BRCLM Lagniappe, October 2018

Life Imitates Art, with Greg Gudorf, CEO of Pureflix.com

Greg Gudorf, CEO of Pureflix.com

Life Imitates Art

by fred townsend

Publisher’s Note: The September edition approached the faith-based genre of entertainment from Aristotle’s proposition that Art Imitates Life, in other words, the movies accurately reflect the daily struggles of today’s Christians. This month, the focus shifts to how in the last fifty years the secular, pop-culture-driven media pushed an agenda so that indeed Life Imitates Art; and, how technology actually gives the Christian community a chance to counter the secularist  agenda by providing value-based, traditional entertainment.

Greg Gudorf, chief executive officer of Pureflix.com, is a former tech-guru turned entertainment executive. In an interview (with publisher Beth Townsend that you can watch in its entirety on the Baton Rouge Christian Life Magazine YouTube Channel), Mr. Gudorf recalled nostalgically, “there was a time when you could watch a movie whether you were five years old or 95 years old. A lot of people don’t know that the church was actually involved with Hollywood in the early years helping to guide and shape the message of those movies. In the late 50s and early 60s the church began to pull out. In the mid-sixties you can begin to chart very dramatically the rise in language, sex and violence.”

Oscar Wilde, a leading 19th Century British intellectual, proposed the anti-mimesis. For 2400 years it was accepted that art imitates life. Wilde challenged that the opposite was true, e.g., life imitates art. Seventy-five years after his death, 20th Century technology advanced the influence of art definitively enough to support Wilde’s point. Television allowed “media art” to be distributed universally into living rooms. People became addicted to television to the point it was derisively referred to as the “boob tube”. Pop culture was born.

The media arts didn’t go from G to R-rated overnight. Dr. Charles Stanley (First Baptist Church, Atlanta) teaches that America’s culture was once moored in a safe harbor. Then it got loosed and set adrift. Gradually, our culture drifted further and further and further still from the core values that anchored it. If the drift began in the mid-1960s, when the church lost influence in Hollywood, by the 1980s advancing technology created a tidal wave of change.

The shift was first facilitated by videotape recording technology. The idea was simple. Record what you wanted to watch at your leisure and fast forward through commercials. There wasn’t much to record. Cable television was just starting to spread across the country. It was strictly regulated and programming choices were limited. Then Congress deregulated cable television in 1984. At the same time, film distribution changed dramatically when a Texas oil man started a videotape rental store, which became Blockbuster Video. At its peak, there were 4500 Blockbuster locations and thousands of competitive outlets. Anyone could rent pre-recorded movies. Video rental enabled people to view anything they wanted at home. (Arguably some they would not have seen at a theatre lest they be embarrassed by someone seeing them going in.)

Simultaneously, cable deregulation opened a Pandora’s box of new programs to both watch and record. In the guise of artistic freedom, television and movie moguls had license to weaponize programming to attack cultural norms. Cable television programs with explicit nudity, implicit sex, and realistic approximations of blood and gore, pushed commercial television executives on the network programs. Commercial television redefined family entertainment.

Gudorf shared some eye-opening data. “Parents’ TV Counsel did a survey recently and found that most of what passes for family content on normal TV — 81% is content of a sexual context and 94% of it has language issues,” he said. “Very different than what others might call family. At the same time the growth of media in our life can’t be ignored. There was a time when mom would just say, ‘Turn that off.’ Right? And that was the end of it. But now media is a part of our life. A child growing up today will spend six times more time with media than in school. Worse yet, 32 times more time with media than the time they spend with their parents. The stats are just scary. In 1970 the average age for a child to watch TV, interacting with media, was four years old. Today, they begin interacting with digital media at four months old.”

In pop-culture, life indeed imitates art. After 50 years of drifting, the results surround us. Profanity-laced conversation mirrors TV and movie talk. Dehumanizing gratuitous and graphic violence diminishes the value of life. Blatantly sexualized messaging robs youngsters of their innocence and leads to downright disrespect between sexes. Glorifying anti-heroes impacts any viewer, but especially the young people who are the most impressionable.

Ironically, however, if technology created the media age and helped fuel negative trends, streaming technology promises a potential solution through more and better choices. Fortune Magazine (Cord Cutting Isn’t Going Away, by Aaron Pressman July 24, 2018) reported that “an estimated 33 million consumers will have cut the cord by the end of this year, rising to 55 million in 2022.” The reasons are many, but simply put, streaming services allow consumers to make choices on programming they prefer.

