If one compares good Christian films with bad films, the biggest thing that separates them is humility. Good Christian films are realistic about what they can do and what they can set out to accomplish. A film like Late One Night worked because Director Dave Christiano knew the limits of his budget, actors, and other factors and worked within them.
Bad Christian films consistently don’t get this and try to do stories that require more expertise, special effects, or talent than the filmmakers possess. The examples of Christian films making these mistakes are numerous, particularly in regards to Biblical films. Mistakes made include: sets that don’t look realistic, makeup artists that had actresses playing fourteenth century BC Jewish Women while wearing twenty-first century nail polish, and gold chains given to Daniel that look like something worn during a parody of a rap music video.
There is a tendency among many producers who find great distaste in the values of Hollywood’s filmmakers to devalue those who make film and assume, “How hard can it be?” The answer is, “Very hard.”
To make quality films, producers have to have the humility to seek technical advice to pull off film marvels. If they can’t afford that, they have to set their sights on a project that is less grandiose but eminently more achievable.
When I think of the success of Sherwood Pictures, there was something so wise about the Kendrick brothers deciding the first film they made would be about a wayward used car dealer with actors all playing characters with similar personalities to their own.
It was a great acknowledgment of the resources they had as filmmakers. They also didn’t shoot for a nationwide release for their first film, but instead did a local showing, followed by DVD sales. Christian filmmakers need to be willing to not despise the day of small things but to understand that film is an art form and dedicate themselves to learning it.
This means doing films that are played at film festivals and local theater releases rather than aiming for nationwide distribution of a film that’s not ready for it.
Movies are visual entertainment medium. Good films and bad films stick in our memories because of defining moments. In Facing the Giants, the beautifully filmed and powerful “Death Crawl” scene as well as the climatic final moments of the game at the end of the movie stand out. In Late One Night, it’s Larry assaulting the Christian protagonist when he tells Larry that God loves him as well as the end of the film.
Other movies are forgettable because nothing stands out. Bad movies stick in people’s minds for all the wrong reasons. Two scenes stands out in my mind in, God’s Not Dead. One is an atheist getting hit by a car and the filmmakers indulging us with multiple camera shots of the incident. The other scene is Willie Robertson urging the audience to text all their friends and family that, “God’s Not Dead.” That will seem like a call to spam to secular viewers.
This is why Christian filmmakers have to understand the importance of quality stories and making quality moments. Without those, no matter how powerful the message, a film will either be forgotten or it’ll be remembered for the wrong reasons.