Online Christian Web Series ~ Today’s New Theater
Malcolm Gladwell’s most recent book David and Goliath outlines a story of a group of friends – all artists in 19th century France – who struggled with the nationally-regulated conditions painters faced then.
Each year, painters in France would submit 2 or three canvases to France’s Ministry of the Imperial House and the Fine Arts. A jury would vote on each painting it received.
Gladwell explains that the paintings that won were huge, meticulously painted canvases showing scenes from French History or mythology, microscopically accurate, properly “finished” and formally framed, with proper perspective and all the familiar artistic conventions.
Winners got their work hung in a public place for all of Paris to see. Losers got bubkis. See you next year.
The artists who gathered at Café Guerbois didn’t paint the way the Ministry of the Imperial House and the Fine Arts liked. Most of their entries were rejected. One of the group’s paintings was approved, once.
The Happy Ending: The artists decided to rent a spot on a street where they could display their paintings themselves. So they did.
Oh, and the painters were a bunch of friends who included Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Paul Cezanne, Claude Monet, and Pierre-August Renoir.
Why are Christian filmmakers submitting their art to an antiquated and restrictive system filled with more gatekeepers than the 19th century French system – when the street corner awaits?
What’s a film? The Ministry of the Imperial House and the Fine Arts…er…Hollywood would dictate that it would be around 100 minutes long; that it would have three acts; that it would be shot by a massive team of hundreds of people and require a budget of millions of dollars; that it would be distributed to theaters so people could enjoy air conditioning and popcorn while viewing it; that it would then be transcribed on to bits of plastic so that people would buy or rent that bit of plastic, bring it home, and then view the film on a player.
Christian filmmakers sit in a café outside of Hollywood, wondering how they’re going to get their work accepted by the Ministry of the Imperial House and the Fine Arts…er…Hollywood.
Wouldn’t it just make more sense to take our work to the street corner – online, into an aggregated channel of work where audiences could decide if our work is beautiful and effective?
In today’s world, the problem isn’t creating the film. It’s finding the audience. And we don’t need Hollywood to find the audience. They’re online.
Oh, and we have to shed the idea that a film has to be a specific length. Even the Ministry of the Imperial House and the Fine Arts…er…Hollywood is figuring that out. This article noted that at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, what’s needed to shoot – and the length of what is produced – is no longer rigid.
Consider the thoughts of highly-regarded Hollywood writer/director Paul Schrader (“Taxi Driver,” Raging Bull”). When asked if the communal aspect of filmgoing is fading,
Schrader responded “Well, films were never communal just because people wanted a communal experience – it just happened to be the economic model that made the most sense.
You could sell a lot of tickets and show the film at the same time to everyone. On a nickelodeon, of course, which predated movie theaters, only one person could watch the movie at a time. Nobody said, we want to sit in a hot room together! That’s just how it was.
But it doesn’t have to be that way anymore. You know, this myth that people will always want to go out to the movies, they’ll always want a communal experience – I don’t know that’s necessarily true. If you want to watch the next episode of Mad Men, would you really prefer to watch it in a theater? I don’t think so.”
Schrader isn’t an outlier. In fact, it’s easy to observe that Hollywood is shifting its eyes to the fertile creative ground of original series – delivered wherever they can be delivered, and leaving the movie theater to the billion dollar tent poles.
Christian artists need to get ahead of this curve. Stop thinking of 100 pages of script, and thinking of how well you can tell a story – of any length. 100 one minute episodes? 20 five minute episodes? Go there. Then take them to the street corner – an internet platform – and let audiences respond.
In an attempt to appease Hollywood, Christian film festivals sound a bit more like The Ministry of the Imperial House and the Fine Arts…er…Hollywood. They have to stop accepting films in only two archaic categories – short & long – and understand there is another way to tell a story – episodically. And while original series are new to Hollywood, Sophocles was writing a series with his trilogy of plays Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus and Antigone.
I’ll argue that audiences and creators have always longed to tell a number of stories in a specific universe – from Narnia to Shakespeare. Christian filmmakers should consider the value of building both audience and marketing power through a series of stories as opposed to an attempt to knock out audiences with single haymaker.
In an interview with Studio System News, Oscar winner Billy Bob Thornton, who is currently on the cast of an original series called “Fargo,” explained that today, his Oscar-winning film wouldn’t have been made for movie theaters.
SSN: The way film and television have evolved, do you think if you tried making Sling Blade today, it would likely be a TV movie on a high-profile cable network instead of a feature film?
Thornton: ‘I do. A lot of movies I’ve done would not make it these days to the screen; The kinds of movies I write are obsolete for movie theaters now. TV is doing what we used to do in movies in a certain area—bigger-budget independent films and medium-budget studio films that don’t exist as much anymore. When I was coming up, if you were on TV, that meant things were over for you or you were just on your way up. Now it’s like, ‘how do I get on a great television series?’
If you’ve figured I’m writing about these topics because I have created an original series that isn’t fitting into the film festival circuit, you’re darn tootin’.
Christian film festivals have offered to accept an episode of my series Leaving Eden as an entry into their “short” division. We tried; it was money wasted – and we understand. How would an episode of a show telling a story over hours of time compare with a twenty minute film with a distinct beginning and end?
We’ve also had folks contact us asking for DVDs of the show, and one online film reviewer suggested we send DVDs of the show for critics to review. I can put the show on a piece of plastic for you…but don’t you get YouTube on your phone? On your tablet? On your Roku or Apple TV or PlayStation?
Even the Ministry of the Imperial House and the Fine Arts…er…Hollywood is understanding the shift in production and distribution. One of the most successful writer directors working right now, Joss Whedon (writer/director of “The Avengers”) has just released a film from his small production company – straight to the web.
Look, I’m not pretending I’m Degas, and I don’t think my work isn’t comparable to the great French Impressionists of the 19th century. But certainly, the stories we’re telling – and the artistry we’re telling them with – are worth display. If not in the public places of The Ministry of Hollywood, then on our own street corner. If it’s good enough for Joss Whedon, it’s good enough for me.
What’s missing is a community of Christian artists who would work towards that end. We don’t meet at a local café. We just complain, quietly, about how we’re avoided and overlooked. The street corner awaits.
Blog Post By: Greg Batiansila