Category: Fr. David Guffey, C.S.C.

Faith-Based Film “War Room” Opens at Number Two

In Theaters Now.

In Theaters Now.

Once again faith based films proved their audience potential. War Room, the latest film by Alex Kendrick (Courageous and Fireproof) earned the first place box office spot on Friday night and came in second, just behind Straight Outta Compton in the overall weekend draw.

The film, released by Sony/Tri-Star, is unapologetically Christian.   They draw on the audiences established with the Kendrick brothers’ previous films such as, Fireproof and Courageous.   An African American family strives to rebuild their life together through prayer, supporting the famous Family Theater tag line, “The Family that prays together, stays together.”  The filmmakers delivered a film to feed an audience hungry for content that has meaning and hope. They wisely released the film in a down time when there are few other great films competing for attention.

Alex and Stephen Kemdrick

Alex and Stephen Kemdrick

I have heard that a significant portion of the weekend’s take was from pre-sales, congregations ordering large blocks of tickets. The real test of the film’s strength will come in the stats for the second and third weeks of release.   Will more people go to see it or did the whole Christian audience go last weekend?

Still this film with no brand name actors and a three million dollar budget brought in $11 million.   It is hard to imagine that it will not do at least $15 million domestic.  Those results are encouraging for us and for other family and faith friendly filmmakers.

UnREAL: Behind the Scenes of Reality Television

UnREAL shows The Reality of Reality

UnREAL shows The Reality of Reality

The Lifetime Channel shows the reality of reality in a scripted series, UnREAL, airing new episodes on Monday nights with the entire season available at the Lifetime Channel website.

Ten years ago a guy walked into my office looking tired and heavy hearted and needing to talk.  He was in a process of discernment.  He loved making films but hated his current job, which he found soul-crushing on the on one hand, but too lucrative to leave on the other.   We talked for awhile before he would even admit that he worked on a reality television program.  He was tired of creating and exaggerating conflict, of manipulating people and making people who were basically good, look like buffoons or villains.

Monday night I felt like I got a glimpse into the world he had described when I watched latest episode of UnREAL on the Lifetime Channel.  This is not a family show, be warned.

Shiri Appleby plays reality show producer Rachel Goldberg

Shiri Appleby plays reality show producer Rachel Goldberg

Rachel (played by Shiri Appleby) produces a fictional reality show called “Everlasting.”  Think, “The Bachelor.”    She always appears weary, on the edge of a deep sadness as she skillfully, if not reluctantly, uses her intuition to get close to contestants, learn their vulnerabilities and then manipulate them to create conflict and further the storyline for the show.

She knows how to induce tears or a cat fight, a tender moment of personal revelation and romance, or a devastating scene of rejection.  All of this is part of her job and she is good at it and miserable for it.


At one point her executive producer Quinn,  played by Constance Zimmer, rallies the crew saying, “We want tears people, bonuses for nudity and for 911 calls.”   The producers want us to believe we are seeing a competition  for true romance.  In fact what the edited episodes of reality shows that end up on the air are contrived by cynical, calloused methods, with little regard to the human dignity of the people cast as contestants.

The show is probably exaggerated but not as much as fans of the genre might hope.   The conversation I had with that man ten years ago was not the last I have had with many other people working reality and discerning a new career path.

Let’s be Real

Here are five things reality show fans need to remember:

  1. Reality” on TV is highly manipulated.  The contestants are carefully cast, the situations contrived, viewers often do not see the context for the shots they see.
  2. If your life was filmed for a week, a skilled editor and producer could make you look however they wanted.  The programs reflect more the agenda of the producers than the reality of the lives of the contestants.
  3. Judging people is never good for the soul.   If I watch reality TV so that I can  let myself be drawn into indignation at their excesses it may seem harmless, but that feeds a dangerous tendency to condemn others and feel self-righteous.
  4. The joyful moments are easy to fake, the suffering is often real.   Try to have compassion for contestants.
  5. Think very, very hard before you would ever consider being part of a reality show.

Live in the fullness of your own reality, Family Theater You Tube and look for the ways that our loving God is always trying to send people and circumstances into your path to invite you to a deeper and fuller life, even if it is not one that would sell on television.





Oscar 2015 Observations from Father David



Outside the Dolby Theater just before the 87th Oscars

Outside the Dolby Theater just before the 87th Oscars

Our Family Theater office is only about 6 blocks from the Dolby Theater where the Academy Awards take place.   About 25 film enthusiasts gathered in our screening room to watch the ceremony.  Here are my 8 Award Observations about the 87th Academy Awards:

  • More than beautiful dresses.  On the Red Carpet it seemed that reporters were going deeper than “What are  you wearing?”  asking questions about the films the actors played in, causes that they are passionate about and family.
  • Hollywood gives love to Family.  Perhaps inspired by the speech given by Best Supporting Actor winner JK Simmons, almost every Oscar winner mentioned and thanked their family as important to their creative process and career success.  It seems that being a good parent is something people consider important and a sign of success and status.
  • Bigger than Me.  Many stars used their moment in the spotlight to point to issues bigger than themselves.   Best Supporting Actress Patricia Arquette  (Boyhood) talked about her developing-world, water project and about equal pay for women.  Eddie Redmayne who won Best Actor for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in Theory of Everything paid homage to those with ALS and those working to find treatments and a cure.  Jullianne Moore who won Best Actress for Still Alice, also acknowledged those with Alzheimer’s disease.

