Wednesday, September 29, 2004

TWO STORIES ABOUT NOT GETTING IT

It's "Starting Out in Hollywood 101" class. Here are two questions for the final exam based on real events that have happened to me in the last month.

A) Scenario: A moderately wealthy Christian from some homey place in flyover, decides enough is enough. Without even waiting to buy a white horse and shining armor, he swings into Los Angeles and starts taking meetings with anybody who will listen to him. "It's time for things in the entertainment industry to change," he proclaims with a sincere sense of mission. "No more banging on doors at the studios and networks. We need to stop begging and find creative new ways for Christians to make entertainment!"

Do you agree, why or why not?

B) Scenario: A young woman, with the ink barely dry on her Comm Studies degree from a small Christian college, is certain that God has called her to change television. With a boldness - some might call it gall - borne of religious conviction, she attends a Christian fellowship event, intent on making a connection with a famous, successful, and recenlty Emmy nominated television show-runner. While the everyone at the event is eating dinner, the TV writer wanna-be makes her way to the head table, kneels beside the show-runner and, after a few words of intense flattery, announces, "I am a Christian writer and have real talent. I'm ready to come on board your show and support you in what you are trying to do. Can you tell your agent to take a call from my agent about setting up a meeting for me?"

Is this a stunning coup or professional suicide? Why or why not?

Okay, class. Grades time.

If you think that either of these two Christians has hit upon a winning strategy for cultural renewal, you flunk.

If you think this kind of approach is bold instead of self-defeatingly stupid, you flunk and get expelled.

If any part of you feels the least bit of admiration for them and wishes more Christians would follow suit, you flunk, get expelled and will have your name smeared around our imaginary campus in the most rapacious graffiti.


NOTHING CREATIVE ABOUT CUTTING CORNERS

The first example occurred two weeks ago. A very well-meaning and godly man with pastoral credentials, arrived in Hollywood zealous to fix things here fast. I sat in a room with the leaders of four other Christian entertainment ministries, as the man proclaimed with a Moses-like light radiating off his face, that what was needed to fix the culture is ways around the networks' and studios' system.

He went on to suggest a few of his creative ideas...

...We should put out a national call for the most-talented Christian kids in colleges everywhere. We should get a thousand of them to submit to a kind of talent testing contest, and then choose the top twenty to come to Hollywood. Then, we put them all in a room, and have them come up with new ideas for television shows.

[response of Christian ministry leaders with glazed eyes: "Uh, no."]

...We should allocate a cable station, and start lighting Christian theater company productions for broadcast. Eventually, talented Christians everywhere will know that they have a place to air their own kind of programming!

[response of CML's with a kind of horror, "Oh, no..." (and the follow-up, "Have you heard of PAX?)]

...We should have a script contest to find the best projects "out there" and then work on getting them produced.

[response of CML's, "There is no there out there."]

Let's get to the bottom of the errors in this man's thinking. We DON'T need "creative ways" for Christians to find success in Hollywood. We need to do it THE way. We need to do what everybody has to do, just as well, and arguably even better. It takes time, lots of it. It takes paying our dues. There won't be anything sneaky or clever about it. The cleverness must all be in our work.


FAVORS ARE FOR PARTIES, NOT CAREERS

It isn't "bold" to be absurd. The young female writer in example two may indeed be talented, I don't know, but she read a stupid book somewhere that told her getting in people's faces is the way into Hollywood. It isn't. And the problem is, trying to bully your way in by playing "the Christian card" with a fellow believer, is the biggest red-flag you can wave in the Christian community of Hollywood. It freaks us all out. The weird sense of entitlement that we find in so many Christians who arrive here every day is shockingly disrespectful.

It's like, imagine if I was a great neuro-surgeon at Mass General, and one day, you, say a junior high school teacher, met me at a lunch counter. And suppose you said, "Hey, I heard you were a Christian. So am I. We need more Christians in medicine, so I decided I'm gonna do it. Can you get me into doing some brain surgery tomorrow?"

No, I'm not being facetious. It's eggzackly like that.

This happened the other night at the Barbara Hall event at Inter-Mission. In the end, this particular young writer not only blew it with Barbara, who was - God love her - just resignedly bemused at being accosted over her salmonn and spinach, but then, she accosted me afterward for shutting down the assault. After I had quietly informed her that dinner was not the place to pitch our guest, she persisted trying to get a promise of help from Barb, until I finally said, "Please stop. We don't do that here." So, after dinner, the young writer waited around to inform me with holy indignation that I had violated her, and that she was only trying to do Jesus' bidding. She questioned me with narrow eyes, 'And whose cause are YOU trying to promote?!"

I tried to tell her that no show-runner, ever, ever, ever, would agree to call their agent for an unknown, unrecommended writer who appeared kneeling and flattering at a banquet table, but she wouldn't hear me. She actually accused me of not having faith in God's power.


I share these stories by way of catharthis, and to point out that the mistakes surrounding the Therese movie are not unique to a few orthodox Catholics. We Christians have a lot of learning, and quite a bit of repenting to do before we get anywhere in the arts.

119 comments:

Christy said...

