December 05, 2016

Man behind “Noah” survey: “We are not hired guns…”

NOAH Russell Crowe 600x315

By ROBERT W. WELKOS
Chris Stone, the Raleigh, N.C.-based strategic branding executive behind a faith-based survey that indicated a lack of Christian support for Paramount Pictures $125 million Biblical epic Noah on Tuesday denied that his agency is a stalking horse for any clients with a political agenda.

“We are not hired guns out there,” Stone told HollywoodNews. “…We did it (the survey) as an advocate for the (faith driven consumer) community.”

He also stressed that his company, the Stone Agency, is not doing the bidding of the Republican Party with its issues-oriented campaigns, like the recent one in which it spearheaded a petition-drive to pressure the cable station A&E to lift the ban on Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson for incendiary remarks he had made in GQ magazine.

“We advocate more on philosophical grounds than for political candidates…,” Stone explained, adding, “We have no contractual relationship with the GOP hierarchy.”

The Noah survey has not gone unnoticed in Hollywood, either.

“It was not designed as a scientific poll,” Stone told HollywoodNews in a telephone interview. “It was designed as a survey of a particular community.“ He noted that the tally was “4,800 to 101” and said that “a professional came up with that number.”

Stone stressed that the respondents weren’t specifically being critical of the film, which has yet to be released, but were saying “that doesn’t really resonate with me and, based upon that, I don’t have a significant interest in seeing it.”

Stone made his remarks before Paramount made public an internal research study challenging the trustworthiness of the Faith Driven Consumers survey, which was cited in an article posted on Variety.com.

The Hollywood Reporter on Tuesday said that Paramount took the unusual step of revealing internal studio research to counter the survey’s results.

“The survey question that had the 98 percent response rate did not contain any reference to the film Noah, despite the fact that the Variety reporting implied that it did,” THR quotes the internal research as stating.

“Nielsen’s National Research Group (NRG), the industry’s decades long standard for measuring prerelease tracking of feature films (and other entertainment offerings), is tracking Noah and has gauged, with still six weeks to go before the film’s release and from self-defined ‘very religious’ moviegoers, that 83 percent of those aware of Noah in the pre-release tracking have expressed interest in seeing the film,” the studio statement continues, according to THR.

In the controversy over Duck Dynasty, A&E initially suspended star Phil Robertson for remarks that outraged many, including gay activists. A&E had placed the show on hiatus after Robertson told GQ magazine that “it seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on , dudes!”

“When A&E came out and said we don’t agree with what Phil said…in essence, they were disenfranchising millions of faith driven consumers who had made that show on A&E the number one franchise,” Stone told HollywoodNews.

“What we did was, we put up a website… We didn’t email people but we engaged people in social media, we engaged traditional media, we engaged the community and said, ‘Hey, this is what’s going on and wrote an open letter to A&E.”

In the first 12 hours, Stone said, they had 65,000 people who signed the petition. In the first 24 hours, there were 125,000. By the time A&E lifted the ban, 266,000 people had signed the petition, Stone said.

“I never met Phil Robertson or the Robertson family, either,” Stone said, adding, ““Our job is to be a voice for the community.”

In the case of Noah, Stone said, they’ve been tracking the film for some time. He said there is concern among some Christians that the film does not reflect the “core message of the Bible.” And while the Bible does note that Noah enjoyed too much wine, he added, the Bible doesn’t address modern-day environmental issues like overpopulation and global warming as the movie does.

Stone described himself as a “serial entrepreneur” who founded not only Faith Driven Consumers but another organization called Fusion Strategies, Inc.

A press release that went out announcing the Faith Driven Consumers survey results listed Matthew Faraci as contact.

Faraci is executive director of Fusion Strategies and a veteran public affairs, communications and advocacy professional with wide experience in Washington, D.C.

Faraci has served as vice president for communications and marketing for the pro-life group, Americans United for Life; vice president for communications at the Council on Competitiveness; and, press secretary to former U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao in President George W. Bush’s administration.

Stone said “Noah is just part of what we’re doing” and that they have other Hollywood films they’re keeping tabs on this year. He noted that some are calling 2014 the year of the Biblical-themed movie in Hollywood.

About Robert W. Welkos

Executive Editor: Robert W. Welkos is an award-winning journalist who covered the entertainment industry for 15 years as a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times. During this span, he wrote extensively about the movie industry from turmoil in the executive suites, the Academy Awards and Golden Globes, and box office hits and bombs to visits to movie sets as well as profiles of top stars and A-list directors, cutting edge features on the newest indie films and visits to famous film festivals like Sundance and Cannes. Prior to entertainment, Welkos worked as a reporter and assistant city editor in The Times’ Metro section where he undertook major investigations for the paper as well as covering breaking news and writing in-depth features. Before joining The Times, he worked for the Associated Press in Reno, Nevada, and City News Service in Los Angeles.

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