July 1, 2005


Moviemaking with a Purpose: Comics are no laughing matter for Fantastic Four producer Ralph Winter, who will soon helm X-Men 3. Neither is his Christian faith. (Interview by Jeffrey Overstreet, 07/01/05, Christianity Today)

You've gotta respect a guy who can boss the X-Men around without fearing the wrath of Wolverine.

Ralph Winter is a towering, authoritative figure in stature and in reputation as a producer of Hollywood blockbusters. He's earned the attention and applause of audiences, actors, film crews, and film studios for producing such favorites as X-Men, X-2: X-Men United, the Planet of the Apes remake, and two of the most beloved Star Trek films (IV and VI). His latest production, Fantastic Four, opens in theaters next week, and he's now working on X-Men 3, coming next May. Winter also produced the Left Behind movie and an adaptation of Frank Peretti's The Visitation, due in September.

But there's more to this big-screen businessman than business. He has a heart to help artists grow and excel, contributing to endeavors at Act One: Writing for Hollywood (a program for aspiring Christian screenwriters), and the media communications program at Biola University, and he devotes himself to the art of short films, cultivating a dynamic community of up-and-coming artists.

Moreover, he's a man of faith known throughout Hollywood for his reputation for professionalism, integrity and kindness.

To talk with Winter is to quickly discern some of the secrets of his success. He speaks with the confidence and authority of experience, and he cuts right to the quick of a matter. We caught up with him just as Fantastic Four moved into post-production and X-3 headed into pre-production. But what he wanted to talk about surprised us—a big screen adaptation that serves quite another, er, purpose. [...]

Since The Passion of The Christ, there's been so much press about how Hollywood "learned a lesson" about audiences and Christian-themed material. Do you think we really will see things change?

Winter: I think studios will say, "Oh, I think we can do this!" and try to unleash every cheesy little thing they can do. The TV show Revelations seems like a clear jump-on-the-bandwagon thing. The studios clearly see it as a marketing opportunity. That's why this Purpose-Driven Life project is so interesting.

What The Purpose-Driven Life project? Are you making it into a movie?

Winter: Rupert Murdoch [of 20th Century Fox] comes to us and says, "Let's make it. I'll fund it."

How are you going to turn this non-fiction, inspirational volume of life principles into a movie?

Winter: You've got to create a story. Think Grand Canyon—that's probably a good place to start. Find disparate stories that converge and illustrate [one or two of the] principles, find good characters.

That's why I'm a fan of doing a small movie, getting a couple million dollars, and get out there and try an experiment, put our toe in the water with this. If [the first Purpose-Driven movie] works, well, you've got 39 films to make, or 12 more principles, or however many you want. [....]

When movies are about God on the surface, when they're "Christian" art and entertainment, they rarely seem to captivate an audience. Why?

Winter: [Christians] want to dot every "i" and cross every "t" and make sure it's uber-clear what's happened by the end of the story. We've lost the ability to create mystery and wonder.

Movies are not good at giving answers. Movies are great at asking questions. Movies that do that are lasting.

I love the movie Gladiator. It's inspiring. It's a wonderful journey of someone who is sort of an also-ran in the process, but who aspires to greatness and asks the huge questions. It seems to be about "Win the crowd and win your freedom." But I think that movie is truly about love, and not just about choosing. Even when Commodus smothers his dad, what is it that he says? "If you would have loved me, I would have butchered the whole world." He wants love as well—in a different sense than Maximus, but it is about love at some level.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 1, 2005 2:03 PM
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