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Hollywood converts to positive films

first_imgLong considered the modern-day equivalent of Sodom and Gomorrah, Hollywood is increasingly showing its family-friendly side, churning out an unprecedented number of films and television shows with uplifting, redemptive themes. In the three years since Mel Gibson released “The Passion of the Christ,” hundreds of films with Christian, spiritual and family-friendly themes have hit the screen – from “The Nativity Story” to “Amazing Grace.” Last year alone, nearly 50 films featured positive, Christian content that producers hoped would appeal to the estimated 110million Americans who attend church every week, according to Camarillo-based Movieguide. The films raked in an average $39million, according to Movieguide. All five of the major Hollywood studios have created marketing departments to target the growing demand for faith-based and family fare. “People are gravitating to anything that gives them hope, inspiration, motivation or a sense of something light,” said Mark Clayman, executive producer of “The Pursuit of Happyness.” “People want good stories. They want to be entertained, but they also want something they can bring their kids to and enjoy as a family. Look at our world. There is so much war and junk and disease. I think people are just hungry for the other side.” To meet the demand, 20th Century Fox recently launched Fox Faith Movies, which plans to release a dozen faith-based films a year. Last fall, the Walt Disney Co. also announced it would focus more on family-oriented and faith-based movies. Movieguide publisher Ted Baehr, who also chairs the Christian Film & Television Commission, said Hollywood executives realize that the public wants more uplifting and spiritual fare. “There is competition for the Christian audience now that there hasn’t been before,” Baehr said. “I thought at some point it would level off, but so far it’s getting bigger and bigger. “It’s more than I could have possibly imagined. One of the audiences that has become stable and even grown for books, music and movies is the Christian audience.” Stephen Kendrick, executive producer of “Facing the Giants” and an associate pastor at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., said the film has received broad praise since its release last year. The drama chronicles a Christian high school football coach who uses faith to battle overwhelming fear and failure. Kendrick said he and his brother, Alex – also a pastor at the church and executive producer of the movie – got more than 5,000 e-mails from people who said the movie has changed their lives. An additional 1,200 e-mails expressed professions of faith. “We think more movies like this are going to be rising up,” Kendrick said. “I know there is a huge wave of people – thanks to the digitalization of media and the lowering of costs to be able to produce films – who are now beginning to study and learn how to make films. A feature film is one of the most influential things in our culture.” The brothers decided to make movies after reading about a 2002 poll by The Barna Group that found church was not considered among the top 10 influences in American culture. “Movies and music are in the top three,” Kendrick said. “So instead of cursing the darkness, we thought, `We have the best message in the world that is still transforming people’s lives and giving them hope, forgiveness and peace.’ And so we want to take that message to them, using the most influential means possible. And that’s why we chose to go into feature films.” At the grass-roots level, a growing number of aspiring Christian filmmakers, scriptwriters, actors and actresses are breaking into Hollywood. Last month, 57 teams of Christian filmmakers from around the world participated in the Burbank-based 168-Hour Film Project. Part of a “speed filmmaking” phenomenon, teams were given a week to write a short script based on a randomly assigned Scripture verse, and another week to film and edit a five- to 10-minute movie. The films will be screened March23 at the Stars Art Theater and March24 at the Alex Theatre, both in Glendale. Trinity Broadcast Network will air films chosen as the best. “It’s our biggest year ever,” said John David Ware, founder and executive director of the project. “We’ve had many people who are first-time filmmakers go on to produce many other films. The teams are expanding their short films into feature-length films and trying to sell them. Many of the films have won awards at other film festivals.” One of those filmmakers – a graduate of Act One, a Hollywood-based organization that trains Christian scriptwriters – is Atwater Village resident Amanda Llewellyn. Llewellyn and her husband, Wes, have made two short films for the project and have a full-length feature film coming out Tuesday. That film – “The Moment After 2: The Awakening” – is a post-Rapture story that follows the lives of two former FBI agents. “You are starting to have more people like me … who are starting to make inroads into management and executive positions in Hollywood,” Llewellyn said. “It’s not a secret coup or a takeover. What it is is just allowing us a place at the table. I think Mel Gibson was able to kick down some doors for us in that area because of his financial success.” [email protected] (213) 974-8985160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img