ossana, who optioned the story from Proulx, then co-wrote and produced the film starring Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, was standing next to its director, Ang Lee, basking in their success when, she says, George Clooney walked in. Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck also had been in the running for the Golden Lion.

“He walked right up to Ang, shook his hand and congratulated him,” Ossana says from her home in Tucson. After heartily congratulating Lee, Clooney looked right past Ossana, then moved on.

“I really was startled,” she says. “It was as if I wasn’t even in the room. Ang even commented on it afterward; it was that obvious.” Clooney did not respond to a request for comment.

Ossana had been fielding that kind of treatment since before the film’s inception. Without her writing partner, Larry McMurtry, she wasn’t taken seriously. During meetings with studio execs, at which she was often the only woman, men turned in surprise when she spoke.

“They would look at me as if, ‘Oh, she speaks!'” Ossana says. “These were very prominent, very well-known men. If I was any more specific, everyone would know exactly who I was talking about.”

Ossana later had to demand that studio executives recognize her with a producing credit on Brokeback, which she and McMurtry had to push through the system. And “when we set about to make the deal with the studio, I’m not certain why, but they said they would have preferred Larry to be a producer.” (He got an executive producer credit, she a producer credit.)

Women are not tapped for power jobs in Hollywood. Their numbers trail far behind the percentage of females in executive positions in other heavily male-dominated endeavors, including the military, tech, finance, government, science and engineering. In 2013, 1.9 percent of the directors of Hollywood’s 100 top-grossing films were female, according to a study conducted by USC researcher Stacy L. Smith. In 2011, women held 7.1 percent of U.S. military general and admiral posts, 20 percent of U.S. Senate seats and more than 20 percent of leadership roles at Twitter and Facebook — and both companies now face gender-discrimination lawsuits.

In the wake of the Sony email-hacking scandal, and following Patricia Arquette’s rallying cry at the Oscars, some well-known Hollywood figures are openly saying that an ugly bias grips the liberal, charitable, Democrat-dominated movie industry…

continue reading

See also:
Jennifer-lawrence-dior-couture-dress-mockingjay-premiere1

How To Raise Money for Your First Movie: Interview with Producer/Director Mark Freiburger, Part 2

Read Part 1: From Indie Producer to Super Bowl Director to Studio Films
Mark on the set of 'Transformers: Edge of Extinction'
Mark on the set of ‘Transformers: Edge of Extinction’

Mark Freiburger was only 22 when he directed his first feature film. Since then, he has produced five independently financed films (two of which he also directed), directed Fashionista Daddy,” winner of the 2013 Doritos “Crash the Super Bowl” contest, and even got to shadow Michael Bay for three months on the set of a major studio film (Transformers 4: Age of Extinction with Mark Wahlberg). Mark insists that these opportunities didn’t come to him because he was more talented than other young filmmakers. The key to his success (beyond having some very talented friends) is that he learned one very important skill they don’t teach you in film school… how to raise money for movies!

I caught up with Mark after reading his new book, How To Raise Money For Your First Movie, and caught some his passion for filmmaking and for helping young filmmakers get the money they need to make great films.

_________

Gary: So the films, the Super Bowl, and Transformers were just your warm up acts, what are you working on now?

Mark: I’m currently finishing up writing a movie for the producers at Original Film. It’s a sci-fi/action film set in a futuristic Brazil that I will be directing as well.  We’ve taken a lot of time and care with developing this script, and it’s just about ready (or may already be by the time this article is published).  This was the project I referred to earlier, and it has been taking up the majority of my time over the past year. Oh, and I just finished my book “How To Raise Money for Your First Movie“.

How to Raise Money for Your First Movie Mark Freiburger_filmcourage_1Gary: Okay, your working and your busy. So what motivated you to write a book right now? 

Mark: Raising money wasn’t a skill anyone taught me in film school. It came out of a driving passion to want to see my dreams come true, even if that meant I had to take a lot of beatings through trial and error in an effort to achieve those dreams.  And after going through the process once on my first film, it afforded me the opportunity to link up with others who had done the same on their own, and that’s when I started to learn even more.

I’ve been in the business for nearly a decade now, but the one thing I get asked about the most by other aspiring filmmakers is not about those more high profile experiences, but about how to go out and raise money to make their first features. So I decided the best way to help others was to just allocate some time to sit down and write everything I share with aspiring filmmakers.

