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Tuesday, August 31, 2004
I'M BACK

I got stuck in Newark on my way to Spain. But, lucky for you all, I found a table in the food court near an outlet, and ended up using the time to post reviews of several movies that I have seen in the last few weeks – mostly free on airplanes, thank God. None of them have been worth the price of admission….but, lest I crush all suspense…

IT TAKES A STORY….$#@!! IT!

I.
Let the bad color of money not be seen by one-hit wonder young directors.
It unhinges them,

II.
Never let M. Night enter a studio lot again, or at least for a while.
He needs to wait.

III.
Heed this critic’s warning bell. Or else beasty annoyance is coming.


The one film I did pay for in the last few weeks, The Village, was not only NOT worth the $6 matinee price, but should have come with a personally signed apology from M. Night “Did I actually claim to be a young Hitchcock?” Shmalayan.

Good grief, how LAME is this movie!!???!! About ten minutes into the piece, I started murmuring to myself, “Well, that was lame.” The overwhelming lameness was so extraordinarily lame, that I thought for a second that I had missed the story’s inciting incident, in between reflexive winces, but then after going back over it, I realized that there was no inciting incident. Or, actually, the inciting incident comes in where the mid-point of the movie usually falls, proving that there is actually only an hour of movie here, with the first hour being self-indulgent set-ups. But, (using the lamely stilted language in The Village), “Behold, how I do go to and fro, not making for much sense.” So, let me start again. [ahem…]

HOW LAME IS THIS MOVIE?!

I felt such a strong sense of sympathy for the panoply of stars who had to recite the inane dialogue in this project. This shows how truly bad the film is because I never really harbor a lot of sympathy for movie stars. The film is so bad, that young Night passed on his usual self-indulgent cameo. (Or at least, I didn’t see him.) He probably couldn’t stomach subjecting himself to the same torture he was inflicting on William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody, and the red-headed daughter of Ron Howard, whose name escapes me.

Just like Signs, Shmalayan’s Village is a place where there are simply too many story problems for the audience to get into the illusion. (These were the things in Signs like, “How is it that creatures that have solved the space time continuum, can’t handle doorknobs?”, or, “Hey, don’t they have dew in those cornfields in the morning?” or, “Why would someone who has trapped an alien in his pantry, rather spend fifteen minutes musing over personal foibles instead of flailing and screaming, “AHHHHHHHHHH!!!!? I HAVE A LIFE-SUCKING ALIEN NEAR MY CANNED CORN!”, or, “These aliens wanting to settle on earth, is like humans wanting to settle a planet that is 70% hyrdo-chloric acid.”….etc. etc.) A few problems with the Village people include:

- Tell me the U.S. government would just happen to not notice that a whole town has just sprung up in the middle of a Nat’l Park. Somehow, those quaint little campfires have a habit of acting like smoke signals.
- Why would red-headed people, like Ron Howard’s daughter, not be burned in ritualistic offering? Or at least made to dye their hair?
- Why isn’t the Bill Hurt character able to marry the Sigourney Weaver one?
- Phew! Good thing the mental patient found the suit just in time to go and scare the one person who he likes in the whole village.
- So, who the hell was skinning the flocks?
- Where is the metal coming from to make knives and stuff?
And the biggies…
- So, this is the first sin that anybody has committed in twenty years?
- How could you end the movie now? It just got started?!!!!!! @#$!!

This film could have been another take on the whole “what happens to people in utopias” genre. Instead, it left all of the deep questions unanswered in its quest for a clever twist.

There are many more things I could say about the lameness of the story, plot, dialogue and characterizations, but I will forego them to make a comment on the disappointing Mr. Shmalayan.

When I first came to Hollywood, Fr. Ellwood “Bud” Kieser gave me a piece of advice about “the one thing necessary to not losing your soul in this town.” He said, “Never believe your own hype.” Shmalayan has been feasting like a fool on his hype, and now, three movies later (Unbroken, Signs, The Village) he has revealed to any discerning eye, that there just isn’t any there there in his filmmaking. He is not a genius. He is just maniacally arrogant, and the end of the insanity is on his horizon.

The story errors that have been submarining his films are the kinds of problems that would normally be resolved in the collaborative process between the writer, director and producer. But when those three roles are played by one person, there is no one to ask questions, and, if need be, veto the idiocy. The only time this kind of scheme works is when there is a genius calling the shots – like a Hitchcock…but even he worked with writers to flesh out his story ideas.

