As the media goes, so goes the nation, to borrow from the old adage.
The cultural influence of media—including movies, TV shows, and YouTube videos—is being felt with greater significance today than arguably any other time in history. James Fitzgerald founded ColdWater Media to promote the values so many Americans hold dear.
The political “left has done a really good job of building business models around indoctrinating our kids,” Fitzgerald says.
Fitzgerald uses film to explore some of the biggest issues and questions facing the culture today, covering topics ranging from history and philosophy to education and economics. He joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss the mission of ColdWater Media and some of the company’s latest projects, including a series sharing the history of all the American holidays.
Today’s show also features an interview with John Papola, the CEO, creative director, and co-founder of the media company Emergent Order. Papola explains how he uses rap, humor, and storytelling to communicate American values through film.
We also cover these stories:
- California Attorney General Rob Bonta says the state will no longer fund travel to Arkansas, Florida, Montana, North Dakota, or West Virginia, arguing that these states have taken harmful actions against the LGBT community.
- Los Angeles County asks that people wear masks indoors and in public places due to the spreading of the delta variant of the coronavirus.
- Lawmakers criticize U.S. athlete Gwen Berry for turning her back to the American flag during the singing of the national anthem at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
Virginia Allen: I’m so pleased to be joined by Jim Fitzgerald, the founder and president of ColdWater Media. Jim, thanks so much for being here.
Jim Fitzgerald: Oh, you bet.
Allen: So tell us a little bit about ColdWater Media and what you all do.
Fitzgerald: ColdWater Media got started in 2000, basically because my son came home from Bible class and said he thought it was boring, from his Christian school.
And at the time I had sold my previous company, I was looking for something to do. I’d been involved in the making of a couple of documentaries with a friend that I’d funded. He had a small production company. And I had learned a little bit about what the production business is all about.
And that was my son’s comment combined with my wife had given me a book, Chuck Colson, “How Now Shall We Live?” Which kind of opened my eyes to the concept of Christian worldview for the first time. And the combination of those two things inspired me to start a media company and create excellent media. I was not seeing a lot of excellent conservative, Christian media at the time.
Allen: Where does the name come from, ColdWater Media?
Fitzgerald: Well, it’s a combination of a number of things. I think my wife was getting a catalog from Coldwater Creek at the time, a clothing store.
Fitzgerald: And I thought, “Oh, that’s kind of an interesting combination of words.” And then the idea of throwing cold water on an old idea was appealing. And then also the Bible verse where it talks about giving a cup of cold water and that you won’t lose your salvation in the process.
So I thought it didn’t sound Christian-y and it just sounded like a good idea, so we did it. And we’ve gotten a lot of compliments since. So apparently it’s a good name.
Allen: It is a good name. No, it has a refreshing sound to it.
Allen: Of course, ColdWater.
Fitzgerald: Yeah, and it’s already in everybody’s brain, right?
Allen: Exactly. I love it. I love it.
Allen: So your son in many ways was the inspiration for the founding of the company. And obviously, you all make media that is often targeted toward a Christian audience. Also, I know American values are very important in the films you make. So talk a little bit about the types of projects that you all have done and the types of projects that you all aspire to do.
Fitzgerald: Well, the first project we did dealt with a subject of how Darwin and evolution is taught in school. And we did that in working closely with the Discovery Institute in Seattle.
The story at the time was a young teacher getting persecuted because he dared, kind of questioned some of the orthodoxy. And they didn’t have the term “canceled” back then in the late ’90s, early 2000, but that’s what they were doing to him for daring, even posing some questions about whether or not these things were true that were being taught.
And several of the things that were in the books that he was supposed to teach had since been really abandoned by even the most ardent Darwinists. Haeckel’s embryos—they decided that those were fraudulent pictures so why was he expected to teach that? That’s just one example.
Then we, not long after that, started the “Drive Thru History” series, which we’re still doing. We’re going to do our 100th show for the Fourth of July special that we’re doing.
And “Drive Thru History” is an opportunity to reinsert the Christian story and the conservative story back into history and have some fun with it along the way. We want it to appeal to the kids and … can turn into a complete family program that kids and parents can watch together and both enjoy.
Fitzgerald: And so we’ve covered many subjects with that. We started with ancient history because we knew that all kids had to study that. And then we went to American history and then we went to the Holy Land and the New Testament. And now we’re doing all the American holidays and telling the history of each of the holidays.
Allen: I love it.
Fitzgerald: And it’s been amazing. When we took that on, we just thought, “Oh, that’ll be nice.” And all of a sudden we realize every single holiday story is under attack, dramatically under attack, from Martin Luther King—which was the first one we did—to the Fourth of July is really in the gun sights of the left.
So what it’s turned into is a civics lesson through the telling of our important holidays and dates of remembrance. We’re doing 9/11, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day. We even did Valentine’s Day and told the story of that. But all of these things have become highly politicized and so it’s been an interesting exercise to do that.
Allen: When you say that you’re doing those projects, are those a 20-minute short film explaining things, is that an hour and a half? What does the format look like for these?
