Category: Christians working in Arts and Media

‘I Still Believe’: ‘I Can Only Imagine’ Filmmakers Tackle the Jeremy Camp Story

After a $17M opening weekend,  I Can only Imagine became the surprise breakout faith-based hit of 2018, and now there’s more to come.

Inspired by the life story of Bart Millard of the band MercyMe, who penned its hit Christian-pop song, also called “I Can Only Imagine,” the film — directed by the brother team of Andrew and Jon Erwin (Mom’s Night Out, Woodlawn) —  exceeded the expectations of the secular movie world.

The Erwins and producing partner Kevin Downes are re-teaming for a new film, called I Still Believe. Set to start shooting in the spring, it’s going for a March 20, 2020 wide theatrical release.

Both Erwin brothers will direct from a script by Jon Erwin and Jon Gunn.

From The Hollywood Reporter:

Dubbed an uplifting and inspiring true-life story of Christian music mega-star Jeremy Camp, the film will follow the protagonist’s journey of love and loss.

Camp is a Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter who has sold more than 5 million albums and has toured some 36 countries. He has received numerous accolades, including four RIAA-certified Gold albums, two American Music Awards nominations, multiple ASCAP awards, 38 No. 1 songs, a Gold digital single (“There Will Be a Day”), a multi-Platinum DVD and was named in Billboard’s Christian Artist of the Decade chart (No. 2).

I Still Believe represents the first project to come out of the Erwin brothers’ first-look film and TV deal with Lionsgate, which has produced such other faith-based fare as Hacksaw Ridge and The Shack.

Image: 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.

‘Unplanned’: Planned Parenthood Drama Lands Distribution, Releases Trailer

UnplannedFilm.com

Unplanned, a new film chronicling the change of heart of Texan Abby Johnson from Planned Parenthood clinic director to pro-life activist, has found a theatrical distributor and released a trailer.

PureFlix plans to release the film on 800 screens on March 29. It renews the company’s relationship with writer/directors Carey Solomon and Chuck Konzelman, who wrote and co-produced God’s Not Dead and God’s Not Dead 2, which PureFlix also distributed theatrically.

The film (click here for the official Website) is based on Johnson’s 2011 book Unplanned: The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader’s Eye-Opening Journey across the Life Line.

Ashley Bratcher plays the feisty, outspoken Johnson. Here’s an interview they did for EWTN:

Kaiser Johnson

Also appearing in the film is Family Theater Productions’ own Kaiser Johnson, who stars, with Libby Slater, in our online series Catholic Central.

Johnson plays Jeff, a brash attorney who represents Abby as she disentagles herself from Planned Parenthood.

From the press release:

“I thought I was helping women,” said Abby Johnson, founder and director of And Then There Were None,  the only group in the country that helps abortion workers exit the industry and find them new jobs. “But I was doing more harm than good. It wasn’t until I saw a child fight for its life that my world came crashing down and I understood the enormity of my actions. I had to leave. No one will be able to walk away after seeing this movie and say ‘I didn’t know.’”

During her time as director of Planned Parenthood in Bryan, Texas, Abby facilitated over 22,000 abortions. Since leaving, she has helped nearly 500 former abortion workers, including seven doctors, leave their jobs and find fulfilling careers outside of the abortion industry.

Bringing to life this powerful real-life story of redemption and love, UNPLANNED stars Ashley Bratcher (WAR ROOM, 90 MINUTES IN HEAVEN) as Johnson; Brooks Ryan as her husband, Doug; Robia Scott (CSI, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER) as Abby’s superior at Planned Parenthood ; Emma Elle Roberts (HUNGER GAMES:MOCKING JAY, I AM NOT ASHAMED, ) as Marilisa Carney, Kaiser Johnson (LITTLE BOY, VAMPIRE DIARIES, SLEEPY HOLLOW); and Jared Lotz (OF LITTLE CONVENIENCE, THANKSGIVING) as Shawn Carney.

Actress Ashley Bratcher was nearly aborted by her own mother, which she didn’t find out until filming began. “I was born for this role,” said Bratcher.

“This is the most important movie anyone will ever see on the most controversial issue of our time,” said Solomon and Konzelman. “When UNPLANNED comes to theaters, this movie will make abortion unpopular.”

The film has also released a trailer:

Watch this space for more about the film as the release date grows nearer. Considering current headlines about legislation to relax abortion restrictions in New York State and elsewhere, the film couldn’t be more timely.

