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Between Hollywood and Godlywood

The Case of Walden Media

by Nathalie Dupont (Author)
Monographs XI, 339 Pages

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Figures and Tables
  • Figures
  • Tables
  • Foreword
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: Hollywood and Conservative Christians: An Uneasy Relationship
  • A tense relationship
  • Yet a promising start
  • Hollywood paid some attention to the conservative Christian audience
  • The early Christians films produced for places of worship
  • Hollywood: A ‘den of vice’?
  • Conservative Christians wanted to moralize Hollywood
  • A contemporary era still marked by controversy
  • Can Hollywood be interested in the conservative Christian niche audience?
  • Hollywood is an entertainment industry
  • Conservative Christians are once again more visible in the public sphere
  • A potential niche audience and its advantages
  • A booming niche market
  • Religious-themed films can be successful in cinemas
  • The Bible rapidly inspired Hollywood
  • An asset when competing with television
  • The changing context of the 1960s
  • The contemporary period shows a renewed interest in Bible-inspired films
  • Chapter 2: Walden Media and Hollywood
  • A few Hollywood facts
  • The core youth audience
  • A modernized exhibition market
  • American films at the turn of the century
  • The genesis of Walden Media
  • Cary Granat
  • Michael Flaherty
  • Drafting Walden Media
  • A patron called Philip Anschutz
  • A billionaire who had already turned producer
  • A cinema owner
  • A personal stance
  • Walden Media’s first ten years
  • The type of films considered by Walden Media can be profitable
  • Films limited to specific ratings
  • Profitable ratings
  • Walden Media’s ups and downs
  • Partnerships with publishing houses, libraries and schools
  • Co-production and distribution deals with studios
  • Walt Disney Pictures leaves the world of Narnia
  • Creation and death of Fox–Walden
  • Cary Granat leaves Walden Media
  • Into the future
  • Walden Media: An independent company?
  • Chapter 3: The Walden Touch
  • Documentaries
  • Adaptations of children’s literature
  • Holes
  • Around the World in 80 Days
  • Because of Winn-Dixie
  • Journey to the Center of the Earth
  • Walden Media’s three adaptations of The Chronicles of Narnia
  • The literary work and its adaptation rights
  • Finding the right co-production partner
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
  • The common features to Walden Media productions
  • Youths from broken families
  • A specific rating
  • A fairly well-known cast
  • Chapter 4: Releasing Walden Media Films in America
  • Educational marketing and Walden Media films
  • Niche marketing to American conservative Christians
  • Specialized companies
  • A very specific way of targeting Christian faith communities
  • Marketing The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
  • Mainstream marketing
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’s niche marketing and conservative Christians
  • A success
  • Marketing The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
  • Mainstream marketing
  • Almost no niche marketing
  • Why Prince Caspian disappointed its producers and audiences
  • Marketing The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
  • Mainstream marketing
  • The return of niche marketing
  • Mixed results and some contradiction
  • The limits of niche marketing targeting conservative Christians
  • Wary studios
  • The Chronicles of Narnia is not an isolated example of Hollywood’s wariness
  • Hollywood’s wariness is mainly dictated by market forces
  • Doubtful believers
  • Chapter 5: Exporting Walden Media Films
  • Contemporary foreign markets have become crucial to Hollywood studios
  • A fast-developing international box office
  • American films in European and fast-developing markets
  • Foreign markets are crucial to American studios’ balance sheets
  • Foreign markets can amplify domestic success
  • Walden Media’s worldwide advantages and disadvantages
  • Shared similarities with Walt Disney Pictures’ films
  • Stories that travel well
  • Some American specificities do not travel well
  • Is there a foreign Christian niche audience?
  • Walden Media films abroad
  • Examples of some documentaries and films
  • Foreign interest in Walden’s The Chronicles of Narnia
  • The foreign release of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
  • The foreign release of Prince Caspian
  • The foreign release of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
  • American films just like any others?
  • Chapter 6: Walden Media: Between Hollywood and Godlywood
  • Godlywood
  • Examples of Godlywood companies and their productions
  • Godlywood advertises, reviews and rewards itself
  • Godsploitation
  • Hollywood studios produce films for the Christian niche audience and potential mainstream audiences
  • Hollywood markets, with more or less success, the Christian themes of its mainstream films to the Christian niche audience
  • A mutual influence?
  • Better Godlywood films
  • Godlywood and Hollywood films even share some characteristics
  • Mixed results
  • Misunderstanding between both worlds
  • Godsploitation has not always been well-handled by studios
  • Conservative Christians have their own agenda
  • Can Walden Media be the missing link between both worlds?
  • A company that stands apart
  • A company that partakes of both worlds
  • Conclusion
  • Walden Media stands apart between two worlds, but in a rather dependent way
  • A rather successful bet in a more favourable context
  • Still, Walden Media films partake of a context fraught with caution
  • A rather recognized brand in a difficult and competitive market
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Figures and Tables