Despite the perception that Christianity is dying in America, the potential audience for both faith-based and real family-friendly television is enormous. Gudorf shared surprising marketing numbers. “There are 125 or 130 million households in the U.S. Ninety million of them self report as Christians,” he said. “There are 20 million households that will tell you they make their choices, whether it’s their businesses, the restaurants they go to, the videos they watch — they make their choices based on how it aligns with their faith. Today’s word of mouth is social media. It’s digital. So Pureflix.com has been working hard in the social media to bring our message and encourage people on the positive trend and to try the Pureflix.com special offer of one month free. The question comes back to whether you cut the cord or not, the issue is to recognize that what we put into our minds and hearts is what comes out. We have to seek the good, the positive, the uplifting message. At Pureflix.com we don’t always get it perfect. But we always strive to give positive, uplifting messages on the platform.”

Therefore the success of streaming services with family-friendly and faith-based programs depends on the number of Christian households purchasing the services. There are a handful of streaming services that offer faith-based programs. As one of these, Pureflix.com thinks growth and success requires thousands of consumer choices on the platform. Pureflix subscribers can choose from thousands of programs. There is a wide variety from classic televisions series, such as old westerns like Roy Rogers and the Lone Ranger, classic sitcoms like the Lucy Show, dozens of children’s series and movies, faith-based education, and popular theatrical movies like Fireproof.

Gudorf explains the growth of the service. “We’re continuing to grow the number of devices that we support,” he said. “You can now get Pureflix.com on Microsoft Xbox gaming platform. We’re always adding more content. We’re licensing programs as well as offering content we produce. For example, recently we added content from the Answers in Genesis organization. They intend to offer all their content on Pureflix.com. We have content that we’re working on in the way of originals. We have a Hope Opera — we were calling it a soap opera, but a friend said call it a Hope Opera. The first one was Hilton Head Island which had a successful first season. It features soap opera stars. The other is a situational comedy, Malibu Dan the Family Man. A second season is coming soon.”

The original program Faith Talk is a conversation-based program that came out of a dinner party where Gudorf and others discussed the difficulty of just good conversation in a sound-bite world. The show airs on Pureflix social media channels and it is archived in its entirety on the Pureflix.com site. It includes many well-known Christians, including Roma Downey of Touched By an Angel, Dr. Ben Carson, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and Sadie Robinson from Duck Dynasty.

It seems evident that the Scottsdale, Arizona-based company has been blessed. Gudorf acknowledged this and summarizes its strength is outlined in their mission statement. “Pureflix as a company put forth their vision to be one who influences culture for Christ through media. That vision is very clear about what Pureflix should be doing. We’re focused on influencing culture for Christ. That’s a big advantage if a company has that sort of clarity for direction,” he said.

* You can see the interview in its entirety on the Baton Rouge Christian Life Magazine YouTube Channel.


Fred Townsend is the husband of Beth Townsend, publisher of Baton Rouge Christian Life Magazine. His 45-year career in marketing is an eclectic collection of work from political campaign consulting to television production and creative advertising and executive positions at two fortune 500 companies. 

BRCLM Lagniappe, October 2018

Christian Media Gains Momentum Part 2, Behind the Scenes

Christian Media Gains Momentum, Part 2: Behind the scenes

Christian Media Gains Momentum: Part 2

Actress Amber Nelon Thompson is a Dove Award recipient and the third generation of the famed gospel singing family The Nelons, (founded by her grandfather Rex Nelon). In Baton Rouge Christian Life Magazine’s September issue, Amber talked about her transition to acting and important observations about her generation.

On her role in A Question of Faith…
Being in the movie A Question of Faith was a dream come true for me. I had always wanted to act. I never really thought much about it because I knew my gift from God was singing and that is the path I’ve chosen. But this opportunity came about and I didn’t know if I could do it. I didn’t know if I’d be good at it. I was a nervous wreck.

At the time I was dealing with some vocal issues. I had nodules on both my vocal chords. That means a long rest! So when I read the role for Michelle, it talked about how she lost her voice, and she went through a really hard struggle of finding her identity. I know what that felt like, that you are supposed to be using your gift that God gave you. When you cannot use it at the moment and there is nothing you can do about it, you feel helpless. And you feel the depression setting in. I feel like I can’t do anything for God anymore because my gift is gone. By going through that situation, I learned that there were other gifts I could use for God. And I figured out that God does not need me to have his glory shown. I’m just a vessel. But if I’m open and willing to be used as a vessel, he can make his glory known to anybody.

