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‘Heaven is for Real’ Producer Calls for ‘Authenticity’ in Faith-Based Films

Purpose Summit morning keynote speaker Bishop T.D. Jakes waxed philosophical about African wildlife, issued a clarion call for “authenticity” in faith-based films and encouraged audience members to follow their “instincts” during his half-hour question and answer period, moderated by Debra Langford of the Langford Company.

“I have some duality of experience as someone who is both behind the walls of the faith community as well as behind the walls of the (film) industry,” said Jakes, founder of TDJ Enterprises, bestselling book author of “Instinct” and producer of nine films, including “Black Nativity” and last year’s “Heaven is for Real,” which raked in $90 million at the box office. “I can be a bridge and catalyst between these two worlds.”

Pushing “content” as the most crucial element of a film or TV project’s potential success, Jakes spoke of the diversity in the faith-based community and its movie-going sector and the need for the integration of both faith and business elements during the entirety of the filmmaking process.

“The audience is huge,” he said. “It is very diverse, and there are various nuances within the faith community. It’s not a one size fits all. There are colloquialisms within the faith-based community, there are buzz words, it is a culture in and of itself. As Hollywood continues to explore (faith-based filmmaking) it’s not about them making more of what they think we need. If you don’t have someone scanning the dialogue, looking at the script then the films suffers. (Hollywood) needs to form the integrations of ideologies from the onset of the film. You need infusion of faith-based audience in the development and marketing of the product. There has to be a joining of purpose and vision.”

With “a vast majority of the American population” citing a belief in God, Jakes noted that art has always been a reflection of our society, and cinematic production should be no exception.

“We are disingenuous to talk about our society with the exclusion of faith,” said Jakes. “From fashion to politics, faith is a part of the conversation.”

Jakes shared a personal anecdote from a visit to South Africa where, on a wildlife safari, the zoologist tour guide struggled to find an elephant that he was hoping to point out. It took a native Zulu tribesman, with no research or charts at his disposal, to find the roaming pachyderm, which was in full view the entire time.

Jakes linked the experience to the difference between “intelligence” and “instinct” in Hollywood.

“Intellect can explain,” said Jakes, “But only instinct can find. This business is often driven by intelligence, by stats, by reports, by charts, by graphs and that is important to have. But the secret sauce is….that instinct always pulls the trigger. We are the most effective when we hire those that are instinctive. Creativity and vibrancy come forth because you are instinctive when you are in the area that is conducive to how you are creative. Instincts are the treasure map for our soul satisfaction.”

Jakes entranced the crowd with another apt animal analogy pertaining to the business of Hollywood, this one about a sea turtle and a giraffe.

“The Giraffe eats from the tops of the trees because you eat on the level of your vision,” he explained. “They are biologically designed to eat from the trees. Sea turtles also eat on the level of his vision. The turtle is not wrong and the giraffe is not wrong — so long as they stay on their level. But when the giraffe starts to respond to what the turtle is doing then we have a problem. You shine brightest when you surround yourself with people who are rhythmically wired like you.”

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