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

Part of ongoing series:  Hollywood and Higher Education and The Future of Faith-Based Filmmaking

The Blind Side is not so much the story of a Christian family who transformed the life of a homeless teenager as much as it is the story of a homeless teenager who transformed the faith of a Christian family

by Gary David Stratton • Senior Editor

“Wow, I’ve finally met someone who practices but doesn’t preach.” —Sandra Bullock, speaking of Leigh Anne Tuohy, whom Bullock portrayed in her first Oscar-winning performance

blind-side-poster-0In the aftermath of the runaway success of The Blind Side, Hollywood has become more open to Christians’ stories. I don’t mean “Christian” stories, but rather human stories about Christians whose faith has been an element in their facing universal human struggles.

The Blind Side was unlike anything normally accepted by the Church as a “Christian Film.” It is neither an evangelistic message about Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock) witnessing about her faith, nor Michael Oher  (Quinton Aaron) coming to faith, nor a missionary appeal for how Christian families should adopt disadvantaged youth, nor a white-washed tale about perfect Christians, living perfect lives, with perfect motives, and everything turning out perfectly.

O, the Humanity!

Sandra Bullock as the highly flawed and genuinely Christian, Leigh Anne Tuohy.

Instead, it is a very human story about a very human woman whose Christian faith informed and motivated a series of radical decisions that transformed her life, her family, and the young man they adopted.  The story is not about her faith, but her faith is clearly part of the story.

This approach works only because The Blind Side wasn’t made like a typical “Christian film.” Although director John Lee Hancock describes himself as a Christian and there are a number of other talented Christians working at Alcon Entertainment who helped guide the project, Hancock made The Blind Side because he thought the story the Tuohys lived was so compelling. Period!

“The fact that the Tuohys are Christians played absolutely no part in me doing it or not doing it…. I mean, let’s be honest, it’s an incredibly charitable act that yields rewards for this family. It would have been an also amazingly charitable act had the Tuohys been atheists. A good deed is a good deed… I thought it was a great story.”

Hancock goes on to explain: “I think that if I set out to do stories based on that (Christianity or even inspiration) then it will probably be like the cart leading the horse… You set out to tell a good story. You don’t do it because there is a deep message involved because the movie is almost always bad when you do that…”[1]

The Future of “Christian” Filmmaking

garydavidstratton-2
Michael Oher is a most unlikely hero in the most unlikely “Christian” film in recent memory.

It is the very humanness of the film that makes it so approachable. Leigh Anne Tuohy is a flawed individual. She is a stubborn control freak, still struggling to stay in control even in the very last scene of the movie.  Yet when motivated by her Christian faith Leigh Anne’s  flaws propel her to make decisions that few other women would even consider.  Her character is complicated (which is why Sandra Bullock won an Academy Award for portraying her), and therefore very compelling. We like her precisely because she represents our highest aspirations and our worst self-sabotaging realities.

Hancock’s approach points toward a compelling future for “Christian” filmmaking in Hollywood — If you live it, they will come (to the theater, that is). Audiences don’t want to watch “Christian” films. They want to see good films about good stories. Compelling stories about real life human beings who overcome tremendous obstacles and who are transformed into better human beings in the process.  (See, Casablanca and the Four Levels of WorldviewCrash Goes the Worldview.)

If the story happens to be about someone whose faith informed and motivated their journey then who’s to argue? Their story earned them the right to let their faith be part of the film. (And opened up the “plausibility structure” for audiences accepting that not all Christians are the preachy, bigoted hypocrites so often portrayed by the media.)

In the end, The Blind Side isn’t so much the story of a Christian family who transformed the life of a homeless teenager so much as it is the story of a homeless teenager who transformed the faith of a Christian family: all because one woman made the radical decision to actually live out her faith.

