What an amazing time to be a filmmaker. The tools of the trade are ever-changing and advancing to the point where making a film may literally rest in the palm of your hand…in the form of a smartphone. Once hindered by access to equipment, today’s independent filmmaker truly can create their masterpiece with no budget.
But, are there unique issues that the Christian filmmaker must address when starting the journey to making a film? I believe anything that a Believer sets out to do must have a solid spiritual foundation, grounded in Christ. Making a movie is no different. Having successfully produced, directed and written eight films, starring in three of them, I will share some key tips to consider that I followed along the way. Before you “roll camera” make sure you seek and petition the Lord, find and engage your audience and do your due diligence to prepare for a great production both in front of and behind the camera.
Seek the Lord
Tip #1 – Prayer
God has given us the privilege of Prayer. It is important to engage in an ongoing dialogue with Him (1 Thessalonians 5:17) not only daily but throughout the day. And lifting up your film idea or project is key to making sure you are aligning with God’s will for you and the film. Before I made my first film, I needed confirmation from the Lord. I had directed and produced two music videos – shot on 16m film by the way – and felt ready to take the next step to shoot a film. I committed to praying the Prayer of Jabez (I Chronicles 4:10) every day for a month. It was the month of May. I kept wondering when I would hear from the Lord as I prayed each day. Then on May 31st, the Lord confirmed that He was calling me not only to make this film but to use my gifts to glorify Him in the Entertainment industry.
Tip #2- Word Study
Go to His inerrant Word for revelation! There will be times along the journey that you may need a specific Word from the Lord. A Word Study in the Holy Bible will always bless you, strengthen you and settle your heart. During the development stage of many of my films, I would begin with the word “Faith”. A Word study on Faith will land you in the Hall of Fame of Faith, Hebrews 11:1-40.
Tip #3 – Prayer Team
Finally, I believe putting a Prayer Team together to petition with you for the film will solidify the already strong foundation you are building. First pray for discernment about what Intercessors to invite. Even if it is just one additional person to pray consistently with you, we know that where two or more are gathered together, the Lord is in their midst (Matthew 18:20). Decide upon a prayer schedule, whether it is daily, weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, etc.
Find and Engage Your Audience
Many Christian filmmakers feel called to use film as a tool, as ministry to win souls to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. They see this as the purpose, the reason that the Lord called them to the medium of film. Still others see their films as ministering directly to the Church and addressing the many issues within the Body of Christ. Another contingent of Christian filmmakers just want to express their art utilizing any choice of genre they choose. Some just want to entertain. The sky is the limit. There is no limit. Whatever the choice, it is important to have a clear idea of who your target audience is and begin to engage them early.
In the last fifteen years, there have been countless successes of films produced by Christian filmmakers, from the Kendrick Brothers’ War Room in 2015 to Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ in 2004, these are just two examples of filmmakers who were clear about the audience(s) they were targeting and how to engage them. They both had excellent marketing strategies and both were highly successful both at the box office and in achieving the goals they established for the films.
Tip #4 – Online Presence
Create a website for the film. Regardless of the stage of the project, you can begin to create buzz by directing people to the website. In the early stages you can include all of the attachments from above the line to casting. It can include basic information about the story. You can build on the site and add to it as time progresses and as the project grows. A website is also helpful if you have a crowdfunding campaign to raise the financing.
Tip #5 – Social Media
It is a good idea to establish social media accounts for the film on all of the most popular platforms prior to or at the same time as the website launch. Make sure that you have user-friendly access to your social media from your website and vice versa. Create and keep active a Facebook page for your film. Find relatable Facebook groups to join and invite them to join and like your page. Stay engaged with the various group pages you join. Decide which platforms and apps will reach your target audience(s) and stay engaged with new content, conversations, questions and more.
Tip #6 – Connect Offline
Who is your target audience? Go where they are. Tell them about your film. They will be excitedly anticipating the release of your film and trust me, this will encourage you along the journey. I cannot express how encouraging it is to have people email and call me in anticipation of my projects. Regardless of the stage that a particular film is in, I am always thankful and excited to hear from those who are looking forward to seeing it.
Tip #7 – Network
Networking with other Christians in the industry is a breath of fresh air. Attend film festivals, networking events, “niche” groups, anywhere you can find others who are doing what you do or are in the same industry. It is not only a great fellowship, it can and usually does result in great relationships that ultimately can serve to make your project even better than where you started. This is where you may find not only your production team but also potential cast members and your prayer partners!
At every stage of the process of making a film, it is important to remain open and fresh about hearing from God, new directions you might want to pursue and changes that may need to be made. Be open. Do a due diligence check on the fundamentals of a good film for your project. Out of this assessment, sometimes ongoing assessment until the projects’ completion, you may receive new revelations to make it better.
Tip #8 – Story
Film includes a broad spectrum of types of stories that can be told. Know the focus of your story and keep it there. Every good story has several elements. It must appeal to the human experience somehow. It must also have visual appeal. The main characters must be strong and have an arc. Be clear about the plot, the theme, the characters and how the story is being told. What is the worldview? What is the subtext? Is it clearly Christian? Is that important to you?
Tip #9 – In Front of the Camera
Casting is so important to the success of the film. We live in a time where name talent attached to a film, significantly contributes to that project being able to gain financing, distribution, etc. These are among the decisions that a director and casting director must make. It often is determined by budget. There are talented Actors that are unknown who may be perfect for the role, so it again is important to really be clear about your goals for the project and what you can afford. And for the Director who is also an Actor, like myself, if you also have a role, whether lead or supporting, in your film, make sure you plan very strategically for the day(s) that you are shooting your scenes. You can wear both hats at once.
Tip #10 – Behind the Camera
Whether shooting on location or in studio, the “Angel” is in the details, so to speak. A thorough pre-production will make for a well-organized, solid production. Your crew is your team. Everyone should be of one accord and ready to make the Director’s vision become a reality. Ideally, you have hired great people who respect you and have the same passion about the project that you have. You want your film to be technically excellent, from the camera work, audio, sets/settings, to editing, music, etc.
These tips and tools have and continue to guide me in my films and productions. It is important to remember to adapt and improvise throughout the entire journey of your film. Expect the unexpected and of course pray without ceasing. Here’s to making excellent films and to God be all the glory and all the praise!
Cassandra Hollis is a working Actor, Award-winning Producer/Directer/Writer and Talent. She produced, directed and wrote 8 films that collectively received 45+ nominations in national and international film festivals; winning awards, including Best Feature, 2nd Place for Best Feature, Audience Choice Award as well as three films included in the National Park Service Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program. Her films have screened in the US, Canada, Abuja, Nigeria, South Africa, Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad, and the UK. She is trained in Meisner and Method Techniques and has appeared in Films, TV Movies, currently appearing in a national WalMart Commercial, and appeared as a Detective in a recent episode of TV One Network docu-series “Fatal Attraction.” Cassandra is Director of the Atlanta Chapter of the Hollywood Prayer Network.