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Culture-Of-Goal, by Jason Eaken

24 Feb

I am a Christian not usually moved by Church. What I mean is this: I go to church, I can appreciate the ideas and truth content of a sermon, but rarely does the experience – the packaging, if you will – itself move me. Oftentimes, I leave slightly fussy and have to get over myself on the car ride back home. This is not a film. This is not a novel. This is not art. This is proclamation on a 7-day cycle. Pastors don’t have teams of writers like sitcoms and anytime I think, “Well, hell, maybe they should” I am immediately struck by the stupidity and un-enlightened-ness of the concept. It is just possible that the sermon was not crafted with me in mind – and that it shouldn’t have to be for me to be willing to see what it’s saying. This is a lesson continually learned. For myself and people like me, small group meetings are more fulfilling: discussing verses, digging into them more than usually happens in a sermon. This is where His words come alive for me. […]

Termination Facilitation at 10,000 Feet, by Jason Eaken

18 Dec

UP IN THE AIR (2009)
Directed by: Jason Reitman
Written by: Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner
Starring: George Clooney, Anna Kendrick, Vera Farmiga

Jason Reitman is the real thing. Though comparisons to the family patriarch may never go away, he has managed to effortlessly establish himself as his own entity. At 32 years old, he is one of the best filmmakers working today. More impressive than his age, he’s done it in just three films, all comedies. His latest, Up in the Air, is also his best. […]

Nature Is Satan’s Church, by Jason Eaken

28 Nov

Written and Directed by: Lars Von Trier
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg

It is a firmly held belief of mine that I would rather see a well-made movie I disagree with than a poorly made film that plays it safe. In some cosmic or telepathic way, Lars von Trier has become aware of this and has made a film that challenges anyone and everyone who holds a similar belief. It is Antichrist, and was made in the full spirit of its title.


Everything That Was Written, by Jason Eaken

20 Nov

“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
-Romans 15:4

Quotations are important to me. In my apartment, there are three large stacks of blank notecards and a black permanent marker, so that whenever a new one comes into my life, I can write it down. There are about 50 next to this keyboard right now – quotations from movies, books, songs, interviews, and many from The Bible.


"Wild Thing, I Think I Love You," by Jason Eaken

18 Oct

Directed by: Spike Jonze
Written by: Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers
Starring: Max Records, Catherine Keener

Where the Wild Things Are is like a sneak attack on the idea of a Hollywood blockbuster. From behind enemy lines. It is unconventional, unique, messy and decidedly itself. Its director’s two previous film were strange, independent comedies and he hasn’t made a movie since 2002. It is based on a short children’s book by Maurice Sendak that is devoid of any thick mythology or epic battle sequences between good and evil. It’s about a 9-yr old beginning to figure himself out. That filmmaker Spike Jonze got the money to make the movie – and make it his way – is like a beacon of hope in the night for the ship of cinema, which many see as a bloated vessel lost in a sea of special effects.

This movie has special effects too, and it uses them really well. Better than most movies. But it isn’t about them. I don’t know why I mentioned them. Forget it. The movie follows Max, the 9-yr old. After a frustrating couple winter days, he gets angry, bites his mother and runs away into the night. Finding a ship, he commandeers it and winds up on an island where he discovers a group of large, talking creatures deep in the forest. He becomes their king so they won’t eat him. Like you do. They talk, they build a fort, they jump around and have wars. Of course Max will have to go home at some point, that’s inevitable.

This is not a safe movie. Why would it be? Fun is rarely safe, and this is an exceedingly fun movie. When Max arrives at the island, his ship is thrown about in waves, water angles up and slashes down on him. He has to fight not to crash into rocks. He has to scale a cliff to get off the beach. He looks down. You should never look down. Trees slam into the ground all around him, snowballs and dirt clods fly at him and hit him. He is thrown through the air. He falls down a lot. These moments are seen with perilous clarity; close-ups and head-to-toe shots that recognize Max as in the middle of the chaos, not safe from it.

