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Missionary in Hollywood

Matthew Crouch sees his films filling a need for religious-themed entertainment. It's a niche that almost seems heaven-sent. The funding is from a higher source too: Crouch's parents at TBN.

October 23, 2006|William Lobdell and Stuart Pfeifer | Times Staff Writers

At the recent premiere of "One Night With the King" in Westwood, movie producer Matthew Crouch took a few moments to offer thanks.

"You know what I feel like would be an awesome thing to do right now?" Crouch said during a live broadcast of the opening festivities on "Praise the Lord" on the Trinity Broadcasting Network. "To thank my sweet little mom and dad, Paul and Jan Crouch."

There's a lot to be thankful for. His televangelist parents have authorized more than $32 million in tax-free donor money for the funding of three of his movies, TBN officials say. In addition, $16 million was given to a ministry that funded "One Night."

The movie, which opened Oct. 13 on about 900 screens, took in $4.3 million at the box office on its first weekend, ninth among films in release. Over this last weekend, it dropped to 14th place, taking in $2.2 million. With sumptuous costumes, location shooting in India and cameos by Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif -- their first pairing since "Lawrence of Arabia" -- "One Night" tells the biblical story of Esther, who helped save the Jews from extermination in ancient Persia.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Monday October 30, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 45 words Type of Material: Correction
Omar Sharif: An article in the Oct. 23 Calendar section about the movie "One Night With the King" said it was the first pairing of Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif since "Lawrence of Arabia." Both appeared in the 1967 movie "The Night of the Generals."

Matthew Crouch, 44, could use a box-office hit. Of his first three movies, none has turned a profit, although his 1999 movie, an apocalyptic thriller called "The Omega Code," is credited by some for showing Hollywood the potential of Christian-themed films, leading to such hits as "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" and "The Passion of the Christ." Crouch's small, publicly traded company is struggling, having lost nearly $3.7 million last year, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Even so, Crouch's ties to his parents' cash-rich ministry -- which operates the world's largest religious broadcasting company -- may help explain why he never had to take a vow of poverty. He owns a Hollywood Hills mansion. He and his wife, Laurie, have eight vehicles, including a $240,000 Bentley Arnage.

For fun, Matthew Crouch hunts big game with a bow and arrow in Alaska and at a private reserve in Texas and displays his trophies -- stuffed elk, gazelle and ram heads -- on his study wall.

In many ways, Crouch and his company, Gener8Xion Entertainment, are Hollywood anomalies. He hasn't had to look further than his parents -- with their tax-free donor base and worldwide television reach -- to bankroll and market his movies. In other ways, the stereotype of a Hollywood producer fits snugly. Friends and foes describe him, by turns, as charismatic, arrogant, charming, ruthless, visionary and greedy.

"He's one of the most creative and innovative people in my industry," said Stephen Strang, president of Strang Communications, a Florida-based Christian media company. "I know there's many people out there trying to make a difference, but Matt's someone out there doing it."

Other entertainment-industry veterans who have worked with Crouch -- a diminutive figure who sports a modish crew cut -- say he would have been drummed out of the business if not for his TBN ties.

"I think he would be a laughingstock if he was a penniless evangelical, going cap in hand, office to office, trying to raise money and projecting the same personality he does," said Brian Trenchard-Smith, director of "The Omega Code's" 2001 sequel, "Megiddo: The Omega Code 2."

Associates also say that Crouch's impulsiveness -- and perhaps a desire to escape his father's long shadow -- has prompted him to take shortcuts that have led to risky decisions. During the production of "Omega Code," his key personnel included a former adult-film actor and a novice screenwriter who was arrested and convicted of soliciting a child for sex.

Crouch declined to be interviewed for this story. But on "Praise the Lord" last month, he sat next to his wife and told viewers, "We were born" to make "One Night With the King." "We were destined for greatness."

Matthew Crouch was 11 when his Pentecostal parents launched TBN in 1975 in a rented Santa Ana studio, using the family shower curtain as a backdrop. Today, the Tustin-based empire, with annual revenues of nearly $190 million, is controlled by three board members: his mother, father and older brother, Paul Jr.

From TBN's early days until 1991, Matthew Crouch held a variety of positions at the network. Former associates and friends describe him as a dreamer and risk-taker who likes to drive fast cars and is especially close to his mother.

In 1992, Matthew and Laurie Crouch formed Gener8Xion Entertainment, with the mission of serving a long-neglected demographic: religious audiences turned off by what they see as the vulgarity of popular culture.

The venture started simply, operating out of a home that Matthew Crouch owned in Orange. Former associates said the business was soon flourishing as Crouch sold his services as a television producer to pastors seeking connections with TBN.

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