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The Ministry of Motion Pictures Podcast
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The Ministry of Motion Pictures Podcast

Author: Todd Shaffer

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In the 1930's Minister James K. Friedrich said, "The motion picture camera, like the printing press, is a gift from God. We can use it for God's purpose." The Ministry of Motion Pictures seeks to advance the Christian film movement by engaging with Christian filmmakers and examining the landscape of the Christian film genre, to understand what has shaped it in the past, and how it should be shaped in the future.
61 Episodes
Making one or two movies per year is huge effort. In 2020, the year of COVID, indie filmmaker, Travis Mills, shot 12 westerns in 12 months, and in the following year he released those 12 films in 12 months. Travis is with us today to talk about this amazing feat of independent filmmaking.
He was at one time on of the youngest directors with a feature film on Netflix. Writer and director Rob Smat is with me to talk about his film The Last Whistle and a soon to be released documentary. Rob made his feature film The Last Whistle when he was just 23 years old. It won a number of awards at some film festivals and was picked up by Netflix. The writing and directing in this film demonstrates a maturity of someone much older than 23. Though it’s not intended to be a faith film, faith does play a role in this story. Rob is currently finishing a documentary called Walkout, and it’s making the rounds to festivals this year. This USC grad is just at the beginning of his career, and it will be interesting to watch his career develop over the next decade.
Legendary screenwriting professor, Richard Walter, is with us again in part two of my conversation with him. Richard was professor of the UCLA Screenwriting program, which is the most successful screenwriting program in the world. It’s harder to get into this program than it is to get accepted to Harvard Law School, and for good reason. Richard is a consummate storyteller, no matter what the medium, and that’s one of the things I love about him, every conversation is not only instructive, but a good story. And you can tell that he not only knows his stuff, he loves what he does. I often bring a guest on the show to test my assumptions, and pose ideas swimming around in my mind that need a good rattling, and no better a rattler of assumptions in film and screenwriting than Richard.
My guest today is the legendary screenwriting instructor at the UCLA Screenwriting Program, Richard Walter. I’ve been reading books on screenwriting since my days in film school. I have more than any screenwriter could possibly read. When an aspiring screenwriter asks me what books they should read, the first one I recommend is The Essentials of Screenwriting, written by our guest. Of all the screenwriting books I have read, Richard’s is the most grounded, and that’s just what  you would expect from a professor who was a driving force in the most successful screenwriting program in the last 20 years or more. And I’m not saying that to butter him up, this is why I reached out to him to be a guest on this podcast, which he so graciously agreed to do.
Jason Campbell is with us today to talk about microbudget Christian filmmaking. His company is scheduled to release 20 films this year alone and will launch their own streaming platform.
Literature  professor, Dr. Karen Swallow Prior joins me to talk about novels,  story, and Christian film. Given that Christian films tend to be very  message driven, I was interested in learning at the feet of Dr. Prior as  she walked her readers through these great novels. How did these  time-tested storytellers communicate moral and spiritual virtues? I believe filmmakers should be readers of good fiction, especially  given that we don’t have a very strong storytelling tradition in fiction  or Christian films. Christians, historically, are a people of  propositions, not stories. Good authors of fiction have a great deal to  teach Christian filmmakers.
13 years in the making, and I don’t mean 11 years shopping the script around and 2 years of production. This no-budget film was 13 years in production. Writer and director Nathaniel Sims is with us to talk about his apocalyptic movie The Book of Wendy.
In this episode, my guest is a well-known Nigerian filmmaker named Obi Emelonye. Two of Obi’s films have been on the top ten list of the most watched Nigerian films of all time. Those films are Mirror Boy and Last Flight to Abuja. Obi has made 11 films and two television series, one which is a Netflix series called Heart and Soul. Obi gives us a history of Nigerian cinema from a working, struggling filmmaker’s perspective, and shares the challenges he has faced in the past, and new challenges he faces today as he continues to make Nigerian films.And in the midst of his active production demands, Obi has recently taken a post as head of the filmmaking module at the University of Huddersfield in England.
The Nigerian film industry is the second most prolific film industry in the world, and their faith-based films, that they label as evangelical themed films, are not fringe like ours, they’re mainstream. Today, my guest is Nollywood scholar Dr. Elizabeth Olayiwola, in the second episode of my multi-part series on the Nigerian film industry phenomenon.