Some have questioned if this movie – the situations it finds Max in, the monsters, the sadness – is too much for kids to handle. It’s true. The monsters have issues. They talk about loneliness. They experience loss. Their relationships are complex, particularly between Carol and KW (voiced beautifully by James Gandolfini and Lauren Ambrose, respectively). Carol destroys things. He gets mad. The monsters feel hurt. Parents rightly want to protect their children. I think, though, they’re more fearful about their children’s reactions to the movie than the kids will be to the movie’s difficult moments. Spike Jonze has made a melancholy movie that deals with these feelings in a powerful way, yes; but it is a way that kids can identify with. It does not overwhelm the film, but it is a part of the film.

The movie is not a downer, though. It isn’t depressing. Spike Jonze and cinematographer Lance Accord have cultivated one of the most invigorating visual sensibilities in movies today. Rarely static or smooth, the camera is active and explorative. So many movies cut too quick to see anything, here we get to see all the fun stuff. Monsters jump and throw things, they leap through the air and dog-pile and you see it. The imagination is right there on screen.

Let’s talk about Max, played by Max Records. From the opening frame of the movie, I completely connected with his character. His spirit is infectious. The joy he takes playing in the snow, getting hit in the face with snowballs. I love his recklessness, his imagination. When he is hurt, when he is defiant, when he is happy, when he has discovered something about himself, when he cheers up his mother, when he has seen something new and amazing and his eyes light up. This is a great performance. He is a force.

All the creatures are attributes of Max’s life, but they are not simple representations. Max can see a version of his family life in the dynamics of this new family, and because he is the king, he is confronted with things he might usually run away from. The film’s success depends on Max’s relationship with these Wild Things, particularly Carol. Jonze and co-writer Dave Eggers created this relationship just right. Carol and Max are kindred spirits, they spend much time together. It is this relationship that provides Max insights about himself, and their final moment is crushingly beautiful.

I am a runner. There is a freedom to it, it is energizing. In the movies, people never run right. They move too slow. Max does all kinds of running in “Where the Wild Things Are.” He runs with his whole heart, throwing himself into the motion. He runs and runs and runs and I dare the camera to just try to keeps up, like a parent scrambling after their toddler. You see these parents sometimes. They’re frustrated, embarrassed. But the kid has seen something interesting and must get closer. Getting to that new thing is their new life goal. And if it is dangerous, all the better. This movie is alive.

A Good Christian Movie? by Jason Eaken

13 Oct

Written and Directed by: Dan Merchant

Dan Merchant’s new documentary is a timely film, both in its use of popular documentary film techniques and its approach to Christians. In a time when the loudest voice usually wins the day, here is a film that is surprisingly pleasant. It follows Merchant across the country as he seeks to understand the widening gap between faith and culture. With both sides of the isle locked in fisticuffs, how do you determine progress? Has the winner changed anyone’s mind? Is the only reason they’re declared the winner because the other side simply stopped arguing and walked away?

It is a sad case, indeed, when most popular documentaries are taking their cues from reality TV. They’re about gimmicks, not stories. Still, plenty of people are doing good, interesting work. Places like the “True/False Film Festival” in Columbia, MO showcase dozens of well-crafted, smart documentaries each February. Merchant’s film bats a little over .500 in this department. He works for an advertising company in Oregon, and there are times when he undercuts the film’s power by over-emphasizing clever-packaging. The film opens with “South Park”-inspired, paper-cutouts of celebrities and politicians and we watch while their fake mouths go up-and-down while their comments play. The comments are interesting, but the visuals feel cheap. It doesn’t really work.

The gimmicks that do work, though, are some of the most surprising, because they place Merchant himself in front of the camera, which is usually death for a documentary. And here’s the difference. When he shows up, he acts as a springboard. He’s listening, not preaching. He has a character called “Bumper-sticker Man” which is him in white coveralls with bumper-stickers from all faiths and creeds plastered on it. He walks around and asks people to talk about anything they like or dislike. He doesn’t argue with them, doesn’t try to convince them of anything. He records. He documents. He shuts up.

