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March 27, 2008
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Act One: Screenwriting for Hollywood
Real-world training for aspiring Christian screenwriters, by professionals.

An Interview with Dean Batali
"...if we're going to be salt and light to the world, then we have to go to the places that need us the most. Perhaps I can bring a different perspective to a story, or offer up a glimmer of redemption or humanity in a story line that's focused on cruelty or destruction. [The Voice Behind]

Hollywood Christians Issue Casting Call
“We want people actively engaged in culture, not running away and calling it names." Fox News, June 23, 2003

Information about Act One’s four-week workshops scheduled for 2004

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BARBARA NICOLOSI: A GODSPY INTERVIEW

A candid discussion about the Act One screenwriting program, Hollywood, sin, beauty, porn, bad Christian movies, 9/11, Mel Gibson's The Passion, anti-semitism, the TV series Joan of Arcadia, the Therese movie, and more.

Act One's Barbara NicolosiIt's a clichéd phrase, but Barbara Nicolosi is on a mission from God. Literally. The founder and director of the Act One: Writing for Hollywood program is a modern day anti-Jonah, passionately crashing the gates of today's Ninevehs—Los Angeles and New York—on behalf of an interdenominational campaign to find and train Christian artists to work in the entertainment business.

And as the title of her blog—Church of the Masses—makes clear, Nicolosi believes that Hollywood, with all its technical and artistic power, can do great things for God and the world if only Christians are brave enough to, as she says, "get out from under their Gourd plants," and master the skills necessary to transfigure the industry, rather than just criticize it.

Barbara lives in L.A., but we tracked her down while she was in Manhattan a few weeks ago to do an interview. She spoke candidly but with charity about Act One, Hollywood, sin, beauty, porn, bad Christian movies, Catholics, Evangelicals, converts, 9/11, Mel Gibson's The Passion, anti-semitism, the TV series Joan of Arcadia, the new Therese movie, and more.

Godspy: How did you end up doing what you are doing in Hollywood?

Barbara Nicolosi: I spent my twenties as a member of the Daughters of St. Paul. As a congregation dedicated to evangelization with the media, I spent countless hours during those years, in front of the Blessed Sacrament, praying for the media and for media makers. Also, trying to stay awake, by the way. I am very grateful for those years. They seem to me now to be some kind of extended retreat that I needed to brood over all of the themes that come into play everyday in my work now in Hollywood.

I left the Daughters after a kind of Sound of Music scene with my Provincial Superior. She crying and saying "Barbara, you are a hard person to send away, but we think God is calling you somewhere else." And me crying saying, "I'll change. I'll change. Don't make me go!" But inside, I was actually relieved. Really.

It's served me well to have gone through that whole trauma-and it was traumatic. It's given me a profound sense of inner shrug that gets me through otherwise daunting challenges. When you've been thrown out of the convent during the worst vocation crisis in the history of the Church, what else can the world do to you?

Did you go to film school?

After the convent, I came right out and went to film school at Northwestern University. It had two things I wanted: it was one of the top schools in the country, and it was in Chicago, my most favorite city. Northwestern's film department is pretty much radically Marxist, but there were a couple of professors who passed on to me a strong appreciation for the distinct power of the cinematic art form.

I started in Hollywood working for the legendary Fr. Ellwood "Bud" Kieser at Paulist Productions. I spent most of my time at Paulist weeding through dreadful screenplays trying to find something for Fr. Kieser to develop. Somewhere around the 200th dreadful screenplay—most, from nice, godly people—it occurred to me that Christians were not being martyred by Hollywood. We were committing suicide.

When did you start Act One?

A group of writers, from several different Christian denominations, started Act One in 1999—January 25, 1999 to be exact, the feast of the conversion of St. Paul.

That's appropriate. And it's been a tremendous success, hasn't it?

Yes. In the past five years we've grown our faculty from four professional screen and television writers to about 80 writers and producers. Over 200 aspiring screenwriters have gone through our intensive four-week boot camp, a program that focuses on mastery of craft, entertainment, ethics and spirituality. It's very competitive, and just getting into the program is a sign that a writer has talent and potential.

