Lessons Learned From Two Mainstream Romantic Comedies

Select mainstream romantic comedies have much to teach Christian filmmakers. The truth is that the Christian romantic comedy and or comedy genre(s) are sadly sparse. The movies that do exist in these genres are usually awkward and or obnoxious. While there are a few diamonds in the rough, such as Heaven Bound, Altar Egos, and The Matchbreaker, the norm is….well….if you don’t know, then I won’t torture you with the knowledge. Today we’re going to take a look at two mainstream romantic comedies that got it right, and the lessons Christian filmmakers can learn from the same.

Leap Year (2010)

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Screenwriters Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan gave this rom-com their all – a fact that is evidenced through many truly funny sequences and the time spent on developing a relationship between the main characters. The main characters are a purpose-driven, successful apartment stager engaged to a ‘cardiologist’, and an equally sarcastic and broody owner of a failing Irish pub. These two eccentric people drive the plot and have realistic dialogue and responses to life’s curve-balls. While the film received mixed reviews from critics, it is our belief that it is mostly misunderstood. While it cannot be classified as a Christian film – due to some language and a few scenes where characters are partially clothed – the screenplay contains some important lessons that many Christian screenwriters have yet to learn.

A true comedy is built on authenticity –real people

Audiences want authenticity. The most important step towards authenticity is creating real characters. A real character is someone who is neither an emotionless Hallmark clone nor a saintly, persecuted believer in a message-pushing Christian film. A real character is found in the messy in-between because real people are imperfect in a beautiful way. They mess up and say and do things they regret, but they are also capable of great love and good. Once this concept is implemented, the second branch of authenticity is real relationships. Real relationships don’t follow a spreadsheet – but they’re worth it. This movie establishes authenticity by paralleling an obligatory partnership and a real romantic relationship with the goal of showing the audience why the former is never worth it. As a screenwriter, whether you write the story or the screenplay, make the time to craft real people who have real relationships, the end results will be lasting.

Romantic comedies must have exceptional dialogue

This movie doesn’t waste time on ‘filler’ dialogue. Every conversation is both humorous and meaningful to the plot. The main characters go through the perils and joys of each day, reflect on their past and present, and learn to accept each other’s imperfections. What can a screenwriter learn from this? That real relationships are established through relatable dialogue. In this genre, conversations between characters should be neither high-brow nor punctuated with slang and cliches. Regular, average communication is what is needed – and a little sarcasm never hurt either. Overall, a screenwriter must remember that exceptional dialogue is paramount to building great characters.

My Fake Fiance (2009)

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Howard March’s romantic comedy/parody stands out from many other mainstream RC’s because it contains truly comedic sequences. What is a truly comedic sequence? Something that is still funny the second time you watch the film. Additionally, his portrayal of self-loving opportunists and parody of dysfunctional parenting is nearly unmatched. The two main characters – a down-on-his-luck gambler on the run from the town thug and a cynical, single woman who has never quite lived up to her family’s standards – drive the simple storyline and have many truly funny conversations. March uses authenticity and exceptional dialogue to build his characters, but his screenplay contains further lessons for screenwriters in the romantic comedy genre.

Self-awareness is the key to parody

A true parody is one in which the characters are self-aware of unbelievable, ironic, or unrealistic scenarios or situations. March’s The Monkey character and his subtle trolling of Joey Lawrence through his corresponding character are examples of how to do this. Real people are self-aware, whether they admit it or not, and yes, when push comes to shove people are always looking for a way to benefit themselves. As a screenwriter, if you characters do not meet this criteria, then they can never be meaningful to the audience – they will never be real. I know that sounds like a quote from The Velveteen Rabbit, but its true.

Insecurity is the lifeblood of romance

A romantic comedy should be built around the insecurity of the characters. This may sound a little strange, so let me explain.

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When two people love each other, they are forced to decide if they will open their hearts and break down walls that they have always held on to, or turn away in fear and remain in solitude. When someone is truly in love with another they are both afraid of and in awe of the sensation. They long for what they feel they cannot have or do not deserve. In the words of Emmett from the Lego Movie 2, “its easy to harden your heart, the hardest thing you can do is open it”. This is a simple, but profound truth that a screenwriter should keep in mind when writing a romantic comedy. It is the center of everything that matters. It should be the underlying message in every romantic comedy. Ok, you get it.

In light of all this, what can we conclude? Simply this: select mainstream romantic comedies are more far-reaching and influential than most Christian films in the same genre because mainstream screenwriters understand real people. If Christian movie-makers start respecting their audiences by using real people and portraying real relationships in their storylines, then they will be following Jesus’ command to, “in humility, value others above yourselves” (Philippians 2:3, New International Version).

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What Mainstream Period Dramas Got Right

Many Christian audiences love period dramas, so why hasn’t a Christian filmmaker made one yet? In the past decade, budding and established screenwriters have proven that a a period drama doesn’t need sensationalism to be good. In other words, a tasteful storyline with superior character development is the name of the game. Instead of only creating movies for niche audiences or confining stories to certain genres, Christian filmmakers need to branch out and dare to be different. Here at BOR, it is our opinion that this is the only way Christian movies can breach the secular/inspirational divide and be just as good as the competition – while promoting an important message. To start off, let’s take a look at a few exceptional period dramas that got it right.

Little Dorrit (2008)

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Andrew Davies’ depiction of Charles Dickens’ little known story, Little Dorrit, is a nearly perfect series on all counts. Davies brought the semi-boring original storyline to life by writing character-driven story that held the audience’s attention. From the first episode to the last, the story holds the viewer’s attention and causes the audience to fall in love with – or dislike – each character as they are, for neither group is all good or bad. Arthur and Amy’s complexly interwoven story is well-established through the use of flashbacks and engaging dialogue. Finally, while the ending is somewhat predictable, it is done in the best way through a healthy serving of ironic humor. Therefore, there are two main things Christian filmmakers can learn from this series.

Make your characters the first priority!

As a screenwriter, your characters should come alive on the page or they will never be engaging on-screen. From here, the screenplay should add further depth to already well-crafted characters. Throughout the remainder of the work, casting, filming, editing, etc., the characters should be give the first priority at all time. If your characters are good, then in this case, a pre-established storyline will follow their lead.

Please, don’t waste time on ‘filler’ dialogue.

Every conversation between the characters needs to be meaningful. Audiences are smart and will become easily bored with generic dialogue between characters. Make your dialogue count – the audience will recognize the difference.

Emma (2009)

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Sandy Welch’s depiction of Jane Austen’s posthumous work, Emma, is unsurpassed. Welch brings the characters to life by crafting excellent dialogue and clear personalities. Additionally, her humorous characters drive the plot and make this adaption stand out from it’s counterparts. There are not many good British comedies, but this is one of them. While Emma has many lessons for filmmakers everywhere, there is one big statement that Welch and company make in this series:

Devote ample time to discerning/crafting the personality of each character.
Each character in a story needs a clearly defined personality, even down to the minor characters. There should be no such thing as a one-dimensional character. Emma proves that developing a character’s personality brings a new level of depth and meaning to everything that happens in a story. There is much that goes into developing multi-dimensional characters, but developing a clear personality is a good start for any filmmaker.

Commit to finding a cast member that is perfect for each role

For every well-written story, there are actors out there who are perfect for the corresponding roles. In Emma, it is clear that time was devoted to finding cast members who were perfect for each role. Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller are strong leads because their portrayals of Emma and Mr. Knightley drive the plot. Because of the strong cast, this depiction of Austen’s novel is the best to date. In Christian film, there is a need for stronger casting. If your cast is bad, your movie will not be successful and will reach no one. If Christian filmmakers ever hope to one-up their competition, they must be devoted to their characters from start to finish.

Doctor Thorne (2016)

Julian Fellowes’ depiction of Anthony Trollope’s little-known book Doctor Thorne is both brilliant and engaging. Fellowes’ combination of excellent character development and witty dialogue makes for a clean, enjoyable comedy/drama that is palatable for all ages. Additionally, his subtle parody of social politics in high society adds much to the simple storyline. While there are many lessons to be learned from Fellowes’ screenwriting, he makes two main statements in this series.

Self-awareness is the key.

Fellowes demonstrates through this series that a simple storyline does not limit a film’s potential. Today’s audiences appreciate subtle parody and self-aware humor, both of which are found here. Gone are the days of stiff and awkward theatrical acting and vanilla storylines – so please, stop using them. Recent Christian films have raised the bar higher than ever on acting skills and dialogue expectations. A perfect story has both joy and sadness, pain and peace, humor and lasting lessons – and a really good ending.:)

Respect the intelligence of your audience.

