Would I Write the Music For…

Posted on January 21, 2011 at 9:23 pm, by Ben

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Here is an excerpt of a letter I recently received from a young composer. As it turns out, I am a young composer as well, but I digress.

Dear Ben,

Would you score a “non-Christian” film? Would you score How to Train Your Dragon? How about Inception? The Dark Knight? Star Wars? Why or why not?

I think you see where I’m going with my questions. I don’t want to compromise on principle, but at the same time I don’t want to go further than God would have me to, and myopically pursue my own standard of holiness.

Just as a Christian mechanic would fix a non-believer’s car, would I as a Christian composer grant the gravity and power that good music gives to a film to a non-Christian filmmaker?

Dear _______,

I understand where you’re coming from, as these are questions I have had to (and still do) ask myself.

Would I fix an unbeliever’s car? Assuming I knew anything about fixing cars, needed the money to support my family, or thought it was a good opportunity to minister to someone, then yeah. Sure I would.

But would I fix an unbeliever’s TANK that’s threatening Christian homes?

No way! But in reality that is what many Hollywood films are built to do. They’re spiritually deadly, often directed toward taking down Christian families, and are generally effective in that goal.

If I was a mechanic I should instead work to build a bigger, better tank to defeat Hollywood’s and defend what is right and true. This is what a “replacement” film industry would mean.

Would you score a “non-Christian” film? Would you score How to Train Your Dragon? How about Inception? The Dark Knight? Star Wars? Why or why not?

It is tempting to just accept the culturally defined labels “Christian” and “Secular” and let them decide for us what our involvement in film is going to be, but we really need to test both definitions against the standard of the Word to see where they stack up. Thus, every project will need to be examined on a case-by-case basis.

I would not score Inception, Dark Knight, or Star Wars because the messages of these films are not ones I could promote or advance through my involvement–at least not in good conscience. Not only do I think that these particular movies are destructive, but they drive me crazy on a personal level because the messages those films promote are ones I have had to deal with or fight against in real life and now have a very biased position against.

If I was offered How To Train Your Dragon, that would be a tougher decision–the same goes for Pixar’s Up. Both of these films have some elements I really like (notably, their music, which would not be there if I was), and both of these films include messages which seem to align more closely to the messages of scripture than those of, unfortunately, many “Christian” films I have seen! This is not meant to be a “kudos” for Pixar or Dreamworks as much as it is to be a rebuke for the Christian film industry.

But there are some obvious problems with these films. For example, in HTTYD I would have to decide if the father-son and Hiccup-Astrid relationships in the film were handled in such a way that I could associate myself with them and be comfortable facing my Creator on judgment day, expecting to hear “well done, my good and faithful servant.” I mean, the director would ask me to compose this big romantic swell when the teen lead gawks at the modern, domineering, and feministic love interest. The problems with that image run several layers deep.

But even if a film project is not thoroughly putrid and heinous, that doesn’t mean I have a sworn duty to accept the job. I run into a lot of Christians who don’t seem to believe that they’ve been given the authority to say “no” to a political candidate, job offer, or just the world in general… missing a key principle of Christian ambassadorship: Christianity has never been about doing what was merely “okay” but what was RIGHTEOUS and best.

“Can I justify investing the Lord’s time in this endeavor?” is at least as important a question as “Does this movie have problematic and immoral content?” and possibly more so. Any three-year old can be taught to point out objectionable elements X,Y,and Z, but few truly cultivate the discernment to know how to maximize their time on earth.

I’m an ambassador of Christ, and I can’t afford to spend my life solely doing stuff that any non-Christian can do—even if that “stuff” is not “bad.” Let the dead bury their own dead, and let’s be about the reconciliation of the world to Jesus Christ (2 Cor 5:18,19,20), and be the leaders of projects that WE have control over and an industry that WE have control over. Let’s put ourselves in situations where WE can be the ones who choose, and the world has to settle.

My suggestion for you is this: dig into the Word more and more to discover what things please the Lord and what things don’t. This will build in you the right theological and moral framework for making those life-and-death decisions that will affect your life… and death.

What on earth would compel a film composer to turn down a $400,000 composition contract from PIXAR (!) besides religious conviction? Study to show yourself approved (2Ti 2:15), and make sure your religious convictions (everyone has them, atheists included) are sound.

Recently I’ve had to re-think my time-allocation paradigm as I’ve been convicted of these very things, primarily at Vision Forum’s Independent Christian Filmmaker’s Academy. For a long time I had just kind of assumed that I was going to be a music guy for… always, but I can’t be a slave to that assumption if the Lord would have more important things for me to do elsewhere.

As a result, I’ve turned down some composition opportunities recently that, in earlier years, I would have leapt for joy at. I didn’t say “no” because those projects contained grossly unacceptable content, but so I could tackle some non-musical endeavors that I believe are a more important investment of my (the Lord’s) time.