Image: UnplannedFilm.com/Family Theater Productions (Johnson)

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.

Oscars Not Neighborly to Mr. Rogers Doc ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’

Fred Rogers in “Won’t You Be My Neighbor”/Focus Features

The Academy Award nominations came out today, and as always, there are complaints about snubs, but the omission of Won’t You Be My Neighbor? from the Best Documentary list is a sad moment for gentle, uplifting films.

This isn’t to say that the films that got nods are slackers. Here they are (with a link to something interesting about them):

Free Solo

Follows the free-climbing (that is, climbing precipitous heights without a rope) adventures of Alex Honnold, with a insight into his high-risk psychology.

Click here for an in-depth review from Climbing.com.

Minding the Gap

Filmmaker Bing Liu chronicles the bond among himself and his skateboarding buddies from the Rust Belt town of Rockford, Illinois — along with their family and personal issues.

Click here for a review from Justin Chang, the Los Angeles Times‘ critic (who’s also Christian).

Hale County This Morning, This Evening

Directed by RaMell Ross, who moved to Hale County, Alabama, in 2009 to coach basketball and teach photography, and then created a lyrical portrait of African-American life in the South.

Click here for NPR‘s review, and here for one from National Review.

Of Fathers and Sons

Syrian filmmaker Talal Derki looks at a jihadi father raising sons in northern Syria.

Click here for a review from when it showed at Sundance.

RBG

Filmmakers Julie Cohen and Betsy West profile Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Click here for a review at AVClub.com that doesn’t exactly love it.

Short of asking individual Academy members, we may never know why Won’t You Be My Neighbor? — which received glowing reviews, even from me — didn’t make the cut.

But I do have some speculations:

  • Fred Rogers was a Christian. That isn’t overemphasized in the film, but it comes through clearly. On top of that, he was a Christian who acted like one. He wasn’t perfect, but he tried to live out his faith. That may be a plus with God or with us, but it doesn’t likely impress the average Academy voter. If he’d been a bad, hypocritical Christian, then maybe …
  • The documentary didn’t try to deconstruct Rogers, tear him down or reveal his dirty secrets. He didn’t really seem to have any of note. As I said, the film is “a love letter to a gentle, thoughtful, kind man who was pretty much as he appeared to be, and who cared deeply about small children.”
  • Won’t You Be My Neighbor? tackles issues like race and sexuality — in the person of Rogers’ adoring gay co-star Francois Clemmons — with great sensitivity and a minimum of rancor. So, it’s not courting controversy, and that’s not in its favor.
  • Rogers didn’t have a major fall from grace — prison, an illness, drug addiction and so on — that forced him to rise from the ashes. That always makes for more compelling film, especially with Oscar voters.
  • It’s a beautiful-looking film, but it doesn’t feature soaring vistas (like Free Solo) or take us to strange worlds (like Of Fathers and Sons) or profile a political and judicial icon with a job that affects all Americans (like RBG). It may be that Fred Rogers’ world just isn’t exciting enough to merit an Oscar nom.

No doubt there are many other worthy films that didn’t get nominations either. But wouldn’t it be great if a lovely film about a good and gentle man made the cut? After all, it’s not like we’re hearing about them every day.

The documentary will air Feb. 9 as part of PBS’ Independent Lens series. It also debuts that night on HBO.

Image: Focus Features

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.

‘Project Blue Book’s’ Catholic Actor Neal McDonough: ‘Go Out and Sin One Less Time Today’

Neal McDonough has gotten a lot of attention lately for saying he lost a Hollywood job because he wouldn’t do a love scene — but this is nothing new for the devoutly Catholic actor.

McDonough currently stars as General James Harding in the History Channel Tuesday-night UFO drama Project Blue Book, but my entertainment-journalist history with him goes back to the 1990s (click here for one of those stories). In a recent interview with Yahoo.com, McDonough talked about being replaced on a short-lived ABC show called Scoundrels because he wouldn’t do a sex scene.

“I was [surprised], and it was a horrible situation for me,” McDonough said. “After that, I couldn’t get a job because everybody thought I was this religious zealot. I am very religious. I put God and family first and me second. That’s what I live by. It was hard for a few years. Then [Band of Brothers producer] Graham Yost called me and said, ‘Hey, I want you to be the bad guy on Justified. I knew that was my shot back at the title.”

