Editor's Note: In this two-part series The Christian Post takes a closer look at the success of "The Bible," a History Channel docudrama series produced by Mark Burnett and his wife, Roma Downey. CP interviews two Christians in the entertainment industry who have been quite impactful and part of a growing movement to see more quality faith-based movies coming out of Hollywood. In part one, CP interviewed Mark Joseph, founder of MJM Entertainment Group. In part two, below, Phil Cooke of Cooke Pictures is interviewed.
The Hollywood entertainment industry is getting the message – it's good business to respect Christians in America. Thanks to the incredible number of viewers tuning in each Sunday to The History Channel's "The Bible" miniseries, many leaders in the movie and TV business "totally get that," says author and TV producer Phil Cooke.
"There's no question that decision makers in Hollywood and the media business are getting the message … It's simply good business to respect that audience, and I think the vast majority of media leaders I encounter totally get that," said Cooke.
Going into the fourth episode this past Sunday, "The Bible" had more than 68 million viewers for the first three installments combined. The shows have been the number one watched weekly show during those weeks on cable and broadcast TV.
Cooke's latest book is Unique: Telling Your Story in the Age of Brands and Social Media. His thoughts on the impact of "The Bible" on the Hollywood entertainment industry are below.
Christian Post: It appears that Mark Barnett and Roma Downey have raised the bar for movie production when it comes to topics emanating from the Bible. Can you make any predictions about what happens now as the result of the obvious success of "The Bible" series?
Cooke: There's no question that decision makers in Hollywood and the media business are getting the message. Pew Research indicates that there are 90+ million evangelical Christians in America, making it the largest single special interest group in this country. It's simply good business to respect that audience, and I think the vast majority of media leaders I encounter totally get that.
CP: What's the buzz that you are hearing from the people you know in the entertainment industry as a result of the series?
Cooke: I think some people are more confidently sharing their faith with others in the industry. One of the greatest things about "The Bible" series is that it's made discussing Bible stories normal again. Now, we can have water cooler conversations at the office about David and Goliath and not feel worried that you'll be reprimanded or fired. How great is that? Plus, I'm seeing studios and production companies actually looking for solid stories based on spiritual themes. That's always an encouraging sign.
CP: What would you like to see happen in the TV and movie business in the near future as a result of this raised bar?
Cooke: This is the moment for Christians to understand that it's still about skill and talent. The only reason Mark Burnett was able to launch this series is because he's one of the most successful TV producers in history. Frankly, Hollywood doesn't care "what God laid on your heart" – they care about your experience and your talent. In Hollywood (as most other places) your skill at your craft is what earns you the right to be heard. The last thing I would want to happen now is that Hollywood be flooded with sincere Christians with no talent trying to make the next big Christian movie. Instead, let's find the real talent in the Christian community, encourage them, resource them, and watch them fly. We need to re-capture the concept of becoming "patrons of the arts" the way the church did in the Middle Ages.
CP: What projects are you currently working on and hope to work on down the line?
Cooke: While we're always working with churches, ministries, and nonprofit organizations, helping them engage the culture more effectively through media, we also have a number of our own projects in the pipeline. We're in discussions to develop a feature documentary on the history of Christianity in Japan. We're also looking at a project on the rise of Islamic extremists, and a couple of others. But one of the things I'm most excited about is a nonprofit my wife Kathleen and I are launching called the "Influence Lab." Its purpose is to explore how Christians can use the media more effectively on a global basis. Media is the world's campfire. It's where ideas are debated and culture is created. That's where I want to start focusing my influence for the future.
CP: Do entertainment companies need to be careful when it comes to "branding" the Bible? Why?
Cooke: You really can't brand the Bible. What we should be focusing on is the "brand" or perception Christians have in today's culture. So often, we drive people away from the message for the wrong reasons. The truth is, we live in the most distracted, cluttered culture in the history of the world. People today have a million things competing for their attention. That means that the slightest thing will distract them from the message of the gospel. In that world, "perception" matters more than ever, because no matter how great our message, if no one is listening, we've failed.
On the Web: PhilCooke.com.