With the training and tools they develop in the program, and the follow-up mentoring and ongoing formation we provide, they're equipped to compete in Hollywood. We help them get entry-level jobs in the business, as well as writing assignments from our network of production companies. About half of the 200 people are now working in the industry on all different levels. Well, not ALL different levels. We don't have an alumn running a studio - yet!

We're trying to establish an alternative to the top secular film schools. Going to one of those schools is still a tremendous advantage, but their underlying worldview is radically nihilistic. As a Christian, you can learn the craft in those places but everything you believe will be ridiculed by your professors.

With Act One, they see that it's possible to live a holy, Christian life and master the craft and create excellent content at the same time. And they've created friendships and Christian community that can sustain them when they enter the industry.

Has the Christian presence in the industry gotten stronger in recent years?

No question about it. I see it everywhere I go. God is doing something. Christians are waking up and getting involved in the culture. Everybody realizes that the separation of faith and art that happened in the 20th century was a really bad idea.

There still aren't a lot of happy, committed Christians in Hollywood with real power, who can approve or "green light" a project. But there are a lot of smart, creative people working in the trenches, day-to-day, finding ways to keep damaging content off the screen. These small victories are known only to God.

How about from the industry side—is there increased interest in faith from secular people in Hollywood?

After 9/11, I had calls off the hook from people saying: "you religious people must have something to say about this moment, about what we should do now." It was an opening where we could witness to the joy and hope that we have as Christians. Unfortunately, it was a missed opportunity in many ways. All I could think of were the tens of thousands of people in this industry who don't yet know me, or my friends, or Act One, who had no where to go with this question. That's why we've got such ambitious plans to expand and promote our work.

Do you think orthodox Catholics and evangelical Protestants should do more to engage serious artists in Hollywood? I'm talking about the ones who are sincerely interested in truth and beauty?
 
Yes, artists are trying to make something beautiful, for the most part. As Pope John Paul II said in his 1999 Letter to Artists, creative people have a special relationship with God as beauty. In their search for beauty they instinctively move into solitude and try to connect with the transcendent that's at the source of their creativity. But by beauty they mean order, things that fit together well. They don't mean pretty. And that's a distinction that the church needs to hear from the artistic community. Beauty is not necessarily pretty. Too often I hear the church saying that great art is, say, the painter Thomas Kincaid, for example—this stuff that's pretty and clean and neat. But it's schlock.

Mother Teresa was a profoundly beautiful person, but she was not attractive in a pretty sense. The crucifixion is ugly but it's also the source of beautiful, sacred art. Hollywood appreciates that beauty and truth are one, and we in the Church can learn that from them.

There's a quote from Flannery O'Connor featured on Act One's website. I'm reminded of what she said about how the anguish of "unbelieving searchers" helps believers purify their own faith.

In his Letter to Artists the Pope says that secular artists depict for us with power what the world without God looks like, and we owe them gratitude for that. Take a movie like Magnolia, or Eyes Wide Shut. When the industry is making an indictment of a particular world, for people in the church to say, "That's a bad movie," because presumably we're not even supposed to look at that world, makes no sense at all.

I would say the movie Boogie Nights, for instance, was an indictment of the porn world and what it does to people. Most thoughtful people would look at the world depicted in Boogie Nights and see that it's empty, shallow, that it's missing intimacy. It's so sad; it's tragic. No way do you come out of that movie wanting to be in that world. Yet I hear people in the church say "How dare you make a movie about the porn industry—do you know there's a scene where they're having sex?" OK, is it that we are not allowed to make a movie about that world? Do we say to our Christian artists there are areas of human life that are off limits to you? Because that notion deserves to be slammed.

To tell you the truth, I'll take an R-rated true movie over a G-rated saccharin lie movie any day. Because with the R-rated film I'm being challenged and I'm growing. If we turned over Hollywood to the Christians tomorrow, we'd make worse movies than we're making now because they would mostly be guilty of what Flannery O'Connor called—for Christians—"inexcusable sentimentality."