It is a bummer to have to bust well-meaning people's balloons, but a good dose of realism might actually help them avoid further misdirection. Because I also work in the creative world, I've been in similar busting situations and it's always a drag. You did the right thing, Barb. The Christian thing.

Eileen said...

Great post, Barbara.

Scripturally speaking, didn't Jesus tell us to be like Him? And since He was a servant, wouldn't *that* be the model we ought to follow? Being haughty and believing ourselves superior surely does nothing to advance that kingdom of God and only adds to the stereotype Hollywood already has.

Anonymous said...

(Posted by: Jason)

What would you say of someone like Mother Angelica? She started EWTN with, literally, no experience. I think she said she had $200 in her pocket and went from there. I don't think Mother Angelica's success with EWTN can be attributed to anything by God's favor. But is it not proof that it can happen? Maybe it takes a great Saint to do it. Who knows.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, this is Exhibit A of the kind of post where I see Barb's point, and agree w/ it, but her tone and so on send me straight into anarcho-contrarian-curmudgeon mode:

-comparing screenwriting/etc. to brain surgery, in dead ernest, for any rhetorical purpose, is a surefire turnoff to anyone NOT currently in screenwriting/etc.

-And although I agree w/ Barb's parable of the two greenhorns and the point, I don't sympathize w/ the idea that all Christians interested in showbiz should aspire to be the next Barbara Hall (ie, nice, mainstream person w/ conventional, mainstream career path). What's wrong, eg, w/ aspiring to be the next Robert Rodriguez?

-arag.

Anonymous said...

I agree with arag. Not all of us are privileged enough to know how to best start out in the industry. I agree these people were misguided but that's no reason to castigate them.

The Hopper said...

I agree with Barb almost completely--I really believe that a Christian screenwriting contest is in order, but not another cheeseball "give me 50 bucks and I'll see you later." When I was in film school, I won an award from a science foundation for writing about a scientist.

The only reason I wrote about science was because I knew the grant existed at my school. (And now I feel obligated to encouraging the positive portrayal of scientists in other scripts)

There was another contest, only for the best 2 treatments--for stories that showed the devastating power of addiction. (It was only $1000 yet everyone I knew submitted)

These were annual competitions and everyone knew about them and participated. No fees, no scams, just students working overtime to writing something that might be their first paycheck.

If the same existed for "stories promoting spirituality" or whatever, I guarantee three results:
1) The Christian kids would find out they're not alone. It wasn't until my senior year I realized there was a good sized handful of us, maybe 10-30 percent.
2) It would start spiritual discussions within the USC, UCLA, NYU, AFI classes.
3) Faculty have to read spiritual scripts instead of the prositute, porn producer, and gay romatic comedies that seemed really popular in my class.

Act One is a great thing, but there are still the Christians that will go the traditional route for whatever reason. Encouraging them is another great ministry.

Sorry about this long comment, but this is a way I feel Christians can truly transform the entertainment industry--and I wish the support had been there for me!

C.R. Duck said...

Any industry has rules of engagement. If you want to work in that arena, you learn both the rules and the etiquette of that world.

Why would a novice in any profession, give work-related direction to a seasoned professional? I've spent some years in both the high-tech and medical industries, and have never seen a novice being taken seriously by using a demanding approach. Why would being Christian change this?

Expect to pay your dues in any profession and if God wants to save you a step, He'll let you know by the grace He grants. Really, most of what God calls any of us to do is pretty difficult. Doing God’s work always costs something.

I love these mainstream film and TV industry blogs written by Christians. Reading the info will undoubtedly save me some embarrassment of looking stupid because I'm not experienced.

May God help me to listen to the wisdom of my teachers.

Bubbles the Terrible said...

And that, ladles and germs, is why a movie like "Saved!" got greenlighted.

Wendy said...

I agree with Barbara and the Duck. C.S. Lewis said "We don't need more Christian writers, we need more writers who are Christian." As a writer who is a Christian and who works the system it is embarassing to have to tell young Christian writers that they actually have to work. I have one nagging me now who could be a good writer if she can get rid of the idea that every word she types is God ordained. And if her ego could take a little constructive critisim. You can't invoke the name of God like a talisman and have it all happen for you instantly.

Anonymous said...

I think the other Anonymous misunderstood what I was trying to say. I think Barb's two "greenhorns" deserve everything she dishes out at their expense, but I also think Barb's passion for her own line of work leads her to insist (or appear to insist) that EVERYONE fit into the pigeonholes of what she considers respectable mainstream media work. If a Christian beats the odds and sells a script to the "Dead Zone" under Michael Piller's open-submission policies, what's wrong w/ that? If a Christian succeeds on the indie film circuit, what's wrong w/ that? I think Barb focuses on the subjects and career paths that she does, because they're what she knows and what she feels she can help ppl w/, but at the same time she runs the risk of appearing dismissive of people whose talents don't tend that way.

And like I tried not to say last time: the line of work under discussion ISN'T brain surgery. It appears a combination of business networking, logistical planning and creative collaborative writing-all very challenging stuff, but comparing it to the supreme stereotype of Really Hard, Esoteric and Socially Important Work (ie, brain surgery) is an open invitation to ridicule.

