HOLLYWOOD CHRISTIANS: HARD-BOILED
FILMS, SOFT-PEDALED MESSAGE
by Hank Willow, staff reporter [April,
are making movies to spread the gospel -- but it's no longer limited to
the corny or preachy. They're making slick gritty films that compete
with Hollywood on its own terms -- hard-boiled Christian crime thrillers
that evoke the bloody works of the Quentin
Hailing from this new wave
of Christian indie filmmakers is Bobby
Downes, who's worked as an Assistant Production Manager for
Warner Bros, and his brother Kevin,
a SAG actor.
The Downes brothers produce
for Signal Hill Pictures, their Christian production company.
Hill's business structure is that of other indies. The company raises
money from private investors, keeps the budget low, and casts recognizable
SAG actors, albeit from the B-list (e.g., Stacy Keach).
is Kevin Downes, who isn't even B-list, but who stars in such Signal Hill
productions as Lay
It Down, along with Sean McEwen.
in post-production, Lay It Down is a Christian answer to The
Fast and the Furious. A tale of illegal street racing, Signal
Hill describes the film as: "an evangelistic answer for those interested
in fast cars, and the fast life. ... Ride with Ben as he finds
the way of the narrow road to eternal life through Jesus Christ."
Hill ad copy reflect a curious blend of evangelical jargon and Hollywood
hype. Mixing those two worlds is its core philosophy.
In an exclusive interview, Bobby Downes complained
that too much contemporary Christian culture is heavy-handed and exclusionary. Too many Christian films preach rather than entertain, thus deterring people
from seeking Christ. Bobby says that it's "God who draws men to Him,"
that Christians cannot force people to God. The Signal Hill philosophy
is not to preach or condemn, but to provoke thought, thereby opening viewers'
hearts to God. Then leave the rest to God.
Hill seeks to express a Christian message that's broad enough to include
Catholics, and a God-based message broad enough to include Jews and Muslims. Bobby likens his films to Touched
by an Angel, of which he is a fan.
saw an explosion of indie film production and distribution, reflecting
a diversity of views outside the Hollywood "popcorn movie" mainstream. Signal Hill has rode that indie wave. One of its recent films, Mercy
Streets, played on 175 screens in 35 markets. No mean
feat. Most indie films, Christian or otherwise, fail to find theatrical
distribution. Their distribution is usually limited to direct-to-video
and cable TV.
Hill's secret to theatrical success is that of Roger
Corman and Bob Shaye: Don't just form a production company -- handle
your own distribution as well.
Streets's theatrical distribution was handled by Signal Hill's sister company, Christian
Cinema, which also handles video distribution for both Signal
Hill and other production companies.
Streets is a gritty crime thriller whose B-list cast includes Eric Roberts
and Stacy Keach. Says Bobby Downes, although Mercy Streets was shot
for under $1 million, "someone at DreamWorks" said it looked like a $5
devout Christians respond to gritty crime thrillers preaching the word
of God? Some like it. At the Christian
Answers website, one 42-year-old fan, Brenda, raved: "Yes! Finally -- A progressive, smart, hip, stylized Christian film! It
brought filmmakers such as the Coen brothers, Tarantino and Tom Tykwer
Signal Hill is an indie, Christians also have what may be termed their
own mini-major: Gener8xion
Entertainment, led by Matthew Crouch. With offices in
Hollywood, Gener8xion is a sister company to TBN,
a TV network that's long produced Christian sitcoms, children's shows,
and rock videos.
Gener8xion's biggest triumphs to date was 1999's The
Omega Code, starring such Hollywood veterans as Michael York
and Catherine Oxenburg. Retelling the familiar tale of the rise of
the Antichrist, The Omega Code grossed nearly $13 million in theaters. Gener8xion claims that Daily Variety ranked The Omega Code as number One in their "Top 100 Limited Release"
films of July 1999 - July 2000. Thus, The Omega Code out-earned such
Don't Cry and All
About My Mother.
demonstrating to Hollywood that Christians are yet another underserved
niche market (a common complaint of many groups, from seniors to gays to
ethnic minorities), Gener8xion signed an output deal with GoodTimes distributors.
Christians welcome the success of Signal Hill or Gener8xion. The Deception
in the Church website condemns The Omega Code for encouraging
a false faith in "Bible code," a practice rejected by many rabbis, priests,
and ministers. One Christian woman informed this reporter that TBN
"dangerously misleads" with its "false Christianity." TBN's hosts
and guests include headbangers-for-Christ who practice "Christian metal,"
a genre condemned by Pentecostal televangelist Jimmy
Swaggart. And while some Christians love Mercy Streets for its
gritty semblance to Fargo and Pulp
Fiction, others hate it for the same reason.
Bobby Downes laments a "contemporary Christian culture that's heavy-handed
and exclusionary," those opposed complain of a "Christian pop culture that's
too worldly." Reflecting this worldliness is Crosswalk,
a Christian website that provides Dove
Foundation ratings based on "moral content." (Universal's Josie
and the Pussycats scored relatively high, and was recommended
for children 12+.)
Foundation also sponsors the Dove Awards, presumably to attract media attention.
Despite which, Hollywood has yet to take note. Every year, Daily
Variety and The Hollywood Reporter grow fat with ad copy and reportage for some awards, not for others. The Doves fall into the ignored category.
a "great diversity" among Christians, Bobby Downes feels pressure from
both ends -- from secular film crews, some of whom feel uncomfortable on
his productions, and from fellow Christians who dislike his soft, yet worldly,
Touched by an Angel approach.
have members who shun the world to varying degrees: the Amish, Hasidic
Jews, Catholic monks on one extreme, secular folk on the other. But
for "worldly Christians" who enjoy pop culture (a growing and significant
market), the indie film boom provides a growing number of entertainment
|Hank Willow is a Los Angeles based tabloid reporter who has extensively investigated Hollywood scams against actors. Read more about his journalism in Hollywood Witches.
Copyright 2002 by HollywoodInvestigator.com
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