August 1, 2020
By Shawn Hendricks
Correspondent, The Alabama Baptist
The odds of succeeding in the entertainment industry are already low, but for filmmakers, writers and TV producers who hold Christian values, the industry can be an even more hostile environment.
A group of film and television leaders shared their thoughts on their faith and calling to the entertainment industry during the National Religious Broadcasters convention in Nashville earlier this year.
Dave Alan Johnson, a writer and director who has worked with Steven Spielberg, DreamWorks and Paramount, recalled a conversation he had with his wife years ago after becoming discouraged from “fighting the wars” of the film industry. He wondered aloud if he should “chuck this whole thing and go be a missionary some place.”
Johnson, who also was executive producer of “October Baby” (2011), a film about a young woman who survived a failed abortion, recalled his wife’s response to his frustration.
“She looked at me and said, ‘Name me one place on earth that needs missionaries more than where you are right now?’ That moment changed my life,” Johnson said.
“So I went back to the same job the next day,” he said. “I was running a show. Hundreds of people working for me. Did the same thing, but [it] was a completely different day and I understood why I had been placed where I’d been placed, why I’d been placed and given the gifts I’d been given and sort of every day since then have been on that road.”
Michael Van Dyck, founder of Inspired Entertainment, said he had his own “Damascus Road” experience in 1986 after committing his life to Christ. For the past 27 years, he’s been a television packaging agent in Beverly Hills and has packaged such mainstream television hits as “24” for Fox. Some people chuckle, Van Dyck said, when he tells them that God told him to come to Hollywood and get involved in the entertainment business.
But it’s a decision he said he has taken seriously. Today, he spends “100%” of his time helping package family-friendly and faith-based content.
“When I speak to young people that want to be in the industry, the one thing that is so critical … I’m not a church history buff, but when pioneer missionaries established missions fields, blood was shed. … Your life will come under radical, radical attack. And if it’s not God’s purpose and plan for your life, get out now … It’s not a game.”
Adding value to others
Paul Castro, co-founder and chief creative officer of Torchlyte, shared some tips for aspiring writers wanting to break into the industry.
Best known for writing “August Rush” (2007), a film about a musically gifted orphan who tries to find his birth parents, Castro said they should first get the right training and then focus less on accolades and more on the type of life they want to be remembered for living.
It’s not who you know in Hollywood, Castro said, “it’s who you know that you can add value to.”
Getting faith-based, family-friendly content to the masses is only getting more difficult, Johnson said.
“Hollywood does not share my values,” he said. “They’re never going to.
“Occasionally, they allow things or things get snuck through or God puts things through that reflect our values. But that’s becoming harder and harder and harder to do. It’s always been hard.”
For faith-based messages to have the best impact, he said, it is going to take a very large and consistent financial investment.
“I really have come to the conclusion that we have to have our own platforms,” he said. “We’re never going to have huge, huge impact until we have our own launching pads.”
And success takes a lot of perseverance, said Van Dyck, who left a lucrative position to begin a new career in the entertainment industry.
“I found myself penniless in the mailroom, thinking this is not a calling, this is a nightmare. But God had me right where He wanted me. … The Lord keeps you going.”