What also surprised me is how fair he was. A Christian himself, the first half of the film details the ways Christians miss the mark. From people explaining their perceptions of Christians to showing clips of Christians doing it all wrong, the film lets both sides speak for themselves. One of the most interesting moments is when Merchant sets up a fake game-show, “Family Feud” style. There is an entire set, the 3 camera set-up, the works. On one team are Christians; the other team, non-Christians. The goal of the game is to see which team understands the other side better. When asked about reasons for abortion, the Christians easily came up with answers like, because the victim was raped. But it was the non-Christians who got points because they understood that for some, no reason is needed. The Christians were stunned. The final score wasn’t even close. The Christians lost something like 275-50. Merchant repeated the game with college students: Christians vs. non-Christians. The Christians got shut-out.

What’s brilliant about the documentary is it didn’t try to cover the mistakes the Christians made. It highlighted them. Merchant set up a neutral experiment and reported its results, even when they aren’t flattering to his own beliefs. If all we know about the other side is what we’ve been taught on a Sunday morning, then we don’t know very much at all.

The point of the film, though, isn’t that Christians are stupid. It isn’t even that it’s all our fault. Later, he shows non-Christians going on World Hunger trips and their interviews afterwards are eye-opening. They are blown away by the love the Christians show, by their hearts for young children, by how much they give. The film’s most powerful sequence shows a group of Christians in Portland setting up under a bridge one night to feed, clothe and serve the homeless. They wash feet. They talk to them, hug them. There’s no sermon attached to it, no forced-message on top of it. Just love.

Another powerful sequence is also set in Portland, during a Gay-Pride celebration. Merchant sets up a Confession Booth. But once again, he inverts the gimmick. When people come in, Merchant sits them down and begins his confession. He apologizes for the behavior of the Church toward homosexuals. He apologizes for things he’s done to make it worse. He asks them for forgiveness. And you know what, it’s genuine. Almost everyone we see enter the booth thanks him for saying these things. They begin talking. Once again, the film doesn’t show it directly resulting in the conversion of any of these people. It just shows Christ’s love. That’s our part. God does the saving.

Watching these sequences and the reactions of the people, hearing them begin to open up about themselves, watching a dialogue begin by two people from such opposing sides, it is subversively powerful. It sets an example. This is a film that challenges Christians deeply and directly.

The film spreads itself a little thin at times, trying to cover every single possible topic. Its structure begins to spin out of control during the middle third, going too many places for too little time, and the result is an overload. Still, because of the number of great sequences, because the film ultimately isn’t interested in placing blame, because it documents reactions and events instead of staging them to make a pre-determined point, it is a very good film. It is also a decidedly Christian one. Now that’s what I’m talking about.


Meet Your Bloggers: Jason Eaken

12 Oct

Jason Eaken is a writer and director. He graduated with a BFA in Acting from the University of Central Missouri, where he learned that, if you’re not acting hard, you’re hardly acting. he’s performed in nearly 30 plays and musicals, co-hosted the podcast Experts and Intermediates, and currently writes at Eakenation. Next up, Jason is working on a helpful literature series about his craft, which includes the following titles: “There’s Only One ‘I’ in ‘Acting,’ and it’s Me,” “Stand Back… ACTING!” and “Hand Me My Props, I’m About to Go Off!” He lives alone.

Apatow Enters Adulthood, by Jason Eaken

28 Aug

I saw Funny People last night, and I just can’t stop thinking about it. It’s the new movie from writer/director Judd Apatow, and if you haven’t seen it yet, you’ll probably have to wait for DVD, because unfortunately it’s kind of come and gone in theaters. Maybe it wasn’t the movie people expected when they heard Apatow, Seth Rogen, and Adam Sandler were making a movie together. Maybe they saw the trailer and were turned off (most of that material isn’t even in the movie, either. Bad marketing team…bad).

