Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Although my articles are usually written for moviegoers, I thought it would be interesting to pull back the curtain and let you see what’s happening behind the scenes with faith and family filmmaking.

This topic is foremost on my mind since I just returned from Variety magazine’s “Family Entertainment and Faith-Based Summit” in Beverly Hills, California. I’m preparing to moderate a panel of film producers and distributors at the Park City International Film Festival in Park City, Utah, also home of the Sundance Film Festival.

Key topics being discussed at these gatherings center around faith and family entertainment:

Telling a good story.

Gaining sufficient financing to produce a quality product.

Getting to the right audience with a solid distribution plan.

As any experienced filmmaker will tell you, getting these critical pieces together in one place at one time is like herding cats. (I addressed a related topic in my July article, “Dear Aspiring Filmmaker.”)

While all of the above ingredients are critical to a film’s success, the story is most important when it comes to this particular audience.

Parents are by nature discerning and demanding in what messages and content they will tolerate in their entertainment diet. Without diving too deeply into this element, the word that comes up more than any other in surveys is “authenticity,” meaning that the story must ring true, especially in the case of biographies and Bible-based stories.

Distribution is the next most important consideration. No one wants to make “the greatest story never heard.”

Just a few years ago, there were only three basic channels of domestic distribution: theatrical, television and home video. You were considered a genius, very rich or very lucky if your project hit on all three cylinders. Today, the digital revolution has forever changed the paradigm and caused everyone to return to the wild, wild West.

Digital technology has brought about both benefits and complications. The benefits come from the ability to reach larger audiences at lower cost. Theatrical releases are enormously expensive and risky. Frequently, the marketing and promotion budget eclipses the production budget.

DVD sales are also costly to manufacture and distribute. Keeping inventories large enough to meet demand without overdoing it is an art.

With digital copies, inventory does not exist, so demand levels can be met immediately without overhead. Another benefit is the cost of managing a library of active titles. Formerly, a studio would release a limited number of older titles on DVD/Blu-ray at a time. Now, an entire studio’s film library can be made available digitally.

One important issue that indie filmmakers should not overlook is what I call “narrow-casting” or serving a small, specific audience segment with a targeted story compatible with their interests. Major studios still seem to focus on a few big-budget formula films (“Tentpoles”) designed to appeal to the largest audience possible. One reason kids’ G-rated fare has been “upgraded” to PG is the belief by studio execs that a little mature content is required to keep Mom and Dad entertained while little Sally or Sammy are hopefully oblivious to the adult double entendres salted throughout the story. Even with films of faith, studios make the mistake of trying to be all things to all people, which has created epic failures. Films like “Exodus: Gods and Kings” and “Noah” failed to reach their potential due to the lack of, here’s that word again, authenticity.

Recently, Hollywood seems to be “repenting” and listening to people of faith. Studio films such as “Risen,” “Miracles From Heaven” and “Ben-Hur” are evidence of their eagerness to faithfully serve that audience.

Digital delivery systems are widely diverse but divided into three distinct methods. One is to purchase a digital copy from a cloud-based storage service. Then there’s video on demand, where you pay for an online rental for a limited time. The most cost-effective method is OTT, otherwise known as “over the top” (no set top box required). This is now the most dynamic technology shift since the invention of television. With OTT subscription services, you can choose a narrow category of content, such as sci-fi, documentaries, British television reruns, etc. This is truly the best form of “narrow-casting.” It solves a dilemma for those who feel captive to their cable systems, which force subscribers to carry channels they have no interest in or whose content they find offensive.

The Dove Foundation, along with Cinedigm Corp., now offers Dove Channel, an online OTT subscription service. It offers the largest library of faith and family films in a “walled garden,” safe for the family to watch without fear of being assaulted by any unsavory surprises. Check it out.

Dick Rolfe is co-founder and CEO of The Dove Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to encourage and promote the creation, production, distribution and consumption of wholesome family entertainment. This article was originally posted on The Dove Foundation’s website (dove.org) on Aug. 9.

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