As Sandra Bullock opined about Leigh Anne and the Tuohy family:

“[S]he has no idea the path she’s begun, in terms of adoption and fostering. It’s not been on the forefront of people’s minds. It is on the forefront of my mind every day now when I get up. When I look around I go, ‘Is he, is she, what is their situation?’ And it’s because of this family, and I think what they are going to do for our country in terms of being aware of that is – I don’t think they realize the profound affect that they are going to have…. [Y]ou see this family, they were themselves for no other benefit other than because they wanted to reach out, lend a hand, and had no idea that they would get a son in return… I said, ‘Wow, I’ve finally met someone who practices but doesn’t preach.’ ” (Italics mine.)[2]

In other words, if Christians actually lived better stories then we might have a litany of heroic stories to draw upon and films to make that real people in real theaters actually want to see and A-list actors want to play. Stories about men and women (and teenagers) whose faith motivated and informed their choices to live remarkable lives by making remarkable decisions and overcome remarkable obstacles.

Living a Better Story

If more Christians actually lived compelling stories then we might have a litany of heroic movies.

Every believer (and not just filmmakers) ought to be asking themselves ‘Am I living the kind of story that, in Donald Miller’s words, “leaves a beautiful feeling even as the credits role”? As Miller discovered in writing his book subtitled How I Learned to Live a Better Story, few Christians are living stories that come remotely close to living out the full implications of their faith.

What story are we writing with our lives? Leigh Anne Tuohy’s story is deeply heroic precisely because her faith motivated her to take action toward the will of God being done on earth as it is in heaven. Will we?

Heaven is looking for heroic stories even more than Hollywood. Will this generation overwhelm the world with stories of very human Christ followers whose faith motivates and informs the heroic lives they live?  The world is watching…

If you live it, they will come!

 

Next post in series: Current Films by Act One Graduates Reveal Strange Dichotomy in Box Office Mojo’s ‘Christian Movie’ Category, by Gary David Stratton

See Also:

Conversations On The Blind Side – Sandra Bullock and Leigh Anne Tuohy Go One-On-One, by Rebecca Murray

Michael Oher and Tuohy Family Celebrate Super Bowl Victory (ABC)

Hollywood and Higher Education, by Gary David Stratton

Why Story Structure Matters: Even if you don’t want it to, by Christopher Riley

Opening Doors for Others: An Interview with Writer-Director Brian Bird, by Gary David Stratton

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

 

Notes:

[1] Interview: ‘The Blind Side’ Director John Lee Hancock, Michelle A. Vu

[2] Bullock Quotations from:  Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw Discuss ‘The Blind Side’ 

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

Birdman_69883 (1)
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.

Joseph Fiennes to play Eric Liddell in Chinese Sequel to Chariots of Fire, by Kat Brown

Liddell regarded as a hero in China

Winston Churchill arranged prisoner swap for the Olympic star’s release from Japanese prison camp only to have Liddell turn it down so a pregnant inmate could gain freedom instead

by Kat Brown • The Telegraph

Chariots-of-Fire-1981
Winner of four Academy Awards, including a surprise Best Picture (1982), Chariots’ use of music (see YouTube below) helped revolutionize filmmaking

The much-loved British film Chariots of Fire about the Scottish runner and missionary Eric Liddell is getting a sequel thanks to his many fans in China.

Joseph Fiennes will play Liddell in a new movie filmed in China, co-written and directed by the Hong Kong director Stephen Shin with Canadian director Michael Parker. It will be distributed by the Hong Kong-based Alibaba Pictures, who this morning also announced that they are to back the fifth Mission Impossible film.

Chariots of Fire, which won four Oscars in 1982, starred Ian Charleson as Liddell, a devout Christian who had to choose between his sport and religious beliefs at the 1924 Paris Olympics. Months before the Olympics took place, Liddell had to drop his plans to enter his preferred 100m race because the heats took place on a Sunday. Instead, he trained for the 400m and succeeded in taking the gold medal for Great Britain.

Joseph Fiennes to play Scottish Olympic Gold Medal-winner and missionary to China
Fiennes to play Scottish Olympic Gold Medal-winner and missionary to China

An Unexpected Hero

The Independent reports that the Chinese-born Liddell is regarded as a hero in China, partly for his sporting prowess but also for his actions in the Japanese internship camp where he died aged 43. Liddell was thought to have organised the smuggling of food in to prisoners.

