Top Hollywood Execs and Producers Discuss
Heart and Soul of Religious and Family Films
Assist News Service
Expo 4 at the Los Angeles Convention Center was the center of an intense
discussion on Friday, Nov. 11 by top entertainment executives and producers
about the elements of what makes a good, successful family movie and
a good, successful religious film.
The John Templeton Foundation and MOVIEGUIDE®, a family, Christian guide
to movies and entertainment, sponsored the two panels on spiritually uplifting,
religious films and family movies.
At both panels, Dr. Ted Baehr, founder of MOVIEGUIDE®,
produced extensive statistics from his Annual Report to Hollywood showing
that the best, most successful movies at the box office are inspiring,
spiritually uplifting or religious films with a strong Christian worldview
and family movies with traditional moral values and biblical principles.
“The mass media is the primary teacher of our children,” Dr. Baehr
told both panels and the audience.
Dr. Baehr pointed to the overwhelming popularity of such movies as
The Passion of the Christ, Madagascar, Charlie
and the Chocolate Factory,
Ben-Hur, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, The
Lord of the Rings (originally
written by a Christian), March of the Penguins, and Spider-Man,
which contains the Lord's Prayer in one climactic scene.
“Movies with humor also do better,” Dr. Baehr added. “What
attracts an audience? Heart, humor and values. People want good to triumph over
evil. People want the hero to succeed.”
Everyone on both panels agreed with that comment and with Dave Johnson's
(PAX-TV's Doc, Sue Thomas: F.B.EYE and many
other network shows) comment that all Christian and family films, videos
and programs need to have heart, honesty and humor.
“It's got to have excellence,” Johnson added. “It's got to
“There's a perception out there that Christians don't have a sense of humor,” said
Simon Swart, executive vice president of sales at 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. “I
don't think that's true.”
Paul Sirmons, newly appointed Chairman of the Florida Film Commission,
independent filmmaker of such movies as The First of May on HBO
for 18 months and assistant director of Quantum Leap and
other TV shows, said, “You will succeed if
you make your audience laugh. If you make them cry, you will succeed
Sirmons continued, “I want to encourage the independent family film. You
have to have passion. People are investing not in your script or in your story,
but in you. Have good people around you.”
Brian Robbins, a producer of Dreamer and director of the upcoming
The Shaggy Dog and producer of TV's Smallville, One
Tree Hill and What I Like About You, said, “Nothing
works better for mom, dad and the kids than humor. If you make them
both laugh and present a strong, positive emotional core for both.
. . Find that combination. A triumphant ending is also important for
both parents and kids.
“You still have to tell a story that you really love, that you have to
tell. The best movies come from great stories that come from great writers. The
only thing you're left with at the end is the movie. So, write from your heart.”
“Humor will stand you in good stead,” agreed Ken Wales, producer
of such works as The Pink Panther movies, The Great Race and
TV's Christy, “even
when you're trying to explain something serious. Inform the audience
Wales added, however, that telling a good story was the most important thing.
“The story is the star,” agreed Bill Ewing, president of Every Tribe
Entertainment and executive producer of the upcoming Christian movie End
of the Spear. “Everybody serves the story.
“We must entertain with excellence,” he added. “If we don't
entertain them well, then they [the audience] are out of there. But if we do
entertain well, they will open their minds. They will open the keys to their
heart. Ask yourself, Whose story is it? What do they want? Why should we care?”
Brigham Taylor, senior vice president of production at The Walt Disney Company
said, “In the last 11 years, the definition of a family film has been a
shifting definition. We don't always hit the mark.
“We have to distinguish family films from kid films,” he added. “Family
films are films for the whole family, for all ages, not just for kids 12 and
under. Part of my job is listening to stories. A great family movie has compelling
characters, something that inspires the audience and something that's optimistic.”
William Fay, producer of The Shaggy Dog and producer of such popular
movies as Independence Day and The Patriot, said, “The
key for a successful family film is finding that film that the whole family can
relate to. . . that will speak to everybody. Laughing with your kids is a great
feeling. Also, finding stories that can cross international boundaries is important.
The film business is a worldwide business right now.
“Look for a solid moral center,” Fay continued. “Pass on a
moral lesson that parents feel good about. Those sorts of moral stories also
speak to kids. Follow a three-act structure, something that catches your interest
and sustains your interest.”
Dr. Baehr added, “Please get your craft right. Chicken Little (Number One at the domestic box office for two straight weeks) has great tension
Wales remembered that Walt Disney told him when he was young to always remember
to put in danger and jeopardy for the characters. Their reaction to that danger
and jeopardy is what makes the story.
Jeff Holder, freelance producer of The God-Man and formerly of Sony
Wonder, noted, “A
good writer is able to translate his ideas onto the page. A bad writer is unable
to do that. The difference between a good writer and a great writer is the ideas
in their heads.”
Swart added, “When it comes to movies, Christians compromise an awful lot.
We tend to neglect the art. It needs to be better. Subtlety goes a long way.
Whatever you thought of the content, Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ was well made from beginning to end. Today, the industry's screenwriting hasn't
caught up to the special effects. You don't need a large budget to master the
Denise Guerin of Regal Entertainment Group, the world's largest theater chain
with Regal Cinemas, United Artist Theaters and Edwards Theaters, said her company
definitely wants more family movies.
“People want year-round family films,” she said, “not just
during the summer or the Christmas holidays, or when kids are out of school.
We like to see family films spread out. The more family films we have, the happier
we are. More and more of our revenue comes from family films.”
“There's something in all of us that desires good,” added Dave Johnson. “People
want to feel better about life and the world they live in.”
Dr. Baehr noted that the Christian definition of art is to promote the Good,
the True and the Beautiful.
“Movies have an impact on the world,” he stressed more than once. “Don't
stoop to conquer.”
“Think about writing for kids,” Jeff Holder also told the large audience
of about 300 screenwriters. “You can do no better than writing something
for kids. The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.”
“Make good choices,” Ken Wales urged them. “Be really critical
about the choices you make. Get your act together, especially your faith.”
The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe Special Feature
video from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
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