What is this country that has this titan film industry? If you haven’t guessed, I’ll give you another clue. It’s a country in Africa. It’s industry goes by the moniker of Nollywood. It’s the country of Nigeria. I am fascinated by the Nigerian film industry. While their films do get knocked for their lack of production value, they have something Hollywood doesn’t have. They make relatable films without Hollywood story models and connect to very large audiences. For those of us who have grown up with Hollywood, if we can overlook the clunky craftsmanship, their films can be very refreshing. This is the first of a series of episodes that will focus on the Nigerian film industry. Now, you might be wondering why I think Christian filmmakers need to know about Nigerian cinema? For starters, we’re filmmakers. I love cinema. I love cinema history, I love film theory, and I love the cinema of other cultures. And when I find a cinematic culture that challenges the assumptions that are so deeply rooted in Hollywood’s creative totalitarian rule, it excites me. And, there is something in Nigerian filmmaking culture that better aligns as a model for us who have chosen to be part of this oddity that we call faith-based filmmaking. The Christian film genre is a fringe genre. And I believe - and I could be totality out to lunch – that if Christian filmmakers spent less time trying to model ourselves after Hollywood, and more time modeling ourselves after Nollywood, we would see a faith film revolution. And right now, we are living in a very unique time in cinema history where this could work. My guest today, shares my fascination with Nollywood. But he is much more invested. He went to Lagos, Nigeria and made a documentary about the Nigerian film industry. The name of the documentary is Welcome to Nollywood. The filmmaker is Jamie Meltzer, who also teaches documentary filmmaking at Stanford University. And I hope this podcast encourages you to watch Welcome to Nollywood. It is a fascinating glimpse into this powerful grassroots industry. You’ll find links to Welcome to Nollywood, and some of Jamies other works, in the show notes of this episode.
The Content 2022 Film Festival and Media Summit will be held at Capernaum Studios in Poolville TX next week – starting on Feb 28th and wrapping on March 3rd. Our guest today is a man who has had his hands in the world of Christian filmmaking for more than 20 years, and is co-director of the Christian Media Association. His name is Tim Shields and he is here to talk to us about Content 2022.
If you’ve been involved in the faith-based community you will be familiar with Kappa Studios in Burbank CA. Kappa began as a post-production house, and under the leadership of Paul and Brad Silverman, Kappa has become the post production hub for Christian filmmakers -- and it's growing into something much more. Kappa produced it’s own Christian film called Selfie Dad, directed by Brad Silverman. They’ve launched a Christian film finishing fund. And they’ve just recently announced a distribution effort – and Paul will give us more details about that. But as you listen to this interview, I want you to pay attention to the heart of Paul, and to the convictions he has as a Christian pursuing his business with trust in God and faithfulness to what God has given him.
Pastor/theologian Scott Christensen talks about story from a very unusual vantage -- that of the problem of evil and the sovereignty of God. He wrote a massive book called What About Evil? which wrestles with some weighty subjects. So what does this have to do with story and Christian film? Plenty, it turns out. What is so fascinating about Scotts book is that he isn’t just trying to find answers to difficult questions through academic tools, exegesis, word studies, and the like, the core component to how he seeks to answer the problem of evil is through our understanding of story. The Bible is God’s story. It’s sometimes called the Drama of Redemption. And in this book Christensen spends considerable time explaining story and how important it is in helping us to wrestle with this theological issue. His grasp of story in service to theological truth is profound. He is widely read, and quotes extensively from Aristotle, Milton, Tolkien, Lewis, Dostoyevksy, Leland Ryken, Brian Godawa, Northrup Frye, Andrew Klavan, and many others. In this interview we talk about his book, how story helps us wrestle through difficult theological issues, and what storytelling advice he can give to Christian filmmakers.
