I will never forget reading the very first issue of Entertainment Weekly. It was back in 1990, wasn't it? I looked through it and I thought to myself, "This is amazing. The Time empire has managed to assemble a team of writers and editors who have achieved a state of world-weariness and cynicism in its very first issue! What an achievement!" Here is why I bring that up. While reading through the recent double issue on Hollywood, I hit a piece entitled "The Family Business" that made we wonder if someone from a red zip code -- Colorado Springs, maybe -- had hijacked the terminally hip pages of EW. It was a stunningly nice and sincere piece by reporter Jeff Jensen about that little movie company that could -- Walden Media -- and its recent adventures in the oh-so-unhip world of family movies.
Unless I am reading something wrong, it appears that someone has decided it is OK to make movies for a niche audience that likes nice plots, inspirational messages, a bit of mystery, some faith and educational values, to boot. A niche is a niche and money is money. The problem, of course, is that there is a "conservative Christian" lurking out there in the background who is sitting on the company's wallet.
But first things first. Jensen's piece starts with a flashback to 1997 and a memorable event in the life of a man who likes to make movies.
Cary Granat began to see the light the day his daughter saw her first R-rated movie. Like many conversion stories, the epiphany would take a while to sink in. As the president of Dimension Films, Granat oversaw the creation of slick genre flicks like Spy Kids, Scary Movie, and the Scream franchise. Yet there were voices in his life nagging him about all that edgy, youth-centric pop he was making. His conscience was telling him that the movie industry's images and music were molding a generation of cynics and narcissists. His wife was warning him there was ''no deeper meaning'' in the films he was making. And his grandfather -- Granat's mentor, a rabbi and philanthropist -- was urging him: ''Make the major change. You're stuck.''
So Granat's daughter freaked out watching some knife-waving dailies from Scream 2. You see, his daughter was only 2 years old.
In that moment, he considered the prospect of his little girl growing up steeped in the kind of culture he was producing. And he realized that something -- or someone -- needed to make that major change.
The rest is a long story and much of the plot centers on a controversial series of stories called The Chronicles of Narnia. You can read the rest of the EW story for yourself.
The key for me, of course, is that all of this is linked to a major story in the world of entertainment and, let me stress, it is not a story about people trying to make "Christian movies." It's about talented and diverse coalitions of people in Hollywood struggling to learn how to make funny and exciting movies that address issues of faith, family and, yes, that terrifying word "values." It has as more to do with making good movies than with making "safe" movies.
So the Walden story is an important story because this company is going to try to make movies that don't fit into the current Hollywood template. Walden is expanding the marketplace and that is good -- even if the company does have (cue: warning sirens) a "mission statement." I wrote about that issue a few years ago.
... (Film) insiders flinch when a studio's mission statement proclaims: "Walden Media believes that quality entertainment is inherently educational. We believe that by providing children, parents and educators with a wide range of great entertainment ... we can recapture young imaginations, rekindle curiosity and demonstrate the rewards of knowledge and virtue."
Say what? When a studio starts combining words such as "parents" and "virtue," Hollywood folks assume all its movies will start with a roar from Dr. James Dobson, instead of a lion.
Well, some of these new movies will feature a roaring lion, and that's good news for the movie marketplace.