The Landscape of “Christian Media”

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So the idea of Christian media isn’t a new thing, but to what has it traditionally looked like and why is it working or not working today? Craig and I talk about that. We’re video professionals, so maybe we have a little bit of background in that.

Welcome to inRoads, where we talk about the why of Appian Media and how you can use the technology of today to spread the timeless message of the Bible. Learn more about us and watch our free video series at AppianMedia.org. So I’m Stu and you’re Craig. Where the founders of Appian Media. Just give me a one sentence about what you do.

So I’m a freelance video producer. I love telling creative stories with interesting visuals to go along with it. And that’s really the thing that drives me about what I do for Appian Media as well.

Yeah. And that’s kind of the same thing for me. And that’s what got us all into that. Go back and listen to Episode 1 of this podcast and you’ll get a lot more information on who we are. But today you were getting to say.

Yeah, absolutely. So. So last time we talked about what got this whole thing started, you know, the story behind Appian Media, why we chose the name that we did. You know, the meaning behind that and the passion that’s driven both of us to try and get people re-engaged with the story of the Bible to communicate in ways that we know people are just clamoring for this type of visual media, this type of information consumption. And I get really fired up about it. One of the reasons why I do, and I think you would agree as well, is because traditionally the landscape of Christian media kinda has a connotation to it that maybe we’re not super proud of that.

There is definitely something that Christian media is doing where you can flip on the TV and say, oh, that’s definitely a Christian movie or that’s a Christian TV show. And I don’t know if that’s a good thing. I don’t know if it’s a good thing. Oh, we’ll talk about it. I want us to talk about the good and the bad of Christian media because I think there’s some of both, you know, and I think, you know, to put a disclaimer on this episode, we’re not here to critique any one particular movie out there. Right. You know, we’re not movie critics, actually. We may want to be movie critics, but this is not the point of this particular episode. Right. But I think we want to talk at a high level about Christian media and what it’s doing right. What it’s doing wrong. Yes. And where Appian Media fits into that equation, because I think it does. And we’re we’re kind of in a niche that hasn’t really been explored. And that’s kind of a neat thing. So right off the bat, let’s take a look at what the landscape is today. What kinds of Christian media are out there? What do you think, Craig?

Right.

You know, 20 years ago, we were not really having these kinds of conversations. The types of movies that we would put into this category were few and far between. And I think that primarily was because for the longest time, Hollywood really was the gatekeeper. Right. If you wanted anything made, you had to go to Hollywood. That’s where the crews were. That’s where the gear was. That’s where the funding was. That’s where the majority of the studios. Studios were. And you’d have to say, please, can we make this? And no surprise, the answer was no more often than not. Nowadays, it’s changing. And I’m excited to see that. The unfortunate part of that is because Christians don’t have the budgets, they don’t have the crews, they don’t have the studios and all the backing. But they’re still trying to get it done. The quality is not what we would like to see, at least at first.

That’s changing. And I get excited about it. So there’s always this kind of caveat where.

Yeah. Yes. It’s getting done. Yes. It’s not what we’d like it to be. But I firmly believe that that it’s improving. And I’m glad to see that.

Yeah. And so I can tell already and this is a good thing that we’re gonna sit on opposite sides of the table in terms of our views on Christian media and definitely what you just talked about.

There is a lot of truth to that. But I would argue that while the budgets are still smaller and Hollywood still is kind of the gatekeeper in that realm, there is still a lot of potential that’s being left on the table. A great Christian media. You know, I think of there’s two different types. And we’re talking mostly about movies. But there’s two different types of Christian movies that have been made in the past. There are the Bible epics. That is your Charlton Heston as Moses in the Ten Commandments. Sure. That is, you know, Samson and Delilah movies that were made in the 40s and 50s that were just monster movies. With big names, yeah, big budgets and then those have kind of died off and we’re into the era of the preach on video type movies that we see today, which those are the ones where they’re not specifically about topics in the Bible books or Bible stories. There are more or less about themes, moral themes. And I think we some somehow when we got into that era of Christian films, the quality just kind of seemed to drop off the end of the spectrum. And I think that there’s a lot of potential for those movies to be good. And, you know, I’m just looking at our notes here and even some of the budgets are pretty, pretty amazing. I mean, you’ve got in here. I can only imagine, which is probably as of late. The the Christian film, that is the standard setter, Yasin’s boy and a good budget.

And it it surprised everyone. It certainly surprised Hollywood. You know, this was a movie that if if I remember correctly, it was made on something like a seven or eight million dollar budget.

Roger, you and I both know that is nothing. That’s it. That’s a drop in the bucket. It is. In terms of Hollywood standards, right? Of course, you and I are in a different place completely. I would I would have I’d have millions of it.