Gary: What would reading “How to Raise Money for Your First Movie” offer a young filmmaker that goes beyond other books out there on filmmaking?

Mark: This book is purely about the one thing that all young filmmakers out there really want to know… which is “How do I get the money to make my first movie?”  There are a ton of great books out there on the fundamentals of filmmaking so I don’t need to write one of those, but there is a big need to help teach young filmmakers the practical steps of indie film financing. When I was in film school, even my professors never had good answers for me, because quite frankly they weren’t quite sure how to do it either.  It’s not rocket science, but with the right knowledge I’m thoroughly convinced that anybody can go out and do it.  You just need to plan accordingly and have the right tools to go out there and do it yourself.  And that’s exactly what this book does… it gives you the tools and teaches you how to set yourself up for success in raising funds.

Gary: When did you know that you had to write this book?

Mark: A couple years ago I was teaching a seminar at a university on film financing, and after about 30 minutes into the seminar, one of the students raised his hand and said “This is good information and all, but when are you going to start teaching us how to actually raise money?”  I looked to him and said, “But haven’t you been listening?  I started teaching you that very thing 30 minutes ago.

Raising money for movies is not just about finding investors and giving them a good pitch… but instead, it’s about everything leading up to those moments.
Raising money for movies is not just about finding investors and giving them a good pitch… but instead, it’s about everything leading up to those moments.

What the student failed to realize, and what most aspiring and first time filmmakers fail to realize, is that raising money for movies is not just about finding investors and giving them a good pitch… but instead, it’s about everything leading up to those moments. It’s about reverse engineering the process of making a film by beginning at the end… through discovering your marketplace first, connecting with distributors that have access into that marketplace, developing/crafting the script that fits what your distributor needs, creating the perfect business plan to support that script, and assembling the right team to help you execute your vision.  This is how you begin to raise money for movies, and once you go through all the groundwork necessary to make this happen, you’ll be fully prepared to find and approach investors, which then becomes the easy part.

Gary: Any parting word of counsel to young filmmakers?

Mark: If you want to become a filmmaker or if you’re in the early stages of your filmmaking career, the main piece of advice that I’d like to try and pass on is to remember that a filmmaking career is more like a marathon, and not like a sprint. It takes a lot of time and energy to develop your craft and make the right connections.  Things won’t happen overnight, but if you pace yourself, make wise decisions and are willing to adapt to the constant changes, you will see results. Don’t burn yourself out too early, try to live a balanced lifestyle, because even though this career is much more demanding than your average career out there, it’s that much more rewarding too.

See also

CNN Interview with Nathan Scoggins, Co-creator of ‘Sling Baby’ and ‘Fashionista Daddy’ Doritos ‘Crash the Super Bowl’ Ads

From Indie Producer to Super Bowl Director to Studio Films: Interview with Producer/Director Mark Freiburger

Mark Freiberger with Mark Wahlberg
‘Big Mark’ and ‘Little Mark’ on the set of Age of Extinction

Mark Freiburger was only 22 when he directed his first feature film. Since then, he has produced five independently financed films (two of which he also directed), directed Fashionista Daddy,” winner of the 2013 Doritos “Crash the Super Bowl” contest, and even got to shadow Michael Bay for three months on the set of a major studio film (Transformers 4: Age of Extinction with Mark Wahlberg). Mark insists that these opportunities didn’t come to him because he was more talented than other young filmmakers. The key to his success (beyond having some very talented friends) is that he learned one very important skill they don’t teach you in film school… how to raise money for movies!

I caught up with Mark after reading his new book, How To Raise Money For Your First Movie, and caught some his passion for filmmaking and for helping young filmmakers get the money they need to make great films.

______

Gary: Dude, you like you’re barely 31, right?  How have accomplished so much in your film career?  You’re not the secret love-child of Hollywood royalty, are you?

Mark: Haha, nope. Just a crazy kid from North Carolina whose childhood dream has been to make movies.

Gary: All kidding aside, you did this the hard way. You had a great education, but you had to start from scratch as an indie filmmaker. Why do you think you stuck it out where so many others have given up? 

