Dick Rolfe, through The Dove Foundation, has inspired much positive change in Hollywood, independent filmmaking, and the Christian film industry. His work speaks of a courage that many hope to emulate. In the midst of the busyness due to his transition from CEO of The Dove Foundation to Chairman Emeritus, Dick took the time to answer some questions and offer some interesting advice/insight into the world of filmmaking. Follow our chat below, and discover more about Dick’s admirable and inspiring journey.
Miranda ~ Hello Dick! Truly honored to have you visit TBAP today. Please tell us a bit about yourself.
Dick: Thank you, Miranda. I was born and raised with my older sister by two loving Christian parents in West Michigan. I served 4 years in the US Navy. I’ve held leadership roles in various media-related ministries for the past 35 years.
Miranda ~ How did you become a Christian? Tell us your story!
Dick: Being raised in a Christian family, I embraced the simple message in the children’s song, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” I had a personal encounter with the person of Jesus at age five. My family was visiting friends in another town. During dinner, my sister and her older friends heard an ambulance siren and bolted out the door into the woods across from the house following the sound, and I ran after them. I was unable to keep up and I got totally lost in those woods. I finally sat in a clearing and prayed to Jesus to help me find my way. In my mind’s eye I saw Jesus standing next to me, hand outreached to lead me to safety. A neighbor who took me back to our host’s house told my parents she saw this little boy walking up to their door with one hand in the air as though I was holding on to the hand of an adult. Ever since, I’ve had no trouble believing that Jesus is real and that He watches over me.
Miranda ~ What would you say are your most sacred values, and why?
Dick: I have learned over my lifetime that the two most cherished values are unconditional love and trust. They are the very manifestation of God’s love for us and our response. Since those values work in our vertical relationship with God, I’ve discovered they also work in horizontal relationships with others. In Hollywood, unconditional love and trust are extremely scarce and therefore cherished when discovered. My relationships with scores of media executives and filmmakers are based on those two principles.
Miranda ~ You co-founded The Dove Foundation to help improve the moral quality of movies in Hollywood, and subsequently, in the Christian film industry. What particular moment or situation first inspired you to do this?
Dick: As a parent, I was concerned when I first visited a video store (in the late 80’s, many of them were retrofitted porn shops that moved their “adult” selections into a back room behind a curtain or door.) We decided to pre-screen all movies before permitting our kids to watch them. Soon the idea spread and others contributed to the list which totaled over 600 titles that were deemed “safe” for family viewing. A reporter interviewed me about this “dove” list and the story appeared in 165 newspapers across the country. Within 10 days, I received over 2,000 phone calls from folks asking for a copy of the list. We decided that this was a movement, so we applied for a grant from a local Christian donor, and received our nonprofit charter as The Dove Foundation in 1991.
Miranda ~ How would you describe the early days of The Dove Foundation? What lessons did you learn in your “days of little beginning?”
Dick: In the beginning we knew we weren’t influential enough to approach the studios with our message. We focused on selling video store chains on the value of a Family Approved list or section. We later added a sticker, which is now the iconic blue and white Dove Family Approved Seal. Once we had Dove Sections in 1700 video store and super market chains, the movie studios considered us a valuable marketing partner for endorsing and promoting their “family” line of titles. We never bashed Hollywood for making raunchy movies, but rather encouraged and promoted the good stuff and endorsed it with the Dove Seal.
Miranda: Since The Dove Foundation came into being, can you say you’ve witnessed a profound change in the quality of movies as you initially hoped? Can you quantify the work The Dove Foundation has done?
Dick: It’s easy to point to the sea change that has taken place in movies since 1991. The number of family friendly and faith friendly films has climbed significantly over the past two decades. It’s more difficult to attribute that change to Dove specifically. We are joined by many others in the industry in a combined effort to move Hollywood in a more family friendly direction. Several studios have responded by adding faith and family brands to their lineups. For example, Sony Pictures uses its “Affirm” label to brand such films. One concrete statistic that I can offer—a study we commissioned in 2012 revealed that the average movie approved by The Dove Foundation is 2.5 – 3 times more profitable than those that missed the mark. I can also report that most studios offer us confidential early screenings of their new releases intended for the faith or family markets hoping to receive our endorsement. In a number of instances, producers have made suggested edits in order to get the Dove Seal of Approval.
Miranda ~ What difficulties did The Dove Foundation initially face when you started the work to improve the quality of movies? Does The Dove Foundation still face these problems or have other issues developed?
Dick: One problem we faced early on was to overcome some preconceived notions that Dove was a right-wing, religious radical group dedicated to eradicate every R-rated movie from existence. Once we showed them that we were an advocate for the family and not an adversary, the tension broke and we gained the respect and trust of the “movers and shakers” at the studios as well as hundreds of independent filmmakers.
Miranda ~ What can you say is the difference between secular movie making and Christian movie-making? In what ways do you think Christian filmmakers should improve?
Dick: We evaluate Family-Approved films and Faith-Friendly films in two ways. Both categories are required to meet certain content guidelines in the areas of Sexuality, Violence, Language, Drug/Alcohol abuse, Nudity, and Other unsavory behavior. The difference is in the message. A Family-Approved movie has a clean, wholesome storyline. A faith-friendly movie has the expression of faith as its core message. This is usually portrayed by acts of redemption, reconciliation and/or forgiveness. We also have a Dove Faith-Based [Caution] Seal, which is reserved for films with some content portrayals that would exceed our usual standards, but include a powerful message of redemption and forgiveness. The Passion of the Christ, which shows the beating and crucifixion of Christ, is an example of this category.
