Category: Christians working in Arts and Media

NBA Star Steph Curry Signs on as Executive Producer on DeVon Franklin’s Faith Film ‘Breakthrough’

Steph Curry

Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry has signed a deal to become an executive producer on Breakthrough, a faith- and fact-based film starring Chrissy Metz of NBC’s This Is Us.

Breakthrough is based on the book, The Impossible, written by Joyce Smith. As reported here previously (before the film changed titles from The Impossible to Breakthrough), Metz plays Smith, a mother whose adopted son, John, fell through the ice and was declared legally dead. But, an hour later, after his mother’s fervent prayers, the 14-year-old boy came back to life. Topher Grace also stars as a pastor. Already filmed in Canada, the movie, launched by Christian producer DeVon Franklin (The Star), is set to come out in April.

Chrissy Metz

Curry recently launched a production company, Unanimous Media, which has an overall film/TV deal with Sony Pictures Entertainment. As the Hollywood Reporter learned exclusively, Curry, a devout Christian, was attracted to Breakthrough because he’s also interested in producing family-suitable and faith-friendly projects.

From the Hollywood Reporter:

“John’s story is nothing short of incredible,” said Curry in a statement to THR. “It’s a story about the power of prayer and perseverance and one I immediately connected to. After reading the script, I knew I wanted to be a part of bringing it to life onscreen.”

DeVon Franklin, who focuses on faith-based projects and produced Breakthrough, said Curry was moved by the true-life story and the movie “checks all his boxes: faith, true story, family and sports.” Curry and Franklin had a meeting on general movie projects and Franklin pitched him Breakthrough, the movie he was working at the time. Franklin gave him the script, which Curry read almost immediately; 24 hours later the basketball star was ready to get involved.

Curry and his co-founders at Unanimous, Jeron Smith and Erick Peyton, gave overall notes on themes tackled in the movie as well detailed notes on a couple of key scenes. They also gave editorial notes on the basketball scenes and helped license some of the imagery in the film.

Curry will also lend his high profile to the marketing of the film as the release draws nearer.

Images: Wikimedia Commons

Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager at Family Theater Productions

Keep up with Family Theater Productions on FacebookTwitter and YouTube.

BASED ON: True Life vs. Reel Life in Robert Redford’s ‘The Old Man & the Gun’

Robert Redford

The latest in a series by Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., USC film-school grad and producer-at-large at Family Theater Productions …

The Old Man & the Gun, written and directed by David Lowrey (based on a New Yorker article of the same name, written by David Grann).

David Grann, author of the engaging account of explorer Percy Fawcett (Lost City of Z, also adapted into a feature film) wrote a brisk abstract in 2003 for the New Yorker of another real life, but lesser known historical figure, Forrest Tucker. Grann’s history takes the reader on Tucker’s six-decade pattern of bank robberies and prison escapes.

Tucker’s life of crime started in teenage adolescence, when he stole a car “just for a thrill,” in Tucker’s own words. To interviewer Grann (click here for the original article), Tucker similarly reduces the description of his subsequent first break from prison to a stark, existential, “Such as it was.” The bank robber’s own self-reflection then, isn’t much of one in terms of introspection. He realized a useful (albeit unlawful) skill for flashing a gun and strong-arming unlucky bank tellers. This was equaled and perhaps surpassed by an uncanny ability to slither out of the tightest controlled prisons –one time spiriting away on a canoe from California’s San Quentin.

Later in life, Tucker would gather a few others into his nefarious band, nicknamed “The Over the Hill Gang.” The three hit larger banks with greater efficiency and of course, bigger scores. During his last years in prison, the article mentions he regretted his life: the betrayal of various wives and a sobering record for absentee parenting. I would tend to believe this, if his statement wasn’t belied by his last robbery at the age of 78, done seemingly for, in my opinion, “the thrill of it.”  He and his wife’s car and house were paid up, so there wasn’t a true monetary impulse for robbing again. Tucker died in prison in his 80s. Had he not been too old to finagle himself out from behind bars a final time, I suspect he would have robbed again.

Whereas the article allows Tucker to pass judgement on himself, director David Lowery provides a better backstory and thus impetus for a life of crime on the behalf of our roguish protagonist.

