From Phil Cooke: Why Some Pioneering Christian Ministries Survived
Visit EWTN before Wednesday and get familiar with the history, programming and general organizational philosophy of EWTN.
Compare EWTN with TBN. What’s the first thing you see when you visit the TBN website (the most prominent thing on the page)?
This next reading, a scholarly article by Victoria Meng, is much longer: Everyday A Miracle: History According to Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN)
There are many variables that are involved in determining whether or not a film will be successful at the box office. This ranges from marketability to target audience age to the number of theaters that a movie will premiere in. With most christian movies the target audience is already assumed. The movie is to be targeted towards christians. This is where the movie fails in both ability to do well at the box office and in delivering the main message of the movie. As christians if we are called to make disciples of all nations then shouldn’t our movie be marketed towards non-christians?
Bruce Almighty and Amazing Grace both do a good job of being marketed to a more mainstream audience than say The Left Behind series or Fireproof. Not to say that those movie don’t have a good message or try to be marketed towards more than just christians but the way these movies are presented almost handicap themselves as far as general audiences go. Bruce Almighty found its way into general audience theaters by showing almost a satirical view of christianity that still presented the viewer with a good christian message. Amazing Grace proves to be a great period piece that just happens to have its roots in christianity.
Both of these movies do a great job of showing aspects of christianity without explaining them or spelling them out for the viewer. In other movies you find characters presenting the gospel as almost a sales pitch that seems almost overdone. However, the message is delivered much more effectively in a subtle way. This allows the viewer to draw their own conclusions about what a movie is saying as well as not offending those who feel like christianity is constantly shoved down their throats.
Generally in both of these movies effective storytelling techniques were used. My only major criticism of Amazing Grace was the way they seemed to force the relationship between the main character and his love interest. Both films follow the three-act structure very well, and play towards their audiences very well.
Amazing Grace is a drama for those who feel strongly about political issues and history. Bruce Almighty is for those who enjoy comedy and don’t mind a spiritual twist. Bruce Almighty had a few issues communicating its message in the beginning, but I believed the beginning was required to effectively send the message it was meant to send. The message of Amazing Grace was clear almost from the beginning of the movie, but was still effective. They both do an excellent job of showing and not telling.
Both directors showed clear understanding of screenwriting and storytelling, and their messages were stated loud and clear. This is something that is very valuable in Christian filmmakers, as good movies are very strong tools in communicating messages.
Unfortunately, not every movie exactly hits the mark with it’s “yarn weaving.” But the ones that do are the ones we remember and come back to. These films take us on a journey with the protagonist, through whatever ups and downs they might go through. They don’t spell the story out for us, instead letting the visuals do the work they are supposed to do in a film. They know who the film is for and so tailor it for them. Simply put, they let the story just tell itself, like any good story should.
Bruce Almighty does a more than adequate job of telling the story it seeks to convey. We are introduced to Bruce, a self-centered, comedic news reporter who feels like God has failed him. We learn this not because the story writers come straight out and say, “This is Bruce. He’s self-centered,” but because they develop the character onscreen through various situations that allow the audience to see that Bruce has an ego problem. The filmmakers take us through Bruce’s story about taking on God’s powers and all the ups and downs that go along with that. We see actual character development in Bruce, making him relatable, a quality most audiences are hoping to see in their protagonist. The film is expertly tailored to its audience (that is, people hoping to see a good story that’s also comedic), and therefore is more than up to the task of telling its story.
One of the best story-telling films I’ve ever seen is quite possibly Amazing Grace. In terms of “showing, not telling,” this biographic period piece is hard to beat. The film wastes no time giving background information before launching into the meat of the plot, letting the audience piece together through the story currently unfolding on the screen, including the expert use of selected flashbacks. We follow William Wilberforce on a highly dramatic journey to get his abolition bill passed, and we are privy to the emotional highs and lows he goes through during that time. The film is also very much designed for its audience (people looking for a powerful moral and spiritual message), but does a fantastic job relating to those watching for other reasons as well.
I feel like the best movies are those that you can relate to. This element of storytelling draws the audience in, and keeps them engaged.
Bruce Almighty and Amazing Grace both demonstrate the key elements of dramatic storytelling, yet in very different ways.
Bruce Almighty is a comedy directed towards a secular audience, relating to an audience familiar with “running the rat race.” Bruce puts himself first and does anything it takes to try and stay ahead in his career. Bruce has two main obstacles, his annoying coworker, and himself. When he looses his job, he begins to question God asking “why me?” He then meets God face to face, and is given His powers. After realizing he cannot handle the pressures of God, he begs for mercy. Finally at the end of the movie, you see the transformation process. Bruce is taken to heaven, and there given an a harsh reality check. Through God’s help and guidance, Bruce realizes the one thing that he hasn’t done. He has not truly repented and genuinely prayed. This transformation process displays the “show, not tell” storytelling element. What makes this a good story lies within the main character overcoming obstacles, realizing his need for change, and having a life altering transformation. The audience can feel Bruce’s struggles and final transformation, as it is seen step by step.
The dramatic biographic movie about William Wilberforce, Amazing Grace, William fights for the justice of all people. This film is targeted to Christians, and is full of faith and genuine perseverance. William faces obstacles both physically with his medical issues, and internally, always feeling the need to do more for justice.
Wilberforce’s strong faith keeps him running the race and fighting the good fight. His parliament members laugh in his face at the thought of abolishing slavery. Wilberforce is not dismayed. He demonstrates “show, not tell” consistently through the movie by not giving up even when the members in his parliament laugh in his face at the notion of the abolishment of slavery. Through patience, faith, prayer, and advice from powerful Godly individuals, Wilberforce finally succeeded his God-given mission. The Abolishment of Slavery act passed in 1807. The story of William Wilberforce reminds me of one of my favorite verses: Romans 8:31- What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?
Amazing Grace is a great reminder to pursue the call God has placed on our lives with the gifts He has given us.
The films Amazing Grace and Bruce Almighty both demonstrate principles of effective communication and storytelling. Both follow some general guidelines for making them great stories.
Amazing Grace details the determination of William Wilberforce to abolish the English slave trade. The filmmaker’ audience could be quite broad, since, despite obvious spiritual themes in Wilberforce’s journey to keep his faith, the movie centers on human interests most people would be drawn to. “Show, don’t tell” is implemented throughout the film, with Wilberforce’s episodes of severe physical pain illustrating this internal struggle as well. The protagonist certainly has obstacles: the many government members and citizens who oppose his bills. Through his determination and faith, However, Wilberforce eventually uses shocking testimonies and visual methods of persuasion to gain enough support for his cause. The end result seems to reaffirm Wilberforce’s faith.
Bruce Almighty is the story of Bruce’s struggle to rise to the top of his career. The initial target audience is a more secular group, with some crude humor and seemingly sacrilegious messages. His obstacles are an obnoxious coworker, and, most importantly, himself. The beginning of the movie depicts his struggles through some particularly bad work experiences and a car accident, which ultimately leads to him challenging God, then encountering Him while seeking another job. Bruce is given God’s abilities, and learns that he’s not equipped to handle the responsibility. Bruce takes from this experience lessons in selflessness and humility, making him a stronger individual.
Overall, while one is more traditional, both of these films have a positive message for the world about religion and faith. The comparison of the two demonstrates that there is not one set way to get a message across regarding religious principles, but that the “know thy audience” rule is especially critical.