If you want to be creative, write for television – Sundance London

The Hollywood Reporter recently highlighted the challenges of indie filmmaking on both sides of the Pond these days.

A Hollywood Reporter article recently highlighted the challenges of indie filmmaking on both sides of the Pond these days. In the US, the studios continue to look for ‘safe’ material. In the UK, even government financing doesn’t solve all of the problems for filmmakers wanting to create more challenging films.

From a panel on the state of independent film at Sundance London, it sounds like depressing days for filmmakers trying to get ambitious work made and distributed in the US, and the UK. However, if you can avoid the siren’s song of theatrical release, you may be able to find a home for your creative vision.

While several panelists highlighted that the Oscars of late have seen many indies with leading numbers of nominations, [James Marsh (Man on Wire)] said the studio system in the U.S. has in many cases stopped consciously pursuing indie-type projects. “Narrative risky work has moved to TV,” and great filmmakers are finding freedom on television, he said. “A lot of good writing is done in American TV, too. The studios have given up on this.”

He said while “there are great films being made even in that system,” great scripts often don’t end up making it to the screen – or only in weakened form. “The system is just there doing what it’s doing. Great scripts…they will either ruin them or never do them.”

VOD Rides to the Rescue of Indie Film

Are you an indie filmmaker? Amidst the chaos of dropping DVD sales, seemingly worthless deals on Netflix, and the daunting expense of even a small theatrical release, here’s some brighter news.

I’ve thought that VOD showed the only promise for true independent films. Here’s an article that says others (who know much more than me) think the same way – and are making it work!

VOD Rides to the Rescue of Indie Film | The Wrap Movies.

Eamonn Bowles, president and co-founder of Magnolia Pictures, told TheWrap. “Platform releasing, where you opened in a couple of theaters and hoped to expand later, was a recipe for disaster. The paradigm was broken, so we had no choice but to hit on something that made sense.”

After all, just a few years ago, with a number of high-profile art house distributors such as Miramax and Warner Independent Pictures shutting off the lights, it seemed like independent film might be dying.

Of course, that was when we completed our indie feature, “The Enemy God”. I thought, “What great timing! The whole independent world is dying and remaking itself into something – and no one knows what it will look like!”

But read on. Things seem to be settling, even if only a bit.

Today, independent film companies are feeling better about not just the prospects for on demand, but are also bullish about the new licensing fees being paid by streaming companies like Hulu and Netflix.

Gary Delfiner, senior vice president of digital distribution at Screen Media, told TheWrap. “There are more and more outlets for filmmakers to get their films out there. It’s not just TV and cable and theatrical anymore. If you make your product in the right budget range, you have a lot more outlets to get it out there.”

You still have to do your homework: know your audience and target them with an appropriate story and appropriate budget. That’s not always easy in itself, but at least there are some VOD platforms that seem to be viable AND give hope for a financial return.

Stick Us Next To “Stripper Academy”

I was looking at the release schedule for our film in Australia. The company that bought the DVD rights there is set to release our film mid-September, right alongside two other films, “Universal Squadrons” and “Stripper Academy”!

I’m kind of excited to be there. Rather than being stuck in a faith-based film ghetto, a unique story of God’s grace and power is getting out to places we’d hope it would go.

MissionFest Toronto – The Enemy God Screening

The Enemy God tells the amazing true story of a Yanomamö shaman and the spiritual battle for freedom for his people. If you are in the Toronto area, you won’t want to miss this special event.

We’re please to announce a special screening of our film, The Enemy God, in Toronto on February 19th. That’s next Saturday night. It is hosted by MissionFest Toronto and will be held at Catch The Fire Ministries.

The Enemy God tells the amazing true story of a Yanomamö shaman and the spiritual battle for freedom for his people. If you are in the Toronto area, you won’t want to miss this special event. Here’s what ministry leaders have said about the film:

“This is an intense film. It is sometimes graphic; sometimes heart wrenching,  but always engaging… expect to experience   a perspective you’ve  never felt before.” – Doug Lucas, Missions Leader, Team Expansion

“…the point of Shake’s testimony is very clear. Sinful man without Christ is frightening and abhorrent. Evil spirits control him. Jesus Christ brings health, peace, and prosperity, even to isolated people like the Yanomamö.” – Dr. Ted Baehr, Movieguide.org

More information about the screening can be found at: MissionFest Toronto – The Enemy God.

