The Tulsa Indie Scene
One God, Three Approaches to Film

This year, I’ve had the privilege of being in contact with three Tulsa filmmakers. 

Two of them, Tracy Trost and Titus Jackson, contacted us via our contact form to request that Past the Popcorn review their self-distributed films—Find Me, and Jesus Fish, respectively, both available on DVD through their websites, here and here; my reviews are here and here. 

Through Tracy, I was able to get in contact with Brian Shoop, who not only appeared in Find Me but directed Treasure Blind, which I also reviewed at Past the Popcorn courtesy of the film’s producers. (Shoop’s film was distributed by Cloud Ten, and is widely available at various outlets including Mardel’s, Lifeway Christian Bookstores, the Cloud Ten web site, Amazon.com, and Barnes & Noble.)

Because these filmmakers’ films and approaches are so different, because they are all working in the same city, and because they are all fellow Christians, I thought it behooved Past the Popcorn to approach Brian, Titus, and Tracy about participating in a three-way interview.  Amazingly, they all accepted the invitation!

Due to the complications of orchestrating such an event over the Internet (and because I didn’t relish the thought of transcribing the whole thing!), we conducted the interview via email.  I sent the complete list of questions, targeted at specific individuals, to the entire panel, and then compiled the responses in the fashion of a single conversation.  We then all reviewed the compiled interview and added a few corrections and interjections where they felt warranted.

We hope you enjoy the result!

Greg Wright:  Thanks for taking the time to do this interactive e-mail interview, gentlemen.  It’s a real privilege for me to speak with the three of you this way.

First off, what is the deal with Tulsa, anyway?  When I reviewed Brian’s Treasure Blind and Titus’ Jesus Fish earlier this year, I felt compelled to comment on the fact that I was reviewing two films from the same town on the same day; and then just a few weeks ago, along came Tracy’s Find Me. And from following the three of you on Facebook, I’ve found that there are several other Christian filmmakers doing indie projects there as well.  I would have to imagine that part of it is just that Tulsa has a very strong Christian community.  But it has to be more than that, right?  What’s with the burst of cinematic creativity there?

Tracy TrostTracy Trost:  I have lived in Tulsa for ten years now.  I moved here from Minnesota to work with a ministry to do their television production.  Right away I noticed that there was a large amount of Christian television production, but was not aware of all of the film production.  I was introduced to that scene a couple of years ago when some of my TV crew were telling me about a movie they were going to shoot in Central America.  That was End Of The Spear.  I was intrigued that the local Tulsa guys were going to work on such a large project.  As I started to look into it, I found out that there are quite a few movies shot in this area every year.  Recently, The Enemy Within with Kate Hudson, Jessica Alba, and Casey Affleck had about a week of shooting days in Tulsa.  Last October, the same grip truck that worked on Find Me also shot all of the commercial spots and background video for the Republican National Convention.

For a remote town in Eastern Oklahoma there is a lot of quality production done in Tulsa.  indie, and larger scale alike.  Do I think it is because of the strong Christian influence?  No.  I think it is due to the fact that with all the church TV production you have a large base of very talented production personnel.  There are a lot of companies that are doing productions that are being seen nationally and internationally all the time.  Impact Productions is a good example.  They did A Christmas Child about four years ago and it has been on Lifetime and can be found in Christian bookstores and Wal-Marts around the country.  We can go way back to 1994. Willie George, a pastor here in town, produced a movie called Covenant Riders.  It also starred Kenneth Copeland and Jesse Duplantis.  Many of the crew that worked on Find Me also worked on that movie.

You asked what is up with the burst of cinematic creativity all of a sudden.  I don’t think it has just happened.  I think it has been here for a long time.  I think the difference is that with the use of the Internet and social network marketing, we can now get the word out to a larger audience.

When I shot Find Me I used all Tulsa crew and Cast.  I did this purposefully.  There are those that say the only good productions are ones that will come out of L.A. or New York.  With today’s technology and the people located here in Tulsa, I would put equal sized and budgeted movies up against any East-coast or West-coast movies any day.  For the size of the budget of my film, I would say that it stands up against any indie film filmed anywhere around the country.

