CC.com: Paul, you were recently listed as one of the top 50 most influential Christians in America. What was your reaction to that news?
Paul: It’s really an honor to be part of that group. I’m not sure how they selected the group; it seems to be made up mostly of people who are in the media, either because they’re the pastor of a very large church, or they do things that garner media attention. Obviously, that group will gain more attention and more votes. I think we should always honor founders and pioneers in any industry – television, movies, the internet, etc.
I’m part of the second generation who lays honor to the previous generation and then takes their work to the next level. It’s our challenge to build on the solid and established foundation laid for us.
CC.com: Has TBN been part of your whole life?
Paul: I was 13 when TBN started in 1973, and for the first 7 years I was very involved. I didn’t really understand the scope and scale of what was going on, but I don’t think my parents did either. They were just trying to buy a local TV station in Los Angeles and provide programming for 6 hours a day. That was really the only vision they had at that point. Raise enough money to have programming from 6 PM – 12 AM, and that was it. None of us had any idea how it would grow, or what it would become. I think if Dad would have known in 1973 what it’s like now, he would have walked away, because it’s a very daunting task. It’s the mercy of God that allows to see just so far down the road so we don’t get scared or run away.
During those years, I did whatever needed to be done. It was things I thought were cool and held a true fascination and enjoyment for me. I worked on lights, cameras, wires, dollies, etc. I really enjoyed the technical and artistic side of things; it was a great learning time for me. I think of it as my university process. We were working hands-on and live on the air, which hones your skills very quickly.
CC.com: You spent some time away from TBN. What pulled you away?
Paul: I wanted to get out and spread my wings. I had my job because of who my parents are, and wanted to get out from under that. I had the technical (camera, lighting, directing) and communication skills necessary to direct live shows, so I took them and went out into the open market. At age 20 (in 1980), I started my own company called PJ Video. A lot of my early clients were Christians who knew of my folks. People like Billy Graham, Bill Bright, Dr. Robert Schuler. I traveled with them doing video production. A lot of those programs aired on TBN, and I continued to market myself and work for whoever would hire me.
Advertising is all word-of-mouth. People will call you and your name will get passed along if you work well, from producer to producer, production company to production company. I was making very good money and the company was doing well. In its progression, we started buying equipment and had a rental house with cameras, lights, etc. We had crews that we worked with consistently, and after a while expanded into post-production. I purchased one of the first Avid editing systems (a system for non-linear editing) and the production company grew quickly. Once we started doing post-production in-house, that part of the company grew at a pretty rapid rate.
Then in 2000, I felt like my folks needed some help. They aren't getting any younger, so I made the decision to come back to TBN full-time. I sold the company to one of my partners and that facilitated my return.
CC.com: What things do you miss about running your own company?
Paul: The salary structure I had. On the other hand, I don't miss the fact that when you own the company, you can never take a vacation. I had about 6 or 7 employees, and everyone kind of did everything. I was dealing with payroll, billing, collecting, client questions and concerns as well as complaints. I could literally never walk away from it. Even if I took time off, I was constantly hounded with calls, questions and concerns. It's tough to own your own business!
CC.com: Your parents are the founders of TBN. Why don't you have the same kind of pressures there as in your own company?
Paul: TBN has been established for 34 years. There is a strong infrastructure with checks and balances in place. I'm still overseeing a lot of different things, and get constantly bombarded with questions and concerns, but a lot of the daily work is delegated and so I am able to get away for 3 days or so.
One of the challenges is working in corporate environment. At PJ Video, things could move a lot quicker when I made a decision. What I said, went. At TBN, we have 200-400 people and things are done in a more corporate environment. We have to establish policy, have meetings about it, etc.
CC.com: Do you have any regrets about leaving TBN and starting your own company?
Paul: No. I believe the Lord wanted me to leave TBN. Even though I learned a lot in 7 years, there was a lot I didn't know. Things about running a company, like hiring and firing and taxes. There is no greater learning experience than to go through an IRS tax audit. I was sweating bullets!
I learned more technical things about production as well: post-production, engineering, sound engineering. I brought back Hi-Def knowledge that will allow us to push the technology envelope. I developed skills for meeting and networking with other people: lighting, directing, photography, directors, other producers, sound men, tax people. I can bring that 20 years' worth of contacts and experiences back and make things better at TBN.
CC.com: What are some of the goals for TBN?
Paul: First we want to grow vertically and horizontally. We have to have the hardware to reach the world, so we need more satellites and a better internet presence. People are looking for video on demand and streaming video. We want to be in direct home satellites and on shortwave radio - to be using all technologies available to us. There are cable systems and terrestrial broadcasting we're not part of yet. Whatever the next widget is, we're going to be involved. Something that's right around the corner is clips and streaming video for cell phones.
We also have to be prepared on the software side, because a computer is just a box of wires of there is no software. To that end, we've licensed more movies, documentaries, TV programs and specials in the last 5 years than in the first 30 years of TBN. We're producing our own content and progressively working with other production companies and producers who are doing the software side. We want to accumulate the best of the best to have programming that will inspire and touch people's lives.