The main reason Night’s projects are failing as suspense stories, comes down to a little piece of brilliance that Hitchcock understood, but which Shmalayan may never get the chance to figure out. Aliens and completely impossible scenarios are not ultimately terrifying to people. It’s the little stuff – a stranger on a train, a bird on a wire, an unhappy marriage next door, a momma’s boy in a lonely motel, a piece of rope – that make people scared. Because all of these are part of every day life. Hitchcock had the ability to change the way we see the little things – to make us see a threat in them.

The Village deserves to stay hidden. Passeth.


RETURN OF THE VIGGO

Another disappointment this Spring was the big-budget, horse race project Hidalgo. This picture was supposed to finalize Viggo Mortensen (I hope I’m getting his name right. I have a mental block about names from the FOTR movies. Not only didn’t I ever learn what the character’s names were, but, like an infection, I can’t seem to remember the names of the stars who played them…) as a major star, but, instead, it’s failure means his career may never in fact get out of Middle Hollywood Earth.

As he grubbied himself up so memorably in LOTR, Viggo has unwashed hair for most of this movie. Again like LOTR, he mumbles and spits out every line of dialogue in Hidalgo. Many of them are so garbled as to be unintelligible. (I mention these two things because I know so many of you loved them so much in LOTR, and I wanted you to know there is more where that came from if you want it…) We never feel any sympathy for Viggo’s character, principally because tortured, mumbling angry people aren’t that fun to watch at the movies. This a problem, because he is the lead here.

All the stuff that Hollywood does so well – effects, costumes, sets – were done very well in Hidalgo. And there certainly was enough story. It basically comes down to the fact that Viggo is no young Harrison Ford.

One problem, both directorially and in the writing, that certainly harmed the piece was the failure to establish the horse’s character. The movie is, after all, named after the horse, but we don’t get enough of the horse early on to make us feel a bond with him. The writer actually has some people tell each other (things they both know, just so the audience can hear it too) stuff about Hidalgo in an effort to gain affection for the animal. But that kind of thing never does the trick. We needed one good scene to make us embrace the horse. A hundred lines like, “Hey, isn’t that the toughest, roughest, loyalist horse in the whole West?” aren’t going to make the audience believe it.

Whoa. Pass there boy.

DEVELOPMENTALLY RETARDED 30 GOING ON 13

I really like Jennifer Garner and think she will be one of the biggest stars of the next few decades. One of the critics christened her “a young, pretty Julia Roberts,” which sent Julia into married and pregnant retirement.

This new film was a vehicle to put Garner in front of the global audience as a movie star. Romantic comedies are cheap to make and generally make back their money (unless they star Kate Hudson, it seems), and so it isn’t that big of a risk for a studio to try out the actress flavor of the year through them. I just wish Garner had waited for a better script with which to start her lead actress career. It shows more ambition than good judgment that she threw her hat in with this project.

If you count out the stereo-typical characters, trite situations and flat dialogue, there really isn't much left to watch in 13 Going on 30. This is basically a female rehash of Big, minus the bits of cleverness that made that film a hit. But still, Garner has “it”, so the film is not agonizingly bad. It’s just bad.

And can I say how much I hate the idea that Thriller now qualifies as an oldie but goodie? I went to high school to that album. And I’m not that old…am I?

There were two genuinely good laughs in the piece I should mention to be fair. Both of them came from the situation, and both of them made it in to the promotional trailer. Which means you’ve seen them. But, hey, I still laughed at 13 year old on the inside Garner trying to pick up a thirteen year old boy in a restaurant.

Pass, for normal people. Probably pass, male Garner fans (lots of nauseatingly girlie stuff here). Female Garner fans, it won’t make you sick and there are a couple of smiles here.

MEAN PUBLIC SCHOOL GIRLS

Most high school genre movies fill me with a sense of relief that I went to a Catholic girls high school, but none so much as the much hyped Mean Girls from one of the writers of SNL. Maybe it was the nuns or the crucifixes on the walls, but we really didn’t torture one another to the harsh extremes that get played out once again in this new film. Teens torturing each other and then learning that torture is not nice seems to be the most we can ask of kids today. Not exactly the stuff that breeds heroes, is it?

Everyone is raving about the writing in this piece, basically because it has some good lines, but there isn’t much more story here than in She’s All That or Princess Diary. (Actually, my favorite teen high school movie - was a little film called Valley Girl from director Martha Coolidge. It was the debut of Nicholas Cage, and had some surprisingly smart stuff in it….oh, and I like Clueless too.)

I don’t particularly like movies where friends lie about each other and plot vengeance, so I found myself squirming more than laughing in Mean Girls. I have heard talk show hosts proclaiming that this film could be a strong warning shot to adolescent girls not to indulge in brutal cliquing…but, frankly, if your kid is so far gone that this movie seeme like a radical new moral platform to them, then you probably need a trip to the local exorcist more than the Cineplex.