Brian Shoop:  If there was a citywide planning meeting for Christian filmmakers, I didn’t get invited—clearly just an oversight on their part.  But, in lieu of such a conspiracy, several indies hitting the Tulsa streets at roughly the same time demonstrates a critical mass of several elements: current technology, as Tracy points out, the relative density of experienced professionals—and availability of capital.  In my worldview however, that describes an act of God as clearly as a lightning strike, so I’m going with… “God did it.” 

While taking Treasure Blind to film festivals from New York to the Midwest to California, I watched lots of indie movies, but precious few Christian indie movies.  From that sampling, one could infer that, nowadays, easier-to-produce indies represent fewer and more localized influences, and these locally-produced movies generally reflect the values of their origin—like children initially adopting the faith of their parents.  That makes Tulsa more the norm than the exception.  The localized influence of a Christian worldview naturally permeates any story being told ’round these here parts.

Titus Jackson:  Personally, I have no idea what’s up with Tulsa! I can only speak for myself. I just want to make something original. And regarding Christian filmmakers, yes, there are many of us who grew up within the church with only those TBN and Cloud Ten films representing us, and maybe some of us want to see something with more edge and realism. I also think that part of it is that Tulsa is such a small town most of the filmmakers here know when other filmmakers are making something, and it just gets you jazzed to see someone else with similar dreams and goals accomplishing them; it gives you that good old “I can do it too” feeling, which just encourages you to keep making stuff.

Wright:  Brian, you broke into the film business as an actor about a decade ago with a role in The Rookie.  Did you imagine at the time that not only would you be directing a film by the end of the decade, but that others in Tulsa would be doing the same?

Brian ShoopShoop:  First of all, my little role in The Rookie was the result of many years of work as an actor: doing commercials, training films, working as an extra in movies, community theater, taking workshops and classes, and reading everything I could find on acting.  While I did take several deep breaths to appreciate the moment as I stood there joking with Dennis Quaid between takes, I didn’t consider that role as my “having arrived” milestone, nor have I thought that of any role since—including the role of director for Treasure Blind.  My passion for acting allows no laurels on which to rest—only treasured memories on which to reflect.  Over the past twenty-some years, I’ve accumulated many such memories—blessings from God’s hand in my view—and while I don’t know what will come next, I do expect God’s blessings to continue. 

All that to say… no, I didn’t expect to be directing my first feature ten years later, but I did expect to still be pursuing the art somehow.  When the Treasure Blind idea surfaced, I didn’t expect that I would ever finish the screenplay.  Then, I didn’t expect that I would ever find the money.  I didn’t expect that I would ever get the movie made.  And after all that happened anyway, I didn’t expect that a distributor would ever pick it up.  Seeing each of those things become reality has been another blessing in a twenty-some year succession.  That’s a tribute to God’s goodness, not my clever planning.  I’m just taking whatever step shows up next; doing what I love to do.

The fact that several other filmmakers are doing the same thing in this area is icing on the cake—especially since I’ve been awarded roles in some of their movies.  Another unexpected blessing.  Stay tuned!

Wright:   Tracy, you cast Brian as the Senator in Find Me.  Titus and Tracy, when did you start thinking of directing films, and did the mainstream success of local actors like Brian inspire you at all?

Trost:  When did I start thinking about directing films?  The question would be more like When didn’t I?  Directing has always been that “Thing” that I have always wanted to do.  I got into television when I attended college at Christ For The Nations Institute in Dallas, Texas. They had a daily TV show that aired locally and I signed up for those classes.  The first year I was a student. The second year I was the teacher’s assistant and I taught classes to the first year students.  I did everything I could get my hands on.  I even shot a music video for a fellow student named Kevin Jonas—the father of the Jonas Brothers.  I recently pulled that video out and watched it.  It is terrible!  But for what we had back then and how we shot, zero budget, it was pretty good.