Apatow’s 3rd film is his longest, at about 2 ½ hours. It’s also the darkest, meanest, most grown-up, and least crude. I don’t know if it is his best film, I like them all, but something has definitely changed. His other movies were simpler and more direct. I’m sure there was some improv, but I never got the sense that the movie was being put on hold to watch friends joke around. If it had, this thing would be 4 hours long.

Apatow has a penchant for writing male friendships, but until now those friends have been aimless man-children and the movies have formed the path to adulthood. Here, he grows them up, and instead of six or seven, there are three ambitious friends, who are all trying to start careers in LA as actors or comedians. Kind of my place in life… RIGHT NOW.

To me, the movie is all about notions of success. Different kinds. Different ways to get it. How are you supposed to feel when your friend is the lead on a sitcom? Do you hate him for the success, are you proud of him, do you try to get a guest spot on there? How do those feelings change if the show isn’t any good? Jason Schwartzman’s character is the sitcom star (checkout some sweet fake clips from it here and here), he leaves his paycheck stubs around, he blabs about wanting a role in the new Tobey Maguire movie, he’s just realized he may be just successful enough for women to throw themselves at him. In many ways, Schwartzman’s is an early version of the Adam Sandler character, who’s done countless awful looking comedies because they pay, and has become as egomaniacal as he is lonely. There are a couple of moments where both characters show someone their work, and no one is laughing. Sandler has stopped caring, he knows it’s just a paycheck, but Schwartzman tries to play it off and makes excuses for it.

Then, there’s Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill, trying to make it as stand-up comics. They do gigs for free, they just want to be recognized, they want some small inkling of success to get them by. Rogen seizes the opportunity to write jokes for the Sandler character, Jonah Hill jumps at the chance to be on his friends’ lame sitcom.

At dinner before we went to see the movie, my roommate Adam and I were talking about the downfall of Charlie Sheen, and the sad reality that more people watch “Two and a Half Men” (which is like a real version of “Yo Teach!”) than “The Office” or “30 Rock” and I asked, “What would we do if someone wanted to hire us to write for “Two and a Half Men” ? Because we’re nobody and we just want to get our foot in the door, wouldn’t we take it? Isn’t that what you do? You write or direct or act in or get on-set of anything you can stomach, hoping to get far enough to do the things you really want to do. 2008’s Apatow-produced, Forgetting Sarah Marshall where Jason Segal was doing music for a “CSI” type show, and the titular character talked about doing movies that were the “right move” for her career. Even the Tina Fey character on “30 Rock” has a past where she was one of the ladies of the night, advertising for a phone-sex hotline.

The list could go on forever, because among TV and movies that deal with this idea, there are always horror stories of how people got their foot in the door. It’s a string of unfulfilling prospects until you find your break. IF you get a break. It’s not guaranteed. And the question is, how are you supposed to be proud of yourself doing this, particularly when this may be all you ever do? One side says you have a job and at least attempt to bring something to it. Therefore, you should be happy with yourself. The other side says that it can be a fool’s errand, buying exclusively into the business side of what you used to do because it made you happy and wanted to do because you felt you should.

I go back and forth with these competing notions, and maybe the reality is somewhere in between, but the fact is I’m not even in a position right now where I can figure it out. Funny People is sort of about all of these things and different stages of success, embodied by different people. Sandler’s character has lost something, and the movie traces his attempts to get it back, from his health, to his career, to the woman he loves.

