Multi-award-winning filmmaker, Lee Stanley, mostly known for "Gridiron Gang," starring Dwayne Johnson, wants Christian filmmakers to stop making overtly Christian films.
Stanley, who became a born-again Christian in his early 30s, recently spoke to The Christian Post about what it means to be a Christian who makes films and why Christian filmmakers need to stop neglecting the secular audience.
Stanley wrote in his autobiography, Faith in the Land of Make-Believe: What God Can Do…Even in Hollywood, “We must create quality entertainment that reflects life as it can be – or should have been – without hitting people over the head with the gospel.”
While growing up, he was tired of being told by Sunday school teachers that he was a sinner and was going straight to hell. While he remained unattached to the idea of going to church – especially when he had been divorced twice and was a single dad – he agreed to a brunch and church invitation from his then boss, Dave Adams of Pyramid Films, out of respect for the person writing the checks for his educational films.
A week later, however, he accepted Jesus Christ. While still in the filmmaking business, he realized that God “said 'I died for everyone, your films need to be for everyone I died for.'”
When he realized that, he made his life’s work with a clear objective that he has “never known anyone who is not Christian say, 'oh boy I want to see that film because it's a Christian film. '”
He boldly added, “our goal should be winning hearts and not putting name tags on our films because what we are really saying is that this film is only for Christians.”
His life’s work is a personal testimony to his filmmaking choices. He said that while working on "Gridiron Gang," he never knew its star, Dwayne Johnson, was a Christian until a certain incident.
“Dwayne had a stomach ache or a stomach problem. He was in his trailer, it was one or two in the morning. It was cold. It was on the mountains and I went to him. And I said, 'hey how are you doing?' He said, 'Lee, you know I've wrestled most of my life. I haven't felt pain this uncomfortable.' And I said, 'Dwayne, we have some medics coming. What can I do for you? There is only one thing I can do for you. I have one offer. I believe in prayer and I'm a Christian.' Dwayne reached out his hand and grabbed and said, 'let's pray man.'”
In another instance while still shooting the film, his friend’s son had been hit by a drunk driver and was left on the road to die. While getting ready to film a key scene for the film, he called everyone, all 450 people, together early in the morning and asked them if they wanted to join in prayer for his friend’s son’s health. All 450 people joined hands as he prayed a basic prayer.
“So I just began saying the Lord’s Prayer, and then 450 people joined in for the rest of the prayer. We felt the unity of that family of filmmakers, felt the holy hands and saying the Lord’s Prayer.”
Stanley doesn’t advise people to be too open about their personal testimony. He believes that before saying anything about Christ, each person should live in a Christ-like manner so that when someone asks for help, which he assures will happen, that person can proudly testify in God’s name.
“Don’t scare people away with your testimony. The God that I love, Jesus Christ sets ups circumstances that will allow you to say that you are Christian."
His advice carries on especially to young Christian filmmakers. His message to them is to first understand why they want to be filmmakers. Second, think about what their responsibility is. And third, ask themselves what is unique about them that people will want to see in their films.
He concluded by saying, “Those that are going to be Christian filmmakers, you know who you are in Christ. Your first responsibility is to honor the Lord and His word, but don’t go out there swinging your Bible around because you are going to distance people.
“I am very opposed to our continually making Christian films for those that already believe, and too many of them ending in church basements.”