With a list of projects that include X-Men, Star Trek 3 and Planet of the Apes One of the most prolific, consistently successful and well-respected producers in Hollywood is Ralph Winter.
In an interview with radio commentator Dick Staub, Winter commented on the role of the producer in Hollywood movies. “In the feature film business, the person who gets to get up and gets the award for Best Picture is the producer,” Winter said. “So, in feature films, that is the highest level. The producer is really the champion. They’re the one that holds the flag up from the very beginning to get the material, get the financing, all the way from acquiring and finding the story, recognizing it, delivering it, and now through all the venues from home video and merchandising and licensing. A lot of my job is waving pom poms and keeping the team going and inspiring them to do their job.”
Whether you prefer action movies, science fiction epics, comedies, family movies, comic book stories, or Christian films like Left Behind, chances are Ralph Winter has made a movie for you. From science fiction epics like Star Trek and Planet of the Apes to low-budget films like Hangman’s Curse, Winter’s expertise truly spans every size and genre of films. And as one of the most influential Christians making movies today, Winter truly enjoys his job.
“The best part of the job is really the opening night screenings, watching an audience react and enjoy the movie the way you designed it,” Winter said. “This kind of work involves a lot of travel, so I’ve been able to travel all over the world. It’s a fun deal, making little movies, half a million, $2 million movies, as well as making $120 million dollar movies.”
In terms of helping to educate and network with Christian filmmakers, Winter is deeply involved in a number of groundbreaking circles. He lends his time as a judge for the spiritually focused Damah Film Festival, as a staff member at Act One: Writing for Hollywood (a Christian screenwriting school), as a regular speaker at Christian entertainment conferences, universities and seminaries, and as a friend to numerous ministries, including The Veracity Project.
He also doles out wisdom in large doses for those ambitious Christian filmmakers who hope to tell stories on the giant screen. Whether he’s speaking to a large crowd of people, lecturing in a classroom, or on the phone one-on-one, Winter gives it to you straight.
“What is always going to make a way in Hollywood is talent,” Winter said. “There’s lots of people that have high ideals, but do you have the talent? Can you tell a story, can you direct, can you do makeup, can you do whatever field it is you want to do? And can you do that at a level that gets attention?”
Winter himself has spent years perfecting the art of producing, and he’s gotten a lot of attention along the way.
Winter never intended to be a filmmaker. After graduating from UC Berkeley as a history major, he fell into a job where he made videos for a chain of Broadway department stores. The chain had approximately 50 stores in five states comprised of more than 5,000 employees, and they used training videos to standardize their processes. It was there that Winter was first introduced the medium of film and video on the creative filmmaking side, and in the midst of the job, he discovered that he had a knack for it.
“I made about 50 industrial training, customer service videos for the stores, and I learned a lot about filmmaking and telling stories and having fun,” Winter said. “Once I got in at the Broadway and started to gain those skills, I started to make little short programs for the church, for the kids Vacation Bible School or the mission trip to Mexico, or the Stewardship campaign, or the vision and purpose of why the church needs to change the goals statement.”
Throughout his life, Winter has been deeply involved in the Church. He acted in a number of church plays and musicals, including Godspell, in which he played John the Baptist, and a Narnia presentation that saw him playing the part of Aslan. His deep booming voice is naturally suited to theater, and he confirmed that the thrill of acting was always the audience reaction, something that carried over to his work in Hollywood.
Even when he began making videos and short films for the Church, Winter said it was inspiring to create something that affected the life of the Church body. Now that Winter is a well-established Hollywood powerhouse, one might think he’d have less time to get involved with church life, but this is not the case. These days, Winter leads his own small group to discuss film issues at Glendale Presbyterian Church, where he has been a member for years.
Later in his career, while working in postproduction at Paramount, Winter met and got to know a number of filmmakers, directors and others—relationships that eventually helped land him his first big movie job as an associate producer on Star Trek 3.
“[When I] moved out to be an associate producer on Star Trek 3, having worked closely with them on Star Trek 2, I was sort of off and running,” Winter said.
After making Star Trek 3, Winter continued to get to know the industry—but it didn’t take long; in a very short amount of time, his resumé morphed into a very long rap sheet of big time Hollywood movies.
But because he has made Hollywood his career and mission field, Winter hasn’t made it through unscathed. Along the way, he has taken flack from other Christians who have criticized him just for working in Hollywood, an industry dismissed as impure by some in the Church. “[Some Christians] think if you’re not making movies about Jesus or the end times, what good are you?” Winter said.
Even though Winter has even helped produce several Christian movies—even one that deals with end times—he still gets criticism from time to time.
“People were coming up to me and asking, ‘How can you say you’re a Christian but make a movie like X-Men or Planet of the Apes, which implies evolution?’” Winter told one interviewer. “And with the movie Hocus Pocus, people were saying, ‘How can you call yourself a Christian, but make a movie about three witches and a talking cat?’ But, what I tell them is to look at the movie … look at how the young man in the movie was willing to lay down his life to save another, and look at how at the end, evil—the witches were destroyed. Are these not Christian principles? I have absolutely zero patience for that stuff.”
When talking to another interviewer, Winter echoed the sentiment, but employed another classic reply. “I always ask this one question: Did Jesus surround himself with R-rated people or not?” You would think that would shut up the majority of his critics. In the meantime, Winter will continue to do what he does best. His mission field as a follower of Christ is Hollywood. And he has some very specific ideas about what Christians need to do to impact people’s lives and change culture through the medium of film.
“Don’t write stuff and produce stuff about answers—don’t do that,” Winter said. “Write stuff and produce stuff that will stir up cravings inside of us, because that’s the DNA that God’s put inside of us. You stir that stuff up, and that’s where [people] want to go to church. That’s when they want to talk about the good news. That’s when they want to find out, How do you get through this? How do you do this? And when we stir up those cravings, we can point them to the other resources, and we can share that good news with them.”