Variety’s Purpose: Family Entertainment & Faith-Based Summit kicked off with a panel of industry veterans at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons on Thursday.
The panel, called “Bible Breaking Through: The State of Faith-Based & Family Entertainment,” featured the exec producer of Oxygen’s “Preachers” reality franchise, Dr. Holly Carter, Fox Searchlight’s Jill Gwen, independent film expert Peter Goldwyn and Stephen Hill, president of programming at BET Networks. Variety‘s executive editor Steven Gaydos moderated. Below are four of the panel’s major talking points.
1. Crossing over is possible
While attempting to reconcile her faith and career aspirations in Hollywood, Carter received some advice: “You can cross over as long as you take the Cross over.” In her career, she has found room to stay true to her faith while finding success in the industry.
2. Faith-based filmmakers do their research
From an independent film perspective, films grounded in faith often have a marketing advantage, according to Goldwyn. “The filmmakers have much more purpose and do more research before making a movie,” he said. “Purpose creates organization and direction.”
Goldwyn said filmmakers tend to lack that crucial understanding of their audience. Having a purpose creates “organization and direction,” he said. “They know who they’re making their movie for. I think that’s really important.”
3. Faith in entertainment is nothing new
Panelists remarked on a pattern: Hollywood seems surprised when faith-based films succeed. Goldwyn said that the industry should remember that faith has been part of film for a long time. “They have great messages and they’re great stories,” he said.
Gwen added that she has found what she calls a stealth spirituality in Hollywood. “There are ministers speckled everywhere,” she said. “We just don’t know it.”
4. There is more to the country than Los Angeles and New York
In a related point, Hill shared that although he has spent most of his career living in either New York or Los Angeles — like many people who work in entertainment — the one year he lived in Dallas had a profound impact on his understanding of consumers. “You forget that churches are filled every Sunday … across this country between Los Angeles and New York,” he said. This knowledge informs his programming moves at BET, which caters in part to a target audience in the Bible Belt.