Born in China to missionary parents, he returned to that country after his Olympic victory to continue his parents’ work. [Where the Japanese invasion resulted in his capture.]…

Continue reading

 

See also

The Brits aren’t coming! Unofficial Chariots of Fire sequel greenlit in China, in The Guardian
.

 

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

MV5BMzU4Nzg1MDIyNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzE5MTc0NDE@._V1_SY940_CR5,0,630,940_AL_
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

logo_new5

 

 

 

 

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.

Inigo Montoya named ‘Chief Inspirator’ by Two Handed Warriors

Lifetime achievement award for humble swordsman and accomplished pirate

“Our hope is that this award not only inspires a new generation of culture-makers and faith builders to seek to master two-handed warfare, but also brings Iñigo the peace he’s sought since leaving the revenge business.” -GDS

by the Two Handed Warrior Staff

inigo1
Hello, my name is Iñigo Montoya.

Iñigo Montoya, the original Two-Handed Warrior, was honored with the lifetime achievement award of ‘Chief Inspirator’ by twohandedwarriors.com at the THW awards banquet at the Gildor Hyatt-Regency last night. Inspired by the death of his father at the hands of Count Tyrone Rugen, his lifetime of study in search of revenge drove him to attain the level of ‘Master’ (and according to Goldman, even ‘Wizard’) of Sword-play with both his right hand and his left.  After a brief period of unemployment in Greenland, Iñigo was able to overcome alcohol addiction with the help of his lifelong friend, Fessik the Giant, and return to the business of revenge.

In the employ of Man in Black, Inc., Iñigo led one of the more remarkable princess rescues of all time. William Goldman later adapted his exploits into a novel and film, The Princess Bride (1987), named by the Writer’s Guild of America as one of the 101 Greatest Screenplays ever written. Beautifully portrayed by Mandy Patinkin, the scene chronicling Iñigo’s successful assassination of Count Rugen is considered one of the Top 100 Movie Scenes of All-Time.

Later, Iñigo’s influence upon Gary David Stratton was key to the founding of TwoHandedWarriors.com and many other culturally influential institutions. In 2015, TwoHandedWarriors.com named Iñigo Montoya, ‘CHIEF INSPIRATOR’ for his work in inspiring two-handed warriors across Hollywood, Higher Education, and beyond. Senior Editor, Gary David Stratton, noted in his awards speech, “Our hope is that this award not only inspires a new generation of culture-makers and faith builders to seek to master two-handed warfare, but also brings Iñigo the peace he’s sought since leaving the revenge business.”

Inigo currently serves as Dread Pirate on the pirate ship Revenge, but plans an early retirement to join Fezzik, MIB founder, Wesley and his bride Buttercup in Patagonia. He can be reached on Twitter at @IAmInigoMontoya.

Read more about TwoHandedWarriors.com

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

Dean Batali, ‘That 70s Show’ Writer and Producer, Shares His Greatest Cultural Influencers

Reposted in honor of Dean’s Birthday!

One of the top mentors of young television and screenwriters in Hollywood points to the influencers who influenced him

One of today’s most articulate voices for faithful engagement in culture, Dean Batali, is best known for his work on That ‘70s Show, where he served as a writer for seven years and as an executive producer for the show’s final season. Dean also wrote for the initial two seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as well as for a number of other successful shows (Duckman, Hope and Gloria, The Half-Hour News Hour, and The Adventures of Pete and Pete) and has been key in the development of many young TV writers in Hollywood today.

Always the stickler for precision, Dean took EXACTLY 15 minutes to complete his list and added the following caveat: “I’m going to assume that the Bible is ineligible, but it should go as #1. Sheryl (Anderson) only listed writers, which I would be happy to do, in which case it would be “Preston Sturges” instead of Sullvan’s Travels and “Tom Fontana” instead of Homicide and “Jerry Zucker, David Zucker and Jim Abraham” instead of Airplane! and Peter Jackson instead of Lord of the Rings… etc.  But if I were doing just an author list, I’d have to get into names like Bob Briner, and maybe A. Scott Berg.

Here’s Dean’s “Fab 15” list of the greatest influences in his life.