Mark: It’s interesting you would bring that up because I’m coming up on 10 years in the business now, and just the other day a friend and I were talking about how there are so few of us that we began this journey with who are still left out there making movies.  Even with the successes I’ve had, I still have at least one come to Jesus moment every other year and ask myself if I should continue moving forward.  But I’m addicted. And it’s all I know now.

The truth is, in film school I didn’t even think I was as a good a director as many of my classmates. But at the end of the day, it’s the passion for this art form and this business that really keeps me going. I genuinely love what I do.  And no matter how hard things have been at times, I’ve always an inner peace knowing that Hollywood is exactly where I’m supposed to be.  I love this crazy industry… warts and all.

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A most miserable and incredible experience

Gary: Which of your early works are you most proud of?  

Mark: Probably Dog Days of Summer. It’s not a particularly great movie, but I stepped on set to direct that movie the summer that I turned 22 years old.  It was something I had been dreaming about and planning for through my last couple of years of college.  I put together a script with two talented writers (one who went on to write PACIFIC RIM, and the other to write on the series NCIS), raised money from private investors, and dragged 40 college students to rural North Carolina for the summer to go make my first movie.

It was the most miserable and incredible experience at the same time. I made so many mistakes and bit off way more than I could chew, but the movie got made and it was what began everything for me in this career.  It’s an experience I’ll never forget.  The movie itself is a fun little movie to watch, but it’s a flawed first work from a very, very green filmmaker. I’m most proud of it mainly because it was just a big dream that I managed to turn into a reality.

Gary: In my every interaction with you, I have always been struck by your remarkable combination of goal-intensity with character-integrity, how do you balance those things in such a challenging industry?

Mark: Thank you for the kind words… that’s an interesting question…  quite honestly I’ve never really thought about that balance. I think I just am who I am.  Integrity is a key element that we all need to strive to hold onto no matter what industry we’re in. Even though I’m intensely goal oriented, I’ve always valued integrity more.  There are some things that aren’t worth doing in this industry if it means you’re going to lose that integrity you’ve been building.  We all stumble in this arena at times, but it’s something worth fighting for, daily.

Mark with Bumblebee (pre-transformation)
Mark with Bumblebee (pre-transformation)

Gary: Not many people have directed one of the greatest Super Bowl commercials of all time. Has winning the Doritos Super Bowl competition changed things for you?  

Mark: There were a lot of positive things that came out of that.  Mostly, it was a springboard to begin to make the transition from directing indie movies to being considered for studio movies. It opened some doors, but it didn’t guarantee success. When the dust settled on the Doritos competition and the Transformers experience, I had 2 studio directing offers presented to me. I was the first Doritos competition winner to have already directed a couple of indie movies, so a few folks at the studio level took notice.

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve wanted to make my first studio movie so naturally I was thrilled when the offers came in. But I had to turn both projects down because at the end of the day I wouldn’t have been able to sleep well at night had I taken those jobs (for multiple reasons). This goes back to what we talked about in the last question.  I want my first studio movie to be the right movie for me, and it’s taken a couple of years to figure out what that project was and then to develop it, but once it gets made it will have been worth taking the extra time to develop the right project for my sensibilities and strengths.

Gary: What was it like being on the set with Michael Bay and Mark Wahlberg? 

Mark and Michael Bay
Mark with Michael Bay

Mark: It was incredible. Mark was great to be around and it was always enjoyable to watch him work on camera.  And Michael and his entire team taught me so much about making movies at the grandest level.  I didn’t know what to expect before I joined the team, but Michael folded me right into the group and always made sure I was taken care of, almost like he was a big brother watching out for me. He would even refer to me as “our young director” on set with the crew, whereas others just referred to me as “little Mark” since Wahlberg had the distinction of being “big Mark”.

All around, I learned so much more than I ever thought I would. And believe me, I soaked it in every day. The majority of my time was spent shadowing Michael and shadowing the VFX team from Industrial Light and Magic. Those guys are incredible and they helped me understand how to breakdown and shoot a VFX heavy movie. Before Transformers, I had zero knowledge of anything VFX related because I had only been making low budget Indies. But this experience changed that for me. The ILM team even invited me up to their headquarters in San Francisco during post-production so I could sit in and learn how they create the robots and all the VFX in post as well.  The whole experience on that movie was a priceless education.

