Saved: Ten Years Later
2014 has been huge for Christian cinema.
Congregations have been bussed to The Son of God, God’s Not Dead and Heaven is for Real to the tune of $206 million – on very little studio investment. In fact, The Son of God was just a re-edited TV miniseries (History Channel’s The Bible) projected in theaters to the tune of $60 million. So get ready for more low-budget Christian cinema. In terms of investment vs. gross it’s become as mega-profitable as found footage horror films. Additionally, Noah underperformed ($100 million gross). It cost a lot ($125 million before marketing). The reason why it most likely underperformed? It pissed off a lot of Christians for not being biblical enough. And non-Christians were a hard sell, despite being directed by Darren Aronofsky and being marketed more as Gladiator than Noah.
Ten years ago Mel Gibson tore the flesh from his savior’s back in The Passion of The Christ to the tune of $371 million. But Hollywood didn’t really start cashing in on Christian fables until much more recently.
There was another film that came out ten years ago, Saved!, that was mildly popular in theatres but found a longer life via video stores and a New York musical theater production. The way that it treats this certain sect of Christians – blind, cheerful followers, entirely out of touch with the rest of the world – makes Saved! a current anomaly. Now that Christians have proven that they’ll show up in droves to Christian themed films, films that outright poke at them would be less likely to get a wide release. And finding titles in streaming platforms is not as easy as walking through the video store. Remember those?
“There’s no way that it could be made today,” Sandy Stern, a producer of Saved! told CraveOnline during an interview for this ten year retrospective. And not just because of the story – which concerns a girl, Mary (Jena Malone), who attends a Christian high school and gets pregnant while trying to convince her boyfriend, Dean (Chad Faust) that he’s not gay, and then is ostracized from the entire school for her sin – but because of how much the independent film industry has changed over the last ten years.
Most of the companies that made the films that Stern produced – USA Films for Being John Malkovich, United Artists for Saved! and Miramax for The Velvet Goldmine – no longer exist. And certainly the model that got Saved! made – financed by the distributer – is one that has changed a lot over the last decade. Now distribution companies mostly pluck from films that have outside financing already in place or low budget films are made just for streaming, which has a far lower gross potential than home video did.
“Saved! was made for $5 million. If that movie were being made today it would have to be made for $500,000,” Stern says, aghast. “The whole ancillary market that used to exist in terms of DVD sales to rental stores and to fans is gone now. There’s no security blanket for independent film – with the exception of foreign sales – but high school movies have never translated well overseas. The teenage vernacular is different from country to country, the school system is different, the high school comedy is impossible to sell to the world and so now your budget has to be miniscule. The high school movie has disappeared.”
Who would’ve thought that Hollywood would make more Christian films than high school comedies? But at the halfway point of 2014, that’s certainly true.
Mean Girls was also released ten years ago. After numerous high school comedies from the 80s through the 90s, there are now very few. With the exception of Easy A, Stern’s statement seems true. There have been some recent well-regarded high school dramas The Spectacular Now (where high school itself is periphery to alcoholism), or The Perks of Being a Wallflower (which has a built-in audience of fans of the book; it was directed by the book’s author). But mostly our film teenagers now date vampires, overthrow the government and have special powers. That list of teen attributes translates around the globe regardless of whether or not the youngsters attend school. Their teen worries are apocalyptic and centered around taking action. The fate of mankind is in their hands. Ka-ching!
The teen worries in Saved! are about taking action, too – having crushes, having sex, disrupting the school assembly and vandalism – but Saved! was almost much darker. The very first draft of the script that Stern received ended with a high school shooting.
“Oh my God! How did you know that?!” Stern gasped, when I brought that up. (It was in the IMDB Trivia area.) “I think that (writer/director) Brian Dannelly was originally going for something darker than Heathers. Heathers from the get-go the conceit was killing classmates. In the first draft of Saved! a gun came from out of nowhere at the end and in the least likely hand (Mandy Moore’s character, the loudest of the Bible thumpers). That had to go. We loved the characters and people don’t have to die in every movie, y’know.”
Like many films from ten years ago or older, they now sit in a time capsule we’ll place in a basement room labeled “Plots Before the Internet”. The Internet is used in Saved! – Mary searches for information on gay therapy – but a decade ago technology still wasn’t as prevalent as it is now. And the group that Saved! is mocking – not those that have faith, but those whose faith keeps them from seeing their own hypocrisy – would not be so enclosed now, as they were ten years ago.
“When Jena Malone finds out that her boyfriend is gay she goes to a computer, clicks on one site and that’s her answer,” Stern notes. “We didn’t used to check so many sites ten years ago. Now with increased access to information even those that are trying to have this cocoon from other opinions, they at least encounter other opinions more frequently than ever before. And for kids who struggle, there are accessible outlets that are easier to find than ever before, like the ‘It Gets Better Campaign’ (for kids who’ve been bullied).”
In that regard, Stern is glad that they “were ahead of this new wave Christian cinema”. Saved!’s longevity rests on two things – it’s a funny, safe (but not cruel) film to view for those with opposing beliefs and it’s a high school comedy sans a world-ending plot. The combination of those two continues to give Saved! life. Stern mentions that MTV is working on a possible television program that would update the film. And even though some Internet and gay therapy storylines will have to be altered, interchanges such as Dean proclaiming to a paramedic “I’m the father!” followed by his boyfriend, Mitch (Kett Turton), saying, “I’m the boyfriend (of the father)!” have become the opposite of dated. And it remains funny. We can’t be alone in missing quick teen wit.
Stern is still trying to fund a few different high school comedies. He’s not giving up on the relatable teen dream. It speaks to him. He entered the film business by producing the Christian Slater starring Pump Up the Volume, where Slater starts a pirate radio station, and as “Hard Harry” speaks for teens everywhere, sparks a (non-government overthrow) teen revolution.
Like Saved!, Pump Up the Volume is on the verge of a possible NYC musical theater run on which Stern is collaborating with Slater, Samantha Mathis and writer/director Allan Moyle.
Pump Up the Volume is approaching its 25-year anniversary. Mean Girls and Saved! just had their ten-year anniversary. If there’s one thing we know it’s that nostalgia takes the wheel for resurgences.
Surely the high school comedy will come back – as long as kids keep going to school with other kids. The wider the years-gap gets without high school films that treat their teenagers as funny, affable and without superhero traits, the more likely we’ll be to see older teen films take on new forms: theater and TV revivals. Until we finally get more teens being teens at cinemas, get ready for Saved! the TV-series and numerous Mean Girls retrospective essays.