Michelangelo

David Mamet

St. Elsewhere (TV Show)

Paul McCartney

David E. Kelley

James Brooks

C.S. Lewis

The Lord of the Rings (film) trilogy

Sullivan’s Travels

Buffy helped launch the careers of both show creator Joss Whedon and staff writer Dean Batali

A.A. Milne

Homicide: Life on the Street (TV Show)

Ordinary People (movie)

William Shakespeare

A Chorus Line

Airplane!.

What’s on your “Fab 15 list?

 

Academic Branding: Professors Producing Hollywood-Style Previews to Attract Students, by Daniel A. Gross

Videos may have no clear connection to course content, but they shape the identity of the course

Harvard University was an early adopter in short videos shared across social networks to boost student interest and attendance as they “shop” for classes. They have an intimacy that course catalogs and posters lack.

photo_68169_wide_large-1
David Malan, who teaches Computer Science 50 at Harvard, shows 
video trailers for the popular course on the first day of class. (Rose Lincoln, Harvard U.)

by Daniel A. Gross • The Chronicle for Higher Education

After 25 years as a typographical designer, Richard Hunt knows the value of visual communication — which makes it a little ironic that his online course at OCAD University, an art-and-design college in Ontario, initially released lectures in an audio-­only format. Last year students accustomed to on-campus learning felt that Mr. Hunt’s “History and Evolution of Typography” course needed greater visual engagement than lecture slides could provide. This fall Mr. Hunt, an assistant professor, hopes to correct that, starting with a video trailer that went live just a few weeks ago. “We thought a trailer would put a face to the voice,” he says.

The new course trailer, released on the college’s internal network and on YouTube, begins with a simple shot of Mr. Hunt speaking. “It’s a way of selling the course to students who resist the online format,” he says.

Course trailers have become increasingly common at universities across North America, as a strategy for attracting students and for putting a public face to the institutions. Several universities have set up official media teams to help faculty members create them. Though such videos seem like a natural development in an age of online and multimedia coursework, they’ve also entered the brick-and-mortar classroom, signaling that a branding tactic once reserved for the marketplace has entered the marketplace of ideas…

Continue reading

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.

MV5BMTMwNzI3NjIzOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTc3NjMxMw@@._V1_SY317_CR4,0,214,317_AL_
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

 

Fiddler on the Roof: Worldview Change and the Foundational Power of Story, by Gary David Stratton

Part of ongoing series:  Hollywood and Higher Education: Teaching Worldview Through the Stories We Live By

Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as… a fiddler on the roof!

by Gary David Stratton • Senior Editor

Fiddler-Movie-Poster-200x300Fiddler on the Roof (1971) is one of the most beloved dramas of the stage and screen. [1] On Broadway (1964), Fiddler was the first musical to surpass 3,000 performances. It won nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical.  The Hollywood version (1971) lost the Academy Awards Best Picture nod to the more cutting-edge The French Connection, but still managed a box office of over 365 million dollars (adjusted for inflation), making it the 9th highest grossing musical of all time.[2] After four Broadway revivals, three London runs, and countless high school and community theatre performances, Fiddler became one of the more influential cultural works of the late twentieth-century.

The film also provides a beautiful illustration of  the adaptability of worldview at the upper levels: 1) Actions/Decisions and 2) Rules of Life/Culture. Fiddler chronicles the life of a small Jewish community seeking to maintain their cultural balance (like a fiddler on the roof) in the Gentile-dominated Czarist Russian village of Anatevka. The story’s protagonist, Tevye, is a poor dairy farmer seeking to scratch out a meager existence with his wife Golde. It is a task made all the more difficult by the fact that God has blessed them, not with economically viable and socially valuable sons, but five daughters.