 

A Question of Faith has been a blessing … an honor. The cast has become a family and we all keep in touch. It’s been an amazing journey and maybe someday down the road God allows me to do it again.

On her dream role…
I would love to be a Disney princess in a movie … I want to do the voice. I know every Disney song, I have every DVD … We go there (Disney World) every year. We have season passes. I just love the family environment … I think it’s because it’s a happy place, it’s always positive. It was always an escape when I was younger. If I had a bad day, I could watch a Disney movie and escape for a little while and go to this magical place.

On reaching millennials…

I’ve talked to so many kids about this. Often times the church can seem so judgmental — there is just no better way to put it. Not all of them, but they can look at these millennials and this generation is so different. They are very opinionated. They study everything. There is information fed at them all the time, 24 hours a day. It never stops. There is the internet, TV, Facebook, Twitter, any social media. But no one is listening to them. And what I think we need more of is just sitting down with young people and hearing what they have to say. We don’t always have to agree, but at least if we are willing to just sit down and listen to them, they just might be willing to listen as well. I went to school and got a degree in counseling and I hope to get a master’s degree because I want to help kids who feel misunderstood … like nobody cares and nobody is listening. That is what God does for us. He listens. And that is why we pray to him because He does listen when nobody else does. And we are supposed to be that to other people.

Dr. Cameron Lewis grew up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and practices oral surgery in New York. He felt called to use his talent in other areas and became the executive producer of A Question of Faith, which starred Heather Nelon Thompson. As a man of God, Dr. Lewis spends a great deal of time supporting charitable organizations, including the Mississippi Center for Autism, where Baton Rouge Christian Life Magazine caught up with him for an interview.

On his faith…

My faith is unwavering. Sometimes we question our faith, but God is always there for me. When we go through trials and tribulations, setbacks and disappointments, I know who I can call on and who is always there for me. At the end of the road, He is the one who will give me that push so that I know I can make it through. You know that faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things unseen.  A lot of times we increase our faith and get stronger and stronger as life takes us through different situations.

 

On his upbringing…

We were born and raised in church, but one thing I thank God every day for is that my parents did not throw it in our face. They did not push us in our faith. They wanted us to know God for ourselves. You need to know God for yourself. A lot of times people think that they want to throw faith at their kids when they are like five years old … I had heard about Jesus when I was little but I didn’t know it for myself until I was fourteen. Then I knew for sure that God is real; there is a God out there. I thank God for my parents who let me understand so that I could make a decision for myself. It’s one thing to give children the information that they need, but it’s another to let them decide for themselves.

 

On his career…

My vision does not stop with oral surgery. God has so much in store for me to do to serve his people. Where did you want to take my career? As I was reading about starting a business, it was right there in Deuteronomy 8:18 — “Remember the Lord thy God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth … which he may establish his covenant which he shares with his Father as it is this day.” Once I realized he gave me that Word …. He gave me the power so I need to go out and reach what I need to do. And don’t just be a talker; go and do the work. If you say you are going to do something, do it. Don’t stop when it gets hard. You have to persevere, dedicate yourself. You’ve got to be very strong-minded in what you want to do. Faith without work is completely dead. We are not here to be served; we are here to serve. So if everyone would realize that we are here to help one another … we are here to bless others as we are also being blessed.

 

Michelle Duffie is the CEO of the D3 Entertainment Group in Nashville, along with her twin brothers. She is considered the premier liaison, deal-maker, marketing strategist and quarterback between the African American faith and family consumer and the corporate, entertainment and sports world. She has structured marketing strategies generating $1.3 billion in revenue for various companies. Born in extreme poverty just outside Chicago, Michelle credits the strength and faith of her mother, the support of her five siblings and the lessons from her mentors as the fuel for propelling her forward. In the midst of promoting her new venture as executive producer of the movie Beautifully Broken, she found time to talk with Baton Rouge Christian Life Magazine.

