The Ministry of Motion Pictures Podcast
By Todd Shaffer
The Ministry of Motion Pictures PodcastJul 18, 2022
12 Westerns in 12 Months with Travis Mills
Making one or two movies per year is huge effort. In 2020, the year of COVID, indie filmmaker, Travis Mills, shot 12 westerns in 12 months, and in the following year he released those 12 films in 12 months. Travis is with us today to talk about this amazing feat of independent filmmaking.
MMP 60: The Youngest Director on Netflix with Rob Smat
He was at one time on of the youngest directors with a feature film on Netflix. Writer and director Rob Smat is with me to talk about his film The Last Whistle and a soon to be released documentary.
Rob made his feature film The Last Whistle when he was just 23 years old. It won a number of awards at some film festivals and was picked up by Netflix. The writing and directing in this film demonstrates a maturity of someone much older than 23. Though it’s not intended to be a faith film, faith does play a role in this story. Rob is currently finishing a documentary called Walkout, and it’s making the rounds to festivals this year. This USC grad is just at the beginning of his career, and it will be interesting to watch his career develop over the next decade.
MMP 59: Make Me Want to Turn the Page with Richard Walter part 2
Legendary screenwriting professor, Richard Walter, is with us again in part two of my conversation with him.
Richard was professor of the UCLA Screenwriting program, which is the most successful screenwriting program in the world. It’s harder to get into this program than it is to get accepted to Harvard Law School, and for good reason.
Richard is a consummate storyteller, no matter what the medium, and that’s one of the things I love about him, every conversation is not only instructive, but a good story. And you can tell that he not only knows his stuff, he loves what he does.
I often bring a guest on the show to test my assumptions, and pose ideas swimming around in my mind that need a good rattling, and no better a rattler of assumptions in film and screenwriting than Richard.
MMP 58: Don't Be Boring | A Conversation with UCLA Screenwriting Professor Richard Walter
My guest today is the legendary screenwriting instructor at the UCLA Screenwriting Program, Richard Walter. I’ve been reading books on screenwriting since my days in film school. I have more than any screenwriter could possibly read. When an aspiring screenwriter asks me what books they should read, the first one I recommend is The Essentials of Screenwriting, written by our guest. Of all the screenwriting books I have read, Richard’s is the most grounded, and that’s just what you would expect from a professor who was a driving force in the most successful screenwriting program in the last 20 years or more. And I’m not saying that to butter him up, this is why I reached out to him to be a guest on this podcast, which he so graciously agreed to do.
MMP 57: Faith Film Micro-budget Powerhouse with Jason Campbell
Jason Campbell is with us today to talk about microbudget Christian filmmaking. His company is scheduled to release 20 films this year alone and will launch their own streaming platform.
MMP 56: Story Well Told with Dr. Karen Swallow Prior
Literature professor, Dr. Karen Swallow Prior joins me to talk about novels, story, and Christian film. Given that Christian films tend to be very message driven, I was interested in learning at the feet of Dr. Prior as she walked her readers through these great novels. How did these time-tested storytellers communicate moral and spiritual virtues?
I believe filmmakers should be readers of good fiction, especially given that we don’t have a very strong storytelling tradition in fiction or Christian films. Christians, historically, are a people of propositions, not stories. Good authors of fiction have a great deal to teach Christian filmmakers.
MMP 55: Attack of the Tenacious Filmmaker with Nathanael Sims
13 years in the making, and I don’t mean 11 years shopping the script around and 2 years of production. This no-budget film was 13 years in production. Writer and director Nathaniel Sims is with us to talk about his apocalyptic movie The Book of Wendy.
MMP 54: A Filmmaker in Nollywood with Obi Emelonye
In this episode, my guest is a well-known Nigerian filmmaker named Obi Emelonye. Two of Obi’s films have been on the top ten list of the most watched Nigerian films of all time. Those films are Mirror Boy and Last Flight to Abuja. Obi has made 11 films and two television series, one which is a Netflix series called Heart and Soul.
Obi gives us a history of Nigerian cinema from a working, struggling filmmaker’s perspective, and shares the challenges he has faced in the past, and new challenges he faces today as he continues to make Nigerian films.And in the midst of his active production demands, Obi has recently taken a post as head of the filmmaking module at the University of Huddersfield in England.