I wouldn’t say that I was inspired by the success of local actors.   I did not know Brian or his history until one of the other actors told me about him. I asked him to come in and try out for the part.  He was great.  Not only is he a great actor, he is a great person.  I am fortunate to have him in Find Me.

Jackson:  I started thinking about directing right after I graduated Bible school in the late 1990s.  I just sort of had this moment where I realized that the path I was taking wasn’t leading to the end goal I had desired. I took some time off from school and did some soul searching and realized I wanted to make movies. From there I started writing down various ideas for almost the next year, and those ideas and things that I jotted down were the seeds of my first feature, Jesus Fish. From there it was just a matter of learning the various talents necessary for a man of limited finances to make his own movie. Thank God for Apple. And yes, I would say that success of our local boys does inspire me big time. Local festivals here like Bare Bones and Script 2 Screen are directly responsible for the great filmmaker networks that we have.

Wright:   Titus, when I first offered you feedback on Jesus Fish, I likened your work to the early films of Kevin Smith—and you took that as a compliment, fortunately!  

Jackson:  How could I not take that as a compliment? Kevin Smith’s early stuff is one of my direct inspirations!

Wright:  I have to imagine that you’ve encountered some resistance in the Christian community to that kind of in-your-face, four-letter-word approach.  Kevin Smith can get away with that a little easier because he’s Catholic, and they’ve been making films in the mainstream since the inception of the art.  But Protestants are kind of new to the game.  What’s been your experience with that?

Titus JacksonJackson:  There are some people who see the film and just plain get it, and on the flip side I’ve met many who think I was just making a movie to bash Christians; but for the most part, I have gotten a very good response from people, and I think that’s because most people are sick of watching what amounts to live-action VeggieTales movies. I mean, just because a film is labeled a Christian film doesn’t mean it has to be a family film.

I made this film as my response to the double standard I see out there. We Christians live in a real world, with real problems, yet most mainstream Christian films you see out there never seem to accurately portray that real world. For example, I remember when I was watching that Sherwood film with Kirk Cameron, Fireproof: I’m watching him and his wife having a very sterile argument that bore no semblance to any argument I have ever had, and all I could say to myself was, “This must be how the Amish argue.” Christian filmmakers seem to attempt to flee the appearance of evil in their filmmaking, but in doing so they also flee the appearance of all realism as well. With Jesus Fish, my goal
was to throw all that out the window, and take these clichéd Christian characters you see in all these films and drop them into the real world and see what happens. As a result I have had people come up to me and say that this was the most up-front and honest Christian film they’ve ever seen. But what I’m proudest of is that, while we may not have as many fans as the more mainstream films out there, Jesus Fish fans are the most die-hard, discriminating film goers you will ever see; and to earn their respect with this movie means a great deal to me. I even had a man from the board of a church say that this film is the wake-up call that the so-called Christian film industry needs.

Wright:   Tracy, your feature debut, Find Me, by contrast, has the aesthetics of something like War Games—and yet you found, as you blogged the other day, that a strong Christian message came through anyway.  The subject of your essay was: “Am I a Christian filmmaker, or am I a Christian who makes films?”  I won’t spoil the conclusion of the essay for our readers, but I have to say I loved it.  Have you found that some Christian audiences wished Find Me was more evangelistic?  Even though, as you note, the Christian message comes through loud and clear, there’s really no “come to Jesus” moment there.

Trost:  Yes, I was actually surprised by some of the responses to the film.  I held a screening at an event that I produced in Hawaii last March.  The film was just in the first-edit stage.  There was temporary music, temporary sound effects, no color correction, and no title graphics. The purpose of the event was to see if the story held up.  The people that attended the event were Christian and all were either business people or pastors. 

