I’m not sure how I first became aware of Regional Movie Ministries, but at some point I started following them on facebook even though I wasn’t sure exactly who they were or what they did. I knew that they were promoting indie faith films and that was all I needed to know. Then I got to read their informative booklet, and wow! I love what they’re doing. This men’s ministry has found a successful way to introduce their local community to the great Christian films being released to theaters each year. And what’s great, is that it benefits the little films as well as the big budget. I hope that more churches and ministries will start their own Regional Movie Ministries.
First, Rich, tell us how a little how a men’s ministry got into a film ministry.
Since 2003, we have been networking with individuals, organizations, and churches about men’s ministry events. In 2009, we were asked if we knew some churches who might want to help The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry come to Peoria. We previewed it and decided we would get involved – as a one-time thing. A few months later, To Save a Life came to town and left almost as quickly – because no one knew it was coming. We realized the communication gap in Christian films was very similar to men’s events, so we decided to become the locally- based bridge between movie-specific film site and resources, and broad sites which drown the average filmgoer with many films which are unlikely to play in their city.
Why do you feel it’s important to support Christian films?
Films are a powerful medium for touching hearts, influencing minds, and impacting our culture, and for too long Christians have shied away from using this medium, or supporting it in any way. I’ll never forget a sweet elderly lady telling me she supports Christian films but never at a theater – because she was raised that “Christians don’t go to theaters because people don’t know which movie they really saw.” I asked her if she had a radio in her car, and she said “of course, why?” and I asked her how I knew what station she was listening to as she drove by? She laughed, and I hope to see her at a movie sometime!
Radio, tv, film, the internet – whether a medium is old or new, it is just a tool, and not inherently good or bad, holy or evil until content is involved.
What are some of the films that your ministry has helped promote?
In 5 years we are nearing 40 theatrical films, plus a handful of other advanced screenings or church events of films that didn’t make the theaters. People are generally surprised at the number because often only 2 or 3 per year get widespread attention.Our mindset is to always build momentum with each film by growing our audiences, so next week or next month we can let more people know about a film with the same amount of work. Films like Courageous, Soul Surfer, and God’s Not Dead are widely known – so after the film people start asking, “Why don’t they make more films like this?” That’s our cue to step in and ask them about lesser known films that don’t have the advantage of a large distributor or ad campaign. Films like Gimme Shelter, King’s Faith, Seven Days in Utopia were well received, but few heard of them. On that note, I’d like to take the opportunity to shine a spotlight on a film that I would love to see explode in 2015 – Beyond the Farthest Star is one of my favorite films ever, one of very few which could strongly connect with the unique issues and pain faced by men, women, and youth, while developing the various characters enough that even while you disagree with their actions, you understand them.
What is the greatest challenge in getting the word out about faith-based films?
To the individual filmmaker it is a daunting task of starting from zero and trying to maximize their impact with very limited funds. Do you focus on a narrow geographical area and build on that? Or do you spread your efforts widely and hope people pop up to support you moving forward? How do you get YOUR film to stand out from all the others, when phrases like “it’s not a movie, it’s a movement,” or “it’s a film you can really bring your nonbelieving fans to” are being used on almost every film? Further, how do you act as a salesperson for your project, without sounding like a salesperson. That is one of the advantages of a Regional Movie Ministry (RMM). We are there long term – not just for one project. The first time we talked to a pastor or church group they might see us as giving a sales pitch, but after 5 years they know we are there to share information. If they don’t express interest in a particular film, they know we respect their decision, and they respect our ministry to listen the next time we have another film to share.
How can indie filmmakers and regional movie ministries work together?
Regional Movie Ministries are a local face in the different cities. They already are building relationships with churches and individuals, with an email they can get information about your film not just to an audience – but an audience who has opted in to learning about Christian films! Advertising dollars – whether $100 or $1 million – disappear quickly when many people skip commercials with their DVR’s or completely ignore banner ads – the goal is not how many households you are in, but how many care enough to pay attention? RMM’s allow the film team to start with a foundation of people who have clearly stated, “We want to support Christian films.” That may be buying blocks of tickets, telling others, or just going as an individual to a film – but because it’s an opt in, there is established interest. The Kendrick brothers at Sherwood Pictures showed the power of connecting to your audience – and staying connected from film to film – to improve your results. Flywheel was a surprise, but by their third and fourth films the success was expected, not just from the improved quality of the films, but their proven ability to communicate their efforts. Imagine if instead of personally having to generate that growing audience, there were just 10 RMM’s in each state – 500 total – who were growing the audience not just with the ‘next’ film from the Kendrick brothers, but EVERY Christian film from various directors, producers, or distributors? That said, the RMM is NOT a replacement of the film’s website, facebook page, or email efforts. An RMM is the ‘filter’ that allows the local church or individual to hear what is coming up, and where to get more information For the RMM, each film opportunity is a chance to put something in front of their audience – for the audience to make the choice whether to attend or not. The role of an RMM is not to guarantee crowds, but to allow the success or failure of a film to be based on an aware audience – and reduce the chances of a film falling flat because no one heard about it.
What advice can you offer filmmakers who are trying to promote their movies?
First, make the best film you possibly can. (I know, easy to say from a non-filmmaker.) Whether from the filmmaker or a regional movie ministry, all the promotion efforts are really about opening weekend. From there, nothing an RMM or filmmaker can do will compare to word of mouth when hundreds of people leave a theater and tell their friends they HAVE to see this film! Think long term, and be realistic. Try to reach that difficult place where you can learn from criticism and feed on praise. Most films will not be a life-changing financial success, but did your film change a life? How many other jobs have an product that changes hearts – whether on an 80 foot screen or streaming on a smartphone?
Tell us about your informational booklet.
Our efforts and philosophy to build an engaged audience with each film comes directly from our men’s ministry experience with Man in the Mirror’s “No Man Left Behind” model. As we got started, however, the incredible comments from producers and directors about our ‘unique’ approach took us by surprise. To that end, we decided to share our experience (to show real world applications) along with some developed theory and different tools to consider in a short booklet. It’s intentionally short – about 50 pages – because we don’t know it all, and prefer to see it as fuel to put on the fire of someone who already has some interest or passion rather than a long, in-depth essay convincing someone this is the ministry for them. If someone has to be convinced to start a ministry, at some point it will be even harder to convince them to keep going. We look forward to hearing what others are doing, and become a network of encouragers as we see Christian films continue to grow in quality, number, and most of all – impact for the Kingdom of Christ!
How can ministries and/or filmmakers get a copy of the booklet?
It is currently available at Amazon.com for $7.50 – less than a Friday night movie ticket (and far less than the large popcorn!) They can also learn more about RMM’s at my website, www.richgerberding.com/rmm
Anything else you’d like to share?
One minor pet peeve. Many people use the phrases “Christian” or “faith-based” interchangeably, but “faith-based” could be Muslim, Hindu, or any other faith. Our mission at the Heart of Illinois Christian Movie Central (the name of our Regional Movie Ministry) has never been to promote ‘faith-based’ films, but instead to promote and build an audience for Christian films, and we are not going to back down from that. There have been some great family films we passed on. There have been films that talked about the importance of ‘believing’ – but never got around to identifying the the object of that belief. We believe a film can be Christian without a forced salvation message – Christ taught on a wide range of other topics, but we do expect it to point people back towards the Bible, a Christian-specific faith, or Jesus Christ. Each RMM will need to define their level of expectations, and be ready to be questioned about it.