Faith, Media & Culture

Mission: Possible: To bring positive, inspirational messages back into the global marketplace.

Such is the goal  of Mission Pictures International (MPI), the global film financing and distribution company founded by Cindy Bond and Chevonne O’Shaughnessy in 2008.

Based in Los Angeles, MPI’s goal is to seek out the very best in uplifting, values-based entertainment (often produced by unabashed Christians) and match them with buyers around the world at the alphabet soup of international film and TV marketing events (i.e. AFM, NATPE, MIPTV, DISCOP, among others).  In doing so, the company has fast become an invaluable resource both for family and faith-based movie-makers in need of venues and buyers in need of product for which there is a demonstrable worldwide demand.

The two women have been friends for about a decade (ever since they met at a prayer group held at Cindy’s house) and each bring a wealth of movie-making experience to their roles at Mission. Chevonne is the founder of American Cinema International (a successful distributor of action films). Cindy co-founded Promenade Pictures (with Frank Yablans and Ron Booth in 2002) where she developed 2007’s CGI version of The Ten Commandments.

Both Chevonne and Cindy have retained their positions at their prior companies while building MPI. It is, in fact, their connections with both mainstream Hollywood and with Christian filmmakers and global ministries that uniquely position MPI as a bridge between two communities that don’t always have an easy time connecting.

Cindy, who  has a background in acting, says she was ultimately drawn to producing and distribution because she wanted to make life-affirming movies that reflected her Judeo-Christian values and beliefs through themes of redemption, forgiveness and kindness. “That’s my journey,” she says, succinctly summing up her path to MPI.

Cindy and Chevonne’s professional relationship began when the former sought the latter’s help in distributing The Ten Commandments.  After immediately taking to the animated retelling, Chevonne took a trailer to AFM (American Film Market) where she found that there was a surprisingly strong demand for such faith-based product.

From that success, MPI was born. Since hanging their shingle in 2008, Chevonne and Cindy have  built up a catalogue of over 30 films, including the Amish family drama The Shunning (which produced strong ratings for The Hallmark Channel) and the well-received theatrical release Letters to God.

Films on the company’s 2011 slate include the suspense-thriller Jerusalem Countdown (due out August 26th and starring David A.R. White, Lee Majors and Stacy Keach), the girl’s high school basketball comedy The Mighty Macs (in theaters October  21st, with Carla Gugino, David Boreanaz and Ellen Burstyn), the fantasy What If… (with Kevin Sorbo, Kristi Swanson and John Ratzenberger) the rom-com My Last Day Without You and the holiday-themed Christmas with a Capital C (featuring Ted McGinley, Nancy Stafford and Daniel Baldwin).  Though the genres are diverse, all the films in one way or another grapple with issues of faith.

Chevonne, who has a background in Catholicism, says she’s attracted to films that unite the faithful — particularly Catholics and protestants. The Mexican film Marcelino, for instance, about a miracle involving an orphan boy raised by monks, was chosen to open the Mirabile Dictu Catholic Film Festival at the Vatican this past May.  MPI has dubbed the movie for release in the U.S. and Canada this year.

Other upcoming films include the theatrical release I’m in Love with a Church (set for early 2012), Galley Molina’s semi-autobiographical tale of redemption which you read about here last week and, on television, The Confession, the sequel to The Shunning.

MPI’s goal, Cindy says, is to “establish a destination for faith-based and and family films…The audience isn’t only there, it’s the biggest audience. Producers, writers and actors all want to make these movies. The biggest audience in the entire world is for these movies.”

While, in the past, faith-based movies (despite their popularity) have had trouble getting past the distribution gatekeepers, Cindy and Chevonne see the situation as improving.

“While I have personally witnessed hostility (toward Christian product),” Cindy contends that “on the whole, things have vastly improved. Major studios like Samuel Golden, Sony, Fox and Disney are all making faith-based films.” The market has opened up because they see the economic vialibity. The majors are involved.”

“The faith-based market is growing and getting better,” Chevonne says. “We’re putting out films with bigger names and upping the quality.”

“We have wonderful films on our slate,” Cindy adds. “Mission is a name we want people to rely on.” She also notes that while many of the movies are religious in theme, “We’re actually a mainstream company and will do movies that are great and life-affirming (and) that aren’t specifically Christian.” She adds that MPI is always on the lookout for a good family film, pointing out that “When Hollywood says ‘family film,’ they don’t always mean what we do by family film.'”

She also notes that, though “faith-based” can include include various genres, it’s also a genre of its own. “If you’re going to market a film as ‘faith-based,'” she contends, “it has to actually be based in faith. ‘Christian’ is a specific genre. You need a faith hook.  Having a scene where characters pray around a dinner table doesn’t make a movie ‘faith-based.’ It’s the overall message and tone that counts.”

Also, both women argue, true faith-based films can’t be the product of box-office data and market research. They need to be real — and to be real they need to made by true believers who sometimes don’t know how to navigate the Hollywood system. That’s where MPI comes in.

“We want to bring (independent Christian producers) together as (one) body,” Cindy says. “When we’re on our own we get decimated. Independent producers often end up with expensive home movies.”

“We’re going with a United Artists mentality,” Chevonne chimes in. “We want to help movie makers make fantastic movies.”      

Cindy says there are genuinely good people working at major Hollywood studios but suggests they are often thwarted by a system that is obsessed with data and  doesn’t know how to deal with real faith. MPI’s chief motivation, she says, is to create quality films that affirm basic Judeo-Christian values. “I refuse to be compromised creatively with our message,” she declares. “Our goal is have autonomy and to use the system to promote what we want to promote…We want to be a trusted name in faith-based and family entertainment.”

Still, both women are pleased to see the acceptance faith-based movies have been recently receiving from the major studios — helped along by the broad appeal of faith-centered films like The Blind Side, Soul Surfer and Walden Media’s Amazing Grace and Chronicles of Narnia series.  They also give great credit to Sherwood Pictures, the Christian production company founded by Baptist minister Alex Kendrick, for proving the box-office power of independently-produced faith-based movies like Fireproof and Couragious.

“They preach to the choir and their message is overt,” Cindy says, “but they are successful. We’d love to distribute their movies.”

So, Alex, if you’re listening, give Cindy and Chevonne a call.

As for the audience, Chevonne and Cindy want everyone to know that they truly appreciate their prayer support, as well as the support they give by watching their movies.

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