One explanation for Hollywood’s skittishness about doing films and TV shows that take Christianity seriously or, heaven forbid, show it in a positive light, is that it’s afraid of offending people.
Of course, that fear doesn’t stop Hollywood from regularly portraying Christians in a negative way–which one assumes they would find insulting–or putting themes in scripts that fly in the face of basic tenets of Christian belief.
While Christians should take it as a compliment that movie and TV moguls expect no scary backlash from this, it does point out that Tinseltown’s unwillingness to offend extends only to certain groups, and Christians aren’t among them.
This fear of talking about faith, though, is a recent phenomenon. Take, for example, 1984’s Ghostbusters, which features the Archbishop of New York City, along with some priests, nuns and rabbis; 1996’s Independence Day, which is very pro-marriage (with a loving First Couple, a cohabiting couple that weds, and a divorced couple reuniting) and features references to Judaism and even vocal prayer; and 1997’s Volcano, which has a string of Christian, and specifically Catholic, references and visuals.
None of these movies could even be tangentially considered “faith-based.” Instead, they feature faith as an ordinary part of life, and somehow, offended moviegoers bearing torches avoided burning Hollywood to the ground.
With the financial success of the TV miniseries The Bible (and Son of God, the feature film made from part of it), Heaven Is for Real, Moms’ Night Out and even Noah (rock people and all), Hollywood may be having a “come to Jesus” moment about the financial upside to faith-based films. There are Bible-based movies in the pipeline, and Bible producers Mark Burnett and wife Roma Downey are working with NBC on A.D.: Beyond the Bible, the follow-up to the miniseries, and on a guardian-angel drama called Unveiled.
On Sept. 5, Sony’s Affirm Films releases The Remaining, a supernatural thriller inspired by the biblical Book of Revelation, and by “the Rapture,” a notion, very popular in Evangelical circles, that God will sweep up the devout and leave everybody else to deal with seven years of tribulation, including plagues, demons, fire, brimstone, etc.
Writer (with Chris Dowling) and director Casey La Scala (Amityville: The Awakening, What a Girl Wants, A Walk to Remember, Donnie Darko) centers his story on several friends who are attending a wedding when the Rapture hits. Rather than being sucked bodily into the great beyond, as has happened in other films and books based on the Rapture, the spirit of the chosen alone ascend, leaving their bodies to drop wherever they were.
“I call it ‘Instant Death Syndrome,'” La Scala tells Breitbart News. “People are saying it in the movie. They’re not sure what it is. As soon as I figured how to do that, then the process, where to take the actors, is just to follow Revelations and see where it goes, and what they’re going to be up against.
“There’s two movements to my film. The first half is more of a disaster film; the second half is that Paranormal Activity thing where they’re trying to escape more of a supernatural entity.”
He uses about 75 percent standard moviemaking, interspersed with 25 percent “found footage,” which is meant to look like video the characters shot themselves.
“I wanted to create that visceral response from an audience,” La Scala says, “to make it real.”
La Scala, who was raised Lutheran and now attends the popular Bel Air Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles, is also hoping to capitalize on faith-based moviegoers starved for stories that reflect their beliefs and worldview–and who seem willing to pay for the privilege.
“Look,” he says, “I’ve been in those meetings. Friday, you look at what’s coming out over the weekend. You have all these projects in development that you want to make, then on Monday morning, you look at the box-office numbers, and all the projects you have that are similar to the ones that made money are moved forward.
“So it’s this avalanche of faith-based projects, because some of these projects have slipped through the cracks, and they’re doing well. All of a sudden, you have, ‘Whoa, that’s number one? Wait, that cost how much?’ So you have people putting these into development, purely by numbers, not because they feel some central drive saying, ‘We need to have at least three faith films,'” La Scala says.
Finally, a town that frequently claims it runs on money not ideology may start to live up to that reputation.
“Yeah, look,” says La Scala, “they’re starting to wake up. There’s been more successes. You’re starting to see this resurgence of things happening. They’re aware of it.”
“I’ve been approached by a number of studios: ‘What other faith-based stuff do you have? What are the things you’re interested in doing? We really want to get into this space.’ I don’t know why it’s taken this long, frankly. It makes no sense to me, why it’s taken this long,” he goes on to say.
Unfortunately, an industry that has become so accustomed to belittling and mocking Christianity may not be able to turn its attitudes around overnight.
Says La Scala, “I don’t want there to be this churning of the money machine and making all these projects that are really not faith-based, but are being billed as faith-based, and they’re exploiting a lot of seminal stories, and they’re taking major creative license.”
“They don’t care about offending the faith-based community. I think there’s going to be a cycle where there’ll be a cynicism in the faith-based audience, and they will turn around and boycott specific films that are being billed as faith-based films,” he adds. “When that happens, that’s when a more balanced relationship will be achieved.”
And perhaps, the many believers to be found in Hollywood, both in front of and behind the camera, might be able to do projects that reflect elements of their faith without fear of torpedoing their careers.
“We’re at the beginning of all this process of Hollywood’s fascination with faith-themed films,” says La Scala, who says he had to use a lot of personal relationships to get around obstacles to make The Remaining. “As they grow in popularity, and they make money, then those standards will change, obviously, because it does come down to money. That’s the reality.
“More directors and more actors will be open to doing these roles, because they will get support from the studios. My mouth to God’s ears,” La Scala concludes.