But these guys turned around and earned more than $85 million worldwide. Yeah, it just blew people away. And at seven or eight million dollars for their budget, this thing looks amazing. This is not be quality in any sense. They’ve got some great, you know, well-known actors. They got they got Dennis Quaid. It’s it’s based on a song that anyone in this industry is is familiar with, was the number one Christian single of all time. And it actually hit the top 40. The song I can only imagine on the regular, you know, secular charts. These guys are doing more with less. And that’s one of the things that I applaud these Christian filmmakers. So these were the Irwin brothers. But then they’re also guys that we’ve heard of, Kendrick Brothers. These guys started with very, very small budget. Right. Very low quality. Flywheel was their first feature film up then every production. They’ve gotten better at their craft. They’ve gotten larger budgets. They’ve certainly started telling better stories. And over and over again, they are doing more with less. And again, that’s to be applauded. We will talk in a in a future episode about storytelling and why that’s so important. I think, like you said, there’s there’s a lot of room for growth. I think that some Christian films tend to get into a rut of basically telling the same story over and over again. I agree. Using the same characters, the same mechanisms and the same outcomes without diving too much into storytelling.

It’s difficult because of the fact that it’s easy for you to write a story where there’s a villain and there’s a hero. And if in every single Christian film, the hero is the Christian who is triumphing over persecution and the villain is this evil atheist, so to speak, how in the world are you going to attract an audience that isn’t already on a certain belief path, Kyra. And you know, and we know from looking at the Bible that that’s not always the way things work out. It’s not cut and dry. And the good people do bad things. And that’s not the way you see a lot of Christian films take the direction you take it today. And and I think that you mentioned in it’s very good point that they’re in a rut. Christian films today that are being churned out with a million, two million, three million dollar budgets. They all look the same. They all feel the same. They have the same character makeup. They have the same story arcs, all of that. And maybe I’m wrong, but I think it’s appealing to the wrong audience. I think that Christian films are appealing to people who already claim to be Christian. And yeah, that may reinforce the base, but it’s not doing anything to help bring people to understand the Bible better. It’s not doing anything to bring people to want to study the Bible. If you’re outside of that thought process, you might still go. I’m not going to watch that movie. It’s going to be it’s going to just rail on who I am.

Right. And that’s again, that’s what we’ve talked about. You know, I Appian Media was created. I don’t know that I would say it’s appealing to the wrong audience, but it’s appealing to only one right audience. That’s good. Christian films made by Christians for Christians. And there’s a place for that. That’s that’s worthwhile and valuable.

I love to be able to sit down and watch something with my family and know that it’s gonna be safe for them to consume and good to reinforce the things that I’m trying to teach them. And I want those. But there’s a there’s a missed opportunity, I think, to only make movies by Christians for Christians that we’re missing the opportunity to share the gospel with those who don’t already believe it. And one of the things that we try to do at Appian Media is obviously we believe that what we create is appealing to Christians. It’s faith reaffirming, but we try to come at it from. From a place that maybe you’re not interested in the Bible, but you’re interested in history. And so we think you’ll be interested in watching this. Maybe you’re not interested in, you know, Jesus as the son of God yet, but you’re interested in apologetics or you’re interested in archaeology, or maybe you’re just interested in in and travelling thus far and you want to see the world. And that’s enough to bring you in. So we’re trying to appeal to both audiences. The gospel is meant to be shared with nonbelievers. Yeah. Not just circulated among those who already believe.

You’re absolutely right. And that’s exactly what we see in the Bible when you look at Jesus. He was reaching out to people who were not within those Jewish circles all the time. And of course, the the Pharisees, they railed on him a lot about that.

And they would say, well, why are you going and talking to centers? Why are you going and talking to tax collectors?

And it was the idea of like, well, that’s that’s who needs me. And I came to see came to see the law. Exactly. Not at the well, but those who are sick. Right.

I think that Christian media today doesn’t really focus on that as much as it focuses on. Hey, there’s a base of people who really believe what I believe. And I’m going to make films that kind of it’s like a rally crime. Yeah.

You’re gonna go someplace. I was. So one thing that I would say is we may sit back and watch some of these early films from the Kendrick Brothers and go, oh, that was a little rough around the edges. But the fact is we wouldn’t be where we are today had those guys not stepped up. Yeah. And did what they could with what they had. I agree. They actually have blazed a trail for many of us. Coming up after them to make this kind of stuff possible, because for too long they said we we don’t have the budgets that we want. Hollywood won’t let us do it. So we just can’t. Yeah. And someone along the line said, you know what? But I’m still going to try and try and do it. Yeah. I didn’t go to film school. These guys didn’t. But they did their best with what they had.

