Christians in Hollywood – It's Not About the ShowsSTAN WILLIAMS
Christians continue to make headway as cultural influencers in Hollywood and consequently the world. That's true because more Hollywood executives are recognizing that morally true and uplifting television shows and motion pictures consistently rise to the top of the revenue pile.
Making that happen is a group of talented producer-writers who take their faith seriously. They see themselves as missionaries who labor as hard over their projects as they do over their faith.
One such producer-writer is David Alan Johnson. Born of sturdy Iowa stock, David, after college, worked as an actor in Los Angeles for eight years. But his writing-producing credits were his long suit. Soon he and his partners were creating television series such as Jack's Place (ABC with Hal Lindon and John Dye), Against the Grain (NBC with Ben Afflect), The Clinet (CBS with JoBeth Williams), and High Incident with Steven Spielberg for ABC/DreamWorks.
Most recently, David and his partner-brother Gary Johnson, created DOC, a one-hour drama-comedy for PAX, about a handsome country doctor from Montana, Clint Cassidy (Billy Ray Cyrus), who finds himself in the Big Apple working at an HMO hospital. While keeping close tabs on his Godly values and common sense, Clint confronts the contradictions of our culture with a gentle bedside manner that endears him to patients and viewers alike. DOC airs Sundays at 8PM ET and Tuesdays at 9PM ET on PAX.
DOC premiered on March 11, 2001. By the end of this season they will have finished 44 episodes and already have a contract for 22 more for next season. While PAX covers only 80% of the top 50 TV markets, DOC occasionally beats out its head to head competition on WB, NBC, and CBS who all have 100% coverage. Says, David, "We're thrilled. And we're thankful. We know that it's not us, but God doing it and we're glad to be a part of it."
Recently I had the opportunity to talk with David. He had just come from an editing session for Episode 37. Here are some of his comments about being a Christian producer in Hollywood.
Williams: How did you marry your faith with your career?
Johnson: It was at a very specific point. My old partner and I had created Against the Grain. It was one of the most critically acclaimed shows of 1993. People loved it and we got rave attention. I thought, this is good, it's a God-honoring show and it's a critical hit and we got better reviews than NYPD Blue. But it didn't last very long; the show became a political football. When it was cancelled I didn't understand. But, it was through that process that I began to understand something important. I had been taking it on myself about what I thought would work for God. I learned and realized that God doesn't want us to do, God wants us to listen, be a vessel of service and be obedient to him.
I truly don't think God wants us to wake up every morning and ask, "Okay, what can I do for God today?" I think he wants us to wake up and say, "God, use me however you want." While those don't sound very different, I think they're hugely different. That was a big learning point in my life.
Johnson: At the same time as that went down, I created the first TV show for DreamWorks (High Incident, 1996) with my old partner and Steven Spielberg, whom I worked with everyday for close to a year. In that process we were at the pinnacle of the industry. We had two network shows on at the same time, people loved our work, we were making a ton of money, and everything was going great. But in Hollywood, people cheat, steal and lie to you, even when it would be easier for them to tell the truth; it's engrained into the fabric of the way things work. You're constantly fighting those things, its tough work, and I was getting fed up with it.
One particularly tough day I came home and said to my wife Diane, "You know what? I just want to forget all this. Let's just go be a missionary someplace." This was a defining moment in my life. The truth is I didn't want to be a missionary. I had never thought about being a missionary. I am not a missionary type. Diane looked at me very compassionately. She knew what I was going through. Then she said to me, "Name me one place that needs missionaries more than where you are right now." That moment changed my life. I realized why I was here. I realized why I had been given the gifts I had been given. I understood that it wasn't about me. It wasn't about the product. It was about obedience. So, from then on I had a whole different view about what I did.
Williams: What do you mean, it wasn't about the product?
Johnson: Every day 150 people work for me. And every day they see me. I suddenly came to understand that over the years I was living that old cliche, "I may be the only Bible some people ever read." So, I was thankful that I had not acted like an idiot or an ogre. Movies and TV shows are going to come and go, but if you work in this industry as a Christian, you may be the only Christian that passes through that person's life. I'm here for a specific reason in their life. I have an ability to touch them and talk to them and have a relationship with them. I realized that was the most important thing we were doing.
This article reprinted with permission from Stan Williams.
Stan Williams is an international award-winning video and filmmaker. In 25 years,
he has managed over 400 industrial productions, including numerous documentaries,
live shows, theater, and live television as producer, director, writer, editor,
and executive producer. Stan Williams is Executive Producer and Managing Director
for SWC Films, an independent feature film development company seeking investment
partners. He can be reached at Stan@StanWilliams.com.
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