Jim Graves is a Catholic writer and editor living in Newport Beach, California. He previously served as Managing Editor for the Diocese of Orange Bulletin, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Orange, California. His work has appeared in the National Catholic Register, Our Sunday Visitor, Cal Catholic Daily and Catholic World Report.
While the entertainment industry has long been known for its hostility to Christian belief and morality, a number of quality Christian-friendly films have been made in recent years that have drawn significant audiences. Additionally, while many prominent figures in Hollywood are known for their views which are hostile to Christianity, there are still many who work in the industry who are Christian. I spoke recently with three such Christians—two Catholic, one non-Catholic Christian—who talked about their industry and the faith-friendly projects with which they’ve been involved.
Catholic director and screenwriter Andrew Hyatt (Full of Grace; Paul, Apostle of Christ)
The recent success of multiple Christian films demonstrates that there is a market for faith-based films. The next step for us as Christians is to make sure that we become more involved in the storytelling process, and that we are trusted to tell the stories that are our stories.
[Regarding his film Paul, Apostle of Christ] … when I began researching for Paul, I was surprised to discover how dark the world was at the time of Paul’s death. Nero had burned Rome to the ground, then pinned the blame on Christians … to preach the Gospel meant that you could be sent to the Coliseum to be ripped apart by wild animals. These people had fear, but also courage, joy and love. It really moved me, and gave me a lot to think about in my own life. We live in a safe place here in America. We can gather with other believers in church, pray and fellowship without threat to our lives.
… It was never my intention to make Bible movies, but God has surprised me, and I’m ready for anything else He wants to put in my way.
Catholic animator and director Timothy Reckart (The Star)
… One thing I’ve learned in working in Hollywood is that it is a big place. The bad stuff you read about in the paper is all there, but there is a lot more there. You have the people who work on sets or other aspects of production who are ordinary working people living lives of virtue.
Parents shouldn’t discourage their kids from coming, telling them it is a moral swamp. We need more good people coming out to Hollywood making a difference. It’s one way we can improve the situation and change the culture for the better.
[Regarding his Catholic upbringing] … I was the second of six kids. We were brought up with an emphasis on lay sanctity, the universal call to holiness. Holiness is not just for monks and nuns, but for all of us, whatever job we may do. That means the janitor, the teacher and the filmmaker. We’re all called to be saints, not just in the monastery, but wherever God has placed you. What that meant growing up was that my parents wanted me to be involved in the world, following my passion of animation.
[Regarding The Star, the animated Christmas movie which he directed] … It has a religious message, but it isn’t a preachy Bible movie. It uses creative license to tell the Christmas story from the point of view of the animals, giving us a new look at an old story. That combination of things made me want to be a part of it.
… [Our biggest challenge in creating a movie based on the Bible was] to have a script faithful to the source material while using our creative talents to make it as entertaining as possible. We have various aspects of the story you’d find in the Bible—the Annunciation, a reference to the Visitation, Mary telling Joseph that she is with child and the confusion that must have resulted from that, the wise men, King Herod and more—but there are plenty of gaps between the lines that we can use creative license to fill. In The Star, we can make believe what the donkey or camels are thinking, or play with how they might have interacted with one another. I think in that way we can make it creative and entertaining for all kinds of viewers, while being faithful to the story.
Christian visual effects specialist and director Dean Wright (Lord of the Rings, For Greater Glory)
There are more Christians and other people of faith in Hollywood than you’d think. Why don’t we show faith in a more positive light? I suppose there is a hesitancy to reveal that side of ourselves, perhaps because we’ll be attacked in the media.
Look at Mel Gibson’s 2004 film, The Passion of the Christ. He was attacked for making that movie. People in the industry are afraid that if they promote such projects they’ll lose work or they’ll be rejected by their peers. There’s a bit of bullying going on. It’s not PC to create a pro-Christian film. And, at the end of the day, it’s a battle to get it to an audience.
… I was watching the 1948 film Joan of Arc starring Ingrid Bergman with my kids. I was amazed that this was a film about faith, with a reverence for belief in God. It’s amazing how far we’ve come in such a short period of time. Films about faith seem so foreign to audiences. It’s a challenge of Christian filmmakers to share a deep and meaningful message of faith with audiences who aren’t used to such films.
The studios aren’t particularly supportive. In fact, Mel Gibson had to make The Passion of the Christ with his own money because the studios wouldn’t make it. But, in the end, everyone was shocked that it did as well as it did. More recently, The Bible miniseries produced by Roma Downey and Mark Burnett had phenomenal ratings.
[Regarding the importance of Christians making Christian films] If you put years of your life into developing something, you have to believe in it. If you’re not a Christian and you make a movie about Jesus, it won’t be successful.
And, while any project is hard to get made today, it is doubly true with a pro-Christian film. You have to have the internal strength to see it through. I’m confident we will be a success, though, as we’ve demonstrated that there is an audience there who wants to see these films.