Production is underway in Los Angeles on “The Baxters,” a scripted family drama set to premiere late this year on Roma Downey’s LightWorkers platform.
Based on “The Baxter Family” 26-book series by Karen Kingsbury, the streaming series of six half-hour episodes stars Downey and Ted McGinley (“God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness”) as the heads of a family with six adult children.
“We have assembled a talented cast and creative team to lead ‘The Baxters,’ LightWorkers’ first premium scripted digital series,” said Downey who is president of LightWorkers Media. “We look forward to bringing this beloved story to life for a whole new audience.”
LightWorkers Media, the company behind the uplifting, positivity-focused platform, is a joint venture of MGM TV, Downey and her husband, Mark Burnett, who’s also the head of MGM TV and Digital. Downey is producing “The Baxters” with Will Packer (“Uncle Buck,” the new “Roots”) and his Will Packer Media shingle.
But you don’t have to wait to enjoy the other fare offered at LightWorkers (click here), which recently included a feature story on our feature-length documentary “The Dating Project.” After a one-night run in theaters across the country on April 17, it’s set to come out on DVD in June, and perhaps then on a digital streaming service.
Today, the loveliest thing happened on YouTube and Twitter. Betcha don’t hear that often, right?
Students, alumni and faculty of Bishop Sullivan High School in Virginia Beach, Virginia, created a YouTube video in an attempt to reach L.A.’s Bishop Robert Barron.
The plan was to share it on Twitter and encourage influencers to retweet it, in hopes that Barron would agree to be the final judge of a video contest in the school.
Take a look:
Published on YouTube April 11, the video was tweeted out on April 12.
Responses came in quickly, including this one from Catholic University of America Associate Professor of Systematic Theology Dr. Chad Pecknold, who got a shout-out in the video:
We also RTed it, hoping to eventually get some of these kids as college interns!
It didn’t take long for the students to get a response from their target:
The teacher responded (including a thank-you to Fr. Goyo Hildalgo, one of our favorite priests (and a great Twitterer), from St. Rose of Lima in Simi Valley, California, just north of Los Angeles (BTW, we follow Mr. Goerke now):
And then the school, with some video gratitude:
Of course, Bishop Barron really got his start as a public evangelist on YouTube, which is owned by Google. Late last month, Barron visited Google’s headquarters, the Googleplex, in Mountain View, California, to deliver a talk called “Religion and the Opening Up of the Mind,” in which he discussed the connection between our desire for quick answers and the question of God. More on that here.
Then, Barron visited YouTube HQ in San Bruno, California (prior to the horrific shooting there), and posted this video summarizing his Googleplex talk.
As the “bishop of the Internet,” as the Bishop Sullivan students called him, it’s fitting that Barron visited Google and YouTube, and that the students used YouTube and Twitter to ask him to judge a video contest.
The next time someone tells you that social media is an unredeemable swamp, remember this day.
Image: Courtesy World on Fire (YouTube screenshot)
Word is beginning to circulate about the new documentary “The Dating Project,” in which Family Theater Productions has partnered with Paulist Productions and MPower Pictures. Hitting theaters around the country on Tuesday, April 17, as a one-night Fathom Event, it follows five singles — two in college, and one twentysomething, thirtysomething and fortysomething — trying to find love in today’s dismal dating culture.
There are Christians in it — and the L.A.-based participant, Chris Meehan, is Catholic — but this is a universal problem, and the documentary is, as the tagline says, for every single person.
We recommend buying tickets in advance, and taking as many friends, relatives, co-workers, teammates, shipmates and roommates as you can, because, if this isn’t your problem, it’s a problem for someone you care about.
People of faith may decry the state of secular dating, but as this article from the managing editor of CatholicMatch.com says, we’re no better at it than anyone else.
Honestly, as I see it, the problem with all three scenarios above is the same: people just don’t know how to date. Non-Catholics don’t know how to date. “Normal” Catholics don’t know how to date. And Extra-Catholic Catholics don’t know how to date.
Plus, add to this the fact that dating is not an end in itself — marriage is. Dating is a means to an end. But you have to use that means well and stay right in the middle between two extremes: dating just to fill the loneliness versus hardly ever dating because you think you need to get engaged after the first two dates.
And that’s what “The Dating Project” is all about. It’s based on the work of a Catholic professor at Boston College, Dr. Kerry Cronin, who is trying to restore sanity to a situation in which it’s somehow less awkward to engage in a drunken hookup with a near-total stranger than to ask someone out for coffee face-to-face.
It’s also something that vlogger and speaker Father Mike Schmitz — whose day job is ministering to students at the University of Minnesota Duluth — addresses in his latest video, released today. Inspired by seeing “The Dating Project,” he attacks the culture of “Netflix and chill,” which means anything but watching Netflix and relaxing (unless Father Mike says it).
The film is suitable for middle-schoolers (with their parents) and older. There is a discussion of pornography, but it is not graphic (and if you think your kids don’t know what that is … well, I hope you’re right).