What Hollywood needs to learn is how to entertain without violating. This is an area where the Church can offer the industry some help. In the midst of these R-rated films you have sex being portrayed to an audience in a way that ends up violating them. Or you have violence—we're not opposed to showing violence. But you have to show it in a different way, a way that doesn't end up wounding the audience by reducing violence to a merely material reality. There are certain things we don't need to see in movies, but that we can still allude to for the purpose of story. When we show sin, we don't want it to be an occasion for sin for the audience.

As a father, I'm not so concerned about movies like Eyes Wide Shut or Boogie Nights, that appeal to adults. I'm concerned about the vulgar, stupid and materialistic movies that are mass-marketed to young people, and are such a counter-witness to the Gospel. Shouldn't we be more critical of the money people and the marketers, rather than the artists?

Just to keep it in perspective, entertainment for the masses has always been crass vulgar and low. Look at the circuses of the Caesars. The difference is that it's on a mass scale now. Britney Spears can be known by a billion people worldwide. I don't know what to do with that. I don't know that it's going away.

About the 9/11 attack, the artistic community was very aware that one of the reasons they hate us so much is because of us—Hollywood—what we've sold to the world, what people consider the media pollution coming at them.

There's no question money drives the worst of the media pollution. And there's a lot of denial about it, especially about the porn industry. I saw a segment on Sixty Minutes the other night about how huge the porn industry is, how it's gone mainstream, and how all of the major distributors—AOL-Time Warner, DirectTV—are making a tremendous amount of money off of this. The thing they didn't show is what I see on the streets of Hollywood: young people who are homeless and mentally ill and drug addicted because they got sucked in, used up and spun out by the porn business. They came to Hollywood beautiful young people and got into this meat market that's the porn industry, and they are just chewed up and spat out. Now Hollywood does a job on people, but nothing like what porn does, where they have been violated in every aspect of their being. That was missing on the 60 Minutes segment. It was all "well this is mainstream now" and "how could it be wrong, it's adult entertainment, people enjoy it." But I'm sorry. Any product that is built on the destruction and violation of young people—not even mentioning the terrible effects on the viewer—is by definition evil. But they didn't mention that at all.

In this regard, Catholics have so much to offer to Hollywood. If we can just get out of our ivory tower and translate the Theology of the Body into words and concepts that are intelligible and applicable for people of today....

Homosexuality is such a big factor in Hollywood, and from there it influences all of society. Is there any hope of getting the Church's teaching—The Theology of the Body—through to people there?

It goes back to contraception. I suppose I sound like a wacko when I say that, but once you took the self-donation, the possibility of sacrifice out of sex, the door was opened. It became about your own self-fixation, what you're getting out of it, because it feels good—that was it. About gays, we cut these poor people off forty years ago when so many pastors and teachers in the Church signed on to the sexual revolution. They hear that you can have sex with anyone you care about. And now these people are trapped.

My former pastor at my RCIA program wouldn't even speak to our young converts about contraception—he was embarrassed. So I would speak to them about it. When my catechumens hear about the Theology of the Body they start crying because it's such a beautiful ideal—two emptinesses making a whole, two people pouring themselves out in order to be fulfilled. In six years, I've never yet had a couple I've worked with—and I know when I start who's living with each other—I've never had one couple who within three months, are still living with each other. It's because they want to be pure, they want to be heroes, they want to be more than they are. That's what this teaching is. It's peace for these couples.

I don't know what we're going to do to heal the homosexual issue. We've gone so far down the path. I don't see human history ever reversing itself. It just keeps crashing and burning and then being rebuilt.

You really stress the importance of Christians working within the industry, and you've been very critical of independent productions that try to bypass the industry completely, as in the Therese movie that's coming out.

I meet people constantly who are lining up a few million dollars to make a movie to "show Hollywood." They've found foreign investors—meaning people from outside NY or Southern California—and they're going to go off on their own and make a movie, and so on. It's a bad strategy; it's a bad business plan.

