On breaking the ‘Christian movie’ mold

Steve Taylor is the director, screenwriter and one of the producers of Blue Like Jazz. He also wrote and directed The Second Chance, a 2006 film starring Michael W. Smith. In addition to his work in cinema, Mr. Taylor has been a recording artist, music producer, author and more.

While on a promotional tour for Blue Like Jazz, he spent some time with special contributor Mike Baughman.

 

Steve Taylor

Steve Taylor

What do you hope people will take away from this movie?

It ends in a way that demands conversation. Our guards go down when you start a conversation with an apology. The confession booth scene played a big role in motivating me to start the movie project. We need ways to talk to each other in a society that is so polarized.

 

How do you take essays and translate them into a story?

I felt like there was a basic narrative thread through the book—guy grows up in a conservative Southern Baptist Texas environment, ends up in a different place and rediscovers a deeper, more Christian faith in this “godless campus.” The big change was turning Don into a college student instead of a guy in his 30s auditing classes. With that move, it becomes such a universal story—growing up somewhere specific, going away to college and finding yourself lost in translation. A lot of us know what that feels like.

 

While the movie is rated PG-13, it’s being marketed in some venues as a Christian film. Is there any tension here?

I’m not sure when we decided anything Christian should be safe for the whole family. I’ve read the Bible and if you took out all the stuff that is PG-13 or worse, you’d have to cut a lot of it out.

I’m certainly not on a crusade against family entertainment and I also understand why certain Christian media products want to brand themselves that way. But when Christian faith becomes synonymous with “safe for the whole family” . . . why in the world would we think that’s a good thing? Christian media should be addressing all parts of life, and there are many issues we talk about amongst adults and don’t share with kids. In the mind of the entertainment industry and much of our culture, Christian media and “family friendly” are synonymous. They shouldn’t be.

 

So is this a Christian film?

We don’t want to be classified as a “Christian movie,” and yet that’s dumb because the movie was written and directed by Christians, and it’s based on a book with the subtitle, “Non-religious thoughts on Christian spirituality.” But Christian movies have become so calcified into a genre—sentimentality trumps substance, good intentions trump artistry, all conflict must be tidily resolved and “safe for the whole family” is the de facto requirement—that the term automatically restricts a large segment of the audience we hope will come. I don’t want to be put in that box.

At the same time, we hope to expand people’s view of what a movie made by Christians can look like. I was recently talking to one of our Kickstarter backers and he put it well: “It seems like the Christian media industry has become all about replicating culture, but we want to be creating culture.” As Christians working in the creative arts, our job, first and foremost, is to tell the truth. Jesus himself said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” When we tell the truth—even the uncomfortable truth—the truth sets people free.

 

What role did Kickstarter.com play in financing this movie?

Simply put, we wouldn’t be here without it. I don’t want to overstate this, but in many ways the convergence of Kickstarter as a young startup and the Save Blue Like Jazz campaign felt like a tipping point for both of us. Our goal was $125,000 in 30 days and we raised $345,000. It became the most money raised by any Kickstarter project to that date.

[Being funded by so many small donations] gave us a sense that, “There’s something bigger here than any of us ever imagined.” I made phone calls to everyone who gave $10 or more to support Blue Like Jazz. It took a year and over 3,500 phone calls but it was so cool to talk to all these people who had a shared enthusiasm to see something like this film happen. I realized this morning how much I miss making those phone calls. I kind of want to call people again!

 

Are there lessons you learned in the process of making this movie that you think the church could benefit from?

Assume the best in what people will think of your efforts. When we go into a situation with our guard up, people naturally put their guard up as well. In making this movie, we assumed the best of our cast and our crew. We knew that the subject matter might potentially freak out a few actor-types but we figured, we’ve got a great screenplay and a great story—let’s assume they’ll like it on its own merits. And they responded in kind. They all felt a part of the process—like they were making something unique and even historic. This was true of our relationship with Kickstarter as well. Do good work and people will want to partner with you.

 

by Mike Baughman, Special Contributor for the United Methodist Reporter

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 
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