There's been a snowball effect in content. 6 or 7 years ago we started looking for movies to license and play on the network. We found 8 - 10 we'd show. Now it's almost overwhelming. I'm receiving 5-6 movies a week plus documentaries plus kids' shows, as well as sports shows. I have a stack of DVDs on my desk with new shows and ideas people are presenting for partnership options.
CC.com: What are you looking for in programming?
Paul: Something different. I've seen every preaching head that's ever been done. It's the easiest and least expensive way to create Christian programming. I've been there and done that. Christian TV was founded by preachers who did what they could afford to produce, but now we're trying to raise the level of the ocean with bigger budgets, better people (producers, directors, lighting people). If we're the biggest boat in the ocean, we benefit from it. Our calling is to affect people's lives: to strengthen Christians, win the lost, and perpetuate the faith. If we weren't doing that, I'd the be the first one screaming about it.
We want new ideas, different ones, ideas that catch the eye creatively and that aren't re-packaged ideas. That's why we're really looking desperately at new documentaries. Lee Strobel (The Case for Christ, The Case for a Creator) is producing some great work, and it will be part of a whole new library of documentaries coming out.
I don't want people to send us ideas. That's the last thing we need. They are a dime a dozen, and I have a filing cabinet full of them. People come up with something, spend 10 minutes to say "you ought to do this," and expect us to undertake it. There are no new ideas under the sun. I've got every one ever dreamed up, and probably gotten them 8 times over because each generation sends me the same ideas. I'm looking for people who will roll up their sleeves and send us the pilot. I want them to at least have put money, effort and elbow grease into production. There are a million people out there who want to save the world on my nickel; I'm looking for the ones who'll do it on their own. The production companies we work with have equal financial participation, equal risk, a real partnership.
Look at Drive Thru History. It is without a doubt the best study to learn about the history of the Bible that I've ever seen. It's fast, entertaining, and high quality. The quality of kids' shows is phenomenal. I'd put it up against any kids' show block on any TV network. They did the production work and then brought it to us. That show is a great example of people thinking outside the box of what's been done already, and taking a chance on their own to develop great ideas.
CC.com: What do you think about the state of Christian filmmaking?
Paul: I think some of the best films were made 50 years ago when Hollywood was making films with Biblical themes: King of Kings, Ben Hur, The Ten Commandments. Then the church started preaching against Hollywood - if you go to a movie theater, you'll go to hell (my dad was told that by his mother). So Hollywood said "Forget it, we're done. We'll go do something else that will make money. If Christians won't support movies, we'll make what will sell." Hollywood is a money-making machine, so the wonderful heritage of Christian-themed films gave way to a big void. When there were Christians in the movies, they were often made to look like creepy characters that were hypocrites. They used that forum to rail against Christianity.
Then after 20 - 25 years, some producers started doing films that were inferior quality but sold because they were the only thing in the marketplace. They had really low budgets, inferior sets and lighting and bad acting. People would buy or rent them because they had Christian flavor or content. I liken it to where Christian music was about 20 years ago. There were complaints, and things weren't as well-produced, the talent wasn't as good. But Christian music has evolved, and is getting better and better. The same thing is happening with movies.
All mediums can be improved and made better. Movies better evolve or they will go away and something else will come along to devour you. The days of doing an inferior product with a Christian theme are gone. To be taken seriously and be commercially viable, producers have to dot their i's and cross their t's. They need to get good actors and people who know what they're doing. It will take some time; the Queen Mary turns a degree at a time.
CC.com: Do you ever think about the legacy you're building, or about the one you're inheriting?
Paul: I wouldn't give a legacy 2 seconds' worth of thought. You have to get in, do the best job you know how to do, make the best decisions you can, and let the rest take care of itself. The people who win Academy Awards don't usually realize they did that caliber of work. They just went on the set and did the best job they could do. If you're looking down the road for legacy or adulation, you're focused on the wrong thing.
CC.com: What advice do you have for those who want to work in the entertainment industry, whether it's television, film, or something else?
Paul: Don't stand on the sidelines and criticize. Anyone can do that. It doesn't garner 2 seconds of respect from me on anything. There is a place for criticism, because any industry or organization can be improved by it. But just criticizing isn't productive or necessary, and nothing will get done.
The tools to make movies are out there and affordable - get involved and do one yourself! I spent $200,000 for an editing system and camera. Now you can buy equipment at Best Buy and accomplish close to the same thing for $3500 with a laptop and DV cam. Go to a studio and intern, whatever, just get inside the industry and try to bring about change from within the industry.
The movies we're looking for have to be family-friendly, but have to have a message, a faith element, and a spiritual point of view that sets it apart. That's why we're working with ChristianCinema.com, the Christiano brothers, and David White. These guys are producers that really have a heart for the Lord and their movies reflect that.
Another great example is the first reality show on TBN: Travel the Road. It came to us from a couple of guys who paid for their own trip, did their own filming and practically died on the mission field. When they got home, they put it together and sent it to us to see if we were interested. It was great stuff! We stepped in and helped them get editing equipment and financing to hire editors. It's a great example of how to present something, because we're being bombarded with TV shows, ideas, concepts and finished movies. People really need to go the extra mile financially and in every other way to stand out.