Friday I was in Baltimore, for a meeting with Dr. John Seel Jr. Outreach Director for Walden Media, who was present at the National Catholic Educators Association Conference to present an award. We met to discuss how the blogosphere is transforming the culture, and how formerly isolated Catholic homeschoolers, are becoming a sought after constituency for movie studios. We bloggers have some idea of what it's like to find yourself show up in Google, but Hollywood, sin city, pursuing us?
I have an answer for that. Remember the months before the release of The Passion of the Christ? How many of you were, like myself, reading about the film's progress in the Catholic press, and then made certain you bought advance tickets at Fandango to boost opening day sales? I remember getting a thrill when Mel Gibson 'called' me to thank me for that. His recorded message was rudely interrupted by the dog and kids racing through the kitchen, and him shooing them out. I had to listen to it more than once to convince myself it wasn't a personal call. But it had an effect on me; the "Passion" was more than a film, it was a cause to support, a way to show Hollywood what we had been longing for since Ben Hur, The Ten Commandments, and The Robe in the great era of Biblical epics. We had never had such an opportunity to vote with our feet. And vote we did!
As soon as The Passion came out, local Catholics booked an entire theatre for the premiere, and spent hours after the movie in deep theological discussions with their Protestant bretheren. People came out of the theatre weeping and embracing one another. Many people changed their lives through repentance and confession. Criminals turned themselves in. Abortion-minded women chose life for their babies.There is a movie which chronicles this phenomenon.
I often went on the website to watch the Passion which we knew simply as The Movie, sweep through such unlikely countries as United Arab Emirates with unbelievable success. The fact that the movie which was predicted to bomb made over $600 million, putting it into the top ten movies of all time, is a testament to us, and those Christians like us who got behind a worthy film. Don't you think Hollywood was watching?
As I've posted before, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe has been christened "The Children's Passion"because it was Hollywood's first attempt to recapture the audience who made the Passion so successful. It was produced jointly by Disney, and Walden Media, a new company formed by Philip Anschutz in 2000 to bring classic children's books to the screen. Walden has continued to bring some of our favorite stories to the screen, including: Because of Winn-Dixie, Around the World in 80 Days, I am David, Charlotte's Web, Amazing Grace, The Bridge to Terabithia, coming this Christmas, Prince Caspian, which is currently filming in Australia. Walden is now seeking to engage homeschoolers,with it's newsletter Ripples because, in the words of Michael Flaherty, CEO, "homeschool parents are educationally saavy, well-connected market leaders when it comes to entertainment which reflects their shared values"
Dr John Seel said that when Amazing Grace was in theatres, Walden interviewed moviegoers leaving the theatres about what had brought them there. Traditional marketing methods, such as trailers on TV, billboards, and newspaper ads, which absorb 25% of a film's budget brought in only 5% of those polled. Amazing Grace Sunday, a publicity event, where over 1500 churches signed on to participate by singing "Amazing Grace" the Sunday before the film's release in rememberance of the 200 year anniversary of William Wilberforce's successful battle to abolish the slave trade, brought in another 12%. But, by far, the greatest influence on moviegoers was what you are now reading. A whopping 55% of those who went to see Amazing Grace did because of blogs. Ladies and Gentlemen, behold, the power of the keyboard!!
Catholic bloggers are needed to get the word out when another one of our favorite books is coming to film, and, if possible to participate in the activites leading up to the release. These are designed to increase the educational value of the movie, as well as encourage the public to actually read the book beforehand. Remember Danielle Bean's post encouraging us to organize groups to read "Charlotte's Web"? That was Walden's idea. My nine year old Isabella read the book after the movie, but enjoyed one of my childhood favorites which was on our personal list of must reads.