The Pixar Factor

Who Can You Trust to Make a Movie?

By David Outten, Production Editor

 When you buy groceries, you have the choice between competing brands. Over time you develop favorite brands. If you’re a fan of pickles, you may decide Claussen makes the best pickles. If you’re in the mood for pickles, you will look for Claussen. You trust the brand.

When you’re in the mood to spend $10 per family member to see a movie in your local theater, you don’t want to waste your money on some piece of trash. Like when buying groceries, you will favor movies made by someone you trust.

Walt Disney spent many years building trust. At one point, the release of anything made by Disney was an occasion for families to open their wallets and buy tickets. Then, for a period of time, after Walt’s death, the company tried to become “hip” and make R-rated and other movies not aimed at families. While it released these movies under subsidiary labels, the trust Walt worked to build was violated.

In recent years, Walt Disney Productions has been working to rebuild its reputation as a company truly dedicated to making movies parents can trust. Ironically, they were profoundly reminded of Walt’s wisdom by Pixar.

The release of a Pixar movie is cause for families to open their wallet and buy tickets. At this point you would not have to watch a preview, read a review or hear about the latest Pixar movie from a friend. You know that if it’s Pixar, it’s worth giving it a chance. You may like one Pixar movie more than others and you may not have liked something about one or two, but you trust that Pixar is going to make something clean, entertaining, creative, and of excellent quality.

Thus, Pixar’s new summer movie, UP, which comes out May 29, will have enough trust factor to generate significant box office, especially in its opening weekend.

It’s hard enough to get someone out to a theater to spend $10 per family member, but it’s really hard to get 30 million people to buy tickets. Having a great reputation is very important. That’s why we see so many sequels from the major Hollywood studios. Most studios put out movies that range from gems to garbage. Studios often make sequels of their biggest successes because audiences will trust that, if they enjoyed SHREK 1, they will enjoy SHREK 2, and 3, and 4. The trust factor is huge.

Sometimes, an excellent family movie like NANCY DREW will be released by a studio that has little or no credibility in making family movies. That particular movie deserved much greater support, but the trust level earned by Pixar or Disney did not exist. The movie had to succeed on the strength of its marketing alone. The cost of successfully marketing a movie can be more than the cost of making it. This is why the trust factor is so important.

There are many people interested in making Christian movies. At this point, they will all be in the shadow of Sherwood Pictures. Sherwood Pictures has made FLYWHEEL, FACING THE GIANTS and FIREPROOF. They’ve now built a level of trust with millions of moviegoers. Their next movie poster will contain the line “from the makers of FIREPROOF,” but it won’t even need it. Many people will be looking for whatever they do next.

Other Christian filmmakers face the daunting challenge of first making a great movie and then convincing millions of people that it’s worth seeing. Both are daunting challenges.

Well-known Pastor T. D. Jakes recently made NOT EASILY BROKEN. The movie has an excellent message about keeping Jesus Christ at the center of your marriage, but he aimed the movie at a culture where foul language is the norm. In order to be “real,” he included material that will keep the movie out of many churches that will have dinner-and-a-movie night and show FACING THE GIANTS and FIREPROOF to their congregation.

Sadly, Sherwood Pictures comes out with about one movie every two years. Movie theaters need a few new movies every week. The demand for Sherwood-style movies may not be for two every week, but it’s certainly more than one every two years.

What we need is more studios with the reputation of Sherwood Pictures and a stable of quality filmmakers working on a slate of movies. We need someone with the vision and taste of Alex and Stephen Kendrick who can greenlight and oversee the production of several movies every year.

Major Hollywood studios have “faith” divisions, but none have built the kind of trust Sherwood Pictures has. Statistically, more than 245 million Americans claim to be Christian. If Sony Provident, Fox Faith or a completely new studio could become the Pixar of Christian movies, it could be possible to draw 20 or 30 million Christians into the theaters several times a year. That would be enough for a movie to become a blockbuster at $150 to $200 million or more in the United States.

The challenge is to build trust.


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