I have to laugh every time I snap out of a trance-like hypnotic state and find myself on the showroom floor of the Audi Dealer drooling on their $130K R8 Spyder, don’t you? Because one minute I’m sitting there watching Iron Man 2 and the next thing I know? Audi Dealer. Finally modern psychology has coined a phrase to identify the root of this particular health affliction: Advertising
Advertising. A word which comes from the Greek-Gaelic-Swedish roots:
“Adel” meaning ‘liquid’ or ‘filth’
“Verter” meaning ‘to turn’, and
“Taiser” from which we obviously get our word ‘Taser’, which is a small gun-like weapon that shoots electronic darts meant to shock the bejeebies out of someone and turn your muscles to jelly
So loosely translated, “Advertiser” is ‘liquid filth turned muscle jelly shock’. That is, if I’ve conjugated my Gaelic correctly. Also, it was a serious crime up until about 1892…a punishment known as ‘Death by Bjork’. Again, loose, very loose translations here.
Yet, as Noah Cross so adeptly put it in “Chinatown”:
Politicians, Old Buildings, and [Prostitutes] all get respectable if they last long enough.
Is it the same for Advertising? It has definitely evolved through the years into an even more insidious and effective beast, a.k.a, The Product Placement…
It’s almost amusing these debates about whether sex or violence will effect viewers. Because while the Left and the Right argues on, while the Conservs and the Libbers go at it, while the Pubs and the Dems and the Whigs slug it out….Madison Avenue is off to the side funneling millions and millions into Hollywood because they KNOW and have PROVEN RESULTS that on-screen stuff effects viewers…er…I mean consumers. They change the name, but it’s the same people.
What do you think? Does Art imitate Life? Or Does Life imitate Art?
I’ve observed that Art imitates Life and then Art influences Life.
Consider this. In the film “It Happened One Night” in 1934, Clark Gable, in what was then considered a racy scene with Claudette Colbert, took his shirt off to reveal a bare chest. America gasped: Where is his undershirt?
In AMC’s “The Hollywood Fashion Machine,” host Jacqueline Bisset recalls the impact of that disrobing: “The underwear industry was literally paralyzed.”
Geoffrey Beene adds: “When Gable, in that famous scene, took off his shirt and he had no undershirt on, he suddenly made all sorts of men realize, ‘Why do I have to wear an undershirt if Clark Gable doesn’t wear an undershirt?’ ”
Freed from the unneeded garment that bound them, American men found one-shirt-at-a-time happiness.
The result? 1934 T-shirt Sales = DOWN!
However, in 1951 we were introduced to the seminal T-shirt film: Elia Kazan’s “A Streetcar Named Desire”. Marlon Brando’s brutish portrayal of the lovelorn Stanley Kowalski riveted a nation as Brando’s buff pecs and abs were revealed in graphic relief by a thin, stretched tee.
According to Guggenheim Magazine’s Deborah Drier, the overall image created “a sexualized brutality … a dangerous … incoherent sort of manhood.”
1951 T-Shirt Sales = UP!
Movies have effected more than just the undergarment industry. In 1987, Fatal Attraction did for heterosexual men what AIDS could not…it scared them and made them think twice about the potentially dire consequences of extramarital and casual sex (highdefdigest.com).
Art influences life.
Cracked.com has a list of the 10 Most Shameless Product Placements in Movie History.
Sitting at #10 is E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982) who loved those M&Ms, right? Uh-uh. Nope. M&M turned Spielberg down so he went to Reese’s Pieces to offer them a promotional partnership deal. And even though I’m sitting here eating Peanut M&Ms as I type…deep down, I really know that Reese’s Pieces are God’s candy.
At #7 we have Transformers. Michael Bay went to every major auto manufacturer to see who would offer the biggest payday. He landed GM after they offered a $3M contract.
#5 was You’ve Got Mail which was one gigantic AOL commercial by Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.