On the initial heist of the movie, an Over the Hill Gang member (Tom Waits) crosses himself, and the getaway driver (Danny Glover) asks him, who is he praying to now? His tongue-in-cheek response? “Our Lady of Rare and Periodic Attendance.” The robber absorbed something then of faith, but largely dismissed it except in favor of blasphemy on the occasions he sought “spiritual” protection from law enforcement.

This pales somewhat, to the criminal in question, Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford). Tucker boldly confronts detective John Hurt (Casey Affleck) asking if he’s caught the suspects yet. John hesitates to answer, and in that moment, Tucker straightens John’s tie, citing a sartorial habit he learned in Catholic school.

The only theology useful to Tucker lies in its misuse. Looking sharp and charming eases the facility to rob, completing the costuming of a wolf in sheepskin.

I feel the director, himself the son of a college professor from the robustly Catholic University of Dallas, did the main character and story better justice in filling in the origin story — even if that origin details the abandonment of faith. The film admittedly, states in its tagline: “based on mostly a true story.” The director’s embellishing of Tucker’s lack of faith, nonetheless tells a truer story about the nature of crime than Grann’s first-hand interviews of the criminal himself.

Released by Fox Searchlight pictures on Sept. 28, The Old Man & the Gun is currently in theaters. Click here to find a showtime near you.

Image: Courtesy Fox Searchlight Films

Click here to visit Father Vince Kuna’s IMDB page.

Keep up with Family Theater Productions on FacebookTwitter and YouTube.

‘Romero’: Re-Released Film About a Bishop Who Becomes a Martyr and Saint

Raul Julia as Archbishop Oscar Romero

Transformation is possible. People can learn to see the world and the issues of their times in new ways. This is one of the great insights of the recently re-released Collector’s Edition of Romero from Paulist Productions. This was just in time for the October 14, 2018, canonization of Archbishop Romero.

Oscar Romero (played by Raul Julia) had been a middle-of-the-road, make-no-waves priest and bishop in the hot political environment of El Salvador. For this reason, he was a “safe choice” when they needed someone to be the Archbishop of San Salvador. A few ruling families tightly controlled the land and economy of the country. There was a communist guerilla movement, the FMLN, but there was also a growing protest movement from within the Church. Poor people were being kidnapped and killed or conscripted into militia groups. Many priests and religious called attention to these disappearances. One of them was Father Rutilio Grande, S.J (played by Richard Jordan). Grande’s protests lead to his assassination by a government death squad.

It was his death and the torture of several other priests that was a turning point for Archbishop Romero. He began to listen carefully and observe the plight of the people, especially the poor.This changed him. He began to see how the poor were caught between the rebels and the government militias. He saw the damage violence was doing to the people (everyone), the country and even the Church.

Father David Guffey, C.S.C., attends a screening of “Romero”

Romero started preaching boldly for an end to violence, for peaceful resolutions to address injustices and conflicts. As his public words grew more direct, he became a target. They accused him of being a communist (he was not). Eventually, in March of 1980, he was shot while saying Mass. Romero is revered as a beloved martyr. This prayerful, quiet, bookish man was transformed into a voice for peace, for respect for life and for justice.

At the time of his Beatification, Pope Francis wrote about Archbishop Romero:

In times of difficult coexistence, Archbishop Romero knew how to lead, defend and protect his flock, remaining faithful to the Gospel and in communion with the whole Church. His ministry was distinguished by particular attention to the most poor and marginalized. And at the moment of his death, while he celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of love and reconciliation, he received the grace to identify himself fully with the One who gave his life for his sheep.

Last week, Father Tom Gibbons, C.S.P., of Paulist Productions, presented a copy of the film to Pope Francis in Rome.

Father Tom Gibbons, C.S.P. (left) and Father Thomas Rosica, C.S.B., give Pope Francis a copy of “Romero.”

The newly released film, Romero: Collector’s Edition, is available on DVD and download. It’s entertaining and, though it is 30 years old, seems relevant given the news from around the world today. It stands as one of the great saint movies of all time.

Images: Courtesy Paulist Productions, Family Theater Productions

Father David Guffey, C.S.C., is the Head of Production for Family Theater Productions.