We showed the film and then I had a Q&A time afterward.  Overall, the comments and questions were very insightful and encouraging.  But there were two ladies that jumped up right away with a question.  One of them asked me if the ending was on the movie and I said, “No, I still haven’t shot the closing scene.” She asked if I was going to have a scene where the leading guy and girl say a prayer together.  I said I didn’t see the need.  She then got a little stern, almost like a mom talking to a child.  She said, “You take this girl [Jess] all the way through the movie and you had the boy [Paul] telling about the Lord, and in the end you don’t pray with her to get saved?  That sucks.” Then she and her friend got up and walked out.

For me, keeping the story real and relevant was a priority.  Paul was sharing with Jess his life’s story. He wasn’t on a quest to get Jess saved.  He was just answering her questions.  I really think that is what happens in real-life relationships.  I think that is what being a “witness” is all about: living a life that will cause others to take notice and ask you what is different about you. As far as no real “come to Jesus” point in the movie, I really wasn’t looking to do that from the beginning.  I wanted to entertain and hopefully cause the viewers to take a look at what they believe and why they believe it.

That is really the only adverse reaction I have received.  I actually found it quite amusing.  Overall, Christians and non-Christians alike have made positive comments as to the “message” of the film.

Wright:   Brian, you took quite a different path to getting your film made, one pioneered by Sherwood pictures, the gang behind Flywheel, Facing the Giants, and Fireproof.  Your congregation basically helped finance and shoot your picture.  Now, you’ve been on the set of some fairly mainstream productions.  What kind of unique pressures and constraints came to bear—expectations, anyway—based on the way your film was financed?  In other words, I doubt you had quite the artistic license that Titus had, considering that he was playing with his own money; and yet you weren’t subject to studio pressures, either.

Shoop:  Although the funds did not come directly from the church, my executive producers were both members of my Sunday School class.  So, while it was in fact private money, there was a very close connection with and involvement from my church family.  There were meals provided, locations donated, extras enlisted, and lots of other incidentals that came from church people, even though Treasure Blind was never an official church project.  That clarification being made, the point of your question is still valid: Did the church looking over my shoulder influence the product?  Yes.  I’m forced to admit what I fear all Christian art antagonists want to hear admitted.  But before the resounding “I KNEW IT!” bursts out, let me enlarge on that answer… then you can all scream it at the top of your lungs.

I would submit that storytellers are rather ordinary people.  Exceptions to that sweeping generality could be listed on two hands (and most of them created their own unique style of literature that the rest of us now try to emulate).  Most of us work hard at crafting a good story, a poignant poem, or a funny joke; but at the heart of it all, we just want to be loved like the next guy.  And we most want to be loved by a certain person, a certain family, or a certain group of friends.  To that end, we endeavor to acquire that love by whatever means of manipulation we have at our disposal.  We’re storytellers—moviemakers in this case.  We can use our art to please those from whom we want love—and we do.  We notice what they admire, and we write it in.  It all boils down to which team we’re hoping will approve… and love us for it.  I can hear every storyteller protesting, but I just ask that you consider it.

Moviemakers who adamantly declare that they want to shock their audience in order to challenge thought, or illumine some cultural injustice, do so from the comfort of a family of like-minded supporters who will applaud their efforts and love them more for doing so.  Such movies even become rallying banners for all who wish they too were loved by that team.  Others, those who espouse their art as a means of battling the onslaught of degrading Hollywood fare, will retreat from their scathing reviews to the kudos and admiration (and love) of like-minded kinsmen. 

One strong measurement of the love a moviemaker is receiving for his effort is the boxoffice take.  So another ugly but true consideration made, especially if you’re using other people’s money, is “Will it sell?” and “Who will buy it?”  All this is not to say that movies—Christian or otherwise—are by nature entirely contrived and insincere, but any storyteller who does not admit that influence is doomed to mediocrity and cliché.  I admit I can do better in this area. 

