How to Succeed in Hollywood (Without Losing Your Soul)
by Ted Baehr (Washington D.C: WND Books, 2011)
Outside Hollywood: The Young Christian’s Guide to Vocational Filmmaking
by Isaac Botkin (San Antonio, TX: Vision Forum Ministries, 2007)
Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom and Discernment
by Brian Godawa (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002)
The Culture-Wise Family
by Ted Baehr and Pat Boone (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2007)
Multi-Book Review by Lee Duigon
Movies and television are a huge part of the popular culture in which we all live. Who knows how many hours we spend, in a lifetime, passively watching images created by someone else to tell us a story?
None of this existed until the twentieth century. Before that, there were no movies. That’s hard for most of us to imagine.
How we view the world around us, what we believe, or fear, or hope for, what we think is good or bad, what we desire or detest, love or hate—all of this takes an outward form, which is our culture. And at the same time, as we absorb our culture by taking part in it, the culture influences what’s inside our minds and incessantly preaches to our souls.
Watching movies is a form of self-education. It’s not all that different from sitting in a lecture hall or even a church.
Movie makers and their sponsors have known this for a long time, and acted according to their knowledge.
How Much Time?
What if we spent as much time in church, in school, or with our families as we do watching TV or going to the movies? Ted Baehr’s Movieguide website (www.movieguide.org) has some light to shed on this question.
By the time a child is seventeen years old, says Baehr, he has spent some 63,000 hours of his life being “tutored” by TV and movies—compared to 11,000 hours in school (83 percent less than the media figure), 2,000 hours with his parents (96 percent less), and 800 hours in church (99 percent less) (Baehr, p. xxvii). For all practical purposes, there is no comparison. Time spent in the media wins, hands down.
I doubt even the pastor spends 63,000 hours in church over seventeen years, and who in the congregation would even have the opportunity to spend that much time in church?
We have made the entertainment media the primary instructors of our children—and, perhaps, ourselves.
Isaac Botkin asks: “How does Hollywood perpetuate and spread an internal culture that is so stupid it doesn’t even know it’s stupid?” and adds, “They seem to exist in a kind of energy that makes Hollywood a perpetual motion machine. That energy is ideology, and it inspires the insiders to maintain Hollywood as a self-policing gulag of self-congratulating leftist narcissism” (Botkin, p. 71).
What we have in these four books is a kind of seminar that ponders the question of whether, and how, this powerful, pervasive entertainment media can be harnessed to the service of Christ’s Kingdom. It’s just about impossible to ignore it and impractical to avoid it, and we can’t get rid of it—so can we, instead, turn it to constructive, God-honoring use?
Because if we can’t, or won’t, it will go on wreaking havoc with our culture and undermining Christianity’s influence on our civilization.
Christians in Hollywood—Or Not
In How to Succeed in Hollywood, by Ted Baehr, and Outside Hollywood, by Isaac Botkin, we have opposing views.
Baehr is founder and publisher of Movieguide and chairman of the Christian Film and Television Commission. A long-time observer, student, and critic of the entertainment industry, he seems to know practically everyone in the business. We can call him a Hollywood insider, albeit a Christian one.
Isaac Botkin is an independent Christian filmmaker who has done his work outside of Hollywood, following in his father’s footsteps. I don’t think he’d object to being termed a Hollywood outsider.
Baehr interviews Christians who work in Hollywood in every aspect of movie-making, from preproduction to postproduction—actors, directors, and writers, producers, cameramen, distributors: name the job in Hollywood, and Ted Baehr knows a Christian who’s doing it. And thanks to them, he argues, Hollywood is measurably, demonstrably, making more movies that are wholesome, family-friendly, and informed by a Christian worldview.
More, but by no means all.
Botkin isn’t buying it. Thanks to new technology, and new ways of getting the finished product to the public, he says, the filmmaker has less and less need of Hollywood—and much less need to expose himself and his art to Hollywood’s toxic, narcissistic, anti-Christian culture. Much of his book is devoted to telling you how to make and market movies without Hollywood.
Happily, we don’t have to decide who’s right. Baehr doesn’t say Hollywood had stopped making sleazy, nihilistic films. But he does have the facts and figures to prove that those movies do poorly at the box office and are consistently outperformed, more so every year, by films infused with Christian values. He hits that point again and again.
But even the “Christian” movies and TV coming out of Hollywood, says Botkin, are seriously flawed. He cites Little House on the Prairie—a TV classic with a high “Christian” reputation—as an example: “It … violates the Third and Ninth Commandments by misrepresenting God’s sovereign authority and falsely recreating… history… [I]f young viewers don’t understand the difference between the worldviews of the fictional TV Ingalls family and the real, historical Ingalls family, they will be confused and defiled by inexcusable historical revisionism” (p. 17).
Harsh—but there’s this to be considered.
“Christian” movies and TV can never be more Biblically correct, doctrinally pure, or spiritually right than the Christians who are making them. Which is why Christian Reconstruction stands for the re-Christianization of the entire culture, not just pieces of it—although it is usually enough for the individual Christian to work on his own little piece of it. True reconstruction requires the labors of many, many Christians on the broadest possible front—each individual heart and mind, the family, the church, our education system, our government, our businesses: and, yes, our movies, too.