And that was exactly. That’s our that’s our story, too. Absolutely. We suy sat down and we said, look, this is a hole that needs to be filled. This is a problem. What can we do to do it? Yeah, no, I completely agree with that. I think part of the creative process is getting better. So, you know, slowly, we. We sitting here don’t have any right to judge the Kendrick Brothers or Mel Gibson and Passion of the Christ or any of these other Hollywood films because of the fact that, you know, we know it’s a creative process, that with everything that you do, you hope to improve and get better. And we also hope to improve. We look at some of the first stuff we did and go, man. I hope it’s I hope that what we do in the future is better than that. And that’s just kind of the creative process. So I don’t I don’t want to go too far off the tangent, but let’s let’s just take a couple minutes and talk about what is working in Christian media. What do you think is working?

What I think is working is that audiences are coming to expect a higher level of quality in these productions. And several of them really are delivering. I can only imagine was a beautiful film to look at and the storytelling to me, it. It actually broke a lot of clichés. The villain, the antagonist of the film. This man’s father. The story was based on a on a real life story of this artist. He was the antagonist was not as clear cut. He’s pure evil and the good guy is pure good. They did a great job of of turning some of those clichés on on their head. And I really appreciated that they are connecting with the right kind of people. Their distribution is getting better and bigger, their theatrical releases. It’s more than just, you know, you’ve got a book. These tickets for this Christian film, because it’s only gonna be open for one weekend. Yeah. No, they’re getting full releases now and staying in theaters for a while.

And I love it. Hollywood is starting to see, you know, Hollywood thinks in terms of dollars. Yes. And they’re starting to see the return on investment for these films. I can make a film for $7 million in gross. Five million dollars. Yes. Please sign me up for that. And so they are getting bigger releases. So that’s it. Yeah, I agree with you. I think that is a good thing. You know, I think it’s a powerful platform, and I’m glad that Christian filmmakers are using that to spread some sort of good moral message. Absolutely. Because, you know, I think you and I would both agree that for a long, long time, Hollywood just kind of had its blank check of. I’m going to produce whatever with whatever message. And that’s a problem. And that’s big. That’s Hollywood is very influential on our culture. You know that. I know that. And this is a powerful film is a powerful art form. And, you know, it’s about time that Christians harness that for good. Absolutely. And I think that that’s happening.

And we’ve mostly been talking about feature films, but it’s worth noting that we’re starting to venture out into other things. Right. What what we’re producing. You wouldn’t consider a feature film. It’s it’s a docu series. And thus far and I love that we’re branching out. We’re trying new things. We’re staying up with the technology and the media. And I love that and I love seeing that. So in that case, that’s what Christian movies are doing. Right. And I applaud that. I would encourage that.

And I agree. And I want to talk more about the documentaries, because I think that’s the space that we fall into. You know, let’s in a couple minutes talk about the bad things.

I put some stuff in there, low quality, poor execution and unoriginal. You know, those are three terms that I think everybody within the creative landscape would want to stay away from, you know? Right. We try to make things as high quality as possible. And a lot of times there is just a lot of low quality Christian films out there.

Poor execution. I think sometimes I hate to put blanket statements. I think probably 75 percent the time the acting is subpar. And it’s it’s no name actors. And it’s not that you can’t get a start in a Christian film. But like when you’re in this industry, acting makes a massive impact on your final product.

Bryan, if you get somebody who can’t act, man, does it show? Yes.

And that’s you know, acting is hard. It’s hard. Yeah, it’s hard. I’ve done a little bit of it. You won’t find evidence of that anywhere on the thing, right?

Well, it’s hard even what Jeremy and Berry have done thus far. That’s hard. And so I applaud those who are good at that craft. I am excited to see more actors being willing to fill those roles and do it well. And it does come down to dollars and cents. It’s done most of the time is they just can’t afford does the actors who are good at the craft. And I would say, well, then step up actors and either be willing to take a pay cut to do something that’s worthwhile or producers find the budgets to afford the right ones. Yeah.

Yeah. I mean, you know, you know, there’s ways to cut costs in other areas to get to get on screen. That’s important. Yes.

It’s overcoming those bad things, the low quality of the poor execution. Look, we aren’t creating content just to impress people. It’s not our goal. To me. Quality can be a distraction. And if it’s not high enough, they will be distracted and miss the message that you’re trying to communicate. We at Appian Media are trying our very best with the limited resources that we do have to improve that quality and make that production value as high as I possibly can so that they are not distracted by the fact that while that camera guy just can’t seem to get his phone rang, you know, that lighting is so off and so poorly done. We want to remove any kind of distractions, because the most important thing is for them to consume the message of the gospel. The thing that will actually change them and benefit them.

Absolutely. I want us to talk about where we’re Appian Media fits into the picture because, you know, we’ve talked about movies so far, but we aren’t making movies at this point anyway. We’re making, as you said, docu series or documentaries, which are a completely different thing. You don’t have actors in them. You have real people and they’re doing real things. Where does Appian Media fit into this picture in this Christian media landscape?