One of the things I learned making Treasure Blind was whom I should please when making a movie.  Some of my Christian friends believe I fell far short of producing a truly Christian movie because you never hear a “how to get saved” instructional, or because there isn’t enough Scripture.  Then there are those who only saw another “come to Jesus and everything’s okay” movie.  My executive producers wish it was selling better.  I wish it got better reviews.  Ultimately, as with everything in life, the only thing that matters is: What difference will it make 100 years from now?  The treasure that I’m often blinded to is the process: the “working toward” the goal.  The collaboration of my family, my friends, and my church family, all working together on something, caring for each other, praying together, laboring, laughing, looking for God’s hand in the progress, the weather, the little blessings—that’s the valuable part.  People are the only thing that last forever, and that’s what important to God—not a movie, not money, not success: people.  In that regard, I hope that everything I do can be as successful as Treasure Blind. 

I doubt that I’ll ever be as edgy as Titus; I’ll probably continue to play on the same “team” as I did before.  But I hope I can do so with eyes wide open as to what’s influencing me, and to what’s important in the long run.

Wright:   Titus, after I’d run a review of Find Me at Past the Popcorn, you commented to Tracy on Facebook that you wished I’d mentioned the relative complexity and budgets of your three productions.  And Brian, when I got in touch with you about this interview, you naturally expressed some hesitancy about being involved, given that I was pretty clear that I liked your film the least of the three.  But clearly, film history has shown that there is no correlation whatsoever between the budget of a film and its merit, and that the best of intentions provide no magic key to bringing a quality film to market.  And in some way, those truths affected each of your films.  In essays targeted at my fellow critics, I’ve argued that Christians expect too much of film in general, and far too much of individual films specifically.  The analogy that I’ve used is that we should be content with a simple double-play in May, and not expect a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth of the World Series every time we sit down to watch a film.  Even the Gospel of John needs help from Matthew, Mark, and Luke (not to mention the epistles of Paul and the entire Old Testament!) to make complete sense out of the Good News.  Do you view what’s going on in Tulsa as symbolic of the Body of Christ, where the hand can be the hand, the stomach can be the stomach, the knee can be the knee, and we don’t expect them all to do the others’ jobs?  Or am I just reading way too much into what’s going on in Tulsa?

Jackson:  When you compare films based on production values, I feel you should mention their production budgets as well. The catering on Tracy’s and Brian’s films cost more than my entire budget.

With that being said, you’re correct: a bigger budget does not make a good movie.  Watch all three films and you’ll see what I mean.  Objectively speaking, Jesus Fish does not have the production values of Find Me, or Treasure Blind, but both of those films are targeted at a large Christian audience and have an initial investment to make back; and as
a result, in the story-telling department they both fall into clichés that Christian films have difficulty avoiding.  On the flip side, I focused on making an interesting story that would resonate with viewers, and as a result Jesus Fish is much more edgy and complex than its counterparts—because I had more freedom to make the story that I wanted to see. My strength is I didn’t focus on making back an investment, I focused on making art.\

When you look at filmmaking from a pure story-telling perspective, money tends to water down your artform because, if you want to make your money back, you have to try to appeal to as large an audience as possible.  While this does pay off sometimes, it usually doesn’t make for a lasting experience with the moviegoer. It creates more disposable cinema than anything else. That’s where Jesus Fish is different: it sticks with you.  Love it or hate it, you will remember it, and it will make you think; and in that Jesus Fish has been more successful than I ever thought it would be.

I do believe that Christians expect too much of film. Does every film made by a Christian have to be evangelistic? God, no! Can we not glorify God by simply using the talent he gave us to the best of our ability? Of course; but until the power players with the money get this idea through their heads, their films will never achieve any success outside of the Christian subculture.

Trost:  For me, it is imperative to have the highest quality product with the best story possible.  As you noted in your reviews, with our three films there is a significant difference in quality.  Please understand when I say what I am going to say here.  I do not want to imply that I am in any way “better” than any of the others.  I know both Titus and Brian very well, and I appreciate the talent in both and count it a privilege to have known them and worked with them.  With that said, I think that I was at a huge advantage to both because of (in Titus’ case) budget and (in Brian’s case) crew.  I have viewed both of their movies and both have strong stories.  Quite honestly, Story is King.  If you don’t have a good story, you don’t have anything.