And #1 was Fireproof! For real?!? Actualy, no, I totally made that one up. Fireproof didn’t even make their list. And I didn’t recognize the movies at #2 or #1. But Fireproof definitely took a page from this Product Placement handbook didn’t they? Fireproof did for “The Love Dare” what Castaway did for FedEx. Except for the airplane crash and the part where all the FedEx packages got ruined…all but Wilson, that is.
According to Wikipedia.org, in 2007, spending on advertising was estimated at more than $150 billion in the U.S. and $385 billion worldwide.
Back to Iron Man 2, that film notched up 56 brands (including a covered up Apple notebook) matching this year’s earlier product placement heavyweight, Valentine’s Day. That was up from Iron Man (2008) which packed in an impressive 42 brands, says BrandChannel.com.
It’s very surprising then that this phenomenon hasn’t hit the Christian Film Market, yet. With the exception of Fireproof and all the Billy Graham movies which were basically ads for his Crusades…we got nothin. I’m not complaining, mind you. I’m not asking to see Jonathon Sperry chugging down a Red Bull. Or Kirk Cameron to come riding up in a Lotus Elise and then check the time on his Omega Seamaster Watch in Left Behind V. Letters to God would have been a whole different movie if it had been brought to us by Hallmark. And I’m only too happy that Mel Gibson’s portrayal of The Christ didn’t include him chillin’ in some Birkenstocks. Or worse. Uggs.
Let’s not rush into it. It will get here. One day it will come knocking.
It’ll be all, ‘Knock Knock’ and we’ll be all ‘Who’s there?’ and it’ll be all, ‘Advertising!’ and we’ll have to let them in the door.
Either that or risk getting Bjorked.
Here’s a little familial shout-out this morning…my Cousin, Jon Acuff, has recently published his first book through Zondervan (woohoo, our family beach trips are back on like donkey kong!). And while it hasn’t hit the New York Times Best Seller list (yet), I have it on good authority that “Stuff Christians Like” is at the top of God’s Book Club list, which is second only to Oprah’s.
But I don’t know if Cousin Jon realizes this, but that New York Times goal is just…well, I just gotta be honest…it’s small thinking.
See, my personal goal (cue inspirational orchestral music and a covey of worship eagles) is to see “Stuff Christians Like” replace every Reader’s Digest in every bathroom across America!
For years our bowels have been soothed by “Quotable Quotes” and “Laughter the Best Medicine.” How many times have our rear-ends gone numb while we sit there sobbing like a baby through the “Dramas in Real Life.” Let’s face it, while we concentrated on #2, the #1 choice of bathroom lit has been the Digest. Bar none. But no longer.
Reader’s Digest, you’ve been served.
I know that all bathroom readers are not created equal. Some individuals tend to camp out in there for an entire afternoon. Perhaps they feel that if the wall-paper hasn’t peeled off, they haven’t done their jobs. While others swoop in somehow like an aircraft touch-n-go and lapse it right in (see graphic picture to the left).
Either way, “Stuff Christians Like” is written in small, bite-sized pieces so you can go through a whole chapter, or take it one clever List point at a time. And just so you’ve been warned, those SCL Lists are actually when Cousin Jon is in rarest form. (Gentlemen, I would not advise reading those standing up!)
Anywho…in honor of the SCL list, Wired4Film has devised our own. So without further ado…
The Top 3 List of Stuff Christian Filmmakers Like:
1. Blaming our bad scripts on God
“My fingers were just floating across the keyboard. It was as if heaven opened in a gigantic funnel into my medula oblongata and an entire script just poured forth.” And that’s the end of it. A single draft. We stop at one draft of the script because everyone knows you’re going to hell if you dare to edit God! Who’s gonna do that? Rewrite the Almighty? Not me! Not Cousin Jon! Just ask him. You just know the SCL manuscript poured out in one draft onto rock tablets he hauled down from Stone Mountain…which Google tells me is somewhere outside of Atlanta.
2. Hiring the Holy Spirit as Our Cinematographer and/or Camera Op
I mean, if you’re prayed up, the sort of prayed up where you’re almost certain you could have walked on water in the bathtub this morning, then you don’t need to spend all that money on a Professional Director of Photography.
