Christ on the big screen: Podcasters seek movies' deeper meanings

Friday, February 28, 2014
Brenden Taylor, left, and Michael Hansen prepare to record an episode of "Finding Christ in Cinema" at Hansen's home studio. Video clips from the show are also put online. (T-G Photo by John I. Carney)

Two local podcasters are exploring the hidden religious messages in movies, new and old, with an eye towards using them to start conversations about faith.

That doesn't mean they don't have fun doing it.

"You go ahead and take the Godzilla one," said Brenden Taylor, as he and Michael Hansen planned a quick movie-news segment which opens the Internet-delivered radio show.

"Oh, man," said Hansen, bouncing up and down excitedly on the exercise ball he uses for a chair in his home studio on Old Columbia Road. Hansen was excited about a just-released trailer for the upcoming "Godzilla" remake starring Bryan Cranston.

The movie news segment is just for fun, an acknowledgement that their listeners -- like Taylor and Hansen themselves -- love movies. But the meat and potatoes of "Finding Christ In Cinema" is finding the religious allegories, intentional or otherwise, that find their way into movie storylines.

A new episode is released every other week; previous episodes have covered "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" and "Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace," while the current episode and the one to be released next week discuss "The Wizard of Oz."

Oz's message

In "The Wizard of Oz," for one example, Dorothy's three companions are each reluctant, at first, to join her on her journey to to see the wizard, because of their individual shortcomings: no brain, no heart, no courage. Taylor and Hansen compared this to Moses' reluctance to answer God's call.

The podcast is part of Hansen's "Great Commission Transmission Network," along with another audio podcast and several video podcasts. Hansen, an audio engineer, said he's been working in Internet radio for eight years.

Higher purpose

"I know how to do this," he told himself; "I need to use it for a better purpose."

He and Taylor met in a church group. When Hansen found out that Taylor was a theatre arts major, they discovered a shared love of movies, which tied right in with Hansen's plan to do some sort of podcast related to a faith-based view of pop culture.

"He's a very bright and articulate person," said Hansen.

Taylor said the two of them first started talking about the podcast last summer.

Net work

Hansen, who is in his mid-40s, said some of his less-tech-savvy contemporaries glaze over when he mentions the word "podcast." It's really just a catch-all term for Internet-delivered shows.

The syllable "pod" originally referred to the fact that users would download the programs to their iPod for listening. Today, however, the shows can be listened to many different ways.

You can listen to "Finding Christ in Cinema" directly from its web site, You can use iTunes to automatically download new episodes to your phone, computer or, yes, iPod. You can listen through online radio services like Stitcher or TuneIn Radio. Listeners can catch up on old episodes and/or set up to automatically receive new ones.

The podcast is donor-suppoorted and contains no advertising.

Web of faith

Hansen said many people of faith don't think to look for content online.

"Christians don't really search the Internet for Christian things," he said. But he sees new technologies as a key to outreach.

"The Internet's not going away," he said.

But while the Internet may be the means for spreading the content, "Finding Christ in Cinema" is still, in some ways, a radio show. That means it has to have a certain pace, with no dead air, and that requires Hansen and Taylor to bounce off each other, one stepping in to pick up the conversation when the other gets to the end of a thought (or just needs to take a sip of water).

Both men likened it to improvisational theater.

Building process

Their vocal styles are different; Hansen crackles with the intensity of an old Top-40 AM disk jockey, while Taylor is more soft-spoken. They complement each other nicely, but both are similarly focused on the podcast's evangelistic purpose.

The show is still in its early stages so far, there have been an "episode zero" which explained the concept, and three regular episodes, with a fourth recorded this week and scheduled to be released this coming Thursday. Hansen and Taylor said they're looking for listener feedback and for suggestions of movies to discuss in future episodes.