SAN DIEGO, Calif. – For movies with Christian themes that previously were considered un-buzzworthy inside the Hollywood film industry, it is controversy that often makes them box office successes, says an award-winning film and music producer.
Speaking to fledgling movie industry types attending a workshop at the San Diego Christian Film Festival, Mark Joseph told part of the story of how "Facing the Giants" became a box office success.
The film about an underdog high school football team, and issues of faith in God, was made for $100,000. Volunteers from Sherwood Baptist Church were cast in supporting roles. Joseph helped market the film, but said one of the keys to the movie's $11 million in sales was letting a reporter know that there was a controversy over the film's initial PG-13 rating.
"The MPAA gave two reasons for the PG-13 rating: excessive religious content and the other was that it elevated one religion over another," said Joseph, who also helped to market "The Passion of the Christ" and "Chronicles of Narnia." "As a marketing person this was like God's gift to the film."
He said that he explored the idea of having a reporter break the story by first talking to an editor at the Drudge Report.
"I said I think I have a story for you, the MPAA thinks God is worthy of a rating," he explained. Joseph said he knew that others would find it as astonishing as he did that issues of faith and religion would be lumped together with such things as sex, drugs, and violence when establishing a movie rating. The editor told him to find a reporter to write the story.
"Instantly, it became this mega media sensation. The story being that Hollywood is so out of touch with normal people that they thought this film needed a PG rating," he said.
The MPAA suddenly realized they had made a mistake and tried to cover-up by saying their objections had been misinterpreted. Joseph said the movie gained even more attention when Congress called for a hearing to investigate the MPAA.
"That was a message to the country to go watch this movie that's so 'forbidden,'" he said. "The movie made $11 million at the box office."
Organizers of the three-day film festival in San Diego say they hope to strengthen the community of Christian filmmakers interested in bringing about a positive change in the types of movies coming out of Hollywood. Filmgoers are craving for movies with a good message and faith-based values.
"The market is starving for it, not hungry, starving for good quality films," said Chad Stewart, who is on the board of directors for the festival and the managing director of a production company based in Del Mar, Calif.
Joseph said he's been a part of at least six traditionalist movies that were labeled "surprise successes" by Hollywood standards.
"We've discovered an audience that Hollywood doesn't think exists in America," he said. "Narnia and Passion are movies that on paper don't make sense to anybody in Hollywood. Nobody that I know of thought that the Passion of the Christ was going to be successful. Same goes for the Chronicles of Narnia. The Chronicles of Narnia was really an unknown property in Hollywood. A lot of executive didn't know who C.S. Lewis was and so it wasn't the slam dunk that you might think it was today."
"The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" has grossed more than $739 million worldwide.
The San Diego Film Festival ends with an awards presentation Sunday evening. For more information about the festival to take place at the Birch North Park Theatre, visit the website: http://www.sdchristianfilmfestival.com/newSite/.