First of all, in the entertainment business you have to be able to support ten movies to begin to make a profit. You've got to figure that four projects will fail for every one that succeeds. So, in terms of a business plan, it's a bad idea.

Second, it's bad in terms of evangelization. The model of a group of Christians working by themselves in a little group, pumping out a movie, and then standing by waiting for the world to come to Jesus... it doesn't happen that way.

The problem with working only with people who agree with you 100% is thinking that what God wants is what ends up on the screen. It's not. It's the journey of the work itself, the opportunity to share our life, and what we know, with the creative people in the business.

Of course, working with the industry will also ensure that the project has some quality to it. You can say what you want about Hollywood. They do know their business here. They know about screen storytelling and how to market to the global audience.

For all these reasons, I have a problem with the way movies like the new Therese project come to be.

There you have thirty people or fifty people working together to make that movie. These are people who, if they were working in Hollywood, would have met 5,000 people. And they could have witnessed to them, and they could have been their friends now, and been part of their network. Their new friends would also be able to say things to them like, "Hey, if we cast a B-list star, we might get a studio to distribute this thing for us." Or "Is anybody else troubled by the fact that this movie has no real conflict?"

Instead, we—I'm talking about orthodox Christians—stay over here where it's safe, because we don't want to be polluted by them. And the funny thing is that in the end—the movie's crap. I'm sorry. I read the Therese script twice—I haven't seen the final result. But the conventional wisdom in Hollywood is that if you have a great script, you might get a good movie. If you have a bad script, you'll never get a good movie. The Therese script was not great.

This is the major problem Act One is addressing—the overall dreadful dramatic writing that we've seen coming in to the industry from godly people.

Beauty is magnitude of truth—see Aristotle—plus mastery of craft, where the elements are all in harmony. The industry is very good at the second thing. A good example is a movie like American Beauty—beautifully crafted, beautifully produced, beautifully acted, beautifully written, but fundamentally a lie. So therefore it's ugly by our standards. On the other side are Christian projects like Therese—beautiful message, profound truth, all the right motives—badly crafted, ugly. We have to have the courage to say that you have to have mastery of craft along with a magnitude of truth.

The growing Christian presence in the industry—where is it coming from? Are these people who have always been there and now they're "coming out"? Are they new arrivals? Or are they converts?

All three. There are Christians I know like Dean Batali, a writer for That 70s Show, who came to Hollywood because he wanted to see people like the ones he grew up with, who had God in their lives, struggling with their day-to-day problems, up on the screen, on prime-time. That was his vision.

Then there are other people who arrive in Hollywood and quickly become aware that it's a thoroughly secular environment in which many of the operative values—power, celebrity, Mammon—are completely antithetical to the Gospel. And they decide to go in the closet—"I never bring up my faith, no one knows I'm a Christian, and that's fine."

Then you have the other extreme, the ones who end up getting thrown out of the business because they're too much in people's faces. And they're bitter—" I got fired because I was a Christian." No, you got fired because you were obnoxious. I know a few people like that.

The most powerful people we have are the converts. For example, John Tinker, Grant Tinker's son. He recommitted to faith a couple of years ago. And Barbara Hall, who came in to the Church last year. She had twenty years in television. She worked on Moonlighting, I'll Fly Away, Chicago Hope, and others. She's a player. These people have power that takes twenty years to accumulate, so it's neat when God brings them over.

Barbara Hall created the new TV series, Joan of Arcadia, right? What's the story behind that?

After she converted, Barbara said to me "I want to make a show for God." That's what you can do when you're an executive producer in television. You have the clout to make TV for God. So she created Joan of Arcadia, about a girl who speaks to God. In describing the show, Barbara says that God is speaking all the time to every one, it's just that we're watching Joan now because she happens to suddenly be listening.

The main reason CBS green-lighted the series is because it's Barbara Hall. They know she's one of them. Her conversion is below the radar. They trust Barbara because they've known her for twenty years as a good writer who can bring in a show on time, on budget, and with an extra quality—call it pithy psychological insight.

