Hollywood’s got religion (In theaters, on DVD)

Marketplace Staff Oct 13, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: Among the movies opening tonight is a picture called “One Night With the King.” Nope, not an Elvis film. It’s about an even higher power, you might say. The latest in a wave of faith-based movies. They’ve been coming on the heels of Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” from a couple of years ago. Hollywood’s realizing what it thought was a niche market of Christians isn’t so niche-y after all. And that their pockets are as deep as their convictions. Diantha Parker has more.

DIANTHA PARKER: Not everyone may be familiar with the story of Esther, who is celebrated on the Jewish holiday of Purim. So, the trailer for “One Night With the King” does not undersell it.

FILM TRAILER: An orphan who became a queen . . . “Suppose, my lady, the man offered you the kingdom?”

The movie, which features Omar Sharif and Peter O’Toole, was produced by Gener8xion Entertainment — a company that’s been getting devout Christians into theaters since 1998.

Its chief, Matthew Crouch, is the son of televangelists. He says he’s dedicated his life to proving popular culture is compatible with sincere faith. But Crouch admits it’s been tough to convince the entertainment industry to consider a religious audience.

MATTHEW CROUCH: I’m trying to be funny — it may not be funny — but I’m almost like a Moses, you know, standing before Hollywood saying, “Let my people go to the movies,” you know, in essence.

And the Red Sea may be parting. Crouch says the success of “Passion of the Christ” was the best thing that ever happened to companies like his. The movie grossed more than $600 million worldwide in theaters. But faith-based film producers expect their real payoff from DVD sales.

HAL VOGEL: It is really the tail that wags the dog in Hollywood.

Hal Vogel is a media analyst and author of the book Entertainment Industry Economics. He says these movies are tailor-made to be home library classics. More than 4 million “Passion of the Christ” DVDs were snapped up the day they came out.

But Vogel says that movie was a rare combination of star power and marketing which will be hard for others to emulate.

VOGEL: It is not sufficient in my opinion to build a whole industry of these types of films. It is a niche product that will probably remain so over the long run.

Gener8xion Entertainment’s Matthew Crouch disagrees. He not only thinks DVD sales are sustainable, but predicts there’s a new audience ready to buy tickets.

CROUCH: There will be a day when it will be clearly understood by Hollywood that they have been marketing all movies to the niche, and that there were more people wanting to go to the theater, wanting to embrace culture, that wouldn’t go because they were offended.

To cover its bases, 20th Century Fox has put a foot in both camps. Last month the studio announced the creation of FoxFaith, an arm that will turn out at least 12 faith-based features next year.

In the meantime, Fox has already signed on to release “One Night With the King” on DVD.

In Los Angeles, I’m Diantha Parker for Marketplace.

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