Figures

Figure 1Yearly admissions by age group (1981–2010).
Figure 2Top 20 films by rating (2000–2010).
Figure 3Source material for top ten films at worldwide box office (1995–2005).
Figure 4US and international box office shares of global film box office (2001–2012).

Tables

Table 1Top Fifteen Foreign Markets for Hollywood Studios (2003)

← vii | viii →

← viii | ix →

TERRY LINDVALL

Foreword

Nathalie Dupont’s timely tome investigates the growing trend of conservative Christians engaged in the film industry. In particular, she chronicles the historical background of the movement from its resistance to cultural media through the focused vision of billionaire Philip Anschutz and Walden Media. Dupont’s coining of the neologism of Godlywood playfully teases out the role that conservatives have devised in expressing their hopes and faith through the creative medium of film, much as Hollywood, Nollywood and Bollywood have established their own recognizable global styles.

Building upon the foundations of historical research on Protestant Christians involved in filmmaking enterprises, Dupont transports us into a new level of specific investigation, a case study of a remarkably successful production company. But along the journey she invites her readers to consider old and new questions, provoking us to think more broadly of the nature and scope of religious and moral cinema. How can a conservative film company, one stemming from a Protestant tradition of suspicion of images and tactically relying upon propositional or didactic approaches to communication (and evangelism), effectively sell one’s product while maintaining the integrity of their soul?

She poses the conundrum of how Walden Media films could survive in a profit-oriented industry; and yet, it has thrived in attracting audiences and garnering a profitable market share, developing a loyal niche culture. Of increasing importance is the role of foreign markets on the sustainability of film production companies. Selling one’s films in China and Europe can amplify the domestic success of a film; however, as overt religious propaganda can frustrate the exporting of a Walden Media product, filmmakers must adapt a cinematic soft sell, an indirect mode of communicating ← ix | x → one’s themes and values. The fine line between films becoming mediated missionaries or functioning as open parables challenges those who want to communicate faith globally.

Featuring a case study of Walden’s adaptation of British author C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Dupont demonstrated how the filmmakers maintained the faith-based spirit of their text while entertaining spectators with the Narnian adventures of the four children.

In contrast, the Georgia-based Sherwood Baptist Church’s feature productions of films like Facing the Giants unabashedly stresses its evangelistic message. It preaches to the converted, even though it hopes to convert through its narrative. With strategies aimed at churches (and evangelism through those churches), the direct Christian messages do not disguise their purpose. Its celluloid sermons are unapologetically sermons.

The extension of such a religious niche of film production and exhibition among conservative Christians pops up with film festivals, award ceremonies and websites, consistent with the values of the films’ producers. All lead to a parallel culture that superficially shadows the dominant Hollywood culture, spilling over into an exploitation of God’s work. As this work points out, Hollywood itself has targeted this particular market group of conservative Christians, trying to outfox the sheep.

What is remarkable about Dupont’s work is that it marshals the insights and impressions of a true outsider, geographical and ideological, as a professor in northern France, near Calais. Yet her research is anything but provincial as she looks astutely at this emerging trend like a stranger in a strange land, able to see details that its native citizenry frequently miss or ignore. Like a Thoreau coming from his garden into the city, she is perceptively attuned to nuances of faith and film, and the exploitation of them by a secular industry.