No, you let Gerald the Quickbooks expert take care of it cause he’s not only got a “calling” for it, but his friend’s dad’s sister’s got a couple of Lowell lights. So while you rehearse your actors, Gerald walks around the set, light stand in hand, like Inigo Montoya from Princess Bride with his eyes closed trying to feeeeeel out the right path to the light path.
3. Heaping High Praise on Mediocre Films
I get it. I do. When you don’t have the financing and Studio backing that the big Hollywood pix have, you are stuck MacGrubering your film together with Bubblegum and Tinfoil and Gary Busey. But that’s all Robert Rodriguez had for “El Mariachi” (minus the Gary Busey part) and his $7K film not only launched his Hollywood career, but it still holds up almost 20 years later. And that was before Mini-DV and Final Cut Pro. He had to edit that film on 3/4″ decks…in the snow, uphill, both ways. Anyway, I’ve heard a lot of film pitches that included the words “the next Fireproof” and — how do I say this as delicately as possible — I just don’t think Honda got to where it is today with the Accord by wanting to build the next Ford Pinto. But then again, if Ford had released a companion book called “The Pinto Dare” listing 40 ways to show love to your Pinto in 40 days, history might have been rewritten and we’d all be driving explosive Civics.
Well, how’d I do, Cousin Jon? I’m gonna be honest here. These lists are not easy, dude. In fact, what started as an overly ambitious Top-20 list got whittled down to a Top 10, then a more Godly Top 7 but eventually petered out at Top 3….also pretty Holy.
So go right out, order your copy of “Stuff Christians Like” and place it proudly in the magazine rack beside your commode. Unless you’ve got a Kohler, which is worthy enough porcelain to place this golden book right on the flushy back part. Right beside your Hummels.
And if not, well, you just need to get prayed up.
Here’s a great Christian Film update from Marilyn Beck and Stacy Jenel Smith over at BeckSmithHollywood.com that we uncovered recently.
(EXCERPT) It’s been six years since “The Passion of the Christ” made history with its $611 million world-wide box office gross, its groundbreaking church-based promotional roll-out and its rendering of proof that there was an audience for a great Christian film. After that, there was a spurt of activity toward faith-themed movie and TV productions in Hollywood. So what’s happened?
Some things did indeed get made. “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” became a roaring success for Disney with a $745 million worldwide box office take, sequels and merchandising galore. New Line’s “The Nativity Story” took in $604 million.
Then there are the film and TV productions that don’t have Christian themes, per se, but do express faithful ideals and might not have gotten made – or made quite the same way – had it not been for the industry’s recognition that there is an underserved segment of the audience out there hungry for inspirational fare. “Amazing Grace,” the historical film about British abolitionist William Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd), counts church regular Patricia Heaton among its producers.
Tyler Perry’s comedies contain the family values he and his devoted audience, made up largely of African-American churchgoers, hold dear.
The Christian film niche market is busy, with dozens of active production companies bringing forth a stream of product. The most successful of those in terms of box office is Kirk Cameron’s “Fireproof,” which surprised everyone with a domestic gross of more than $33 million in 2008 – the highest of any independent film that year, followed by $28.5 million in DVD sales.
David Nixon, who was one of the producers of “Fireproof” as well as its popular predecessor, “Facing the Giants,” has “Letters to God” now in release.
More films of interest to Christians are on the way as well, including Roland Joffe’s “There Be Dragons,” for which a full-fledged church-based marketing campaign is already being planned for next year. Set at the time of the Spanish American War, it’s about a journalist who is investigating a candidate for sainthood, and discovers a personal tie to the prospective saint, as well as dark family secrets. Charlie Cox, Wes Bentley and Dougray Scott star in the film, which will show the Catholic Opus Dei organization in a different light than it was in “The Da Vinci Code.”
The true-life saga of a band of courageous Dutch WWII heroes will get a fresh look in “Return to the Hiding Place,” which is due to shoot in July in the Netherlands, Texas and Michigan. It revisits the story of Corrie ten Boom and her family, who hid Jews in their home until they could be smuggled out of the country via the underground –from the vantage point of one of the resistance fighters.
