Monday Morning Critic – Seven Days In Utopia And Five Things Faith-Based Films Need To Start Doing

Every Monday morning, InsidePulse Movies Czar Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings an irreverent and oftentimes hilarious look at pop culture, politics, sports and whatever else comes to mind. And sometimes he writes about movies.

Normally I have some witty column about something new, or old, but this week I honestly couldn’t think of much to write. This week’s releases are fairly solid but there’s not a lot of either snark or witty commentary I could really provide. And reading the comments on Last Ounce of Courage I got kind of inspired. You can read that review here.

With this week’s DVD to review being a faith based film the nature of it kind of made sense to write on the nature of the faith based film in one aspect. I wrote about Courageous a while back, and pondered why Hollywood hasn’t attacked this market to squeeze some cash out of it, and my thoughts really haven’t changed much. Hollywood hasn’t attacked this market but faith-based films still keep coming out and they still stink for the most part. We’re not aiming high Willis, you know?

I could make fun of them in this column but that’s too easy. So I’ve decided to be productive this week and offer some help to the faith-based community. If Hollywood won’t come calling, and the best that’s getting out there is shit like Last Ounce of Courage, then sometimes you need to be constructive. There’s only so often I can tell the Evangelical Christian crowd to play in traffic when they’re defending bad films because it fits their viewpoint before I get sick and tired of it. The super-Christian type that may be the type that’ll possibly licking windows in their free time but they deserve to have good films as much as the rest of us who aren’t. They deserve to do better than seeing something like this as your watershed moment:

The audience will never approach traditional fare type of revenues but they can develop a regular audience that avoids movies in general come out regularly like Tyler Perry’s crowd. In fact they can learn a lot from that cat.

The Five Things Faith-Based Films Need To Start Doing To Gain And Keep an Audience

5. Start with a great story … and then insert God

Call it the Judd Apatow effect, at least in his early work, but the one thing Knocked Up and The Forty Year Old Virgin were that they were good films because they started with good stories and then had great comedy inserted into them. People will identify with a good story more than anything else.

4. Hire professional production staff

You know what stands out most about most faith-based films? They all look bad. Poor lighting, poor editing, crappy sound, et al, are all trademarks and they make even the best written film look bad. They look amateurish because they’re made by amateurs. If you want people to pay attention you need to look like you spent more than 20$ on your production. That means bringing in good people who know their tradecraft. It may be easier to raise a small amount and look for the Church going crowd to buy tickets en masse but the ones on the fence who you want to reach won’t come out to something that looks like a glorified home movie.

3. Bring in name actors

You know why Seven Days in Utopia feels like a bigger movie than its smaller budget and narrower scope would make it? It has a stellar cast. Lucas Black, Robert Duvall, Melissa Leo, the insanely hot redhead from True Blood, et al, make up the principles. It feels bigger because you have cast members who are talented and have done something. And one imagines that they have no problem with, or even believe in, the subject material. That gives the film a credibility it otherwise wouldn’t with Kirk Cameron, et al. I imagine that number of name actors who are religious enough who could be swayed to star in a film like this. Melissa Leo and Duvall don’t just make a film that’s faith-based for no reason other than they have some time in their schedules.

2. Use genre conventions

It kind of goes along with getting a good story but the one thing that’s sneaky about Utopia is that it uses a sports trope to bring in grander messages about the nature of faith, et al. It’s sneaky like that. Imagine a romantic comedy about a guy who meets a girl at a bar but loses her number, tracking her down at a church and pretending to be a Christian to worm his way into her heart. And then he actually finds God. Then she finds out about the deception, he has to prove it, blah blah. That’s a sneaky way of getting people to see a film that normally wouldn’t.

1. Continue to use the church communities to build word of mouth

Word of mouth via social media is one thing but faith-based films have traditionally found an audience through word of mouth through the church circuit. It’s the best way to get people en masse to see these sorts of faith-based films and is worth its weight in gold. This is your target audience and you have to keep working it to bring out the people. Every Sunday I pass a mega-church and it’s packed with cars. A couple thousand people are there and it’s the best place to get word out about your film; imagine every mega-church in the country gets to see a trailer for your new faith-based film before anyone else does. That’s targeted marketing you can’t buy in Hollywood.

A Movie A Week – The Challenge

This Week’s DVD – Seven Days In Utopia

Faith-based films tend to be fairly innocuous for one main reason: they have casts of amateurs, people who won’t make it or those who only rose to a fairly limited ceiling. The reason why a film like Last Ounce of Courage blew chunks and why films made by churches and crazies will continue to do so: professionalism. It’s why I really enjoyed Seven Days in Utopia despite it being one of those sneaky faith-based films. You can read my theatrical review here.

Luke Chisholm (Lucas Black) is an amateur golfer trying to go pro or something. And then he has the worst hole of his life, melting down in epic fashion, right as he’s about to achieve his goal. On top of it he crashes his car in a small Texas town as he’s driving home to his native Dallas. There he meets rancher Johnny (Robert Duvall) who convinces him to spend seven days in Utopia to find his game. Along the way he finds a lot of other things, as well, as this film has a sneaky way of bringing in Lucas’s attempt at finding God and such.

Read the review and I’ve already committed on the nature of faith-based films, et al. So yeah. Highly recommended.

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 Pints of Bass Ale and community college co-eds with low standards at the Alumni Club

Hotel Transylvania – Adam Sandler is an animated vampire who runs a hotel for the undead. His daughter meets a human. Shenanigans … spooky shenanigans … they will ensue

See It – It looks innocuous enough.

Looper – Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Bruce Willis’s younger self … and he’s got to kill him.

See It – This has been one of the most buzzed about films of the year and I doubt it’ll disappoint.

Won’t Back Down– Maggie Gyllenhaal is poor and decides to start her own school with Viola Davis.

Skip it – Kind of odd that Hollywood would kind of just unload on teachers; first it’s the Inconvenient Truth guy going after teachers, then Cameron Diaz as a drunken idiot teacher and now this.

The Other Dream Team (Limited Release) – The Lithuanian hoops team of 1992 gets profiled.

See It – Sports documentaries are the new sports films; we’ve seen the underdog tale (which is what 99% of sports films are) so much that it’s jumped the shark. Documentaries are the new hotness in the genre.

Pitch Perfect (Limited Release) – Anna Kendrick joins a singing group in college. Sing offs to ensue or something.

Skip it – Singing films are like films about dance crews: you know they’ll suck, they know they’ll suck and everyone just waits for them to stop with the crappy acting to get to the cover songs.

Solomon Kane (Limited Release) – The other main character from the guy who created Conan.

Skip it – This has been delayed from U.S shores for like three years or so and is getting a quick dump into theatres; that tells you everything you need to know about it.

Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .

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