We need not presume a Hollywood conspiracy to confuse and corrupt the Christian movie makers. It’s much more likely that, whatever the defects in their Christian understanding, they brought those with them when they went to Hollywood.
The Finished Product
In these first two books you will find everything you would ever want to know about how to make a movie, in or out of Hollywood, from the first germ of an idea to the theatrical release or the airing of a show on television. There’s enough technical information here to make it rather overwhelming. By the time you’re done reading, you will certainly understand why movies cost so much to make.
But what happens with the finished product—when the ball is in our court, as viewers and consumers?
Brian Godawa is a professional Hollywood screenwriter. His books are about how to watch movies, and how to protect our children and ourselves from being instructed in ungodliness. He wants us to be able to “decode” a film and discern exactly what it’s saying to us.
Any Christian can resist a bald statement like “There is no God.” But what if you watch a hundred movies that never come out and say there is no God, but instead present us with characters and stories—often in an engaging or amusing way—in which God is simply absent? Not even considered, not relevant: not there. This describes the vast majority of movies that we see, and I would suggest that they collectively, and subtly, deliver a message: “God is not present in these stories, so why should He be present in yours?”
We need to understand what movies are actually saying to us, and that’s where Godawa comes in. “Well, here it is: Movie Appreciation 101. What follows are the confessions of a screenwriter: how we storytellers try to influence you, the audience, with our worldviews” (p. 20).
Most of the movies we see, writes Godawa, are informed by one of a few worldviews: existentialism (Forrest Gump); nihilism (assorted Woody Allen films); postmodernism (Pulp Fiction); fate (Cast Away); emergent evolution (various android or robot stories, e.g., Artificial Intelligence); and, of course, Neopaganism (Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within).
Godawa analyzes each of these worldviews in depth, providing numerous cinematic examples of each one, and alerting the viewer what to look for so he can identify the worldview being presented by the film. This is a valuable service. Much of the damage done by movies is done to us subliminally while we’re just sitting there, thinking—if we think anything at all—“Well, it’s only a movie.” The message slips easily past our unactivated defenses. But with Godawa’s help, we learn how to activate those defenses.
Protecting Our Families
Those moving pictures on the screen, along with sound and lighting effects, and music, plus exotic locations, car chases, fights, gorgeous movie stars and snappy dialogue, explosions, mysteries, suspense, romance—it all encourages us to watch the movie passively, just taking it in, with little or no thought as to what we’re taking in. Indeed, things happen so fast in a movie that we really have no time to think about them. With a preacher’s sermon, or a professor’s lecture, you either listen or you don’t. But a movie comes at you in so many different ways, all at once, and without appearing to make demands on you. It captures you without your even knowing you’ve been captured.
In The Culture-Wise Family, Ted Baehr teams up with Pat Boone, iconic popular singer and movie star, who has lived and worked in Hollywood for most of his life and raised his children there—all the while maintaining a solid Christian family and doing whatever he can to keep a Christian bridgehead in Tinsel Town.
Co-author Ted Baehr writes,
“[W]e will attempt to … lay the foundation for developing the wisdom necessary for you to become more than conquerors over the toxic influences of the culture and the mass media of entertainment” (p. 28).
Good advice abounds in this book: “[W]e should recognize that even the most innocuous and lightweight movie, video program or musical performance (or parable) will teach some kind of message that may influence the thinking and behavior of millions, and even billions, of people, including children and teenagers. We must be really wise, therefore, in what kind of entertainment products that we and our families consume” (p. 154). Boone, Baehr, and a few other commentators go on to teach how movies and TV shows transmit values, principles, and worldviews—and how we viewers can avoid being caught napping.
Can the Media Be Tamed?
Who hasn’t noticed how a popular character from a hit TV show—or maybe some detail of the character’s dress, or a favorite catch-phrase, or some other little detail of the show—catches on? I used to know someone who went around insulting and baiting all his friends because he was a M*A*SH* fanatic and that’s how Alan Alda’s character behaved on M*A*SH*. I’ve also known persons who named their babies after TV characters.
But movies and TV do more than just seep into our speech and mannerisms. They seep into our souls.
There are Christians making movies in Hollywood. There are Christians making movies independently. Some of these are very good and some are not. (All of these authors object to “Christian movies” in which “Christian stuff” is just slapped on, like a decal, to uninspired imitations of the secular product.) How valuable a movie will be as a Christian resource will depend, more or less, on how good are the Christians who created it. Don’t expect great Biblical insights from Christians who have only a nodding acquaintance with the Bible.
And while we’re waiting for more and better Christian movies to be made, we viewers ought to take care not to let our “entertainment” suck us into an anti-Christian or pseudo-Christian way of thinking.
Movies and TV are forms of storytelling, and storytelling is basic to human nature, part and parcel of the way God made us. It will not go away.
What really matters is whether these media can be captured for Christ and put to His service. We aren’t going to be able to get people to spend as much time in church as they do watching movies and TV. No—we have to try to redeem the time spent watching movies and TV.
Those media are too powerful to ignore, and must not be conceded to the ungodly.