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On-Screen Inspiration

In the second film of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, “The Two Towers,” after Frodo and Samwise Gamgee had been taken prisoner, sent to the ruined city of Osgiliath, then narrowly escaped being captured by Saurons minions, Frodo begins to lose hope. He is ready to give up, thinking he can never finish the quest of destroying the One Ring in Mordor.

Sam encourages his dear friend in this scene from the movie . . .

Frodo: I can’t do this Sam.

Samwise Gamgee: I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened?

But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you . . . that meant something, even if you were too small to understand why.  

But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding onto something.

Frodo: What are we holding onto Sam?

Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo . . . and it’s worth fighting for.

In the book of 1 Samuel, David is on the run, overcome with fear, knowing that King Saul is out to kill him. Jonathan goes to speak words of encouragement to his friend . . .

“David saw that Saul had come out to seek his life. David was in the wilderness of Ziph at Horesh. And Jonathan, Saul’s son, rose and went to David at Horesh, and encouraged him in God. And he said to him, ‘Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you.’” (1 Sam. 23:15-17)

It’s the true friend who encourages us in the midst of the most difficult part of life’s journey. “Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:18)

What’s your most inspiring film scene? Why? Let us know at feedback@mastermediaintl.org

The Church and Hollywood . . . In the Beginning

by Dan Rupple

Within the Christian community we acknowledge and sometimes even grumble about the disconnect between the Church and Hollywood. We talk about building a bridge to secular media, and for 30 years this has been the primary mission of Mastermedia.

But the truth is, we are actually re-building a bridge—back to Hollywood.

In film’s seminal years, when the motion picture industry was a mere celluloid infant, the Church was considered the movie world’s determining audience. And initially, a good percentage of Christians saw film as a remarkable opportunity to express Christian stories and values to a wider, national audience.

The film industry got its start in the late 1800’s on the East Coast, establishing the first motion picture studio in West Orange, New Jersey. But by 1910, with director D. W. Griffith leading the way, film production began under the sunny skies of Southern California in the little village of Hollywood . . . an industry and culture was launched!

During these turn-of-the-century days of film, the Christian worldview and the biblical story was deeply ingrained in Western culture. In fact, in the first century of filmmaking, in addition to the countless biblical epics, over 100 films were made solely focused on the life of Christ . . . that’s more than one per year.

It was sometimes said that Jewish moguls hired Catholic directors to make movies for the Protestant audience. This wasn’t entirely true. For instance, Cecil B. DeMille was an Episcopal lay minister. But the point was made that people of faith were well represented in the highest echelons of the studio system.

With the advent of the “talky” in 1927 and on into the 30’s, film transitioned from the silent era into this new audio phenomenon. In large part, the Christian audience followed along, remaining the focused audience of the studios.

But as the 30’s brought an increase in provocative subject matter on-screen, and sex and drug scandals off-screen, church leaders grew concerned about the dangers of worldly cinematic amusements.

In light of this moral descent of film, the Church shifted its focus from embracing and producing movies to censoring, critiquing, and policing them. The film industry established the Hays Commission, led by its namesake Will Hays, a Presbyterian elder; and the Catholic hierarchy began the Legion of Decency.

As World War II ended, the mid-40’s brought a change in the cultural wind. As American soldiers returned home from Europe and the Pacific and foreign films entered the U.S. marketplace, new ideologies began to take root. Seeds of secularism were planted, often blooming on the screens of local theaters.

How did Christians respond? Some panicked. Some pulled out. Some stopped going to the movies under the conviction, “What business does a Christian have being in a dark theater?” And perhaps the most detrimental fruit of our response, a generation of talented young Christian creatives were discouraged by many, even condemned by some, from entering the media business. As the church relinquished the responsibility of creating or supporting positive, life-affirming films, the secular film culture filled the void!

The Good News? Christian filmmakers, church-based and other media ministries like Mastermedia, and the Christian audience are returning . . . and in an impactful way. Faith-filled films are being produced in record numbers, some of which are embraced by mainstream audiences and generating strong box office receipts.

Through it all, Mastermedia’s hope and prayer is to play our role in re-building that bridge back to one of the most important, influential, cultural-defining mission fields and people groups on the planet!

Resource: Thank you to Dr. Terry Lindvall. “Silent Cinema and Religion,” by Dr. Terry Lindvall, The Routledge Companion to Religion and Film, edited by John Lyden, published by Routledge, 2011.

“Going Hollywood” . . . by Buying It

On a recent trip to China, Mastermedia CEO Dan Rupple observed that American films are creating a whole new generation of Chinese filmmakers who aspire to “make it” in Hollywood. Dan says, “If I wasn’t sure before, I am convinced now that America’s most influential export is American films.”

Wang Jianlin, China’s wealthiest executive, recognizes the scope of Hollywood’s power and influence and is aggressively expanding into the U.S. film industry through his media conglomerate, Dalian Wanda Group. According to The Washington Times (August 31, 2016), his desire is . . . “to acquire one of the six major Hollywood studios” and he has vowed “to change the world where rules are set by foreigners.”

With more Chinese movie theaters than any other company, Wanda is now focusing on global expansion. The Times noted, “In 2012, [Wanda] bought AMC Theatres, which recently announced a deal to acquire Britain’s Odeon & UCI Cinemas Group and is trying to scoop up Georgia-based Carmike Cinemas.” And in November 2016, Wanda purchased Dick Clark Productions.

Wang’s ambitious plans are unnerving to some lawmakers. Increasing control and power over the content and distribution of American movies by any company—particularly one closely aligned with the Chinese government—has the potential to shift the balance of power in global entertainment and eclipse America as the world’s largest movie market.

The Times states, “Owning a large portion of the world’s theater business gives Wanda a massive influence over the global film industry and could give it leverage in negotiations with studios over sharing box office revenue. The company has said it wants to control 20% of global box office ticket sales by 2020.”

Despite concerns about China’s growing power in the entertainment industry, The Times found that filmmakers they interviewed were skeptical about China using movies for propaganda—especially if it gets in the way of making money.

“If they do that, people will stop watching the movies,” said John Davis, a film and TV producer for Fox and Sony. “Chinese companies are all driven by the profit motive.”