When I first started teaching Barbara—I met with her over six months, three hours a week, reading the catechism—the first night we did the beatitudes as an introduction. I'm going through them all, explaining them, and we get to the sixth beatitude and she stops me and says "Why don't you people say this stuff? I've never heard this before."

Later, she said to me, "In 20 years in television, I never met a Christian." Hollywood was her higher power. Her friends, her associates, everyone in television, it is a thoroughly secular world. The only Christians she was aware of were the guy with the bible or the woman with the big hair you see on TV while flipping channels.

For Barbara to be able to say, "Why don't you people talk about the beatitudes?" For heavens sake! The Beatitudes aren't exactly secret info—something clever and tricky. It goes to show that as Christians we're not reaching these people.

One of the reasons Barbara Hall became a Catholic, as she expressed it to me, was: "I just got exhausted with unbelief. I just couldn't keep it up anymore." She's typical of the creative community that has worn itself out since the sexual revolution, throwing itself around, doing anything it wanted, absolute license and power. And they're exhausted. So, they come to faith with a deep understanding of sin.

Barbara wrote an article that appeared in your newsletter called The Writer and Mercy. Isn't it true that many unbelievers, and fallen away Catholics and Christians as well, have an instinct for mercy, an empathy for the broken and outcast, that is implicitly Christian?

First, in terms of artistry, I think the Catholics, even the ones who are lapsed, have a natural sense of allegory and metaphor that comes from several thousand years of ingrained liturgy. The liturgy is real, but it's also rich in symbols. So you have the people who are fallen away—I'm thinking of a screenwriter right now who's an angry, angry ex-Catholic. He's done so much harm. But he has an instinctive sense of symbolism that gives his writing visual power. I've said to him several times, "the reason you're really good is because you were Catholic" and when we're alone he'll acknowledge it. I think the liturgical tradition is key to that.

As for mercy, I think in Barbara Hall's case, one of the reason's she emphasizes it is because she is very aware that she has been the recipient of God's special mercy. She had a long journey to faith. She spent a lot of time being a very articulate agnostic. So she's like St. Paul—"I am the worst of the apostles, I persecuted the Church." For that reason, Barbara is fascinated with God's mercy. But she also knows that it gives your writing power to constantly remember that your characters are just one step further down the road than you. It's "there but for the grace of God go I." If you have that, it makes your writing fascinating for people.

Do you think Christians who haven't experienced this sort of darkness lack a sense of awe about god's mercy?

I think that, unfortunately, a lot of orthodox Catholics and Christians are either sitting in the cave hunkered down, or they're like Jonah sitting under a Gourd plant waiting for God to vent his wrath on the world—on the ungodly—and they're going to be disappointed if He doesn't. I don't see these people having sorrow for sin; I see them having indignation towards sin. And to me, that's an important difference. Sorrow for sin is "I am a part of this." Indignation for sin is "you are the ones messing up the world."

In a column you wrote about Mel Gibson's movie, you talked about how sorrowful it made you feel.

When I watched The Passion of Christ—and this is why I think this movie will be a moment of grace for the Church—I walked away from the movie saying: "I... am... such... a wimp. I am such a non-hero. I am so far from what I was created to be. I'm sorry Jesus." It's a very personal thing. That's why all the charges of anti-Semitism are so ridiculous. Because you don't sit there watching that movie and at the end say: Those damned Jews. You don't. You sit there saying, "Oh, I am so sorry." It's a very personal kind of thing. It's compunction for your own falling short.

I mean, I'm an orthodox Catholic. I haven't missed Mass any Sunday in my whole life. I go to confession. I do all the stuff. But I'm a schlep and a wimp and I am not in any sense the hero that I should be. That's how The Passion impacted me. I'm hoping it's going to shake up people and remind us: God didn't die because of them. That's what it sounds like sometimes, that we're in "the club." You know, there's sinners, and then there's SINNERS. But let's face it, the sin that's so rampant around us is very much tied to ourselves, and our own failures.

What about Mel Gibson? There's an interesting turnaround.

