Industry Execs Emphasize Importance of Credibility in Faith-Based Entertainment

What is central for the future of family and faith-based entertainment and its expansion is its credibility and engagement with audiences and communities at large, according to DeVon Franklin, Sony Entertaiment’s senior VP of production.

“Credibility is key. It has to come from a place of where your heart is,” the exec said at Variety’s Purpose: The Family Entertainment & Faith Based Summit at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills on Thursday.

Barbara Fisher, SVP, original programming, UP, added, “Clearly things are changing. I’m at a network that has devoted its entire network to this kind of programming. I don’t think we would be succeeding, and I don’t think we would be growing if audiences weren’t asking for this. What is surprising people is this kind of programming is for a lot more people than they think.”

Films like the “The Blind Side,” “42” and “Instructions Not Included” may not be specifically faith-centered, but as Fisher says, “it’s in the eye of the beholder.”

Both Fisher and Tom Allen, partner, Allied Faith and Family, said in two different panels that they don’t want to be about niche programming. Both want to deliver programming that appeals to a wide audience.

To appeal to all audiences, Ben O’Dell, president, production, Pantelion Films, credits “Instructions Not Included,” which has grossed $86 million worldwide. “It’s family-oriented, but at the same time it doesn’t fit a mold,” he said. “The value system is really what we look for in all our films.”

Allen echoed, “Movies that have faith content to one degree or another are movies that we appreciate, but really sometimes it’s more subtle than that and it’s just the values that are imbued in the content of the film.”

Another example Rick Ramirez, SVP, Targeted Marketing, Warner Bros. Pictures, gave is “Dolphin Tale 2,” which will be released later this year. He said, “There are those sort of movies that have messaging that are broad-based, that aren’t on the nose faith-based, but the notion of the value that’s behind it is one that is a huge opportunity.”

Ramirez also cites “42” as a film that allowed Warner Bros. to build a foundation early in the campaign process with the African American faith-based community. “It was important to us that we built that brand identity,” he said.

When it comes to credibility, it is understanding your audience. “It is not one size fits all,” according to Greg Liberman, CEO, Spark Networks.

Rio Cyrus, SVP, marketing, 20th Century Fox said, “Regardless of what we think the audience will want to see, it’s really about engagement.” She says it’s crucial to begin a dialogue and creating an invitation for conversation with those audiences.

Cyrus credited executive producer Mark Burnett of popular mini-series “The Bible” and how he was able to create an authenticity by going to all different types the faith leaders. “Giving people the permission to disagree, but still fell like they’ve been heard — that is the authenticity that we are trying to promote.”

Social media plays a major part in the marketing strategy and the expansion of family and faith-based entertainment.

“Heaven is For Real,” for example, was based on a book, so Franklin said the number one thing to do is go after the book readers.

“Social media is huge because there are communities that have already been formed based around discussing the content of these books and their impact,” said Franklin.

Franklin also said that because “Heaven is For Real” had an emotional and cathartic experience for people who were engaging with the story, the number of people engaging on social media surpassed their projections.

“The story went beyond the entertainment, and in the social communities we saw tremendous growth,” he said.

“The more a story affects your life the more you want to engage.”

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