Did you ever wonder why so many of the world’s most talented and famous singers—in all kinds of genres—grew up singing in churches?
I don’t think it’s a coincidence… and I don’t think those singers can take all the credit for their success.
In part, they were loved into greatness.
It’s true, God-given talent can be spotted from a very young age; but, my guess is that not all of those singers were drop-dead amazing and 100% pitch perfect the very first time they sang a solo at church. The raw talent may have been there… but it needed to be nurtured.
And it was. By congregations that applauded them and showered them with praise and encouragement not only for the performance… but also because of the potential that was there. Those congregations didn’t sit back, fold their arms, and say, “Impress us, kid.” They did the exact opposite… they took an active role in helping that kid blossom into a greater talent than ever could have been possible without that kind of love and support.
It reminds me of a story I heard once about a church congregation looking for a new pastor. They kept getting all these top-notch resumes from rock star preachers, but passed on them all. Finally, they extended an audition/invite to a younger, beginning preacher that was rough around the edges but had genuine potential. The church gave him the job. Someone asked one of the elders why the church passed on so many great preachers and offered the job to someone with so little experience…
The elder replied, “Those other preachers are already great. We’d rather have the kid that could go either way and help ensure that he becomes great. That’s our job.”
They saw it as their mission to love into greatness. Beautiful.
So… what’s any of this got to do with Old Fashioned or filmmaking?
I’ve been pretty blessed and lucky in my filmmaking journey. Many of my earlier films have done rather well on the festival circuit, received distribution deals, and earned some decent reviews. And, even though I’ve also dealt with my fair share of criticism (like all filmmakers)… by and large, I’ve been on the receiving end of above average encouragement, kudos, and support.
That’s not true for everybody. Especially for a lot of young filmmakers just now starting out…
We are in the midst of a mini-explosion of “faith-based” films (I’m on a mission to dream up another genre description for this)… and a lot of these young filmmakers just beginning their journeys are taking an absolute beating. To say they are not being loved into greatness would be a gross understatement.
Now, again, I would never defend any hack charlatans that are making quickie films to cash in on a niche… or those that really don’t love cinema and aren’t genuinely working as hard as they can to make the best films they possibly can. But the truth is, I really don’t know many filmmakers like that, personally. Most of the folks I know want to make solid, entertaining films… and are committed to finding ways to make the exploration of spiritual themes more organic and authentic in their work.
But alas, many of the most talented filmmakers I’ve met along the way are no longer making films. They were crushed, mercilessly, over and over for not making Citizen Kane right out of the gate and simply decided it just wasn’t worth it any more.
I can hear it already: “Well, they didn’t want it bad enough. Too bad. Toughen up.” But, until you’ve been on the receiving end of unbridled, gleeful (often anonymous) criticism… no disrespect, but, you really don’t know what you’re talking about.
Maybe it’s because we live in such a media saturated age and we love talking about movies so much as a culture. But, the chatter (even amongst “religious” or “spiritual” people) can be just plain brutal, especially in the Internet era. And I wonder, what’s the point or goal of that?
As hard as it is to sing a solo in church… directing a film is infinitely more complicated, has way more moving parts, and many more things that can go wrong along the way. And yet, I rarely see the concept of “love into greatness” applied to young filmmakers just starting out to the degree it is in other mediums.
And that’s a shame. Like that church elder said, it is up to us to ensure that the kid that has the talent—but could go either way—becomes great, lives up to his or her potential. Not beat them down because the effects in their first sci-fi short or indie feature don’t live up to the latest Star Wars film or superhero movie.
On that note, if you haven’t seen the very first films (shorts or features) of your favorite director, that might be worth doing. With few exceptions, most of those films are far from perfect even though they do admittedly possess the spark and possibility of something better further down the road. And many of the world’s greatest filmmakers owe their very careers to insightful critics who saw that potential and helped nurture it so it might survive and blossom (rather than kill it for not being fully formed right out of the gate).
To be clear, I’m in no way saying that there shouldn’t be film criticism… there definitely should be. And I’m not saying we should settle for less than the pursuit of artistic excellence in “faith-based” filmmaking (or any other kind). We shouldn’t. But, what’s our end game? The purpose of our critique?
There is a context for everything. And it takes time to get great at anything. Legend has it that Frank Capra (It’s a Wonderful Life) made more than 100 one-reelers (10-minute shorts) before his first full-length feature. I’ve never seen his very first short, but… my guess is, it isn’t a home run.
As people of faith, we should be looking for ways to “love into greatness” whenever possible… that’s really all I’m trying to say here. And that goes for all of life. Not just for kids singing in church. Not just for filmmakers. For everyone…
My official two cents for the day…
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29)