Tevye (Topoland Golde’s (Norma Crane) three oldest daughters—Tzeitel (Rosalind Harris), Hodel (Michele Marsh), and Chava (Neva Small)—provide the storyline that so clearly illustrates all four levels of worldview:

(1) the visible Actions and Behaviors of our day-to-day decisions, and

(2) the Rules and Roles of personal strategies and cultural conventions that form the ‘scripts’ we follow in most of our decisions without ever thinking about—as well as the resiliency of worldview at its deepest levels

(3) the Beliefs and Values that form the and presuppositional principles of our belief system, and especially

(4) the foundational Stories and Myths that form the authoritative “scriptures” for both the macro-worldview of the society we live in, as well as our more personalized micro-worldview (See, Casablanca and the Four Levels of Worldview.)

Screen shot 2013-05-02 at 1.37.53 AMFrom the four-level construct perspective, Tevye’s worldview is a set of stories from the foundational Scriptures of The Torah (the “Holy Book” or “Good book” in Tevye’s language) of how God has revealed himself and his law to his people Israel (Level 4), from which generations of Rabbinic scholarship have drawn key theological beliefs and ethical values (Level 3), from which synagogue and societal leaders have constructed cultural conventions and rules for daily life (Level 2), from which the residents of Anatevka live out their faith in their daily behaviors and moral judgments (Level 1).

Matchmaker, Matchmaker

Some of Anatevka’s strongest cultural conventions surround the roles and rules surrounding the institution of marriage. Over the course of the film, Tevye’s three daughter’s confront him with more and more counter-cultural views of marriage, which in turn drives Tevye to explore his worldview at deeper and deeper levels. When using Fiddler to teach worldview, I use six scenes to trace the transformation of the upper levels of Tevye’s worldview, and his ultimate resistance to change at his worldview’s deepest level (Scene times in parenthesis are from the downloadable ITunes version.)

1) Tradition!

Tradition! Tevye and the cultural rules/conventions (Level 2), theological principles (Level 3), and authoritative story, Torah (Level 4), that undergird his life (Level 1).

Scene One: Tradition! The first scene (1:40–12:00 on ITunes version of Fiddler) introduces the protagonist, Tevye, and the cultural conventions that govern his daily decisions through the song, Tradition.

I ask the class to use the four-level worldview construct to organize the elements of Tevye’s worldview described in the film. Students easily pick out see the rules, conventions and role conformity that govern the social relationships of his culture (Level 2), and that this culture is based upon the authoritative story of the Torah (Level 4). It normally takes them a little longer to flesh out the principles (theology and philosophy) that undergird the conventions. They also quickly see that many of Tevye’s assumptions are unexamined.

Tevye: Because of our traditions, we've kept our 
balance for many, many years. Here in Anatevka, 
we have traditions for everything... You may ask, 
"How did this tradition get started?" I'll tell 
you! [pause] I don't know. But it's a tradition... 
and because of our traditions... Every one 
of us knows who he is and what God expects him 
to do.

See movie clip of various roles here.

2) Traditional Marriage Culture

Golde and Yente the matchmaker arrange the marriage, before Tevye seals the deal with Lazar Wolf

Scene Two: Tevye and Golde’s Worldview Construct of Marriage. In the second scene (1:04:09–1:07:30) Tevye informs Golde that he has successfully arranged a marriage for their oldest daughter, Tzeitel. What’s more, the groom is the richest widower in the village, Lazar Wolf.

I ask students to watch the clip and to use the four-level construct to flesh out Tevye and Golde’s worldview in regards to marriage. It normally takes a bit of prodding to help them see that what they view Tevye’s actions in arranging the marriage (Level 1) as virtuous and in the best interest of Tzeitel, because the father is in the best position to arrange a marriage (Level 2), because marriage is essentially a business/social contract (Level 3), based upon the village’s “story” that happiness is tied to increasing one’s prosperity and social standing (Level 4).

3) A Non-Traditional View of Marriage

Tzeitel and Motel make a counter-cultural pledge, but reason for permission from solid business logic

Scene Three: Tzeitel and Motel’s Conflicting Worldview Construct of Marriage. In scene 3 (1:07:30 –1:14:42), Tzeitel & Motel (Leonard Frey) object to Tevye’s decision (Level 1), precisely because they disagree with Tevye’s belief that marriage is primarily a business arrangement. They believe that marriage is best based upon romantic love (Level 3), and therefore propose a different convention for arranging a marriage—a pledge between lovers (Level 2). After all, while the father is in the best position to make a successful business arrangement, the couple is in a better position to arrange a marriage based on love. For Tevye, a pledge is well outside the plausibility structures of his worldview.

