Category: Christians working in Arts and Media

‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Higher Ground': Martha Williamson on Faith, Love and a Touch of the Blues

Martha-Williamson-Signed-Sealed-Delivered-1On Feb. 2, “Touched by an Angel” creator Martha Williamson sat down for a talk at Bel-Air Presbyterian in Los Angeles, as part of its faith-based Beacon Hollywood ministry.

Williamson is currently known for “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” a series of movies on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, which premieres a new installment, “Higher Ground,” on Sunday, Feb. 19, at 9 p.m. ET.

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The series focuses on the “POstables,” a team based in the Denver, Colorado, office of the U.S. Postal Service, which attempts to deliver mail lost in transit and left undelivered. It’s up to the POstables to make sure the “dead letters” are, as Williamson says, “delivered late, but right on time.”

Here’s what’s happening in “Higher Ground,” from the official Website:

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans handyman and blues singer-songwriter Gabe Recolte was left homeless before he had the chance to express his love for club owner Hattie. Oliver and his team retrieve Gabe’s love letter years later and face challenges in solving the mystery. Stars Keb ‘Mo, Eric Mabius, Kristin Booth, Crystal Lowe and Geoff Gustafson.

While the stories of the POstables continue through each movie, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” also lets Williamson tell a story about new characters in each Martha-Williamson-Signed-Sealed-Delivered-2installment — as she did with “Touched by an Angel” — with faith themes threaded through.

We’ll deal with “Touched” in another post, but here are some selections from what Williams had to say about her new project.

On the tentative romance between head POstable Oliver O’Toole (Eric Mabius) and postal detective Shane McInerney (Kristin Booth):

I wanted to explore a man who’s a Christian, whose life was messed up. So, he’s married, and his wife has left him and taken off to Paris. He’s finally worked through that, and what it meant to be a man of honor and not take up with this other woman, even though he hadn’t even seen his wife for almost three years. But he wanted to do the right thing until he was released to do something else, and he was really was struggling.

He’s basically in love but hasn’t said it yet to Shane.

She is a 21st-Century technology woman, and he is a 20th-Century, basically a Luddite, who doesn’t even own a cellphone. The two of them should not be together whatsoever, but that’s not how God works, and so they’ve been going back and forth.

She’s not a believer and he is, so to pitch that to Hallmark without them thinking it it’s going to be a Christian show, was a real tap dance. But I said, “Just trust me, and as we develop these characters you’re going to want to see what happens, and you’re going to want to see his level of faith.”

On how Hallmark responded:

Michelle Vicary, the senior executive vice president [at Hallmark], said, “I’m not afraid of God,” which I thought was a very powerful thing to hear at a network.

They’ve been very supportive and I think the challenge for this that they are human. They are walking in faith, and they are at different points at faith. And they actually are responsible for maintaining other people’s faith. It’s a tremendous act of faith.

How fan response planted a seed for “Signed, Sealed, Delivered”:

I found some letters that had been written to me that I never read. Fan letters. I was reminded of how people’s lives had been changed. …

I’ll never forget this one little boy in an airport once he said, “My mommy and my sister and me, we watch [‘Touched by an Angel’] all the time. My daddy watches it too, but he watches it in the den because he cries.”

And I thought that was just adorable because it said so much, that this poor man, you know, was wanting to feel things but he didn’t want to appear weak, apparently. So I thought, “Wouldn’t it be interesting to have somebody like Oliver, a guy who’s really weak in so many ways but strong in his faith and that’s what keeps him going, and he’s a kind person?”

There’s this amazing web of fans for this crazy little show. They just deconstruct every single line. They see the Biblical references in it, even though it’s not there. … What they love is there’s this really sexy guy who struggles. He has fallen and gotten himself back up. He made bad decisions but he can still be a man of faith, and he’s a gentleman. He opens the door not because you’re a woman, he opens the door because you’re a human.

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On the mature love story in “Higher Ground”:

Keb ‘Mo is one of the most remarkable blues artists in the country. Back, a few months ago performed in the White House for President and Mrs. Obamam and he performed with James Taylor and Eric Clapton. I mean, he’s an incredible musician and he’s an old friend.

One more thing you should always do is never be afraid to reach out to somebody you admire and tell them that you admire them and say thank you. Which is exactly what I did with Keb ‘Mo, and we ended up begin friends, and now he’s on our show. Hallmark is not known for its diversity, and so it took three years to get this romantic couple on the screen, and I’m very happy about that.

