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Christians in Cinema: Rich Christiano
Christians in Cinema: Rich Christiano

Christians in Cinema: Rich Christiano

Rich Christiano (Christiano Films) is a man of many interests, and he is very passionate about all of those interests. He is also staunchly not a believer in UFOs or aliens. So why is his latest movie Unidentified a story about those very topics? To find the answers to that question, I spoke with him recently...
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CC.com: Well, Rich – what’s the verdict? Is there something out there?

Rich: There is something out there, but I don't think it is what most people say it is. I do not believe in aliens, and I don’t think there is life on other planets. What I do believe is that UFOs and things of that nature are demonic distractions and deceptions designed to lead people anywhere but to Christ.

In preparing for this film, I did a lot of personal research and learned a lot. There are some really wild stories out there. I think we took a very balanced approach toward all the UFOs stuff.

CC.com: So if you don’t believe in UFOs and aliens, why choose that subject to do a movie? Doesn’t that give credence to what people think and stir things up?

Rich: I don’t think so. The UFOs are a hook. They’re confusing, interesting, and not taken very seriously. But they just don’t go away. And most Christians are confused about the subject.

In the film, we try to bring a Biblical perspective and use the discussion of UFOs as a launching pad for the gospel and the Lord. Of course we talk about whether or not they exist, and even talk about their possible connection to end times. Because of that, this is a dangerous film.

It addresses lots of spiritual issues. It was my desire to tell the Gospel so clearly that anyone seeing the movie would be without excuse when they stand before the Lord. I feel like we have accomplished this.

CC.com: That is consistent with your body of work. Your films always have a strong message in them.

Rich: My first goal is always to please the Lord. I have realized that only God’s Spirit can reach people so if we don’t first please Him, we have nothing (John 15:15). We can be creative with stories and scripts to get His message out, but we always want them to point to the Lord.

It’s not an obligation to try to put the message in; we want to do it. However, in the end, it’s up to God’s Spirit to get the message to people. I can provide the vehicle for the message.

In Unidentified, we approached the story from 2 or 3 angles to make the Gospel message very clear. And it was aimed at 3 people groups.

First it is to the believers, to motivate, pump up and strengthen them. Secondly it is to non-believers to challenge them to reconsider their beliefs. And finally, it is for what I call “professing Christians” or drifters, who claim to be Christians but are not passionate. Their challenge is to consider where they are spiritually. It’s really a movie to give to someone and pray the Lord will use it.

CC.com: Was it difficult to cast this film? Did you try to find actors who themselves have strong feelings about UFOs and aliens?

Rich: I believe we have an excellent cast. They are very talented though they aren’t that well-known – yet. I believe they are as good as the cast of Time Changer was. Beverly Holloway was my casting director. We had an open casting, and she received hundreds of entries. Most of them are from Los Angeles.

A nice addition to the cast was Christian recording artist Rebecca St. James. We connected with her through a friend, and really enjoyed having her in the film. She’s very sweet and is passionate for the Lord. She loved the movie and has a natural acting ability. I believe she could be a female lead in a movie.

CC.com: You had a theatrical release for Unidentified, right? How do you think audiences will react to this?

Rich: We did receive very good response from audiences in theaters but we just did not have the promotion we needed to do some good box office numbers.We opened in almost 80 theaters, and now we’re focusing on doing church screenings. That’s really my preference, because in a church follow-up call to come to Jesus Christ can be provided, and that’s critical when a film challenges people to believe in Jesus Christ.

The theatrical release provides an advantage of awareness. People who might not be interested in it or even know about it if it went direct to video might see an ad or hear something on the radio that piques their interest. We’re hoping to get into Blockbuster, and they usually place their orders by the box office numbers.

I also want to keep working with the churches. That market is evolving because churches are becoming more particular about what they will show. And I believe the churches are more than ready to support Christian filmmakers in their work.

I think Christian filmmaking is in a state of transition. The line between “Christian” films (they point to Christ) and “family-friendly” films (have a good moral message but not necessarily a Christian message) is becoming more distinct. Personally, I think the two categories don’t mix.

The great thing about the increase of Christian films being produced is that more can get into people’s hands – we can reach the masses. And with the volume of households that have DVD players (89% of American homes), you never know who might see a movie you produce.