Tevye: They gave each other a pledge? Unheard of... absurd!
They gave each other a pledge?  Unthinkable!

 

However, Motel is a good negotiator. While his own worldview provides romantic love as the basis for his pledge to Tzeitel, he ultimately appeals to the Anatevka’s prosperity/happiness myth (Level 4) to try to convince his would-be father-in-law:

Tevye: You are just a poor tailor!
Motel: That's true, Reb Tevye, but even a poor tailor
is entitled to some happiness! [He places his arm around
Tzeitel.] I promise you, Tevye, your daughter will not starve.

 

(View clip of Tevye’s final decision here.)

While it often takes awhile, students are normally able parse out the these worldview levels (although I often have to point out level four.)  What is really interesting is helping them examine Tevye’s reasoning in allowing Tzeitel & Motel to wed. Students are normally able to discern that Tevye’s worldview has not actually changed as much as it appears. “Papa” is still making the decision based on his daughter happiness (Level 1). While he is breaking with convention to allow the couple’s pledge to stand (Level 2), he is not really buying their notion of romantic love (Level 3) as its basis. To him marriage is still a business arrangement (Level 3), and he approves only once he is convinced that Motel is capable of giving his daughter enough financial security to satisfy the village prosperity myth (Level 4).

4) Pushing the Boundaries

Hodel and Perchik ask only for Tevye’s blessing of their love-based engagement forcing Papa to delve into the story level Torah of his worldview

Scene Four: Hodel and Perchik’s Conflicting Worldview Construct of Marriage: In scene four (1:57:23 – 2:03:53), Tevye’s second daughter, Hodel, and her love interest, Perchik (Paul Michael Glaser), escalate the worldview conflict. Hodel and Perchik also believe that marriage should be based primarily on the principle of romantic love (Level 3). However they further break with village conventions by choosing to become engaged without consulting their parents (Level 2). They ask only for Tevye’s blessing (not permission)—a blessing Tevye is not anxious to grant.

From a worldview perspective, the scene is absolutely fascinating. Tevye’s reason for allowing their engagement to stand reaches well beyond the village’s prosperity/happiness myth and into the authoritative worldview stories of the Torah (Level 4).

Tevye:  On the other hand, our old ways were once new,
weren't they? ... On the other hand, they decided without
parents, without a matchmaker!... On the other hand,
did Adam and Eve have a matchmaker ?... Well, yes, they did.
 And it seems these two have the same Matchmaker!

 

By reorienting his worldview around a new principle of love (Level 3) derived from a new insight into the authoritative story from Scripture (Level 4), Tevye is able to embrace a counter-cultural convention for marriage. He is undergoing a significant paradigm shift. Students can nearly always connect with this transformation and “get” the worldview transformation issues.[2]

5) Tevye and Golde’s Worldview Shift

Their daughters’ counter-cultural challenge causes Tevye and Golda to reinterpret their own marriage around the principle of love

Scene Five: Tevye and Golde’s Paradigm Shift: Scene five (2:03:53—2:09:05) is a touching portrayal of Tevye seeking to apply (Level 1) his new understanding of love (Levels 2-4) to his own marriage. He asks Golde a question made possible now only by the new probability structures of his transformed worldview: “Do you love me?”

This revolutionary question evokes a wonderful interchange on the true meaning of marriage, complete with a back and forth exchange between Golde’s conventional understanding and Tevye’s deeper counter-conventional challenge inspired by their daughters. It concludes with a paradigm shift on Golde’s part as well.

Tevye: Then you love me?
Golde: I suppose I do
Tevye: And I suppose I love you too
Both: It change a thing, but even so, after 25 years
it's nice to know.

 

I normally need only ask students to watch the clip and tell me what is going on, to evoke a spirited conversation. They nearly always get the point. It DOES change a thing. It changes everything. Their new worldview of marriage changes the plausibility structure of their of their daily decisions. Ultimately, it will transform their marriage.

