Larry Frenzel of Carmel Entertainment Group
By Donald James Parker
When my first novel was published, I decided to pursue having it made into a movie. I contacted Sherwood Baptist Church who provided Larry Frenzel's name as a contact person. I had not known of Larry or Carmel. However, I knew that The Privileged Planet was one awesome film since I used it as material for my book. After doing this interview, I am very optimistic that Larry and Chris are poised to do some wonderful things in engaging our culture via the film media. And, I was blessed to hear Larry mention Frank Capra, one of my heroes.
Larry Frenzel is a principal of Carmel Entertainment Group, LLC (“CEG”), which he founded with Chris Bueno in 2003, to acquire, develop, produce and distribute feature films and documentaries. He is an entertainment lawyer, producer and screenwriter, and also serves as chairman of Illustra Media/La Mirada Films and as a board member of Mastermedia International. Larry’s executive producer credits include The Privileged Planet, Prophecies Of The Passion, The Case For A Creator, The Case For Christ: The Film, The Case for Faith (in production), and The Cambrian Explosion (in production). CEG’s feature film distribution projects include Facing The Giants, Secret Of The Cave, Faith Like Potatoes and Mr. Dungbeetle. Its documentary distribution projects include The Case For Christ: The Film, The Case For A Creator, The Case for Faith (in production), A Man Named Pearl, Dear Francis, and the Drive Thru History series. In 2007, CEG formed its Carmel Cinema division for the non-theatrical exhibition of feature films and documentaries in churches, and launched its program with Lionsgate for Lee Strobel’s The Case For Christ: The Film. CEG is currently developing three feature films for production, commencing in 2008.
TCP: What do you see in the future of Christian movies in general?
Larry: First of all, it’s important to define the term, “Christian movie.” Does it mean a movie made by Christians or a movie about Christians? Or, a movie made exclusively for Christians? Or, a movie with explicitly Christian content? Or, a movie with a Christian worldview? Or, a movie with a Judeo-Christian worldview? Or, a movie based on Old Testament or New Testament characters? Or a movie with a redemptive message? Or, a movie with a moral message that contains no offensive language, violence or sexuality and is rated G or PG? Or is a “Christian movie” some combination of two or more of the foregoing or some other descriptions? The term “Christian movie” — like the commonly used but vague terms “Christian audience” and “faith-based movie” and “faith-based audience” — is used by both Christians and non-Christians, both inside and outside the motion picture industry, in ways that obviously indicate entirely different understandings of the term’s meaning. So, it seems that whether or not a movie is a “Christian movie” is a matter of perception, that is, it depends on “the eye of the beholder.”
My business partner, Chris Bueno, and I, initially evaluate the content of movies (potential acquisitions) for Carmel Entertainment based on worldview — since worldview fundamentally differentiates Christian content from non-Christian content — and, of course, we determine whether the movie has a compelling story, good acting, quality production values and a marketing hook. If a film has those elements, we determine which, if less than all, Christians within the diverse and segmented population known (and generalized) as the “Christian audience” would embrace the movie. If the film can reach a sufficiently large target audience, our next determination is whether our church exhibition division, Carmel Cinema, could successfully exhibit the movie in some or all kinds of churches. Our way of evaluating movies also takes into account the fact that some or all of the “Christian audience” may watch a movie marketed to the “general audience,” but little or none of the “mainstream audience” is likely to watch a movie with explicitly Christian content that is marketed primarily to the “Christian audience.” Yet we also recognize that there is a viable market for explicitly Christian films, such as FACING THE GIANTS or THE CASE FOR CHRIST.
All that being said — and assuming that by “Christian movies” you mean movies with Christian worldview content — the future of such movies seems very bright because of the studios’ post-PASSION OF THE CHRIST recognition of the massive, underserved audience identified as Christians, who are clamoring for good content, and the studios’ openness to funding and distributing movies for this audience. It is entirely feasible that greater numbers of movies with Christian worldview content could be produced and distributed, but they must meet the threshold bottom line criteria of any successful movie, as noted previously: a compelling story, good acting, quality production values and a marketing hook. If Christian filmmakers truly embrace those criteria, then their films with Christian worldview content can succeed, and the doors will open wider for them. On the other hand, those who naively believe that their Christian worldview content will overcome story or production deficiencies will likely continue to face a bleak future.