Of particular significance is her analysis of ‘The Walden Touch’, a nod to Midas, Disney and Pixar in their ability to turn dross into gold. The pressing question is whether Walden Media might be a bridge between the two worlds of Hollywood and Godlywood. Might they have found effective strategies to bridging the chasm between the secular and faith worlds, enabling God’s people to make Mammon. ← x | xi →

Two early productions of Walden, Andrew Davis’s Holes (2003) and Wayne Wang’s Because of Winn Dixie (2005) stand as templates for the gentle spirituality and family values of the studio, precursors of later productions by Andrew Adamson and Michael Apted in adapting other works of Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia.

The study probing marketing strategies, successes and compromises opens up provocative questions on the relationship of evangelical Christians to the media they consume. Wondering whether Walden can mediate between the two traditionally suspicious worlds of Hollywood and Godlywood, Dupont guides her readers through a careful and keenly observant tour. We see through fresh foreign eyes and the vision is remarkable and instructive. She has significantly added to the international exploration of faith-based film and raised new regions of research and reflection. It is as if she has taken us through another wardrobe, this one into Walden, opening up our eyes to renewed understanding. Like a lamppost standing in a cold, wintery wonderland, Dupont’s work shines light on what seems to be a dead world, but we can see, if we watch carefully, that the snow is melting. ← xi | xii →

← xii | 1 →

Introduction

Walden Media is the company notably behind the latest adaptations of the first three volumes of The Chronicles of Narnia, that is, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Andrew Adamson, 2005), Prince Caspian (Andrew Adamson, 2008) and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Michael Apted, 2010). The company was created by Michael Flaherty and Cary Granat at the very beginning of the twenty-first century, and it intended to ‘recapture imagination and rekindle curiosity’1 through family-friendly films adapted from children’s books that were either bestsellers and/or featured on school reading lists. An educational goal was thus at the forefront of the creation of Walden Media, whose founders wanted to take advantage of the possibility offered by cinema in that field, so as to forge a better link between film entertainment and education, notably through specially devised educator’s guides to Walden productions.

However, there is more to this than meets the eye, and though Walden Media is a secular company that employs Hollywood insiders and professionals who ‘aren’t there for any kind of spiritual or philosophical reason, they’re just there to make movies,’2 it is not by chance that this company came to be at a precise moment in American history. As William D. Romanowski points out: ‘As a crucial medium of communication, movies are enmeshed in, and bear the marks of, religious, cultural, and class conflicts throughout the twentieth century’3 and Walden Media does reflect the American society it was born into. Indeed, not only did both Walden’s founders want to educate audiences, but they also wanted to produce safe, ← 1 | 2 → family-friendly films devoid of violence, sex and drugs, therefore making the project appealing to conservative Christian billionaire Philip Anschutz. The latter consequently decided to finance the project at the turn of the twenty-first century, when American citizens also elected conservative born-again Christian George W. Bush to the White House. Walden Media’s creation therefore coincided with a great political victory for the Religious Right or Christian Right, which had grown more visible and powerful in America, and which is a loose gathering ‘of politically and religiously conservative organizations that coalesced as a political movement during the Carter administration’ as well as ‘a social movement that attempts to mobilize evangelical Protestants and other orthodox Christians into conservative political action.’4 This coincidence was no surprise in a country that has always had a special relationship with religion, notably in public life according to what was eventually called ‘civil religion’. The latter is thus defined in The Religious Right: A Reference Handbook: ‘Broadly, this refers to the usage of transcendent religious symbols to explain national purpose and destiny. On one hand, civil religion provides a unifying set of values for Americans of all persuasions, values which inspire the pursuit of justice and equality of treatment for all people […]’, while another definition mentions ‘a set of beliefs about the relationship between God and country, generally centering on a special relationship. In America, civil religion is evident in the frequent references to religious images in public life.’5 These references include the fact that on Inauguration Day the newly elected president swears the presidential oath on the Bible,6 or that the Pledge ← 2 | 3 → of Allegiance speaks of ‘One Nation under God’ since 1954.7 References to the Bible also appear in many speeches, while politicians openly speak about their religious practices and do not hesitate to mention God or Jesus.

