More Passion Playbook pages

9732 posterIn the past year or so, there has been all kinds of mainstream coverage — like this and especially this — of Hollywood professionals trying to find out how, in the post-Passion-earthquake world, to market mainstream movies to the so-called “Christian market.” This story has actually been out there for quite some time, but it still seems to be hot.

The other day I put up a post in reaction to a Variety piece that claimed that many L.A. players were actually following a “Passion Playbook” that offered the hot marketing tips to ring that faith-based bell at the box office.

With a wink, I said I’d be interested in someone leaking me a copy. Not long after that, after reading a bunch more and interviewing the producers of The Nativity Story, I actually took a stab — in my usual 666 words or so — at writing out a few of the playbook suggestions in a column for Scripps Howard News Service. Here’s a short look at that:

• Seek the input of historians, theologians and clergy early and often and try, try, try to nail the details. Most of all, find out how to avoid making mistakes …

• Make the story the star. In the case of the Passion, it helped that director Mel Gibson was an A-list superstar who — while already controversial in Hollywood — had made numerous films that were popular in middle America. Still, he did not cast familiar faces …

• Court the core Christian audience to create buzz that will reach pulpits and pews. Let test audiences in strategic Bible Belt markets see early versions of the film and listen to the feedback. Hire publicists who understand what sings in the parallel universe of Christian media …

• It helps if the creative team includes Hollywood professionals who are sincerely motivated to reach the “faith-based audience.”

• Remember that religious consumers like quality entertainment, but prefer not to be offended when they grab their popcorn.

I knew that the marketing reports that are out there were much larger than my little list. I’d still love to see one of these playbooks.

However, a friend of mine — Mark Joseph of the MJM Group — decided that people needed to know more of what was in the actual “Passion Playbook,” as in the strategies that were discussed among the people who actually worked with Mel Gibson on that project. It helps that Mark was one of those folks.

Thus, Joseph produced a piece the other day for Fox News that includes a few of points that I made, but adds many more. If you are a reporter who is interested in this subject and might write about it anytime soon, you may want to save this link. You’ll see that Joseph stresses certain points over what people told me. There is, in fact, no magic button you push — just as there is no magic “Hispanic market” button or “gay market” formula.

Here’s a hint at what Joseph has to say, in the wake of the early numbers for The Nativity Story:

… (To) paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen: I knew “The Passion” … and “The Nativity” is no “Passion.”

To be sure, there is indeed a “Passion” playbook, which unfortunately has not been followed since it rocked the box office in 2004. For Hollywood executives who seem to have learned many of the wrong lessons and ignored most of the right ones, here is the real “Passion” playbook, which if followed correctly is guaranteed to produce box office magic.

1) Have a major star associated with the project. Mel Gibson may only have been the director, but he was the player in the “Passion” saga. Media and the interest of the American public nearly always revolve around a person. …

2) Whenever possible, choose a story that is already well-known and loved. That way, you won’t have to spend months educating the public about who the character is or what the story is about. …

3) Spend some money on the production. Gibson spent $25 million. That’s good. People, even deeply religious people, want to see that real money has been spent on a film. There are exceptions to this. “Facing The Giants,” for example, was made for $100,000 and earned $10 million. In general, however, the faithful are sick of being condescended to with low-budget schlock.

4) Spend at least a year taking the film around the country to as many leaders of as many groups as possible. Studios are famous for refusing to show a film until just before it’s released, but news travels at a much slower speed in faith-oriented circles.

There’s a lot more in his 10-plus commandments. Clip and save.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • ace

    We get marketing material at our church often. The latest was Sylvester Stallone’s efforts in the latest Rocy movie. I tend to be skeptical and have used material in the past to show how “Hollywood” doesn’t understand the Gospel (Ron Howards marketing DVD for Cinderella Man was a great portrayal of a “bootstraps gospel” but not quite the Gospel of Jesus Christ). The question that churches must ask is do we… do the people in the congregation… can we discern what is marketing manipulation and what is truly depicting the Gospel? Personally, I don’t care much for this trend in Hollywood marketing.

    These points or commandments you reference don’t make me feel more comfortable. Manipulation makes evangelism that much harder.

  • c.tower

    As far as Hollywood is concerned, marketing is marketing, and a niche audience is just a code to be cracked.Compare the way stars talk about their “beliefs” when pushing a film to a religous audience to they way they call themselves a “fan” whenever they do a “genre” film, and you won’t see much difference. (Of course, it’s not THAT hard to tell when they’re faking it in either case…)