Winter's latest project is "X-Men 3: The Last Stand," the final installment in the blockbuster trilogy. In it, mutant hero Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and his comrades discover a cure that could eliminate all genetic mutations--leaving them to choose whether to rid themselves of the traits that make them at once unique and shunned by society. Shortly before leaving for the Cannes Film Festival to premiere "The Last Stand," Winter talked with Beliefnet about the power of storytelling in communicating truth and how the dialogue between the church community and Hollywood is continuing to evolve.
You are currently in a position in Hollywood where you can decide what projects you want to work on. How do you pick the stories you want to tell on the big screen?
I am interested in stories that explore universal questions and themes. I look for stories that have spiritual pointers or markers that will speak to people on a large scale. Film is a great way to examine questions, but not necessarily to answer those questions.
What attracts you to the "X-Men" story to the point that you've stayed on as a producer for all three movies? In your opinion, how does this story reflect spiritual themes?
I have enjoyed working on "X-Men" because of the theme of tolerance, of how we can get along together on this journey of life. The movie also reflects fundamental spiritual themes of what we are living for and how we treat each other. This third one ["X-Men movie] is the culmination of those themes and the clash of those values. Will a cure [to being a mutant] make it better for all of us? Is that how we will get along? Or is there a different answer?
How do you balance your faith with the daily pressures and challenges of moviemaking?
I've got a good support system in place. My wife and a couple of close friends keep me accountable spiritually. I also think living my faith in my job is about the little things I do day in and day out.
Do you ever receive criticism from Christians for some of the movies you have helped produce?
Yes, when I was working on "Hocus Pocus," I received a lot of comments about that from Christians, because it had to do with witches. My response was, "Did you notice the sacrifice the brother made at the end of the story? Did you see what happened to the witches? Didn't any of it remind you of another story you have read in the Bible?" But I can't worry about Christian reaction to my movies. If I only made movies for Christians, I would feel like I have failed and not used my position in this business as I should have.
Yet one of the things you do at Fox is produce small-budget, direct-to-video movies based on popular Christian novels. Why?
Well, Fox owns about 90 percent of the Christian market when it comes to video and DVD sales right now, partly because they listened to another Christian who works at Fox, who convinced them to acquire the video/DVD release of "The Passion of the Christ." But it's also because, even prior to that, I was able to bring them projects based on best-selling books (like Frank Peretti's "Hangman's Curse") with a built-in audience and make them for only about $2 million--which was probably the catering budget on "X-Men 3"--so the studio had a pretty good chance of making a profit. It helped them recognize there is a market they can cater to and still make money.
Not really. It is good that "Da Vinci Code" gets the dialogue going in the culture about Jesus and the pursuit of truth. Meaningful discussion is good. Protests are not helpful.
What are some other signs that you have seen that the dialogue between Hollywood and the religious community has changed?
I think that there were people in Hollywood who were beginning to listen to the Christian market before "The Passion of the Christ," but certainly "The Passion" brought the discussion to a different level. Trust me, if studios thought they could make a sequel to "The Passion," they would.
But there are definitely Christians in the industry who have the studios' ear right now. Director Scott Derrickson is one. "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" is one of two films that made money for Fox last year. So you better believe they are listening to him right now.
Anther example is a project over at New Line, this movie called "The Nativity" (which speculates on the life of the Virgin Mary and Joseph during the two-year period leading to the birth of Jesus). The original screenwriter is a Christian, and the executives were having a hard time understanding the writer's take on the story, so they had to bring in some religious advisors to basically help them understand part of the gospel story.
What are some of the projects that you are currently developing that would be of interest to the religious community?
I have been trying to develop a film version of C.S. Lewis' book "The Screwtape Letters" for a while. What's funny is that the film rights to the book were acquired years ago by a studio and nothing has ever been done with them. I had to explain to the studio (which owns the rights) that they might be interested in making this book into movie because this C.S. Lewis is the same C.S. Lewis who wrote the book for "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," and that seemed to do okay at the box office.
On some level, do you become weary of being one of the few Christian leaders in Hollywood who is creating a bridge between Hollywood and the Christian community?
No. I have been placed in this job for a purpose, and I am just trying to make great movies and keep my eyes on Him. I don't deserve any praise. Remember that I am a history major from Berkeley. It is definitely all God's hand that I get to do this. And who knows how long this will last? He may choose someone else.
What should the next step be in increasing the dialogue between the church community and Hollywood?
Maybe more deliberate dialogue about the role of media in our lives. More colleges and universities are doing that. Fuller Seminary takes the lead, and some Christian colleges, but there needs to be more at the level of churches and the people going to the multiplex. The church needs to engage at the local level in more dialogue about film and culture.