Gary: So the films, the Super Bowl, and Transformers were just your warm up acts, what are you working on now…?

Next: How To Raise Money for Your First Movie

 

The Oscar “Huh?!” Factor: Why Academy Voters Usually Pick the Wrong Film

A college professor reveals the method behind his madness in NOT always choosing Academy Award-winning films when selecting the stories students live by for classroom use.  Part one in 2015 Oscar Week Series.

The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg recently opined: “I try to vote in a way so that, in 50 years, people aren’t going to go, ‘Huh?!'” Sadly, history reveals that, when it comes to picking a film audiences will recognize as truly great 50 years from now, Oscar voters nearly always miss the mark. Here’s why.

by Gary David Stratton, Ph.D. • Senior Editor

Powerfully acted and gorgeously directed, will this year's enigmatic front-runner produce anything more than a "Huh?" fifty years from now?
Powerfully acted and gorgeously directed, will this year’s enigmatic front-runner produce anything more than a “Huh?” fifty years from now?

Sunday night tens of millions of viewers from nearly every nation on earth will tune in for the coronation of Hollywood’s “Best Picture” of the year.  Studios spend millions of dollars in countless screeners, screenings, billboards, interviews, Variety Ads, Twitter campaigns, blog attacks, and countless party conversations, seeking to sway the roughly 6,000 members of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voters to crown their film as King or Queen of the industry.

This year’s battle between Richard Linklater’s groundbreaking directorial achievement Boyhood, Clint Eastwood’s controversial crown-pleaser American Sniper, Ava DuVernay’s perfectly timed social commentary Selma, Wes Anderson’s rare comedy nominee The Grand Budapest Hotel, and acting powerhouses BirdmanWhiplashThe Theory of Everything, and The Imitation Game (over 50% of the Academy voters are actors), this might be the most wide open race in recent memory.

Historical films are riding a five-year winning streak (The Hurt Locker, The Artist, and Life of Pi, Argo and Twelve Year’s a Slave), leading many to believe that the producing teams for Selma, Imitation Game, or Theory of Everything will be giving their carefully prepared acceptance speeches Sunday night. Other’s believe this will be the year that breaks that streak. My personal hope is for Selma, but my guess is that acting/directing of Birdman or the novelty of Boyhood will win out.

Mistakes of History

But no mater who Academy voters select, will they get it right? You wouldn’t think so looking at the award’s history. Arguments are legion. Nearly every year is controversial in one way or another. The truth is, many if not most Oscar winners simply don’t stand the test of time. For instance, there are few Academy voters today who would argue that Shakespeare in Love (1998) was anything close to a classic, yet it somehow managed to win over Stephen Spielberg’s WWII epic, Saving Private Ryan.  The 1968 musical Oliver was certainly endearing, but not nearly as enduring as 2001: A Space Odyssey. Why does such a careful and democratic  process often fail?  Here are a few reasons.

Politics as Usual

26263-oscarmovies-1424335238-969-640x480Many Oscar winners have “outside the film” appeal to voters that may not always be a genuine indicators of greatness. The Hurt Locker (2009) was a compelling film, but it is hard to imagine how voting might have gone if Katherine Bigelow had not been in a position to be the first female director to win top honors. (Or, if Avatar director, James Cameron–Katherine’s ex-husband–had not alienated many academy voters with his “I’m king of the world” Oscar acceptance speech for his 1998 Titanic win.) In fact, Katherine’s might have been more worthy of winning for Zero Dark Thirty (2012), but other political factors led to actor/director Ben Affleck’s film Argo winning after being snubbed by the directors guild in their nominations for best director. (Remember what I said about half the voters being actors?)

Even more dramatic are the publicity efforts launched by studios and internet devotees in order to promote their films and sometimes smear their rivals.  2011 winner The King’s Speech had to overcome an alleged smear campaign launched by devotees of The Social Network that all but overshadowed the equally deserving Inception.

A Series of Unfortunate Timings

15 years later, it is hard to imagine how ‘Shakespeare in Love’ won over Spielberg’s WWII classic.

