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Christian Music Is Playing a New Role in Hollywood Films

Arts: Jars of Clay and Steven Curtis Chapman have recently broken a barrier by having their songs featured on movie soundtracks.

March 07, 1998|From Religion News Service

In an early scene in Robert Duvall's "The Apostle," a song called "I Will Not Go Quietly" plays briefly on a truck radio. In less than 30 seconds, the sounds of the song sung by Steven Curtis Chapman drift away.

Likewise, at the end of the recent film "Hard Rain," a song fittingly called "Flood" by the Christian alternative rock group Jars of Clay plays as Christian Slater says his final lines and the credits start to roll.

Brief though they may be, the appearance of these songs by Jars of Clay and by Chapman, one of the most popular Christian music artists, are being greeted with elation in the Christian music industry because they have gone where few other Christian artists have--into mainstream movies and onto their soundtracks released to the secular world.

"I hope that it has the obvious effect of educating, or maybe informing, more people about this thing called Christian music," said Chapman of his and Jars of Clay's recent foray into films.

"It helps [Christian music] make strides in terms of . . . accessibility and connectability . . . to a mainstream audience."

The musical strides by these artists, however, are unusual, according to experts. For the most part, Hollywood executives don't even know the names of Christian artists, let alone what their music sounds like.

But Christian artists and promoters hope a door has opened allowing contemporary Christian music to be introduced as another option for filmmakers rather than merely a category of music that is automatically rejected.

"The acceptance of religious music, especially in film usages, has usually been a very parochial usage," said Frank Breeden, president of the Gospel Music Assn. in Nashville.

He sees the use of Christian songs in more secular film settings--rather than their being confined to scenes inside a church--as a boost for his industry.

"That's a real [business] breakthrough for our music . . . as well as a way for the music genre to get some exposure," he said.

Breeden hopes to see more successes like those of Chapman and Jars of Clay as he works to build relations with the film industry.

"I do know that there are a few individuals in Hollywood who are very aware of the wealth of material from the writers in the Christian music community," he said. "They will be aware this is a pool that has been tapped into. Now it's a place they can come back."

Nina Williams, a publicist for Jars of Clay, said the group's faith didn't play a role in the inclusion of their song in "Hard Rain," a thriller about armored car guards who try to protect money from an attempted heist in the middle of a flood.

"They were not approached because they were a Christian act and the movie [company] wanted a Christian act to have a song in the movie," said Williams, marketing director for Essential Records in the Nashville suburb of Brentwood.

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But that wasn't a disappointment for the group.

"I think we have experienced as an industry being turned away because we're Christian acts, because people have a certain perception or a certain idea of what they think a Christian act is going to be," she said. "I think to be able to break down those barriers and be accepted on the quality of music and the quality of songwriting is tremendous."

Even as they overcome some barriers, groups such as Jars of Clay must make decisions about the kinds of movies in which they are willing to play a part. "Hard Rain," for example, is rated R.

"You have to weigh out the pros and cons of the benefits of exposure . . . versus almost giving an endorsement of the film by Jars of Clay being involved," Williams said.

But despite the film's violence and language, she said, the group decided to take the opportunity.

"I think there comes a point where you have to look at it as such an honor and opportunity to be involved in this industry," she said. "Having Christian artists welcomed into the film industry is a really, really new occurrence."

John Huie, the executive producer for "The Apostle" soundtrack and Chapman's agent, said Christian labels weren't that excited about the movie, which he described as "an honest portrayal of a human struggle."

But he said the promotion of Christian artists to movie production companies is more a matter of convincing Hollywood about the attributes of a particular artist than acceptance of an entire music genre.

"I don't think we're trying to promote a format as much as we're trying to promote individual artists," he said. "I think Steven was inspired with a song that fit the theme of the movie that had a statement that . . . spoke to the heart of what the film was about."

Jonathan Watkins, manager of music publishing for 20th Century Fox, said Hollywood executives are looking for talent, not a particular faith perspective.

"Everybody's looking for just great material and great songs and stuff that moves people," said Watkins, who previously was the director of artist and repertoire at Star Song, a Christian label within EMI Christian Music Group.

"I've always been of the opinion that we shouldn't get preferential treatment just because we're talking about God," he said. "I think we should make . . . incredibly good music, and people pay attention when we do that."

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