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BASED ON: ‘Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer’ and the Book That Preceded It

 

Earl Billings as Dr. Kermit Gosnell

Our producer-at-large Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., a USC film-school grad, reviews the new true-crime procedural film Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer, released Oct. 12, and the book that preceded it, Gosnell: The Untold Story of America’s Most Prolific Serial Killer — both were based on grand-jury testimony, news reports and trial transcripts.

Married couple Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney produced the film Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer, basing it on a book of a similar title. The style of filmmaking follows the book closely, a verbatim account of Philadelphia abortionist, Dr. Kermit Gosnell, convicted of grisly murders at his decrepit abortion clinic.

(Note: While the film discusses grisly and horrific crimes, it is not gory or sensationalized. There is no sex or overt violence. Its PG-13 rating refers to adult themes and things more implied than shown. That said, it’s probably not suitable for anyone under its stated age range.)

The book and film rely on police reports, grand-jury testimony, the court stenographer and interviews with Gosnell himself (subsequent to his conviction). The account of Gosnell’s misdeeds left me speechless as the crimes were unraveled in 2010; the movie elicits the same response now. One illustration of the banality: Gosnell felt it appropriate to gleefully play classical music on his grand piano as Feds search his home, following a more recent search of his clinic which uncovered jarred baby parts from previous abortions.

The verbatim approach follows a rarely utilized adaptation style most famously realized in The Passion of Joan of Arc.  Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer, this silent film’s source material was based entirely on St. Joan of Arc’s heresy trial transcript. The stark, silent format that 1920s technology demanded actually worked to the film’s advantage. The back-and-forth interrogation between the saint and her inquisitors needed no embellishment from a screenwriter. The story speaks for itself. An innocent young woman dies at the hands of an overweening religious tribunal. The viewer, then has the opportunity to respond to St. Joan’s witness or not.

Philadelphia and federal law enforcement, city prosecutors, a journalist blogger and later, filmmakers, faced Gosnell’s brutal crimes in their verbatim form. They all played parts in not shirking from this evil, but instead exposed it in all its gruesome literalism and brutality.

Most suspiciously absent from the expose was (ironically enough) the institution most entrusted with uncovering truth and exposing lies … the mainstream media. As documented in the film and book, one journalist blogger snapped a photo of any empty journalist gallery and posted it to social media. A lay Twitter campaign publicly shamed traditional media outlets into sending their journalists to cover the trial. I would posit blame at human knuckleheadedness and typical shying-away from admitting some conspiratorial media blackout, but recent events might prove me wrong.

The book’s release immediately made it a bestseller, but the New York Times initially refused to place it on its list, despite empirical book sales demonstrating otherwise. Perhaps, more jaw-dropping was National Public Radio’s denial of the filmmakers’ attempt to pay for ad spots referring to Gosnell as an abortion doctor, even though the radio station’s own previous scant reporting on the case used the very same title.

I prefer themes subtly massaged into the media I both consume and produce. After all, our own Savior spoke through parables, metaphors and good ole-fashioned stories. When confronted with evil so depraved, there’s something to be said about lifting high the Cross and exposing evil in all its lurid detail. Does one respond with facing evil head on and administering justice, or retreat back into a bed of lies, blanketed by sins of omission?

Image: Courtesy Hat Tip Films

Click here to visit Father Vince Kuna’s IMDB page.

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‘Catholic Central’ Videos Keep It Quick, Fun and Informational

Family Theater Productions’ Catholic Central aims to boil down the history, theology and practices of a 2,000-year-old church into a series of online videos that all clock in at less than 10 minutes, while still keeping it fresh, fun, engaging to younger viewers … and accurate.

Here’s a taste:

How Is Catholic Central Created?

This Herculean task requires a team of professional writers, directors and crew people, two outrageously talented hosts, along with editors and animators, and a backup squad of researchers and theologians. There are many talking-head YouTube videos out there, and many of them are quite good (such as those by Father Mike Schmitz, a fan of our show), but Catholic Central wanted to be something different.

“Catholic Central plays a much-needed role on the Internet. Not only are Kai and Libby great at communicating the truths of the Catholic faith in a clear and understandable way, but their presentation is also incredibly entertaining and the production value very high. We need more resources like this!”