Some films are simply too far ahead of their times to even receive a nomination for Best Picture. Citizen Kane (1941) is near the top of most “All-Time Great Films” lists, but lost to the long forgotten How Green is My Valley. Hitchcock’s cutting-edge masterpiece Vertigo is still required viewing in any school of film, while only the most die-hard fans even remember the 1958 winner Gigi. 1999 genre-bender The Matrix couldn’t even garner a Best Picture nomination, yet few doubt that it will be studied as a classic for years to come.

Other great films lose Oscars simply because they are up against other greats the same year.  Forrest Gump (1994) garnered a much-deserved Best Picture Oscar. Yet few would argue that it was unequivocally better than two other celebrated films in the same year: Quentin Tarantino’s groundbreaking  Pulp Fiction, and Shawshank Redemption (currently #1 on IMDB‘s greatest movies ever made.)

Sometimes a film’s novelty gives it a short-term popularity. The unique silent film aesthetics of 2012 winner The Artist helped give it the upper hand over more conventional films. Yet many purists point to the social importance of the civil rights movement portrayal of The Helpthe acting excellence of The Descendants, and/or the overall of craftsmanship of Martin Scorsese’s Hugo (11 nominations) as more deserving.

The truth is, the public-relations-driven, artistically myopic, and sometime overtly political nature of Hollywood often make an Oscar a highly unreliable measure of long-term greatness.

How Shall We Then Choose?

The 2011 Picture of the Year had to overcome a smear campaign

What about this year?  Unfortunately, most Academy voters aren’t like Scott Feinberg who recently admitted: “I try to vote in a way so that, in 50 years, people aren’t going to go, ‘Huh?!'” Chances are they will get it wrong.

And what about those of us voting at home?  If the professionals don’t always get it right, what hope do we mere mortals have?

Still, over two decades of using film in the classroom has taught me that there might be a better way to predict which film will have true staying power. Although I started out using only Academy Award-winning films, I quickly realized that the Academy isn’t very good at selecting the stories my students live by.

In the next three posts I’ll reveal what those standards are.

Next: 

 

How Christians Should React When Bible Movies Miss the Mark, by Phil Cooke, PhD

Does the God of the universe shudder when a filmmaker gets it wrong?

by Phil Cooke, PhD • President, Cooke Pictures

Noah2014PosterI’m taking a risk here, since I received so much criticism for recommending Christians see the movie Noah. But as Hollywood attempts more movies based on the Bible, we need to do more than just complain when they miss the mark Biblically. The truth is, some of these movies will be hit and others miss. Hollywood isn’t a Christian institution so for us to expect Biblical fidelity in all their movies is simply not realistic. Just to complain about it doesn’t help change the situation. Instead, here’s what I’d recommend:

1. Absolutely let’s preview films and tell Christians (especially families with kids) what’s in these movies.  I’m all for reviews and recommendations that let people know what’s there so they can decide for themselves whether to see it or not.

2. We need to actually see the movie before we criticize.  I’m a firm believer that to criticize a movie, book, TV program or other endeavor without actually seeing it is intellectually dishonest. Christian leaders do it all the time and I believe it really hurts our credibility outside the Christian bubble. If those leaders were honest, they’d admit they’re mostly doing it to stir up the faithful to help fundraising, but when it comes to making an impact in the culture, it’s not helping. If you hear negative things about a movie or TV program and want to avoid it personally, that’s fine. But before you mount a public petition drive, boycott, or campaign against it, you need to know what you’re talking about…

Continue reading

3 Reasons Why a Christian Film Industry is a Really, Really Bad Idea, by Nate Flemming

Part of ongoing series: The Future of Faith in Film and Television

A small voice crying in the wilderness, making the argument that creating a Christian film industry is absolutely the last thing that we Christians should be trying to do.

by Nate Fleming |  Thimblerig’s Ark

holywood“Too little, too late.”

That’s the phrase that kept coming to mind as I started to write a blog post where I, as a Christian, was going to argue against the building of a Christian film industry.

After all, Christians have been trying – on some level – to create a Christian film industry since movies began, and some would argue even earlier.  There were the Billy Graham films of the 1950’s, the apocalyptic Thief in the Night movies of the 1970’s, and a smattering of attempts by different Christian filmmakers during the 1980’s and 1990’s, but these movies barely registered on the radar of people outside of the church.  As far as Hollywood was concerned, Christian movies were provincial affairs, unworthy of notice.