Mel in the past was typical of Catholics in the industry who don't let their faith affect their creative choices. They don't make the connection. Actors are particularly known for this, because for them the main thing is to work. They really want to be acting.

So if someone offers them a job, they will take it. I've had conversations with my Christian actor friends, and they'll say, "Well, yeah I'm playing an abortionist, or I'm playing a murderer, or whatever, but if I don't do it, someone else will. Maybe I can bring some three-dimensional humanity to it." I think Mel's made 25 or 30 years of creative choices like this, and in his mind if he's fleshing out a real human being, whether they're a sinner or not, the idea is "Am I being honest in fleshing out the human being?" That's where the morality is—we're not allowed to let a bad guy be portrayed as a good guy.

What I hear people in the church saying is, "Well, she played that part!" So? Do you not believe there are people in the world like that character? Do you not believe there are, say, women out there who are prostitutes? Is it that you don't want any movie to have a prostitute in it? Is that what it is? Or they are supposed to be played how? It doesn't make any sense at all.

Look at the Bible.

Exactly. In that sense, I can't really blame them for their choices.

Now Mel's gone beyond that.

In the last decade Mel has become an unbelievably powerful and creative force. He can greenlight a project, he can open a movie, in a way that only about ten people in all of Hollywood can. Now he's became aware of that power on a whole other level, and thank God, he's saying, "What am I doing with it?"

When he has creative control he makes movies that in some sense are responsible... Braveheart, for instance. For many people, that movie was a moment of grace, a really powerful movie about heroism. It's not my style but I have to acknowledge that there are many good things about the film... great things even. And now The Passion. In some ways it's a moment of grace for the church that we do not deserve.

When I was watching The Passion I thought, in this particular moment, where we're coming out of the priest sex scandal and all the rest, the Church in a slumber—we've negotiated terms with the world in every quadrant, we've just settled in. We're not leaven in the dough, we are the dough. We're mostly indistinguishable from "the world" in so many places, in every profession. All of a sudden this movie comes out. It's going to rank with some of the greatest works of devout art that the Church has ever produced. I have absolutely no problem saying that. It's right up there with the other masters of their art forms. We don't deserve this film.

It was interesting to read in The New Yorker article that 350 Jesuits at Loyola Marymount gave the movie a standing ovation...

Yes, the Jesuits applauded! And so many people were saying to me "well, he's only been showing the movie to conservative Catholics." Excuse me, 350 Jesuits at Loyola applauded...

What is it about this movie that's so good?

I think the best things are the scenes that are not in the Bible. I would say that's true about most great sacred art. We're most moved by what the artist fills in from their imagination, and they show us something that might have happened that is fully in the spirit of the story.

One of the scenes that stayed with me the most is after the scourging of Jesus. Jesus is taken away from the courtyard, which was just mobbed with people, and now it's empty. Mary, his mother, who had been following him, comes in, and she's there with John and Magdalene. There are puddles of blood—Jesus's blood—all around them, in the place where he was chained up. Mary throws herself on the ground, takes a cloth, and she starts sopping up the blood of her son. And you know she knows what this is. It's both a Marian moment, and it's a profoundly eucharistic moment. Now, did it happen? Who knows? Probably not. But the artist 's imagination is able to make you stop and realize—this is not just any blood. It's so powerful!

Those moments are going to enter into people's consciousness beyond just the literal depiction of the story. We needed something more right now. We need the artist's imagination to prod us beyond the details of the story that we've heard a million times. And that's what this movie is.

Do you think Hollywood will be surprised at how well The Passion of Christ does at the box office? Are they aware of this "great awakening" of faith out there?

Yes, they are absolutely are. It's not just that they're conscious of it; they're part of it. For instance, Artisan Entertainment just opened up a branch to make movies for Christian moviegoers. Fox has started a branch to develop Christian story lines.

