This is a rather long post, but I have lots of relevant thoughts worth noting I think.
I won’t lie, I probably wouldn’t have gone had I not been a semi-finalist. I’m glad I went though for a few reasons the foremost of which is I met some really great folks, the foremost of which was director Brian Ivie who’s outstanding film, The Dropbox won Best of Festival. It was great to know him over the course of a days and I look forward to the opportunity of collaboration in the future.
As a Christian who grew up in most of this circle but since have ‘grown’ out of it for lack of a better term, I was skeptical about the fare being offered on the screens. To put it nicely, the Christian market hasn’t been known to put out exceptional work. The films here only had a few exceptions to this assumption. Of course, there was The Dropbox which I went into this highly expectant to see and wasn’t disappointed. Another was Ru: Water is Life. A twenty-minute, dialogue-less short doc that ended up taking home the runner-up category for best doc. I wasn’t surprised after I watched this earlier in the day and loved it. While I didn’t get a chance to view all of the films, the others I did have an opportunity to view were sub-par in my opinion but fitting for this audience.
This brings up my second reason I was glad I went. I have such a clearer understanding of the “Christian” audience. While not an audience I want to make films for directly, this is an audience for our film. We had about 60 folks at both screenings and it was received well. I spent some time talking with people and hearing comments about what guys like the famed Kendrick brothers had to say (Courageous, Fireproof). And what I came away with is that many of this audience want what could be considered a film “sermon” such as a Kendrick movie. By Christians for Christians to preach a non-pulpit sermon. That’s legit. Just don’t pretend it’ll have mass appeal with all a general audience, it’s message first, quality second.
Others are making films or those “cultural” Christians, or those they feel go to church but aren’t saved. I consider this kind of a phantom audience- one that likely exists but probably not worth pursuing (IMO) ad they’re going to watch the Hollywood flicks primarily. Stats I heard being thrown around were that only some 20% of actual church-goes are true born-again Christians, likely low but I can see that, especially in the heavily-religious south. I won’t go into the dregs of theology here, but a filmmakers particular take on salvation will play a large role on whether or not they feel this is really a valid audience to tackle.
Only a few of the audience here would be receptive of more commercial film produced through the lens of an evangelical worldview. They have a low-tolerance for particular elements that would make a story more interesting or commercially successful. My toe-dipping into the fiction world are more along this wavelength. I do feel there is room to market something along these lines through an “intentional worldview” angle as evangelicals are fond for taking movies with no intentional Christian worldview and ascribing all sorts of spiritual merit to them (Matrix, Braveheart). Simply tell the crowd that a committed Christian is behind the making of the film and themes were intentional. Even though it’s a PG-13 or whatever, reception would be better than not. Then a traditional marketing approach can be made for the general audiences.
Whether or not this would work is purely conjecture. But the lesson I think for studios here is; if you want to reach either of these audiences, hire or at least consult with their people to do it. You simply don’t speak their language. For filmmakers: do one audience only and focus it. Don’t try and make your super-vanilla sermon movie acceptable to the mainstream culture and vice-versa; if you’re going to play with the big boys, make a big-boy movie with all the stuff audiences love and let your worldview play out in your characters’ responses to situations. After all, all that death, mayhem, sex, drugs and rock’n-roll make up this world in which God chooses to work.