Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Movies have the ability to change lives and transform culture. Every movie gives us insight into some value system. The question is, which value system?

I was lucky enough to grow up in a large storytelling family, so it’s part of my DNA. I know the value of a good story — it’s what I do for a living. I love a good story, in any medium.

My value system changed drastically the summer of 1989, when I was “taken” by the KGB while shooting a documentary in communist Russia. Needless to say, I had a radical shift in the way I thought about what was presented as “the truth.” (The truth was I was not a CIA operative!) I like to say, “What does God have to do to get your attention?” KGB? OK, you have my attention!

That experience was a paradigm shift, literally changing my focus from “all about me” to “How can I influence people with the ‘truth’ through the skills I have been given in media and visual storytelling?” Not everyone who has faith needs to go through this experience, but we do all have stories, and sharing them in any form can impact people’s lives drastically.

“Why is the church always a taillight rather than a headlight?” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.]

Sports and media are the two biggest influencers of our youth today. In 2013, the Barna Group released data that indicated that two-thirds of Americans said professional athletes who talk about their faith have more influence on society than faith leaders. So with my friend, Roman Gabriel III, I started producing stories around NFL athletes talking about their faith. Why? Because the stories are amazing! And my feeling is, if you’re going to put someone on a pedestal, know what they stand for — what they really stand for!

Since 2006, I’ve been to every Super Bowl, and while everyone else is talking about football, we talk about what really matters in life in order of importance — faith, family and football. The great part is that when we start the conversation, players and coaches are excited to talk about their faith. Why? Because the truth is more important than anything else, and we want to use everything we have to share it with others. If faith is believing in what you hope for and stories are the confirmation of those things that have transformed us, well, then we should be excited to tell them over and over again!

“Jesus was not a theologian. He was God who told stories.” — Madeleine L’Engle.

My films are covert and overt (hmmm? Sounds very CIA-ish!), sometimes talking about faith straight up, and other times using allegories and parables to make my point in the content I produce. I want them to be high quality, fun, exciting, adventurous. My example comes from reading the Gospels. Jesus walked into a situation, told a culturally relevant story, asked a hard question and then left everyone with the truth. Now you had to figure out what to do with it. Lives were literally changed through his storytelling! What better mentor could I have?

My journey has been an adventure. I didn’t start out wanting to make movies, but that’s where I’ve found out that I can have the most impact, again, because I love storytelling. When I became a “believer,” I was told that I should become a pastor or a missionary. “But I am a filmmaker!” I thought. “Wait, if I produce even a bad movie, I can reach millions of people. No church is that big! And I’m in an industry the church can’t get near.” And I found my call: to tell stories that appeal to people who wouldn’t normally go into a church.

Sports and fantasy seem to be where I’m living right now in the movie world. Here’s the great thing about where we are in time: Everyone now has access to “gear” that is needed to make a “film.” Use your iPhone if you have to, but be the storyteller you want to be!

Jess Stainbrook is CEO (Chief Entertainment Officer) for FSPN.net, the Faith & Family Sports Programming Network. Jess served as executive adviser on “The Bible Series” and as executive producer for “Seven Days in Utopia,” starring Robert Duvall. Jess is currently in development on “The Kingdom Series,” a 12-movie allegorical franchise based on the Bible set in medieval times.

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