"Eight in 10 Americans know two all-beef patties are in a Big Mac, but just over four in 10 -- 41% -- can't name 'Thou shall not kill' as one of the Ten Commandments," according to a 2007 study.
Those not-too-surprising results reported by Kelton Research is why producer Frank Yablans is convinced that this is a critical time to have a studio producing educational, faith-based films.
"We hope to educate young people and families as to where all civilization came from," explained the 72-year-old Hollywood veteran.
Yablans, born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, said he had a "typical New York Jewish upbringing." For more than 50 years, he has toiled in the film industry, steadily rising through the ranks to president of Paramount Pictures in the early '70s. "The Godfather," and "Chinatown" are just a few of the titles that made it one of the most critically acclaimed and profitable studios of that period.
"Many people refer to my time at Paramount as the golden years," Yablans said. But now, he has turned his focus and passion to his new company, Promenade Pictures, whose first production, a computer-animated film, "The Ten Commandments," is scheduled for release Friday, Oct. 19.
The film features the voice talents of Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina, Elliot Gould and Christian Slater, the last of whom plays Moses. Promenade plans to produce a franchise of 12 animated films under the banner, "Epic Stories of the Bible."
"The Ten Commandments is such a universal story that I thought this would be the best one we could start out with," Yablans said. "We're already in production on 'Noah's Ark: The New Beginning,' and after that, we plan to do 'David and Goliath.'"
Yablans and company are driven by what they see as a void in the marketplace: "We all felt there was a great need for good, solid family entertainment and faith-based entertainment, because nobody was making films that have a moral center to them. We're not preaching anything."
But Yablans hopes these biblical stories will have appeal beyond their targeted audience.
"We take a film like 'The Ten Commandments,' and its message is needed in every household in the country, so we expect our films to reach a broad base of family-oriented moviegoers," he said.
Although "The Ten Commandments" centers on Moses and his emancipation of the Jews from bondage, Yablans believes its relevance extends to many religions.
"'The Ten Commandments' is about the birth of Israel," he said. "And it's the rule by which mankind lives. It's the ethical basis for civilization. But I can't say it's particularly Jewish. It's revered by Islam, it's revered by Christianity and it's revered by Judaism."
He said that broad appeal can spin these biblical yarns into box office gold: "I think there's a huge home video market for this kind of material. Our obligation is to make them well and to be faithful to the words of the Bible, and hopefully, we'll make good profit out of it."
Pat Sierchio is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to Written By, the magazine of the Writers Guild of America, West.
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