A look at six of the most dynamic firms

While several Independent companies producing movies for religious auds operate outside the studio system entirely, others are partnering with traditional Hollywood to increase their visibility in the marketplace. Here’s a quick primer on six of the most dynamic faith-based indie firms.

BIG IDEA (Founded 1993)
Mission: “To enhance the spiritual and moral fabric of our society through creative media,” says chief operating officer Terry Pefanis. The company produces Judeo-Christian lessons and Bible stories, as reenacted by animated vegetables. “We take a lot of creative liberties in doing so,” Pefanis says.
Distribution: Began by offering VeggieTales videos exclusively through the Christian Booksellers Assn., then branched out to mass market in 1998. Now self-distributes, relying on studios for theatrical releases.
Biggest success: “Jonah” earned $25 million in theaters. Homevid dominates, with 50 million videos sold, but TV shows and music tie-ins also perform well. Brand has 27 licensees.
Upcoming slate: Universal will release new VeggieTales feature “The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything” in theaters early next year. Second season of “3-2-1 Penguins” is in the works for NBC’s Saturday-morning Qubo block.

CLOUD TEN PRODS. (Founded 2005)
Mission: “We make evangelical Christian films,” says chairman Peter Lalonde. “We’re not trying to make ‘feel good’ movies or nice family movies. We think there are lots of other people doing a wonderful job at that.”
Distribution: Originally used traditional theaters, but with 1995’s “Left Behind: World at War,” the company created the Cloud Ten Church Cinemas network that provided distribution via 3,200 church screens.
Biggest success: “Left Behind.” The first installment in the franchise starring Kirk Cameron made $4.2 million when released in 1999.
Upcoming slate: Fourth chapter in “Left Behind” series is in development.

Mission: “In terms of our positioning in a faith-based entertainment world, our movies under our faith-based banner have a very specific target marketing to the African-American gospel market,” says prexy-CEO Jeff Clanagan.
Distribution: After independently handling theatrical and DVD releases of such films as “Preaching to the Choir” and “My Brother,” the company now has a multipicture deal with Fox Faith.
Biggest success: Steve Harvey’s “Don’t Trip, He Ain’t Through With Me Yet.” Harvey performed a clean standup act in front of a churchgoing audience at T.D. Jakes’ evangelical MegaFest in Atlanta. The picture was released on 50 screens last May and is a top seller online and in Christian bookstores.
Upcoming slate: Two adaptations of successful touring stage plays. First is “Mama, I Want to Sing!,” in pre-production and on track for release in November. A second feature, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” is in production for a planned January release. It stars Golden Brooks (“Girlfriends”), Darrin Dewitt Henson (“Stomp the Yard”) and Hill Harper (“CSI: NY”).

GENER8XION (Founded 1998)
Mission: “Gener8xion Entertainment is not a company that makes movies about faith. We make movies that don’t violate our faith,” explains chairman and CEO Matthew Crouch.
Distribution: Independently through traditional theater chains and home entertainment outlets. Discussing partnerships with established studios for DVD, television and foreign sales.
Biggest success: “One Night With the King,” a drama based on “The Book of Esther” featuring John Rhys-Davies and Omar Sharif (and a one-scene cameo by Peter O’Toole), earned more than $13 million in theaters domestically and has already sold more than1 million DVD units.
Upcoming slate: Christian music drama “WOW Radio,” based on the bestselling WOW music compilations; animated “Prodigal Son” parable; “Blessed Child,” about an Ethiopian boy with miraculous powers; dramedy “Mrs. Worthington’s Party” (acquired for release later this year), about a priest sent to shut down a Cape Cod parish before Christmas; and parodies “1-800 Club” and “Christian Movie.”

Mission: “At the same time that we educate and inspire and entertain, we also want to challenge people in terms of their thinking by raising some interesting questions in their mind,” says chairman George Barna. “Our goal is not trying to beat people over the head with the Bible; that’s not entertaining.”
Distribution: Looking to make a deal with an established distributor for theatrical releases. The company also is developing its own cable, mobile and Internet initiatives, including IPTV offering “The Cloud.”
Biggest success: Yet to release first project.
Upcoming slate: Production began in March on “Dudleytown,” a teen-targeted Christian horror movie based on a series of novels by Bodie Ingelvie. Also in the works is a feature version of Anne Rice’s novel “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt” which the company intends to have in theaters by Christmas 2008.

NAMESAKE (Founded 1996)
Mission: “We are kind of different from everybody else,” says CEO Joe Goodman. “We make films that are more in the thriller/horror genre that may have a spiritual theme, but it’s not on the nose, and it’s more allegorical.”
Distribution: A multipicture deal with Fox Faith, but also developing features for independent or alternate distribution.
Biggest success: “Three,” a thriller adapted from bestselling Christian author Ted Dekker, grossed $1 million in January.
Upcoming slate: Haunted thriller “House” in post-production; horror movie “Nightbringer” expected to begin shooting later this year; and “Uncharted,” about a bunch of college roommates shipwrecked on an island that is literally Hell, in pre-production. Namesake also holds the rights to six of the seven novels written by Charles Williams, a contemporary of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

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