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10 Takeaways From Variety’s Entertainment and Faith-Based Purpose Summit

The state of faith-based entertainment is evolving along with the demands of TV and film. More content is being thought up for OTT and streaming platforms and many companies are finding new ways to expand their reach. At Variety and Rogers and Cowan’s Purpose Summit, media and content companies, artists and performers gathered to talk about the current state of faith-based entertainment and its future.

Mike Miller, Executive Producer, “Story of God”

“It’s the greatest mystery of the history of the world. how are we going to stuff this into six hours? We realized that it was about Morgan Freeman’s curiosity so we let him take the reins of the show. We just said, ‘Let’s go.’ The schedule that he kept was astonishing and it shows in every frame. We’re so happy that we’re making more — in two weeks we start shooting Season 2. Morgan Freeman comes off as spiritual and not overtly religious. We wanted to make the show accessible to anyone. He’s very well-versed in many faiths so it was an extension of his natural curiosity. He was kind of the perfect guy.”

Wes Halula, Screenwriter, Director, Producer

“I grew up in the Evangelical church and I remember every time I see it represented on TV, I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s not quite right. They really didn’t get that right.’ A lot of times faith-based people are represented as greedy or dumb. Or squeaky clean and it’s just not realistic.”

Michael Van Dyck, Paradigm, Agent

“Contemporary Christian projects are more en vogue right now. I’m going with Netflix because they are open to this type of space. We are going to keep trying and I’m certain we’ll score. Just look at the success of ‘Greenleaf.'”

Michael Carney, Producer, Writer, Director, Paramount’s “Same Kind of Different As Me”

“One of the problems with filmmakers is that all these categories bother them a bit. It boxes them into an area. We have this amazing God that created all these wonderful things and our imagination but there is a certain stigma in Hollywood. They look at it differently. One of the best faith-based films is “Braveheart” so why are we not making these films? As a filmmaker, I like to shed all that stuff and pitch it more as a broader story. We don’t have to hit someone over the head with it. When they watch the trailer and the film they’re going to feel something different.”

Esther Kustanowitz, Writer, Digital Influencer & Jewish Community Consultant

“In ‘Orange Is the New Black,” having these characters that struggle with it in any faith, people come in with doubts and challenges. In terms of a dramatic and comedic representation it’s very interesting, diverse and fulfilling to see people figure it out along the way. You don’t need to have the background and the experience to be able to play an experience in a show.”

Cary Solomon, Writer, “God’s Not Dead”

“The way to do unique marketing is to find unique people. If the Apostles were alive today, do you think they’d go around from town to town spreading the gospel?  No — they’d use social media! We need to find different and unique marketing ways.”

Stuart Krasnow, Executive Vice President of Creative Affairs, Warner Bros. Television

“The gay character is often seen without a family and [portrayed] flamboyantly. It’s very difficult to see a caricature of yourself… Levity gives you value and not one single characterization.”

Brian Bird, Executive Producer & Showrunner, Hallmark’s “When Calls The Heart”

“Somebody forgot the family audience… I asked some colleagues to name five scripted programs that you can watch with your family, and they couldn’t do it… In our culture, when things aren’t very hopeful right now, [family-based programs] are an elixir.”

Marissa Nance, Director, Multicultural Content Marketing & Strategic Partnerships, OMD USA

“There is one magic word — and that word is authenticity. If you are authentic, and you feel a connection to what you’re doing, then that will be obvious in the work that you do, and if you extend that authenticity in the marketing, your audience will find it… I think any ideal, multi-cultural world, when you talk about niche content or audiences… Authenticity is really what matters.”

Reza Aslan, CEO BoomGen Studios

“Regardless of the source material, if you want to tell a story with a faith or religious subtext, it has to ring true to our modern interpretations of faith… What is missing in scripture is human motivation. For those kinds of works to resonate with contemporary audiences, you have to make sure that you are tackling these issues in a contemporary light.”

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