Interview by Todd Hertz
In the early 1990s, Phil Vischer and his Big Idea Productions carefully watched the developing trends in family entertainment. This culture-watching led to the enormously successful home video series VeggieTales. But shortly after releasing its first feature film, Jonah, Big Idea declared bankruptcy and sold all its assets to Classic Media LLC. Since then, Vischer has written Me, Myself and Bob (Thomas Nelson), about the faith lessons of Big Idea's collapse, and has returned to watching cultural and technological trends to discover how to best help Christian parents in this much-changed media landscape.
Can you watch Jonah now knowing all that happened afterward?
No, it's pretty messed up. We laid off half the studio the morning after our premiere party. I don't know if you could soil a memory more than that. It was brutal.
When I watch the movie now, I can smell my ambition—the drive to do as much as I could with Big Idea as fast as I could. We were in financial trouble actually before we went into production. The movie became about me wanting God to put a stamp of approval on my ambition. And he didn't. He declined my invitation. Sometimes the best way to grow is to lose and to fail—dramatically and publicly.
Before Big Idea was sold, you wrote the second VeggieTales movie, The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything. It was made and released by the new owners in 2008. But a major thing in Christian film happened between the two VeggieTales films—The Passion of the Christ. How did that change Hollywood?
It's a different world. So many doors are open. It's very easy to pitch your idea thanks to Passion. The new Big Idea owners invited me to come to L.A. to pitch the story of The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything to Universal. (I was working on contract for Big Idea as a writer and voice talent.) Doing that pitch was bizarre because three years earlier, we couldn't get any of the majors to show any interest in Jonah. That was pre-Passion. In fact, when I got to Universal ...