Miranda ~ In your opinion, are Christian filmmakers and filmmakers of Christian/Christian-themed films in the same category? If they aren’t what’s the difference?
Dick: Some studios operate under the misconception that a Christian film is one that is based loosely on the Bible. They make a tragic mistake of assigning the project to a producer and/or director who lacks an organic connection to the Christian faith. In one case, the director publicly announced that he is an atheist. Hollywood has made a few blunders recently that reflect those poor choices. One was NOAH and another was EXODUS. In both cases, the films’ creators went well beyond extra-biblical content, and presented anti-biblical themes which were rejected by the audience. I believe the more successful Christian films are those that are actually produced and/or directed by Believers, which ensures that the message will authentically represent our faith.
Miranda ~ In recent times, Hollywood has taken fiction books and turned them into blockbuster movies. Do you see this happening in the Christian film industry? In what way would you encourage the Christian literary world and the Christian film industry to work together?
Dick: There are many fictional stories that have been made into successful films. Ben-Hur, The Robe are a couple of epics. Of course, C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series was also very well received by the movie audience. There is a new wave of Christian books called YA fiction (Young Adult) that have powerful messages of redemption and could make very compelling movies. One that I recently saw during one of those early screenings I mentioned earlier is, The Shack based on the best-selling novel by William P. Young. The filmmakers were able to successfully translate the book into a stirring movie that should have broad audience appeal. It’s scheduled for release in March.
Miranda ~ How did you know it was time to step down as CEO of The Dove Foundation? What led you to this decision? Do you have other interests you hope to pursue—filmmaking, perhaps?
Dick: There are several reasons I felt the time was right to pass the reigns to someone else. The new age of digital distribution requires special expertise of someone who has international brand marketing experience. My friend, Suzy Sammons, the incoming CEO, possesses an impressive background with that very skill set. And, at age 75, I have other items on my bucket list and precious time to accomplish them. After a period of R&R, I may consult— if asked—in the area of the nonprofit organizational development, or advising those who are developing faith and family films. I’d also like to write some (possibly a blog or op-ed column).
Miranda ~ What are you most grateful for—generally and right now?
Dick: I am most grateful to my Lord and Savior for keeping me on a short leash and for continuously helping me find my way when I get lost. He has been my inspiration in times of dryness, and my strength when I am weak. I am also grateful to my lovely wife, Mary, and the loyal staff at The Dove Foundation for allowing me the privilege of leading them down a path that had not previously been traveled.
Miranda ~ In recent times, new and more Christian organizations, websites, and movie studios have emerged, using the media, social media, and other online platforms to propagate the gospel through entertainment. What advice would you give to a person who believes they’ve been called by God to do this and are just starting out?
Dick: I’ve been studying the millennial generation recently. They claim to be putting their faith and trust in ideals and belief systems that are organic and authentic, two characteristics that are emblematic of the Christian faith. Now, it is up to the rest of us to share the Gospel message via filmed, digital, and social media with those two characteristics in mind.
THIS or THAT (The Fun Questions!)
Coffee or Tea? Coffee
Gym or Outdoor? Gym
Sneakers or Boots? Sneakers
Running or Walking? Walking
Cereal or Fruit? Hmmm, tough choice. I prefer Rice Krispies with sliced bananas.
Music or Books? Music
TV or Magazine? TV
Summer or Spring? Spring
Rain or Snow? Rain
Blazer or Leather jacket? Blazer
Thank you, Dick, for visiting today!
About Dick Rolfe
For the past 25 years Dick Rolfe has made Hollywood the focus of his work, building relationships with entertainment executives and filmmakers; encouraging them to create more movies that are suitable for family viewing. The organization’s DOVE SEAL of APPROVAL is recognized internationally as the trusted symbol of wholesome entertainment. Rolfe recently spearheaded the launch of DOVE CHANNEL, a new online streaming service featuring hundreds of faith-friendly and family-approved movies and TV series. Many are calling Dove Channel, “a family-friendly Netflix.”
In addition to his usual written monthly commentary, Rolfe has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, USA TODAY, Variety, Billboard, Hollywood Reporter, Premiere Magazine, Forbes, The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Financial Times. His national television appearances include NBC News, MSNBC, CNN, FOX News, Hollywood Reporter on Starz, Entertainment Tonight, and PBS’ Freedom Speaks.
Rolfe is a frequent conservative voice in prominent forums of debate; he has appeared as a panelist with such noted individuals as playwright, Neil Simon. Rolfe also addresses civic groups and churches around the country about the powerful influence of media on today’s society.
Prior to his work with The Dove Foundation, Rolfe held senior management positions in radio, television and magazine publishing. He produced a TV special, Hollywood’s Impact on Family Values, hosted by entertainment legend Steve Allen. He is executive producer of the feature film, Frontier Boys.
Rolfe has served on boards and advisory boards for 20th Century Fox’s FoxFaith division, Mott Children’s Hospital, Compass College of Cinematic Arts and The Business Roundtable (CBRT). He is also a member of Biola University’s Studio Taskforce.
He and his wife Mary live in West Michigan; not far from their three children, six grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.