On her background…

My brothers and I grew up singing in church. My mom actually birthed that music and entertainment in our system by always pushing us in that direction. After many years of working in the music industry, I was running a record label for CeCe Winans (probably 2003). I envisioned getting into the television and film industry. Wrote it on my vision board. Started doing research on how to get involved. I took a Hollywood 101 class, which sounds so simple, but it helped prepare me for what I didn’t know was right around the corner. Because we’d been doing independent marketing for music for so long, the industry as a whole recognized what we did. A movie marketing company came to me and said, “You guys know everyone in this African-American faith and family space. Do you think you can lend your expertise?” Without even thinking about I said yes. That movie was very successful for us and from there the floodgates opened. So God really was the wind behind our backs.

On living in God’s will…

Where God has you in life, especially if you are participating in His plan, it’s for a reason … and He needs you to be in certain positions, certain stopping points so He can show Himself strong. It’s the children of Israel at the Red Sea. If they had taken a left turn or a right turn, you miss the whole opportunity for God to do something incredible — to part the Red Sea. A lot of us try to run from our story and from our situation. But if you just stay the course, that story will turn into one of the great stories of all time. And that story turns into one of the movies we’ve seen today. It’s important to own your truth, to own your story, to be comfortable in it, to not compare yourself to anyone else’s journey. Then you get to where God needs you to be so that He can absolutely flourish what He’s planted in you.

Publisher's Letter, September 2018, Uncategorized

Publisher’s Letter, Christian Media Gains Momentum, Part 1

Beth enjoyed learning about Christian Media from one of the industries biggest stars, T. C. Stallings.
Beth was inspired by the amazing story of Michelle Duffie of D3 Entertainment, stay tuned for more next month.
Dr. Cameron Lewis has been such an amazing influence in helping us to learn more about the ‘behind the scenes’ in ‘A Question of Faith’ and other faith-based films.
Dove Award Winner Amber Thompson Nelon shared with Beth about her breakout role as an actress in her first movie, “A Question of Faith.’

Christian Media Gains Momentum: Part One

It’s easy to get discouraged as a Christian. Often secular news stories cause us to cringe with messages that God is out of style and that the Bible is out of date. Christianity on the surface appears to be dying a slow death.

Not so fast!

In our next couple of editions, we are going to share some encouraging news about measurable trends in Christian media! God is calling all kinds of people from various backgrounds to utilize multi-media platforms that point others to Christ and bring God glory. We are thankful to have some of those amazing Believers share with us so that we can share with you.

We are encouraged to see so many people stepping into positions that God is using mightily to reach the nations with movies, televisions shows and other forms of media. We love this especially because, in publishing our magazine each month, we have always felt that the best way to change the world is one story at a time.

I still recall being wowed by the movie “Facing the Giants” in 2006. It is a great movie that still moves me today with such imperfect people following a perfect God who proves Himself very much alive and active in the lives of his children. Since then, we have seen many faith-based movies become very successful in the box office and in DVD Sales. One thing always rings true: there is just nothing like a great story that is based in truth and reality, and communicates a sound message of Faith.

Another great story that can change the world just may be your testimony. When is the last time you shared how God had intervened in your life or answered a prayer? As a testimony-driven magazine, we’ve seen how the power of personal stories brings real hope to others each month.

Yet, even the boldest Christians tend to shy away from sharing their stories. “I’m waiting for the right time…I’m going to write it down…I need to practice…I don’t know what part to share and when…I’m afraid of what others will think.”

Good news! We are sponsoring a testimony workshop in October. If you’d like to learn to share your story effectively, we suggest attending. My husband Fred and I attended a class in Dallas, and we were very moved by the quality of the teaching. We were inspired to be more intentional about preparing and sharing our testimonies on a regular basis. Check out pages 20 and 21 for more information.

We are going to share more about Media in our next edition. Our goal is to remind others that if we are going to craft a message to share with others, we must do so with excellence and take proper time to make it great. Therefore, we will share the experience of accomplished experts so that Believers learn the most effective ways to share content that is encouraging and inspiring.

Changing the world, one story at a time. Join us! Share yours, too.

Beth enjoys a prescreening of “War Room’ at Istrouma Baptist Church with Hilton Glass of Movies Ministries Outreach and Pastor Mark Lubbock of Gulf South Men.
Director Kevan Otto shared about the rise in Faith-based films.
Amber Thompson Nelon, Publisher Beth Townsend, and Videographer Rachel Boster enjoyed visiting with with so many media experts at the weekend event benefitting Mississippi Centers for Autism in July.