MMP 53: Evangelical Nollywood with Dr. Elizabeth Olayiwola
The Nigerian film industry is the second most prolific film industry in the world, and their faith-based films, that they label as evangelical themed films, are not fringe like ours, they’re mainstream. Today, my guest is Nollywood scholar Dr. Elizabeth Olayiwola, in the second episode of my multi-part series on the Nigerian film industry phenomenon.
MMP 52: Nollywood as a Filmmaking Model with Jamie Meltzer
What is this country that has this titan film industry? If you haven’t guessed, I’ll give you another clue. It’s a country in Africa. It’s industry goes by the moniker of Nollywood. It’s the country of Nigeria.
I am fascinated by the Nigerian film industry. While their films do get knocked for their lack of production value, they have something Hollywood doesn’t have. They make relatable films without Hollywood story models and connect to very large audiences. For those of us who have grown up with Hollywood, if we can overlook the clunky craftsmanship, their films can be very refreshing.
This is the first of a series of episodes that will focus on the Nigerian film industry.
Now, you might be wondering why I think Christian filmmakers need to know about Nigerian cinema? For starters, we’re filmmakers. I love cinema. I love cinema history, I love film theory, and I love the cinema of other cultures. And when I find a cinematic culture that challenges the assumptions that are so deeply rooted in Hollywood’s creative totalitarian rule, it excites me.
And, there is something in Nigerian filmmaking culture that better aligns as a model for us who have chosen to be part of this oddity that we call faith-based filmmaking. The Christian film genre is a fringe genre. And I believe - and I could be totality out to lunch – that if Christian filmmakers spent less time trying to model ourselves after Hollywood, and more time modeling ourselves after Nollywood, we would see a faith film revolution. And right now, we are living in a very unique time in cinema history where this could work.
My guest today, shares my fascination with Nollywood. But he is much more invested. He went to Lagos, Nigeria and made a documentary about the Nigerian film industry. The name of the documentary is Welcome to Nollywood. The filmmaker is Jamie Meltzer, who also teaches documentary filmmaking at Stanford University.
And I hope this podcast encourages you to watch Welcome to Nollywood. It is a fascinating glimpse into this powerful grassroots industry. You’ll find links to Welcome to Nollywood, and some of Jamies other works, in the show notes of this episode.
MMP 51: Building Community at the Content 2022 Film Festival with Tim Shields
The Content 2022 Film Festival and Media Summit will be held at Capernaum Studios in Poolville TX next week – starting on Feb 28th and wrapping on March 3rd. Our guest today is a man who has had his hands in the world of Christian filmmaking for more than 20 years, and is co-director of the Christian Media Association. His name is Tim Shields and he is here to talk to us about Content 2022.
MMP 50: Building the Family of Faith Filmmakers with Paul Long of Kappa Studios
If you’ve been involved in the faith-based community you will be familiar with Kappa Studios in Burbank CA. Kappa began as a post-production house, and under the leadership of Paul and Brad Silverman, Kappa has become the post production hub for Christian filmmakers -- and it's growing into something much more. Kappa produced it’s own Christian film called Selfie Dad, directed by Brad Silverman. They’ve launched a Christian film finishing fund. And they’ve just recently announced a distribution effort – and Paul will give us more details about that.
But as you listen to this interview, I want you to pay attention to the heart of Paul, and to the convictions he has as a Christian pursuing his business with trust in God and faithfulness to what God has given him.
The Power of Story & The Problem of Evil with Scott Christensen
Pastor/theologian Scott Christensen talks about story from a very unusual vantage -- that of the problem of evil and the sovereignty of God. He wrote a massive book called What About Evil? which wrestles with some weighty subjects.
So what does this have to do with story and Christian film? Plenty, it turns out.
What is so fascinating about Scotts book is that he isn’t just trying to find answers to difficult questions through academic tools, exegesis, word studies, and the like, the core component to how he seeks to answer the problem of evil is through our understanding of story.
The Bible is God’s story. It’s sometimes called the Drama of Redemption.
And in this book Christensen spends considerable time explaining story and how important it is in helping us to wrestle with this theological issue. His grasp of story in service to theological truth is profound. He is widely read, and quotes extensively from Aristotle, Milton, Tolkien, Lewis, Dostoyevksy, Leland Ryken, Brian Godawa, Northrup Frye, Andrew Klavan, and many others.
