On a busy New York street on Saturday, April 25, dozens of Biolans and hundreds of entertainment professionals mingled and networked and learned about how to impact the entertainment industry for Christ. This “New York street” was actually in Studio City, California, on the backlot of CBS Studios. It was the 14th annual Biola Media Conference.
The event, hosted by Biola’s Cinema and Media Arts Department, began in 1995 as the Christians & Media Conference and has steadily grown in size and scope since then, hosting over 750 attendees in 2007. It has held on Biola’s campus until last year, when it moved to CBS Studios.
The conference, with around 600 registered attendees, kicked off Saturday morning with a lively performance by dance group The Groovaloos, from the TV show Superstars of Dance. This was followed by Q&A with Mark Zoradi, president of Walt Disney Motion Picture Group. Emcee Phil Cooke, CEO of Cooke Pictures and author of Branding Faith, asked Zoradi about the Disney brand and what it’s like to be both a Christian and a major player in Hollywood.
“It’s never been tough for me to navigate Hollywood as a Christian,” said Zoradi, who said that he tried to live a life that reflected Philippians 2:3: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”
The theme of this year’s conference, “Closing the Deal,” focused on the nuts and bolts of how to get a project made in Hollywood. Seminars and workshops focused on the art of pitching, packaging and financing, knowing what projects Hollywood is looking for, discovering niche projects, no-budget filmmaking, legal aspects of deal-making, and opportunities in new media and online distribution.
Speakers and seminar leaders at the daylong event included producers like Brian Bird, Terry Botwick and Ralph Winter (X-Men), agents like Christopher Lockhart (William Morris) and Michael Van Dyck (Paradigm), actors, writers, attorneys and other entertainment professionals who imparted their wisdom to the hundreds of aspiring talents in the audience.
One highlight of the day was the presentation of the Robert Briner Impact Award—an award created to honor artists who live out the legacy of Briner, who authored Roaring Lambs and played a part in the formation of the Biola Media Conference. This year the Briner award went to three men: Ken Wales (producer of Christy and Amazing Grace), Howard Kazanjian (producer of Return of the Jedi and Raiders of the Lost Ark) and Al Kasha (Academy Award-winning composer and mentor of musicians like Bob Dylan and Donna Summer, who was in attendance).
“When you drink from the well, you have to remember the well-diggers,” said Mark Joseph, who presented the Briner awards. “We honor three well-diggers today.”
After the event, Wales expressed gratitude for receiving the honor: “I could not be more honored to accept this award from a gentleman who has always been an inspiration for my creative endeavors. Bob [Briner] led with excellence and integrity—for him, there was never an excuse for not doing your best.”
The conference concluded with a keynote address from infamous Hollywood screenwriter Joe Eszterhas, who wrote such tawdry films as Basic Instinct and Showgirls and was known in Hollywood for his wild, party lifestyle—until he became a Christian in 2001.
“I was trying my best not to die, but I couldn’t do it without God,” said Eszterhas, who eloquently recounted his “Saul-to-Paul” testimony during his half hour address. “On a hellish muggy day in 2001, I was saved… from the evil I had spent so much time studying and analyzing… God brought me from threats to apologies, Spago to McDonalds, booze to Diet Sprite, Sharon Stone to Jesus.”
The president of Biola, Barry Corey, spoke briefly before Eszterhas, articulating why conferences like this are important for Biola to engage with the culture in a positive, partner-mindset rather than a combative, battle mentality.
“At Biola, we’re about reaching out to be redemptive voices for the culture,” said Corey, “rather than kicking Jesus into the culture with a steel-toed shoe.”
Written by Brett McCracken, Biola Magazine managing editor.