Titus did his movie for less than $3,000 with his friends. For that, I think he did a good job.  I think Brian did not have a professional crew except for his DP.  I think his project suffered because of that.  I had a little more money than Titus and I surrounded myself with professionals in all of the vital positions.  And I must say that they made this film reach the level of quality that it did.  Without them I was a guy with an idea.  With them I became a Movie Director.

Find Me was my first attempt writing a long-form script.  I learned a ton from it.  I am writing my second with another writer right now.  One of the things I learned from the first is to not feel like you have to do it all on your own.  I wrote Find Me on my own and then had a hired script consultant go over it, and then had another scriptwriter help me edit it down for time. On this one I am starting out with another writer because I need help with the feminine side of life.  I don’t thing I did Jess justice in Find Me.  She needed to be a little deeper than I wrote her.

Shoop:  If you’re asking whether we’ll ever stop comparing ourselves to each other, I doubt it.  Personally, I’m not content to always get the lame reviews.  I’m anxious to apply what I’ve learned to the next one.  Competition helps drive excellence.  Not jealousy; jealousy is destructive.  I’m not talking about that.  But pushing each other to get better can be a good thing.  I’m not motivated to morph into the style of either Titus or Tracy.  Maybe I can learn from Tracy’s nice looking pictures, or from Titus’s cool editing, and maybe they can learn from my… uh… Well anyway, I don’t foresee us all becoming one big muddy middle ground.  I do hope we’ll each improve exponentially as we gain experience, each in his unique niche.  And regardless of whether we hit a double or go down swinging, we’ll all be trying for that grand slam every time at bat because in this business, you can never be sure which game is going to be the world series.

Jackson:  And no, you’re not reading too much into what’s happening here. I see Tulsa as a training ground for the next Generation of Great Filmmakers. My latest project that I’m working on, entitled “Why I love Tulsa,” stems from that very belief. We’ve taken twenty-five Tulsa filmmakers (Tracy and myself included) and we’re all making five-minute shorts about love in Tulsa; and then we’re putting them together in a feature-length picture as a Valentine’s Day gift to the city. The feeling I get through the process of meeting all these filmmakers is that the art of filmmaking is evolving, and there are a lot of Tulsans who want to see stories beyond what Hollywood is putting out.

Wright:   So what do you see the challenge of financing independent film to be?  Clearly, it’s got to be a little more complicated when biblical stewardship is involved.  And how does the budget for a film affect your own expectations for the quality of the product?

Shoop:  I think it depends on the approach.  In my experience (of one movie), I knew that I’d have a limited budget and that I’d be asking my Christian friends to put up the money.  It was part of the consideration from the outset, so there weren’t any frustrated ambitions.  It was a comfortable experience and I hope to repeat it.  I do have some script ideas that tend more towards allegory—less mainstream Christian—and I hesitate to proceed with those because of where I’d go for money, and what market I’d appeal to.  Thankfully, I have a few in the pipeline that are less ambiguous, so I’ll pursue those.  My wish list for a bigger budget would begin with talent, but I also see great value in post-production: color correction, sound sweetening, score, effects, and so on.  Knowing that I have to live with smaller numbers, I’m forced to rein in my stories during conception.  In that regard, I might feel some frustration then.  However, if the writing is done well, producing on a shoestring is no sweat—even kinda fun.  Admittedly, my shoestring was a lot bigger than either Tracy’s or Titus’s, but relative to most movies, it’s still a tiny budget.

Jackson:  It’s probably the hardest part of filmmaking for me. Trying to get “Why I Love Tulsa” project financed has been tough.  I feel that at the very least, no matter what your budget size is, you can’t take the place of an interesting story; and, echoing what Tracy just said, no matter the size of your budget, I think that’s worth paying money to see.

Trost:  I was able to finance my film with my own money.  I will most likely do the same on my next film.  I like to play with my own money and not have the burden of getting the money back out of it for investors.  Not to say that one day I will have investors but not right now.

