More and more frequently, neophyte faith and family movie producers are asking us to review their movies that may not have a major theatrical release, but bragging instead that they’ve won awards at several film festivals.
Their hopes are high, but all too often their movies are lackluster, the type of movies that give a black eye to Christian filmmaking.
In my book “How to Succeed in Hollywood (Without Losing Your Soul),” I mention the wise advice of Lajos Egri, which can be paraphrased: Don’t show your script to your mother because she’s going to love it no matter how terrible it is. Instead, show it to your worst enemy so you can get an honest critique and make it better.
Filmmaking is a highly developed craft, just like surgery. Great filmmakers work hard at their craft.
When I’m teaching my filmmaking class, I show a video that points out Peter Schaeffer had 46 drafts of “Amadeus,” and none of us are as good as Peter Schaeffer. The reason is that 45 drafts were not good enough. I show another video of Ed Catmull, the founder of Pixar, discussing the Pixar rule that, if anybody at Pixar complains, they re-edit the movie. So, “Toy Story” was changed radically six months out from distribution and polished continually until its release in theaters.
One website for screenwriters used to note that if you miss your first plot point by one second, you lose millions of dollars at the box office. We are developing a tool to help you compare your script to the beat structure of great movies. Writing a good script, making a great movie takes lots of work.
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The average movie in Hollywood takes 13 years. I was president of the organization that produced “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” which took 26 years to get to television as a TV special for CBS (I was there at the very end), and another 26 years after that to be produced as a movie and released in theaters. James Cameron claimed it took 30 years to take “Avatar” from idea to the big screen. “Evita” took 24 years. “Spider-Man” took 23 years. Finally, the great producer Ken Wales tells the story of how it took 19 years to make the bestselling book “Christy” into a television program.
Many new Christian filmmakers, on the other hand say, will call me and say: “God told me you would read my script.” Or, “I downloaded my movie from the Holy Spirit.”
When their movie turns out to be mediocre, we wonder if they think God is a bad filmmaker, which is doubtful since He’s such a great Creator and Jesus was such a great storyteller. People want to and should believe in their projects, but pride of authorship should be coupled with humility. Surrounding yourself with yes men will not help you.
This gets back to film festivals. Film festivals are a dime a dozen, and they can even mislead famous filmmakers like Woody Allen. We get contacted by festivals all the time that want us to recommend movies. They are desperate for movies. They will take any movie.
Once upon a time, when I was four years old, I showed our Scottish collie at a prestigious American Kennel Club Dog Show. Because the collie was a very rare Scottish type, there was no other dog in its class, and, since I was small and elicited a lot of sympathy, the Kennel Club gave me a blue ribbon. If I thought this meant that the collie was grand champion, I was severely mistaken.
Festivals don’t prove that your movie is any good. What proves the quality of your movie is box office income. If you’re movie opens at $20,000 per screen or more, and continues to break box office records, then it is a good movie. If it opens to $6,000 or more, it’s a good movie. If it opens to $400 a screen, you didn’t have marketing money, or: you didn’t care enough, you didn’t try hard enough, or you didn’t have the humility to make a great product.
The reason we’ve seen a growth in Hollywood movies with faith and values is we can show in our Annual Report to the Entertainment Industry that movies with faith and values make more money. If there’s a flood of movies that are mediocre and don’t make any money, they will undermine this worthy quest to redeem the media.
When my second son went into the Marines, the sergeant got in his face and yelled, “Baehr, if you can’t hack it, you’re gonna pack it.”
We don’t want to be as brutal as the sergeant, but we’re here to help you hack it so you don’t have to pack it, so Christians and Movieguide can succeed in their efforts to redeem the media.
For more information, please go to HowToSucceedInHollysood.com or call (805) 383-2000 for information on our “How to Succeed in Hollywood (Without Losing Your Soul)” filmmaking workshops and classes.