Audiences do not need obvious cues and product placements to understand the message of your story. Once again, subtlety is the name of the game. However, subtlety and loss of meaning should not go hand in hand, rather, subtlety should be used to establish meaning. For instance, in Doctor Thorne, much of the run-time is devoted to developing a real romance between Mary and Frank. Additionally, there is no Pureflix-style message-pushing. Preachy dialogue and a forced agenda disrespects your audience and isolates people that could have been reached by the heart of your message (if it had one). The Erwin brothers have proven that a real message reaches everyone instead of a select group.

In light of all this, what can we conclude? Simply this: mainstream content is more far-reaching and influential than most Christian films because, for the most part, good mainstream screenwriters adhere to these guidelines and others. If Christian movies start respecting their audiences and portraying real people in their storylines, then their love for others will prove to the world that they are Jesus’ disciples (John 13:35, New Living Translation).

How to Lose Someone in 60 Seconds: Hallmark-Style

It’s that time again…Witty Wednesday!

This edition’s scenario:Let’s say that you’re a big business guru in the inspirational card-making, trinket-selling, and all around entertainment industry. Let’s say that someone who works for you is suddenly caught in the midst of a massive scandal. Someone…..someone….like this:

Who did something like this:

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As a big public figure, you can’t very well condone their actions, even though you may agree with some or all of them. So, what is one to do? Oh, I don’t know, the first thing that comes to mind is to put them in a box, then put that box inside of another box, and mail it to yourself. And when it arrives:

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You’re right! We must consider other options…I know! You could BANISH them from the face of the earth!

A third option, just for the sake of variety, would involve you stripping away all social/personal/any remote connections you had with said person and exposing their personal life to public criticism! HAHAHAHAHAHA….

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NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
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Her reaction: ^

However, if none of these options are appealing, you could start them on the path through a knock-down, drag-out, long, over-complicated, and never-ending court case!

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But wait, I know! The best thing to do here is combine all of these ideas into one for the ultimate showdown/elimination of said person from the face of the earth.

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Well, that pretty much sums up how to lose someone in 60 seconds…Hallmark-style.;)

Disclaimer: Please consult your lawyer or another legal authority before trying any of the above suggestions, we are not a legal representative and the above strategies are not to be considered as legal counsel.

Classifying B-grade Christian Movies

It’s that time again – Funny Friday! Anyone who has spent a considerable amount of time searching for quality Christian entertainment knows that B-grade Christian movies exist in abundance…and continue to be released! We here at BOR are well aware that many filmmakers struggle to raise money to support their dreams, however, we have also observed that some movies never needed to be made. It is these movies that are parodied below. Most or all of the following films can be found in the bowels of streaming services, on Pureflix.com, or for free on various websites (if you know what I mean). Enjoy!

The Cliffs of Insanity

Two words. Love Different. No one has made a movie like this to date. Let me break it down for those of you who haven’t watched it. There’s this single ‘white’ girl see, and she has a son. She applies for a job at a ‘black’ company who only has ‘black’ employees. This leads to many new experiences for white girl. From zany grocery store trips ending in her being carried out by her new black friend, to many scenes of awkward characters dancing and singing to their bathroom mirror while balancing toiletries on various appendages, this movie has a little something for everyone. Here’s the viewing experience you can expect while watching Love Different:

Jenn Gotzon is dancing in the bathroom mirror, audience’s response:

Anthony Hackett is rapping a song about lotion while looking in the bathroom mirror, audience’s response:

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Pan to Jenn Gotzon ranting about food stamps in a very awkwardly expressive manner at the grocery store, Anthony Hackett is busy laughing and making off-color racial jokes and bumps into her at the counter (panicky breaths):

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But we can’t forget another big category of Christian movies – end times movies. Oh yes, we’re going there. Perhaps the most unusual one we’ve ever reviewed here to date is Sunday Morning Rapture. Basically you go from your average introduction to multiple characters to complete and utter mayhem…you guessed it, the RAPTURE. Pan to shaking furniture, explosions, car crashes, and people watching news on every possible channel available in the universal cable TV package especially made for this film. And then…the cliffs of insanity. Pan to people in church rolling in the isles (literally) and throwing themselves at the altar in some attempt to bring back those who were RAPTURED, viewer’s response:

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Inconceivable

These films are easily recognized and can be identified by their zany, unusual, off-color, or just plain weird qualities. Obviously the most inconceivable movie in this category is yours truly, The Rev, we have honestly seen nothing like this film to date. Basically it goes from: Yo, three old guys are sittin’ on a bench reminiscing about the good ol’ days. Oh hey! Remember that one time…awkward thirty/forty-something white man appears on screen in a Walmart Elvis suit and eventually starts driving the movie donor’s convertible around (where is that music coming from?). Then he starts picking up random people off the road, including a suicidal has-been singer and a ‘prostitute’ in a Party City costume. Somewhere in there we have singing and dancing sequences I’ve wiped from my memory. This movie is like used chewing gum in your hair – you can cut it out, but you’ll never forget it.

Another movie that really deserves to be here is Tommy Blaze’s finest work, Me Again. If you want to watch a movie where the most insecure white man ever goes on a zany psychological journey in which he becomes an old chain restaurant owner with a bad heart, this same guy’s female housekeeper, an anorexic female model addicted to drugs, (it gets better) his own wife, a female baby, a goldfish, and his daughter’s boyfriend (perhaps his most fitting role)….

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…..then this one is for you.

What in the world can that be? 

These movies usually feature a random appearance of an unexpected feature that in no way fits with the rest of the film.

You know when you’re watching a Christian movie that is either totes boring, mediocre, pushing an agenda, or average with some obvious production errors, when all of the sudden….is that a PEZ dispenser?

(radio silence)

If you don’t know which movie that generic gray-haired man was on, then I’ll leave it for you to search out on your own. Let’s just say he’s from a movie that is so bad it made it into two categories in this post.

As if the chicken man isn’t enough, there’s one more finalist here that we couldn’t resist featuring. The Adventures of Chris Fable . In some way, this film is trying to portray John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress….but we’re not sure how or why. You see, Chris is just a downtrodden boy….who suddenly is called to go on a journey that will change his life forever! “On their way to freedom,” he and his companions “encounter weird looking bugs, loud noises, shaking trees, a freaky CGI city, and a giant stomping robot.” (our founder, 2017). While watching, you will soon ask: “Will I ever make it out of this movie?”

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Yes, you’re very smart. Shut up.

Recent evidence has shown that this category extends to both movies and series. For instance, Peculiar season 1. What in the name of wet sandwich bread is going on here? This one has it all: Oh I’m just the average Christian kid who wants to protect himself from the big bad world by going to a Christian university…but can’t get in. This sticks me with going to a secular school who….has. no. sports. Oh no, now I have a sports-related injury and an evil atheist professor out to persecute me! What do I do? Why, sing, dance, and make weird jokes of course (in-between staged debates in front of the entire class with said professor). These parts of the movie will lead anyone with sanity to ask “Are you finished?” To which the professor will respond:

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And when the student finally defeats the atheist professor, a fellow college student on a campus far, far, away will suddenly turn around and say to the camera:

Its obvious which movies fit in this category. For instance, A Matter of Faith, God’s Not Dead, and End of the Harvest .

I don’t think it means what you think it means

This post wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t take a look at the very best that B-grade Christian films have to offer: human trafficking, pro-life, and time travel films. First up, what do you get when you mix a few big-name Christian actors with an agenda-pushing storyline? Answer: Caged No More! Oh my word, this one is a real doozy. If you don’t get tired fast enough of Kevin Sorbo playing twin brothers (one with a fake British/Australian accent), trumped up action scenes, or pass out from boredom, Aggie’s voice will do the trick.

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If you finish watching Caged No More, you are really committed to the cause and deserve to watch Alison’s Choice! Otherwise known as the worst pro-life film to date. Here’s what you’ve got: Bruce Marchiano playing himself a janitor with a Jesus impersonation complex, a pregnant teen who sees visions of her CGI unborn child at the touch of said janitor’s hand, off-color racial ‘comedy’, and the ‘black female’ character. This agenda-pushing plotline is frequently punctuated with the phrase “choose life!”

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We’ve saved the best for last: Time Changer. If ever there were a time travel movie that would go down as the absolute worst, this is it. Let’s start out with a freeze frame from the film:

My time machine is far too complex for you to understand

‘Nuff said. Here’s the skinny: a seminary professor writes a textbook that doesn’t align with the morals displayed by Christ. His punishment? Travel into the future and be horrified at every turn by how terrible the world has become! Women wearing provocative clothing! Teenagers flushing their lives down the toilet! Matriarchy! Immorality! Card playing! Dancing…in church!!!

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Somewhere in there he jumps around from past, present, and future, and somehow gets back to the present in the pursuit of finding the end of time. How did he get here, there, and everywhere?

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That pretty much sums it up!