Wright:   What are your hopes for what’s developing in Tulsa?  Would you like to see it become a new alternative to Sundance?  Or are you hoping that some of what develops there will help infect Hollywood in a positive way?

Trost:  I think Tulsa is a great town and it has a huge pool of talent. It has never been my intention to try to compete with Hollywood.  My only competition is myself.  I will always work to be better on every project.  If that causes people to take notice of me and/or Tulsa then that is a bonus.  If no one likes my film and if I never sell a copy, that is okay too.  The fact is that I did it, and now I know I can do it.  Plus I loved every minute of it and I look forward with great anticipation to the future.

Shoop:  I’m excited about what’s happening in Tulsa, first of all because it means more acting roles available for us actor types.  But at the same time, it represents a potential for some eternal benefit, and that’s doubly cool.  I truly hope that it continues, and it’s not impossible that Tulsa could one day acquire a reputation as a good Christian movie-production center.  That would be terrific.  However, I don’t look for Tulsa to ever acquire a “Sundance” sort of weight in the industry, and I certainly don’t look for it to have any influence on Hollywood.  My wildest dream is that Tulsa would produce better and better quality Christian movies, and continue to fill that market need for many years to come.

Jackson:  I want to see Tulsa become its own self-sufficient movie-making community with outlets for both production and distribution.  I also hope that we can influence Hollywood in some way, if through nothing more than to show them that there is a lot of talent out there just waiting to be discovered.

Wright:   Finally, what advice do you have for critics who take the time to review indie films produced by Christian filmmakers?  And what tips can you pass along for audiences?

Trost:  That is a good question.  My advice to any film critic would be: make a film.  It is easy to stand on the outside and make comments as to how it should have been done.  Go make one yourself—earn your stripes and then you will know how hard it is to do. I really think that if film critics had to make a film before they became critics there would be no critics.  They would just feel sorry for the guy who is struggling with his film. I say this with a smile on my face.

For the audience, I would say support your local Christian indie filmmaker.  Put out the $15.00 for the DVD even if it isn’t the best movie you have ever seen.  They will only get better by making more films.  The secular market has taken notice of the Christian market.  If they think they can make money at backing them, they will get behind them, too.  You will start to see strong Christian films coming out of Hollywood the more people go to the boxoffice and the more the DVDs are sold.

Jackson:  The advice I give to critics is to be honest and unmerciful. Christian film will never get out of the horrible rut it’s in unless someone whacks it with a big sledge hammer.  Don’t worry; I’m working on a big one myself.
For the audiences, keep watching, and keep your eyes peeled. I believe we’re in for a wave of independent Christian films that can not only compete with but surpass mainstream secular films.

Shoop:  Legitimate critics who write about Christian indies begin with a disadvantage—the prejudice of the Christian market against them.  There exists in Christendom such a visceral response to perceived hatred from the mainstream film industry that anyone associated with it—i.e., a movie critic—represents a threat in some of our (admittedly narrow) minds.  In that chilly atmosphere, criticism of the product is equated with an attack against the faith of the producers.  Add to that the multiplication of bloggers nowadays who are accountable to no one, and are equally free to publish their opinion, and Christians approach most reviews with claws out and hackles up.  (Even though I’m not sure what a hackle is.)  Be that as it may, qualified critics who objectively compare Christian fare to similar mainstream industry products provide a helpful and instructive service not only to the movie viewer, but also to the moviemaker.  We need you.  Just know the tension into which you’re strolling and couch your criticism with care.  You are writers, for pity sake: you can use words purposefully.  Be objective and constructive.  You’ll find more acceptance for your ideas, more readership, and ultimately you’ll have more influence on the product.

To our Christian audiences I say: Thank you for being concerned with content.  Never confuse compromising content with getting better.  Watch for good acting, good stories, good moviemaking, and good art along with solid content.  Encourage Christian artists not only by your support, but also by expecting us to always improve.  Don’t settle for “it was okay.”  Always be looking for, “Now that’s a movie!”  That’s what we’re trying for.