Fitzgerald: Most of our “Drive Thru History” shows are 26 minutes.
Fitzgerald: The specials that we’re doing on the holidays are, I think 50, 55 minutes.
Allen: That’s great.
Fitzgerald: They’re being broadcast on Trinity Broadcast Network. They’ve been our partner … since 2003. Wonderful.
And then we also turn all of these into a curriculum because we found out that homeschoolers were using them and they kept saying, “Why don’t you have a curriculum to go with this?” And we said, “Well, we’re not really in that business.” Well, now we are.
Allen: Now you are.
Fitzgerald: So we created curriculum to go with it and a complete streaming service to offer those.
Allen: That’s excellent. We know that media has a great influence on society, but how much credit do you think we should really give it? How big of a role truly does the media play in impacting what society looks like?
Fitzgerald: Well, I used to, since the advent of the smartphone, I used to every once in a while check in with how many hours a day are people using these devices. So, I did that again before coming here and they stopped putting hours to it. They just go, “OK, 95% of American teenagers have a smartphone and they use it constantly.” So it’s no longer eight or nine hours a day, which is what it used to be.
Fitzgerald: Now it’s just all the time, right?
Fitzgerald: So, is there a question as to whether conservatives should be involved in trying to connect … through that device?
Allen: Yeah. That’s so, so critical. If we’re all going to be on it, we have to be aware of what are our options, what do we actually have to consume. And if there’s nothing that’s really showing those positive values out there to consume, what do we expect to happen? That’s so, so critical.
Fitzgerald: Yeah. We’re not in the game. I mean, the other messages will either be neutral or against what we believe.
Allen: Yeah, yeah. I do think that some conservatives are hesitant to enter the media space because it is thought of as being so left-leaning.
Allen: Were you conservative when you decided, “OK, this is something that I really want to pursue”? And how did you kind of think through, “OK, I’m going to bring my values into this space”?
Fitzgerald: I’ve always been conservative. I never had a weird moment where I decided to leave the reservation, which I don’t know how that happened, but I had great parents. So I’ve always been kind of stunned at how little interest conservatives have had in that.
I understand the importance of books and classical teaching, and I believe in all of that, but I also believe that we’re all using these devices, we’re all connected, … we’re all consuming huge amounts of media.
And we’ve missed the boat on so many critical points in, and I won’t use the word evolution, in the advancement of technology or the change in the media landscape. I was in the cable TV business before I created ColdWater Media and conservatives missed the boat largely there. They could have had an amazing presence for not much money at that time.
And the other thing I would say that kind of drives me crazy is the fact that the left has done a really good job of building business models around indoctrinating our kids.
Fitzgerald: And they control the schools, and they control the media, and we pay for it on both sides of that. And so I think from Day One, it was important for us to figure out how to create business models so that we could be self-sustaining and not just rely on charitable efforts.
Allen: Yeah. So for young people or really anyone who’s thinking, “OK, I’m conservative, I have a passion for film or TV, or just the media space in general,” what would be your advice to them?
Fitzgerald: It would be to try a lot of things, because it’s probably not going to be obvious what your path is going to be. It’s going to be a lot of twists and turns along the way. And so if you really love it, you should be doing something with that every day, whether you’re getting paid for it or not.
I saw that passion with my own kids, mentioned to you that I’ve got two sons that have a media company together. And they were just putting friends together, out there creating photography sessions, making short films, always trying to figure out how to do it better and to do it creatively, whether they were getting paid to do it or not. And then they figured out how to monetize that later.
But I think that’s the big indication of whether or not it’s your passionate, is if you’re consumed with it.
Fitzgerald: But it’s not easy to just say, “Oh, go here and you’ll get a job doing this,” because it’s still being created in this conservative media landscape.
Allen: And what are the skill sets that individuals should really be pursuing? I mean, is there a greater need for people behind the cameras or directing, or all of the above?
Fitzgerald: I think the tendency has been to be a bit of a jack-of-all-trades. When we started, it was, and still in the movie business, if you’re looking at Hollywood, union, shop, everybody has their very specific task and they do large projects. And it’s important that everybody knows what they’re doing and does it quickly and well, but in the world that I operate in, pretty much everybody does a couple things.
Fitzgerald: And the host of “Drive Thru History,” Dave Stotts, was a camera guy first and then an editor and then he was so funny, I just said, “You need to be in front of the camera.” But he still edits the shows.
Fitzgerald: And so he’s been able to work out a good life where we’re out shooting in the field, traveling, having to do all that, but then he can be home a lot and edit.
Fitzgerald: And he long ago got over the weirdness of editing himself.
Allen: Yeah, yeah, just have to get over that.
Fitzgerald: Yeah, exactly.
Allen: So how can our listeners find all of the wonderful products that you produce, all of the series, how can they discover and follow your work?
Fitzgerald: … would be the two places to go.
Allen: Very, very simple.
Allen: Great. Well, Jim, thank you so much for your time. We really, really appreciate it and appreciate the work that you’re doing.
Fitzgerald: Thank you, Virginia.
Allen: It’s so important.
Fitzgerald: I appreciate you having me.
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