Discussion: God and Hollywood

We talked with three John Jay Institute alumni in the film industry about their faith and their artistic vocations in a difficult world. Here’s what they said.

Jonathan Green

Webby Award-winning film director and writer

Joel Clarkson

Composer and film score orchestrator

Paul Padgett

Executive producer of film, music, and viral videos

What’s the right relationship between faith and art for a filmmaker?

JONATHAN GREEN: “A Christian filmmaker is not obligated to make films about Christian people or events, but if their whole person has been truly shaped by the communal Christian tradition, then the stories they choose to tell will be marked with the fingerprints of their faith. For example, the film Badlands is a story about a mass-murderer, and the film Thin Red Line is about an army rifle company in World War II, and I don’t believe Christian beliefs are explicitly mentioned in either of them, but the fingerprints of Terrence Mallick’s faith can easily be seen in both films for those who have eyes to see, and distinctly felt by those who don’t. In my view, this is the model for Christians making films.”

PAUL PADGETT: “Our faith should play a part in all of our endeavors whether making a film or plumbing a house. With filmmaking and the arts more broadly, there is obviously a greater opportunity to express an explicitly Christian message, but a good message is easily muddled by bad art. Goodness, truth and beauty are the larger principles, governing crafts as diverse as filmmaking and plumbing. (Give me a pagan expert plumber over an inept Christian one.)”

JOEL CLARKSON: “Becoming a Christian is, in a sense, leaving behind the story of one’s own autonomy and becoming immersed in the narrative of Christ. As a Christian, I participate in that narrative, becoming more and more conformed to the image of Christ; not just to the abstract teachings of Christ, but to the Incarnation of Jesus, God made man, eternity inextricably woven into space and time. My own story has become fused with the story of Christ, and everything I do is infused with that new reality. When I write music for film, it is my hope that, no matter the project, Jesus manifests Himself in my creativity, and that His imaginative Incarnation saturates every part of my artistry. To try and extract the narrative of my faith as shaped by the work of Christ from the stories to which I contribute creatively would be nigh on impossible.”


Laura Waters Hinson’s new film, Many Beautiful Things, deals with tough questions about how to navigate tensions between an artistic calling and other aspects of life. What does your artistic vocation mean to you in the larger context of your purpose in life?


JOEL CLARKSON: “As Christ is the creative expression of God’s own artistry through the Incarnation, so all Christians bear creative potential to embody the presence of Christ into the world in every moment. As an artist, I see my work as a more formalized version of that creative process, but the two elements—vocation and artistry—are deeply intertwined in my understanding of them, and something in which I believe all Christians have the potential to participate.”

PAUL PADGETT: “I think people need to focus less on earning the title of ‘Artist,’ and they should focus more on creation. I love to write. So I wake up an hour before my family gets up just to write. I'm working on a summer beach action thriller novel. It's going to be awful. But I love to write. I'm not doing it so everyone can call me a ‘writer.’ I'm doing it because I love to write. So if you have to make money being a plumber but you want to be a poet, write poetry. Every day. Fulfill your duties to your family and to your faith, and any other chance you get, create. Be diligent. Create, throw away your work and create again. Don't do it for the job title, and don't do it for the pay because the starving artist thing is still a thing. So don't be an artist. Just make art, and for God's sake, have fun with it.

JONATHAN GREEN: “There are also a number of artistic expressions that do not require great resources to execute well. Someone can obviously become an accomplished painter or writer or designer or calligrapher or photographer without having it overlap with their vocational life, provided that their vocational life affords them the time needed to develop those respective crafts. Lack of money is rarely a valid excuse for not exploring different creative expressions. I’ve had young photographers tell me how they feel really limited by their equipment. They just ‘need’ to get that better camera or lens. My usual response is to point to some of the great photographers that primarily used one lens, or to quote one of my mentors who told me, ‘It doesn’t cost any more to put the camera in the right place, and that is what makes the difference.’”


About These Alumni:

Writer / Director

With an unvarnished narrative approach and a cruel eye for the details, Green has created scripted and unscripted commercial content for iconic brands such as Nike, Purina, National Geographic, and World Vision. His work has screened around the world in venues like the New York Underground, Barcelona and Cannes film festivals, and garnered multiple honors, including a Webby Award for his two interactive short films journaling the struggle of children victimized by the African AIDS pandemic. See his work here: http://www.ignatiusgreen.com/

Composer / Orchestrator / Conductor

From the soaring, cinematic sounds of his film music to his melodic, pensive piano works, Joel Clarkson is an award-winning composer who is known for the vibrant colors of sound he paints with his music. Joel has provided original music for numerous feature and short films. He has also received high praise as a concert composer and orchestrator, and his creative contributions to concert music have been heard around the world to great acclaim. For more information, please visit www.joelclarkson.com.

Writer / Director

Paul Padgett is a filmmaker who has been creating viral content for over a decade. He has helmed musical acts that opened for Emmylou Harris and were featured by NPR.org. His films have won numerous awards in the entertainment and advertising industries, including a Special Selection at South by Southwest and a Gold Record. He has also worked with the Army National Guard and the Marines Special Operations on recruitment strategies. He, his wife Maggie, and two sons live in Nashville, Tennessee. See more of his work here: www.paulpadgett.org.