No more rhymes, I mean it!

You know when you’re watching a Christian ‘comedy’ and it either turns out to be completely weird, funny for all the wrong reasons, or so stupid that you can’t finish it? Well, this movie takes it to a whole ‘nother level: Spent The best summation I can come up with for this film without giving too much away is this: Dad’s dying, let’s get his money (evil laugh). Oh wait, he’s not actually dying….

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Ok, so since he’s not going to die naturally, time to come up with a backup plan! Hehehehehehehe. Hey Dad, guess what’s for dinner? Your favorite! Pizza pie! (waits while he eats it) Did you like it? Yeah it was (interruption) Well good, cause it was your LAST MEAL

But we haven’t even talked about Malibu Dan the Family Man Season 1 (it has two seasons!) or Hitting the Breaks! If you don’t know what this is, all you need to know is this. In the gif below, the protagonist in these absurd series is Buzz, and the audience is Woody.

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To conclude, to anyone reading this who is offended in any way, please know that this post is meant in fun and is not intended to shame or humiliate anyone. Current Christian filmmakers, if God was in the movie you were making, and you were not just doing it to please someone else or yourself, the audience and us will know. See our Hall of Fame for movies fitting this criteria.:)

Does the World Really Need More Amish Fiction?

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The sheer number of Amish fiction titles never ceases to amaze me. Every time I see an Amish fiction novel, I ask myself three questions. 1. Why is this considered Christian? 2. Why are all these plots the same? 3. How is this genre pointing people to Christ? I can only assume that the answer to the first question is along the same lines of reasoning that Christians use when they approve of Catholicism and similar faiths that claim to follow Jesus’ teachings. When I consider the second question, I can only assume that companies want more books sold, and therefore approve of Amish fiction because it fits into the inspirational-I-feel-good-not-convicted corner. Next, I can find no evidence that shows how Amish fiction points people to Jesus. Instead, it seems to point readers to a fantasy world in which people live in an idealistic universe where only first-world problems happen. For instance, your kapp won’t stay on right, no matter how hard you try! Not to be confused with the struggle of sewing your own clothing and getting up at the crack of dawn to milk cows. And how about that cute Englischer/Englisher that you saw on your monthly Walmart run and have been pining for ever since? Likewise, another explanation for the Christian obsession with the Amish could stem from the need to isolate oneself from the big, bad world out there. In short, secular culture makes me uncomfortable, let’s retreat to the wonders of a Pharisaical religion with many rules and regulations that are sure to keep your kids home forever! In this world, my kids will marry who I say they will and do what I believe is best! None of this making your own decisions or having unique interests, because we’re all the same! But before I get carried away, the main point I’m trying to make here is that Amish fiction does not point people to Christ. In fact, it points them towards the opposite of Christianity – the Amish practice salvation by works. The Bible states in Ephesians chapter two verses eight and nine: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast”. Therefore, a non-Christian reader can assume that those who publish Amish fiction are accepting of works-based religion. If this is not their intention, then today’s publishers should do their research before putting their name on any fly-by-night novel claiming the name of Jesus Christ.

Why the Erwin Brothers Should Make A Biopic About Chrissy Cymbala Toledo

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The Erwin brothers’ success with I Can Only Imagine and Woodlawn has proven that their greatest success is with biopic films. Today’s audiences want real stories, and we here at BOR believe that true stories should be the main plot used by Christian movies. This is why we believe that the Erwins should make Chrissy Cymbala Toledo’s life story into a great Christian biopic/epic film. Her book, Girl in the Song, tells the story of how she ran from God and pursued worldly pleasures before finally submitting to His will for her life. Toledo’s story is raw, relatable, and teaches several important life lessons. These are the qualities that make a great film – qualities that are always found in an Erwin creation. As the Erwins often choose a central social issue as the driving force behind their films, they could portray the yet to be seen issue of ministry families that do much for the kingdom – but unintentionally neglect their family in the process. Additionally, it could portray the unique difficulties experienced by ‘preacher’s kids’. In summary, Chrissy’s story speaks for itself.
This story is as is – there is no need for alteration. Her story has reached many in novel form, but would reach more as a movie. This is because teens and young adults are more likely to watch a movie than read a book. Her story needs to be told in film, will the Erwins tell it? Or help someone else tell it?

Dream Cast for Girl in the Song:

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Chrissy Toledo: Susie Toledo, if she felt called to do so. If not, then Moriah (Peters) Smallbone has the right personality for this character. She would have to go blonde again, but this is a minor factor. Her performance in Because of Gracia has proven her acting skills.

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Carol Cymbala: Chrissy Toledo, I think she can play her mother better than anyone else, and anyway, it would be cool to have her in the film.

Jim Cymbala: The Erwins could easily find someone to fill this role, as he would be more of a minor character throughout the middle of the film.

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Jaye: Believe it or not, we feel that Joel Smallbone would be great at this role. We’ve always felt that he would be better at playing a bad guy, plus he certainly has the ego and self-confidence to portray Jaye’s personality.

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Young Lorna: Joy Brunson would make a great young Lorna. She has a great personality for this character and the talent to make her role memorable. Even though this is a minor role, she has filled this part well in the past (see October Baby). Plus, she could play the older Lorna’s daughter later in the film if this is applicable.

Older Lorna: We would like to see a fresh face in the world of Christian acting for this role. This role needs to be filled by a woman of Jamaican heritage that’s in her late thirties or early forties. She would need to portray a character that is both strong-willed and merciful, with a heart for those in difficult situations.

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Al Toledo: Chris Massoglia fits the part because he is good at playing this personality, plus, he looks like the real Al Toledo.

Rina: Angelita Nelson needs to return to Christian film. She would be great for this part.

Extras: Jordin Sparks as a friend, Lecrae as any secondary role, or another young-ish Christian singer to draw attention to the film.

Why the Erwin Brothers Should Make a Mark of the Lion TV Series

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Francine Rivers’ Mark of the Lion Series changed the way people looked at Christian fiction. The safe and meaningless romances of the past were challenged by her raw storytelling and love that arose from the ashes of pain, suffering, and heartbreak. Rivers fearlessly portrayed real life – everything, even the messy stuff. Likewise, the Erwin brother’s recent blockbuster I Can Only Imagine – which is based on a true story – showed Christian audiences that the only way out of the dark is through it. Movies cannot avoid the hard things in life and focus only on hearts and flowers, or on sadness and worldly pleasures. No one will learn anything if entertainment continues to do this. Sadly, Christian movies often fall into the former situation, and if not, their portrayals of real life issues are often half-baked. For this reason, I continue to believe that Christian filmmakers should use the content that is already there. Rivers has proven that people can write relevant fiction based on historical fact, and the Erwins have proven that true stories revolving around social issues make the best movies. Therefore, the Erwins should use their new platform to make Christian miniseries/TV series based off of Christian books. They can start by bringing the Mark of the Lion to the big screen. This book series contains plenty of social issues to choose from – abortion, homosexuality, dysfunctional families, unhealthy relationships, slavery, etc. However, it would likely need the rough edges sanded off a bit for the big screen, for not all of Rivers’ raw content would translate well to movie form. Likewise, some of the secondary characters – namely Marcus and Julia’s friends – might need to be edited out or toned down. However, I firmly believe that the Erwins have the editing skills to make this happen. Second, I have no concerns about character development, for it is already there in the books, and the Erwins are masters in this area. Third, production would need great attention and some artistic flair. Additionally, they would need to branch out to a new filming location that at least looks like Rome and the surrounding areas. Finally, casting would need careful attention. I would suggest their usual mix of good secular and Christian actors, along with several racially diverse cast members that include some Israeli and other Arabic ethinicities to make the movie more culturally sound. I have full confidence that the Erwins could pull this off. Plus, a challenge would be good for them. 

Dream Cast for a Mark of the Lion TV series

 Hadassah: Keisha Castle-Hughes would make a great Hadassah. She is good at portraying a quiet, unassuming personality that hides an inner strength. Plus, she has already proven her acting skills in the Nativity Story movie. 

Marcus Valerian: Joseph Fiennes is good at portraying men of Marcus’ personality, plus, he has the look for it. 

Mrs. Valerian: Nicole Duport would be perfect for this role in every way. She has the look (her Amy Grant portrayal) and the talent to pull it off.

Mr. Valerian: Olivier Martinez would be great at portraying this character. He has already proven his ability to portray a confident, strong-willed character who likes authority in Paul, Apostle of Christ.

Julia Valerian: I leave this character up to the masters of casting. The actress playing this role would need to have the ability to portray a selfish, thoughtless, impulsive, and strong-willed female who is up for anything that goes against her parent’s wishes.

Alexander the physician: Jim Caviezel, he would draw attention to the film and is also good at portraying a prideful, self-confident character such as this. 