Focusing on Walden Media’s first ten years of activity, the present book thus intends to show how the company reflects some twenty-first-century trends in America, notably through the example of the production and release of the three filmed adaptations of The Chronicles of Narnia, which have more or less positioned Walden Media between Hollywood and Godlywood. The latter term is recent in the list of conflated words based on Hollywood, as several have been coined since the once quiet nineteenth-century place became the capital city of the US film industry. For example, Bollywood is now used to designate the Indian film industry and its large film production, while Nollywood refers to the sizeable film production coming from Nigeria. More recently, Professor Michele Hilmes from the University of Wisconsin has even started talking about Tollywood to designate ‘that transnational creative space created by the collaboration of British and American television producers over the last 50 years’.8 For the present book, it was chosen to add the term Godlywood to the list and to use it to designate the contemporary American Christian film industry. The latter is made up of an ensemble of Christian producers and companies that produce and release movies primarily targeting Christian audiences who share the same concern about Hollywood ‘dubious’ films. Christian productions have mainly been shown in churches and megachurches, before becoming available in video in Christian stores, but the booming Christian niche market of the 1990s has also allowed some of them to cross over into mainstream theatres. Therefore the size and outreach of that film industry now qualifies it for the term Godlywood.

The present study consequently intends to shed some light on the contemporary relationship between Hollywood and Godlywood through ← 3 | 4 → the case of Walden Media, a professed secular company that produces mainstream films, but whose creation nevertheless represents a new chapter in the relationship between Hollywood and religion. In fact, the book aims to describe how Walden Media is somewhat a continuation of past events, while also presenting the contemporary features of this company.

However, as Walden Media founders wanted their films to reach the largest possible audiences, the intended study would be incomplete if it just focused on the societal aspect of such a major project and did not set it against the backdrop of the American film industry. One does not go without the other and they are both essential to give a full picture of Walden Media, as their combination enables us to grasp ‘the complex interplay between intentional actions and structural constraint at every level of the production process’.9

Indeed, right from its inception, Walden Media has worked with studios that had become dependent on market forces and the need to make profits in the 1920s, that is, more or less when Hollywood had turned into an industry. The structural changes later imposed by the Paramount Consent Decree in the late 1940s, together with the rise of television in the 1950s, just confirmed this trend, while the 1970s saw the paramount importance of blockbusters and their saturation releases for market shares and profits – so as to satisfy the conglomerates that came to own most studios, as well as their shareholders who scrutinize financial results.

The business side of the film industry is now of the utmost importance in the age of globalization, and the present study therefore sheds light on how Walden Media has integrated and operated within the globalized American film industry – as it had always intended to.

As a work of research, this book does not intend to praise nor condemn what Walden Media stands for. The purpose is to bring to the fore the specific intentions and conditions that led to the creation and development of an original project bearing witness to some trends within contemporary ← 4 | 5 → American society at the dawn of the twenty-first century. Setting the company’s first ten years against the background of business practices Walden Media could not do without if it wanted to achieve its goal, this book therefore fuses an analysis of societal and film industry elements in six chapters.

The first chapter retraces the relationship between Hollywood and religion, more precisely between Hollywood and American conservative Christians who, in this study, include conservative Protestants, notably evangelical ones, and Catholics. In this book, the term ‘conservative Christians’ refers to the people who have wanted to regulate the content of Hollywood films, people who believe in creationism,10 evangelicals who shunned society after the 1925 Scopes trial ‘to construct their distinctive subculture as a place of refuge from the larger world’11 as well as the Christians who have supported the Religious Right and the most conservative Republican candidates. The study illustrates that the relationship between Hollywood and conservative Christians has often been a tense one right from the inception of the new medium, though there were occasional examples of collaboration. In the last quarter of twentieth-century America, the religious question, both politically and culturally, created a favourable environment for Walden Media, not only for raising funds for the project, but also for its economic viability and credibility in the eyes of Hollywood studios, since they had renewed their interest in Christian audiences after the success of The Passion of the Christ (Mel Gibson, 2004).