My friend's doing a show now for Showtime. His partners are Patrick Stewart and Morgan Freeman and it's about Simple City, a housing project in Washington DC. It's about these five black guys in prison who had a conversion to Christ, and they go back home and reform a whole community. It's a true story. Showtime bought the pitch because it's really well done. It's an edgy show, and it's got at least two stars attached who are prominent Christians. This is going to be a fun line-up on Showtime. You have Queer as Folk followed by Simple City. But isn't that where we're headed? It's the Gospel and sin, right up against each other. You have to choose a side.

The sacred and the profane—that's a very Catholic idea. But today it seems that some Catholics don't want to be soiled by the profane. You find the tendency to say "don't come into the Church until you're already cleaned up." It's like having to get sober before attending an AA meeting. Do you agree?

We have an elitist strain in us because we have a more sophisticated faith. For example, when I spoke to a group of Catholic academics, my sense of the people there listening to me was: "hmmm, this is very interesting, we'll hear more from you on this some other time." Just like the Athenians to St. Paul. I must have had twenty people tell me "Well, I never watch television, it's all garbage." Someone actually said to me, "Well, if the masses like it there must be something wrong with it." I said to him, you know Father, sometime things are popular because they're great, like soap, or the wheel." So please don't say to me, "I like the fine arts." The fact is film is a merging of the four classical art forms, which is why it's so powerful. It has all the power of painting, of music, of literature, and performance, all of which have captivated people for ten thousand years. Put them together, and that's cinema. To disdain it because it's lowly, well, I don't have time for people who say that. Evangelicals get this. They get that this is a powerful art form.

How has the Catholic-Protestant divide played itself out within Act One?

Act One is a fully interdenominational effort. But that's mostly because a couple of us Catholics have stubbornly stayed at the table, and dragged other Catholics with us. That presence is helping to heal the divide.

We have a sign in our office that says: "The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing," and the main thing is the 98% that we have in common. What we have in common is a worldview is centered on Jesus, my life is about pleasing him. Once you have that, the other stuff—how I pray, the community, the style of worship—we don't stress it because it tends to separate us. We got this from Pope John XXIII—in essentials unity, in the rest, diversity, in all things charity.

There was recently a very successful young director-he's going to be huge. He's reading Chesterton on the sly because his wife is an elder at a Presbyterian Church. He says to me, "I'm reading this book Orthodoxy—but I can't talk to you about it! Not yet!" And I'm like, any time you're ready!

Catholicism is such a more articulate religion than Evangelicalism is. We're fully integrated. We can speak about psychology and mysticism without any problems, but this is a problem for Evangelicalism. But the idea is for Catholics to stay at the table. Don't go away and form a colony.

I find that the organized Catholics in Hollywood—they don't think there's a problem. They tend to only be interested in social justice, they tend to be Liberal Democrats, and they tend to dissent from everything the Church teaches. I love all these people. But they don't think there's a problem. Or if they do think there's a problem, it's that you still can't show gay marriage on television. On the evangelical side, you don't have to deal with that.

My Catholics tend to be extremely reticent about ever mentioning the fact that they're Christian. The specifically Catholic presence in the industry is just sad. It's very sad. If I had waited for that to develop I would never have started Act One. It was only because Evangelicals said to me: "Here are offices, here is free rent, here's a staff, do your thing," that I was able to get started. On the Catholic side, it's just not the same. But it's worked out. It wasn't the way I had planned to go, but it's been good. We're are fully in a Taize model [A Catholic/ecumenical spiritual community].

What advice do you give to young Christians about evangelizing the industry?

There so much that needs to be done; it can be an overwhelming. I say this to my Christian artists who have a desire to evangelize, to do good. I tell them: your task is a humble one—it's to break up the ground. In many cases, that's it. The ground of people's hearts has gotten hard as a rock, and you're here to make their hearts fleshy.

You don't have to renounce what you've been called to do as an artist, and go out and become a preacher, or an apostle, or a baptizer. God will complete your work by sending these other people. You just keep doing your work, breaking up hard hearts, and that's enough. The Church should let artists do that. We just need to be in the middle of this community, being who we are, being open about our faith.