In the future, we also see church exhibition, like our Carmel Cinema division, playing a greater role in bringing Christian worldview content directly to its core audience. The success and expansion of such exhibition could increase the demand for content and provide the resources to increase the production of films for the core Christian audience.
TCP: Can you tell us what Carmel will be working on the next couple of years – the Lord willing – or this topic secret?
Larry: We will continue to expand our acquisition and distribution efforts to help other producers market and distribute features and documentaries, and we’ll continue to executive produce documentaries. We’ve been developing our own slate of feature films and plan to initially produce three low-budget films. One is a comedy; the other two are dramas. Our goal is to produce films with Judeo-Christian worldview content that will appeal to the general audience, as well as to Christians, although we are not limiting productions to “family friendly” content. We see a place for realistic films with our worldview that could be rated more restrictively due to the subject matter. We also hope to expand our Carmel Cinema division and work with our studio partners to bring more films directly to audiences in churches.
TCP: What kind of role does prayer play in the directing and producing of your films?
Larry: One should never underestimate the value of prayer in whatever you’re doing, including film production. FACING THE GIANTS is a incredible example of the power of prayer. Sherwood Baptist Church prayed for its movie every step of the way. They are a consistently praying church. There is no doubt in our minds that God performed miracles with and through this movie because of prayer. God provided a $100K budget and a church made a movie that defied Hollywood conventions, performed far beyond industry expectations (or imagination) and has had a meaningful impact in Hollywood and for the Kingdom. We see prayer as an essential ingredient of our company and each of our projects.
TCP: How hard is it to put your ego off to the side and let the Lord work through you and let constructive criticism help you to improve the quality of your movies?
Larry: Ego can be a problem for anyone in this business — especially if they have enjoyed some level of success — but it’s not that difficult to set your ego aside if you truly recognize God as the source of your success. Also, producing a movie is a highly collaborative project, so ego gets in the way if a person is “me-centered” rather than “we-centered.” Filmmakers who understand the collaborative nature of film production will value the input and advice of others. Proverbs 15:22 states it best: Without counsel purposes are disappointed: but in the multitude of counselors they are established.
TCP: What answer do you have to the accusation that Christian movies are sub-standard?
Larry: Well, unfortunately, Christian filmmakers have produced many sub-standard movies, but they have also produced some really good movies. So the answer is: Christian filmmakers need to continue to raise the bar and produce films with excellence, keeping in mind the fundamental elements essential to success (as discussed above) and knowing and understanding the core audience for their films.
TCP: Exactly what role did Carmel play in the production/distribution of FACING THE GIANTS?
Larry: We acquired distribution rights to FACING THE GIANTS after principal photography, long before the film was completed. We actually provided copious notes and recommendations for each cut of the film until it was finished. We also conducted several focus group tests to determine what people liked and disliked, and what changes were required. When the film was ready to show, we pitched it to studios to obtain theatrical and home video distribution. We truly believed that the film would work in theatrical distribution and that it had to have a chance to prove it. We actually prepared to do our own limited theatrical release when one of the major studios offered to take the film direct to DVD. During those negotiations, Provident and Sony entered the picture, and caught the vision for a theatrical release. We handled the contract negotiations and consummated the distribution deal, as well as a soundtrack deal, and also remained involved in the marketing and release of the film. Having a major studio distributor willing to theatrically release the film, which was our first feature project — and then watching how God blessed it in so many ways — was very gratifying and affirming for us, as well as for its producer, Sherwood Baptist Church.
TCP: How can you get non-believers interested in watching a Christian film?
Larry: We have to go back to the question of what is a “Christian film”? If a film is labeled as a “Christian film,” it’s extremely difficult to get non-believers to watch it, especially in theaters. In fact, it’s even difficult to get Christians to watch “Christian films” in theaters. So, perhaps the best way to reach a non-believer with Christian worldview content — and to attract Christians to theaters, as well — is to produce a first-rate film with a compelling story, good acting, excellent production values and not labeled “Christian film.” A classic example is It’s A Wonderful Life. Frank Capra never intended to produce a “Christian film,” but this film has blessed both believers and non-believers alike.
About the Author: Donald James Parker is a novelist and computer programmer who resides in Puyallup, Washington. You can check out his website at www.donaldjamesparker.com?tcp