In the credits for the film, Paul Thomas Anderson is thanked. I learned that during the editing process, Apatow brought in a few directors to get their input, among them Anderson (who directed Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love and James L. Brooks (who directed him in Spanglish). It shows. Perhaps Brooks helped him balance the personal drama of the final act with the film’s comedic sensibility? And though it is pure conjecture, it’s not ridiculous to assume that P.T. Anderson helped him with one of the most surprising aspects of the film: its meanness. Many of Andersons’s characters have an edge to them that is painful, hurtful, and hilarious all at once. Think of how much verbal abuse Seth Rogen’s character takes from Sandler. This isn’t the light-hearted ribbing from Knocked Up, there is a real darkness and cynicism to this character that was fascinating to see, particularly because of how nice Sandler is in real life. For me, this was like a warning. The character isn’t mean because of his fame. He’s mean because he was a mean person to begin with. Becoming rich and famous just gave him a lifelong excuse not to change. This is one of Sandler’s best performances, and it isn’t all negative. He modulates his anger with actually caring for one or two people, and he does respond when something is genuinely funny. And in maybe Apatow’s most brilliant and surprising move, the film begins with old home videos of Sandler doing funny voices and prank-calling people. Reminds you why you have to like Adam Sandler, even if it’s in spite of yourself, even when he makes bad movies. Luckily, this is one of the good ones.

Art, for God’s Sake, by Jason Eaken

23 Aug

I moved to Los Angeles to make movies, because I believe that is what God put me on this Earth to do. I am a Writer. Director. Actor. In that order.

This is an impossible thing to say to any other human being and not explain yourself. It’s nearly impossible to write it, too. The notion of anyone moving to L.A. to be in movies is even more cliché than calling things cliché. Although I know that it is true, I can’t help but feeling I’m either insane or egotistical, or insanely egotistical; and that’s before we bring in God to the equation. There is no small way to say that “such and such” is God’s will for your life. It is declarative and direct and large. So here I am to conflate a potentially egotistical pursuit with God’s plan for my life. It’s a little like saying, “God has told me to be more awesome than you are.” It doesn’t matter that that’s not the case, my point is that the statement is inherently lofty, and it catches people off-guard. There is a look in their eyes for even just a split second, where they’re not sure if you’re joking or not. Nothing to be done but wait. Once they realize you’re serious, an explanation is inescapable.

What you may not expect is that the most frustrating conversations I’ve had about it have been with other Christians. But then, that point of view is sort of the impetus behind this entire podcast of Tyler’s, isn’t it? Because I have a different view of art than other Christians, the explanation can spiral into a bit of an argument. Most Christians assume that because I’m a Christian, it means I want to make overtly Christian films. They assume that anything I write and direct will be suitable for the entire family to view, maybe some glimmering Sunday afternoon after returning from their Sunday School class potluck (and before they march right back to church for the evening service). Perhaps the only thing Christians misunderstand more than the art itself is the artist who made it.

At my last church, when they heard I was a writer and actor, I was approached no fewer than 10 times and asked to either direct the K-5th grade Easter musical or else write and direct scenes for the Youth Group – effectively, to become a Head Drama Instructor for the church. When I would politely decline their faces were some of the most confused I’d ever seen. They all told me some variation on the notion that because God had given me abilities and because those abilities would benefit these particular people, that God wanted me to do whatever it was that they had asked me to do. “Come on! Help out the church! We need you!” This attitude isn’t new. My high school Youth Group started what they called Zoi-Teams, or “Z-Teams” (“zoi” means life). The Youth Pastor helpfully explained that any abilities and giftings we used for our school or community should be used – and used more – for the church (that is to say our church).

These attitudes form a double-edged sword of frustration, and if there is going to be reconciliation between Christians and art, then the matters need to be put to rest. First, there is the position that a Christian who is an artist will want to make Christian art will want to not merely identify himself as Christian through his art, but also confine both his audience and his content to the Christian industry. The second position is that I am required by God to use my artistic abilities for the purposes of whatever church I am attending, whatever those purposes might be and regardless of what I am doing outside of the church. These positions are not merely assumed, they are prescribed and they are taught, and therein lies the issue.

