Yet Another Christian Invades Hollywood
by Phil Boatwright

Actor, writer, and now producer Mark Clayman attends Bel Air Presbyterian Church and places Christ first in his life. When asked why he choose a career in the motion picture industry, he matter-of-factly responded, “I felt called by God to do that.”

As a performer, Clayman spent many years in front of the camera appearing on such hit television shows as 24, Alf, Coach, Who’s The Boss, A Different World, Mr. Belvedere, Step By Step, and Saved By the Bell, among many others. He has also written for television (The New Adventures of Robin Hood) and the movies (Somebody to Love). But the 40-year-old Clayman feels most satisfied when he finds quality projects to produce. Currently involved in several film projects in varying stages, his most recent is the widely praised Pursuit of Happyness.

The Will Smith drama concerns a man down on his luck, but not out. Based on a true story, Smith plays Chris Gardner, a single father who, though intelligent and determined, finds himself jobless and facing homelessness.

The Pursuit of Happyness is gut wrenching, for sure, but it there’s also a muted spiritual message that seems to signal a change in this man’s life. The lead is not seen praying, but at a worship service we do see him worship. Soon after this spiritual moment, life begins to change for our hero.

“He made choices to better his position, his family and his income, but circumstances led to a frightening situation – facing unemployment, while having to care for a five-year-old son,” says Clayman.

Asked if in real life Mr. Gardner relied on a personal faith in God to get through, Clayman responded affirmatively. “That was definitely an underlying foundation to his core belief system. In his book, [also titled Pursuit of Happyness and #3 on the New York Times best seller list at the time of this writing], Chris’ childhood was both blessed with a Christian mother and cursed with an abusive stepfather. He had a stepfather who was extremely abusive to him, both physically and emotionally, but his mother had a very strong faith and she instilled in him the same faith. She also instilled in him a belief that he could do whatever he set his mind to. She taught him who God was in her life and in his.”

Though this spirituality is subtle in the film, it is there. Indeed, the subject of spirituality has become of interest to several movie studios, some going so far as to forming branches of their companies designed to make films with Christian-themed messages. Asked for his take on this phenomenon, the producer was excited but also cautious.

“I think studios are trying to put their thumb on it and they can’t quite get it. When they see something like The Passion of the Christ and Chronicles of Narnia also do record numbers, obviously, they pay attention. But they’re still trying to feel their way. They see a large market and they’re trying to figure out how to serve that market.”

This led to the question of why The Nativity Story seems to have failed to capture that same box office potency. He was careful in his response, not wanting to belittle another producer’s work, but trying honestly to examine the box office failure.

“I was also hoping it would go through the roof. But it didn’t. My guess would be that it was soft. Narnia spoke to both Christian and secular markets and Passion had a strong, edgy story and was conflict driven. It was intriguing and challenging to viewers. With the Nativity, I think they missed the boat by not heightening some of the conflict that could have been there.”

Show business is a tough road for a man of faith? “There are times when Mark Clayman feels displaced, but again reassures anyone who asks “Why,” by offering “For me, it’s a calling. I started out as an actor years ago. But I also felt called to produce and develop material for the screen and TV. Believe me, there are times when I ask God to take this out of my heart. But ultimately, I want to do what He wants me to do.”

Is it hard? “Yes, at times it’s very hard. But then I think it’s hard just to be a Christian in this world, period. I have a sense of peace because I know it is a calling. God has given me many confirmations letting me know I’m doing the right thing. And this movie is nothing short of a miracle. His hand has been on it from the get-go.

“I feel called not just to do Christian films, but ones that, one, entertain, and two that show the triumph of the human spirit. Whether it is a broad comedy or movies that show people of faith, I look for films that encourage and uplift.”

Read Phil's review of The Pursuit of Happyness HERE.