In this interview we talk about his book, how story helps us wrestle through difficult theological issues, and what storytelling advice he can give to Christian filmmakers.
The Best of the Theologians on Christian Film
As this podcast approaches the 50th episode, I thought it might be interesting to create an episode of highlights, some of the best moments. The guests who were the most surprising, most unexpected, and who had the greatest impact, at least to me -- were the theologians.
I expected these scholars and churchmen to have some pushback, even the ones who seemed to have a clear affinity for the arts. We live in a culture drowning in entertainment, amusing ourselves to death, as Neil Postman put it. Surely, these men must have some cautions and concerns for us.
But what they gave us was a clear picture of the WHY Christian films are important, and the WHAT’S that Christian films should be. They painted a very noble view of the importance of good Christian filmmaking. These 3 men helped to frame a strategy and glorious purpose for Christian filmmakers.
I met Dr. Mark Coppenger when I visited the Franklin branch of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mark helped me form an advisory board for Glorious Films and has become a good friend. More than once he walked me off the ledge when I was close to abandoning Christian filmmaking.
Dr. Coppenger was a Professor of Christian Philosophy & Ethics at Southern, where he supervised -- and this is where it gets interesting -- he supervised a graduate program called Christianity and the Arts. And within that program, Mark was responsible for a track called Aesthetic Theology. So Marc has spent a significant part of his career thinking about the relationship between theology and aesthetics, and he wrote a book called “The Skeptic’s Guide to Arts in the Church.”
Dr. Kevin Vanhoozer wrote a book called Pictures at a Theological Exhibition. The title intrigued me, and I bought it, but it sat on my shelf for some time -- until I had to fly to a shoot for a commercial I was directing, and I threw this book in my bag to read on the plane.
I couldn’t put the book down. In fact, I couldn’t get out of the first chapter. I had to read it, underline it, and then write out what engaged me in this book. When I told Dr. Vanhoozer that he took it as a critique that he had not written well enough. But that wasn’t the case. What his book expressed were ideas so new to me, and I wrestled with them to apply the lessons to being a Christian filmmaker. It was like water for a parched filmmakers soul. I knew I had to try to get him on the podcast to engage with him on these issues.
Dr. Vanhoozer is a prolific author, and Research Professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. It was an honor to have him as a guest.
I knew Dr. Coppenger and Dr. Vanhoozer both had an affinity for the arts, but I wasn’t sure where the men at 9 Marks Ministries stood. I’ve listened to almost every podcast 9 Marks produced, and I wanted to know what they thought about Christian film, so I reached out to them and the editorial director, Dr. Jonathan Leeman, accepted my invitation.
Jonathan did not disappoint. He gave me a lot to think about, and he introduced me to the brilliant concept of a right moral ecology.
While he is an editorial director, a pastor, and author of a number of books -- he is also an adjunct professor for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Reformed Theological Seminary.
So there you have it -- three theologians who believe there is an important role that Christian filmmakers can play in the life of the church.
The Busiest Faith Writer-Director You've Never Heard Of with Chris Dowling
You may not know his name, but this writer-director-producer has made more faith films than the Kendricks and Erwin Brothers. His name is Chris Dowling, and he's been at this for nearly two decades. As a screenwriter, he not only writes for himself, he writes for the biggest names in the faith-based film industry. He's best known for his work on Blue Miracle, Where Hope Grows, Run the Race and the unscripted series, Repo Games. He has directed A-list actors such as Jason Alexander and Patrick Warburton.
Chris also teaches screenwriting at the newly formed online school for Christian filmmakers called Aspire Circles.
In this episode, Chris talks about his lengthy career in the faith film industry.
The Satire of Church People with Christopher Shawn Shaw
Christopher Shawn Shaw is the director of the movie Church People, which was written by the film's lead actor, Thor Ramsey. Church People is Shaw’s feature directorial debut. Christopher is no stranger to acting or filmmaking, he owns a production company called Anchor Productions, he has directed and produced a comedy cooking series called Something Smells Funny, and he’s been quite involved in the 168 Film Project.
In this episode Christopher shares with us the 10 year plus story of how Church People was made, and I’ll give you one spoiler, it involves a gold fish.