When do you start speaking to people about Jesus, when you know he's the answer they need? I'm talking about those situations where there's nothing else for them, they've done it all, and they're either going to kill themselves or find Jesus. The answer is that I have to still wait for them to ask me. I've found that's much more powerful. But you pray for them; you make sacrifices; you stand back and you hope that they're going to eventually say "I just don't know what to do, what would you do if you were me?"

What's Act One's time frame?

In terms of Act One's mission, it's very hard to do what we we've been talking about doing. It's going to take 25 years to get artists who have their theological act together and who also have mastered the craft.

We're addressing the four main problems we see in Christian writers starting out in the entertainment industry: a lack of artistry and a failure to understand the real power of the medium; a lack of respect for the industry and its professional standards; the absence of a network of like-minded professionals to form, mentor and hire Christians; and the lack of a specific Christian spirituality and ethics to address the particular challenges of the artist's vocation.

Mastery of the craft takes two to three decades. Let's face it. We're way behind. You're not going to see the results, but your kids will see some, and your grandkids will see it. But there's a new renaissance happening all around us. God is calling his people back into the arts, and that's good.

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December 17, 2003

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READER COMMENTS
01.29.05   Lunascura says:
As a Catholic I am daily disheartened by what I see happening in our society. However, I was very much uplifted by reading this interview with Barbara Nicolosi, seeing that there is a small army of people doing God's work in Hollywood. I liked her perspective on Hollywood films; I agree with her that Christian films must have good craft. She mentions Mel Gibson as an example of movies that have good craft as well as truth. Other examples include M. Night Shyamalan's work; Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs are some of my favorite movies.My daughter is a freshman studying film at Villa Julie College near Baltimore, MD, and I have often encouraged her by saying that God needs strong Christians in the film industry. But at the same time, I felt that she would be like a sheep thrown to the wolves. Now I see that she could have a support structure if she decided to go to Hollywood.

04.03.04   Siena says:
Praise God for Barbara Nicolosi!!!! For her faith, her courage, her wisdom and her dynamic spirit. This woman is pure authenticity of spirit and talent. She knows what sells. She knows the power of a Hollywood blockbuster and the effect it can have on the culture. I heard her speak in DC on the Passion last month. I marveled at her candid, matter-of-fact, down-to-earth wisdom. We could use more like her in the business. She will do great things. Just wait...

02.19.04   Zarina says:
Barbara Nicolosi does not believe that only Hollywood can make great films. She has praised many small and independent films, festivals and efforts. She does think, however, that Christians need to be involved in creating Hollywood films since these are the ones most widely distributed and watched. For more on Barbara's thoughts on art, film, and Christians in Hollywood, visit her weblog "Church of the Masses."

02.08.04   elise_81 says:
I have occaisionally read Barbara's web log commentary. I would agree; her opinions do seem to be more that of your average Joe Moviegoer who buys into the prevalant 'glitz, polish and yes, even pornography sells' mentality than someone claiming to be concerned with the evangelization of screen writers. She does not even tend to recognize art in less than commercial-Hollywood's typical plastic packaging. Her opinions anger me because she seems so hasty to squash any hope that there is in the truly good films that are surfacing ("The Lord of the Rings" "Therese") by focusing on where they fall short of her expectations of synthetic-feeling, Hollywood-perfect films.

01.08.04   unbirthdaygirl says:
I agree with much of what Barbara Nicolosi has to say about how the moral values of a film do not affect the quality of that film. But I do not understand how she can say that only "Hollywood" movies are going to have the quality of craft that it takes to make a good movie. What exactly is her definition of Hollywood? If she means to say only the big powerhouse studios like Universal, Paramount, or Warner Brothers can make quality films, then she is totally disregarding the smaller independent films that are starting to gain recognition for providing audiences with something totally different and much more entertaining than the assembly line garbage that Hollywood churns out on a regular basis.

12.18.03   Godspy says:
A candid discussion about the Act One screenwriting program, Hollywood, sin, beauty, porn, bad Christian movies, 9/11, Mel Gibson's The Passion, anti-semitism, the TV series Joan of Arcadia, the Therese movie, and more.

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