Roma Downey’s soft Irish lilt is dancing across the room. I half-expect a glowing backlight to appear, and for her to start telling us about God’s love.
But then I listen to her actual words, and they’re about the business side of the entertainment industry.
Oh, right. That was just a television show.
As a person who moved from the Bible Belt to the Los Angeles area hoping to work in the film industry, I have been implored to ‘fix Hollywood.’ By this they mean to make films that remove the language, sex and violence that beleaguers familes and church-goers all over the world. In other words, make things like Touched by an Angel.
There’s a lot to fix in Hollywood, but–not only am I not up to the task–there’s less that needs to be done in terms of intending to create more faith-based and family-oriented entertainment.
I attended Variety’s Purpose: Family Entertainment + Faith-Based Summit last week. Hundreds of content creators, producers, distributors, and executives from film, television and other media companies crammed into the ballroom at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills to talk, share and network around the subject of faith-based and family entertainment.
Everybody in that room wants family and faith-based entertainment to be consumed as easily and repeatedly as possible.
It is not true that Hollywood is ignoring the two genres (and they are two different genres, though they can intersect like a Venn diagram). One of the most-often said phrases was wanting “lunge-free” content–content that won’t cause parents to lunge for the remote to fast-forward or change the channel. (Insert gripes about digital baby-sitters here.) Not only the language/sex/violence trifecta, but also scenes or characters that are scary. How many times have you had to fast-forward through the scary part of an otherwise child-friendly show?
The content creators, buyers and distributors all want content that parents feel comfortable letting their children watch, and not least because it’s a gold mine. Though films like Fireproof, Facing the Giants and The Passion of the Christ got Hollywood’s attention for their massive profitability, now Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s History Channel mini-series The Bible has got ‘evil’ Hollywood excited again about the huge audience available for faith-based entertainment. Many titles are in development for a 2014 release, causing one Fox Searchlight executive to call it a “watershed year” for faith-based entertainment.
They will be watching to see if we will be watching.
And though The Bible has finished it’s run on History, Burnett and Downey mentioned that there was much more to come–not only for The Bible franchise (if you wish, insert vomiting here for even the idea of a franchise around our sacred book) but they hoped that the series success has “paved the way” for other creators. “It’s not a competitive thing,” Burnett told the crowd. “The more faith-based content the better.”
So everybody is all amped-up to make this stuff, then why are the two most-profitable movies of 2012 the male-stripper tale Magic Mike and the crude teddy bear flick Ted?
Two reasons: 1) You and your congregations paid the money to see Magic Mike and Ted just like I did. And you probably enjoyed some of it just like I did. So we’re the problem, because studios won’t make it if it doesn’t make money.
2) There is no automatic connection between compelling entertainment and admirable morals. As a society, stories about the most ethical, rule-following accountant in the land don’t interest us as much as a comedy, a spectacular heist, or a scary movie. Who’s going to see The Completely Fair Insurance Adjustor or The Life and Times of the Goody-Goody Reverand?
You will want others to see it, you’ll want your kids to love it, but you yourself will have little interest.
And that is completely fair.
So if you want to ‘fix’ Hollywood, we’re going to have meet in the middle. When they produce content that is family-friendly or faith-based, you’re going to pay money to see it. Then buy it from the home entertainment division. Then buy the books and toys along with it.
And when the next thing comes out, do it again because there are a whole lot of people out here that want to provide you with it, but they can’t do it for free…
…unless somehow they’ve been touched by an angel.