Christians Must Produce Real Life Stories to Engage Entertainment Industry, Top Hollywood Producer Says

NASHVILLE – A top Hollywood studio executive has called on Christians to focus on producing real, well-written, true-to-life stories to really capture the attention of the entertainment industry.

"I absolutely believe that a lot of times, when it comes to faith-based content, we portray sometimes the ideal of what we believe," DeVon Franklin, senior vice president of Production for Columbia Tristar Pictures, a division of Sony Pictures Entertainment, said during a panel on Christian engagement with the media, at the National Religious Broadcasters' International Christian Media Convention on Monday.

"We all have gone through tragedy, we all have gone through trauma, some of us are in pain right now – because life is not where we want it to be. Some of us are depressed, some of us are angry, some of us are frustrated, some of us have lost some loved ones, we all have gone through massive things that have happened to us."

Franklin, who oversaw notable films like "Sparkle," starring Whitney Houston in her last on-screen role, as well as "The Karate Kid" remake, and "The Pursuit of Happyness," and who is now helping with the upcoming film "Heaven is for Real," said Christians need to get beyond the points that divide them.

"If we aren't united, we will continue to see little blips on the radar, but fail to make a significant impact," he stressed.

Although Christians are making strides this year with a lot of content coming out in theaters, including "Son of God" this week, "Noah" in March and "Heaven is for Real" in April, there is still a lot of work to be done to really engage the entertainment industry, he said.

"It's not good enough to say 'I'm a Christian writer.' You have to be a great writer, a great director, a great actor. And I think part of what God has called me to do is try to really help because if we can make great content, [it] will break down barriers," he continued.

The Columbia Tristar VP insisted that if a film fails to represent the true journey of life, which is hard, then that movie will have a limited impact.

"So in faith-based films, we try to present an image of what we want to be, but not the reality of what really is. If a movie does not acknowledge the reality of life, even us as Christians, we won't want to see it."

The NRB 2014 panel, which was moderated by author, filmmaker and speaker Phil Cooke of Cooke Pictures, also included Michael Harrison, publisher and editor of radio trade publications Talkers and RadioInfo, as well as Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Harrison, who has promoted community service as a cornerstone of radio's agenda and has taken up causes aimed at combating domestic violence, including raising awareness of international issues ignored by the American media, admitted that the environment around the radio industry is rapidly changing in the 21st century with so many other broadcasting mediums around.

He said that although radio sometimes gets left behind, however, people still turn to it in times of danger and urgency, like when monitoring natural disasters like tornadoes and hurricanes in the area. Recognized as one of America's leading authorities on radio and public opinion, Harrison argued that radio can still be very relevant to national concerns outside of such natural disasters.

To the NRB attendees, many in the media industry, he called for authenticity and transcendence.

"Be authentic, and transcend the petty differences and the petty goals that separate us and create hostility. Be authentic, seek truth ahead of victory," he said.

"I think the business of broadcast industry will be best served if it's on the side of good, if it tries to help people, and talks about solutions to problems as opposed to the problems with other people. If we do that, I think ultimately we will be successful, healthy, and move in a positive direction."

Moore, who is an ordained Southern Baptist minister and has served as pastor for a number of Southern Baptist churches, engages on issues of theology, culture, and public policy with many of the nation's top publications in his role at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

When dealing with hostility aimed at the Christian worldview in media, believers sometimes do the opposite of what Jesus taught, he noted. But Jesus reserved his anger for those on the inside – the people of God who abuse their power and harm them – rather than those on the outside, he said.

"We tend often to reverse that. So the people who are within the people of God, they can be doing any number of horrific, spiritually dangerous things, and we are silent about that because they are one of us."

When engaging with nonbelievers, Christians need to treat them both with kindness and a call for repentance, the ERLC head advised.

As for dealing with culturally sensitive issues, such as same-sex marriage, Moore noted that it is important to remind the secular world that the viewpoint that marriage is only between one man and one woman is not a new idea.

"This understanding of sexuality is held by every branch of Christianity, by Judaism, by Islam, the Dalai Lama holds this view of sexuality. And so we are articulating what this view is, faithfully and accurately. I think that my calling is to try to do that in such a way that I can model for other Christians how to handle those types of questions in their communities," Moore said.

He also reminded Christians that conviction and kindness serve as an example when people are looking at this discussion on sensitive topics.

"We are talking not only to the angry activists, we're speaking to those who are overhearing the conversation. We have to keep this in mind all the time."

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