Friday, August 10, 2012

Review: Outside Hollywood

Outside Hollywood: The Young Christian's Guide to Vocational Filmmaking
Outside Hollywood: The Young Christian's Guide to Vocational Filmmaking by Isaac Botkin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Cyprian of Carthage wrote "No salvation outside of the church." Today's film industry seems to share a similar sentiment - "no success outside of Hollywood."

But this book asks the question: Do aspiring Christian filmmakers need the Hollywood system in order to be successful artists?

This book was timely for me, since I have, in a sense, been asking myself those questions lately. Inside or outside Hollywood? Independent films are the way to go if you want control over your project - and want to get noticed. But a lot of screenwriting/filmmaking books I've read suggest using independent films as a bridge to Hollywood. Get noticed on a good indie film, and the next film you make could be the summer's biggest blockbuster!

In Outside Hollywood Isaac Botkin challenges this mentality, especially for Christian filmmakers.

"Films," he says "are not primarily an entertainment medium. They are weapons. If you understand that, then you are ready to pursue filmmaking as a vocation."

He makes the case for filmmaking as a weapon, and for the young aspiring filmmaker as a warrior. He includes a chapter on "training and qualifications" with questions such as "are you a leader or a follower?" "Are you weak in faith, or strong?"

If there's one thing you come away with after reading this book, it's that filmmaking is a serious occupation, with serious capacity to do good or evil. Stories are a big part of our culture, and those who write the stories have enormous influence.

Isaac Botkin also sees a dangerous Marxist and Communist influence in Hollywood today. Though I might be a little skeptical of some of his theories, I can certainly see that they have some truth to them. It only underscores the need for serious, moral filmmakers who aren't operating underneath the pressures and prejudices of Hollywood.

I've always known that stories were influential. I love stories. I've seen the power they have over me and over other people. This book only confirmed that for me. The storyteller is a teacher. That's not a responsibility to be taken lightly.

Thus, he urges Christian filmmakers to go "outside Hollywood" to tell their stories. In Hollywood, stories are inevitably changed. A director may have more control than a screenwriter, but it's the man with the money who ultimately decides the direction the story will go. Indie films have more freedom. (For Christian films, just think Sherwood Pictures.)

Finally, Isaac Botkin urges Christian filmmakers to tell stories full of truth and beauty, to turn away from the anti-hero model and give the audience heroes to admire. From the book:
"Your stories can teach the truth in every scene. You can show the negative consequences of bad behavior. You can show the proper roles of protagonist - the good guy - and the antagonist - the bad guy. Many films get it backward today, usually on purpose. You can have a purpose, too, for every scene and every character. Every virtue can be supported rather than vilified. See how gratifying it is to your audience to root for the good guys and boo the bad guys, for a change. When they clash, let the collision between good and evil be resounding. The losers need to lose instead of being lionized."
(This book was written in 2007, and today I see almost a return to heroic stories with comic book movies and fairytales coming back to the screen; but that's a blog post for another day.)

I would highly recommend this book, not only to aspiring Christian filmmakers, but to any storyteller, in any medium. Storytelling is a serious profession, with serious power. We need to be conscious of that power we wield, so that we can use it for good and not for evil.

And if that can be done better outside Hollywood, as the book suggests, then that's where you're going to find me.

What are your thoughts on Hollywood and the film industry? Have you ever thought of storytelling as a weapon? What positive influence do you want your stories to have? 


  1. Storytelling and film making absolutely are weapons. All we have to do is look at propaganda movies and literature from the 1940s. Storytelling in any form is a powerful method of influencing thought.
    Do we need to play by Hollywood's rules? No, but the road is going to be rough. Should we pursue it anyway? Yes, if we want to tell the story of God's redemption of and love for His creation.

  2. I am fascinated with Hollywood movies. Tight scripts and an amazing story telling ability are an asset in both movies and writing. This book sounds great.

  3. With technology becoming less expensive and easier to use, I think lots of new avenues for producing independent creative projects are opening up outside traditional systems.

  4. Lauren! Hello, again, my friend! Told you I'd eventually get around to visiting again. ;)

    The things you've said on Hollywood could be applied to novels, as well, and independent or e-publishing. I think the most basic way to state my opinion is that each person should go where his or her values are best expressed (and will not be altered). As you said, if that's outside Hollywood, more power to you!

  5. Interesting post. I'm not into movie making so I don't have much of an opinion on the Hollywood vs. non-Hollywood question, but in general I'm old school. I want my hero to be the good guy in the white hat.

  6. Hmm this post really got me thinking. I think all stories are weapons, although I tend to focus more on the entertainment aspect than trying to teach people.

    Still, if there's anything I want people to take away from reading my WiP, it's that they shouldn't judge so fast. :-)



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