Hope to see you all there. And if you’re looking for lasting love, throw up a prayer that we can all #DateDifferently.
Image: Courtesy Father Mike Schmitz/The Dating Project
“The Star”: Courtesy AFFIRM Films/Sony Pictures Animation
Just in the last month, the faith-based drama “I Can Only Imagine,” which cost $7M to produce, has earned over $58M at the box office. This past Easter Sunday, NBC’s “Jesus Christ Superstar Live” earned both good reviews and won primetime for the night.
“There is this mainstream bubble that is marginalizing these types of films, and we do underestimate them,” explains comScore’s senior media analyst (and box office expert) Paul Dergarabedian, adding that the Easter holiday could inspire countless droves of parishioners to plop down cash at the multiplex at the request of their religious leaders. “The faith-based films may be bolstered by perhaps the most grassroots of all movie marketing, which is at the church level. It’s like having a watercooler discussion at work, but you’re having a watercooler discussion in front of a church. You can imagine that, on Easter Sunday, when the leader of the flock is up there [giving a] sermon, it might be about going to see [a movie like the upcoming Jim Caviezel film] Paul, Apostle of Christ.”
“It’s a mistake to underestimate faith-based movies,” Dergarabedian concludes. “Just because you’re not seeing it in your own backyard, it doesn’t mean it’s not happening.”
But if one looks, Christian values can be found in many places, including both faith-based projects and secular ones. The purpose of the annual Christopher Awards is to recognize these efforts.
First presented in 1949, the Christopher Awards were established by Christopher founder Father James Keller to salute media that “affirm the highest values of the human spirit.” Their goal is to encourage men, women and children to pursue excellence in creative arenas that have the potential to influence a mass audience positively. Award winners encourage audiences to see the better side of human nature and motivate artists and the general public to use their best instincts on behalf of others.
From The Christophers ‘ Director of Communications Tony Rossi, the producer and writer of the annual awards:
In a world where there’s a lot of anger and division, people need stories like those we’re honoring with Christopher Awards this year. From heroism in war to ordinary acts of kindness, these stories can serve as instruments of grace, helping us to see beyond our differences and celebrate our common humanity.
Here are the TV and film winners …
Broadcast TV & Cable:
ABC News 20/20:Wonder Boyfollows the Newman family as they deal with their son Nathaniel’s rare cranio-facial condition called Treacher Collins, the brutal surgeries he must endure as a result, and their efforts to help the world see his beautiful heart, mind, and soul.
The mini-series The Long Road Home (National Geographic Channel) dramatizes the 2004 ambush of the U.S. Army’s First Cavalry Division as they started peacekeeping duties in Sadr City, Iraq, the anxieties of their families back home, and the sacrifice and heroism of ordinary soldiers.
In The Christmas Miracle, an episode of the long-running comedy series The Middle (ABC), Frankie Heck’s [played by Catholic star Patricia Heaton] adult son Axl refuses to attend church with the family on Christmas Eve, causing her to confront her own lackluster spirituality and recognize the importance of connecting with God.
The Music of Strangers (HBO) celebrates the unique sounds and individuals that make up cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, a group of musicians from the U.S., Europe, Asia, and Africa, who blend their musical cultures in order to build bridges in a divided world.
POV: Swim Team (PBS) highlights Michael and Maria Quay’s efforts to give their son and other young people with autism the opportunity to achieve goals and gain confidence by channeling their energies into sports in an inclusive and encouraging environment.
With a Nazi invasion of England imminent, newly appointed Prime Minister Winston Churchill [Academy Award-winner Gary Oldman] must rally his unprepared nation and fellow members of Parliament to fight for liberty and freedom in Darkest Hour(Focus Features).
A rebellious and insecure teen, who has a contentious relationship with her mother, strives for independence and experiences moments of grace due to the subtle, unrealized influences of her Catholic education in Lady Bird (A24 Films).
A brave donkey, lovable sheep, and wisecracking dove make up the merry band of misfits on a divine mission to bring Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem for Jesus’ birth in the animated Nativity story The Star(AFFIRM Films/Sony Pictures Animation).
Asked by FTP for a comment, “The Star’s” Catholic director, Timothy Reckart, said: “All of us on the team are very grateful to Sony Pictures Animation for giving us the opportunity to retell the Nativity story in a playful, original way, and we are thrilled that the Christopher Awards has honored our efforts.”
Last but not least:
Based on the Christopher Award-winning bestseller, Wonder(Lionsgate) tells the story of a 10-year-old boy, born with facial deformities, who enters a mainstream school for the first time and teaches his classmates and community about compassion, acceptance, and the power of kindness.
The 69th annual Christopher Awards will be handed out in New York City on May 17.
We got to meet so many great people, both people who love what we’re doing, and people who got to discover what we do.
But, one downside of this is we didn’t get a lot of time to attend many talks and workshops, and no doubt that was true for a lot of folks.
