Wednesday, March 01, 2006

+ve changes in Hollywood

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Tuesday, February 28, 2006


By Dan and Peter Wooding

DALLAS, TX (ANS) -- Big, positive changes are happening in Hollywood, says Dr. Ted Baehr, founder of MOVIEGUIDE®, a family guide to movies and entertainment, and the Christian Film & Television Commission™ ministry (CFTVC).

In an interview with Peter Wooding, senior news director for UCB Europe at NRB 2006 in Dallas, Texas, Dr. Baehr said, “Every studio has a Christian division now. And, almost every major studio has agreed to read the winning script for the first John Templeton Foundation Kairos Prize for spiritually uplifting screenplays with religious themes about God and Jesus Christ by first-time screenwriters.”

The winner of the Kairos Prize will be announced at the upcoming 14th Annual MOVIEGUIDE® Faith & Values Awards Gala and Report to the Entertainment Industry set for Thursday, March 2, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. The awards are sponsored by MOVIEGUIDE® and CFTVC.

Peter Wooding interviewing Ted Baehr

Dr. Baehr said that the studio heads agreeing to read the winning script include Amy Pascal, Chairman of the Motion Picture Group at Sony Pictures Entertainment; Dick Cook, Chairman of Walt Disney Studios; Jeffrey Katzenberg, Co-Principal of DreamWorks SKG and President of DreamWorks Animation SKG; Joe Gianopulos, Co-Chairman of Fox Filmed Entertainment for 20th Century Fox; and, Jeff Robinov, President of Production, Warner Bros. Pictures.

“There are only six major studios in Hollywood,” Dr. Baehr noted, “so when I say that four out of the six are reading these scripts, it’s because four out of the six have made a determined, concerted effort to get involved in the Christian marketplace. That's because the Christian marketplace happens to be one of the few areas in the United States that you can really have a successful movie.

“For instance, ‘The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe’ has done about $300 million in the United States and Canada with very little advertising. A movie like 'Brokeback Mountain,' which Hollywood has promoted with a lot of advertising, has only done about $75 million, which at $6.40 a ticket is only about 11 million tickets in a country of 300 million people, which is very, very small.

“So when the key players in Hollywood want to make money, reach people and have a successful movie, they’ve got to put moral values and overt Christian values into their products. And, the more Christianity they put in it, the better it does at the box office.

“So the studios are now seeking out Christians to make movies. About a month ago we had ‘The End of the Spear’ open up. A group of people from the National Religious Broadcasters who had teamed up with some people from Hollywood were delighted that it was released by 20th Century Fox.”

Baehr went on to talk about the Michael W. Smith movie ‘The Second Chance’ which he described as “a very good movie.” He added, “I was asked to help with the script. Michael W. Smith is a big Christian singer here in the United States. Sony has taken their record label for Gospel and Christian product, called Integrity, and combined it with Provident and turned it into Provident Integrity for movies.

“When we were at the Christian Booksellers convention, the biggest exhibit was Warner Faith, the biggest show was Disney, and the biggest screenings were 20th Century Fox, so those are the major studios now becoming a tremendous influence within the Christian realm. They’re hiring a lot of people to market the movies, but sometimes they’re marketing movies that we should stay away from, like ‘The Da Vinci Code.’”

He then talked about some of the people that are coming to the upcoming gala.

“Disney is buying several tables; and, they’re going to try to get all the key people from ‘Narnia’ there. I can’t tell you who’s going to be there until they actually get there. And then I got back to the office to find out Warner Bros. is buying tables. All the studios, and most of the studio people, who come to the Awards Gala are not believers, but it’s surprising how many believers there are in every group.

“What we do at the event is we commend the good. The studios in Hollywood need these awards. They used to be able to get Academy Awards, but they can’t get Academy Awards anymore because the studios don’t control the Academy anymore.”

Dr. Baehr noted that the Academy is controlled by all the young turks who made one or two movies for Sundance Film Festival, but there are only six major studios releasing movies for a broad audience, which means there are only about 140 studio movies released every year. That means there are a small number of studio talent, but there are 6,000 members of the Academy, most of whom have never been involved in a studio film.

“Many of these young turks have just done dark and dingy independent film festivals,” said Dr. Baehr, “or the types of films that play in art houses somewhere. So, the major studios now have lost control completely of the Academy Awards. Last year, the movie that went into the Academy Awards with only about $8 million at the box office ended up with got out with $100 million after being nominated and winning Best Picture. So, now the studios are saying they want the MOVIEGUIDE® awards because they’re hoping that it’s going to boost their box office.

“The studios also want to be recognized by those who still recognize movies with a broad audience because those awards help people understand that these movies are worth going to. Disney told me that they had promoted ‘Chicken Little’ for the Academy Awards, but they couldn’t get it into the animated features nominated for an Oscar®, and so they are happy to be nominated for a MOVIEGUIDE® Award.

“Our awards attract a lot of people. There, we have the chance to disciple and evangelize them through their own movies. We help them try to understand what the difference is between a good movie with redemptive content like ‘The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe,’ or a movie that they think would appeal to the Christian audience, like ‘Saved,’ but is actually abhorrent; or the difference between a good television program like ‘Beyond Narnia,’ to a program that people abhor, like ‘The Book of Daniel.’ They do not do ‘The Book of Daniel’ or ‘Saved’ thinking that they’re being offensive to the Christian audience. They think that those are religious movies and programs, so what we do is try to help them understand the difference between the two.”

Peter Wooding then noted to Baehr that are several authors who are launching books on “The Da Vinci Code,” and so he asked him for his comments on this.

“I think Christians should release books and stories and articles about this topic,” he said. “We should speak to the issue, and we should speak in love to the issue, we should expose the fruitless works of darkness, we should be clear about the issues. The trouble is that the studios have tried to encourage the movies and books that, even if they’re critical, they’re tied into the movie, and have convinced some Christian leaders to urge people to go see the movie and then read their book.

“I think we should be open to Hollywood, deal with Hollywood, talk to Hollywood, speak to the political scene, but I don’t think we should let Hollywood dictate what our principles are. I don’t think they should hire us to be shills for the entertainment industry. We need to support the good, and reject the bad.”

Note: We would like to thank Shirley Hunt for transcribing this interview.

Peter Wooding is senior news editor for the UK-based Christian radio network UCB Europe. The son of ASSIST founders, Dan and Norma Wooding, he has traveled extensively reporting from places such as Croatia, Dubai, St Petersburg, Russia, South Korea, Zambia and Israel. He is also the director of ASSIST Europe, and last fall led his first mission trip with the ministry to Beslan in Russia. Previously Peter served as a missionary for five years with Youth With A Mission, where he met his wife who's from North Wales where they now live with their three daughters.

Dan Wooding is an award winning British journalist now living in Southern California with his wife Norma. He is the founder and international director of ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) and the ASSIST News Service (ANS). He was, for ten years, a commentator, on the UPI Radio Network in Washington, DC. Wooding is the author of some 42 books, the latest of which is his autobiography, "From Tabloid to Truth", which is published by Theatron Books. To order a copy, go to (Pictured: Dan and Peter Wooding)

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