Monday, October 02, 2006

Marketing Faith Based Films

I received a letter today from "FoxFaith", a division of Fox films. They're announcing "a new, ground-breaking program that will impact Christian families across the country and - particularly - your community..." It then moves into a plug for the upcoming release of the adaptation of Janette Oke's Love's Abiding Joy -- and a promise that following that release "the FoxFaith theatrical program will release a minimum of 6 FoxFaith films in theaters across the country...films that are either derived from a best-selling Christian author or that have an overt Christian message." They'll also have promotional flyers and accompanying Bible Studies for participating congregations.

A visit to the FoxFaith website shows that they're marketing not just new releases, but old classics (like the Sound of Music or The Agony and the Ecstasy), contemporary blockbusters (like the Passion of the Christ or The End of the Spear). They also have downloadable study guides and resources for many of the films on their list.

How Nice.

But I'm a little cynical (surprise?)

Don't get me wrong -- I like many of the films on the list. I would recommend many of the films that they have available. I'm also appreciative that Fox is making a diligent effort to make thoughtful films that are family friendly or rooted in Christian values. I believe that when such films are of good quality, we ought to support them with our dollars and our recommendations.

Where I'm cynical is this -- I as a pastor don't want to be treated as an extension of your marketing department. When we as a church do something like "The Gospel According to Star Wars", it's because someone in our church thought it was a really cool way of relating something that we like back to the Scriptures. We didn't do it as the latest zowie thing to attract lots of new people -- and we certainly didn't do it to promote the Star Wars films.

When I recommended people see the Passion of the Christ or The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, it was because I had an intuitive sense that these films would make a big splash on our culture in general, and I wanted our congregation to be conversent with them.

I react against the idea that all the Fox Marketing department has to do is send out a letter and we Christians will come salivating for a sugary sweet film simply because we're told that it's friendly to Christians.

Here's my suggestion to the Fox Folks -- Make good films. Stop trying to make demographic based films. Let directors work out of love of the craft rather than trying to figure out how to capture a demographic by paint by numbers. Why do you think The Lord of the Rings and The Passion of the Christ were such huge hits -- they were labors of love done by really good artists.

My other advice is this -- there are some labors that are just plain worthless. Eschew them. The films that exalt nihilism, torture, degradation, and over-the-topness may bring in lots of dollars, but ultimately they weaken our society and our souls. Please show some responsibility and self-restraint in your offerings.

And if you follow by those two maxims, you'll save lots of marketing dollars AND win the hearts of a lot of Christians (and non-Christians as well).