Then in 2004, Mel Gibson shocked everyone to attention with his blood-soaked account of the last twelve hours of the life of Jesus – The Passion of the Christ, a film that cost 30 million to make and earned over 600 million.

Hollywood finally stood up and took notice.

It was as if Gibson, by successfully tapping into the largely untapped market of the “faith based audience”, had singlehandedly uncovered the fabled lost golden city of El Dorado, and the L.A. conquistadors immediately set about strategizing how to best invade and conquer this shining city on a hill.

The Armani-suited conquistadors didn’t waste time, but began attaching themselves to little-known Christian filmmakers who seemed to appeal to the Christian masses, eventually inking deals with the Kendrick brothers (Facing the Giants, Fireproof), Pureflix Entertainment (God’s Not Dead), Cloud Ten Pictures (Left Behind), and many others – helping provide the finances and distribution channels that would permit these filmmakers and film companies to continue making and marketing their products for the Christian audience.

And in the past couple of years we’ve seen several well-known individuals from outside the filmmaking industry also try to tap into the Χριστιανός zeitgeist – Rick Santorum, Glenn Beck, Willie Robertson, to name a few – all doing their part to try and build up a Christian (or politically conservative) filmmaking industry in their own image, or at least one that lines up with their own personal theological interpretation of the faith or political ideology.

And now, here we have this little blog, a small voice crying in the wilderness, making the argument that creating a Christian film industry is absolutely the last thing that we Christians should be trying to do.

Here are my three arguments why a Christian Film Industry is a really, really, bad idea… 

Continue reading

See Also: 

The Future of Faith in Film? Youth and Evangelicals Outstrip All Other Movie-going Audiences, by David Kinnaman

Current Films by Act One Graduates Reveal Strange Dichotomy in Box Office Mojo’s ‘Christian Movie’ Category

The Blind Side Leading the Blind: Better Faith-Based Filmmaking through Better Stories

Oh Crap! The Theater’s Full! by Actress McKenna Elise

The Future of Faith-Based Filmmaking: What is a Christian movie? by Screenwriter Mike Rinaldi

Why Most “Christian” Movies Suck, by Screenwriter Brennan Mark Smith

Christians in Hollywood: A Mission Impossible Writer Offers a Treatment, by TV Writer Ron Austin

 

Time to Take Hollywood to the Woodshed, by Brian Bird

Brian Bird first posted this piece on his blog three weeks ago and seemed to have stirred up a few hornets. It resulted in several national radio interviews and he was even invited to take his opinions on this topic to Washington, D.C., where he met with a dozen members of Congress and their staffs to search for some solutions. It also ‘outed’ him as a sort of industry whistleblower. He asked if we would repost his original comments here.

Nobody asks us what we want to watch on TV. A tiny cabal of people in Hollywood just decide what they are going to offer us and hope we get addicted.

by Brian Bird • TV Writer-Producer

Host-Jimmy-Kimmel-onstage-005
“None of the four major networks were nominated in the [Emmy] drama category. The Academy is sending a pretty clear message and that message is… Show us your boobs.” -Jimmy Kimmel
I woke up this morning to find this Hollywood Reporter article in my in-box.  I thought I had stumbled onto a porn site.  I actually won’t even repeat the headline. You can read it for yourself.  But suffice to say, it’s time to take my own industry to the woodshed.

Apparently some of the broadcast TV networks and writer-producers have so much HBO envy that there are no envelopes they aren’t willing to push anymore. At Emmy time, the pay-cable networks seem take home most of the hardware for their public taste-challenging content. Remember, HBO’s branding slogan: “It’s not TV, it’s HBO.” Well, for a lot of the executives, buyers and content creators on broadcast TV, the way to cure your Envy-Green is go to Blue.

“This season, broadcast TV isn’t for the prudish. Nearly two months into the fall, it’s clear that explicit jokes and boundary-pushing storylines are changing the definition of what sexual content is acceptable in prime­time.”