Back in 2016, I spoke to McDonough for Greater, the faith-and-football film he starred in and produced (currently available to stream on YouTube, Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes and Hulu). Click here for what he had to say about the movie, but here are some excerpts from our conversation, originally posted right on this blog.

With his bleached-blond hair (first acquired to play World War II hero Buck Compton in Band of Brothers) and ice-blue eyes, McDonough often plays the bad guy. But in real life, he’s a devout Catholic and a political conservative — and one of the nicest guys I ever met in Hollywood.

But, being true to the Faith does carry a price in all aspects of life, and the entertainment industry is no different — especially when you’re a married man with mouths to feed.

Said McDonough on what he will and won’t do:

Two rules. I don’t use the Lord’s name in vain on TV or movies, and I don’t have sex scenes. How do I work as an actor after that? Okay, I’m the bad guy. I tell you, with five kids, I’ve got to keep working.

I’ve got to pay those bills. Every time I have a job, I have to figure out how to be the most creative and fun guy and great performance and all that stuff. Aside from that, I just love doing what I do. I have a great time doing it, and I’m blessed beyond belief to have the opportunity to keep working. I mean, this is 30 years in the business of constantly working on whatever. It’s been awesome.

On the advice given to him by Father Colm O’Ryan, pastor emeritus of Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills (where he married his South African wife, Ruve Robertson):

Go out and sin one less time today. Go out and drink one less drink today. Go out and do these things one less time today, and you’ll be doing your job as a child of God. That’s what he’s about. That’s what I try to do after I get to play bad guys on TVs and movies.

On working on Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, with fellow Catholic Kevin James:

We had Mass every day at lunch.

We hired the biggest suite at the Wynn Hotel. We’d fly priests in. We’d have Mass every day during the filming of this in Las Vegas at the Wynn Hotel.

Not for gambling, but for God. It was phenomenal. Kevin James — not only one of the greatest actors on set, but one of the greatest guys I’ve ever met. Gosh, what an amazing human being to do that. “All right, everyone in the cast, everyone in the crew. You want Mass? It’s going to be in suite 306. Let’s have at it. Every day.”

Is it a challenge to be a faithful Catholic in Hollywood? Sure. And sometimes you may have to make tough choices about roles. But as McDonough shows, it can be done.

As you can see from his role in Project Blue Book, McDonough is still making it work in Tinseltown. If you stand on principle, you’re going to lose some roles, but if you’re good, more will come.

Image: History Channel

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.

Should You Give Up Social Media in 2019? Bishop Barron Weighs In

Resolved for 2019: Giving up all social media. Done. Kaput. Gone! … But is that a good idea?

If you work in media, like we do at Family Theater Productions, that’s not even a question. You just can’t. For hearing from the audience, and communicating back to them, social media is vital. Otherwise, it’s just a one-way ad stream going outward, with no feedback — and that’s not good.

We’re active on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, both for FTP and for our productions — like The Dating Project and Catholic Central — and every day, we check to see what you’re thinking and saying (and we hope you check in with us).

But for me especially, as Social Media Manager, in the thick of it every day …whoa, there’s a lot of bad out there. I spent many years in mainstream entertainment journalism before I came here, so the craziness and negativity doesn’t surprise me. Every now and then, though, I’m even brought up short by just how nasty people can be.

On the other hand, we get lots of positive, wonderful and helpful feedback as well. Like this comment on YouTube:

And, outside of business, think of all the ways social media has connected people — lost relatives, old and new friends, people in crisis, potential pets and spouses. It’s also brought us shocking, important or heartwarming stories from the furthest corners of the world.

Personally, I think of Facebook as a huge dinner party, with invited friends, nosy neighbors, party crashers and crazy uncles (and aunts).  Twitter is the 24/7/365 rowdy cocktail chatter of the world, encircled by an eternally updating news ticker. Instagram is the beauty (and weirdness) of the world as it is, with a heavy dose of the world as we pretend it is.

Professionally, I’m eternally surprised to learn what you all out there like, and don’t like. Trust me, we listen, and we learn. Anyone who works in media has to have an ear to all the social channels. We can work on projects for years, talk among ourselves about what we like and don’t like, what we think will work — but ultimately, you guys are the ones that decide whether a project is a success.

Media ignores the voice of the audience at its peril. Creators can’t allow the audience to dictate to them — after all, it’s that creator’s unique voice that can make something special and authentic — but at the same time, if they want their creations to be enjoyed and appreciated (and most especially, produced), they need to pay attention. Sometimes it can be bruising, but it’s essential.

