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February 03, 2005

Views on the Passion Snub from a Hollywood Insider

In late December, as we considered the events of the year past, I looked (at The Rooftop Blog) at the top ten Christian news trends of 2004. First among them was the success and impact of Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ. There was plenty of agreement among analysts who looked at important religious news.

So I was surprised and I suppose dismayed when the Academy Award nominations were released that The Passion was essentially snubbed. It earned three nominations, for cinematography, makeup, and original score. But nothing major.

The Passion had won in the best drama category at the People’s Choice Award. But this was cheapened when it shared top honors with the animated green ogre, Shrek, and the constipated liberal ogre, Michael Moore.

But to be honest, I’m not much of film critic, so I wondered if, perhaps, the movie simply didn’t meet some of the highest standards of the industry. So I asked for the opinion of a long time friend who is one of the most successful evangelical Christian writers and producers in Hollywood (withholding his name because of the politics of Hollywood). He was the producer of one of the most successful television series of the last decade, and has written a number of movies and for many TV programs.

I asked him why he thought The Passion was snubbed by the Academy. He responded:

“A couple of perspectives on the snub.

One, it wasn't completely snubbed. It received 3 nominations, but it definitely was snubbed in the big four categories (writing, directing, acting, best picture).

Two, it would have had to qualify in the foreign film category anyway because it was in a very foreign language, which makes it more difficult to compete for best picture.

Three, the studios engage in incredible gamesmanship to campaign for these nominations. They lobby, they take out expensive, continuous advertisements in the Hollywood trade papers, and they send out free screeners to all members. Mel Gibson made a point of not going out of his way to lobby the industry, and I respect him for it, but I think it cost him some nods. The only thing he did was send out the screeners, but created no profile for the movie in the trades.

There's no doubt that much of the Hollywood community wasn't enamored of the film (except for the studio execs who were blown away by its success), so there was undoubtedly a "protest" non-vote across the board when it came time for nominations, probably fanned by all the anti-Semitism controversy. I personally have met very few people in Hollywood who actually saw the movie. They all just sat back and scratched their heads as the rest of the America turned out in droves.

One thing the film has done in Hollywood is make the money people stand up and take notice. One was Rupert Murdoch at Fox, who called his execs on the carpet and asked them why they passed on "The Passion." They made the excuse that everybody passed and that the movie was a fluke. Murdoch corrected them by saying the audience is not a fluke, and if you build movies for them, they'll come, and he said he wants to see Fox put out more faith-based movies. Fox owns Zondervan, so Murdoch suggested an adaptation of "The Purpose Driven Life," [which is being made].

So, Academy Award or not, Gibson has changed the landscape.”

This friend and former colleague is, by the way, in a small group Bible study with Hugh Hewitt, which should give him some clout here in the blog nation.

Posted by Jim at February 3, 2005 07:52 AM


Um, . . . a film adaptation of "The Purpose Driven Life"? Can someone please explain how one adapts this into a screenplay? I mean, we're talking 20th Century Fox here. I doubt they're planning to go into the Small Group Study Film Series market.

But I digress . . .

Posted by: Drew at February 3, 2005 09:25 AM

That sounds dreadful. We should be bothered by that.

Posted by: Matt at February 3, 2005 09:26 AM

Well, now we'll see who controls Hollywood. I suspect that, even with the long-ago demise of the studio system, the money folks still get what they want.

Posted by: Mark Sides at February 3, 2005 09:27 AM

Oh, by the way, I'm with Drew and Matt on a PDL movie. However, it's one of the best selling books around, so it was inevitable. Can a Prayer of Jabez movie be far behind?

How about a Chronicles of Narnia blockbuster, a la LotR, instead?

Posted by: Mark Sides at February 3, 2005 09:30 AM

Mel got my vote when I paid for movie tickets and the DVD. That Hollywood doesn't recognize his work means zilch to me, since I don't watch the Academy Awards and don't go to a movie based on that.

Posted by: Doug Payton at February 3, 2005 10:05 AM

Chronicles of Naria is being filmed as we speak. And perhaps I'm in the minority here, but I'm on eo of those people who do go to see movies based upon the Oscar nods. As for the PDL movie - are we most interested in clean entertainment or art?

Posted by: Matt at February 3, 2005 10:11 AM

Well, I'm doubtful as to how it will accomplish either.

Posted by: Mark Sides at February 3, 2005 10:14 AM

Fox owns ZONDERVAN???

Did anyone miss that? In a private conversation with Mark Sides, I was thinking that more discussion MUST take place (not just in the MBA classroom) regarding public companies as their goals either drive them to more evil (think how cigarette companies and alcohol companies drive additional revenue...) or take a good company and make it corrupt its original values.

HOW can zondervan keep its mission when it ultimately reports to wall street? Can zondervan tithe profits? Can zondervan increase the wages of their receptionists or janitors?

Maybe it can try to keep the same mission of printing "Christian Stuff"...but mustn't the end result be the ultimate coruption of the company in the event of falling profits (which could happen if they have a series of bombs). Will then management and/or the founders reserve the right to buy out Fox and take it private?

