Saturday, January 06, 2007

Making Movies for the Faithful

A curious pedigree for the newly released movie "Thr3e", a thriller about serial killers and theology. The movie is the newest production from Fox Faith, a Christian-themed distribution arm of 20th Century Fox. I mean talk about niche marketing. Is there an evangelical audience yearning for movies of murder and mayhem with religious overtones?

The reviews are pretty harsh for this movie. And perhaps it's best to say that given it's title, it's about half as good as the other number-titled serial killer movie with religious overtones - "Seven".

As for Fox Faith - with the tagline "Movies you can believe in" - it seems a really cynical marketing ploy. But so far, returns and promotions of their films are pretty thin. And for studio execs, I have some much needed info for you -- by their very nature, the majority of thrillers and horror tales usually have the structure of a morality play already.

And good luck getting the web site for Fox Faith to load. The fact is, there has been a surge of sorts in what's called "Christian Retailing." The phrase seems oddly contradictory to me.

Some background and details about what's really the focus here -- profits and not prophets:

The Weinstein Co. recently struck a deal with Impact Productions, a Christian company, to finance, coproduce and distribute its films. FoxFaith, a new division of 20 th Century Fox that caters to the faithbased market, will release at least six religion-themed films this year, said Steve Feldstein, senior vice president of corporate and marketing communications for Fox Home Entertainment.

Good News Holdings, a Christian multimedia company, acquired film rights to Anne Rice’s best-selling novel Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt for a tentative December release. The company, which plans to make the film on an estimated budget of $40 million, is also developing a series of Christian-themed horror movies, according to its Web site.

"There’s a huge untapped marketplace out there that is interested in films that reflect their values," Feldstein said.

To promote its religious titles, Fox has strung together a network of 90,000 churches, ministries and Christian groups nationwide, Feldstein said.

He added that the company isn’t looking to spread Christian values. Rather, it hopes to gain access to an underserved and lucrative niche market.

According to CBA, an evangelical Christian trade group, the Christian market is a $4.2 billion industry."

Last weekend I happened to see an old 1950s entry called "Red Planet Mars," where it turns out that God is broadcasting messages from Mars to Earth. The very sincere and talky movie also has a subplot involving Communists trying to overwhelm the Mars to Earth Message Pipeline. Strange as it sounds, the movie, I had to admit, was fascinating to watch. And the ending was curiously violent, to say the least. It certainly is a layered story about a search for intelligent signs in the Universe, but I thought you didn't need a high-tech radio set-up to talk to God.

The script here is by legendary horror and fantasy writer John Balderston, who penned both the 1930s era play "Red Planet Mars" and the movie script. Balderston also created the plays/scripts for "Dracula", "Frankenstein," "The Mummy" and more for Universal.

It still ranks as the only Sci-Fi-Communist-Christian movie ever made. But perhaps Fox Faith or some of these other new production companies will correct that. This new crop of movies is not the first time Hollywood has tried this type of filmmaking and marketing. History has shown, that so far, it's an approach that has failed financially.

Perhaps the worldwide religious fervor of the 21st century will be more profitable, but will audiences convert to such marketing ploys?


  1. This is going to be a long post. Sorry. I have a theory. The neoconservative movement has created in the media the impression that Christians are a powerful base and can be exploited easily. In some (by no means all) cases, this has been true for a number of years.

    Christian entertainment is a niche market, though. I think the media has overblown it a little bit, which is why Hollywood and Christian organizations are now getting in bed together. They think they can make crazy money off a niche market. And maybe they can. For a little while.

    In recent years a couple Christian movies- "The Omega Code," "The Chronicles of Narnia," and of course "The Passion of the Christ"- did very well. Many non-Christians went to these movies. The reasons are varied.

    "The Passion" just became this huge meme, and everybody had to see it to know what the jokes were about. "The Omega Code" and "Narnia" are science fiction and fantasy, two niches that have managed to make gazillions.

    Instead of hiring creative religious people to write interesting screenplays and to direct them within the various divisions that already exist, Fox and Weinstein are creating subsidiaries in cooperation with religious "representatives". The deal is, the studios make the movies, and the "reps" pimp them from the pulpit.

    It's very cynical, and I do hope that it will fail. The only product that should be sold in a church is God.

  2. Anonymous4:26 PM

    "FoxFaith, a new division of 20 th Century Fox that caters to the faithbased market, will release at least six religion-themed films this year, said Steve Feldstein, senior vice president of corporate and marketing communications for Fox Home Entertainment."

    I'm begining to get an idea what the roots of Faux New's "War on Christmas" taps into.
    I know, I know I'm sooooo cynical.

  3. Is it really cynical to say this type of marketing is cynical? Or in other words is it cynical to say something is in itself cynical?

    I think not.

    However, I may just be cynical.

  4. Christian based Horror Films?
    This should be interesting.
    Or not.

  5. Anonymous8:53 PM

    I would think that Fundamentalists could make great horror films. That have their roots in such great traditions such as the Inquisition and the Crusades. I imagine you could categorize "The Passion" as a horror film it you looked at it in a different context.

    "Kingdom of Heaven" remade by the guy who directed Braveheart anyone?