Feature Filmmaking at The Master's University with Matt Green
Writer and director Matt Green began his career making music videos and produced the faith-based film No Greater Love for Lions Gate, directed by Brad Silverman. Matt is also a professor at The Master’s University where he helms the Cinema and Digital Arts program. In January of this year the University released its first feature length movie, The Man From Nowhere, which was written and directed by Matt and made by 27 of it’s students.
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Breathing Life into Church History with Documentary Filmmaker Stephen McCaskell
Documentary filmmaker Stephen McCaskell is best known for his work on the Media Gratiae films Puritan, Luther, The Church, and a series he made with Tim Challies called EPIC: An Around the World Journey through Christian History. His work has given him the opportunity to travel all over the world. He has recently taken a position with Ligonier Ministries as Supervising Producer.
The Actor, The Director, and The Playwright; Life in the Theater with James Egan
My guest in this episode is an old friend. Though he has worked in film and radio for over 30 years, his primary passion has been the theater. He’s a man who wears many hats, as many of us have to do to make a career, and sometimes that involves wearing a fedora. He’s an actor, director, stage manager, playwright, screenwriter and a novelist. He was a founding member of the Santa Susanna Repertory Company in the LA area. He’s worked on a litany of productions from MacBeth and The Christmas Carol, to War of the Worlds and South Pacific. When I found myself writing a musical, he was the first person I turned to for help. And, yes, he is a lyricist, as well. His name is James Egan.
James is always working on numerous projects at any given time, whether for the stage or film, and always has a novel or screenplay in the works. He has a lot of experience in both secular and Christian theater productions. I invited him to the podcast to gain his perspective on Christian film, and to talk about the similarities between Christian theater and Christian film.
Cultivating a Better Media Landscape with Dr. Ted Baehr
Gear Up For Your Micro-budget Indie Film with Joseph Palma of B&H
No Shame Filmmaking with John Grooters
Mutiny Pictures: A New Kid on the Block with Colleen Butler & Ben Yennie
Ben has been focused on helping independent filmmakers navigate the shark infested waters of Hollywood, and now he is taking the next step by forming a company that will develop, market and distribute their own projects. Colleen was part of the marketing effort of The Passion of the Christ. She's spent many years working in marketing and development, and now she's Head of Development at Mutiny.
In this episode we'll spend some time getting to know Colleen, talking with her about the marketing campaign for Passion, and then Ben joins us to talk about Mutiny Pictures.
Media On Mission with Stephanie Quick
The organization is called Frontier Alliance International, founded by Dalton Thomas. They are a strategic aid effort, and a missional media production company. Their films are, what I would characterize as, cinematic documentaries, and they are available to watch on Youtube for free. Their film that caught my eye was Sheep Among Wolves II which is about the explosive growth of the church in Iran. It has been watched over 600,000 times.
They produce numerous podcasts covering Middle Eastern issues, and they offer video Bible teaching that focuses on Israel, prophecy, and eschatology.
Shepherding Ideas & Talent with Ben Howard
In this episode, Ben and I talk about his experience in faith-based filmmaking in the past 20 years and what is happening with his new endeavor, where he sees his role as a shepherd of ideas and talent.
Dare to Critique with a Few Jokes Along the Way with Kevin McCreary
And, what's more, Kevin is wildly entertaining.
Film criticism is, generally, not very exciting stuff for the average person. Our relationship to film critics is the same as our relationship to Consumer Reports. It's rare to find entertaining film criticism. Remember the TV show Siskel and Ebert? Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert were both informative and entertaining, not because they were fun, but because they were serious -- and they were often pitted against each other on merits of a film. They were far more entertaining when they disagreed.
Kevin McCreary is serious and fun. You're always guaranteed some laughs as he unwinds the film to offer his keen insight and constructive criticism -- and I emphasize constructive because he's doesn't just criticize films, he is instructive.
His motto is -- "Holding Christian films to the same standards as Hollywood."
As I've said in previous episodes, the faith-based film genre needs good film critics in order for it to grow and thrive. Kevin stands among the best.