As Christians, we believe that God has a calling for every single person’s life. It is our choice to seek that calling or to fight against it. But there has developed a warped view of what God calls his people to do. Churches and its members place the highest priority on being called “into the ministry,” which is to say, being called to be a pastor or missionary or do work directly for a specific church. What is most odd is that even church members not called into the ministry tend to view it as better. Where has this mentality come from? It’s not in the Bible. In fact, 1 Corinthians 12 says quite the opposite: “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in men.” (v.4-6) During the alter calls in my Youth Group, the youth pastor would regularly announce that Suzie so-and-so had been called into the ministry or that Johnny what’s-his-name had been called to be a pastor. They spoke of The Ministry as if that’s where the real Christians went. Never would they have announced that God had called someone to be a writer or artist, because without saying it, the truth was they didn’t really think that was a viable calling. This mentality pervades churches, and the only way they can see around it is if someone announces that God wants them to make, you guessed it, Christian art.

If anyone’s read my previous blog, they know I am pretty negative about Christian art. But my objections are to the quality of the work, not the validity of the calling. If God calls someone to enter the Christian film community and specifically create films for that audience, then that’s the calling and that person has a responsibility to it. My position is that to date, the artists who claim this calling haven’t taken enough responsibility for it. Either way, that’s not the calling that has been placed on my life, and those aren’t the stories I’m going to tell. I’m not here to make “Christian” movies, I’m here to make good movies. I discount no genre or type or style of movie, because if they are good, then all are valid and all have something to offer. I’m here to follow a calling that has been placed on my life. The things I write, the films I’ve made and want to make are stories that appeal to me. If I decline to write something specifically for the church, it’s not because I refuse to use my talents for God, it’s because I’m working on what I’m supposed to be working on, and I don’t have the time to take on something else. If I don’t feel God pushing me toward something, I don’t do it. And it works both ways.

Last fall and winter, I wrote a screenplay with a friend. At the same time, I was writing a short film by myself. I was much more fond of the solo film, I felt like it was more challenging to me personally as a writer. It was new ground for me. At the beginning of this year, I had every intention of making that short film before moving to California. But God set things in motion and brought the co-written movie into the foreground and it became the focus. The more I thought about it and prayed about it, the more I knew that it was the thing to pursue, even though it was more complex visually than anything I’d done, required dozens of locations, a full crew, and endless hours of additional work. Every logical bone in me said I wouldn’t be able to make it, and for the first month I was just waiting for it to fall apart, and then I would go back and finish the other screenplay. It’s been almost 9 months since I touched my solo screenplay. At every turn, when it should have collapsed, when it seemed impossible, God opened doors and avenues and showed favor, and we’ve finished the film – a film I didn’t believe I could make. God pushed me in that direction, and I listened, and it has been something very special. As a result of our work together, my co-writer/ -director moved out here with me. This is a film, I’d like to remind everyone, which has nothing remotely overtly Christian about it.

Now, I do have some ideas for a film set in a church, but it’s not the type of movie most Christians would think of. It would undoubtedly be rated R, which would mean some Christians wouldn’t even see it. Some of the films I’ve made and want to make would be rated R. Some of them will contain profanity, violence, nudity, and other content deemed “un-Christian.” How can it be that I am called by God to make such movies? Why would He call me to those movies instead of Christian movies? Because God is much less worried about the content than the Christian community. I believe God is much more concerned with the context. If I say a certain word that someone dislikes, I don’t care. What I care about is, have I made the movie I was supposed to make? Does this film add anything to the conversation? Is the film honest and true? If it is, then God will be glorified. If it is, then it will find an audience. I hope that audience won’t just be Christians. Because if it is, then I’ve made a huge mistake.

NOTE: Something Tyler thought would be interesting is for me to periodically write a blog update for this to sort of track my experience and progress as a filmmaker in L.A. So look for updates about once a month.

And They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Label, by Jason Eaken

31 Jul

As a Christian who grew up in a Christian household, I’m an accurate barometer for the matter at hand. When my parents bought me a CD player as a gift, they included the newest DC Talk album. When my parents realized I responded to the dry humor of the likes of David Letterman and the self-deprecation of Conan O’Brien, they asked the church counselor for help. To this day, when my mother sees a book of mine laying out, she will ask me if it has any “nasty language” in it. Every radio pre-set is Christian radio, my mother even cooks to Christian talk radio. When it comes to movies, my parents venture into the mire of secular films occasionally but with reluctance. If the movie is rated “R,” its chances of being watched decrease by approximately 97%.