6) A Bridge Too Far

There is no other hand! Tevye’s worldview bends at the upper levels, but does not break at the root.

Scene Six: Tevye and Golde’s Rejection of Chava and Fyedka’s Marriage. The final scene in Tevye’s worldview journey is not nearly as heartening.[4] The scene details Tevye and Golde’s rejection of their youngest daughter, Chava, due to her marriage to a Gentile, Fyedka (Ray Lovelock). I normally show the first part of the scene (2:22:00 – 2:25:33)—Chava’s love for Fyedka and Tevye’s disapproval and stop the film. I then ask the class to use the four-level construct to try to predict how Tevye will respond.

Once they have made their prediction(s), I show the rest of the scene (2:25:34 – 2:35:35). It is a gut wrenching depiction of a man who has come to the foundations of his worldview and found (much to his dismay) that there is no room for further reinterpretation. There is no story that will save his relationship with his daughter. She is dead to him.

Chava: Papa, I beg you to accept us.
Tevye: Accept them? How can I accept them?
Can I deny everything I believe in? ON the other hand,
can I deny my own daughter?  On the other hand,
how can I turn my back on my faith, my people.
If I try to bend that far... I’ll break.
On the other hand... NO... there is no other hand!
NO, CHAVA!! NO! NO!! NO!!!

 

I normally let the scene play all the way through Chava’s desolate tears. When I turn up the lights, the room is very quiet. I normally need only ask, “What do you think?” to evoke a highly emotional conversation. I try to force them to think through why Tevye reached the limits of accommodation possible in his worldview. (With A classroom of adult learners this often brings up some of their own painful family and personal experiences with interfaith marriage.)

Tradition helps us keep our balance, but it is Story that points the way forward

In the end, most students reject Tevye’s rejection of Chava. I push them hard to discern what it is in their worldview (romantic, sentimental, relativistic, Western, democratic, pluralistic, postmodern, individualism) that reacts so negatively to Tevye’s moral judgment. When I am feeling particularly antagonistic, I often ask them, “Would it make any difference if the story was set in Israel around 1000 BC and Fyedka was a Canaanite?”  (That really gets things going.)

After a spirited discussion I ask students if they know the limits of accommodation in their own worldview? How do we know when cross from accommodation to assimilation?  I suspect the only way is to be certain of the foundational stories of our own worldview.

Like Tevye, the stories of Scripture provide for us, not only fertile soil for nurturing reinterpretations of our philosophy and culture for a new generation, but also foundational bedrock for grounding the story of our own life in the mind of God.

Next: Crash goes the Worldview: Why Worldview Transformation Requires Changing Scripts

See also:

Hollywood and Higher Education: Teaching Worldview Through Academy Award-winning Films

Casablanca and the Four Levels of Worldview: Why Everyone Meets at Rick’s 

It’s a Wonderful Worldview: Frank Capra’s Theistic Masterpiece

Bungee-Jumping to Eternity: The Existential Angst of Dead Poets Society

Deep Culture: Is Winning an Oscar a Reliable Indicator of a Truly Great Film?

If you Live it, They Will Come: The Blind Side and Better Faith-Based Filmmaking

 

Related Posts:

Using Zombie Movies to Teach Politics, by Daniel W. Drezner

The Joker Is Satan, and So Are We: René Girard and The Dark Knight, by Charles Bellinger

Echoes of René Girard in the Films of Martin Scorsese: Scapegoats and Redemption on ‘Shutter Island,’ by Cari Myers

Hitchcock and the Scapegoat: René Girard, Violence and Victimization in The Wrong Man, by David Humbert

 

Notes


[1] Norman Jewison, Topol, Norma Crane and Leonard Frey, Fiddler on the Roof (MGM Home Entertainment, 2004.

[2] http://www.the-numbers.com/market/Genres/Musical.php

[3] This conversation is even more interesting when the class includes at least one student from a culture of arranged marriages.

[4] In fact, it is so troubling to some students that I sometimes I skip it and end with the Do You Love Me discussion.