Long before many U.S. homes even had a simple VHS tape player, Patty Leonard knew there would someday be a booming industry for home video.
So she went into the business herself, packaging and distributing videos in the fledgling market. She partnered with Avon to target women and with ESPN to target men, and she included plenty of children's videos in the mix as well. Business was booming.
But it wasn't until she became a mom herself that Leonard stopped to really think about the content of the product she was peddling—and she realized that not all of it was "family-friendly." She took a few years off to focus on motherhood, but in the fall of 2005, she experienced what she says was an "epiphany with Jesus" and decided to go back into the business—this time offering only videos that were not only wholesome, but ripe fodder for family discussion.
Thus was born Family Values Cinema, a DVD-of-the-month club designed by moms for moms. For the price of $21.95 per month, FVC delivers two new videoa each month to your home—for keeps; this is not a rental club. The monthly package also includes a family discussion guide and bonus material with clean comedy acts.
The films are reviewed and approved by a team of a dozen mothers—who watch literally hundreds of films before culling them down to a dozen a year for the club—and then later given the Dove Foundation's family-friendly seal of approval. On the FVC website, Leonard says she is focusing on finding films "that affirm the values of faith in God and family that serve as the foundation of a strong nation."
We recently chatted with Leonard about her background and motives for launching FVC.Tell me a little about your history in the home video business?Patty Leonard: I've owned a couple of home video distribution companies. I started when I was just 25 years old, a company called SI Video which distributed children's videos, classic television, documentaries, fitness, hobbies and travel—basically anything that wasn't a major feature film release. At the time, VCR penetration was in its infancy; probably only 4-5 percent of American homes had a VCR. And as the video industry grew, it was really designed as a rental business; the heads of the home video companies never thought it would be a sell-through business, and they certainly never thought it would surpass box office.So I started out by offering these titles to consumers in four-color beautiful slick catalogs. I thought if I could get these into homes, they'd make great gifts for families. We also partnered with ESPN and did a sports video catalog. It was a fun business, and we were very successful. That lasted six years.Then what?Leonard: About that time, I noticed that women were not buying VHS tapes; men were clearly the buyers. I thought if I could just get inside a woman's home and show her that it's a lot easier to make a soufflé if she could watch it as opposed to read about it, then I might be able to convince her that VHS tapes are her friend, and that the VCR is not an enemy.Long before there was such thing as The Food Network?Leonard: Exactly. But how could I get that into a lot of homes on VHS? I went to Avon in New York and I pitched my idea for what would be Avon's home entertainment business. They agreed and we were off and running. We started with about six titles in every one of their 52-week campaigns. We had children's titles, holiday-themed titles. We were enormously successful from day one. We ended up in 56 countries. That went well for a while, but then I got out of the home video distribution business when my daughter was born about 13 years ago.How did you get from there to what you're doing now?Leonard: I had what I'm calling a "Jesus epiphany" in September 2005. I was at the Faith and Values Media Conference, and they talked about how The Passion of The Christ and The Chronicles of Narnia had been marketed to churches, and that churches were in it not for anything financial, but for community outreach. In that moment that I thought, This is what I need to do.Family titles—unless they were from a major studio—were not something that the Blockbusters and Hollywood Videos were taking in. I also knew from being a mom how difficult it is to find great films with great messages. I thought about all the films I was aware of that were not in active release. I thought, if I could go back, cultivate those relationships, and bring those films out to families—specifically, films that have positive messages—we'd have something.I also thought about how conversations are sorely lacking at the dinner table, so maybe we could incorporate a family discussion guide with these movies, with questions to point out the value of the film and its messages. I knew some educators who could help us write some good discussion guides for each of the films.Why is this a good thing for parents?Leonard: Parents want the best for their children, but a lot of them don't have time to watch the film first. We have a rule of thumb: We watch it before [our daughter] Haley watches it. But that's not the rule in most households; they read what the critics say and they don't go any further than that. We provide a service where we take all of the work out of it for them, because we have a council of review moms that watch the movies first, then their children watch them, then they grade them. The ones that come back with A's are the ones that are submitted to the Dove Foundation for their seal of approval. So it's basically triple-filtered—moms watch it, then the children watch it, and then it goes to Dove. I'd say for every hundred films we watch, maybe four or five get through the review process.What are you looking for in a film?Leonard: Quality is important, not just the message. We are here to provide films that have positive messages, but if it's not entertaining and well made, it defeats the purpose because they won't want to watch the next one. So the quality and the production value are important to us.I recognize a few of the titles you've used in the club so far—like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Where the Red Fern Grows. But I don't recognize most of the titles—like A Bear Named Winnie, Blue Fire Lady, Grizzly Falls, Kayla, and more?Leonard: They're mostly festival and independent films, plus some classics—classics, meaning films we grew up with. I'm 50.Is that because you can't afford to include today's blockbusters—and keep your price reasonable?Leonard: No, it's not that at all. If a film is readily available, then whether it's on Amazon or Netflix or at Wal-Mart, parents are going to have them anyway. So we're looking for films that are not readily available that are great films. I mean there's only so many times that you're going to have your daughter watch The Princess Diaries.What age of children are you trying to reach?Leonard: About 6 to 12. But the reason we have the moms watch the films as well is that we want movies adults will enjoy too. Our criteria is, if the mom's not going to sit through it and enjoy it, we don't want to provide it. So you could say our age range is 6 to 80 because we want the film to be nice for your grandparents too—and not a chore, because there are some children's films that it's kind of a chore to sit through.And we completely understand that parents are not always going to sit and watch these movies. That's why we provide a family discussion guide, so if the parents don't have the time to watch, they don't have to.Are you saying parents can use the discussion guides without watching the movie, to just round up the kids to discuss a movie that Mom and Dad haven't even watched?Leonard: Yes, they could.Isn't that encouraging laziness on the parents' part?Leonard: No. That's just reality in families today, especially if both parents work. If Family Values Cinema sent a couple of movies, and I've got to take one child to a piano lesson and another to soccer, I can say, "Here's dinner, the older one is going to watch the younger one, why don't you guys watch that film?" That's what I'm talking about. In our home, my husband and I watch the films before our daughter does, but I don't know a lot of parents that do that.You say the Dove Foundation plays a role in your approval process, but I don't understand their criteria for approving movies. Have you seen Millions?Leonard: Yes.We voted that the most redeeming movie of 2005. Yet Dove didn't give Millions its seal of approval because of one profanity. And yet they gave their "family-friendly" nod to X-Men: The Last Stand, which has nudity and violence; Glory Road, which has bad language and violence; and Prairie Home Companion with its raunchy humor. All to say, are their criteria enough for you to say, "OK, I'm going to include that movie in our club"?Leonard: No, the real criteria comes from the moms, absolutely. And the moms don't know each other—they're 12 moms in different cities. It makes it a bit of a chore for us, but they're really fabulous. They all have children between 4 and 14.The club obviously doesn't include R-rated movies. What about PG-13?Leonard: No.PG would be the highest rating?Leonard: Yep. Let's call it the equivalent highest rating, because a lot of these don't have NPAA ratings.You've said that part of your motivation for doing this club was to "give back." To whom?Leonard: Churches and non-profit organizations like MOPS; we give almost 25 percent of our gross back to these types of organizations. I want this business to be valuable to families and valuable for their churches, and valuable to organizations that benefit the wholesome welfare of the family unit. So this is a very small way for me to give back and to help, short of my going out and becoming a missionary.
To learn more about Family Values Cinema, check their official website.© Peter T. Chattaway 2007, subject to licensing agreement with Christianity Today International. Click for reprint information.