– Tim Winter, President, Parents Television Council

This is happening on the networks (CBS, NBC, Disney-owed ABC, and FOX) that people use to receive for free on their rabbit ears over the public airwaves, the same networks that used to be regulated by the Federal Communications Commission. But now, because we pay a few cents or dollars for their feeds on our cable or satellite bills every month, they are now considered Pay-TV. Hence, virtually no FCC oversight. That’s the marketplace at work. These very same broadcasters used to have robust “Standards and Practices” departments, sort of public interest firewalls which would encourage restraint and discretion on the parts of the writers, producers and production companies so as not to ambush family sensibilities. Apparently, these S & P execs, right along with the feeble FCC, have now gone AWOL.

The Frog in the Beaker 

Okay, call me a prude. I’ve worked on family-themed films and TV shows for most of my career, including such series as Touched By An Angel, Step By Step and Evening Shade, and Michael Landon Jr. and I have a family-friendly series called When Calls the Heart currently in production of Season 2. I’ll wear the prude tag like a badge of honor because what we’re producing is not vanilla or “soft” as some in the industry might call it. It’s actually radical, revolutionary, counter-programming because very few others are actually producing content like this these days. Not that many years ago, all of the big networks competed with each other to put family-themed programming on TV every day of the week, but that’s not the case anymore. In fact, most people I know can’t name 10 shows on TV any longer that they can actually, safely watch with their families.

“I have no intention of changing what’s happening on Scandal… I look forward to being censored.” -Shondra Rhimes, Executive Producer

Remember the high school biology experiment where you put a frog in a beaker of room temperature water and then slowly heat up the brew over a Bunsen burner? The frog splashes about as it acclimates to the rising temperature.

Until it boils to death.

As the networks seem to be chasing pay-cable over the cliff into dark, depraved and perverse, could it be that we’re all boiling to death and we don’t even realize it?

The Big Cop Out 

I’ve had conversations with some of my peers who work on what used to be called “10 o’clock programming” but which now pretty much rules the airwaves at all times of the day and night. They say they are just reflecting culture when they drop language bombs or feature ever-increasing sexual explicitness in their programs.

In my opinion, that’s horse-(language bomb) and an extraordinary cop out. They are not just reflecting culture; they are shaping it and leading it… right over that cliff. Media occasionally reflects, but it mostly teaches. And if that’s not so, how come advertisers spend 20 bazillion dollars a year to try to teach us to buy their products? If media doesn’t teach, persuade, shape or influence our behavior, that money would never be spent. Media creates culture.

Nobody asks us what we want to watch on TV. A tiny cabal of people in Hollywood just decide what they are going to offer us and hope we get addicted. The only measurement is how many eyeballs they can attract and hold onto week after week. It’s completely utilitarian thinking. The bottom line is money, and people’s values be damned. The question of whether or not it is good for culture is no longer a concern because the audience gets to decide what it likes or doesn’t like. What’s the difference between that and handing out crack cocaine on a street corner and then saying it’s up to us to be responsible crack-users?

Don’t get me wrong.  I have watched and enjoyed many programs that I would never purposely invite my kids to watch. Some of the story telling, production values and insights into the human condition are phenomenal and worthy of viewing.

But where is the balance? With wall-to-wall adult-oriented programming and nothing for families, I fear for the future of our culture. I fear for my kids and the next generation, which is facing an unprecedented tsunami of desensitizing, over-sexualized, violent content.

What can we do about it? You can watch my show, When Calls the Heart, and if you enjoy it, let the powers that be know you want more family programming.

And if nothing else, at least take my Family TV Challenge: Name 10 current “scripted” shows on TV you can watch with your entire family (real estate, gardening and cooking shows don’t count). If you can name 10, them I’ll concede I’m just tilting at windmills. But if you can’t, I urge you to share your strong feelings with the switchboards at the networks and the advertisers who are spending a great deal money trying to lure your eyeballs.

The water is heating up all around us.

See also

Opening Doors for Others: An Interview with Writer-Producer & Mentor Brian Bird

Learning from the Best (Brian Bird): An Interview with TV and Screenwriter, Chris Easterly

Brian Bird is Executive Producer of When Calls the Heart (Hallmark Channel) and a prolific writer-producer whose TV credits include more than 250 episodes of Touched By an Angel, Evening ShadeStep by Step, and The Family Man, as well as numerous TV and feature films, including Tri-Star’s Not Easily Broken