Reaching the Rising Aspirational Audience with Andy Peterson
Aspiration has a unique grid that they use in developing and marketing projects. While they do aim projects at a faith-based market, their target audience is a lesser known, yet potentially larger consumer that they identify as the "rising aspirational audience." This audience includes much of the faith-based audience, but also reaches those who feel they are not being serviced by the existing dimensions of faith-based media.
The Collision of Content and Consumer for Impact with Bob Elder
Bob has been working in Christian retail and marketing for decades, and has seen the faith-based market develop into what it is today. He has weathered many dramatic changes, including the demise of brick-and-morter Christian stores, and with all of his experience, he has developed a keen sense of today's market.
An Insiders Guide to the New World of Indie Producing with Ben Yennie
A Reel History of Faith in Cinema with Tyler Smith
Faith & Grit in Indie Production with Doug Vail and Reed Lackey
This was only the beginning of the challenges they would face. One of the most important lessons to learn from these men of faith, is that, when crises arise that threaten the project itself, we can let our challenges make us bitter and give up, or we can face the setbacks as God's opportunities, and move forward with grace, grit and hard work. Doug and Reed are as passionate about their film as the lessons God taught them in the trenches running a challenging production.
Making 40: The Temptation of Christ with Douglas James Vail & Reed Lackey
Very often, the production behind the film is as dramatic and interesting as the film itself. It can also be very instructive. Making an independent film is no easy task, whether Christian or not. They attempted to crowdfund it's budget -- but it was unsuccessful. They would have to finance the film themselves.
This was only the beginning of the challenges they would face. One of the most important lessons to learn from these men of faith, is that, when crises arise that threaten the project itself, we can let our challenges make us bitter and give up, or we can face the setbacks with grace and hard work. Doug and Reed are as passionate about their film as the lessons they learned in the trenches about running a troubled production with grace and dignity.
A Primer on Hong Kong Cinema with Dr. Gary Bettinson
The Filmtrepreneur Alex Ferrari
The Indie Film Hustler with Alex Ferrari
If ever there was a time for Christian filmmakers to cultivate a fierce independent filmmaking spirit -- it's now. And one of the most accessible, and generous indie filmmakers who is marching in advance of the frontlines of contemporary filmmaking, showing us what to do and what not to do, is my guest -- a man who defines the hustle of indie filmmaking -- his name is Alex Ferrari.
The Making of The Chosen with Dallas Jenkins
Travelogues to the World Church with Tim Keesee
The New Hollywood Cinema of the 60's & 70's with Dr. Gary Bettinson
The Reel Deal Guys Indie Film Duo with Rafael Kalamat and Jason Barbeck
In this episode Rafael and Jason talk about the realities of producing films for the Christian marketplace. In spite of the struggles, these two filmmakers face the challenges with joy and expectation.
The Canadian International Faith & Family Film Festival with Rafael Kalamat & Jason Barbeck
Reflections on Terrence Malicks The Tree of Life with Peter Leithart
The Correlation Between Film History and Church History with Terry Lindvall
A Christian Film History Primer with Terry Lindvall
A Sacred Aesthetic - An interview with Brett McCracken
Engaging at the Intersection of the Arts and Theology with Brett McCracken
Bringing the Vision of Creatives to Market with Brian Mitchell of WTA Group
In this interview Brian explains what WTA Group does, how it works with creatives, what kinds of content they want to see, and how theatrical release is still key to the work they do in film. Brian also talks about how WTA recognizes that their role puts them into the position of being a gatekeeper, and their conviction to make sure their projects are biblically solid.
And just recently, WTA Group is expanding it's operations and Brian shares with us the exciting things that are brewing behind the scenes.
The Faithful Filmmaker with Brad Silverman Part 2
Grace Unplugged in Christian Film - A Conversation with Director Brad Silverman
A Right Moral Ecology - The Instinctive Nature of Christian Films with Jonathan Leeman
Having made the jump into the Christian film industry later in my career, I have to admit, I've been bewildered by how poorly this genre of film is represented, and how difficult it is to get anything produced and distributed. Filmmaking in general is a very hard nut to crack, but it seems Christian film has a double dose of difficulty, and I often wonder if God really cares about his people, or his church, utilizing this medium for his purposes. Are Christian films valuable to the church -- to the world, or are they just a frivolous amusement?
This is why I invited Jonathan Leeman on this podcast, to give me a biblically solid, reformed churchman's perspective on Christian film.