Lee: I think Barb's feelings on "contests" and those of the other people who were put off by the idea are influenced by Project Greenlight, which is considered by many to be entertaining and educational "reality tv" but has not produced any noteworthy films so far.

-arag.

Anonymous said...

This was a great read! And what an insane story.

Barb, all your posts should be like this. It was informational, funny, and opened a discussion on 1) writing, 2) film, 3) the industry and 4) beginners. That challenges us to think.

It wasn't about 1) politics, 2) Catholicism vs. Protestantism or 3) films that you don't like. Why waste time talking about what we know you think, and what we alreayd made up our minds over??

Keep posting stuff like this - it's making us think, but now we're thinking AFTER you bring it up for discussion, and we haven't already brought loads of political baggage to the table.

Barbara said...

With all due gratitude for those of you who stop by to read here, have you heard my cover of the classic '60's tune....

"It's my web-log
And I'll post what I want to!"

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Barb, we noticed :). But if you don't want feedback about what people like, dislike, and disagree w/ in your posts, disable squawkbox. C'est simple :P

Brennan said...

Quote:

"Barb, all your posts should be like this. It was informational, funny, and opened a discussion on 1) writing, 2) film, 3) the industry and 4) beginners. That challenges us to think.

It wasn't about 1) politics, 2) Catholicism vs. Protestantism or 3) films that you don't like. Why waste time talking about what we know you think, and what we alreayd made up our minds over??"

Barbara, please keep posting on all the above subjects. None of us should be so close minded that we can't submit to reasoned arguments. Your posts on all the above subjects have been intelligent and engaging. Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Such discursive erudition is setting you on the brink of marginalization, Barbara. Whereas your criticsm of these zealous Christian writers is rightfully due, you neglect to see the true way of cultural renewal - speaking of the world of art in general. Perhaps Hollywood has put its lean into the sway of a former nun who began at the impressive Paulist productions? Not to beshrew your blogmosphere, but time will reveal your malformed mission as nothing more than another opportunist writer waiting in the wings for that "big deal". But then again, that's how it works, right?

Anonymous said...

Robert Diaz

Quoting (Posted by: Jason)
"
What would you say of someone like Mother Angelica? She started EWTN with, literally, no experience. I think she said she had $200 in her pocket and went from there. I don't think Mother Angelica's success with EWTN can be attributed to anything by God's favor. But is it not proof that it can happen? Maybe it takes a great Saint to do it. Who knows."

I'm sorry, but Mother Angelica is a bad example. She used to do small words of encouragement spots on CBS until they decided to air an anti-Catholic movie. She already had some connections when she started EWTN, even if she had very little money. What Barbara is saying is that it's not right to go and try to push your way into a business without paying your dues.

Anonymous said...

i didn't mean to misunderstand you arag...in fact I don't think I did...I just added my two cents in at the end which was a different point.
There are many different ways to try to get things accomplished and some are better than others. But I don't think it's worth dragging other people through the mud just because they don't know the right way to approach people. Social and professional skills can be learned. What can't be taught is the passion for good art, and it seemed to me that these misguided folks had that.

Barbara said...

To the most recent Anonymous:

Actually, if the two people in my post had "passion for good art" I would have beenmore merciful to them. But they impressed me as having passion for their own agendas - the first guy, for "the dominance of the Christian worldview" and the secon lady for her own career ambition.

Art seemed to me to occupy very little time in either individual's consciousness.

Sarah said...

As someone who has attended InterMission since its inception (I think I've only missed a handful of the quarterly programs - and that was during the period I was serving on our church's Board of Deacons), I'm familiar with the atmosphere of the second anecdote.

What disturbs me is that Miss I-Have-Been-Called could even *assume* that anyone attending the gathering, let alone being the MC of the evening, would have any other agenda than serving the Lord. That of itself displayed an unhealthy blindness.

I'm not going to knock people who think they are called to be in the entertainment business. I'm not going to knock people who have their hearts set on serving the Lord in Hollywood. But when they arrive in town, and don't take the time to find out the basics (as in, for instance, does Barbara Hall at this time even *need* a right-hand believer helper who is Hollywood-clueless), I'm not sure that person understands what God does expect of us.

But the worst thing is the sense of entitlement. God loves their willing hearts, to be sure. But, so far as I know, He doesn't guarantee any of us "worldly success", access or power. In His design, it might be enough that we happened to live next door to someone who has never heard of Jesus in any substantial way.

victor said...

I've been busting my butt for years for a cultural renewal in any medium that will have me. I'm almost 30 now. After another 20 years of hard work I'll let you know if I was at all successful.

Anonymous said...

Well, I wasn't there, but I've been there. I've been in situations where I wished that I had pitched my talents, and felt angry for not trying. And I've also been criticized for pitching at social gatherings, at least on one occasion. It's so hard, because we all know that connections are 90% of the means to success. If Barbara Hall felt cornered, she could have said as much, but I guess Barb felt that the host needs to protect the guests.
The bottom line is that Christianity isn't a card to be played in Hollywood, and any holier than thou attitudes are a surefire way to alienate anybody who might be able to help you.

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