Everybody does it. EVERYBODY. We gravitate toward those who share our beliefs and opinions entirely, and we dismiss outright those who don’t. But is that really a worthy excuse? If everybody else is doing it, shouldn’t Christians stand up and be the exception? We should. Which is why it’s so continually disheartening to see how the Christian community views popular culture in general and film in particular. In future blogs, I’m going to delve into some specific areas of “secular” movies that keep Christians away – foul language, sexual content, un-Christian subject matter, and violence – but for now, some general observations are in order.

Despite the fact that we could talk ad infinitum about the problems and shallowness of the film industry, it is a mistake to view movies as simple entertainment; a way to pass time. Film is an art form, and there are serious artists (and funny artists) trying to say something with their films. There are artists who use their films to explore ideas and emotions and who want to do something that lasts. It is time for Christians to begin seeking out better movies than just the ones playing at the local megaplex. Film is not an entertainment that happens to be art. It is an art form that seeks to entertain in the process.

Speaking of linguistic distinctions, our Christian community tends to give disproportionate weight to those movies that call themselves “Christian Movies.” Most see it as a sign that they will not be offended by anything they see in the movie; but this is true if and only if they are not offended by bad writing, acting, production values, and the over-simplification – nay, distortion – of their faith. The label also cynically implies that movies without it are not Christian, as if “Christian Movies” are made with some special film-stock that was dipped in Holy water before being put into the camera. It is better to be a movie that happens to be Christian than a Christian movie. One major reason I am so insistently negative about the label is that it lacks humility. It is self-important. It’s much harder to make a good movie when you’re wound up by how brilliant you’re certain the finished product will be. It distances you from the immediacy and the honesty telling a good story. It observes the finish line too quickly and forgets to run the race.

This is an issue that affects Christian movies more than most because it is easy to assume that since one’s motives are pure, the product will be artistically meritorious. It doesn’t work that way. I admire the grassroots effort of the Sherwood Baptist Church to raise money and finance a movie (these are the minds behind Facing the Giants and Fireproof) but they haven’t made a good one yet. No doubt the people involved want to make movies that speak to people and demonstrate Christ’s love, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have to do the work. That someone feels called by God to make movies does not automatically mean that the movie will be any good. If anything, it means that they have a lot of work ahead of them. If they don’t have a background in film or and understanding of it as an art form, then they have a responsibility to the call that has been placed on their life to get one. Otherwise, they disrespect the path the Lord has set before them and they miss the opportunity he has given them. That movies are seen as entertainment does not at all mean that their creation is child’s play. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.

Just because a movie isn’t made by Christians doesn’t mean Christ can’t speak to us through it. God is not so limited. God is Truth. If a film achieves a truth, then it is relevant to our lives and relevant to our walk with Christ. It doesn’t mean that we should baptize the film and claim it as a sleeper Christian film. That’s not the point. The point is that God is big enough and good enough and loving enough to transcend the parameters of a movie and reach us through it. Regardless of the filmmaker’s personal beliefs. On the other hand, to build on the previous point, just because a film is made by a Christian doesn’t mean it has anything to say. Film critic (and national treasure) Roger Ebert puts it this way: a movie is not about what it is about, but how it is about it. Even if a film is “about” Christian themes, it is in vain if it does not say anything of worth about them.

Right now, the state of Christian cinema is bleak. A lot of people will tell you that that’s because it’s in its infancy, and it just needs some time to grow. I disagree. The state of things is bleak because the people making the movies (a) aren’t filmmakers and haven’t taken the time to become filmmakers, and (b) hold a frustratingly misguided and narrow view of what content is acceptable in a “Christian” film. Without a major shift in both areas, the impact of Christian films will be relegated to preaching to the choir. That is, if the choir is still listening.