The second chapter dwells on Walden Media’s founders, on their educational and family-friendly purpose that caught the eye of a powerful patron, more precisely of billionaire Philip Anschutz who, as a devout Christian, was particularly interested in the specificities of the Walden project. The chapter also shows that even if Walden Media, as a film company, is based on a purpose some would call ideological, it cannot operate outside Hollywood’s way of doing business if it wants to fulfil its agenda. The ← 5 | 6 → profitability of the type of films considered by the company is consequently studied, as well as Walden’s ups and downs in the world of film business.

The third chapter studies some Walden Media co-productions – with a focus on the three adaptations of The Chronicles of Narnia. It does not review all Walden films, nor does it pass a judgement on their faithfulness – or lack of it – to the literary works they are usually based on. It pinpoints their common features, together with their faithfulness to Walden’s specific agenda.

The fourth and fifth chapters then focus on the American and international releases of Walden films, notably with a renewed focus on The Chronicles of Narnia. In a film industry where market shares are paramount, the chapters demonstrate that if the niche marketing campaigns for The Chronicles of Narnia courted the American conservative Christians, notably the evangelicals, their secular versions targeting mainstream audiences nevertheless often ignored that dimension at home as well as in international markets. This once again emphasizes the US and global limits in the relationship between Hollywood and the American conservative Christians.

Finally, the last chapter shows that a kind of Godsploitation – a word used by Jonathan Bock, president of marketing company Grace Hill Media – developed in the wake of the success of The Passion of the Christ and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, with Hollywood exploiting Christian themes and renewing its courtship of American Christian audiences through specific productions and marketing, while Godlywood found a way to be more visible to mainstream audiences. However, both worlds are still wary of one another and that is where Walden Media comes in as, thanks to its original educational and moral stance, it has in fact managed to carve itself a niche halfway between Hollywood and Godlywood.

For commodity of reading, some film titles, notably those linked to The Chronicles of Narnia, have sometimes been shortened to Narnia 1, for The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Andrew Adamson, 2005), Narnia 2, for The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (Andrew Adamson, 2008), and Narnia 3, for The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Michael Apted, 2010). Most box office figures come from the following websites: <http://www.boxoffice.com>, <http://www.imdb.com>, <http://www.mpaa.org> and <http://www.the-numbers.com>. Though many professionals and ← 6 | 7 → companies were contacted to write this book, they were not available for comment at the time of writing.

Finally, I wish to thank editor Laurel Plapp at Peter Lang, for her faith in this project, her help and advice; Terry Lindvall, for his encouragement and his foreword to this volume; Wendy Mitchell, editor at Screen International and at <http://www.screendaily.com>; Robert Matzken (<http://www.waldmark.com/narnia/winternarnia.html>), for his winter picture of the Narnia lamppost; my friends and my colleagues, for their invaluable comments while reading through various drafts of the book; my students, for their remarks and questions; and, of course, my family, for their encouragement and patience. ← 7 | 8 →

← 8 | 9 →

                                                   

1    <http://www.walden.com> accessed 20 December 2013.

2    Angela Walker, ‘Christians in Cinema: Bob Beltz’, <http://www.dove.org> accessed 11 June 2012.

Details

Pages
XI, 339
ISBN (PDF)
9783035306996
ISBN (ePUB)
9783035397635
ISBN (MOBI)
9783035397628
ISBN (Book)
9783034318174
Language
English
Publication date
2015 (March)
Published
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2015. XI, 339 pp., 4 fig., 1 table

Biographical notes

Nathalie Dupont (Author)

Nathalie Dupont is Associate Professor in American Studies at the Université du Littoral Côte d’Opale, France. Her research focuses on the relationship between cinema and society in the United States. She has published articles on the Hollywood film industry and coedited an issue of InMedia titled «Cinema and Marketing» (April 2013). She co-founded the research group CinEcoSA (http://www.cinecosa.com), which brings together academics working on the cinema and television industries in English-speaking countries.

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