And also, we know this, they ain’t young. They’re older folks. Who can fall in love too.

On the romances you’ll see — including Oliver and Shane — and the future:

I didn’t know if “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” was going to be picked up for three more movies, so I wrote this with the intention that, if this is the last show that we ever see in this series of movies, we will resolve some things.

The two couples that you see will come together in ways that the audience has been waiting for for a long time. I’m very happy about that, but most importantly, we finally see Shane realize, step up and become something of a believer, I would say.

She acknowledges that God has been working in her life. That’s huge. So, all the little tiny pieces were pulled together, and happily, we were picked up for three more movies for 2017, so I’m going to be busy for a while.

Here’s a sneak peek at “Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Higher Ground” …

Images: Courtesy Hallmark Channel

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.

 

 

Chris Brancato: The ‘Narcos’ and ‘Of Kings and Prophets’ Writer/Producer Shares Showbiz Wisdom

Chris-Brancato-NarcosDuring my years as an entertainment journalist covering television, I got to meet a lot of great people. One of them was Chris Brancato, a writer/producer I first interviewed when he was working on a Syfy (then Sci-Fi) Channel drama called “First Wave.”

Luckily for me — and especially for Chris — his career trajectory continued upward. He’s written and produced for such shows as NBC’s “Boomtown” and “Hannibal,” Netflix’s “Narcos” (which he co-created) and ABC’s Biblical drama “Of Kings and Prophets” (click here for a story about that).

Last November, he accepted an invitation to come and speak at Family Theater Productions’ monthly Prayer and Pasta event, discussing the challenge of keeping the core of your project alive during the pitching and production process.

But, the week before that, I headed to his offices on the Walt Disney lot to capture some of his wisdom on camera. The result is this trio of videos, which are a tidy little masterclass for anybody interested in making TV series, from someone who’s been there.

Enjoy!

Image: Family Theater Productions

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.

Movieguide’s Faith and Values Awards Gala: An Awards Show You Can Get Behind

movieguide-faith-values-award-reelz-benhur-hacksaw-ridge-risen-andrew-garfield-joseph-fiennesOn Feb. 10, Christian media group Movieguide offers the 25th Annual Faith and Values Awards Gala, an awards show that might be upbeat and positive — and about showbiz instead of politics.

What a concept, eh?

Terry Crews is host, overseeing a slate of nominations that includes Epiphany Awards for a TV show and a movie that “greatly increased man’s love or understanding for God,” according to the press release.

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The movie nominees are (in alphabetical order):

  • “Ben-Hur (2016)”
  • “God’s Not Dead 2″
  • “Hacksaw Ridge”
  • “Hail, Caesar!”
  • “Miracles From Heaven”
  • “Risen”
  • “Silence”
  • “The Young Messiah”

And the TV nominees:

  • “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”: Season 3, Episodes 20-22, “Emancipation,” “Absolution,” “Ascension” (ABC)
  • “The Bridge Part 2″ (Hallmark Movies and Mysteries)
  • “Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love” (NBC)
  • “Operation Christmas” (Hallmark Movies and Mysteries)
  • “The Passion: New Orleans” (Fox)
  • “Pocahontas: Dove of Peace” (CBN)
  • “A Time to Dance” (Hallmark Movies and Mysteries)

Also, the Grace Awards honor an actor from one movie and one TV program for offering, as the release says, the “most inspiring performances in movies and television demonstrating God’s grace and love toward us as human beings.”

For movies:

  • Roderigo Santoro (“Ben-Hur (2016)”)
  • David A.R. White (“God’s Not Dead 2″)
  • Melissa Joan Hart (“God’s Not Dead 2″)
  • Andrew Garfield (“Hacksaw Ridge”)
  • Josh Brolin (“Hail, Caesar!”)
  • Robert Pike Daniel (“Hail, Caesar!”)
  • Jennifer Garner (“Miracles From Heaven”)
  • Kylie Rogers (“Miracles From Heaven”)
  • Cliff Curtis (“Risen”)
  • Joseph Fiennes (“Risen”)
  • Adam Greaves-Neal (“The Young Messiah”)

And TV:

  • Natalia Cordova-Buckley (“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”)
  • Faith Ford (“The Bridge Part 2″)
  • Ted McGinley (“The Bridge Part 2″)
  • Alyvia Alyn Lind (“Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love”)
  • Gerald McRaney (“Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love”)
  • Dolly Parton (“Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love”)
  • Tyler Perry (“The Passion: New Orleans”)
  • Devielle Johnson (“A Time to Dance”)

Here’s a look at what else is on the agenda:

For 32 years, Movieguide and Companion Christian Film and Television Commission have been “redeeming the values of the entertainment industry by influencing industry executives and by informing and equipping the public about the influence of the entertainment media.”