And in light of our Jesus vs. Jesus article recently about two Jesus films in development, I thought this was par-TIC-ularly fascinating that there’s yet a third. But with a studio name like Samuel Goldwyn behind them, I trust we’ll be seeing this one on the silver screen first.
(EXCERPT) And coming up on Easter for NEXT year is “The Resurrection of the Christ,” planned for shooting in Israel, Morocco and Europe for distribution by Samuel Goldwyn Films (which also brought us “Amazing Grace,” “Fireproof” and this year’s “To Save a Life,” by the way). Indie producer Billy McKay — whose credits include “Billy: The Early Years,” the Billy Graham biopic — told Variety that the movie “is as much about the key players as it is about Jesus.” Expect to see more about Pontius Pilate, Herod, Caiaphas and Judas. Plus, according to McKay, “We want to bring in the Gladiator dimension of the first century against the political milieu of the time.”
Check out the full article at BeckSmithHollywood.com!
Animation phenom Chuck Jones tells the story of an art class he took where the professor gravely informed the students that they each had 100,000 bad drawings inside themselves. And that the sooner they got those out and on paper, the sooner they would get to the good drawings.
I’ve always wondered how that applies to scripts and stories and films. How much bad dialogue do I have to write before I get to HIS GIRL FRIDAY or PRINCESS BRIDE? How many sub-par plots do I have to wrestle to paper before I strike gold, like GOOD WILL HUNTING?
Did you know that some highly experienced Hollywood writers will write out 100 new loglines to get to one that might hold promise?
Consider your own film evolution. With any luck and due diligence, your work is improving. 10% Inspiration. 90% Perspiration, that’s what they say. I look back, amused, at some of my first short films about such important topics as Ninjas, Cyborgs, Crazy Russian serial killers and Hard-boiled Detectives. Although I’m a huge proponent of adding Ninjas to spruce up any film plot (maybe FIREPROOF 2? Hopefully?) I am happy to report I have broadened my horizons.
But I had to learn an important lesson about creative juices: we are the sum total of the films we watch. Where did my ideas come from? From the film diet I was ingesting. Sci-fi, Action-Adventure, Chop-socky, Detective stories.
There’s an informed line from LITTLE WOMEN where grown up Teddy is talking with grown up Amy March and tells her “my ‘music’ is no better than your ‘art’…mediocre copies of another man’s genius.”
We have to understand that our greatest, most original stories inside of us are buried right now under heaps and piles of yesterday’s movies. Go to any student film festival out there and you will not see a lot of truly original work. What you will see are a bunch of THE OFFICE-like mockumentaries, or little Quentin Tarantino clones or horror knock-offs — mini-renditions of whatever is playing the theaters or TV at the time.
This is your first and most basic instinct as a filmmaker — to duplicate what you have seen. And that’s an important first step in learning. To mimic. It’s how we learn to talk. It’s how we learn most things. But we have to go further. What Chuck Jones’ surly professor knew was that we had to dig past all of that junk to get to the good stuff. The ORIGINAL stuff.
Have you heard about the 10,000 hour rule? It comes from a book called Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell who writes:
“The idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a critical minimum level of practice surfaces again and again in studies of expertise. In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.”
10K hours — what that amounts to is about 5 years of 40 hours/week. Practicing. Perfecting. Honing.
Perhaps you’ve spent 10,000 hours watching movies. Well, that won’t make you a filmmaker. That makes you a professional audience. To become an expert filmmaker you simply have to accumulate 10,000 hours making movies.
So what are you waiting for? Start digging past all the junk and get to the good stuff.
BOX OFFICE BUSTERS FROM ‘GODLYWOOD’
An ABCNews report by Neal Karlinsky about Faith-based flicks which are rising above some of the Hollywood heavyweights. The main hook is a new Dave Christiano Film “The Secret of Jonathan Sperry” (Trailer HERE) but also looks at the recent box office success of “Fireproof” — the highest grossing independent film in 2008.