Am I getting old?

Pass, dude.
Thursday, August 19, 2004
OH YEAH, BEFORE I GO...

...I wanted to mention a few of the talks far and wide that I have coming up this Fall. Most of these will be open to the general public, but I might be willing to add a talk at your church, school or "two people over a piece of chicken" group to get the most out of my mileage. Here's some preliminary dates and cities:

October 10-12, New Orleans, LA
November 4-6, Dallas, TX
November 12-14, South Bend, IN
November 26-Dec 2, (Well, what can I say?) Milan and Rome
February 10, Grand Rapids, MI


THE GRUELING VICISSITUDES OF THE SCREENWRITING LIFE...

...will see me in Spain again this week. There I'll be, patiently trudging around doing site research in Madrid, Avila, Barcelona, the Pyrenees and Lourdes, eating tapas, drinking fine, fruity wines and trying not to feel sorry for myself. Sigh.

Heh heh heh.

This week, it's good to be in the movie business. However, I have a feeling blogging will be el lighto. Wouldn't want to miss a medieval Church or two for an Internet cafe, you know?

So, I'll be back September 1st. Buenos dias!

PART I - PATRON OF THE ARTS

I am writing a three-part series for the National Catholic Register on the Church as Patron of the Arts. Part One is on the Arts and the Liturgy. Part Two is on Beauty and the Church. The third part will be on The Arts and Priestly Formation.

The series grew out of the talk I gave at the Mundelein Seminarians Formation Conference. It was too much work to just get one talk out of it. There are so many more people still to be alienated!... Starting with the editorial crew at the Register. They liked my first version but asked me to make it nicer. So, I did. Although I did pose the question, "What is meaner, my ironic comments or three decades of Glory and Praise?"

Here's a snip from Part One...

When art has been commissioned in these post-Conciliar years, it has too often been a victim of the trend toward politicization of religious belief. Many, frankly, ugly works of art have been justified for their social or propagandistic purposes, as opposed to aesthetic or devotional ones.

An example of this kind of unfortunate sacred art is in the statue that looms over the door of the new Los Angeles Cathedral. My twenty-something students nick-named the piece “Man-hands Mary” because the short-haired image has our Blessed Mother with sleeves rolled up to her shoulders, revealing heavily veined masculine arms and hands stretched out like she’s ready to catch a football. The tour guide at the Cathedral told us that the artist wanted to portray Mary as strong and “more human than strictly female.” I responded, “But I don’t know any real people like that. Real people tend to have genders.” The tour guide exhaled patiently, “This statue represents what the Mary figure symbolizes.” (The Mary “figure”?) “Yes,” I rejoined, “but it is kind of, you know, ugly.” The guide pretty much tossed her head, “The Church isn’t about that kind of thing any more.”

On the right side of the spectrum, in the best situations there still tends to be an overemphasis on reverence as an end in itself in the liturgy. Poor, needy humanity is almost an embarrassment that gets left outside the doors. The liturgy is not some kind of holiness show that substitutes propriety and formalism for genuine encounter between God and His sheep.

Because we have so few devout artists left in our community, even when the People of God want beautiful contemporary art, it is tough going to find some. So, a lot of traditional parishes are cluttered with tacky, sentimental images of saints and angels. As the great Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor noted, sentimentality is an inexcusable error for a believer.

On the worst side of the right, are those Catholics who have reacted to the aesthetic mess of the post-Conciliar period by stripping down the liturgy with a kind of vengeance. No music, no style to the homilies, quickie Masses that offer no sensual helps at all for the poor sheep who have wandered in from the insanity of the confused world outside. One priest told me once with a touch of anger, “The Church was never stronger in Ireland than during the years of persecution when the people used to have Mass huddled in fields with no singing or ceremony.”

Yes, but time of persecution creates its own climate of prayer. People who are praying at the risk of their lives have an amazing ability to stay focused. This is not the situation of the glutted, bored and, catechetically, ignorant Church in America.

SOMETIMES I HATE IT WHEN I'M RIGHT

A few weeks ago, I posted about the Spanish Civil War as a historical proto-type of contemporary American society. My observation was that modern societies that become highly polarized between faith and secularism, generally end up in religious persecution. The progession moves from anti-religious rhetoric to "legal" oppression of the Church.

[drumroll, please]

And heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeere it is!


SB 1234, Sen. Sheila Kuehl's (D-L.A.) expansion of California's "hate crimes" laws, passed another hurdle last week as the Assembly Appropriations Committee voted the bill to the floor. The full Assembly will vote on this measure soon. All bills must pass their second house by August 31 to survive and be sent to the governor for his signature or veto.