Calabah: Shohreh Aghdashloo, I have no words for how well she could portray this character. She’s a great villian/evil mentor. 

Atretes: This role needs to be filled by someone of German or similar heritage who can portray a character who has emotional ups and downs – who gets easily angry and tends to go on emotional highs. I must stipulate that such an actor be cast not only for his appearance, but primarily for his acting skills. It would be easy to fill this role with a generic muscled man who can’t act. 

Caius (Julia’s first husband): James Faulkner could fill this role, if he masked his British accent like he did in his most recent Christian film. Likewise, 
Robert Bathurst has the perfect personality for this character – if only he wasn’t British. 

Theophilus: Ralph Fiennes has the look, talent, and imposing presence to fill this role very well. Though he is an English actor, he is not actually British. His family tree includes people from Irish, Scottish, and Norman heritage. 

 

How to get Cast in a Hallmark Christmas Movie

There are several things you want to consider when you’re thinking about trying out for a Hallmark movie – especially a Christmas Hallmark movie. You’ll want to consider the plot, your looks, the age of the character, their family structure, their love interest, your looks, the expectations for the character, your looks, and your looks. In the following satirical journey I will outline an epic guide for how to get cast in a Hallmark Christmas movie. 

The Middle-Aged Divorcees Romance Plot:

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Two middle-aged divorcees who knew each other in high school/college/pep squad end up married.

First things first, if you want to get cast in a Hallmark Christmas movie with this plot, you have to look the part. Notice the two middle-aged white people in the above photo, they are the very model of what a ‘older’ Hallmark couple should look like.

  • Are they white? Check.
  • Are they middle-aged has-beens from TV/movies gone by? Check.
  • Have they had at least one (or in their case several) plastic surgeries? CHECK.
  • Can they smile on cue? Yep. Is this a Colgate advertisement or what?
  • Are they awkward yet comfortable, distant yet close?
  • Do they have a somewhat vacant and uninterested look in their eyes? CHECK.
  • Are they blonde? Yup.
  • Is she wearing at least five layers of foundation? Check.
  • Is HE wearing at least six layers of bronzer? Check.
  • How about the outfits? They should say modern yet basic, young yet…mostly old. Hmm..on point!
  • Does the man wear a suit coat at all times? Check.
  • Is the woman miserable and too thin? Check. Although this one looks pretty good compared to, I don’t know, this:
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There we go! At least four bones of the body are visible in the above photo. Check!

And that’s about all you need in the looks department for this type of plot! Moving on!

Fake Fiancees Turn Bride and Groom Plot:

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Oops! I’m falling in love with him/her! It can’t be true! (horrified emoji) This scene always happens at some point.

If you want to get cast in a Hallmark Christmas movie with this plot, you have to look the part. Notice the WHITE youngish couple in the above photo. They’re perfect. 

  • Are they white? CHECK.
  • Is he in shape, or for double points, a bodybuilder in a tight, white button-up? Eh, he’ll do.
  • Is she blonde and painfully thin? Yep.
  • Does he look like Dean Cain’s cousin? Check.
  • Does she look like an off-brand Barbie doll? Good enough.
  • Can you dance? Or at least pretend to? You know, the old two-step? The jury’s still out.
  • Are you prepared to act in a Western/country/southern/small town theme? Oh, they’re perfect.
  •  Are his sleeves rolled up? Check.
  • Is she awkwardly touching his chest/abdomen? Or in this case trying to unbutton his shirt? I’m surprised at you Hallmark! Check.
  • Are you prepared to interact with an annoying child actor? i.e. His/her little brother/sister/cousin/niece/nephew? Let’s hope so.
  • Is the main character prepared to interact with an overbearing mother/father figure and or a needy grandparent? They’d better be.
  • Is the main character prepared for fake awkward/embarrassing moments when their parents interact with their fake fiance? For example: “Honey do you remember when Jane/John was a sheep in the church Christmas play and fell off the stage? HAHA!” Prepare yourself. 

And that’s about all you need for this plot! Moving on!

The Hometown ex-boyfriend/girlfriend competes with Big City boyfriend/girlfriend Plot: 

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The woman is pretending to be interested in but knows nothing about his hobby scene, this usually happens towards the beginning of this plot.

If you want to get cast in a Hallmark Christmas movie with this plot, you have to look the part. Fortunately, you don’t have to be too young for this one. The late twenties to mid-thirties bracket is fine. As long as you are willing to wear stage makeup and or have a minor/major plastic surgery to correct the flaws created by aging. I hear those all-natural gold facials really work! You know the drill by now, let’s go through the checklist!

  • Are they both white? What do you think? Although, this plot leaves a little more room for the imagination in the race category. If you have non-white or mixed race heritage, no worries! Hallmark is more forgiving to non-Aryans in this plot structure.
  • Are they child actors from a past popular sitcom/soap opera? Check. If this doesn’t apply to you, just say that you are a big Full House or Growing Pains fan! It helps to have a tattoo of a Cameron sibling (i.e. Kirk, Candace, that nameless older sister who dances and was seen on Saving Christmas).
  • Are you prepared to constantly manage a love triangle? For instance, you can’t pick one man/woman over the other until the end of the movie. Sorry in advance. 
  • Can you sing, dance, play a musical instrument, ride a horse, or sell flowers? Perfect! They’ll need this talent for the middle of the film.
  • Are you prepared to constantly deal with a matchmaking female relative? Good!
  • Can you portray a business professional who’s tired of the big city life? Perfect!
  • Tired of being blonde! Okay! This is the one plot in which they allow different hair colors: Dirty blonde, red, light brunette, etc. Okay okay, I know the woman in the photo is blonde….

Well this plot is so simple there’s really nothing else to say. Moving on!

The TBF (token black friend) tricks white female friend into a blind date:

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Oh girlfriend if that ain’t beautiful I don’t know what is! (The guy is the TSWF (token single white friend)

If you want to get cast in a Hallmark movie with this plot, you have to be as awkward and white as possible, with the exception of the TBF. 

  • Is the TBF extremely happy? Borderline on hysterical? Taking helium? Yep.
  • Is the TSWF as square and nerdy as possible, with a ridiculous stiff grin? Yup. 
  • Are there magical elements? Yep. How do I know? Just look at those twinkly sparkly light things, and I’ll bet there’s a sleigh bells soundtrack in the background. 
  • As an African-American, are you prepared to have your ethnicity demeaned to nothing more than an eternally happy character who does nothing more than crack jokes and spout cliches/platitudes and act sassy/annoying/obnoxious? You’d better be! Cause that’s all you’re gonna get from Hallmark baby!
  • As the single white friend, are you prepared to act awkward and mysterious while wearing fifty layers of foundation and a casual chic wardrobe? Pull it together! Its what the people want! Or is it?
  • As the TSWF, are you prepared to be the one who says something in a group conversation, only to have the group stare at you with vacant expressions, then laugh loudly? Lock away those emotions pal!
  • As the victim, otherwise known as the blind date, are you ready to go out and fall in love with a complete stranger who has a pet poodle and a busy corporate job? She may or may not actually love you, she’s just desparate! In a noncommittal, I-don’t-need-no-man sort of way.
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Well that says it all folks. NEXT!

The Child Match-maker plot:

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Like, you’ve totally got to go out with her, her bio says she’s a fan of Friends, Full House, and Blossom.

If you want to get cast in this plot, you have to be completely clueless and have no self-respect or self-confidence whatsoever. That’s about it. Onto the checklist!

  • Are you prepared to constantly interact with a control freak in the form of a demented child who thinks they have a career in matchmaking? They KNOW what you need. They KNOW who you love. They’re. Always. Watching. 
  • Are you prepared to be shamelessly manipulated by a child who has let a little dose of authority go to their head?
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  • Are prepared to forcibly fall in love, kind of a captive-loves-fellow-captive type thing?
  • Are prepared to have a double wedding with….gasp….your mom and new step-dad!?

If not, I hear there’s an opening in the Fake Fiance Turns Bride and Groom plot!:) Movin’ on!

The Forbidden Love Plot: (rare)

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Remember the goal people, no matter how much you hate your co-star, you must eventually kiss him. The fans will love it!:)

If you want to get cast in this plot, you have to look the part. This one is a real doozy. You know the type. The woman/man has to appear in public and say and do all the social requirements with his/her parents choice for a mate, while meeting their true love, a hairdresser, graffiti artist, or sculptor, at midnight in the snow with a streetlight shining on their faces. They draw close together, their eyeballs almost touching, and tilt their heads opposite directions ever so slightly….but before I inspire tempting thoughts, let’s go through the checklist!