I’m glad you’re asking these sorts of questions now in your life instead of later. The man who plans to stand before kings (the skilled in their work [Pro 22:29], something every Christian must be) should determine where his convictions lie before he’s asked to be Hollywood’s cupbearer, mechanic, or musician.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Ben

13 Comments

  • Fantastic response. It’s very encouraging to see consistency in a person’s view of (and interaction with) modern media, as this is an area in which most professed Christians are woefully apostate.

    God bless!

    Posted by Jeremy White on January 21st, 2011 at 11:00 pm
  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Amanda Read, Benjamin Botkin. Benjamin Botkin said: How do we choose our projects? New Post. http://fb.me/DXM75snd […]

  • You’ve done a wonderful job of concisely dealing with a major “integrity issue” in your response. There’s an additional facet that I would enjoy hearing your opinion on – I’ve never read your blog before so forgive me if I bring up something that you’ve dealt with directly before.
    Some assert that a primary factor in determining the merit of a film is if it tells the truth about its subject matter. Take the already mentioned film Inception as instance. The film truthfully demonstrates, among other things, that the result of a life without Christ is the loss of one’s Framework of Reality. Even if the film promotes some anti-Christian values along the way, it does ultimately succeed in showing the devasting result of living by certain anti-Christian values. A number of other films could be cited which accomplish the same feat.
    So, my question is, as a film composer, can one be a kingdom builder infusing a film which tells the truth about reality with music which likewise tells the truth about reality? To take your example of How To Train Your Dragon, let’s say you had the opportunity to score the teen-gawk moment, not with a “romantic swell,” but something ugly and dissonant to show the tragedy of falling for the “modern, domineering, and feministic love interest?” Would this be an acceptable way of spreading the Christian worldview?

    Posted by Douglas Singer on January 22nd, 2011 at 12:15 am
  • Great post, Ben. Looking forward to the day when Christians can pay $400,000 + for their music. (Notice I said “can” and not “will”)

    Thanks,
    Shad E.

    Graphic Designer
    http://www.ShadEash.com

    Posted by Shad E. on January 22nd, 2011 at 10:22 am
  • Great post. I heard you talk about that very thing after Bruce Broughton’s talk at the film academy. (during one of the breaks) thanks for posting it!
    ~Natalya

    Posted by Natalya on January 22nd, 2011 at 12:28 pm
  • Praise the Lord for a man who will stand on principle and on the word of God. May the Lord bless you Ben.

    Posted by Pastor Bryan on January 24th, 2011 at 9:28 am
  • Good post. Thanks for this response. I have been thinking about this problem as well you have cleared my mind some more on the matter.

    Keep Going,
    John

    Posted by John on January 24th, 2011 at 10:40 pm
  • Well said.

    Posted by Daniel on January 25th, 2011 at 11:55 am
  • @Douglas, every film is a sermon, and that is why the goal of the filmmaker is not merely to depict reality, but to depict it under a certain light–this is why films include music, beautiful cinematography, handsome actors and tight storytelling… to present an specific interpretation of reality. I thought that the only thing “Inception” accurately depicted was that man’s (and Christopher Nolan’s) mind is messed up. I don’t need a movie to tell me that… I need a movie to show me the solution to man’s depraved mind.

    I do believe that there is a time and place for a depiction of what is NOT right, as long as we (using our storytelling techniques–music, cinematography, acting, scripting, etc.) communicate to the the audience that it’s bad. That said, there are some things that I believe should never be visually depicted on screen.

    In the situation of HTTYD, it would be tough to change the audiences interpretation of that particular “gawking” scene by changing only the music. The cinematography, acting, slow-mo, etc. are all working to accentuate a feeling of romantic emotion as well. And besides, had I been the composer on that project I wouldn’t have had the liberty to make that creative decision. I would probably be fired by the director. 🙂 On that note, I’ve heard Christian musicians and other specialists talk about “infiltrating the system” and tearing it down from the inside… problem is, if you don’t play along with the system you get spat out. “Infiltration” is not exactly possible or wise.

    Posted by admin on January 25th, 2011 at 5:15 pm
  • Ben,
    Excellent post! Very well constructed as well as theologically sound.

    Thanks,
    -Johnny

    Posted by Johnny Reighard on January 26th, 2011 at 11:20 am
  • Ben, thanks so much for responding to my question. Your reponse is great and shows deep wisdom. God’s blessings upon you as you continue to bring film music under the authority of Christ!

    Posted by Douglas Singer on January 26th, 2011 at 7:39 pm
  • Great post! I love your analogy of the car and the tank… its great that Christians are starting to produce their own tanks now. I need to get involved in one of those tank-making factories…

    Posted by Benjamin Coder on January 27th, 2011 at 11:28 pm
  • Beautifully answered. Thank you so much for sharing this post!

    Posted by Dawn on January 31st, 2011 at 1:08 am