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Thursday, February 19, 2004
WHAT I WOULD DO WITH A LOT OF MONEY

At a dinner the other night, someone (who is probably tired of hearing me whine about the fact that I hate perpetually having to raise funds for Act One) asked me, "If you had a hundred million dollars, what would you do with it?" Like it's a surprise question. Every non-profit with a vision worth its salt spends many bemused hours imagining what it would be like to be a ministry that didn't have to have its start in Bethlehem. Anyway, here's what I would do....

1. Fire me. And hire somebody who would know how to manage $100,000,000 dolars. I have spent most of my life in the non-profit world and have witnessed well-meaning people take in one dollar through the front door and then blow .90 of it out the back door in bad management and business planning. We are very careful at Act One, but basically because we have been so small we haven't had the luxury of discretionary spending errors. But seriously...

2. Build a beachhead for the Church in Hollywood. We've been calling it the Schall Center in our dreams, after our dear departed David Schall who founded so many of the best things the People of God have going in Hollywood. This would be a smart, hip, inter-denominational center to serve the needs of the creative and professional community from a Christian perspective.

One of the things we have learned with our Act One alumni community is that you can not have real community with physical proximity. You also have to have your own house to be free to do what you need to do. As long as we are the tenants of churches, we are held back by what I can only describe as clerical bureaucracy and small-minded pastoral vision. Churches and religious communities are terribly limited in the good they can do, because they are always short-circuited by self-interest and chain of authority issues. "How will a program in Washington help our church here in Hollywood?" "How many people will join our church if we hold this conference?" "What if someone stands up at an event and says something our church doesn't officially agree with?" "We need our community to get the credit for this." etc. etc. etc.

Our Christian beachhead in Hollywood will include;

A) Classrooms for the Act One training programs which will be expanded beyond the Writing for Hollywood program, to include an Executive Program, a Producing in Hollywood program and a Directing in Hollywood program. Maybe eventually something for actors too, although our mandate is to reach out to those who can affect content.

B) A conference center in which the Church can host seminars and forums and think-tanky kinds of things on all the stuff that is important to us (ethics, spirituality, beauty, meaning) and to the industry (craft, marketing, networking). Again, it has to be hip and cool or they won't come.

C) An artists chapel. It would have to be inter-denominational. If we can find some group of religious priests to run it, we can also have the Blessed Sacrament there. The idea is to make a special place of prayer for artists, and for non-artists to come to pray for artists. I already have my muralist chosen to come up with images that express the transcendent power of each of the art forms. Check out painter Lisa Brown.

D) Offices for pastoral counseling and spiritual direction for the people in the entertainment industry.; We're going to need well-trained pastoral counselors by which I mean they combine spiritual direction with psychological insight. So many desperate people in this town are in therapy with people who are essentially materialists. We need to offer OUR KIND of help. Family counseling to those whose career decisions are wreaking havic in their kids and marriages; Vocational discernment to help individuals figure out if they are supposed to be in this biz, and where in the biz they are called; Ethical sounding boards for those who want to talk about business and creative pressures; Spiritual guides to help artists embrace their cross and carry it to holiness. Also, somebody in the Church has to do something for the young artists ravaged by the porn industry. We need a whole bunch of programs to minister to this most dark industry which is bigger than Hollywoodin economic and cultural terms. (Anybody looking to start a new religious community? Do I hear the Brothers of Purity? Please call or write...)

E) Housing for those young people who are transitioning to L.A. who need a place to land when they first get to town. These will also be used to house the students who come from all over the world to attend our training programs.

F) A state of the art 500 seat theater in which to screen, premiere and celebrate projects that the Christian community can get behind. We need to have a place that is fit for premieres to rival the theaters at the industry Guilds and Academies. We can host film festivals. Basically, it will serve as a powerful affirmation tool. Celebrate what is good as a teaching method.

G) A production and script library, a sound studio and creative spaces for our young artists to study, learn and practice. We can rent out the sound studio as a way of making more connections with other people in the industry.

H) Provide office space to the myriad of wonderful Christian ministries in L.A. that are currently operating out of homes, church basements and college closets. Premise, LAFSC, Open Call, Inter-Mission, Hollywood Connect, Hollywood Prayer Network, Actors Co-op, Media Fellowship International, City of the Angels Film Festival, reel Spirituality -- none of these have a real place to get mail and hold meetings. If we could move under one roof, we could stop duplicating efforts. (Of course, we'd have to be careful not to kill each other too. 'When two or three are gathered in my name, there is antipathy in the midst of them.")

I) A coffee shop for people to meet at all hours, to drop in and find fellowship and smart discussions. It could also be a first employment place for those young artists who are just getting off the bus and on their feet.

Okay, that's the vision. You can keep on whining and thumb-sucking and crying foul at Hollywood, or you can show me the money.