  • Does he look at least somewhat down-to-earth and normal? I guess. This goes for the female in the same role too. Good news! The forbidden true love character is allowed to look mostly like an average American.
  • Does she look like a girl from a rich family? You know, the parents avoid Goodwill like the plague, buy only designer clothing, and own a big bad business who hates on the little people? Meanwhile she’s the angelic Belle character who loves everybody and hates money (totes unrealistic). Eh, she’ll do.
  • Are you prepared to kiss your true love in the snow with a backdrop of way too many Christmas decorations? (as seen above) And your parents pick at a Christmas party full of old people and an artificial Christmas tree decorated with two-dollar bills, MAGA ornaments, and an Uncle Sam hat/Statue of Liberty on top?
  • Can you play hard to get, or in this case, easy to get?
  • Can you play either the female who feels bad about her plan to elope, or the male who doesn’t feel good enough for his rich intended?
  • How about the climax scene where he jumps in front of the paintball gun…
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Just kidding, this never happens.;)

That’s a wrap folks! You will leave this post feeling one of two ways:

This:

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Or this

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Hockey stick! (name that Christmas movie)

How to Identify a Religious/Inspirational Christmas Novel

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This post is for anyone having trouble spotting a Christian-friendly Christmas book/books to fill the long winter hours. I will elaborate on several ways to accomplish this, and how to avoid secular content at all costs. I hope this makes you laugh.:)

Step One: Does the book have identifying marks/images on the cover?

Those looking for a Christian Christmas novel should first look for a religious/inspirational image on the cover of possible books. For example, if the cover doesn’t feature a Christmas tree, piles of gifts, Christmas lights, Santa kneeling at the manger, mistletoe, holly with red berries in the center, the silhouette of a couple walking in the snow with room left for Jesus, a Bible,  a grandma in her rocking chair knitting a baby Jesus Christmas sweater, a Nativity scene featuring the rare figure called “man with bread” sitting on the mantel of a house about to foreclose on Christmas Eve, A gingerbread house with the Holy Family inside on a grandma’s kitchen table, Mary with a halo in any number of settings, or a house saturated in Christmas decorations in Kirk Cameron’s front yard, then it is not Christian. Beware.

Step Two: Does the book have a safe and uncontroversial plot description on the back cover?

If step one doesn’t work, take it a step further and check the back cover. If you don’t see a plot description telling of a romance featuring a single woman desperate for a hot Christian guy, a man/woman who lost their job/had a death or injury in the family and had to come back to their hometown to find love and save the family farm/estate/business/food truck before Christmas, a lonely middle-aged divorcee with no kids and a pet Chihuahua who falls in love with a bodybuilder at a Christmas party, an elderly widow looking for a second husband at the senior center’s Christmas game night, a blogger who pretends to be her best friend on a dating website to catch a man in time for Christmas, a pastor forced to deliver a baby in the back of a car/truck/wagon/sleigh on Christmas Eve in the driving sleet who in turn uses the mother and child as Mary and Jesus in the live Nativity he is late for (see Do You Believe, Marriage Retreat), then it’s not Christian. Stay away.

Step Three: Is the book written by Lori Wick, Beverly Lewis, or their comrades?

If step two fails, then open the front cover to see the author’s picture and bio. If the author is a middle-aged woman who is married with two or more kids (including adopted children), a foreign exchange student, six cats and three dogs, loves to knit/crochet/craft/bake/paint tables/re-purpose furniture, has a short haircut and too much or too little makeup on, is pleasingly (or not) plump, lives up North, likes Amy Grant, has a gluten allergy, and drives a Subaru, then this is the book for you!

Step Four: Is the book published by a legalistic publisher?

This step is the deciding factor in Christmas novels.

Step Five: WWJD?

Can you see yourself reading this book, snuggled under a blanket with a cat or dog under your feet, drinking a non-alcoholic beverage, with Jesus and St. John reading over your shoulder? If not, do not.

Step Six: Is the author associated with a big-name writer?

As a last resort, do a quick Google search to see if the author has ever written a book with/collaborated/shook hands with/collaborated/had tea with/gotten an autograph from/stalked a big-name Christian author, if not, steer clear.

And that’s your Christian fiction guide, holiday edition! Remember, leave room for Jesus, in fiction and in real life! (sarcasm) 

Why the Christian Holiday Genre Should be Better Than it is

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The Christmas season seems to start earlier every year, which in turn gives entertainment companies an excuse to sell more and more content as time goes forward. As a writer and book critic, it seems to me that this year has brought a certain influx of Christmas fiction in the Christian/Religious genre. I’m sure we’ve all seen posters like the one pictured above – these types of Christmas books are a dime a dozen. While I was compiling books to add to our Upcoming Christian Novels page, I had to wade through a bottomless pit of Love Inspired fiction and other cheesy Christmas themed books to find anything of substance. In the end, I caved and added a few titles that seemed at least somewhat promising. I wanted to give the authors I included a chance to prove me wrong. I have nothing against Love Inspired, but around Christmastime it seems like every one of their novels has the same plot structure. Furthermore, none of their books appear to be reaching anyone with the Gospel message. This leads me to the following question: Shouldn’t Christian fiction, holiday themed or otherwise, be held to a higher standard? I, for one, can see no difference between the Religious/Inspirational Christmas fiction genre and your average hometown Christmas film (I see you Hallmark Channel). Anyone claiming to be a Christian must know that Christmas is not about romance or magical sentiments, rather, it is supposed to be a celebration of our Savior’s birth. So, do these novels preach this message? No, they do not. I say with great sadness that these novels are no different than a secular Christmas book. There is more to Christmas than boy-meets-girl in hometown plots, cheesy suspense plots, save the family business/farm/company/estate while trying to catch a husband/wife plots, and Christmas weddings/engagements/baby showers in the snow. I have nothing against the Christmas genre in all it’s forms, as long as it points people to Christ. Books like Max Lucado’s The Christmas Candle are a perfect example of how to create a well-written fictional tale that points people to the Savior and the true meaning of Christmas. He even manages to include magical/miraculous elements without being cheesy! Authors, take a cue from this novel and others like it. Stop worrying about filling quotas and consider what the purpose of your writing is. Take an honest look at your manuscript, does it point people to Christ, or does it point them to the world?

Why the Smallbone Brothers Should Make Redeeming Love a Film

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Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love has touched many lives and reached many people as a novel, however, we are at BOR believe it would reach many more as a film. Many people do not understand this story in it’s current form, and some may be repulsed by the many raw and honest characteristics found throughout the novel. Until recently, sex trafficking was not realized as a crime happening within U.S. borders, and I wonder if some still do not realize just how long the crime has been in existence. You see, in the 1850’s and before, prostitutes were and are despised and rejected by society as bad people who could have done better. Those doing the rejecting gave no thought to the circumstances that led these women and girls to their present condition, nor did they offer help and freedom to those in bondage. In this era, and sometimes in the present, women with no husband or father often became so destitute and hungry that they were driven to sell themselves to survive. Furthermore, some poor families sold their children into sex slavery so that they could eat. In Redeeming Love, Sarah is the latter. She knew nothing but a life of being used and abused by men, and was afraid to escape because she would be beaten into submission. When a honorable man did arrive, she didn’t trust him at first, and later was afraid to start over. It took a tragedy to secure her freedom, and many sacrifices to help her stay free. Similarly, the Smallbone brothers’ landmark film Priceless has reached many people by proclaiming a “call to arms” of sorts for people to recognize and seek to help those currently in slavery. The film took a personal look at sex slavery by asking the audience how far they would go if it was their daughter, sister, etc. in bondage. Redeeming Love asks the same question, but in a different way. For this reason, I feel that the Smallbone brothers next project should be making Redeeming Love into an epic film. Think of it as the sequel to Priceless. We’ve seen slavery through the eyes of an impoverished woman and through the eyes of a father, but not through the eyes of a child who grew up a slave. There are very few that we would entrust with this task, for Francine Rivers’ most popular book has the potential to change the culture. The Smallbones should do this, not because of their notoriety, but because they have already demonstrated a deep understanding of the topic, and a commitment to above par Christian films. Those who were not reached by Priceless would be reached by a film based on Redeeming Love. However, for this to happen, we have certain requirements that we believe must be met because they reflect the reasons why Rivers has turned down other filmmakers in the past.

  • Francine Rivers must work directly with the filmmakers throughout the entire process to ensure that the original plot content is upheld, casting is accurate, and that a strong commitment to character development drives everyone’s actions
  • Redeeming Love should be an epic film that focuses on Sarah’s life up to the end of the novel
  • The Smallbones should collaborate with the Erwins, as they have done in the past, to ensure maximum potential is reached
  • Cast members should be diverse in ethnicity, age, and circumstance, to ensure that people from all walks of life are reflected in the story
  • Time jumps should be minimal or nonexistent; the Erwins are masters of this technique
  • Finally, if the Smallbones cast themselves in the film, they must act alongside their wives

To conclude, the team at BOR has developed a dream cast for this film. These suggestions derive from a study of how these actors have performed in the past, and our belief in their untapped potential. 

