The creators of world-famous MGM Studios obviously thought having a live, roaring lion opening every one of their movies did not pack enough punch. They added a motto — and in Latin, nonetheless — to add gravitas: Ars Gratis Artis (“Art for Art’s Sake”). That may sound altruistic, but the reality of the motion picture industry will always be its commitment to the “industry” part of the “art,” and the profit and loss column. 

MGM celebrates its centennial this year and there are now more production companies than there are stars in the heavens. With exponential growth in filmmaking technology, one no longer requires a giant bankroll to make films or fund an ongoing production company. You still need to raise money, but many small production houses have made an art out of that alchemy. Along with this tide have risen many “faith-based” media entities. The results have been mixed — some bad and some good.

The bad: The production of some religious films with dubious theology or clunky filmmaking. The good: Men and women with a strong commitment to the faith, and with substantial amounts of talent, have an opportunity to express that faith in an artful and infectious way to a large swath of the movie-going public.

Enter 4PM Media/10th Hour Productions, a faith-based media company founded by Jack and Jaimie McAleer. After a successful corporate life and a conversion to the Catholic faith, the McAleers felt called to use their time and talents toward something bigger than a profit/loss spreadsheet. They wanted to help spread the message of the faith through storytelling and high-quality production.

Their son-in-law Dan Johnson, with a lifelong love of film, felt especially called to be part of the company and is its creative driving force.

When I saw the documentary “My Father’s Father,” which Dan directed and co-produced along with the program’s host Father Dave Pivonka, I knew I wanted to know more about him and his company. Unlike MGM, where if I wanted to interview the guy at the security gate, I’d have to find an inside connection, Dan was just an email introduction away.

My first impression of Dan during the Zoom meeting that followed was that if you saw him on the red carpet at the Academy Awards, you would surmise he was the second assistant electrician in charge of changing light bulbs. That is a compliment, by the way.

Currently, the productions — streamed for free on Wild Goose TV — are aimed at a Catholic audience. This is not “preaching to the choir.” With polls showing so many self-identified Catholics with little or no understanding of the Real Presence, marketing the content of 4PM Media/10th Hour Productions to parishes across the nation makes sense.

Other films — like a documentary on Venerable Jerome Lejeune, the scientist who identified the chromosome responsible for Down syndrome and then spent the rest of his life defending life — will find a voice. Dan’s plan for the company is to create more documentary-style content and segue into narrative storytelling.

The better news is there are Dan Johnsons all over the country — men and women in film schools, studying media in places like John Paul the Great Catholic University in Escondido, where future filmmakers will come and make their mark.

The challenge is daunting, and the overwhelming power and wealth of the vast majority of movie-making machinery worldwide is not friendly to faith-based values. The odds are long, but the faith is mighty.

Dan Johnson has something going for himself and his fledgling film company that all the executives who ever sat in the MGM boardroom likely never had. Those men only had the bottom line and their ability to manipulate and control all the forces of the industry at their disposal. Dan Johnson has the Holy Spirit to guide him. 4PM Media has no majestic carnivore for their company mascot, but they do have a motto. In Latin it sounds profound: Occursus Exsuscito Inspirare. It’s not so bad in English either: “Encounter Awaken Inspire.”