Dean Batali is used to being the only Christian in the room. As a writer, and then as the executive producer of "That's '70s Show," Batali has learned the importance of having a Christian presence in the writer's room to influence the script and the direction of a television show.
While he wasn't able to make the sitcom a family-friendly show, he was able tame the content-cutting down the number of sex scenes in one episode or even preventing other story lines from airing. Most of all, he was able to befriend co-workers who had never known a Christian before.
But Batali's fellow believers often question him about working on a sitcom that constantly showed pot smoking and gratuitous sex. Batali welcomes the question.
"I struggled with [my convictions] daily on that show, and my hope is still that I would get to be on shows that really reflect my point of view more than that show did. But somebody's got to be there," Batali said.
Many of the Christians in the entertainment industry who gathered at the Biola Media Conference in Los Angeles earlier this month agreed that Christians need to be in Hollywood, not just in a holy huddle. The conference, held by Biola University, is the largest national conference for Christian media professionals working in mainstream media.
Media consultant Stan Williams believes that Christians working on secular films can sometimes make a bigger impact than those working on a "Christian film."
"I have more problems with Christian scripts than I do with secular scripts because the Christians are trying to be didactic and preach.... The secular film people aren't doing that," he said. "And they are being a lot more successful because they are using metaphor and natural law to get across a point."
For example, Devon Franklin, the vice president of production at Sony Pictures and a professing Christian, recently worked with the late Whitney Houston on "Sparkle," a remake of the 1976 classic about three sisters in a Motown group that shoots to fame. Before she died in February, Houston called the movie a "cautionary tale" of working in the music industry, depicting the consequences of chasing after drugs, greed, and fame.
Franklin has also worked on movies like "The Pursuit of Happyness," "Hancock," and "21." Franklin believes part of his witness is "being honest about my faith, but also being loving enough to accept others' points of view the same way that I want them to accept mine."
He said that as movie studios realize the buying power of the faith-based audience, they are becoming more accepting of faith: "I think Hollywood has been a lot more willing to develop projects and films to tap and serve that market."
For Batali, the experience and reputation he gained also gives him the opportunities to create the type of shows he wants to make, ones that include Christian characters: "I don't want to say that the end justified the means, but I do philosophically believe Christians need to be everywhere," he said in an earlier interview.
Still, to make a difference, Batali said more Christians are needed in Hollywood: "I used to say that Hollywood would become really significantly different if we could get one Christian on every writing staff. I've changed that to two now. You actually need two."