Sarah/Angel: Moriah Smallbone is the only actress that can portray the heart of this character with gravitas.

Michael Hosea: Joel Smallbone has already proven that he can act well, and fits the personality of this character. The Erwins could coach him to improve upon his performance in Priceless. 

Paul (Michael’s brother): Jim Caviezel would be great in this role. Paul’s character is passionate yet bitter, and caring yet afraid to come out of his shell. He is overconfident yet yearns for more. Caviezel has proven his ability to portray diverse characters in the past, and would draw unlikely viewers to the premiere. Our only concern is his age, which is a bit too old. We would like to see the Erwins ideas for this character.

The Duchess:  Shohreh Aghdashlo is quite talented at playing a villian, and could easily become this character.

Mr. Altman: Luke Smallbone is a good fit for this role because Mr. Altman is described as loving, protective, and gentle. 

Mrs. Altman: Courtney Smallbone is very similar in real life to this character. She has a strong faith in God and acts as a role model for younger women and fellow mothers. Plus, she and Luke already have three kids that could play the role of Miriam’s younger siblings.

Miriam Altman: Masey McLain would be great in this role. She has played several whimsical, artistic characters in the past, and can do it again. Plus, McLain and Caviezel would be a very interesting match-up onscreen.

Jonathan Axle: Believe it or not, I think Brett Rice could be really good in this role. He is an established actor in Christian circles, and is good at playing a gruff but compassionate 60-something male character.

Susanna Axle: Rhoda Griffis, because, why not? She’s a good matronly character who adds sass and spunk to any movie she’s in. 

 

Box Office Revolutionary Saves Christmas

He knows when you’re sleeping and stuff

After watching Kirk Cameron’s infamous Saving Christmas masterpiece, I was left feeling both inspired and cheated.  I feel like good ole’ Kirk didn’t go as far as he could have with this award-winning film.  There are so many more elements of Christmas that need explaining and redeeming.  Take note, Uncle Kirk: this one’s for you!

 

Don’t you want to build a snowman?

Snowmen

What is the Biblical-historical origin of snowmen, you may ask.  Take a moment to talk with me down the historical timeline.  Imagine darkness.  Imagine a few stars peeking out in the cold Judean night as sheep graze on the countryside.  Imagine gripping a wooden stick called a staff and staring off into the distance, wandering what your true purpose is.  Then suddenly, you are knocked off your feet at the sight of mind-searing light coming from the heavens.  The very fabric of the universe has been pulled back and you see beings dancing across the firmament.

That’s right—snowmen represent the shepherds who went to see baby Jesus.  Even today, when we build snowmen, we are still referring back to those lowly men who visiting the neigh-tivity scene.  This is clear when you realize that snowmen just stand there, never moving, always watching…always watching you…

 

I can’t think of a witty caption to put here

Christmas Lights

Go back to that Judean countryside.  Walk with me as we enjoy the crisp evening.  Look up to the heavens and see the millions of blinking lights across the celestial array.  The panorama stretches as far as you can see.  Each star is named by God and each one worships Him.

You are correct again—our modern day Christmas lights represent the stars that were there the night Jesus was born.  Each star worshipped Him that night.  So the next time you’re hanging those annoyingly tangled things up around your house, remember that you are participating in the real meaning of Christmas: stars.

 

You know what kinda train this is?

Hot Cocoa

Seriously, Kirk, you really let us down here after you waxed eloquent in the first opening sequence of your creative wonder.  What does the hot cocoa mean?  I mean, Tom Hanks and the Polar Express already tried to tell us something about it, but we need your wisdom as bad as Rusty Martin Sr.’s.  I guess I’ll have to try to fill your large shoes and explain this one for all the little people out there.

Imagine you are sitting in your house alone, pondering your future life with that dreamy carpenter down the street.  You’ve picked out your new curtains for those modern windows in your first-century Jewish abode and you’ve even got a dress from Lydia of Philippi (it sure was expensive).  Then suddenly, your entire world is rocked as you turn to see a creepy angel staring right through you.  How did he get in here?  Why won’t he say anything as he stares blankly at you?  What would Joseph think if he walked in right now?  You suddenly find yourself bathed in warm light—so much so that you drop the tea you were drinking and it spills all over your new shawl.

We’re really on a roll here.  There’s absolutely no question that Christmas hot cocoa represents the British tea the virgin Mary was drinking when the British angel showed up and gave her the skinny.  So next time you’re drinking that powdery dust from a mug with red and green scribbles and\or a fat Santa on it, remember that you are following in the footsteps of the Immaculate Heart herself.

 

The best non-Christian Christmas film to date

Reindeer

Think back to that neigh-tivity scene in that wooden structure we call a stable.  The snowmen shepherds are there.  Depending on your beliefs, the ‘wise men’ may or may not be there too.  Baby Jesus lays in the feeding trough with a halo around his head.  British Joseph and Mary are there too, each with their own halo.  It smells so fresh in this ancient garage—like a cow farm.  The animals are gathered all around, just like in that song we sing in church sometimes, looking at their Creator in their feed bucket.

Right again!  The modern day reindeer are actually the animals at the neigh-tivity scene.  They were all there to witness the birth of Jesus, just like a Disney movie.  So the next time you see those red-nosed critters, think back to how the animals witnessed the birth of our Lord and Savior.

 

No, we’ve never seen this film and never intend to

Elves

Forget elf worship, these creepy little pointy-eared guys are nothing but bundles of Christmas cheer!  Think back to the day (whatever day you think it was) when the wise men guys from the East Magi visited the baby boy Jesus and gave him like a million dollars worth of gifts.  As they knelt in the stable house, they presented their gifts to the King of Kings.

In our modern Christmas ways, we think of elves as creepy little guys always watching Santa’s cute little helpers, who assist the jolly ole’ Saint Nick in body slamming liberal Christians delivering gifts to kids.  Well, that’s exactly what the Magi did!  They brought gifts to Jesus!  See, elves aren’t so bad after all!

 

 

There, I did it! Where Cameron forgot to save Christmas traditions for you, I saved them!  You’re welcome.

Why We Need More Christian Series’

A failed Christian series

With the rise of independent entertainment, the increase of interest and quality in Christian entertainment, and the availability of on-demand video services such as Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu, Vudu, and even Vimeo and PureFlix On Demand, Christian creators no longer have any excuses.  One does not have to look far to see that the popularity of Amazon Original and Netflix Original Series’ is growing.  Instead of being left behind in the entertainment curve once again, it is time for the Christian creative to stand up and seize the opportunity to change the culture.  Starving artists no longer have to hope for networks to pick up their shows when they have the ability to market their ideas to possibly favorable on-demand video providers such as PureFlix On Demand.  There are many advantages to the creations of Christian original series’ and miniseries’, as will be outlined in this article.

 

Opportunity for better character development and plot twists

Too often, independent Christian films are severely limited in funding, thus causing their otherwise good plots to be squeezed into a less than two-hour runtime.  With series’ and miniseries’, this does not have to be.  Running multiple 40-minute to 60-minute episodes about the same plot with the same characters provides ample time for deeper development and more complex plot twists.  Naturally, funding is necessary for this to happen, but we believe it is possible.

Longevity

Today’s entertainment consumers want more, period.  We all want more interesting movies, more things to laugh at, more effects to be wowed by, and more plots to enjoy.  With series’, we get to see more of the same characters following a common plotline across a continuum.  Of course, this has to be done responsibly so that the series does not meander, but it is definitely possible.

Ability to make quick new ideas without undertaking a major screenplay

I’m no expert in the inner workings of what it takes to get a movie to the big screen, but I suspect that it’s much easier to present a series, at least ‘on trial’, and to have it provided to viewers through the cloud than it is to work in the major movie distribution business.  Especially since PureFlix On Demand is such an open network (you would think), someone with a good idea *should* be able to expose it to more people faster through such mediums.  Of course, I could be wrong, but I’m going to bet that I’m not.

More popular with the younger generation

Perhaps most importantly, on-demand is simply the wave of the future.  It’s not that Christianity is outdated, it’s that we’ve stopped listening to the younger generation (my generation) and stopped trying to make sure that the message of Christianity is able to be understood by all.  In a more simple vein, I know for a fact that many professing Christians my age just swear off all Christian entertainment completely, and sometimes rightly so, due to the horrible reputation of Christian film that is constantly being added to.  But what if a Christian on-demand series all of a sudden materialized?  If done properly, it would be popular almost overnight.  Just look at how much people desperately cling to When Calls the Heart, which is only a shadow of what a Christian series could be.