The honors will be telecast on Easter Sunday, April 16, on the REELZ cable channel.

Images: Courtesy Paramount/MGM; Lionsgate; Sony/Affirm; Wikimedia Commons

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.

‘Faith in Media': Honoring Don Bosco With Patrick Coffin and Joseph Nesta on Media Evangelization

Don-Bosco-Joseph-Nesta-Patrick-Coffin-ffbJan. 31 is the feast day of Giovanni Melchiorre Bosco, also known as Saint John Bosco, also known as Don Bosco, an Italian priest, educator and writer during the 19th century.

He was famous for educating street children and troubled youth in Turin, Italy — and he’s the patron of apprentices, schoolchildren and youth — but because of his love of learning, he’s also the patron of editors and publishers.

If Don Bosco were alive today, like modern editors and publishers, he’d certainly be on the Internet, and maybe radio and television as well.

As part of our ongoing “Faith in Media” interview series, here are a couple more media pros, continuing the conversation (started in this post, with speaker and evangelist Father Tony Ricard, and “media nun” Sister Nancy Usselmann of the Daughters of Saint Paul) about using modern media to evangelize.

First up is Joseph Nesta, the senior community relations officer for Catholic radio network Immaculate Heart Radio. Among his topics is the ongoing relevance of one of the older mass-media technologies, radio, and how it impacts people even today.

Then we have Patrick Coffin. He’s a cradle Catholic, an author, speaker and radio host — for many years, he was the host of “Catholic Answers Live” — and now has embarked on a solo venture at www.PatrickCoffinmedia, featuring news and a podcast. He emphasizes that everyone can have an impact, even if they’re just doing it as an individual.

More from these media pros in a later post!

Images: Courtesy Family Theater Productions, Wikimedia Commons

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.

‘Faith in Media': Father Tony Ricard and Sister Nancy Usselmann Talk Media Evangelization

Faith-in-Media-Evangelizaton-Father-Tony-Ricard-Sister-Nancy-UsselmannIn the next two installments from our “Faith in Media” series, we look at using modern media to evangelize. While some Catholics shy away from mass media and popular culture, if you plan to reach people where they are, you’re doing it wrong.

As the Apostles used the Roman roads and all the available tools in their day to get the Word out, it’s incumbent on us to figure out not only how to use media to spread the Gospel, but to unearth all the places in existing media where a seed of faith can be found.

First up is Father Tony Ricard of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, a dynamic speaker and media evangelist, or, as his Twitter account describes him, “A gifted teacher and anointed preacher.” In particular, he talks about what St. Paul might be saying if he were around today, which is “get a camera, and I need wi-fi” …

Next is Sister Nancy Usselmann of the Daughters of Saint Paul, the new national director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies. She seeks to develop a theology of popular culture and “becoming cultural mystics,” inspired by Bishop Robert Barron, and encompassing everything from movies to songs by Eminem and Yelawolf …

More to come!

Images: Courtesy Fr. R. Tony Ricard; Sister Nancy Usselmann

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.

Reflecting on the Legacy of William Peter Blatty and ‘The Exorcist’

William-Peter-Blatty-FFBEarly in the morning of Friday, Jan. 13, “The Exorcist” director William Friedkin announced via Twitter that his friend and collaborator, William Peter Blatty — who wrote both the novel and screenplay for the 1973 film — had passed away the day before.

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Blatty, a lifelong Catholic of Lebanese extraction, was 89. Born in New York City, he attended a Jesuit high school and later studied at Georgetown and George Washington Universities. After working as a door-to-door salesman and a stint in the Air Force, Blatty came to Los Angeles in the 1950s. He worked in PR and journalism, later writing comedy, ghostwriting for advice author Dear Abby (Abigail Van Buren) and penning more than a dozen novels.

His most recent book was “Finding Peter: A True Story of the Hand of Providence and Evidence of Life After Death” in 2015, which focused on his only child, son Peter, who died of a heart ailment in 2006.

The-Exorcist-William-Peter-Blatty

Blatty remains best known for “The Exorcist,” published in 1971. It was a literary hit, and that may be because of a bit of divine intervention.