As this podcast approaches the 50th episode, I thought it might be interesting to create an episode of highlights, some of the best moments. The guests who were the most surprising, most unexpected, and who had the greatest impact, at least to me -- were the theologians. I expected these scholars and churchmen to have some pushback, even the ones who seemed to have a clear affinity for the arts. We live in a culture drowning in entertainment, amusing ourselves to death, as Neil Postman put it. Surely, these men must have some cautions and concerns for us. But what they gave us was a clear picture of the WHY Christian films are important, and the WHAT’S that Christian films should be. They painted a very noble view of the importance of good Christian filmmaking. These 3 men helped to frame a strategy and glorious purpose for Christian filmmakers. I met Dr. Mark Coppenger when I visited the Franklin branch of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mark helped me form an advisory board for Glorious Films and has become a good friend. More than once he walked me off the ledge when I was close to abandoning Christian filmmaking. Dr. Coppenger was a Professor of Christian Philosophy & Ethics at Southern, where he supervised -- and this is where it gets interesting -- he supervised a graduate program called Christianity and the Arts. And within that program, Mark was responsible for a track called Aesthetic Theology. So Marc has spent a significant part of his career thinking about the relationship between theology and aesthetics, and he wrote a book called “The Skeptic’s Guide to Arts in the Church.” Dr. Kevin Vanhoozer wrote a book called Pictures at a Theological Exhibition. The title intrigued me, and I bought it, but it sat on my shelf for some time -- until I had to fly to a shoot for a commercial I was directing, and I threw this book in my bag to read on the plane. I couldn’t put the book down. In fact, I couldn’t get out of the first chapter. I had to read it, underline it, and then write out what engaged me in this book. When I told Dr. Vanhoozer that he took it as a critique that he had not written well enough.  But that wasn’t the case. What his book expressed were ideas so new to me, and I wrestled with them to apply the lessons to being a Christian filmmaker. It was like water for a parched filmmakers soul. I knew I had to try to get him on the podcast to engage with him on these issues. Dr. Vanhoozer is a prolific author, and Research Professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. It was an honor to have him as a guest. I knew Dr. Coppenger and Dr. Vanhoozer both had an affinity for the arts, but I wasn’t sure where the men at 9 Marks Ministries stood. I’ve listened to almost every podcast 9 Marks produced, and I wanted to know what they thought about Christian film, so I reached out to them and the editorial director, Dr. Jonathan Leeman, accepted my invitation. Jonathan did not disappoint. He gave me a lot to think about, and he introduced me to the brilliant concept of a right moral ecology. While he is an editorial director, a pastor, and author of a number of books --  he is also an adjunct professor for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Reformed Theological Seminary. So there you have it -- three theologians who believe there is an important role that Christian filmmakers can play in the life of the church.
You may not know his name, but this writer-director-producer has made more faith films than the Kendricks and Erwin Brothers. His name is Chris Dowling, and he's been at this for nearly two decades. As a screenwriter, he not only writes for himself, he writes for the biggest names in the faith-based film industry. He's best known for his work on Blue Miracle, Where Hope Grows, Run the Race and the unscripted series, Repo Games. He has directed A-list actors such as Jason Alexander and Patrick Warburton. Chris also teaches screenwriting at the newly formed online school for Christian filmmakers called Aspire Circles. In this episode, Chris talks about his lengthy career in the faith film industry.
Christopher Shawn Shaw is the director of the movie Church People, which was written by the film's lead actor, Thor Ramsey. Church People is Shaw’s feature directorial debut. Christopher is no stranger to acting or filmmaking, he owns a production company called Anchor Productions, he has directed and produced a comedy cooking series called Something Smells Funny, and he’s been quite involved in the 168 Film Project. In this episode Christopher shares with us the 10 year plus story of how Church People was made, and I’ll give you one spoiler, it involves a gold fish.
Writer and director Matt Green began his career making music videos and produced the faith-based film No Greater Love for Lions Gate, directed by Brad Silverman. Matt is also a professor at The Master’s University where he helms the Cinema and Digital Arts program. In January of this year the University released its first feature length movie, The Man From Nowhere, which was written and directed by Matt and made by 27 of it’s students. For more information visit The Ministry of Motion Pictures
Documentary filmmaker Stephen McCaskell is best known for his work on the Media Gratiae films Puritan, Luther, The Church, and a series he made with Tim Challies called EPIC: An Around the World Journey through Christian History. His work has given him the opportunity to travel all over the world. He has recently taken a position with Ligonier Ministries as Supervising Producer.
My guest in this episode is an old friend. Though he has worked in film and radio for over 30 years, his primary passion has been the theater. He’s a man who wears many hats, as many of us have to do to make a career, and sometimes that involves wearing a fedora. He’s an actor, director, stage manager, playwright, screenwriter and a novelist. He was a founding member of the Santa Susanna Repertory Company in the LA area. He’s worked on a litany of productions from MacBeth and The Christmas Carol, to War of the Worlds and South Pacific. When I found myself writing a musical, he was the first person I turned to for help. And, yes, he is a lyricist, as well. His name is James Egan. James is always working on numerous projects at any given time, whether for the stage or film, and always has a novel or screenplay in the works. He has a lot of experience in both secular and Christian theater productions. I invited him to the podcast to gain his perspective on Christian film, and to talk about the similarities between Christian theater and Christian film.
Dr. Ted Baehr has been an undying champion for the Christian faith and values in Hollywood for almost 5 decades. You may know Dr. Baehr for his organization MovieGuide which provides movie reviews and entertainment news related to our faith. Dr. Baehr is also actively involved in equipping Christian filmmakers to work in Hollywood, and promoting their efforts through the MovieGuide awards and the Kairos Prize for screenwriting. His book "How to Succeed in Hollywood Without Losing your Soul" is a classic among Christian filmmakers.
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