One of the actresses in Second Glance tried to get a copy of that to the Clintons. Who knows? They may have seen it.

CC.com: You have a long and solid history in Christian filmmaking. How did it begin for you?

Rich: My twin brother Dave (Christian Films) and I are self-taught filmmakers. We’re both writers and had done some stories and scripts. I went to graduate school at Arkansas State University, studying television and radio, and Dave taught film and camera techniques for a college in San Antonio, TX, where he met a guy who told us about Christian films.

We did three films together (The Pretender, Crime of the Age, and The Daylight Zone). Then we decided to work separately so we could each direct. We both run our own distribution also.

I love the whole process: development, production (if I have help), directing, distributing – the marketing and selling. If I did production all the time, it would grow old. If I had to be out selling and marketing all the time, it would grow old. Probably my least favorite thing is the accounting. Fortunately, I have good staff to help with that.

Dave and I have a consultation thing going. We send scripts back and forth – he’s my number one script consultant. We also help each other with distribution. We’re very similar, but I think he might be a little more intense than I am.

We’re both determined to do a good job of getting the message out there and are committed to it. We really want to influence people for the Lord. I believe there are very few who will try. Unfortunately, this seems to be a dying breed.

There are very few producers wanting to put solid, challenging movies out there with a strong message for the Lord, that want to really please the Lord. I think there’s a danger in the movement of Christian movies – they seem to be moving to a “soft-sell” of the Gospel, and very few films are what I would consider Christ-centered.

Many large companies are getting involved in the promotion and distribution of Christian films, but in my opinion they’re not really out for Jesus. They just want to make money.

CC.com: Some would argue that the advantage of having large companies involved in Christian movies means that a broader audience is getting exposed to the Gospel.

Rich: That’s true if the Gospel is really in the film. Remember, if we want to really impact people for the Lord, we MUST please Him first. (John 15:15) I am praying for the Lord to raise up more filmmakers who want to make Christ-centered films.

CC.com: In addition to the presentation of a clear message, what other aspects of filmmaking are important to you?

Rich: To me, the message is the most important thing in a Christian film. It’s why I do them. And I think we’ve learned how to make sure it’s not corny or cheesy.

I always think about how to prepare the viewer to want to hear the truth. I love Darren, the religion editor at the magazine in Unidentified, and I love what he says. He becomes the key guy in this movie.

But he has to be set up well enough as a character that he has natural points of authority. Then the audience will want to hear what he has to say. They may not agree with him, but they will listen to him and this is all we can do.

And, it’s not just what you say, but how you say it. I’m not very technical; I can’t light a scene, so I need a really good lighting director. And I’m not terribly knowledgeable about equipment. I can plug cords in, but I can’t go much further than that. So I try to surround myself with very capable people to do those things.

What I really love in the filming process is dealing with scripts and directing. I like the actors, and I love trying to pull their best performance out of them.

CC.com: It’s pretty clear that your brother is a source of encouragement and help for you. Who are others that you turn to for feedback or assistance?

Rich: Jeff Hollis, who is my editor, is a really good source. He helps me with promotions, artwork, things like that. We have a small handful of script consultants that we use. It’s a good team of people in our inner circle.

CC.com: OK – then let’s talk about the future of Rich Christiano, filmmaker. What’s ahead for you? Any projects coming out in 2007?

Rich: In July I’m planning to film The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry, and have Gavin MacLeod signed to the lead role. He should be fantastic. I’m very excited about this movie. It’s the story of a 75-year-old man in 1970 who disciples three 12-year old boys to motivate them to follow Christ.

There are a few other ideas still in the development stage. I don’t have big-budget ideas. All the movies I want to make are within reach, and are really the easiest films to make and get distribution: low-budget Christian films.

I’m also interested in maybe doing something in television. I’d also like to make a sequel to Time Changer. This time, instead of someone going forward in time, I want to have someone go backward in time. And I’m also interested in maybe doing a weekly dramatic show for Christian television in the future.

CC.com: Rich, thank you for your time and passion for sharing the message of Jesus Christ through film. You’ve been a great friend to ChristianCinema.com, and we look forward to more great films from you.

©2006 ChristianCinema.com 


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