Christian Media: What Are We Doing Wrong?

Christian Media: What Are We Doing Wrong?

Recently, while browsing through some totally-not-copyright-infringing gospel music videos on YouTube, an ad came up for a movie currently available on PureFlix, a Christian alternative to Netflix. The film is titled A Man Called Jon, and the trailer can be viewed below.

This trailer is pretty much a prime example of why the Christian film industry tends to be the laughing stock of cinema. It includes what I would consider to be (tactfully speaking) sub-par acting performances, a plot that seems to be about a charismatic preacher in a non-charismatic church that’s played as a straight drama rather than the obvious comedy that it should be (get on this, Jon Crist!!), and a trailer that somehow manages to repeat the same footage within a 2 1/2 minute run-time.

Now, I’m not knocking the folks for making what appears to be an honest effort at creating a film that would relate to a Christian audience (although, they appear to be alienating the John MacArthur fans). Their intentions seem to be pure (pun intended), but their execution is, shall we say, amateur at best.

And yes, I know that I am judging this entire film by a 2.5 minute trailer, but isn’t that the point – to get people to WANT to see your film? Now, to be fair, the trailer DOES make me want to see it, but less in a “that looks really good” way, and more in a “trainwreck” sort of way.

There are plenty of films like this in the mainstream. Ed Wood’s “masterpiece,” Plan 9 From Outer Space is a prime example, as is James Ngyuen’s Birdemic: Shock and Terror. Despite a true desire by the makers to create a work of art, they were the victims of their own ineptness, creating works that are both terrible and yet fascinating at how wrong they really are. These are films considered “so bad, they’re good.”

Now this film may very well have an audience, but judging by the view count on this trailer (which doesn’t account for the sponsored ad’s), I don’t expect that audience to be all that large. It would probably make for a good film to show at a Sunday lunch after church one week. I just don’t view this as being on the same level (quality or audience) as, say, Avengers: Endgame.

This is not just limited to this singular film, either. Christian movies as a whole are typically viewed as subpar, with lower budgets, lower production quality, and less-than-Acadamy-Award-worthy performances. Even efforts to rise above the status quo (such as the multiple attempts to make a movie out of Left Behind) still suffer from questionable acting, obvious budget limitations, and Nicolas Cage.

This also isn’t limited to the film industry, either. Christian music has a history of turning out some laughably bad products (and yes, some of them have come from southern gospel music). Again, most of the problems stem from too much zeal and not enough actual aptitude. In fact, watching the trailer for Jon made me immediately think of some SG albums I’ve heard over the years that suffer from the same exact issues: poor quality, poor execution, and poor performances.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I’m self-aware enough to know that I have turned out some pretty poor material myself in the past for the exact reasons above. I’m not so blind as to recognize when something I’ve done isn’t up to par. Besides, everyone has to start somewhere.

My point is more along the lines of someone thinking they’ve made a high-quality product when they clearly haven’t. Whether they are aware of or oblivious to this fact depends on the individuals, I guess; I can’t speak to the makers of A Man Called Jon, but I know of a few artists who have responded to reviews in such a way as to lead me to believe they really thought their product was far better than it really was.

That’s not to say that there aren’t good Christian media products being made. Fireproof saw some success with a wider audience, and while it may not have set the box office on fire, October Baby was a very well-made film.

In music, I recently award a five-star review to Triumphant’s latest album, as I did for Jason Crabb’s Unexpected (which wound up winning a Grammy), both because they are high-quality efforts that I consider to be on-par with any mainstream product being released.

At the same time, we have artists who think they’re the next Michael W. Smith or Gaither Vocal Band who are squawking out performances that even the best engineers are struggling to fix, and they’re doing it on shoestring budgets, thinking their going to be the next big gospel music star.

Perhaps part of the problem lies with audiences. Christian audiences tend to accept lackluster material far more than larger, mainstream audiences might. My question is, why? Are Christian audiences just that much more forgiving of mediocre products? Or is it a case of the audience doesn’t know the difference? I mean, if the person watching a movie or listening to a recording doesn’t know it’s bad, then why should the artist care? This is an aspect I’ve explored in past commentaries – if an audience doesn’t demand the best, why should an artist give their best?

Personally, I think audiences SHOULD demand the best an artist can give. There is no shame in expecting quality, even if it’s from a fellow Christian. In fact, Christian artists and filmmakers should be going out of their way to make the best products they can, not for audiences or peers, but because God deserves the best we can give. If we are praising Him, representing Him, honoring Him, and leading others to Him, then we should be offering the absolute top of our game, not just the bare minimum.

In the end, though, I guess art is still (for the most part) subjective, and everyone has their own tastes, as well as their own ideas as to what “good” actually is. That’s why for every Jason Crabb or Triumphant, we have a Kyle Boreing who, despite his best efforts, just can’t rise above the limitations of budget or ability, just like for every Fireproof, we have Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas, and for every October Baby, we have A Man Called Jon.


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Kyle Boreing

Kyle has been writing for MusicScribe since 2008. He is a musician, producer, arranger, and occasional quartet singer, who pays way too much attention to recordings. He is an alumni of Stamps-Baxter School of Music and has shared the stage with many different artists. He also really likes movies that are "so bad they're good." Visit his website at www.kyleboreing.com, or follow him on Twitter @kyleboreing.

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3 Comments

  1. Reply May 08, 16:15 #1 scottysearan

    Kyle Very good insightful comments.

    The truth is the average citizen doesn’t have a producer’s or critic’s ears when listening to music or viewing videos.
    Are they happy with what they hear, maybe or maybe not.
    I am of the old schooled that loved live bands and still do.
    I despise soundtracks in a live performance.
    The Gaither Vocal Band is not the epitome of excellence in Southern Gospel Music. They do not set the standard for Southern Gospel Music to achieve, because they are not true Southern Gospel Music, though they have recorded some good Southern Gospel Material.
    Jason Crabb is not the epitome of excellence in Southern Gospel Music as far as a soloist. Most of his material is not Southern Gospel.
    What the Gaither Vocal Band and Jason Crabb have.
    My standards of Excellence in Southern Gospel Music is the Cathedral Quartet, The Gold City Quartet, The Booth Brothers, The Original Hinsons and the Inspirations as far as groups. Carroll Roberson, Kim Hopper, and Squire Parsons as far as soloists.
    Yes there are other groups and artists who are good singers, but these are the ones who represent down through the years the epitome of the best of Southern Gospel Music.
    Yes down through the years I have heard some inferior products put out by the professionals of SGM.
    I blame most of that on the producers. When it comes to concert specials the groups are to blame. Going into the studio and just singing a song to have something to sell to the fans because they come to hear you sing at a concert and it be inferior is disgraceful. The Cathedral Quartet and the Gold City quartet did a good job of producing good quality concert specials.
    For the most part Southern Gospel Music is overproduced having horns and big orchestrations when they could be more simple and the people would love it.
    I could go on. But that’s my spill for now.

  2. Reply May 08, 19:33 #2 Joshua Cottrell

    The epitome of class, dignity and first class of the modern southern gospel era goes to IMHO, The Collingsworth Family.

  3. Reply May 12, 21:24 #3 Kenny Payne

    As a former Weatherford member, one thing that Earl taught me was that you cannot produce live what you do in a studio. He refused to have reverb on an album for that reason.

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