Everybody has an opinion on Christian films. For a long time most of those opinions have not been good. In the last few years there have been some break out Christian film hits such as God’s Not Dead, Fireproof and more recently, I Can Only Imagine. Compared to secular films these are still few and far between. Even these films tend to mostly get panned on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. So what’s the deal with Christian films? Will they ever be on par with secular films? Why are they often so cheesy? Patheos interviewed Larry Amon the director of the newly released documentary, Breaking Good a film that set out to answer just those questions.
Patheos: What is your background and why did you make this film?
Larry: I’ve been an indie Christian filmmaker for about 7 years, and like a lot of other people in my situation, I started without a lot of money or even experience but with a dream to make a difference. I quickly found out just how hard it was to make a movie and even more so, how difficult it was to get anyone to see it. As Dallas Jenkins told me and is unfortunately true, making a movie that’s even watchable let alone good is rare. I like to think I did OK but no money and no experience is usually a one-two knockout blow for a filmmaker. So, I decided it was time to see just what it takes, to make a Christian movie that’s good.
Patheos: Just what kind of answers were you looking for?
Larry: The answers I sought included everything from just what is a Christian movie, are other people making them successfully, and what is the secret sauce to a good film? I needed to know if I was just wasting my time and my family’s time trying to be a filmmaker. I thought the best way to do this though was a documentary on the subject. To be candid I thought I could keep the costs manageable on a documentary and do more of the work myself, while getting the answers I really needed.
Patheos: Why the name Breaking Good?
Larry: It’s sort of a play off the popular show Breaking Bad. Because Christian films are often trying to break the Hollywood mold and send good moral messages. The challenge of course has been to do this while maintaining a good and entertaining story.
Patheos: Why was a documentary the right format for your journey?
Larry: I had to see what I could learn and I wanted to share it with others who might dream of making films, especially of the faith based variety. My family has had to endure and support my efforts over the years and they’re just as much a part of this endeavor as I am, so it made sense to take my family with me and have them help along the way. It was mostly my kids though, because my wife was holding down the fort at home and she’s also very camera shy. So it quickly became a very personal story and just a talking head documentary.
Larry: I got some of the answers I was looking for, but at times I walked away with more questions than answers. I will say there are three big takeaways. For me, one of the most important things I learned, is that I’m not alone in the struggle, there are many other people who are doing what I’m trying to do, and all too varying degrees of success. Probably the second most important lesson of the film is that Christian filmmakers need to get better at storytelling. Third, I would say that audiences who want to see good Christian films, need to invest in Christian films now to help them grow bigger and better in the future.
I would also add that the documentary examines just how Hollywood and the invention of film has evolved and altered our society. I think what I’ve learned is encouraging, despite also finding some hard truths about this business.
Patheos: How are you distributing the film?
Larry: Though I’ve grown in experience over the last 7 years, including making this documentary, I still don’t have a lot of money. Perhaps the most expensive part of filmmaking is marketing the film itself. In Hollywood it’s not uncommon for the marketing budget to match or even exceed the production budget. So I’m back to the struggle of how to make films without much money and distribution is a big part of that struggle.
There’s no red carpet for my film, it won’t be shown at Sundance or anything like that. I still want to share what I’ve learned with as many people as possible, especially to those who have struggled to realize a dream. So, I’m selling the film directly online and I’m making it available with a “choose your own price” option. I don’t want anyone to let finances stop them from watching the film. I’m hoping that if others find that the film has value that they’ll pay a little more.
Patheos: What do you think is the future of Christian film?
Larry: The future of the whole film industry but especially Christian film is really at a crossroads and the next few years will really tell the tale of how films will get made and how they’ll be experienced. Personally I think there will continue to be more Christian films widely released but I also think we’ll start seeing more on streaming platforms like Netflix as well. There hasn’t been a lot of variety in terms of the genres of Christian films though, so I hope that expands to include more Christian films that are comedies, sci-fi, action and even horror.
Larry Amon is the President of Christian Walk Alive, a nonprofit media ministry focusing on Christian films. He has worked a variety of day jobs mostly focused on technology, while perusing his dream of making Christian films in his spare time. His ministry’s online home can be found at www.christianwalkalive.org. To learn more about the documentary Breaking Good, visit www.breakinggoodfilm.net.