          Fr. Mike Schmitz, Catholic priest and media evangelist

Shot in FTP’s own studio on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, the episodes focus on a wide variety of Catholic topics, from big ones, like recent episode “What’s Catholic?”, to short explorations of holiday traditions, hot-button issues like “Creation and Evolution,” and more esoteric subjects, like “Praying With the Bible: Ignatian Meditation.”

Inspired by John Green’s info-and-graphics-heavy, but still quick and entertaining, Crash Course videos, the episodes feature striking visuals and computer-generated animation, like this dramatic comic-book-flavored take on the papal conclave:

The goal is always to come at the topic from a broad view, then narrowing down to the most essential elements. After that, it’s deciding how the information can be conveyed through spoken text (leaning toward non-theological language, with precise terms added when necessary), comedy and images. The Catholic Central style makes use of traditional Catholic imagery, mixed with striking photos and pop-culture-inspired takes (like the cardinal “Bat Signal” in the video above).

Who’s in Catholic Central?

Live hosts Kai (Kaiser Johnson) and Libby (Libby Slater) anchor from the Catholic Central desk and also portray a dizzying array of original characters, those inspired by pop culture, and figures from history in quick comedy takes.

Like this clip from “Mary” featuring Slater as the Mother of God:

All of these are then cut together into fast-paced videos that are still sensitive to the topics, never going for laughs or speed at the expense of facts and reverence.

After a long casting search, Johnson and Slater were chosen for their on-screen chemistry, poise and appealing personalities. As time has gone on, they’ve demonstrated impeccable comedic timing, an ability to be serious when the topic demands (and say some mighty big words). They’re also good sports, rapidly switching costumes, wigs, makeup and personas — sometimes several times in one shooting day.

Kai and Libby also write for the show — and they have improv chops, as demonstrated in this short episode for Lent, which begins with a script and then goes into Johnson’s improvised rant:

Where Can You Watch Catholic Central?

Available on its own YouTube channel, the show is also found at CatholicCentral.com, where each episode page features links, Going Deeper questions and such downloadable resources as an episode transcript, and activity guides for individuals and small/large groups. The guides and questions are developed with input from the show’s own Catholic staff, in consultation with educators and theologians.

While the classic YouTube format of one or two people just talking directly to the camera can be very effective, Catholic Central takes it up a notch, producing videos that are not only suitable for the ordinary seeker who may stumble across them on YouTube but also for families and the classroom. The style is intended to be visually interesting and entertaining, emphasizing sound doctrine and history while keeping it sharp, funny and relevant.

The show even now has a Millennial showrunner, Mary Ashley Burton. A talented writer, she also directs episodes, and manages the writing team and the physical production.

There are several new episodes up at CatholicCentral.com — take a look!

Image: Family Theater Productions

Kate O’Hare is a longtime entertainment journalist and the Social Media Manager for Family Theater Productions.

Keep up with Family Theater Productions on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

‘God Friended Me’: Our Screening Verdict Is in on the New CBS Faith Drama

The verdict is in on God Friended Me, premiering Sunday, Sept. 30 on CBS. Was it thumbs up or down?

On Monday, Sept. 24, invited guests (including our Head of Production, Father David Guffey, C.S.C.) came to a screening of the pilot for the latest offering from uber-producer Greg Berlanti at the Family Theater Productions offices in Hollywood.

UPDATE: God Friended Me premiered to solid ratings, with a 1.4 rating, a 5 share, which translates in English to 10.45 million viewers.

The one-hour comedy/drama, created by “Alcatraz” co-creators Steven Lilien and Bryan Wynbrandt, stars Brandon Micheal Hall as Miles Finer, a Millennial who, despite being the son of a reverend (Joe Morton), hosts an atheist podcast. One day, he gets a Facebook friend request from “God.” He tries to ignore it, but a cascade of strangeness results — from a literal burning bush to electronics mayhem to more friend requests that lead to incredible coincidences — which, if not exactly torpedoing Miles’ lack of belief, begins to open him up to questions.

The cast also includes Violett Beane as Cara Bloom, a reporter the “God account” connects with Miles; Suraj Sharma as Rakesh, Miles’s day-job co-worker and secret hacker (his faith and ethnicity aren’t specified in the pilot, but he appears to come from a traditional South Asian family); and Javicia Leslie as Ali, Miles’ still-believing sister.

