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By Kelly Jo Brick

Be authentic. That was a major theme of PURPOSE: The Family Entertainment and Faith-Based Summit presented by Variety, where industry leaders gathered to share their perspectives on family and faith-based entertainment. Speakers including Mark Burnett, Roma Downey, David Oyelowo and DeVon Franklin repeatedly focused on authentic storytelling and creating projects that resonate with viewers.

Faith has long been part of film and it’s no secret that there’s a large market for faith-based projects, in fact over 225 million Americans self-identify as Christians. These people are hungry for content and eager to engage through social media with those who are creating this content.

In a story-focused session, panelists further echoed that audiences don’t want to be preached to. People want to relate to what they see. Producer Cale Boyter (Same Kind of Different As Me, The SpongeBob Movie: The Sponge Out of Water) reminded attendees, “You gotta entertain people. You gotta take them on a ride. You can’t make them feel like they’re in Sunday school.”

Stories can move people in a positive direction without being heavy-handed and the overwhelming key to creating interest in a faith-based project is making sure your project is commercial. Fill your story with character, conflict, journey and triumph. Most importantly, be authentic and passionate as you do it.

David Oyelowo often found that the faith based projects coming his way often tended to be about a person who has it all together, preaching to someone who doesn’t. These stories didn’t really connect with him as a performer. Although Oyelowo did stress that, “These films work when there’s a conviction in storytelling.”

Oyelowo spoke of his upcoming thriller, Captive, as an example of how a faith-based film can, “Go to the mossy dark places where real people live, to find the light.”

Traci Blackwell, SVP Current Programs for The CW also suggested that there’s a way to tell these stories that’s not on the nose. You can mesh a broad audience with a faith-based audience. Shows like Jane the Virgin and Supernatural both have faith-related elements within the stories they tell, but they’ve also been able to connect with a wide audience base. Blackwell believes that success, “All starts with what’s on the page, the words and the characters.”

With a concentration on developing authentic stories, creators can not only reach these enthusiastically supportive audiences, but they can also continue to bring other friends and circles into the viewing experience by telling good, compelling stories.

Producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey were very encouraged about the current state of the faith-based entertainment marketplace, believing there are enormous opportunities for telling good stories. Burnett encouraged those in attendance to, “Go after things. Dream Big. Be Bold. Be willing to trip over.”

Kelly Jo Brick is a Contributing Editor at TVWriter™. She’s a television and documentary writer and producer, as well as a winner of Scriptapalooza TV and a Sundance Fellow. Read more about her HERE.

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