Watch the video at ABCNEWS.COM
Those rabble rousers over at SuperCandid Podcast have weighed in on the relationship between the Christian Film Industry and Hollywood in this post that merits a big mention here because…well, for one it’s smartly done. It references a lot of the more current discussions among filmmakers and critics alike that have evolved on account of and in response to SAICFF 2009.
(EXCERPT) NPR has an small news item about the burgeoning Christian movie industry(welcome to 2006 NPR!), but I find the reaction to it even more interesting than the original piece. The piece itself is just a summary of Fireproof success and the San Antonino Independent Christian Film Festival. Nothing new here.
Christianity Today’s Movies blog responded by questioning the need for a “Christian Film Industry” and asking the question of The Widow’s Might’s John Moore: “How can he become a Spielberg without a, um, Spielberg to mentor him?” CT Movies has covered this topic before, and Jeffery Overstreet, occasionaly CT Film Critic, author and contributor to one of my favorite podcasts, weighs in by saying: ”When the loudest “Christian voices” in the media consistently embarrass those that actually have something of merit to contribute… when they manipulate statistics and pretend that all America wants are cute, safe, Christian stories with pre-packaged morals at the end… how can we hope to have any meaningful engagement in culture, or appreciate the riches of the stories and movies that others have to share?”
Meanwhile M. Leary over at Film-Think makes the interesting statement: “This simply isn’t how the Bible works. They are not even cultural distinctions. They are marketing distinctions. By framing the differences between Hollywood media and Church media in these kinds of a-biblical thematic terms, this vision statement isn’t drawing the dramatic line between spiritual life and death that it thinks it is. It is simply drawing a line between two different kinds of products: We don’t want to see your filth, Hollywood. We are going to make our own films.”
Valid points all.
Now, my opinion. I think that each side is wrong in a lot of ways. First, there is nothing wrong with Hollywood movies. I love Hollywood movies, I can’t get enough of them. Give me Michael Bay, Tom Cruise and Sandra Bullock all in the same movie with $300 million effects and I’m happy. Seriously though, I think that there is nothing wrong with the Hollywood system that keeps it from making great films, except for the fact that terrible films can make a lot of money. Steven Spielberg, David Fincher, Alfred Hitchcock and any number of other directors, writers and other creative types have demonstrated over and over again that it is possible to serve both masters, to make great art that is also great business. To say that all Hollywood is morally bankrupt is not only ignorant, but it ignores and insults the great many people working in Hollywood who are doing their best to make great movies that are moral.
So when you get a minute, wander over to SuperCandid.blogspot.com and read the full article.
(March 11, 2009) AlphaOmegaNews.org has a news story about a church team from Charlotte , NC that is trying to ride the coat tails of the successful “Fireproof” and releasing their new film “The One Lamb” in Theaters across 34 states.
(EXCERPT) The One Lamb, an emotionally gripping film produced by University City United Methodist Church over the past three years, is set to hit select cities nationwide on March 30, 2009. A small church in Charlotte, North Carolina, very far removed from the scene in Hollywood, will release the feature film with a remarkably wide spread launch, opening in 100 theaters in 34 states across the U.S..
An inspirational story of hope and redemption, The One Lamb captures the elements of life transforming films such as Chariots of Fire and the recent Fireproof, telling the poignant story of the rise and fall of a promising campaign manager/lawyer named Jackson Price, played by Bryan Forrest, who is battling cancer and competes in the New York City Marathon as part of a personal spiritual rebirth. Although Price is facing an enormous battle against the cancer rapidly destroying his life, his biggest struggle is the fight against the mistakes of his past. Price is befriended by a cranky, retired pastor who helps find redemption for his past failures and hope for his future.
The movie is written and directed by visionary Bryan Forrest who turned to a grassroots marketing plan similar to the recent blockbuster hits “Fireproof” and “Facing the Giants,” having developed the film over the past three years. “Every part of me, creatively and spiritually, was consumed by this story,” he said. “I had to get it out or I was going to go crazy.”
The article can be read in full at AlphaOmegaNews
ProdCo: Provident Films