But even secular media, including such business-focused sites as Ragan.com, realizes that one has to take a break every now and then. From a post today:

If you have an unhealthy relationship with social media, consider a cleansing “fast.” Give up Snapchat or Facebook for Lent. Break it off with whichever platforms give you grief and little else.

For people of faith, using social media can be especially fraught. For that, I happily yield the floor to Los Angeles’ Bishop Robert Barron, who knows as much as anyone about the rewards and pitfalls of faith in the social square:

Here’s to a happy, healthy and sane 2019, even in social media!

Image: Shutterstock

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.

Top 5s of 2018: Books and the TV Shows and Movies They Inspired

Happy Octave of Christmas and almost New Year! Our producer-at-large Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., a USC film-school grad, does a regular feature here called Based On, looking at literary works adapted into TV or movies. As the year closes, he picks his top 5 in several categories. Links lead to any longer pieces he’s written on the projects.

Top Fives of 2018

Top 5 source materials that were made into television shows: the ranking considers the quality of the novel.

1) MY BRILLIANT FRIEND — First novel of the Neapolitan Quartet by Elena Ferrante.

The period setting of the series requires the creative forces behind the series to eek out sexual tension and romance without peddling flesh.

2) LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL — Novel by John le Carre

AMC’s adaptation improves upon one of le Carre’s more engaging spy thrillers. That Becker and Charlie for a time postponed their budding romance because it’s bad for spy business, was the cleverest of updating choices.

3) THE ALIENIST — Novel by Caleb Carr

The serial killer’s coordinating of murders on Catholic feast days was the highlight of the TNT TV series for me.

4) THE SINNER — Novel by Petra Hammesfahr

I loved the sinner (Jessica Biel plays Cora Tannetti). I didn’t hate USA Network’s adaptation of her sin.

5) 13 REASONS WHY — Novel by Jay Asher

This page-turning book I found overly stylized in Netflix’s streaming adaptation, especially given the sensitive content at the heart of the series. There’s more match cuts (in which a shot visually and/or thematically echoes the one before it) in the show than any other TV series.

Top 5 source materials that were made into feature length films: the ranking considers the quality of the novella, non-fiction work or graphic novel.

1) YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE — Novella by Jonathan Ames

The terse, plainsong style of the novel sets the tone for the main character, Joe, who also goes about his day uttering little in terms of words. It reminded me of another silent man named Joseph who looked after a certain Child.

2) FIRST MAN  — Neil Armstrong biography by James R. Hansen

The real Neil Armstrong, facing the incredulity of moon-landing deniers, said the only thing harder to do than landing on the moon would be to realistically fabricate it. The Oscar-winning director of La La Land proves just how difficult that task indeed is.

3) BLACK KkKLANSMAN — Ron Stallworth memoir

The real-life Stallworth rose above partisan politics, living out his profession in terms of right and wrong, the
criminals and the innocent, irrespective of whether they wear police blues or not.

4) ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD John Pearson (non-fiction)

The Gettys attract more of my attention than they deserve. It’s probably because two of my favorite Los Angeles museums bear their namesake.

5) THE DEATH OF STALIN — Graphic novel by Fabien Nury

The film couldn’t pull off the absurdist tone that could only be pulled off, it seems, through the graphic novel medium.

Top 5 feature or television adaptations: the ranking considers the quality of the television show or film.

1) YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE — Directed by Lynne Ramsay, based on a
novella by Jonathan Ames

2) MY BRILLIANT FRIEND — Italian-language television series based on the first novel of the Neapolitan Quartet by Elena Ferrante

3) LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL — AMC mini-series based on the John le Carre novel

4) THE HANDMAID’S TALE — Hulu television series based on the Margaret Atwood novel

Season one encompasses the events of the novel. Season two continues the story, with all-new content. The fundamentalist theocracy long since banned the Catholic Church and executed its priests. This doesn’t prevent the main character, June Osborne (Elisabeth Moss) from arriving at a Catholic truth. She lights votive candles for Boston Globe journalists also massacred by theocracy henchmen.

5) DAREDEVIL Netflix television series based on the Marvel comic book

Daredevil inhabits this neo-noir look well in the TV series (which, unfortunately, Netflix has axed), surpassed only by the character’s red costume piercing the utterly dark monochromatic world of Mark Waid’s Eisner Award winning comic book series from 2012.

Image: HBO, Universal Pictures/Dreamworks, Focus Features

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

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