Looks scary to me. I wonder what the terms of that Zondervan purchase were.

Posted by: skibrian at February 3, 2005 03:04 PM might ask (I could look on the web maybe)..."What is Zondervan's mission?" anyway!

And if it is all fluffy and nice (what Christians want to hear) on the the directors hold true to it? Management?

Forgive me for becoming crazy/skeptical/conspiracy theorist and shouting fire when there may be none.

BUT...even if Zondervan can stay clean and true, what about other firms, Christian music labels, etc. , etc. Is this a trend we should see continued? Is there a better way, more Christian way, to raise the capital needed to "do big things" than going public? Can one go public and ever after maintain its dignity...or will market forces someday, somehow, force a change for ill??????

Posted by: skibrian at February 3, 2005 03:32 PM


I noticed that too and I'm glad you called it out. There is a limit on the deductibility of charitable contributions for corporations. I assume Zondervan is for profit, which means that they might have an issue with deductibility of tithes. Now, that's not a problem for a private company--they just forgo the tax benefit. However, if Fox is a public company (I cannot remember off-hand), then there could be a breach of fiduciary duty issue if one of its subsidiaries is paying out non-deductible charitable contributions.

Thanks for the comments.

Posted by: Mark Sides at February 3, 2005 04:15 PM

My entire post was on the premise that fox is public, and thus the expectations of the public markets would require an expected return on investment.

It trades under NYSE: FOX

I don't mind whether Zondervan can tithe or concern is simply, if it has profits and no project to invest in, excess cash could be used to pay dividends, tithe, raise the salaries of less skilled employees...etc. Things that social conscience firms do...but is best done by private firms. Instead, excess cash will be distributed as Fox executive management dictates.

a lot of deeper speculation now without knowning the financials of the subsidiary or without reviewing the Fox annual report.

Posted by: skibrian at February 3, 2005 05:02 PM

The only thing new here is the Fox/News Corp. ownership (and it may just be new to us).

Zondervan has not been a private publisher, or in Christian hands since 1988, when Zondervan Publishing House was purchased by Harper & Row Publishers. I believe it was the last of the major Christian publishers to leave private hands and become part of a publicly traded coporation. At that time, there was an outcry becuase people thought Zondervan would sell out. I don't think there's been any negative result.

In 1989, Harper merged with Collins Publisher to become Harper Collins Publishers. Harper Collins Publishers is part of News America Publishing Group, a division of News Corporation. Chairman and Chief Executive of News Corporation is K. Rupert Murdoch--the Fox man.

Posted by: Jim Jewell at February 3, 2005 05:26 PM

why all the defence around zondervan??? as i said, even if they are squeeky clean...the big picture here (and I am a big picture thinker) is simply, should this be a common practise?

is it what Christ would do to maintain a business that peddles God's word and/or praise? (and as far as I am concerened, zondervan need not be mentioned worldview was taken apart that non-profits, or Christ centered private firms were involved in the production of this sort of material). I take a slightly different stance when it comes to music long as the artists can determine content of their release, which I generally hope to be true.

but what do i know...I run a software company.

Posted by: skibrian at February 4, 2005 11:59 AM

PS--why different on music? it is an avenue of evangelism. i think it is good if third day or jars of clay gets airtime on "The Peak" in Colorado. I know it is hard for small labels to do that. however, I still realise that Virgin, WB, and others take home a pretty penny from Christians when we buy $17! albums in the local shop. Maybe it is a naive bias not being in the industry...but my thought is this is a topic to be debate on the broad scope. The nuances are many and debateable. Probably too big of a debate for this blog really.

It needs more participants to give it more time and research...participants from places of knowledge and authority.

I will never accept an argument that because something has been fact for over a decade that it must be accepted.

Posted by: skibrian at February 4, 2005 12:07 PM

I'm writing a book (very slowly), and if I have my preference, it will be published by a mainstream publisher. It will be published by a Christian publisher with no mainstream connections only as a default. Simply because a book published by the mainstream publisher will be marketed to far more people, and far more non-Christians. The ideal is working with Christian editors at a place like Zondervan, and having access to the big guns of their parent corporation. I don't think ghettoing our words and music is ever the preferred course of action.

Posted by: Jim Jewell at February 4, 2005 03:05 PM

and it makes the author more money.

which isn't a bad thing if you agree with a guest post done on sidesspot "eye of the needle'.

Your point is taken...and with that will come power...and responsibility.

Joshua Ch. 1

Posted by: skibrian at February 4, 2005 03:13 PM

The Academy like the MSM is bigoted. This like Rathergate is the proof.

Posted by: Rod Stanton at February 7, 2005 10:19 AM

"...something I have tried to say over and over: the Chrisitan publishers are at war with the traditions of Christianity. Have whatever opinion you want of hymns or liturgy in general. The primary force shaping worship today is COMMERCIALISM and the secular companies that own Christian publishing houses and recording companies."

---Michael Spencer

I like the fact that debate on this issue does exist...I just had to dig a little deeper to find out who has the courage to conduct discourse against "The Christian Mainstream".

Posted by: skibrian at February 9, 2005 12:56 AM