Hollywood Legate Paul Lauer brings life- and faith-affirming films to the masses . . .
Paul Lauer has long had a passion for media and its power to shape the culture.
Named after the saint he calls “The Biblical Broadcaster,” Lauer – membership chair of Legatus’ newly minted Hollywood Chapter – sees his calling as broadcasting the gospel message using the modern means of communications.
These days, he does that principally as president of Motive Entertainment, which brings faith-friendly movies to the masses.
A passion for film
A year before Mel Gibson launched The Passion of the Christ — arguably the most successful faith film of all time — Lauer had an idea for employing grassroots marketing to make the film a success. Gibson liked the idea, and Lauer’s plan helped the film rake in well over $611 million worldwide.
After The Passion, Lauer went on to advance films like The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Polar Express. Motive’s latest project is There Be Dragons, a movie focusing on the early life of St. Josemaría Escrivá. It’s slated for release on May 6.
“I played in a rock band as a guitarist for years,” Lauer said, “and I knew that the way to reach people is through some kind of a stage, whether that stage is an actual stage, as it is with music and performing, or more like the television or the movie screen.”
That led him to start a youth magazine, serve as president of three media companies, produce the 1993World Youth Day music festival in Denver, and help launch various Internet startups. But it was his effort to build an IMAX theater in Rome in the late 1990s that got him thinking even more about working with the film industry.
Not long after, he was asked to be a consultant on the 2002 movie Joshua. “I immediately saw a void between rising supply and rising demand. On the supply side, you had people making films with heart and soul, films that had morals and values and even faith messages. And instead of being a vehicle to get the films out, the studios were being an impediment. Films like The Passion had to find their own way to the audience.”
On the demand side, Lauer knew that people were frustrated with Hollywood for not giving them the type of movies they wanted. “Somebody had to build a pipeline between supply and demand,” he said. So in 2003, Lauer founded Motive Entertainment, first as a marketing company to bring films to the people who wanted them and then as a vehicle to get those films into distribution.
He decided to build a company that could take a good film product to the faith-and-family market, not just in the Catholic world, but across a wider demographic. As he was completing his plan, one of the Joshua producers told him about The Passion, and agreed to bring Lauer and Gibson’s partner together.
Lauer (far right) with Rick Warren, Mel Gibson and Lee Strobel
Through his work with Gibson, Lauer gained access to key players in the film industry. “I knew if they caught the vision it would be contagious and they would be telling millions of people down the line from them that they influence, and that’s exactly what happened.”
Eventually, Lauer found himself sitting with the head of marketing at Disney talking about the first Narnia film. His company has also worked on marketing Expelled, The Secret Life of Bees, United 93 and Rocky Balboa.
Lauer said he believes strongly in the importance of film as a cultural vehicle because to him, “film is like a parable on steroids. You get not only the words, but you get the images and the sound. It’s one thing to hear a story or parable that lasts five or 10 minutes. What happens over two hours [in film] is an escape from reality. You’re there long enough to leave whatever else is going on in your life behind. It possesses you in a way other forms of media do not.”
Of course, not all films treat such intimate access to viewers’ lives responsibly. Many leave behind decadent images and immoral messages. Fortunately, Lauer said, Hollywood is seeing a renaissance of films that portray good moral values.
“There is so much more talk and energy — and even money — pushing in that direction, but I think the motivation on the industry side is strictly a financial one.We have to realize that it’s not like Hollywood is ‘born again.’ They’re simply going where the money is.”
For that reason, Lauer said, it’s important that moviegoers “vote” for films they like by seeing them on opening weekend. “People have to vote at the box office. That’s where you vote on what you want to come out of Hollywood.”
Lauer is especially excited about There Be Dragons, which examines the divergent paths chosen by Escrivá and his friend, Manolo, amid the political conflict of the Spanish Civil War.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a Hollywood movie with a bigger budget and high production value in which the hero of the movie is a priest,” Lauer said.
Audiences in test screenings love the Escrivá character, he said, but don’t necessarily see the film as a religious one. “In the midst of the struggles and conflict in that society, this man and his friends did what they could to spread peace, love, prayer and faith,” he explained, “and we see the impact on the people around him and most particularly his friends.”
Before The Passion of the Christ, he said, few in Hollywood were trying to attract a faith-based audience. “Now there’s a flood of filmmakers, marketers, producers, financiers trying to seize the opportunity to make and sell more product like this. Ultimately, that’s good for the industry and for society.”
Lauer said many good projects are on the horizon, though not all of them are perfect. “Just like there’s no perfect political candidate, there’s no perfect movie. Some are better than others, some are middle of the road, but they’re good enough. We should support them because the more we do, the better they will get.”
Judy Roberts is a Legatus Magazine staff writer.