[NB: This will be more of an essay than a blog post... so it will be long and philosophical.]
I got an email from a mother whose daughter is currently in the film program from which I graduated. The girl's mother said because "you have been there, and are in the world of film, and as I know your background ... I would really appreciate any ideas!"
To summarize the girl's concerns:
- The "Christian worldview" of Biola isn't there--there are no solid lines of what is appropriate in movies.
- This is due to non-applied Bible lessons.
- People are relativistic and work on bad films to "minister" to other filmmakers.
- Only 2 of 30+ strongly believe you can make a comedy with a good message without vulgar humor.
- Scripture is shot down as irrelevant because movies weren't around in Bible times.
- I'm frustrated and disappointed but it is better than what we'd be getting at USC. We're starting a Bible study to watch movies and discuss them from a Christian filmmaker's perspective.
It seems to me that the heart of these issues is the question:
What does it mean to be a Christian filmmaker?
But let me start by addressing each of the concerns:
Appropriate Content There are no "solid lines" of what is appropriate in films. This is due to a lack of a Christian worldview and due to rejection of Bible lessons.
Film is an artistic media, and so it feels like lines are constantly being pushed and crossed. What makes this even more problematic is that the label of "Christian" has been slapped on it. So, let me start there:
The "Christian" label is a thorny issue (and is at the heart of "What does it mean to be a Christian filmmaker?"). "Christian film" typically denotes three things:
- Pathetic filmmaking
- "Safe" for the whole family (as a local Christian radio station puts it)
There are Christians who are trying to improve their filmmaking skill, and coming along swimmingly. However, even if they get good sound and nice shots, their films typically derail because of a lame script that has descended into the realm of the conversion scene and the "you need to respect your father" kinds of lines. <shudder> They also tend to forget to tell a story, and instead focus on their message.
And my biggest beef with the "safe" aspect has come about because of the backlash I have received from the films I've submitted to "Christian" festivals. I was told by Christians that this one was so immodest and inappropriate that multiple people had to stop watching it.
I also submitted a film to San Antonio a few years ago, but we didn't get in. After talking with people who have been there, I suspect that it was because of the content of our movie: We made a modern retelling of the book of Hosea--you know, the book about the prophet called to marry a prostitute? Well, that didn't fly so well, and we didn't ever go nearly as far as Hosea did.
And this leads to the first question: What is appropriate for a Christian film? Can it be PG, R? What about NC-17? Can it have violence, swearing, gore, sex, nudity? What kinds of topics can be covered: Lying, hatred, murder, rape, witchcraft, incest, homosexuality?
And if all of those are inappropriate, why are they such common topics of Bible stories?
Let me put it another way: Why are so many Christians thrilled about The Passion but appalled by violent films? What makes the gratuitous violence of Christ's death a thing "every Christian should see" but the insane opening minutes of Saving Private Ryan a thing to be avoided? Is it just the language? Both are historically accurate and are messages of hope and a call to live a better life.
Hopefully I have shed a little light on how this can be a gray area. And as for Biblical principles, can you imagine what kind rating Ezekiel 16:3ff would get? This certainly warrants discussion, but discussion is needed. This isn't black and white.
Relativism and Doing Evil to "Minister"
I can't comment on the relativism, as I don't know what has been said. However, as I've begun to unwrap above, things aren't nearly as cut and dried as we often would like. I've always been a passionate "black and white" kind of guy promoting truth and godliness... but as I've become older and wiser, I have come to see that things in a fallen world aren't so easily split. And that's how we can end up with God doing some pretty crazy stuff that I doubt He's going to be doing in Heaven.
As for ministry, let me give you one example we discussed briefly when I was at Biola: A Christian man was asked if he was interested in working on a full-blown pornographic film. He knew the people he'd be working with which is how he got asked onto this shoot. Here was an opportunity to "minister" if ever there was one.
But it was a porno! Can Christians work on such trash?
The man talked it over with his wife, his pastor, and some of the guys at his church. And after getting their blessing, he ended up working on that film and interacting with some of the professional "sinners" of Hollywood.
That's certainly not a path every Christian is going to walk, nor should it be. But if God is calling people to be in that kind of industry--like the people at XXX Church--then who am I to cry foul?
And when I read my Bible, the story of the Christian working on the porno set echos of Matthew 9:10-13 just a little.
People think you can't make a comedy without vulgar humor.
I agree that this is untrue. I mean, there are plenty of hilarious movies without vulgarity; take Emperor's New Groove as an example.
But even Homestarrunner.com, for how clean it tends to be, can push the envelope beyond what some Christians would find within the limits of propriety. So this comes around to the question of: What is "vulgar" and what is not?
Can Strong Bad say that he should be having kids with Ali and Ali's sister? Is that vulgar? It sure isn't "pure" ...so is it acceptable? Why or why not?
I think the confusion of your classmates is understandable: How many clean comedies are there? Not many.
Why is that? I think it's because comedy, as a genre, tends to work off the premise that "the unacceptable is funny." Or something like that--I don't remember where I heard that first, and the wording might be slightly different. But the point remains: Why do kids laugh when someone passes gas? Because it's not "appropriate"/acceptable.
And as I think about the comedies I've seen, even going back to the "old tyme films," they get their laughs from topics like divorce, nudism, genocide, and violence. It is very, very difficult to create a comedy that does not step on someone's sensibilities.
But comedy can be made without vulgarity, and every filmmaker needs to learn that. However, I can see why so many filmmakers don't realize it: There are precious few examples.
Scripture is said to be irrelevant because movies weren't around in Bible times.
The Bible is not a rule book and if a specific thing isn't mentioned we can't just ignore it. No, the Bible is a set of books of various genres from which we can draw knowledge and wisdom that is applicable for all of life. That's part of the whole "living and active" part of the Bible.
It does seem crazy that Christians at a Christian university would have somehow missed that.
In response, we discuss movies from a Christian filmmaker's perspective.
Excellent! There is need for this. But this clearly begs the question:
What is a Christian filmmaker?
I'll pick up there on Monday-ish <smile>.
Your Media Production Mentor