From The Hollywood Reporter:

After an extremely slow start, his Exorcist novel wound up selling 13 million copies, thanks in large part to an appearance on The Dick Cavett Show.

Beatty was booked on the talk show at the last minute when someone else fell through, then given more time when the first guest, actor Robert Shaw, was sent off early (he may have been drunk, Blatty noted in a 2013 interview with the Los Angeles Times).

“I always believe that there is a divine hand everywhere,” said Blatty, who got to chat about his book with Cavett for nearly 45 minutes on national TV. The Exorcist then jumped to No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list and attracted the attention of Warner Bros. head John Calley.

Here at Family Theater Productions, we’re big fans of Blatty and “The Exorcist” — I even liked the Fox spin-off series of the same name, which just finished its first season on a high note — so I turned to a couple of our film experts for opinions.

First, here’s Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., a Holy Cross priest (FTP was founded by a Holy Cross priest, Father Patrick Peyton, and remains under the auspices of the order), who’s also trained in film production. He’s currently at Holy Cross’ Notre Dame University, teaching a film-related course. Reached by email, he wrote:

I join with Catholics, priests, exorcists and people of good will around the world in mourning the loss of William Peter Blatty, famed writer of THE EXORCIST, an account of the real-life exorcism that took place at St. Louis University many years ago. In a cynical world that often scoffs at the mere mention of the supernatural, Blatty gave us pause to consider the reality of evil and the sacred actions required to drive it out.

As a young child, my father encouraged me to watch THE EXORCIST to counterbalance the now, in hindsight, laughable horror films I so cherished in the 1980s. The film did not disappoint. I ran out of the living room and dove under the covers of my bed the first time I saw Regan “spider walk.” Little did I know, the seeds for a vocation to priesthood were planted.

I hope the consulting work I continue to do on demonic-possession films and television programs will honor the memory of William … scaring future audiences, to be true, but leading them to greater faith as well.

Then I turned to Anthony Sands, FTP’s Senior Producer and resident film buff, for his reaction. He wrote:

William Blatty not only impacted Hollywood and entertainment, but all of American culture as well as American Catholicism. In the 1960s and 1970s, the first winds of the “Spirit of Vatican II” were making their way from Europe and into the U.S. Among many alterations that were entering into the Catholic Church was a mentality that Catholics were seen as a backward, superstitious lot who believed in “magic” and were trapped in the Dark Ages. Part of the push came, sometimes through the offices of the U.S. hierarchy, to distance ourselves from the supernatural or unexplained and focus on the historical, the strictly factual and modern explanations of ancient beliefs.

One of the biggest ideas was to get away from the idea of the Devil, or actual demons, and write off Satan and his legions as a creation of the Medieval church, or a literary construct used by Christ to explain the concept of evil to an uneducated people. Demons were also being recast, as merely the figurative term the Gospels used to explain things like mental illness to a culture 2,000 years before Freud and popular psychology (which was quickly becoming the rage of 1960s and ‘70s.)

The Devil was becoming an idea rather than a person, and many, many in America, both in the Church and in the culture, were happy to see that occur.

Then enter William Blatty, with his book based on the case of an actual exorcism in the U.S. The book became the Academy Award-winning film “The Exorcist,” and Blatty helped make Satan and his demons real again. He made evil a tangible thing that had to be addressed, confronted and overcome, and not just an “outdated concept driven disordered psychoses” as many in the pop psychology culture wished it to become.

“The Exorcist” made it acceptable to believe in real good and evil.

Also, in a culture that recently embraced the motto “F- the Man!”, it make it OK to show a priest in full clerics back on the big screen again. Blatty both reinvented the horror film and certainly created a new sub-genre, the Supernatural Thriller. Blockbusters today ranging from “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” to the “The Conjuring” movies are part of the “The Exorcist’s” legacy.

Today, one of the few recurring roles that depict priests as good people are in films where they are shown performing exorcisms.

Granted, no one person, book or film is solely responsible for such massive cultural shifts. However, they can have great influence. Consider this — up until the 1960’s, every Catholic priest was given the faculties of exorcist as part of his ordination. That stopped in the 1960s.

Then “The Exorcist” came out in 1971. Now, every diocese is once again required to have at least one dedicated exorcist. Sometimes art and an artist can give us a clearer view of our world, even if the view is to recognize darkness.

Well done, William Peter Blatty, good and faithful servant.

Images: Courtesy Wikimedia Commons, Warner Bros. Pictures

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.