 

In short, if God calls us to be creative, then we have to be creative.  We have to listen to people and pay attention to what they are doing so that we can know how to effectively reach people.  It’s been too long since the inception of on-demand series’ for Christians to not have a voice there.  But maybe that’s a good thing up until now, so that the reputation is not tarnished by terrible productions.  Yet the time has come for Christian creators to rise up, to make their mark, and to take their place in the Kingdom.

What Audiences Want

Per the Calgary Herald, When Calls the Heart fans, also known as #Hearties, are very much in love with the Hallmark series because it’s family friendly and wholesome.  At the beginning of the show, there was an attempt to craft meaningful characters, and fans still hold on to this, even though character quality has significantly decreased since the inaugural season.  Michael Landon Jr. right hand man Brian Bird has said before that their show fills a deep desire in fans for wholesome entertainment.

So what does this mean?  It means that however cheesy and disappointing WCTH may become, they still have a devoted fan base because there’s nothing else. WCTH exists in a vacuum.  They were obviously trying harder at first because they had to, but now they don’t have to try because there’s no competition in their genre.  This is a sad reality, because there is so much potential in WCTH alone, but we firmly believe that this genre of TV series is largely untapped.  What if there were even better family-friendly weekly series on television and on-demand services?

Christian and inspirational viewers may like certain aspects of non-family-friendly entertainment (this definition is very broad and subjective), they still desperately want wholesome entertainment.  So where are the Christian creative geniuses?  Entertainment still remains to be another area where western Christians have allowed other ideas to fill the vacuum.  The inspirational genre is starved for quality creations.  Hallmark, despite their flaws, would likely approve any series that marketed well and was crafted for their target audience.  The vast world of on-demand entertainment remains untapped by Christians.

What we need is a generation of creative Christians to rise up and redeem entertainment by making better entertainment.  Due to financial constraints, they would obviously have to start out small, but it’s better to start somewhere than nowhere.  If God wants you to create redemptive entertainment, then He will provide.  We must be open to what God wants us to create, because as we have seen, entertainment has a profound effect on western culture and even the entire world.  Christian entertainment has too long been dominated by low-quality and propaganda-ridden sediment, and it’s time for that to change.

On the 88th Academy Awards

While I rarely watch Hollywood awards shows and do not really keep up with any inside Hollywood information, I happened to watch portions of the Oscars last night.  Therefore, I cannot actually comment on the entirety of the event, but I can offer my assessment of what I did see.  What I saw was what I will term as ‘bored Hollywood’.  In my opinion, they, as a collective, have reached a point where they don’t really have to try anymore.  Some could say they are phoning it in.  In the follow up to the event, there were many accusations of silent racism, and from what I saw, they were justified.  Attempts to combat an all-white show were lame and obviously pandering.  Besides this, it seemed to me like the same movies won all the awards.  Overall, the 88th Academy Awards, I believe, demonstrated an overarching attitude in collective Hollywood–apathy and procedural overconfidence.

Besides Pixar, what studios and distribution companies are creating and carrying movies that are not remakes of old films?  The Hollywood collective are obviously always trying to relive the good old days–and making a killing off of it–the days when special effects were in their early stages and when white actors dominated the scene.  In short, I believe that originality left southern California long ago.

So where does that leave the Christian film scene?  What is the application for us?  Simply this: it’s our time to rise up and prove that we can do it better.  We can have more diverse casts than mainstream movies.  We can create original plots rather than remakes and break into unique genres.  We can be more professional and family friendly.  We can speak about social issues in ways that people will listen.  This is our call to rise up and take the opportunity we have to make a lasting difference in modern film-making.

2015 in Review: The Turning Point for Christian Films

2013 and 2014 were billed as the ‘years of the Bible’ in Hollywood, but this never panned out.  Unfortunately, barring a few exceptions, the Christian movies from these years were largely negative.  Yet they did signal a sign of things to come.  Before 2013, Christian movies were randomly and sporadically produced.  No consistent creators existed save for the Kendrick brothers and other Affirm creators such as the budding Erwin brothers, the PureFlix conglomerate, and the remnants of Fox Faith.  2013 and 2014 also promised Hollywood-driven faith based and inspirational films and many movies crowded to seize on this new label, presumably to capture a consistent Christian audience.  But in the end, little good came out of this push except for a promise of greater things to come and a blueprint on how to do it.

Fast forward to the year 2015, by far the best year for Christian films and the start of a new Christian movie era.  With a record-breaking four Box Office Revolution Hall of Fame movies, it was a year for the books.

 

Old-Fashioned

Early in 2015, rookie film maker Rik Swartzwelder burst onto the scene with a Valentine’s Day alternate to the grotesque Fifty Shades of Grey, which is a move that Christians need to take note of the next time they complain about or embrace all the bad movies in America.  Untested and unproven, PureFlix took a chance with Swartzwelder and cashed in big.  Swartzwelder brought a fresh look at Christian romance, driven by quality production and Jane Austen-like dialogue.  Old-Fashioned not only signaled the possible beginning of a new era for PureFlix distributed movies, but the beginning of a new Christian film era.

 

Beyond the Mask

In the underrated release of Pendragon, the Burns family showcased their ability to do a lot with small resources.  Now, with better funding, better support, and a better cast and crew, they broke out with a rare Christian action adventure screenplay.  Mask not only showcases a new genre but also demonstrates the ability to craft a complex non-typical Christian plot.  We expect it to be the first of many Christian films to break into new genres.

 

War Room

Following their blockbuster Courageous and their exit from Sherwood, the Kendrick brothers’ next release was highly anticipated and highly marketed.  It lived up to its expectations, both in quality and box office success.  War Room proved that the Kendricks are not done any time soon and remain the Fathers of Christian Film Making.

 

Woodlawn

The Erwin brothers have always performed ahead of schedule, with their only three films all being Hall of Fame rated.  They demonstrate expertise in assembling and directing highly talented crews and casts and in amplifying the strengths of individuals.  Not to mention that they write some great plots.  Woodlawn was heavily marketed as well and did not disappoint on the big screen.  The future is bright for these Alabama brothers.

 

 

Honorable Mention: Do You Believe

Following their first box office success God’s Not Dead, PureFlix sought to build on it with another inspirational film about the interconnected lives of individuals in a city.  With increased production quality and interesting plot potential, Do You Believe continued a new era of PureFlix films.  However, it still did not live up to Hall of Fame status.  Nonetheless, it was something to build off of.

 

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In summary, 2015 was a year that unexpectedly brought Christian movies to a new level—setting new standards for the industry.  No one saw it coming, but it happened regardless.  2016 promises to bring films from new Christian creators to the scene, and we anticipate a fresh wind of creativity to blow across the Christian movie landscape.  It’s time for a new generation of film makers to stand up and redeem the field—the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.

We Need More Genres of Christian Movies

For too long, Christian films have struggled to find identity amidst a sea of limited inspirational plots, small-town romances, slightly true miraculous events, and Amish intrigue.  There are those, such as the Kendrick Brothers, who have mastered the generic inspirational genre, and there are sparse successes that can be discovered from time to time.  But for the most part, there are simply too many typical Christian films—those that include a male or female Christian or soon-to-be Christian protagonist who has an inevitable love interest and who is caught in some type of small-scale conflict with a predictable antagonist that will be neatly resolved in ninety minutes or less.  There are a lot of well-meaning intentions and great messages to be heard from these sorts of movies, but are they making a difference?  Both Christians and non-Christians need to hear what quality Christian film-makers have to say, but sometimes the messages get lost in translation due to stock packaging.  This is not to say that Christian films need outlandish plots and wild special effects like so many run-of-the-mill Hollywood screenplays.  What is needed is diverse genres coupled with solid plots and acting, without forgetting the need for high quality production.  This opinion piece aims to outline genre suggestions for future Christian films.

 

Action adventure

Burns Family Studios has already laid out a blueprint for the creation of great Christian action adventure films, and we fully expect them to continue to produce within this genre.  Action adventure is needed in Christian movies not only because it attracts younger audiences, but it also demonstrates that Christians can do more than just a Hallmark movie.  Box Office Revolution understands why this genre is not often used—more funding than usual is needed and scenes take longer to film.  But we maintain that it is better for make a few standout films than to continue to add to a growing pile of generic screenplays.

 

Epic

Woodlawn is the only modern Christian epic to date.  By definition, an epic movie is a minimum two-hour length film that depicts the entire life of an individual, a lengthy and complex portion of an individual’s life, or a group of individuals moving together across space and time in pursuit of a common set of goals.  Older screenplays such as The Robe and Ben-Hur can be placed in this category.  Epics are very hard to make because they require a lot of time and effort put into a concise portrayal of a long series of events.  They cannot be too rushed or too long.  Well-crafted epics will always be few and far between, but they are worth the wait.