This bill expands laws relating to hate crimes and enhances punishment for hate crimes including civil penalties. It changes the definition of "hate crimes" including the definition of "gender." Under SB 1234, "Gender means sex, and includes a person’s gender identity and gender related appearance and behavior whether or not stereotypically associated with the person’s assigned sex at birth.” The bill provides that the terms "culturally diverse" and "cultural diversity" include but are not limited to “disability, gender, nationality, religion, and sexual orientation” issues.

"Hate crimes" laws create different classes of victims and criminalize thoughts rather than actions. Under SB 1234, individuals could claim that someone expressing their sincerely held beliefs presents an "intimidating" threat, punishable under the law. Even various forms of peaceful conduct, such as prayer vigils outside abortion clinics, could potentially be considered a "threat of force."


Rats, huh? Just keep telling yourself in the coming years, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. The blood of the martyrs..."
A MAN OF "INDISPUTABLE PUBLIC VALUE"


There is an interview with one of our Act One heros, Dana Gioia, the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts here.
We have raved about Chairman Gioia on this site often and eloquently, but here is a chance for you all to hear his own eloquence and erudition for yourselves.

The interviewer, Jeffrey Overstreet has a very informative profile of Chairman Gioia here. Thanks Jeff, for 'getting the religion' and for the link from Looking Closer.
Tuesday, August 17, 2004
ANOTHER STEREOTYPICAL CHRISTIAN...

Steve Beard over at Thunderstruck sent me this link as a follow-up to my previous post about Alice Cooper's python's near death experience with a heating pad.

Turns out Cooper is a man with a plan. A Christian with an ideological foundation for his graphic shock rock concerts. Okay... Never let it be said I am not open to discussion.
SON OF MAN AND MAN OF STEEL

I'm hearing from my friend, Leo Partible, who is deep in the comic book sub-culture, that Jim Caviezel (The Passion of the Christ) is the leading contender to play Superman in the upcoming Bryan Singer release. The comic book Christians love this as they are always telling me what a clear Christ-figure is the man from another world who comes to dwell among humans to save them. (I dunno, I'm not sure I see the parallel...)

I have heard some Christians express disapproval that Jim is going ahead with an acting career, after the success of TPOTC. At a dinner party last week, one lady noted to me, "I think it just could not be right for him to take parts kissing women and wearing blue tights after playing Jesus." [shrug] This is what comes of projecting on actors more than the fact that they are playing roles. It's really not fair. Actors act. They don't become our personal property.

Anyway, there is all kinds of buzz in Christian comic book circles about the right and wrong way to do this movie, so as to preserve and enhance the Christ-figure elements Bryan Singer, did a great job with the X-Men movies, but, from what I have heard, enhancing "Jesus stuff" would not ever be high on his agenda.

So, here is an NPR interview with Leo about the new Superman movie from his perspective as a Christian comic book expert. Check it out.
ACT ONE-ISH BOOK

One of our act one alumns, Erik Lokkesmoe, has just co-authored a book now available on Amazon. Erik is one of the founders of the arts organization The Voice Behind, and is the Director of Communications for the National Endowment for the Humanities. Kudos Erik! Here's the press blurb for the book:


Now Available! THE REVOLUTIONARY COMMUNICATOR: Seven Principles Jesus
Lived To Impact, Connect, and Lead. Authors: Erik Lokkesmoe (Act One
2002) and Jedd Medefind. Endorsed by Dean Batali, Pat Phalen, and Janet
Batchler, as well as Chuck Colson and former congressman and football
star J.C. Watts. Includes chapter on Telling Stories. "In this age of
media saturation, it is fascinating to be reminded that, thousands of
years ago, one man in Jerusalem modeled the best way to hear and be
heard. And he did it without a mic or a modem." -- Dean Batali.

Click here to order the book.
Monday, August 16, 2004
EMILY MONDAY

816


A Death blow - is a Life blow to Some
Who till they died,
Did not alive become --

Who, had they lived, had died --
But when they died,
Vitality begun.
Thursday, August 12, 2004
MUSIC FOR THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST

Friend, Mark Joseph, co-produced the just-released TPOTC inspired CD that has tracks from an impressive list of A-list artists. Mark noted to me with wonder last Spring how almost miraculous it was to field the requests from so many top artists who wanted to contribute a song to the project. Kudos to you, Mark for getting it all together. Here's the press release...

