God dances awkwardly in Hollywood

More to the point, Hollywood dances around the God issue in films and isn’t always sure who should be leading.. the filmmakers or the audience they hope to pitch it to.

I found an interesting piece at Get Religion about this. It starts with Justin Bieber’s religious marketing, some of which I’ve mentioned, but includes other examples, like the upcoming film, Soul Surfer. Bethany Hamilton had her arm bitten off by a shark while surfing and didn’t let that stop her attempts to turn pro. In the film there’s a scene in the hospital with a bible. The words “Holy Bible” had been digitally removed, apparently because an executive from Mandalay Pictures didn’t want such overt Christian reference and risk losing audience interest. Being completely religious, the family freaked out over that “objected” once they saw that on film and the company put the title of the book back in to appease them: “I could see the words bright and clear,” Hamilton says. “I looked at my wife and whispered, ‘Thank you God, they put it back.’”

The digital alterations work both ways, with a neckline raised to cover some cleavage in the upcoming Indie flick “Doonby.”

I wonder why someone thought that was necessary. It won’t make the picture any better and does knowing that happened make anyone more likely to see the film now? Are Christians really going to avoid a film because a bit of boob might be visible? Talk about a bunch of unfun prudes…

My favorite anecdote from the piece was about how country singer Carrie Underwood plays a spiritual mentor to a tight-knit community of Christian surfers. She quotes Scripture, which the producers were fine with, but they didn’t want the film to mention where the Scripture verse came from.

It’s nice to read the details of how these awkward marketing ploys are shaped.

The details already mentioned come from a Hollywood Reporter article. More from there:

Paramount succeeded with the juggling act on the Feb. 11 release of Justin Bieber: Never Say Never. Bieber has said in interviews that he prays twice daily and reads the Bible regularly. Although ads on MTV make no mention of the singer’s Christianity, Paramount was also quietly screening the movie for religious leaders before showing it to other demographics. The studio was rewarded with a $30 million opening weekend.

And they provided Christian themed pamphlets and posted clips on GodTube to make sure they didn’t miss anyone.

Christian media — which includes influential websites, radio and TV hosts and even local ministers — has proven incredibly powerful when mobilized behind certain projects. Disney insiders, for instance, credit the Christian audience for the slow box-office build of its inspirational Secretariat, which opened to only $12.7 million but grinded out nearly $60 million domestically. But some projects that capture the religious crowd fail to cross over into the mainstream.

Thank Flying Spaghetti Monster for that. Not all films are created equal and if I’m going to spend money on a show, I want it to be well written, well acted, well directed, and enjoyable overall. I don’t want to be beat over the head with a god message provided by someone who sounds like he’s reading a dinner menu and couldn’t act his way out of a paper bag. A subtle message done well works better and will be more appealing to a wider audience. When it’s too Christian they risk alienating anyone who thinks differently – including other Christians.

That said, I look forward to seeing Paul, the latest (hopefully hilarious) piece to come from Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. That one’s been making headlines regarding its mockery of red state religious behaviour and that makes me all the more excited about seeing it. Nothing like a little controversy to boost seat sales…

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