After viewing the pilot, everyone filled out a questionnaire. Of the 25 responses, the bulk were from Catholics, but there was also a Jewish attendee (and a Jewish convert to Catholicism). Many, if not most, of the group either work in the entertainment industry (including a handful of FTP staff) or are connected to it. Ages ranged from 20s to 50+; roughly split between men and women.

The questionnaire asked “Are you a religious believer?”, with the choices being “Yes,” “No” and “Still Thinking About It.” Of those who answered, a couple folks circled the last one, but no one said “No.”

So, in general, this was a faith-centric audience that historically has been very skeptical and mistrusting of any mainstream-entertainment treatment of religion, but a subset of that group that is familiar with how TV is made.

To begin with, from my vantage point in the back of the theater, I saw people paying close attention to the screen, not talking between themselves or on their phones. They laughed frequently, and there was applause at the end.

During the reception afterward (with themed name tags and snacks), there was much discussing of the pilot, and people applied themselves with care to answering the questions — with overwhelmingly positive results.

Here are some samples (questions in bold) …

What what your overall impression of the pilot?

(Several folks did note that they thought it was a bit slow and dragged in places.)

“It was warmhearted; opens the door for faith discussions…” “Everything was a little too neat and clean. “I liked the characters, especially the supporting cast. The lead was very good as well.” “Laid the groundwork efficiently and strongly.” “Lots of potential.” “Very well-done, modern approach. Grounded.” “Sweet. Very likable characters.” “Great storyline, thought-provoking and most important, family-friendly.” “Touching, emotional, but in a good way.” “Why didn’t he just block [God]”? “Well-done, surprisingly clever.” “It’s an expansion of the question, ‘Is it odd, or is it God?'”

What did you think of its treatment of faith?

“Pilot made it seem as if he is revolting against what he was brought up with.” “I appreciate how there were people with different perspectives on religion/faith.” “Good. Reminds me of my conversion.” “Fun but serious.”  “Realistic.” “Very non-committed — not subscribing to a specific morality in faith or lifestyle.” “It reminded me of a Christian rock song.” “There’s nothing like it on TV.” “As a person of faith, I liked it … I do wonder how a secular audience will receive it.” “I liked how God works in mysterious ways.” “God sneaks up on you when you least expect it.” “Handled with openness and sincerity.” “Gentle in its approach.” “Not too cloying. Believable.”

What was your favorite element?

“The supernatural element.” “How everything was connected” (Two folks referenced this.) “There were some very subtle religious elements throughout.” “Casting.” “The best friend and the networking element.” “The way Miles’ relationship with his father was dealt with.” (A few people referenced the father-son thing.) “The New Jersey reference.” (At one point, Miles thinks he’s found the “God account,” in New Jersey.) “People were doing real things — like hooking up.” “He asked for a burning bush, and God gave him one. He still didn’t believe.” “The possibility of fate.” “Nice to see something that approached faith in a positive light.” “Diverse characters and having forgiveness.”

What did you like the least?

(Not everybody answered this one.)

“How every storyline is neatly wrapped up.” “That we only screened one episode!” “Some of the dialogue felt a bit on the nose, a bit too scripted.” (A few people had this comment.) “Maybe not showing a lot of Catholic religion, but it’s only the first episode.” “The performances felt a bit stilted.” (Again, more than one person noted this.) “The hook-up (but I guess that’s realistic).” “Too many crying scenes back-to-back.” “Nothing, really.” “There was potential for it to all be a cyber-joke.”

Some final questions:

At the end, I asked for a star rating, from one to 5. For those who answered, there was one 3; two 3.5s; nine 4s; five 4.5s; and five 5s.

There were two questions that everyone answered. Almost all of the attendees would recommend God Friended Me to folks of faith (with one Undecided); there were two Nos and two Undecideds for recommending it to atheist/agnostic folks. As for watching more episodes, again overwhelmingly Yes, with three Undecideds.

Based on this, CBS appears to have a good chance of at least getting a look from the faith audience — whether it can keep them is yet to be determined.

God Friended Me hits the airwaves on Sunday, Sept. 30, at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT. (the whole night is later because of an NFL doubleheader); as of Oct. 7, the show moves into its regular 8 p.m. ET/PT timeslot.

Images: CBS/Kate O’Hare for Family Theater Productions

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