Category: The Median

“This Is Our Shirley Temple!”

IMG_8386Recently my wife and I had a wonderful opportunity to visit China, a country rich in artistic expressions and inspiring theatrical, musical and cinematic presentations of their cultural stories. Our trip began in Beijing at the Chinese Film Museum, a treasure of China’s rich cinematic history.

We came to a long row of statues representing China’s most famous actors and actresses. Encased in glass, each statue wore the original costume of the film star’s most iconic role. At the statue of a young actress, our tour guide proudly proclaimed, “This is our Shirley Temple.” Next to “Shirley” was a male figure which prompted our guide to say . . . “And this is our Humphrey Bogart.” Seeking legitimacy, our guide wanted to connect what China has been doing or is currently doing to its Hollywood counterpart.

As we continued, our guide, a passionate young man with a master’s degree in Chinese Operatic Films (How’s that for a genre?), began to ask about how to “make it” in Hollywood. Like many aspiring American film makers, he believed that the only true film career was one centered in Hollywood. To quote Frank Sinatra’s song, “. . . if I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.”

Later, I was at a crowded mall in Xian, sporting my L.A. Dodgers baseball cap. A young man rushed up to me and said, “Hello, my name is Richard. I want to go to USC film school, but I need a sponsor. Will you sponsor me?” He assumed that I, being from L.A., must be connected to the film industry.

We all know about the robust Chinese box office and recognize the popularity of American films in China. But I didn’t realize how deeply the Chinese want to emulate Hollywood. A global generation is emerging that sees Hollywood as the gold standard, the epitome of movie excellence.

Our final stop was the largest film production studio in the world—Hengdian World Studios in Dongyang (“Chinawood”). In addition to film production, the studio is filled with tourists enjoying attractions offered throughout the massive grounds. As an American in the midst of a film studio, once again my association with Hollywood was assumed. It was embarrassing—people followed us around, and a few waited in line to take a picture with us.

I will forever be impacted by the extraordinary lens through which the Chinese people view Hollywood. I have a fresh understanding of how deeply American films connect with the Chinese audience, affecting their culture, inspiring their dreams, and shaping their beliefs as they adopt the values emanating from these films—films that are creating a whole new generation of filmmakers who aspire to “make it in Hollywood.”

If I wasn’t sure before, I am convinced now that America’s most influential export is American films . . . and that the influence Mastermedia has in Hollywood can have significant impact throughout the world.

Can Films Appeal to Faith and Non-Faith Audiences?

160712 emedian miracles from heaven_photo

Kylie Rogers and Jennifer Garner in “Miracles from Heaven”

“For some filmgoers, hearing a movie described as ‘faith-based’ makes it a must-see. But just as many others find the term a turn-off,” suggests Associated Press entertainment writer Sandy Cohen.

Sandy observes that to reach beyond the Christian audience, “. . . some producers of faith-based films are ramping up the star power and tamping down the evangelical messages.”

Hollywood has a long history of biblical blockbusters—classic films like Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments, Mel Gibson’s 2004 epic drama, The Passion of the Christ, and the current Affirm release, Risen, to name just a few.

But some of the more recent faith-based films seek to engage more than just the Christian audience. The Blindside, starring Oscar-winner Sandra Bullock, Paramount’s Captive, released last fall with David Oyelowo, and the 2016 spring release Miracles from Heaven, starring Jennifer Garner and Queen Latifah, are all based on true stories and include a faith perspective, but are not “religious.”

“Audiences flock to well-made films that deal with stories of optimism and renewal, even if there is suffering and there is loss,” says Maria Elena de las Carreras, a professor of international cinema at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. “That was true in classic Hollywood cinema and it’s true today.”

Professor de las Carreras recognizes that marketing a film as faith-based means nothing if the content doesn’t speak to religious audiences. “It’s a label, but it’s not magical. It doesn’t guarantee box-office turnout,” she said, citing Paramount’s 2014 big-budget biblical film, Noah.

Alex Ben Block (BlockandTackle.biz) shares Ms. de las Carreras’ view, noting that producers who want to see their faith-based fare appeal to broader audiences can’t obscure religious themes too much “because as soon as you try to make it more viable, you alienate the core audience.”

The challenge for filmmakers seeking to reach the “faith market” is finding the balance between engaging nonbelieving moviegoers without alienating believers.

The Media Land of Opportunity!

by Dan Rupple, Mastermedia CEO


160712 eMedianhollywoodsign1
A few weeks ago, I was speaking to 25 Christian university film students who were visiting Hollywood. One young man asked me the all-too-familiar question, “How do I get into the business?” My standard answer a dozen years ago was, “Get yourself to Hollywood or New York and build as many relationships as you can. Then begin the arduous task of knocking on the doors of the five or six studios and the four TV networks, and then visit as many production companies as will let you into their lobbies.”

All part of making the rounds to the Hollywood powerbrokers—the men and women who create and control what the world will and won’t see on our screens. And if there weren’t any openings, you had few alternatives. They were the only game in town!

Still a good strategy. These traditional media companies continue to wield a powerful sword of influence. But no longer are they the only game in town . . . not by a long shot!

The digital explosion has flung the doors of opportunity wide open. With the flood of new digital platforms, the rise of independent film festivals dotting the map, and vast international audiences racing to the box office, the possibilities are limitless for the next talented Spielberg “wannabe.”

Supply and Demand
What created all of these new opportunities? Innumerable channels, websites, streaming companies, digital platforms, and expanded global audiences—all of which sparked an insatiable demand for content to fill the world’s screens in our new “screen dependent” culture.

According to an internet analyst at Morgan Stanley, in 2015 Americans spent 7 hours 44 minutes a day gazing into a screen. Assuming we sleep the national average of 6.8 hours a night, 43 percent of our waking life we are engaged in the virtual world—and disengaged (at least partially) from the real world.

Today the influence of this expanded media landscape has soared to an all-time high. To apply a digital-age paraphrase to Plato’s statement regarding the influence of storytellers, “Whoever controls the ‘screens,’ controls the culture!”

Walking through Open Doors
As today’s generation navigates this wild media frontier, it often finds itself stumbling in the dark, trying to make sense of a fallen world, and searching for answers to the big questions in life. Undoubtedly, our greatest impact will be offering hope and a solution for the spiritual hunger of these emerging cinematic voices . . . leading them, through intentional relationship, to “the way, the truth and the life.” This has been—and always will be—the mission of Mastermedia!