What Is The Secret to Being a Successful Christian Movie Producer?

{By Ellery Sadler}

I’ve always wondered what exactly movie producers do.

See, screenwriters write. Directors direct. Actors act. And producers produce … but what does that really mean?

After watching Beyond the Mask, I thought it would be fun to hear an inside perspective on the film and share it with y’all. And I had the privilege of talking with Producer Aaron Burns. (Some of you might know him from Pendragon: Sword of His Father.)

Aaron is a creative soul, a man with a passion for storytelling and a bright outlook on the future. So, without further ado, let’s hear what he has to say about Hollywood and favorite movies and the impact of film on our culture.

Me: What impact do you hope Beyond the Mask has on viewers? 

Aaron: First of all, like all movies, we hope that people who watch it have a good time and are entertained. Movies are a great way to take a break from regular life. Beyond that, we really explored the theme of identity in the film. In our culture – especially for young people – we have this desire to be perfect.

We have this desire to create our own significance.

what is it like to be a movie producer We want to build our own dreams. And that can be incredibly hard. So we build this mask to hide behind, a mask that looks perfect on the outside. And in Beyond the Mask, Will is this assassin, who has fallen short in so many ways, looking to redeem his identity. So, I hope that people see that freedom doesn’t have to be rooted in ourselves. I hope they see that our identity is in Christ, not our works.

Me: How did you get started in the film industry? 

Aaron: Well, it really started out as a hobby growing up. My family and siblings and cousins would just play around with it. When we made Pendragon in 2008 (an all volunteer project), I really hadn’t planned to be a filmmaker. The impact and feedback we received really inspired us to do more.

Ebenezer Scrooge is just as real to me as Abraham Lincoln.

As storytellers, we get to be creators.

Me: Ok, so I’ve always wondered, what exactly does a producer do? 

Aaron: That’s a really good question, a producer basically guides a film from concept to completion, in all phases of production.

There are a couple basic stages of movie production.  

First, you have development. This is where you go over concept ideas, themes, the storyline, and characters. For us, we knew that we wanted the theme to be identity and redemption. You then talk about setting. In Beyond the Mask, we thought setting it during the Revolution, when the United States was struggling to find itself, was a great way to underscore the theme of identity.

And then of course there is the stage of fundraising and finding investors, the nitty-gritty side of things. Then you have pre-production where you hire people and make costumes and find locations. Then you shoot the movie. And then there is post-production of editing and cutting and distribution.

The producer keeps the vision of the film, throughout all these stages.

Me: Do you think media reflects or directs the culture?

Aaron: First of all, I don’t think Hollywood has an agenda.

They are a business, they want to make a profit. Individual screenwriters, actors, or storytellers may want to communicate specific things, but as a whole I don’t think Hollywood is ‘out to get us’. The products they create simply reflect the current taste of the culture. Think about when Gladiator came out, everyone loved it. So they thought, hey, people love movies like that lets make more. Then came Troy. And then 300.

Hollywood is always looking for the next big thing.

As storytellers, I think we have an almost sacred duty to communicate the truth and our worldview through what we make. It reminds me of the cathedrals in London, there are huge statues and monuments for all sorts of artists there. And their work lives on through the generations. So I think media both directs and reflects the culture.

Me: What is the greatest struggle of being a Christian filmmaker? 

Aaron: To figure out how to communicate our theme while still having artistic integrity. We have to figure out what it means to be a Christian who is making movies. For us, Beyond the Mask was a new territory, as an action adventure film. There really aren’t many faith-based movies in that genre.

Me: What do you think the future of Christian/faith-based films is? 

Aaron: Hollywood from a business side recognizes the Christian audience, and I think we will see more films like Exodus or Noah. But I think those films have really missed the heart of the story. They are Christian stories without Christ in them. I think in recent decades Christians have pulled back.

Christians have a legitimate spot in the marketplace of ideas.

It is vital for us to be talking, sharing, and creating. Back during like the time of the Renaissance, Christians were highly involved in all aspects of art – from architecture to music to painting. There will be some growing pains for Christian media, but I think it is getting better. We will continue to see higher quality, more genres, more variety.

Me: Ok, one of my favorite questions is, what is your favorite movie? 

Aaron: Gladiator would have to be my top favorite, I love the acting and the storyline and the musical score. I think it is a really well balanced movie. I also love the Bourne trilogy, and the Dark Knight trilogy. Saving Mr. Banks would have to be one of my favorites too, I love drama. And 12 Angry Men is great too.

Me: What is your latest project? 

Aaron: Actually, my latest project was with the Kendrick brothers on their new film War Room – about the power of prayer. It’s coming out in August, and we are pretty excited about it.

Me: Ok, last question. What advice would you give your younger self? 

Aaron: 

I wouldn’t say anything.

I definitely approached filmmaking with rose-colored glasses and if I knew then what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have pursued it. One of the biggest things I’ve learned is to rely on God’s daily provision and faithfulness. It’s an amazing journey.

What do you think? What questions do you have about Christian filmmaking? Comment below! 

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