By Dr. Tom Snyder, Editor
Santa Fe, New Mexico - A panel of four award-winning producers and writers, led by family and child advocate Dr. Ted Baehr, publisher of Movieguide®, gave some cogent advice to attendees of the 11th Annual Screenwriting Conference in Santa Fe this weekend about how to write, produce, distribute, and market spiritually uplifting, redemptive movies and television.
Now in its 24th year, Movieguide® (www.movieguide.org) is The Family Guide to Movies and Entertainment.
All but one of the producers and writers on the panel have been past winners of the Epiphany Prizes for Inspiring Movies & TV, sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation, a philanthropic organization, which are presented at the Annual Movieguide® Faith & Values Awards Gala and Report to the Entertainment Industry, which just celebrated its 17th annual event in February in Los Angeles, Calif.
The producers and writers included Judith Tukich, former Vice President of Special Programming at ABC-TV (“The Miracle Worker”); Joan Considine Johnson, writer for TV’s “Doc” and “Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye”; Michael Landon, Jr., writer, producer and director of such movies as “Love Comes Softly,” “Saving Sarah Cain,” “Love’s Abiding Joy,” and “The Velveteen Rabbit”; and, Joel T. Smith, writer, producer and distributor behind such works as TV’s NOVA, the TV movie MERLIN, the TV series TARZAN, the upcoming PARADISE BOUND and THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF SANTA CLAUS, and producer and script supervisor for eight TV movies for ABC Family Channel, the Lifetime Network and the Sci-Fi Channel.
The John Templeton Foundation recently increased the prize money for the two Epiphanies from $50,000 to $100,000, which are given to the best movie and television program that resulted in “a great increase in man’s love or understanding of God.”
Although all the panelists agreed that the industry has gotten tougher because of the poor economy, Dr. Baehr summarized everyone’s feelings, saying, “The good news is that a lot of people do break through. There are people out there doing new things.”
He pointed to the church that made FIREPROOF, the most successful independent movie in 2008 that won this year’s $100,000 Epiphany Prize for Most Inspiring Movie.
He added, “Don’t let the problems overwhelm you. Know about the solutions to the problems. Understand the rules of the industry.”
“It’s a tough business, really tough,” noted Landon, who said he started screenwriting to get into the industry because screenwriters often get to direct.
“The strongest market is the family market,” Smith pointed out, adding, “The independent film market is very bad right now. There are thousands of pictures out there looking for a home.”
Tukich agreed with him about focusing on the large family market, asking, “Why limit your audience?”
Johnson agreed that there’s a big opportunity out there now for family-friendly, spiritually uplifting programming, but added, “People have good intentions and good hearts but that’s not enough. It still has to have a quality story.”
“You have to know storytelling,” Dr. Baehr agreed.
He advised filmmakers and television artists to put jeopardy into their inspirational stories and make sure that the dialogue drives the plot rather than just have the dialogue state the obvious.
Dr. Baehr defined spiritually uplifting, redemptive, inspiring stories as stories that redeem the bad from the good, that ask, “Can I get a second chance at life?” They also involve characters that are willing to give up their life for someone else. The Epiphany Prizes are also given to those movies and television programs that result in “a great increase in man’s love or understanding of God.”
The John Templeton Foundation (www.templeton.org) serves as a philanthropic catalyst for research relating to what scientists and philosophers call the Big Questions. It supports work at the world’s top universities in such fields as theoretical physics, cosmology, evolutionary biology, cognitive science, and social science relating to love, forgiveness, creativity, purpose, and the nature and origin of religious belief. It also encourages informed, open-minded dialogue between scientists and theologians as they apply themselves to the most profound issues in their particular disciplines. Finally, it seeks to stimulate new thinking about wealth creation in the developing world, character education in schools and universities, and programs for cultivating the talents of gifted children.
Movieguide® is a publication of the Christian Film & Television Commission® ministry. It is an international non-profit ministry dedicated to “redeeming the values of the entertainment industry by influencing industry executives and by informing and equipping the public about the influence of the entertainment media.”