EchoLight was founded in 2011; before the winter 2013 release of The Christmas Candle, EchoLight's first movie with Santorum as CEO, it had been involved with 10 films to varying degrees, none of which received wide theatrical release. The Christmas Candle grossed $2 million certainly not a wild success. But to gauge EchoLight's potential, consider that, when Santorum took over the company, it was sitting on a filmmaking fund of about $20 million. God's Not Dead reportedly cost $2 million to produce. That means Santorum and EchoLight could afford to make 10 such movies. If just one does as well as God's Not Dead, the company will be in great shape. Santorum and EchoLight President Jeff Sheets are hoping to use congregations as a testing ground to premier their films, literally turning churches into theaters where they can gauge impact and enthusiasm. "If they don't resonate well with the church, then it isn't realistic to think that they're going to resonate well in theaters," says Sheets (who tells me that he works with Santorum "literally daily"). If the films "do resonate well in the church, and there's a growing groundswell of support, then it will overflow into the theaters and it will have a much broader impact on society." It also means that a film has to prove itself before EchoLight takes "the much more expensive approach of putting it in theaters."
First up from the God Machine this week is a look at one of the nation's most high profile religio-political figures, who's found an interesting way to keep busy in between presidential campaigns.
Pennsylvania Republican Rick Santorum's political career seemingly came to an end in 2006, following an embarrassing defeat in his home state, but he launched a comeback bid anyway, running a competitive presidential campaign in 2012. Many expect him to try again in 2016.
But in the interim, Santorum needs a day job. As Kevin Lincoln reported this week, that means running a Christian film production and distribution company called EchoLight Studios.
As for Santorum's political ambitions, it probably doesn't hurt to run a company that's in frequent contact with like-minded churches nationwide. And if his next campaign comes up short -- or if Santorum chooses not to run -- he's still positioned as head of a movie studio producing films for a fast-growing segment of the entertainment industry.
As Lincoln's report added, "Some of those movies may be long shots to garner a mass audience but all of them are probably surer bets than a presidential campaign."
Also from the God Machine this week:
* The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) held his General Assembly this week and voted to "change its constitution's definition of marriage from 'a man and a woman' to 'two people,' and to allow its ministers to perform same-sex marriages where it is legal." As recently as 2008, the church had reached the opposite conclusion.
* State lawmakers in North Carolina recently approved a measure to "allow students to engage in religious expression at all times. It would also permit teachers and staff to participate in student prayer." This week, the Greensboro City Council took up a resolution on the issue, which was easily defeated. "I am totally supportive of freedom of speech and freedom of religion," one council member said. "But our students in North Carolina have this freedom and have this ability now."
* And House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was asked this week about the end of Eric Cantor's tenure as House Majority Leader. "I was thinking about it on Sunday when I was praying for the Republicans in church, as I do at least every Sunday," Pelosi told reporters at a press conference.