The Passion Inspires CD Album Of Songs

Artists inspired by Mel Gibson's epic film The Passion of the Christ have
banded together for Passion of the Christ: Songs. The album features newly
recorded original songs sparked by the experience of seeing the film, and
features the diverse lineup which includes tracks by Steven Curtis Chapman,
MercyMe, Third Day, Kirk Franklin featuring Yolanda Adams, Charlotte
Church, former Creed singer Scott Stapp; Lauryn Hill; P.O.D.; Brad Paisley
& Sara Evans; Third Day - MxPx featuring Mark Hoppus and others.


The Passion of the Christ released February 25, 2004, creating a tsunami of
media and public interest before and after it hit theatres. To date the
drama is credited with over $370 million box office receipts in the United
States alone, and over $600 million worldwide.

Gibson welcomed the artists' support. "My kids think these guys are cool, so
they must be," joked Gibson. "It means a lot to me that this group of
artists dug my film and all wanted to contribute a song. The project came
about very organically. Some of the artists on the album saw early
screenings of the film and offered to create a song because they had been
so moved by it. When we got similar reactions from others, we knew we had
something special happening."

"We all threw ideas out on the table," said singer Steven Curtis Chapman of
the song he recorded with fellow artists Third Day and MercyMe. "As I
watched the movie, I began to think about all the different perspectives
that people might [have,] not only [looking] at the movie, but at the life
of Christ. I saw a martyr, a man laying his life down, a prisoner being
unjustly treated. Others might look at it and go, 'He's a fool. Why would
anybody do this?' The chorus and idea of the song is, 'When I look, what I
see is love.'"

Scott Stapp, who contributed his song "Relearn Love" shared, "Mel Gibson
again shows his genius as an artist and director. His passion for this film
is obvious from beginning to end. He took on a very controversial
historical event and, in my humble opinion, displayed it with extraordinary
artistry. All of us who have different faiths could use some tolerance for
one another. This film depicts a timeless story of betrayal, forgiveness
and eternal atonement. I am blessed to have the opportunity to contribute
Relearn Love to this project."

In an interview with Christianity Today, Stapp affirmed his Christian faith
and spoke of how the film had impacted him: "At first, I was saddened and
disheartened. I couldn't believe this is what Christ had to go through. I
knew the story, but I was seeing it through different eyes. It was not just
a Bible story that I had heard since I was four years old. It made sense to
my life as a man, and as a father and as a friend and as a son. I was
shocked that someone loved me so much that they would do this for me."

"This is the real deal-brutal, honest, touching," P.O.D. lead singer Sonny
Sandoval said of the two-hour film.

The San Diego band wrote and recorded its contribution "Amazing" after a
showing at Gibson's offices in November.

"This film made me check my own heart and my own faith," Sandoval
continued. "It's not the fairy tale story of Christ we're all used to
hearing. So, even before anybody wanted to be involved, in the heat of the
controversy, I wanted to give back and contribute to this. The only way for
us to truly give back and raise awareness is through our music."

Singer Lauryn Hill added, "The film was a visual representation of what
life is supposed to be for the people of God " a sinless man willingly gave
himself up so that others might be saved. I was inspired by the film and
proud to contribute a song to this collection.

The album will be marketed and promoted by Wind-up Records. Provident will
handle marketing and distribution in the CBA marketplace and BMG through
the secular market. The album will be released on August 31st, the same day
the films much anticipated DVD arrives at retail.



WHAT DOES HATRED LOOK LIKE?

I just finished the beat sheet for the screenplay that I am writing for hire this Fall. It took me about a month of research beforehand, but then, I was able to hammer out the beat sheet in just about three hours this morning. And it is a good one. Not great yet, but I feel very good about it. If I just write the story as I have it now, it will be a solid project that hits the most suspenseful notes in all the right places. It's always a question of getting the notes to be economical enough in the actual telling to fit with the plot program, but it's a huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuge thing just to have a story that I feel good about at this early stage. Somebody must be praying for me somewhere...

Quite by accident, I find I have a gritty R-rated movie on my hands here. It's about having a sense of integrity to the material. Any movie about the Spanish Civil War that wasn't R-rated could only be a lie. It is an interesting challenge for me, because I have been going around spouting that we have to find "another non-violating, responsible way to do screen violence." And now, here I am, not having the time to really figure out what that "other way" might look like.

Anyway, it's still too early to know exactly what the story wants its theme to be. My experience is, after I get a story down, I stand back from it and then it reveals what it is thematically obsessing over. The polish phase of writing is to go back and heighten that theme.

And yet, a few very strong themes have already emerged from the story, which made getting the beat sheet done much smoother. A good theme is something that can be argued. I tell my students, "Don't write a movie about the theme 'Murder is bad.' You might as well envision the poster for such a theme: 'Cloying and Annoying.' - NY Times. Write a movie that takes a position that will lead viewers to respond, 'Hmmmm...' " So, one theme that underlies my story so far is, "The lesser of two evils is still too evil." Another one is, "The hour of crisis doesn't make saints, it reveals them."

