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Looking Back, Looking Forward: The New Renaissance

The New Renaissance

| On Jan 07, 2013

Where have we been and where are we going? Valuable questions in times of change — questions I think we all too often forget to ask. We talk about what is happening, rather than what has happened. We look at the world the way it is, not the way it’s going to be. And when we miss the larger context, we miss our opportunity to make a difference.

The Hollywood Challenge

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to witness the many different ways Christians approach Hollywood. Some fear it, others despise it. Some want to secretly infiltrate its ranks, while others want a hostile takeover. Every Christian media conference, event, or festival I’ve been to has had pretty much the same message: we’re on the outside and it’s time for us to be on the inside. Everyone seems to agree that Christian filmmakers are second-class citizens in Hollywood and that needs to change.

I get frustrated pretty quickly with this message though, for two reasons. For one thing, it ignores all of the talented, successful believers already thriving in the industry. Whether its Andrew Stanton directing Pixar classics like Finding Nemo and Wall•E, Terrence Malick crafting beautiful masterpieces like The Tree of Life, or an expert producer like Ralph Winter of the X-Men films — “Hollywood” doesn’t mind that these guys are thoughtful Christians, because they’re also talented filmmakers.

The fact is that there are also a lot of people who don’t succeed in Hollywood. It’s a tough business — and to be creatively in control of a studio picture is a rare opportunity indeed. So, many Christians who never caught their break seem to use their faith as an excuse, when in reality the odds are stacked against everyone. We should take notice — there are a lot of other Hollywood rejects out there with whom we could take solace.

But the other reason this message frustrates me — this notion that Christians need to “take back Hollywood” — is that it looks like we may have already missed the boat. The grand ship “Hollywood” sailed long ago and we spent most of the voyage watching from the shore, throwing rotten vegetables in its general direction. I find it odd that now that Hollywood is slowly headed towards an iceberg, we’re all clamoring to get on board. I predict that if Christians ever do take over Hollywood, it’ll be right around the time that everyone else has jumped ship.

Looking Back: Missed Opportunities

Where have we been? We had a chance, at the dawn of cinema, to claim the medium ourselves. Before there were movie theaters, the old motion pictures were shown in churches. Before the studios moved west, Christians owned the land that Hollywood is built on. A long time ago, the greatest artists and storytellers were predominately people of faith. We had every opportunity to be the masters of cinema, but we gave it away. And once it was gone, we couldn’t afford to reclaim it.

The production of these motion pictures was expensive. They required hundreds of trained technicians and experienced craftsmen. Distribution was difficult. At first, you needed a large venue — a theater. Eventually, people could watch these productions at home, but the process of beaming TV shows across the nation was also difficult and expensive, so again the corporations ruled the system. By the time home video rolled around, the entire process of filmmaking was controlled by a select few, in one or two cities in the nation. And if anyone else wanted in, you had to go there and you had to — as they would describe it — “break in.” And as many young, optimistic filmmakers have learned: the odds are not in their favor.

Where Are We Going?

So, where are we going? The world has changed. Today, you can buy all the technology you need to make a professional film for less than it costs to buy a new car. You can practice for a few hundred dollars with just an iPad, with its built in HD camera and iMovie. The internet provides anyone a global platform for their work. And the audience is already here, waiting for good content. Some kid with a video camera just needs to provide it.

This is where the next revolution will occur. No, not will — it is occurring right now. And has been for some time. The question is, what are we going to do about it? Are artists of faith going to let this opportunity pass us by, like we did a century ago? Or are we going to wake up? Give up on the out-dated dream of reforming Hollywood. Let them squabble over residuals and digital rights management. Meanwhile, we can be making a difference in a new medium. We can produce first-rate, top-notch, original material for a new audience. We can be pioneers in this new frontier. And we could be the best.

While many of my buds from film school spent the last decade slaving away as Hollywood assistants, I led a small band of independently-minded filmmakers and we produced content directly for the web. We were trailblazers in online video — YouTube called our web series “some of the best dramas the web has to offer.” Over the last several years, millions of people around the world have watched my films and TV series. Made out of my garage, with a team of hard-working volunteers, these homegrown productions were just a foretaste of the new opportunities provided by today’s technological revolution.

The world is changing. Christians artists have to examine where they have been and where they are going. When I look on the horizon, I see hope for us. There is a new Renaissance coming — a time when artists of every sort have a chance once again for their creations to permeate culture and impact the world around them. This is our ultimate heritage. Long before Christians “missed out” on Hollywood, Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel, Dante wrote the Inferno, and Handel composed the Messiah. They didn’t miss their opportunity to leave a lasting impact on the world.

So the question is, what part of our history will we cling to? And in what direction will that take us? Will we look to win old battles or turn towards a promising future where we could lead the way?

Joshua SikoraJoshua Sikora is the director of the Cinema & New Media Arts program at Houston Baptist University. An award-winning filmmaker and new media entrepreneur, Sikora has written, produced, or directed more than a dozen productions including feature films, TV series, and documentaries. Committed to high-quality, low-budget filmmaking, he has a passion for the freedom and creativity that independent cinema offers. Before joining HBU, Sikora founded New Renaissance Pictures and, partnering with Hulu and YouTube for a variety of popular web-based productions.

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