Last month I asked, Do Christian Creators Know When Their Movies Are Bad? Author and screenwriter Sean Paul Murphy answered. In short, his answer seems to be, “Usually.”
But Murphy raised a lot more questions and answers, for which my original article didn’t have space.1
You should read Murphy’s insider’s view. Read it especially if you’ve been one of those snarky Christians. You know who you are—the kind of person who thinks or speaks as if all those cheesy Christian movie-makers are doing it on purpose. Or the kind of person who thinks or speaks as if things will get better if cheesy Christian movie-makers just start making better movies.
I say ‘amen’ to Murphy’s insider view.
Murphy touches on several truths that I can get behind without qualification. Among the myths he busts (my paraphrasing):
‘Non-Christian movies are so much better than Christian-made movies’?
Nonsense. You only hear more about great non-Christian-made movies because there are so many of them. That yields more chances for the good ones to get really good and/or popular.
Numerically, terrible movies by non-Christians outpace Christian-made movies by factors of hundreds.
‘Christians mean to make subpar movies and don’t care about growing’?
Nonsense again. As Murphy repeats, creators like Alex Kendrick and Dallas Jenkins both humbly concede earlier “cheesy” moments. They are very transparent about their earlier not-so-great work. And they directly state they aim to get better.
‘Christian movies would be better if they had higher budgets’?
This is more of an implication I find in some other Christians’ snarky reviews of evangelical-marketed movies. In other words, maybe we just need to allocate several million dollars to use solely for making Christian movies. But as Murphy says:
One thing that always infuriates me is when filmmakers say their movies aren’t good because they didn’t have a big enough budget. Hey, if you chose to tell a story that you didn’t have the money to adequately tell, it’s not a budget problem. It is an error in judgement by the producer. Period! I didn’t hear the directors of The Blair Witch Project crying about their budget. I didn’t hear Kevin Smith crying about the budget of Clerks. Or Jim Jarmusch about Stranger Than Paradise. Or Whit Stillman about Metropolitan. Or Robert Rodriguez about El Mariachi. One of my favorite sci-fi films is Primer. Shooting budget: $7,000. Those filmmakers made up for their lack of budget with talent and imagination. I don’t think it’s too much to ask Christian filmmakers to do the same.2
Does quality matter in Christian films?
Murphy suggests I ignored this question in my original article. That’s true of this particular article. However, I have explored the quality question in other articles:
- Christian Movies Started Terrible, But Can Improve Like Any Other Genre, this website, Jan 10, 2019 (immediately preceding the article to which Murphy responds)
- Four Biblical Critiques of Christian Movies, Speculative Faith, April 24, 2018
- 21 Challenges for Christian Movie Critics and Fans, Speculative Faith, September 2015
That last series is so far my “magnum opus” on this topic. But I wrote it to challenge not just Christian movie critics but their fans, all at once. That’s because, apparently like Murphy, I don’t primarily blame the filmmakers or producers for making cheesy movies.
We must be more charitable than that, while also recognizing pure capitalistic fact.
Producers and directors wouldn’t make the cheesy movies if Christian audiences did not really want them.
Read Murphy’s insider view. I’d venture he shares the frustrations of many Christian creatives who are restricted by plain market forces:
The main reason why there are so many bad Christian films is because the core audience doesn’t demand quality filmmaking. Only a reassuring message. If we want good movies, we have to stop supporting the bad ones, regardless of how well-meaning they are. It’s that simple. Really. The future of Christian films is in your hands, dear viewer!3
Problem: Christians who hate-watch Christian movies aren’t helping much.
Unfortunately, some Christians who are most likely to demand better movies are giving up too early.
Many of these potential viewers are younger Christians. They are more savvy with popular culture. Some write off the whole concept of “Christians making movies with overt Christian themes.” Within this group, some critics seem to assume a notion similar to evangelical cheesy-movie defenders: that the chief purpose of Christian-made movies is to “minister” to people. They only disagree on how the movies ought to do this, or what kind of people the movies ought to reach. They neglect one plain reality: that the Church does need its own “subcultures,” including movies.4
Honestly, some other Christian movie critics take the same stereotypical attitude of an older Christian. This is the kind of person who would forbid his children from seeing secular PG-13 movies “because actors say too many bad words.” Christian movie critics apply this same “sin counting” approach to Christian movies. In effect they claim, “No, you can’t support those, because they have too many cheesy moments.”
Once upon a time, most of the big movies were made by Big Hollywood. Evangelicals would see them sometimes, but usually condemn everything wrong with Big Hollywood.
And the evangelicals would not actually try to make any of the big movies themselves.
Today, some of the (relatively) big movies are made by Christians. Other Christians see them sometimes, but usually condemn everything wrong with the Christian movie-makers.
And most Christian movie critics do not actually try to make the big movies themselves.
So—are critics incidentally turning into little but a complaining counter-culture? Are they vulnerable to the charge of, “I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it”?5
Solution: instead, teach other Christian movie viewers to demand more.
Well, from what I read here, I like Sean Paul Murphy’s way of doing it.
I like some of directors Alex Kendrick’s and Dallas Jenkins’s way of doing it. And I suspect that I’ll like their way even better in the future.
Until that time, I’ll keep giving these directors second (third, fourth, fifth …) chances.
I’ll keep supporting “Christian movies” as a concept.
And I’ll try to avoid being so silly as to suggest anything like this: that Christian movie-makers ought to make their own jobs even harder, by making movies that the majority of their evangelical audiences simply don’t want. At least, don’t want yet.
Instead, my solution: get out there, and winsomely show my Christian friends why they should modify their Christian-movie wish list.
Then the market will slowly shift. Then emboldened creatives will step up their game. Producers will support them. Audiences will reward them. That will encourage other creatives, directors, producers—and the cycle will just keep going.
It’s already happened with the superhero genres.
But the changes don’t start with the story creators. These changes must start with the fans.
- I would describe my view on Christian movies as pessimistically optimistic. This is reflected in my other recent article, Christian Movies Started Terrible, But Can Improve Like Any Other Genre. ↩
- Sean Paul Murphy, “Do Christian Creators Know When Their Movies Are Bad?” (same title as my article), SeanPaulMurphyVille.Blogspot.com, Feb. 1, 2019. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- I summarize this point in Seven More Challenges For Christian Movie Critics and Fans (Speculative Faith, Sept. 10, 2015). It’s actually somewhat naive to presume that independent creative Christians can simply skip over our thriving Christian/church subcultures and “make a difference” in secular creative fields. This goes double if the creative seems to believe the chief purpose of story-making is “evangelism,” rather than “glorify God in all that you do.” ↩
- Seven Final Challenges For Christian Movie Critics and Fans, Speculative Faith, Sept. 17, 2015. ↩