There is a whole other thematic level to the project which has to do with hatred. I want to background every scene where someone is caught up in hatred with a visual/aural image that becomes a symbol or metaphor of hatred. This is something movies can do that has so much power that it almost defines the art form for me. It's the only way to deal with really heavy subject matter, because mere dialogue will fail to do justice to the truths that are beyond language.


So, one scene takes place with a terrible storm whipping around the two characters. That is, when you are caught up in hatred, it is like being tossed around in a storm - you can't see or hear clearly; you are afraid; you are blown around not completely under your own control.

Another scene has hatred as noise. We'll have a violent act take place in a moment of dreadful cacophony, crashing bombs and drums and gun fire and screaming. The truth here is, when you have hatred in your heart, it drowns out any other voices that might speak mitigating, merciful, compassionate and reasoned things.

I have hatred as weeds. So, one scene will be backgrounded by a garden over-run with tangled, choking weeds. Hatred chokes like that.

I was thinking of hatred as division. Maybe in the background of some scene a guy cutting meat or vegetables in two. Or else a farmer furrowing a field.

I have hatred as a rash. One character will be scratching and scratching. It hurts so good.

Anybody have any other ideas about lyrical images of hatred? Here's your chance to be in the movies... (We'll credit you as "Somebody Who Knows About Hatred"....heh heh heh)
THEMES LIKE A GOOD IDEA

We just chose the official theme for Act One next year. Every year since our founding, we have chosen a theme that seems to emanate from the ongoing journey of the program itself. That is, every year, a new subject seems to become the topic that all the journalists are asking us in interviews, and/or all the faculty seem to be hitting from different angles, and/or a weird zeitgeist of the staff, friends and students just seems to have put a certain notion in our collective frontal lobe.

The theme gets developed into a "look" by our graphic artist, and then becomes the background image for the entire year. Previous years themes have been:

2000 - "Training the Next Generation of Christian Screenwriters" (Okay, okay, that was a lame one. But it was our first year and we didn't think we'd ever be having another one.)

2001 - "Don't pay attention to that man behind the curtain!" (Actually, that year's theme was a play off this quote from The Wizard of Oz, indicating that we were challenging Hollywood's urgency to the audience to not pay attention to the people behind the curtain.)

2002 - "The Christian writer does not decide what would be good for the world and proceed to deliver it. Like a very doubtful Jacob, he confronts what stands in his path and wonders if he will come out of the struggle at all." (Flannery O'Connor)

2003 - "Man will be saved by beauty." (Dostoevsky)

2004 - "Escape is the main function of stories. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home?" (Tolkien)

And now, the theme for 2005...

2005 - "Giving the audience a seat at the table."

The table we mean is the "greenlight" tables in the entertainment industry. These would be the places in which decisions are made about what kinds of projects to produce. There are a few groups who are well-represented "at the table": Wall Street's large corporations, Madison Avenue's Marketing Machines, the elite and cluelessly out-of-touch creative celebs.

So, who doesn't have a voice? The global audience. Every other group gets to kill and dabble with projects to take care of their respective "needs", but the audience's needs are never even raised. "Will this help people? Or will it make them sick?" "Will this make people want to be heroes, or want to jump off roofs?" "Is this something that will draw people into community, or make them more suspicious, alienated and cynical?"

Act One is all about breeding up a new generation of entertainment professionals who will have the needs of the global audience at heart. When one of our students takes a meeting, he or she has the people on the other side of the screen right there in their pocket.
DEVELOPMENTAL ENTERTAINMENT

Jan the Maven has some very interesting insights from writer Regina Doman on approppriate themes in children's entertainment. You have to skip down to the posts for Tuesday, August 3rd, but it is well worth the scroll.

I particularly liked this from Jan reflecting on Regina's thoughts...

I find this whole concept of metaphysical arena fascinating. It rings very true. And the thing that really struck me: The little kids, the 3- to 6-year-olds, really have it right. We should fear being lost (metaphysically speaking) much more than we fear death. After all, "to the well-organized mind, death is just the next big adventure." We don't, of course. As adults, we are much more likely to fear and try to avoid death than to be concerned in a major way about being "lost"... both for ourselves and for our friends. But I think we've got it backwards, and the little kids have it right.

I guess I find this so interesting because we are always talking at Act One about creating "responsible entertainment." Creating projects that are intentionally suited to the developmental needs of certain demographics of viewers seems to me to constitute the beginning of an ethical program for screenwriters.


