Variety is standing by its coverage of an online survey from Faith Driven Consumer about the prospects for Paramount Pictures' biblical-themed epic "Noah" conducted by the Raleigh, N.C.-based organization.
Paramount on Tuesday issued a press release criticizing Variety's story about the survey as misleading. The studio asserted that the survey did not cite "Noah" specifically in asking respondents: "Are you satisfied with a biblically themed movie - designed to appeal to you - which replaces the Bible's core message with one created by Hollywood?"
However, the Web page of the Faith Driven Consumer site where the survey was conducted was headlined "Survey: 'Noah' Movie Controversy" (see image below). It also featured a picture from "Noah" and a brief article about what it called "the controversy swirling around the blockbuster movie 'Noah.' " The information was derived from press reports about focus group reaction to a cut of the movie. According to the survey, 98% percent of respondents said they would not be satisfied with such a movie.
The article quoted from a recent story in The Hollywood Reporter stating that the movie has been criticized by some for depicting the title character as a "crazy, irrational, religious nutâ¦fixated on modern-day problems like overpopulation and environmental degradation."
The article ends by asking readers to respond to the survey question and "tell Hollywood executives what you think about this movie."
Faith Driven Consumer founder Chris Stone confirms that the survey was entirely focused on "Noah."
"That's ridiculous...and absolutely incorrect," Stone said in an interview about Paramount's claim that Variety's report was inaccurate. "The whole thing's about 'Noah.'
Stone, 50, who owns an advertising agency in Raleigh, has cast himself as an advocate for the faith community and describes his org as a "movement" to connecting consumers with brands that share their world view. He calls himself "a follower of Christ" whose motivation is to use his skills as an ad maven to further the mission of Faith Driven Consumer.
Stone has shown a knack for getting media attention during the past few months as he has ramped up the org's activity. His advertising company, the Stone Agency, primarily does work in the secular arena for such clients as regional banks, insurance companies and automotive-related companies.
Faith Driven Consumer is a separate entity from Stone Agency, though some of the Stone Agency staffers also do work for Faith Driven Consumer. Stone says to date he has self-funded the activity of Faith Driven Consumer.
In December, Stone was one of the loudest voices pressuring A+E Networks to reverse its decision to suspend Phil Robertson from "Duck Dynasty" after the patriarch made disparaging comments about gays and African-Americans in a GQ magazine profile.
Stone, in an interview with Variety conducted Tuesday morning before Paramount issued its press release, made it clear that his org has its eye on Hollywood this year as the major studios prepare to release a number of Bible-based feature films. Biblical material is also hot in TV these days thanks to the success of History's "The Bible" miniseries last March.
Stone has proven that he he can generate headlines. During the "Duck Dynasty" flap, Faith Driven Consumer circulated the IStandWithPhil.com petition that gathered more than 250,000 signatures in a matter of days -- and became a visual symbol of how outraged many of the show's core viewers were at A+E's decision to suspend Robertson from the program. Stone was scheduled to meet today with executives from A+E Network in Gotham, a long-planned face-to-face session following the "Duck Dynasty" flap.
But beyond generating online petitions and polls, what exactly is Faith Driven Consumer?
"Faith Driven Consumer is a mechanism to build a bridge between American brands and the faith-driven consumer community upon which commerce and engagement can occur," Stone says.
He indicates that there may be opportunities for some kind of consulting work with Hollywood down the road, but to date he says he has never pitched any film or TV companies on his services.
Stone claims to have "hundreds of thousands" of supporters associated with Faith Driven Consumer, mostly gathered through online sources; the Faith Driven Consumer Facebook page had more than 68,400 "likes" as of Wednesday afternoon.
Faith Driven Consumer was born "in concept," according to Stone, in 2008, but really got going in earnest on the Web and in social media last summer. Stone said he applied for non-profit status with the IRS nearly two years ago, but the application has yet to be processed.
"I don't know this falls into the IRS' problems with conservative groups -- I'm not making that claim," Stone says.
The lack of response from the IRS has put him in a kind of limbo, he adds.
"In an effort to move forward I would imagine we're going to have to file as a for-profit organization but by nature we are not designed to make money," he said. "Most of my work at this point is building this community and engaging with people."
He likens the potential for Faith Driven Consumer to work with brands of any sort to the kind of marketing that Hispanic media agencies do on behalf of Latino consumers.
"We have an active plan to engage the faith-driven community and expand the operation," Stone says. "Ultimately, if somebody wants to reach out of the faith-driven community, we're in a position to bring them understanding on that. Just as people who work for a Hispanic agency are able to reach out to the Hispanic marketplace far better than I am -- I've heard that only 2% of the core people working in the media world would self-identify as evangelical Christian. Many people working in media have never met someone who looks like me."
Before the "Duck Dynasty" controversy, Faith Driven Consumer issued press releases advising on "faith-friendly retailers" for back-to-school and holiday shopping. It weighed in on the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision and the debate over boycotts of the Chick-Fil-A fast food chain after its founder expressed his support for anti-same sex marriage initiatives.
But as generations of activists across the political spectrum have learned, nothing beats taking aim at the entertainment industry for generating headlines. The "Noah" survey question may have been akin to preaching to the choir, but Stone sees it as a valid question to ask given that Hollywood is eagerly courting Christian audiences. He acknowledges that neither he nor many, if any, of the survey respondents have had the chance to see "Noah."
The suggestion that Stone is looking to bully Hollywood is "not true to our movement," he says.
"Our objective is to advocate and further our community's objectives. My life does not depend on that financially. .. If we can help a studio reach that (faith) community and it's good for the community, that's great. If we get paid somewhere in the process, that's great," he says. "But being of my world view, I cannot sell a vision for money that is not compatible with the world view that faith-driven consumers hold."
Stone added that the community he reps has no intention of trying to dictate the nature of the content that Hollywood produces.
"The studio can make whatever they want. I'm not a shareholder in Paramount. We recognize their ability to do whatever they want," he says. "But I'm a consumer. If they want me to engage with them, they need to do something that appeals to me. If they're making movies for faith-driven consumers that don't appeal to that community, that means they've left money on the table."
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