To me, it’s always been about carving out a niche that really was not previously there. And you and I have said this from the beginning. We set out to do something because we couldn’t find anyone else who was already doing it. You went out looking for this content so that you could use in your Bible classes and it just wasn’t there. And so what Appian Media, what we’re trying to do is to fill this hole, thankfully, as we’ve started this process. We’ve been able to see others who are doing something similar. But it’s a need that I believe is is profoundly missing in this arena. And it’s about creating something that’s engaging, that’s professionally produced and that really pulls people in to the power of the gospel.

Right. And I think that’s the niche that we fill is, you know, Christian Christian movies. They do preach, but they at their core are entertainment. We are not trying to be entertainment. We are trying to be tools to help engage people with God’s word. And I think that’s something that we kind of sets us apart because, you know, we don’t want to be entertainers. We want to be educators. We want to be facilitators. So that way people see this content are engaged by it. Like you said, they’re not distracted by low quality or poor acting or whatever the cases they are engaged by. And they go, oh, I need to study God’s word. And that, like you said, that was something that didn’t exist before entertainment. Christian entertainment existed. It’s existed for a long time. But the tools that we’re making, they didn’t exist. And I think that’s kind of the niche that we fill and that’s what we see now. Can you watch it and be entertained? I’m sure you can get entertainment out of it. So.

All right, let’s take a quick break and we’ll come right back. The Inroads podcast is sponsored by Container Solutions Inc. CSI makes custom engineered packaging solutions for big and small industries ranging from manufacturing and automotive to military use foam, plastic, steel, you name it, and they can make packaging for your product out of just about any material. CSI is a proud sponsor of the Inroads podcast and AP media and we’re thrilled to work with them. You can learn more about what they do on their Web site. Container Solutions Inc. Dot com. You can also find more information about our sponsors in this episodes shown note. So, Craig, we were talking about Christian media and the landscape of Christian media today.

So I think before we wrap up this episode, you know, I want to talk a little bit about why it’s important to produce high quality, high production value and accurate media, because, you know, frankly, you and I both know that there is a lot of Christian media that just misses the mark and accuracy. And it’s why we got frustrated at the beginning, because we were finding stuff on YouTube that were like, man, this may look nice, but it’s not anywhere close to being accurate. And I can’t show this to Bible classes. I can’t show this to my kids, you know?

Right. There was always a disclaimer that we had to put on it. And one was either, okay, guys overlooked the fact that he’s super dry and boring. Right. And he’s got some really good things. So stay with him. Or the other disclaimer like you were talking about was, look, this guy is is saying this from this doctrinal perspective or from this slant. And that’s that’s not biblically accurate, but just kind of gloss over that part, because I want you to listen to this part. And what we wanted to do was. We strive to do is that no one has to give those kinds of disclaimers on any of our content. Right. It is simply here’s the biblical facts. Here’s the scriptures. We’re gonna read from it. We’re gonna show you it. We’re gonna we’re gonna do our research so that, you know, what you’re consuming from us is as accurate as we know how. And then it’s packaged in a way, like I was saying before. That is well done. The production value is high so that they are not distracted by the packaging. Nothing should distract from the power of the gospel. So bad audio, bad lighting, bad writing, bad acting. All of those things are disclaimers that someone is going to have to put on and say overlooked. The fact that it clearly this guy is reading from a teleprompter, overlooked the fact that clearly this guy is coming at it from a slant that is his own personal bias. We want people to get the gospel. Nothing more. Nothing less. And that’s that’s what’s gonna be powerful.

Yeah, I completely agree with that statement. And, you know, I think that Appian Media’s work has shown that it’s possible to do high quality, accurate content on low budgets. Absolutely. And, you know, like we talked about the beginning, the show. I mean, I would love to have a $7 million budget for our next project, but that’s just not the nature that we deal with. I mean, we created Folland Messiah for less than two hundred thousand dollars total. I mean, that is a microscopic drop in the bucket in Hollywood’s terms. And we were able to create a 10 episode series that I think looks really nice for that budget. So it is possible to do. The landscape is changing. And I think there’s definitely a lot of room to grow with Christian media today. So hope you’ve enjoyed this episode. Coming up on the next episode of INROADS, we’re gonna talk story. We’re gonna be joined by Jeff Kaiser. He was our director of photography on both Farnum Messiah and searching for a King. And we’re gonna have a great conversation about how story really makes an impact on the documentaries that we’re doing. So In-roads is a production of Appian Media and we’re a non-profit video production company that is 100 percent crowdfunded. So if you’re interested in learning more about how you can support AP media, we encourage you to go over to our Web site and check out the free content we have and also look at our memberships because we have monthly memberships that are available.

Visit Appian Media dot org slash in roads to learn more. Thanks, Craig. I’ve enjoyed it. Absolutely. And we’ll see you on the next episode of Inroads.

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