One of our favorites — and yours — is Los Angeles’ Bishop Robert Barron. He gave a packed keynote address on March 17, addressing one of his favorite topics, “Catholicism and Beauty,” talking about icons and the ways the Church embraces beauty in all its forms — painting, music, sculpture, literature, architecture, stained glass, etc.
So, for us, and all of you, here’s his talk in full:
And, by the way, Bishop Barron, with the help of Catholic journalist John L. Allen, has put out a new book called “To Light a Fire on the Earth: Proclaiming the Gospel in a Secular Age” — part biography, part philosophy and part Barron’s plan to turn his Word on Fire apostolate into an actual movement.
Buy it here from Word on Fire; and here from Amazon.com (where there’s also a Kindle version, and an audio version via the Audible app).
The new movie about St. Paul from ODB Films, the filmmakers who brought you Full of Grace, comes to theaters on March 23, just in time for Palm Sunday on the 25th. Let me answer the big questions right away:
Is it good? Yes.
Is it biblical? Sort of.
It’s historical and extra-biblical, meaning it takes historical events and passages from the Bible that we know occurred. Then, the movie depicts them, along with scenes and events created by the filmmakers that are not in Sacred Scripture but could have happened.
Is it heretical? No.
Not to my understanding, and not to any of the priests and theologians whom I have asked about the movie. Now, if you are one of those people who feels that depicting anything from the Bible that is not explicitly in the Bible, you will have problems with the film. But, to paraphrase St. John the Apostle, if everything that Christ did was written down, there would not be enough books in the world to record it.
How is the message and the portrayal of faith? The message is powerful, and faith is portrayed as meaningful and positive, but also real.
Which means some people doubt, some struggle, some even fall away. Even Paul questions. But – spoiler alert – the ending message of faith, hope and love is all the more powerful for it. For those who are offended by saints depicted as actual human beings, be warned. However, Paul in the New Testament writes about the good he wants to do but does not do, and the bad he does not want to do but does anyway.
Should I see it? YES.
It is a striking, contemplative look at one of the most influential people in all of Christianity.
Paul, Apostle of Christ, however, is significant for another reason as well: I believe it embodies the next step of faith–based films, and this is a good thing!
I say this because, while still being low-budget (especially by Hollywood standards), it is a professional-looking movie, with real, recognizable actors: Jim Caviezel (Passion of the Christ, Person of Interest), James Faulkner (Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones) and Olivier Martinez (Revenge & S.W.A.T.). It also delivers a powerful story with quality writing, AND it still manages to deliver a message rather than just showing a sermon on screen.
Have you ever felt in the past that saying you liked Christian films was like confessing to a guilty pleasure? When someone, especially a non-believer, asked if you liked certain famous, faith-based movies, did you feel like you needed to justify yourself if you said “yes”?
For example, you would admit the acting isn’t great, the writing is heavy-handed, and the production value was just above amateur – but hey, the message was fantastic! Well, I think that day is disappearing, where audiences are no longer turning out like they used to just because a film mentions Jesus and stars Kirk Cameron or Kevin Sorbo. (God bless you, Kirk and Kevin, for being trailblazers in this field!)
Critics and fans have been asking, when will faith-based films be … well, good. In all honesty, there have been such high-budgeted fair which often featured a known star or two. These are films like Risen and Miracles from Heaven, and they did deliver a higher-quality experience However, the budgets were much, much bigger, therefore much riskier and that gave rise to the question– if a film like Moonlight could be made for $2 million and be Academy Award-worthy (it won the best picture Oscar in 2017), why couldn’t faith films be the same?
And, where were the Catholics in all this Christian content?
Well, we find our answer in Paul, Apostle of Christ. Made for a slightly larger budget than God’s Not Dead 2 and War Room ($3 million apiece, per BoxOfficeMojo.com) and for a bit less than recent release I Can Only Imagine, here is a modestly priced movie, made by Catholics, that still delivers in quality on every level.
Now, to be clear, this film is more of a chamber piece, literally, where Paul spends most of the story in a chamber, his prison cell. However, a chamber piece usually means a film that largely shows people talking in rooms. There are no car (or chariot) chases or harrowing escapes, and this film does not focus on some of the more action-packed moments of St. Paul’s life.
Instead, it shows Paul as an old man, who is a prisoner of Nero and awaits the eventual day of his execution. It opens with the Gospel writer, St. Luke, arriving in Rome to find the Christian community there. He wants to connect with Paul to guide him in helping the faithful, who are now facing intense persecution under the emperor.
Despite the lack of big action scenes, the film still manages to touch the heart by asking, arguing and addressing some of the big issues that Christian faced back then and still struggle with today. For example, what it does it mean to believe when the powers of the world seem stacked against you? Also, how do you find hope and love in a world so ruled by fear and hate? More importantly, if you can find these graces, how do you live them?
Paul, Apostle of Christ brings that drama to the big screen in a subtle but beautiful and effective way.
I would recommend going to the theaters to have this film help you start your Holy Week.