Monday, August 09, 2004
EMILY MONDAY

This is another one of those poems that hworks on two levels. The literal level, obviously, is about a well. I'm wondering about the symbolic/metaphoric level, however. Is it well as person? Or well as work of art? Any other ideas?

1400

What mystery pervades a well!
That water lives so far --
A neighbor from another world
Residing in a jar

Whose limit none have ever seen,
But just his lid of glass --
Like looking every time you please
In an abyss's face!

The grass does not appear afraid,
I often wonder he
Can stand so close and look so bold
At what is awe to me.

Related somehow they may be,
The sedge stands next the sea --
Where he is floorless
And does no timidity betray

But nature is a stranger yet;
The ones that cite her most
Have never passed her haunted house,
Nor simplified her ghost.

To pity those that know her not
Is helped by the regret
That those who know her, know her less
The nearer her they get.
Sunday, August 08, 2004
I HATE WHEN THAT HAPPENS..."

Alice Cooper is here in CT for a few concerts. So, his python got out of its cage and, looking for a midday snack, ate a heating pad that was lying around. This is the same fearsome looking python that Cooper uses in his act to freak out his audience. Two of Cooper's crew noted that the snake looked unusually round. One was quoted in the local paper noting that "the snake just shouldn't get that fat eating his weekly rat."

So, now, it was Cooper who was freaked out, because in twenty years of freaking out audiences with his python, he has really bonded with it, and now, here it was with an electric heating pad getting slowly digested in its coils.

A local animal surgeon was located and a mere $10,000 of emergency snake surgery later, the heating pan was removed. Noted the attending vet, "It was a very tricky procedure. I had to work through a five-inch incision in one row of coils."

Both snake and rock idol are reported to be recovering well. Although the vet cautions against the snake returning to freaking out audiences in the next few weeks. He's out...for summer.
HAVE MERCY! YOU'RE KILLING ME!"

In a rare moment of actual jurisprudence, a judge just rejected the bid of felon, Jack "Dr. Death" Kevorkian for a retrial. Dr. Death is currently serving a long sentence for his compulsion to help sick people into early graves. Kevorkian was appealing his conviction on the grounds that he had defective counsel in his initial trial.

The judge's problem with the appeal? Well, Kevorkian had insisted as serving as his own counsel in his first trial.

It's a simple matter of having your case and losing it too.

Join me in a long, low gurgling chortle.
REPAWT FROM THE CONNECTICUT WOODS

Ah, New England! I'm just on my way out to weed the garden with Dad. (Imagine that! Weeding one's own garden is a luxury of which most Angelenos can only dream...) In terms of temperature, we are experiencing what everyone is calling with a Yankee wink, "record high lows." In terms of the Divine preferential option for New England, the steamahs and lobstahs are happily ubiquitious and perfectly sweet right now. In terms of liturgical practice, CT is a place where Catholics can still kneel after Communion...a suddenly strange but welcome grace.

That about sums things up. Back to you....
Friday, August 06, 2004
A GREAT IDEA: HOLLYWOOD MEDIA PRAYER BREAKFAST

Friend and Founder of the Hollywood Prayer Network, Karen Covell, has another great idea in the works. It's the first annual Prayer Breakfast for the Media. Supah smaht, as we say heah in New England. Here's the press release for the upcoming event. If you can help them get some press on the event, please copy and send on.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Hollywood, California--Some of America's most respected leaders from varied
fields of endeavor believe that Hollywood and prayer should come together.
They have endorsed the October first National Media Prayer Breakfast at The
Beverly Hilton. The event focuses prayer on the entertainment industry's
700 most powerful and influential movers and shakers.

Endorsement comes from a diverse group of notables: Ken Blanchard, author
of the "One Minute Manager." Rhonda Fleming, legendary film actress and
philanthropist. Eric Close, a star of the CBS series "Without a Trace."
Norm Miller, Chairman of Interstate Batteries. William E. Simon, Jr.,
businessman and former candidate for Governor of California. Nicholas De
Marco, top New York Fashion industry executive. Sonja McNair, Essence
Communications Partner.

A number of prominent entertainment industry leaders have endorsed the
breakfast: Sam Haskell III, Executive VP of the famed William Morris
Agency. Lowell "Bud" Paxon, chairman of the PAX Television Network. Carl
Vogel, chairman of cable giant Charter Communications. Al C. Sykes,
Former Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Tony Thomopolous,
former president of ABC television.

Some of Hollywood's most successful creative talents have also expressed
their desire to see the nation's faithful pray for the leaders of media at
the Beverly Hills event: Pat Boone, for decades one of the biggest names
in pop music and film. Dean Jones, lovable star of a number of Disney film
classics and other performing roles.
Ralph Winter, producer of such hit films as "X-Men," "Inspector Gadget,"
and "Star Trek" films. Dave Alan Johnson, who has created and produces
such successful TV series as "Doc" and "Sue Thomas, F. B. Eye."

