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Christian Movies: Truth or Genre? Richard Ramsey of "The Song" Speaks Out
Christian Movies: Truth or Genre? Richard Ramsey of "The Song" Speaks Out

Christian Movies: Truth or Genre? Richard Ramsey of "The Song" Speaks Out

This week, we were privileged to interview Richard Ramsey, the writer and director of The Song.  With a BA in Theater from the University of Houston, he spent his early career influencing the independent film world in Texas. Now based out of Louisville, KY, he serves as Artistic Director for City on a Hill Studios.  This month, Ramsey brings the story of King Solomon to life in an incredibly edgy, honest and artistic way in The Song.  It opens in theaters nationwide on September 26.

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About The Movie:

Why did you make The Song so “sin-filled” (even though technically, it’s no worse than a PG movie)?

Well, technically it is worse than a PG movie since it officially has a PG-13 rating. The Song is so "sin-filled" because it's based on the Bible.

I think if the sin doesn't ring true, the redemption won't ring true. Jesus tells us the Prodigal Son squandered his father's money on prostitutes. St. John says, "The light shines in the darkness." Trying to depict redemption in a story with no real sin is like lighting a match at high noon. It's ineffective and easily ignorable.

Do you really believe marriages can recover from the conflicts like the ones in the film?

I absolutely do believe some can. 

Why did you include the despairing Bible verses from Ecclesiastes in the voice over as the movie went on?

Well, I personally do not find Ecclesiastes despairing.  I find it honest, realistic, and ultimately beautiful. The language can sound despairing because it so effectively and conclusively illustrates life "under the sun." That is, life without any practical faith in God has no objective meaning, and that no career, accomplishment, relationship, pleasurable experience, cause, or material possession will ultimately satisfy the deepest longings of your heart. But, "under heaven," there is meaning – a time and season for everything. That realization has driven many a seeking and sensitive heart toward God.

But, as far as why and how I chose to use the actual text of Solomon as voiceovers: In very early drafts, the story was nonlinear, and our main character, Jed, was telling his story to another character. So, there were narrative voice-overs that communicated some Ecclesiastes-like ideas, but in Jed's own words. I was wisely advised by some outside readers to make the story linear. During that time, I experimented with replacing all narrative voice-over with direct text from Solomon. It immediately elevated the story. There's just so much weight, wisdom, and experience-based authority in those words.

What do you want audiences to understand about themselves or God after they see the film?

That God is the only hope they have that life has any objective meaning. So, as Solomon says, "Remember your Creator" and "Delight in the wife of your youth."

About Christian films:

What do you think is the purpose of Christian films in today’s society?

Well, I'd like to first say what I think is not their purpose: I don't think their purpose is to fulfill arbitrary "Christian" genre requirements or pander to the paranoia and sentiments of a subculture, or even to entertain the entire family. I think their purpose is to skillfully and gracefully tell the truth about whatever subject they address. If a filmmaker is doing that, they're being Christian, even without an overt gospel presentation. If they're not doing that, they're being unchristian, even with an overt gospel presentation.

Should Christian films try to convey the Gospel?

If that is the passion and calling of a particular Christian filmmaker, he/she absolutely should. But, imposing that rule across the board and essentially saying that just like a romantic comedy must have a meet-cute scene and a western must have a climactic shootout, a Christian film must have the overt gospel presentation…well, that's treating Christianity like it's a genre instead of treating it like it's the truth.

Filmmakers regularly complain about the gatekeepers who ask them to cut out the “sin” content. Do you feel that films have to be grittier to be believable, or can a clean-cut film be just as effective?

Well, I think the Pixar films are a great example of how you can have deep, meaningful, and redemptive themes within the confines of family-friendly content. But, again, it's the imposition of a rule across the board that I resist and, quite frankly, resent.

Just as you wouldn't bluntly teach the story of David and Bathsheba or Song of Songs to a six-year-old, some truths that must be told are not fit for all ears. And, if Christian filmmakers are forced by "gatekeepers" or other subcultural pressures to only tell the truths that are fit for all ears, it is going to severely limit the issues they can address with honesty and integrity. And, someone else will gladly fill that void.

How can Christian filmmakers reach secular audiences and young audiences who may have very little exposure to or frame of reference for understanding the Bible?

Well, I can tell you what we tried to do in that regard with The Song. We wanted to make this movie work for the same reason that "real" movies work. When real movies work and are successful it's because, among many other things, they're descriptive rather than prescriptive, story-driven rather than message-driven, and conversational rather than conversional. Even when there's a controlling idea, a takeaway, or even a message, the film is still story-driven. Also, the stakes in the story - what hangs in the balance if the protagonist succeeds or fails - are universal and primal. Meaning, they're things that are valuable to anyone regardless of backgrounds or beliefs. Christian movies are generally the reverse of all that, which is why they don't and won't find success outside their core support audience. Whether or not The Song achieves this, audiences will ultimately decide. But, that's what we tried to do.

A special thanks to Richard Ramsey for his insightful and challenging thoughts on both The Song and the film industry! The Song opens in theaters nationwide on September 26.  You can visit the website at www.thesongmovie.com for more information or check your local listings for movie times.

 

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