by Ben Konuch, Student Public Relations Writer
The success of a motion picture is often dependent on a quality storyline, impactful themes, good acting and effective marketing. Scott Mills, a film marketer with Engage Media Partners, is confident that his firm’s most recent work on “Journey to Bethlehem” will help it become a holiday hit and a testament to the power of the new wave of Christian filmmaking.
Mills, CEO of Engage Media Partners in Nashville, Tennessee, didn’t set out to work in the film industry after graduating from Cedarville University in 1992. The broadcast major saw his path to professional success in radio, much like his uncle, Dr. David Jeremiah of Turning Point Ministries and the pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in suburban San Diego, California.
Listen to Mills share his life-long journey in Christian broadcasting on the Cedarville Stories Podcast.
His career path explored multiple directions until he began working for Lifeway Christian Resources, a publishing company that specializes in creating resources for ministry and connecting them with churches and ministries. He started his career working for Steve Green, a nationally acclaimed singer, and Christian radio stations that set his career path toward marketing.
Mills initially offered marketing strategy leadership for Green's global ministry before transitioning to Lifeway. In 2011, he sensed a shift in Christian media as Christian movies gained mainstream traction and started reshaping perspectives within the Christian community.
The marketing strategist in Mills wanted to be a part of this new wave of Christian movies. Due to this, he transitioned his role in Lifeway into marketing several upcoming movies, including the Kendricks brothers’ blockbusters. The move to marketing Christian movies was a bold move for the company as religious films have existed as long as the film industry but had typically only occupied a very small niche of market interest.
That was until the release of the Kendrick brothers’ movie “Fireproof” in 2008 which grossed over $33 million and garnered a new interest from Christians in the power of movies to impact through the big screen.
After the success of “Fireproof,” Mills took the lead in marketing the Kendricks’ next film, “Courageous.” He spent his time marketing the soon-to-be blockbuster Christian movie by raising its awareness with churches and ministries across the nation.
With the success of “Courageous,” Mills was promoted to the manager of the newly formed Lifeway Films, where he would continue to work marketing Christian films until 2015 before founding his own company, Engage Media Partners. Almost 10 years later, Engage Media Partners has generated high visibility for several movies, including “I Can Only Imagine,” “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” and its most recent release, “Journey to Bethlehem.”
“What we do is that we become a part of the marketing teams for films, and films hire us to focus on audience engagement such as churches, schools or even homeschool families,” said Mills. “If it’s a movie on marriage, we’ll work on plugging the film as a resource to marriage ministries, or if it’s a film about prayer, we’re going to get it connected with prayer groups across America.”
While Mills has worked on faith-based films for over a decade, his work on the 2023 film “Journey to Bethlehem” marked a new milestone. This was the first Christian musical produced by Affirm Films and Sony Pictures and showcased the innovations and genre expansions from Christian films in the last 10 years. Many releases of recent years have explored new areas, themes and genres in Christian storytelling, and “Journey to Bethlehem” demonstrates this exciting new chapter of Christian filmmaking.
“We all learn from films, whether they may be Christian or non-Christian. Film as a medium for telling stories can uniquely impact us in ways other mediums can’t,” said Mills. “What the Christian film movement of the early 2000s has done is that it's inspired a younger generation to the reality of what is possible, that we can create movies and write stories that reflect our faith.”
Mills’ career, as he will willingly share, started with this education at Cedarville University. With the growing interest in films and multimedia from the next generation, Cedarville has expanded its broadcasting, digital media and journalism major to deepen the opportunities for students to learn how to produce visual stories using the latest digital film equipment and software editing platforms that will impact an audience in specific ways.
“That’s where Christian filmmaking has gotten better, that people are now focusing on just telling real life stories or stories grounded in realism,” said Mills. “We don’t have to fabricate it or force it in a story where it doesn’t belong, we just have to tell a real story that’s told well. When movies do this and it feels more natural, there’s a greater impact and a greater openness to the message. We know that God can use these to transform lives.”
Mills explained that while Christian films have been around for decades and have encouraged and reached audiences, the world is now seeing a “new wave” of Christian films. This new wave is based on the lessons of successes and failures of past projects and is marked by a renewed commitment to quality acting, filmmaking and, most importantly, storytelling. Films with more grounded realism and more nuanced or subtle messages have redefined the expectations for what faith-based or faith-affiliated film projects can be, whether it may be a Christian biopic like “I Can Only Imagine” or a new genre exploration, such as the comedic musical “Journey to Bethlehem.”
“Christians becoming involved in filmmaking, whether it’s Christian content or not, can make a huge difference for the kingdom of God,” Mills explained. “I think students at Cedarville ought to have their eye on that future, like you can go make Christian movies with your skills and gifts or you can go on to make movies that maybe aren’t explicitly Christian that can still impact people. We’re called and enabled to make great stories and great content and represent Jesus by making great things that will honor God, even if it may not always be in the form of the gospel on the screen.”
Located in southwest Ohio, Cedarville University is a Baptist university with undergraduate programs in arts, sciences, and professional programs, and graduate programs. With an enrollment of 5,456 students in 175 areas of study, Cedarville is one of the largest private universities in Ohio and is recognized nationally for its authentic Christian community, rigorous academic programs, and high graduation and retention rates. For more information about the University, visit cedarville.edu.
Written by Benjamin Konuch