 

Suspense

Hollywood is replete with cheap suspense movies because many audiences like seeing things blow up.  But Christians can do suspense better, if proper effort is put forth.  There are not many strictly suspense films on the Christian scene; Escape, Unconditional, and Courageous all have suspense elements.  The older Left Behind movies attempt to be suspenseful, but not successfully.  This genre is necessary because suspense is realistic, so long as guns and explosions are kept moderate.  Such movies can appeal to different audiences, both Christian and non-Christian, and can drive messages home in ways inspirational films cannot.

 

Psychological thriller

This is a very rare genre, almost like a gift that only some writers have.  Bradley Dorsey has dabbled into the genre in the past, though his films went mostly unnoticed due to poor funding.  The true definition of psychological thriller is difficult to quantify—it mostly pertains to a thriller whose plot rests on an out-of-the-ordinary plot twist or series of plot twists that do not pertain to average reality, such as a parallel universe or someone seeing life through the lens of a mental disorder.  Though this is a hard genre to write, we would like to see more ideas on the table.

 

Realistic legal thriller

Fiction of all types is replete with cheesy legal thrillers, yet there are those diamonds in the rough that need to be portrayed on the big screen.  Currently, legal ‘thrillers’ on the Christian market mostly pertain to religious freedom issues.  Most written legal thrillers have too much emphasis on evil prosecutors and angry judges.  In legal fiction, proper courtroom and law procedure must be given attention to in order to keep the plot realistic.  Box Office Revolution challenges the Christian faithful to try their hand at good legal thriller movies.  Since it is sometimes difficult to write this type of plot, there are plenty of Christian legal thrillers that are worth adapting.

 

Dystopian thriller

At the time of this writing, the secular box office is saturated with movies that are adapted from young adult dystopian thrillers.  Christians seem to be attracted to this type of movie, but Box Office Revolution has huge caveats about this following due to Hollywood’s usual inclusions of suggestive content and unnecessary violence.  Though there are no dystopian options on the table, this is the perfect opportunity for someone to come along and redeem the genre.  A dystopian society from a Christian worldview would be something to behold.

 

Fantasy\Speculative

The Chronicles of Narnia is the most poignant example of this genre as it pertains to a Christian worldview.  Douglas Gresham, stepson of C. S. Lewis has done an excellent job of preserving the original messages of the books, even though he has dealt with multiple production companies.  There are many ‘underground’ Christian fantasy and speculative works of fiction, so this can be a difficult genre to navigate.  Yet there are good ideas to be found.  New plots also need to be offered, ones that avoid the usual clichés of ‘chosen’ characters and quests.

 

True comedy

Mom’s Night Out is the best Christian comedy to date.  There are many cheap Christian and inspirational attempts at comedy that can mostly be seen on Hallmark and Ion, but not many truly humorous options.  In order to create a true comedy, one must write dialogue that is based in reality and elicit humor from everyday events and from the blunderings of flawed human beings like we all are.  Moreover, it is good to hear that Rene Gutteridge, a comedy genius is now entering the Christian film scene.  Most of her work is worth replicating.

 

Spiritual horror

This is a very difficult topic and it has never been done properly, to our knowledge.  To portray a Christian horror flick properly, it must be bathed in prayer and grounded in firm Jesus-centered spirituality.  Dealing with the demonic should never be taken lightly, but if a Christian horror film that properly portrays realistic spiritual conflict were ever made, it would reach audiences that are never reached by traditional Christian films.  Currently, there are no quality or remotely Christian horror films on the market; films such as The Remaining have unsuccessfully tried to dump Christian themes into cheap horror sequences.  Nonetheless, this genre is still wanting and should not be rushed into.

 

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In short, Box Office Revolution maintains that God gives Christians all varieties of creativity for a reason.  No movie genre that has the potential to be morally sound should be passed off as ‘ungodly’.  BOR operates from a worldview that simply states that God owns every jurisdiction and area of human creativity, including genre.  Though many genres have been marred with immortality, they can and should be redeemed by Christian film creators.  After all, Christians have the capacity to make their movies better than Hollywood, and we expect to see more of this in the days to come.

How the Kendrick Brothers Revolutionized Christian Moviemaking

Everyone has meager beginnings and first impressions can be deceiving.  At face value, Flywheel came onto the Christian movie scene with little national momentum.  However, Stephen and Alex Kendrick found some local success by having their movie shown around their home state of Georgia.  Box Office Revolution (BOR) did not exist at the time of Flywheel’s inception, but we would have given it a poor review for multiple reasons.  Even today, BOR suspects that the Kendricks know how low quality Flywheel actually was, but they were not deterred.  All they had to do was start somewhere.

Following Flywheel, Stephen and Alex continued the process of movie trial and error by learning from their mistakes, unlike many Christian movie-makers.  They increased their production budget and invested in better technology, such as better cameras.  As they created Facing the Giants, they continued to show inherent talent in coaching actors to be believable and realistic in their acting.  Facing the Giants burst onto the scene as a national momentum changer in Christian movies, partly due to an improved marketing push.  The movie was filmed with entirely ‘amateur’ actors, departing from a typical Christian movie model.  Giants brought more success than Flywheel, and the Kendricks could have stopped there and coasted the rest of their career.  Yet they did just the opposite.

There is no doubt that Stephen and Alex Kendrick are grounded in the Christian faith they profess and that they care about portraying real people in real life on the big screen.  There is nothing flashy about the Georgia natives, just authenticity and real Christianity.  These factors no doubt contribute to their cinematic success.

Fireproof was a slight departure for the Kendricks, as Christian celebrity actor Kirk Cameron was brought in to star in the movie about troubled marriages.  The Kendricks took on a topic that is unfortunately unpopular in many Christian circles and hit another home run.  Time has proven the actor coaching genius of the Kendrick brothers as Cameron and his co-star Erin Bethea have put on less than quality performances in non-Kendrick movies.  At the time of Fireproof, BOR wondered if the Kendricks would begin to coast through the remainder of their career, but we were wrong again.

Courageous had the largest budget of all Kendrick films, and it paid off.  Popular Christian actors Kevin Downes and Ben Davies were added to the cast list, alongside the typical ‘amateur’ Sherwood actors.  Thanks to Kendrick coaching, BOR saw no difference between experienced and inexperienced actors.  Courageous was the most complex Kendrick plot to date and had the deepest character development at the time.  The film tackled the serious topic of true fatherhood from multiple angles and expounded on the Kendricks’ silent commitment to diversity in actors.  In short, BOR calls Courageous a blockbuster success and the moment when the Kendricks truly ‘arrived’ in film-making.  Once again, at this point, the Kendricks could have sat back and coasted.  Yet, once again, they chose the higher road.

Following the success of Courageous, Alex and Stephen Kendrick chose to leave their seemingly comfortable staff positions at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia, and decided to strike out on their own with faith in God that their new venture would work.  They developed Kendrick Brothers Films and seemed to lay dormant for several years.  Alex appeared in a few movies as an actor only, including The Lost Medallion and the blockbuster Mom’s Night Out.  BOR wondered if their film-making days were behind them.  We were completely wrong.

The rumblings of War Room began late in 2014 and continued throughout the spring and summer of 2015.  The early advertisements promised a talented cast, a commitment to diversity, and a solid topic designed to change the church culture in America.  The movie delivered on all three and packaged them all into an exquisite plot centered around well-developed, believable characters.  Complete with a realistic ending, believable life events, a non-linear plot, excellent acting and production, and personal Easter eggs, War Room proved that the Kendricks were not finished making high quality movies.

In addition to perfecting a model for writing and producing high quality Christian movies, the Kendricks are also credited as helping the groundbreaking Erwin brothers begin their movie success.  Along with Sherwood executive producer Jim McBride, the Kendricks are quietly thanked for their help with October Baby, the Erwins’ inaugural film that received meager attention compared to their blockbusters Mom’s Night Out and Woodlawn.  Therefore, the Kendrick brothers have also shown that they think beyond their own movie-making ventures and seek to improve and discover quality Christian films everywhere.  If there ever was a time that quality Christian films were desperately needed, it is now.

The Kendricks have not only found success in grossing high dollar amounts through independent films, but their strong faith and mission clearly drive their film-making.  They mobilize the church not only to advertise but also to make a difference in American Christian culture.  As far as BOR can tell, the Kendricks have no ulterior motives except for strengthening Christians through movies.  Movies are powerful, and the Kendricks have proven this.  Yet there is nothing more powerful than righteous prayer, as was demonstrated in War Room, perhaps the most powerful Christian film to date.  BOR only expects great things from Christian movies in the future, and the Kendrick brothers are partially responsible for ushering in this new era.