Hollywood Uplink – October/November 2006: Families are Having an Impact on Hollywood

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October/November 2006

        Issue: 15:10

www.dove.org [email protected]


Families are Having an Impact on Hollywood
by Dick Rolfe, co-founder – The Dove Foundation

Many reputable organizations including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Psychological Association have published scores of studies that draw an undeniable link between portrayals of sex, violence and profanity in films and television, and their influence on the culture. This is especially true with impressionable adolescents and teenagers. Studies reveal that portrayals of unsavory behavior in movies, TV, video games, and the Internet leave various psychological impressions on young people, ranging from a coarsened attitude toward antisocial behavior, to feelings of empathy toward criminal perpetrators.

In 1992, The Dove Foundation produced a one-hour television special hosted by entertainment legend Steve Allen called, Hollywood’s Impact on Family Values. The purpose of the program was to let people hear first-hand from industry insiders that movies, and media in general, do influence the values of today’s society. A panel made up of actors, film critics and industry executives “testified” that media moguls know full well that films have an impact on the culture, whether for good or bad. The public disclaimer among the media elite, however, is that “Hollywood reflects society, rather than influences it.”

The downward trend toward crude, harsh movies began with the birth of the movie ratings system in 1968. The self-regulating system developed by the industry produced the “R” rating, a category that legitimizes movies previously shown by art houses in the seedier parts of town. Almost immediately, R-rated fare became the gold standard for producers anxious to express their “creativity without the constraints of ‘censorship.’”

In the years that followed, sixty percent of all major releases were rated “R.” Hollywood fell in love with the rating. This resulted in the “conventional wisdom” that a truly good movie must contain a certain amount of sex, nudity, profanity or graphic violence. The industry awards committees reinforced that premise by honoring films and filmmakers for “pushing the envelope of creative expression,” regardless of their relative lack of financial success.

Simultaneously, the profile of the average movie-goer changed radically from family members of all ages to the young, single set. One major film producer confided that his company targets “sub-literate, urban males between ages 12 and 25.” Over the years, executives spent their energy catering to that narrow audience segment, assuming that television had lured family members away from the silver screen.

Many studios that were once known for producing wonderful, feel-good movies for the family turned into assembly lines for more “mature” subjects. They traded in great suspense thrillers like Rear Window for graphic horror films like Friday the 13th. Classic romantic comedies like Pillow Talk have been replaced with sexploitation films like Deuce Bigalow and Forty year-old Virgin. Slapstick comedy teams like Martin and Lewis have been contemporized by Jackass, the Movieduo, Johnny Knoxville and Bam Margera.

A major Dove Foundation goal is to “move Hollywood in a more family-friendly direction.” We help film industry executives identify and reach out to the tens of millions of people who long for an enjoyable, wholesome movie experience. Signs that pointed to the success of high quality, family movies seemed to go by unnoticed; like the fact that nearly 2/3 (64) of The American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest Movies of All Time were made prior to the launch of the ratings system in 1968.  And, over 1/3 (35) of the 100 most financially successful movies of all time are Dove-approved. According to The Dove Foundation Film Profitability Study of 2005, only 4% of theatrical releases between 1989 and 2005 were rated “G” for general audience.  And yet, these few, rare gems produced far and away the largest average profits of all the ratings categories; more proof that a sizable segment of the entertainment marketplace is underserved.

There is a recent sea change in the types of movies being green lighted by the studios. The unexpected box office success of The Passion of the Christ sent reverberations throughout the entertainment industry. Pundits were amazed by the tens of millions of people of faith who ventured into movie theaters for the first time in years to see this very special film. Studios began studying the audience that made this Christian epic a box office bonanza for Mel Gibson. The $700 million plus worldwide box office of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe provided more convincing evidence of an identifiable and engaged market segment that is now being called the “faith and family” audience.  Hollywood is courting this “new” segment by producing more wholesome movies for the entire family, which begs the question, “Just who is influencing whom?”

Filmmakers are beginning to connect the dots, and discovering that the faith and family audience is anxious to be entertained by a wide variety of stories; comedies, dramas, mysteries, action-adventures, and romances; but without the fear of being embarrassed or surprised by explicit, unsavory content.  These movie-goers are looking for reliable sources of information about movie content to relieve their fears, before risking their entertainment dollars. One such source is The Dove Foundation website, www.dove.org which contains thorough reviews of virtually every major motion picture released since 1998. The site was visited by over 114,000 unique individuals in September and traffic to the site is growing by more than 20% a month.

Dove is honored to be at the forefront of this movement toward an increased production of faith and family movies. Several major studios have begun arranging advance private screenings in the hopes of obtaining the Dove Family-Approved Seal.  Dove recently pre-screened Barnyard,Material Girls, Everyone’s Hero, Facing the Giants, Love’s Abiding Joy, One Night with the King, and Flicka.

A feature story in the September 18th edition of the L.A. Times entitled, Studios Push to Clean up Their Act, declared that, “Hollywood looks to family-focused Dove Foundation and others for favorable reviews.” The story goes on to state, “While mainstream movie critics are widely believed to have dwindling sway over audiences, Hollywood is courting a new group of reviewers who live in Michigan and Indiana and Colorado. These reviewers count the ‘F-bombs’ in a picture and alert their constituencies to genitalia jokes and gay characters. With the phenomenal success of The Passion of the Christ and The Chronicles of Narnia, Hollywood is more carefully targeting this crowd, who, they’ve learned, can help deliver a box office bump.”

There is no great secret to the success that Dove is enjoying, except that the core values reflected in our film reviews resonate with the values of most American families, regardless of their religious backgrounds.

There are several new and exciting movies on the horizon; some religious, like The Nativity Story,coming to theaters in December, and Amazing Grace, due out in February. Others, like Charlotte’s Web and Bridge to Terabithia are family-friendly. (These titles have not yet been reviewed by The Dove Foundation. Watch for Dove’s reviews before they hit the big screen.) Other encouraging signs that Hollywood is paying attention are; the Walt Disney Company’s announcement that it is focusing on family films to the near exclusion of its edgier Touchstone Pictures franchise. Twentieth Century Fox has launched its new brand, www.foxfaith.com especially for the faith and family audience. Other studios are also looking for properties that will appeal to the faith and family market segment.

For the past few years, total box office revenues for the industry increased as a result of higher ticket prices, while attendance has steadily fallen. Hollywood understands that it must attract more people into the theaters to continue showing an up-tick in revenues. Even though studios are venturing into new technologies for delivering movie content, nothing will ever take the place of a family sharing a giant tub of popcorn and a soft drink while watching a big screen movie with several hundred other fans.

Indications are that the studios are listening to the faith and family audience, which is undoubtedly having an impact on Hollywood.

Read the September 18th L.A. Times Story “Studios Push to Clean up Their Act”

The Dove Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.  Our mission is to encourage and promote the creation, production, distribution and consumption of wholesome family entertainment.  We are supported primarily by donations from families such as yours who want to move Hollywood in a more family-friendly direction.  All donations are tax deductible.
Copyright © 2006 The Dove Foundation. All rights reserved.