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It may not garner the massive box office receipts that Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ did ten years ago (more than $600 million worldwide), but several high profile pastors are doing their darnedest to see that Son of God becomes the next super-successful Christian flick.
A major part of the box-office-seeking strategy, according to Charisma News, is to have well-known pastors, including megachurch pastor, Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., "rent every screen in numerous multiplex theaters across 10 cities for the premiere of Son of God."
Charisma News reported that "Cinemark Theaters is scheduling a few large-scale buyouts on Feb. 27, said James Meredith, head of marketing and communications. 'The interest level for meetings, events, screenings and buyouts seems to be on par with that of major blockbuster, tentpole or franchise movies,' said Meredith."
Multi-marketing strategy aimed at sending Hollywood a message
Advanced work is key to drumming up buzz for a film's premiere and opening weekend, as those showings often determine the film's box-office success or failure.
According to Religion News Service, since The Passion, "film marketing campaigns" include special pre-premiere screenings "to secure endorsements from big-name religious leaders." Son of God producers have put together a television advertising campaign on cable networks, including Fox News Channel. "The filmmakers screened [extensive] clips from the film at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington earlier this month, and asked attendees to become 'movie mobilizers' on social media, The Daily Beast recently reported.
A. Larry Ross, who has handled publicity for several religious leaders and organizations, including Billy Graham and Rick Warren, told RNS that "No pastor went to seminary to put people in (theater) seats or build revenue for a film producer," Ross said. "Many pastors are realizing that in this video-driven culture, stories are the vessels of meaning."
"For many faith and family films, the impact on the screen is less the answers given than it is the questions asked that you could discuss over coffee with someone who would never go to church with you but go to a movie with you," he said.
Produced by Mark Burnett and his wife, Roma Downey, Son of God is a two-hour adaptation taken from the couple's The Bible mini-series, which aired last year on the History Channel, and has been viewed more than 100 million times. In fact, according to csmonitor.com, "The series premiere beat all the shows airing on major networks when it aired on March 3, and the last Bible installment essentially tied in ratings with a new episode of AMC's perennially high-rated show The Walking Dead."
Actor Diogo Morgado plays Jesus during his life, crucifixion and resurrection, Downey plays Mary, the mother of Jesus and recording artist CeeLo Green, who stars on The Voice, will sing "Mary, Did You Know?" during the closing credits.
Burnett, creator of such shows as Survivor, The Voice, and Shark Tank, and Downey, star of the television series, Touched by an Angel, "have enlisted interdenominational support from religious leaders such as Texas megachurch pastor T.D. Jakes and Roman Catholic Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles," Charisma News pointed out.
"Cardinal Donald Wuerl has commissioned discussion guides and videos for Catholic churches and schools, and Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami is planning to rent a theater for thousands of Catholics in Miami," Charisma News noted.
Compassion International, a large evangelical relief organization, is also distributing "tickets to churches." And, Houston megachurch leaders Joel and Victoria Osteen, "have bought 8,000 tickets to distribute."
Flooding the screens with Bible-themed movies
Christian-themed films have been a major part of Hollywood filmmaking since the beginning of film. However, the success of Gibson's The Passion of the Christ appears to have ushered in a new era; films with major stars, bigger production budgets and greater production values.
Elijah Davidson, co-director of the Reel Spirituality Program at Fuller Seminary's Brehm Center for Worship and the Arts in Pasadena, Calif., told the Deseret News that "it looks like" a trend. "There are more of these films coming out this year than we have normally seen."
New Bible-based projects either getting set to premiere or in production include: Nicolas Cage starring in a remake of Left Behind, based on the mega-bestselling apocalyptic novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins; the story of the resurrection of Jesus; two Moses-themed films, one starring Christian Bale, and another tentatively titled Gods and Kings; a film about Pontius Pilate that may feature Brad Pitt; Will Smith's The Redemption of Cain, on the sibling rivalry of Cain and Abel; and Mary Mother of Christ, a prequel to The Passion of the Christ.
However, some of the films have already created controversy. According to the Deseret News, Noah, starring Russell Crowe, is already being criticized: Brian Godawa, screenwriter of faith-related films To End All Wars and Alleged, wrote a widely read 2012 blog post alleging the film uses the Bible to make a modern environmental point: 'Noah paints the primeval world of Genesis 6 as scorched arid desert, dry cracked earth, and a gray gloomy sky that gives no rain — and all this, caused by man's 'disrespect' for the environment. In short, an anachronistic doomsday scenario of ancient global warming.'"
Grace Hill Media, the faith-focused publicity firm, is helping Paramount Pictures market the $125 million dollar production. Studio vice chairman Rob Moore, an evangelical Christian, told The Hollywood Reporter that the film doesn't stick to the Bible's exact telling of Noah; "This movie has a lot more creativity to it, and therefore, if you want to put it on the spectrum, it probably is more accurate to say this movie is inspired by the story of Noah."
One of the most controversial scenes from The Bible series, in which an actor with a startling resemblance to US President Barack Obama portrayed Satan, has been removed from Son of God.
In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Downey said "It gives me great pleasure to tell you that the devil is on the cutting-room floor. This is now a movie about Jesus, the son of God, and the devil gets no more screen time."
There are reports that NBC-TV and Burnett/Downey are planning a sequel to The Bible.
Since Pastor Rick warren is marketing a companion curriculum for the movie, we will give him the last word. "I've seen most of the films about Jesus produced in the past 50 years, and Son of God is the best. We're excited Jesus is back on the big screen, and we're going to fill the theaters. I want every other faith leader in America to do the same. Whether you can buy out a whole theater, or just one screen, now is the time to show up. This is a rare opportunity to bring the story of Christ into our mainstream culture.
"We want to see Jesus in movie theaters where sight and sound can open up our senses and let grace come in. The message of the Gospel deserves to be on the big screen - and this is our chance to see it there."