God’s Work in God’s Time | Christian Independent Filmmaking

As a Christian involved in filmmaking, what do I think about success and failure?

[This article was originally posted on HOSFU, a Christian Indie Film site. Unfortunately, that site is now shut down and some of their pages are dead. So I thought I would re-post my article here. It received a lot of comments when I posted it so I think it’s worth throwing into the blogosphere again.]

The question: As a Christian involved in filmmaking, what do I think about success and failure?

God’s Work in God’s Time.

Do you ever find yourself anxious to see the fulfillment of something you feel God has promised? In our particular context as filmmakers, we are part of projects that can be huge, complex, time-consuming, and expensive. Personally, I’m working on a film project that began almost ten years ago and we expect to have impact for twenty more. “The Enemy God” film took us four years of preparation and fundraising, accompanying years of terrible political opposition from a foreign government, the collapse of a well-respected ministry, and then we finally were able to shoot it! Then it was on to post.

I can’t tell you how many times some well-meaning Christian told us that it was obvious to them that God ‘just wasn’t blessing it’ or that ‘if God were in it, the doors would just open’ and our lives would be easy. Over the years, though, we have seen miracles that have matched the obstacles. Now we are distributing the film, and the challenges continue – awards and lots of pats-on-the-back, followed by being flat broke and with a few cold shoulders from people we thought would be the biggest fans.

American Christian culture tends to interpret God’s will by what we term, “open doors.” We all get excited and praise God for amazing stories where an underdog Christian film finds popularity and, even better, box-office success. We tend to say things like ‘God is really blessing this film and we’re seeing lots of fruit from it.” And the converse is also true; if things don’t seem to be progressing, we may interpret it (or be told) that what we are attempting is not His will. If a project doesn’t gain great audience numbers, perhaps God isn’t blessing it. But is this a true way to discern things? In our Christian film community here, what do we think about success and failure?

Here are some thoughts I have had from long years with both in my ministry.

–       Sometimes, things that are in line with God’s will and purposes take more time than we expect. “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness” 1 Peter 3:9. Place yourself in the shoes of a devout Jew during the 400-year period between God’s last spoken prophecies in through the prophet Malachi and the appearance of Jesus the Messiah. You know the promises, are devout in your prayers for Messiah to come, and you believe that is it God’s will to save His people and to draw the nations to Himself. Yet there is a delay – long delay. Many generations die waiting. Do you think others talked a lot of trash about such beliefs? Like Job’s friends, religious people often have religious answers that seem to make sense and to be based in truth about God. However, like Job’s friends, their answers just happen to be wrong.

–       It is possible for Godly people to spiritualize activities that are done mostly by our own power and effort and skill. What I mean is that very talented people are capable of creating impact, even godly impact, without much dependence on God. I’m not about to point fingers or name names, because I understand that it is difficult for me to fully understand my own motivations and the source of the power and skill I try to demonstrate. Sometimes I am fully aware of God’s presence and overwhelming power as He performs tasks through me. Other times, I have to admit that I am not so sure. I believe I am being faithful, but I can lose the clarity about who is accomplishing a task. What’s more, I know I have worked ahead of (or sideways to) God on many occasions. I don’t think I’m the only one who finds this to be true in my life. My conclusion, therefore, is that I will be slow to judge both the “success” and the “failure” of work done in God’s name by my brothers and sisters. I believe it is possible for us to be ‘successful’ by some measures and in God’s name while entirely missing His point or intention. Likewise, it is possible for us to utterly ‘fail’ at something by any reasonable standard and still be doing exactly what God intends. That’s a mind and faith-bender!

