The Gospel at Work in the Film Biz

Earlier this year I participated in The Gospel at Work Conference. In addition to leading a seminar about women, work, and productivity, I was also invited to give a short testimony about what the gospel looks like in the daily work I do. I thought I’d share it with you, too.

Four years ago, I decided that the depth of the Great Recession was an ideal time to start a new business—in a creative field, no less! So in early 2009, I launched Citygate Films, raising private equity to produce a slate of documentary films. Digital distribution was poised to change the way independent films reach their audiences, and I was positioning Citygate to take advantage of that trend.

As expected, my first year in business was a steep learning curve—trying to master securities law, effective business plans, accounting software, taxes and tax forms . . . and even the occasional film shoot! I quickly learned that the “business of business” took more time and brain cells than the creative film work I anticipated filling my time. Daily I asked God both for my personal provision and for the wisdom to make the right decisions required in this new venture—and daily I saw Him be faithful to His promises to give both.

But those experiences are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to seeing the gospel at work. In the years since, I’ve learned three valuable lessons:

Lesson Number One: Relationship Trumps Product
There is a sticky note on my office wall to remind me to pray for one of the musicians featured in our jazz documentary because she’s seriously ill with cancer. Do you know why I have this note posted? Because I need to be reminded that she is more than a face in my film. 

It’s so easy to default to the product—the film—being the highest priority. I want to make excellent films, but this woman is much more than a subject in my film. She has become a dear friend. Being granted access to someone else’s life and story is one of the great privileges of being a documentary filmmaker. But any story I create only captures a small slice of the larger narrative God has already created, ordained, and sustained.

As John Piper says, “In every situation and circumstance of your life, God is always doing a thousand different things that you cannot see and you do not know.”

Therefore, I need to live in prayerful awareness of that truth. Whether I am working on a feature film that Citygate has produced or a short film for a corporate, nonprofit, or ministry client, I need to live the truth that relationship trumps product. And intercessory prayer is one of the ways I’m learning to practice it.

Lesson Number 2: Give Credit
If you’ve ever made it through a movie’s entire closing credit scroll, you know that filmmaking is a highly collaborative endeavor. As much credit as is given the director for the artistic and commercial success of a film, that individual stands on the talents and efforts of countless others. This is true in every field. We need to acknowledge and praise the contributions of others. But that’s a self-evident truth, even to those who don’t claim faith. 

A more profound lesson I’ve learned as a Christ-follower is to look for what’s never listed in the credit scroll: the grace of God in making any human collaboration actually work. That’s the single most important aspect of success, for there are a gazillion ways for our best-laid plans to go wrong.

Lesson Number 3: Invite the Critics
Every filmmaker craves “two thumbs up” and rave reviews. You’ve been up to stupid o’clock every night for months, sometimes years, working on this film, and you want major applause as a reward. But that doesn’t happen without much critique along the way to improve the final product.

Here’s what I’ve learned the hard way: critique only becomes criticism if you fear other people by craving their approval or fearing their rejection. But living in light of gospel truth means you know that your most devastating evaluation has already been made: You have fallen short of God’s glory in every way possible. But you still get “two thumbs up” because of Christ’s righteousness. That frees you from the sting of falling short in the judgment of a fellow creature.

Practically speaking, your first draft is never your best, anyway. You have to be willing to have lots of “rough-cut screenings” as we say in the film industry to solicit feedback and improve the final product. Not only will that practice improve your craft, it will also improve your soul.

How about you? What does the Gospel look like in the daily work you do?

Did you discover God’s Truth today?

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About the Author

Carolyn McCulley

Carolyn McCulley

In 2009, Carolyn started Citygate Films, a documentary film company where she is a producer/director. Prior to that, Carolyn served as the media specialist for Sovereign Grace Ministries, worked in corporate communications, and was a television and commercial film producer. She is a frequent conference speaker and has authored several books.


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