The endorsement list also includes notables from the world of inspirational
media such as Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, authors of the runaway
best-selling "Left Behind" book series, David Cerullo, President and CEO of
The Inspiration Networks, and Jerry Rose, President and CEO of Total Living
Network (TLN).

Taken together, the endorsements seem to proclaim, "After decades of prayer
breakfasts focusing on leaders in government, education, and business, it
is time to focus national prayer on the leaders of global media." This,
clearly, is the vision of the National Media Prayer Breakfast.

For information and online registration visit
. The event is sponsored by Mastermedia
International in alliance with the Hollywood
Prayer Network .

For press information, contact Sandy Hungate by e-mail at
, or phone at 1-866-807-NMPB [6672] .
Wednesday, August 04, 2004
"...DOOMED TO REPEAT IT"

I'm back in CT for a week of rest and seafood. I'm also working on research for a screenplay I will be writing this Fall. The script is set up against the Spanish Civil War, and every day I find the rhetoric and climate of pre-bloodbath Spain to be more chillingly like our own.

The divisions in Spain which set up the war were very complex, but the real crux came down to secularism vs. Christianity. Fueled from the social Darwinism of the universities, the intellectuals in Spain went around for a few decades before the war insisting that religion was anti-modern and an enemy of progress. For many of these folks, "Christian" became a hated adjective, synonymous with ignorant. The greatest fury was directed against the moral authority of the Church. How dare the Church constrain anyone in any way with the outrageous suggestion that some things are good and other things are evil?!

In the elections of 1931, the secular side finally obtained some power, and within days, a disgusting and violent attack on the Church was unleashed. Over 100 churches were burned and gutted. Mobs desecrated cemeteries, convents, seminaries and religious schools. Priests, nuns, and anybody displaying religious devotion were assaulted.

Then, the laws started coming. A call was made for "complete separation of Church and State"...which, on the lips of secularists always means stomping all over the citizenship rights of religious people. The Church was forbidden to operate educational institutions. Church property that was not directly connected to the maintenance of the members of a religious institute was confiscated. No fault divorce was legalized. All cemeteries were secularized. (What is it with Spain and cemeteries? So much of the rage of the secularists was directed at cemeteries. They really got off on exhuming dead nuns and priests and desecrating the bodies. Something in the air maybe? Somebody help me...). There was other stuff too, like suppressing the Jesuits and withdrawing clerical wages.

One of the fascinating things I am finding in my research is how very biased most historians are in relating the attrocities of the War. The Nationalist side is absolutely demonized, and its crimes are minutely detailed. The attrocities on the Right, according to the historians, were premeditated and cold-blooded. (One book I have goes out of its way to constantly refer to the Nationalist side as "the Franco-church contingent.") The attrocities on the Republican side, however, are retold as spontaneous - if regrettable - outbursts of popular emotion.

One book has a photo of the exhumed bodies of some Carmelite nuns being spat on by passing Republicans. A few pages later it explains that these kind of actions by the Republican side were precipitated not by evil but by a kind of understandable exhuberance for justice.

"But the gesture of killing here seems full of passion, of rancor, of punitive terror pervaded by an ancient culture that threw criminals and the damned into hell. Around these deaths is the cry of furor, blind, uncivil but extremely human, that precedes a futile revenge for offenses suffered.. A cry breaking out at moments of helpless suffering, at moments when heaven betrays." (The Spanish Civil War, Gabriele Ranzato, 1999)

The "gesture of killing"? Don't you love it?....

That is, the historians seem unanimous that the Church had it coming. And actually it's God's fault (ie. "heaven betrays"...God exists only when we need Him around to take the blame for something bad.) The murder of 5,400 priests and 10,000 other nuns and religious was, you know, kind of just an outburst of popular expression.

Anyway, my main point here was to say that there is no reason to expect that we today will be any different than the people of Spain in 1936. Every time some celebrity spits out a reference to George Bush as "Christian," it's a red flag. (No pun intended. Some times, I even amaze myself...) If the pattern of demeaning and insulting people for their Christianity continues, we will also eventually have martyrs. Not that there is anything wrong with that in terms of creating a climate for growth in holiness. Just want to be able to say I told you so in a few years.

But the next step in the historical pattern will be changes in the laws to interpret "separation of Church and State" to mean repression of Church. I couldn't help noticing how "separation of Church and State" was listed as a primary issue for the Kerry-Edwards camp coming out of the convention last week. When did "separation of Church and State" become an issue?

Just watch...