–       We can learn from Christians who come from other cultures. Non-western Christians are more patient, in my experience. They are willing to wait, even in the face of overwhelming hurdles and delays, based on their understanding of God’s purposes. Americans, especially, have a culture of achievement and an innate desire to make things happen. It’s in our cultural DNA, inherited in some way from the explorers, pilgrims, and pioneers who have gone before us. We are almost unique in our independent, up-by-the-bootstraps-and-against-all-odds, attitudes. Most other cultures have more of a relational orientation and a value of community rather than the individual. This means they take a longer view and judge by other criteria than individual success in a single activity. They may even look down on individual accomplishment because it is not connected with progress of the community. We Americans have an almost religious aversion to this kind of talk; to say anything against individual initiative and success is certifiably Marxist or worse. Yet, in relational, community-focused cultures that have also embraced the gospel, I have seen and experienced what I would consider a healthy perspective on how the Kingdom moves forward. For them it’s not primarily through the faith and guts and risk and sweat of individuals. It is often by the patient faithful watching and slow, plodding obedience of the community following God together. What we might see as ‘closed doors’ they may explain as just the normal working out of the supernatural conflict that has been in process almost since the beginning of time itself. They take a step back, check on what they know about God, and keep walking forward. They don’t over-analyze or switch paths easily or quickly.

All of these ideas are ones I ponder as I work through my own film ministry here in the US and overseas. I wonder what your experience has been, or what your perspective might be on this subject? Have you experienced any of what I’m talking about?


Festival Invitation for The Enemy God

One of our alternate posters

It’s always nice when someone invites you to submit your film to a festival. We have not been submitting The Enemy God since late 2008, but are feeling that some more festival exposure might help get the word out and give us something to talk about! Waiting for distribution deals from our sales agent is an exercise in perseverance.

I got an e-mail today from the First Nations Festival in Montreal, Canada. They are looking for indigenous-themed and/or produced films. We have enjoyed the indigenous festivals we have been in so we thought this sounded like a good opportunity.

Patience, a Gift No One Wants to Earn

Our film just received a great review from a well-known critic. I can’t publish it yet because they’re proofing it and haven’t told us of a release date. But, I want to give just a hint (from a very comprehensive review) here:

THE ENEMY GOD is a low budget but very well made movie. It cares deeply about authenticity and achieves that goal with the set direction, the battle scenes, and the portrayals of the Yanomamö. … The script is powerful… THE ENEMY GOD is much better than most Hollywood movies.

This is one of the great stories. It is a highly recommended movie.

The main reason I’m posting this today is because I have been reminded of the value of patience and persistence. We’ve been working on this film for almost 8 years. That’s crazy! And it will never be a blockbuster commercial success; we know that.

When we got the e-mail with the review today, we passed it on to our Writer/Director, Christopher Bessette. He deserves the accolades. And here’s what he wrote back to me, in part:

You know that you and Matt have made a completely unconventional movie. It is cutting edge because no one has done something like this before. People don’t realize it yet – but the film will have longevity because of it. Like it has been said before they will be looking it up in 200 years in the history books. People don’t realize it now but slowly and eventually it will grow and grow and they will.

Zaven (Katchaturian) from the Arpa Film Festival told me personally that they were considering giving the actors awards but then they began to question as to whether or not they were watching reality or drama.  When they realized it was drama they gave me the award. That was very kind of them… and it is a God thing for sure, but trust me… eventually it will come to pass that greater masses will realize what this means.

Isaiah 55:11 – God’s Word will not return empty but it will accomplish that for which He sent it.

God is with us!

What Christopher’s note reminded me of is that, just because I’m tired of working one more day to make this film a reality, writing more e-mails trying to get attention for the story, Twittering and Facebooking without huge followings, God is working through the film. Matt and I began it with the assumption that it was totally out of our league and was something God needed to do. He did, and continues to make His story known in wider and wider circles, where it is still unknown.

Do we have the patience and perseverance to see things through? Sometimes I think I know when God is saying to just quit something. Other times, I depend on His Spirit to confirm that, even though the breakthrough hasn’t yet come, it doesn’t mean that God has changed His mind.