Veteran producer Ralph Winter is behind a slew of Hollywood mega-blockbusters, including the "X-Men" films, "Fantastic Four" series, "The Planet of the Apes," "The Giver", and "Star Trek III, IV, V and VI."
A devout Christian who isn't afraid to discuss his beliefs, Winter has also worked on a number of films geared toward the faith community, including "Three", "Left Behind", and "House". Most recently, the Glendale, California native produced the forthcoming Armenian genocide film "The Promise" starring Christian Bale and Oscar Isaac.
In an exclusive interview with The Gospel Herald, Winter opened up about "The Promise", the state of faith-based films from Hollywood's persepctive, how his faith has impacted his Hollywood career, and what's next.
GH: Why is the story in "The Promise" so important for the faith community? Why should Christians in particular be made aware of the Armenian genocide?
RW: It's about persecution, and it's persecution that hasn't gone away and is still happening today. In the 20th century, this genocide of a million and a half people in Armenia is the most modern indicator that if we don't learn our lesson, if we don't pay attention, if we don't fight back against this, it's just going to continue to happen. That doesn't mean that there are easy solutions, and the movie doesn't try to present one. It's the journey of an ordinary guy caught in extraordinary circumstances and how he acts to do what he can to save his family and his community. That should be the sort of clarion call to all of us, that we have to be aware of what's happening around us. What are we going to do? We can't just wait until it affects our family; how can we be proactive about this? When we see news of people being gassed and dying, we need to take concrete action to counteract that, or it will just happen again.
GH: Have you ever turned down a project because it clashed with your faith?
RW: I haven't turned out a project because it conflicted with my faith; I've turned down projects because they were bad stories. The story is the primary thing that I look for in a project that I want to get involved in. There are a lot of elements, there's not just one thing. I look at who's directing, who's writing, what's it about, who's engaged, who's financing, what does the audience think, etc.
I don't think I've ever walked away from a movie because of some faith conflict. Now, I might draw the circle a little wider than other Christians in terms of other stories I want to be involved with. I'm looking for incredible human stories that, because we're created by God, are going to be pointers to faith and faith issues just by the nature of telling a human story. To me, that's more interesting than an explicitly Christian story. I'm not opposed to those; I've made some Christian pictures in the past. But I think, where I am in life, I'm looking for that wider audience and how can we tell a story that in many ways can be pointers to the gospel and the good news and how God can rescue them.
GH: A common gripe with Christian films is that they sacrifice quality for the message. Why do you think so many Christian filmmakers haven't figured out how to make quality films?
RW: I think there a couple reasons - a lot of these guys are my friends, so we've had many of these conversations. I do think the movies that are explicitly for Christians have gotten better than they were ten, fifteen years ago, but for me, fundamentally, it's about not a propositional way of telling a story. Rather, It's wrapped inside of the story, and the journey and the beauty and truth that comes out of that is more impactful for a secular audience. The propositional stuff is perceived as preaching or having an agenda. In Hollywood, we spend a tremendous amount of time figuring out how to tell a good story and shape it in such a way that we get the right emotional response. We try to tell stories that are incredible and believable and authentic, and you have to go through all those gritty parts to earn the right to have those beautiful parts. Sometimes, not every filmmaker is willing to do that, I don't think.
GH: What's next for you?
GH: I'm working on a sailing disaster based on a true story about a woman who sails with her fiancé from Tahiti to Hawaii. The movie stars Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley. So, I have to go to Fiji and I have to go to New Zealand to do this (laughs); I'm leaving in a few weeks to go to the South Pacific for the summer. It's tough, but somebody has to do it (laughs).