  • I didn’t see it yet.   This year there were only 8 movies nominated for best picture (out of a potential of 10) and still I found very few people, even among my Hollywood film-buff friends who bothered to see all the films.  I did not find many people rooting for films for Best Picture in part because they did not think their favorite would win even if it had been nominated.   Birdman may have been the darling of the ball (Best Picture, Director and Screenplay), but it was not a great box office draw (only $38 million domestic).
  • What are we going to about the Animation Category?  I have a theory:  I do not think Academy voters really watch the Animated Films either in the nomination process or in the final balloting.  How did The Lego Movie not get nominated and not win best animated picture?  It was a more entertaining film with sophisticated humor that could reach children and adults.   If you did not enjoy The Lego Movie, chances are you did not see it.  Big Hero 6 was fun and touching but it had huge marketing that drove the voting.
  • Hollywood Remembers their Dead.    In the Catholic Tradition we remember the dead in the month of November.   Every year the Oscars have an In Memoriam Segment.  As the month of November falls in the year, so the segment falls near the end of the program.  It was touch to see people and remember the work they had done.

  • A great film released early can still get attention.  Wes Anderson’s quirky comedy Grand Budapest Hotel was released in late March 2014 and yet still was a contender for many awards and took home two statuettes on Sunday.   For marketing reasons, distribut0rs load up the end of the year with their most award worthy films which crowds up the month of November, December and to some extent January.  All of these are holiday times, busy for most people.   People pick and choose the films they can afford to fit in.  Some great films go unseen, even though they generate considerable buzz. Please give some great films in April and May this year.
  • Richard Linklater made film history with Boyhood.  We not only watched a boy grow up over the course of 12 years, but also his parents.  I am often saddened and disturbed by some of the aspects of relationships, marriage and family that Linklater portrays in his films (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Sunrise) but he really captures a sense of our culture in the times we live.  They are very real.  He points out the struggles but also the joy, wonder and power of love, of reconciliation and of communication.

Hollywood Boulevard is open again the red carpet is rolled up and on its way to storage.  Got any predictions for Oscar 2016 yet?


You Tube to Launch a Kids App: Fun for kids, a relief to Parents

imagesWe at Family Theater Productions have  watched the growing demand for family content across almost every media platform.  You Tube is the latest media company to recognize the need  for family content and so the potential for wider audiences.  USA Today reports that You Tube is prepared to launch a kid friendly App on February 23, 2015.

USA Today quoted the project’s group product manager, Shimrit Ben-Yair: “Parents were constantly asking us, can you make YouTube a better place for our kids,”  He further noted that family-friendly fare is a booming business on YouTube. “(Year over year) we’ve seen 50% growth in viewing time on YouTube, but for our family entertainment channels, it’s more like 200%.”YouTube_Kids_Screenshot.0

The App will feature curated content just for small children with filters to keep them from seeing scary or more adult material.  The Wall Street Journal reports that the App will have content from favorites like Thomas the Train and Sesame Street  It reportedly will also allow parents to follow what their children watch and to set timers on the use of the App.  You Tube opens up for itself a new market to the youngest  audience members, getting them while their young to be lifelong users of the site.

Initially the App will only be available  for Android devices, but it is expected that there will be an Apple friendly version available sometime in future.



God the Artist: Reflections from the Director’s Chair.

Fr. David in the Director's Chair

Fr. David in the Director’s Chair

This month Family Theater Productions released Family Dinner, a short film for teens and families.  At the very same time were filming two more movies and these last weeks I have been directing short films for a project at Family Theater Productions.

When I am on a film set, I appreciate all the more what goes into creating the scripted television shows or films that I watch.   Everything you see and hear has been selected and placed in the frame by professionals.  The people on camera in each scene were selected to serve the story, even the background people who sit at  restaurant tables or pass by on the street.  Assistant Directors instructed them where to move.  The light in each shot has been crafted.  In exterior shots they may use the sun, but block out direct light, or bounce (reflecting) rays off a surface to fill a shadow.  The lighting crew working with the director of photography and the director, paint the scene with light creating night or day, warm or cool environments, shadows and highlights.   Sound and music are added in the post-production process to bring depth and emotion to the visual images.DSC01593

It occurred to me that God is the ultimate artist, the great director, who authors the story of the kingdom unfolding around us.  God has placed each of us in a carefully selected location, a dynamic studio with colors, shapes, natural elements and human creations.  God creates the greatest sets, magnificent cities, sylvan wilderness, seas and prairies.  God is our gaffer (lighting expert) providing the light, sun in the day and stars in the night.  God casts the people who enter my life, all of them: the co-stars, the featured and even the background.  As they play some role in my life, I know that each of them lives out their own arc in the Kingdom of God and that I play some role in their story too.  The hum of the city, the chatter of people, the beat of  songs forms the soundtracks of life.  It is all there by the creation of God for some purpose.  We add to it with the choices we make.

We are cast and crew for the Gospel, called to collaborate by bringing using our talents and energies to serve the story of God.   The great challenge is to discern what our purpose, our role truly is and then live it well.   Come Holy Spirit.

I believe in Providence.  That is the idea that God is actively at work in each of our lives in hard times and in times of comfort and joy.  God is ever advancing the great story of the kingdom of love, truth, beauty, hope and faith.

What story are you living now?  May the Holy Spirit help you discern the roles you are called to play, give you appreciation for the artistry of God around you, and lead you to participate in the great story of the Kingdom of God unfolding in our midst.



Dolphin Tale 2: Friends and Family Matter on Land and Sea


In Theaters Now

In Theaters Now

Dolphin Tale 2 released recently by Warner Brothers was the number two at the box office its opening weekend in September.  I saw the film Saturday afternoon in a theater packed with children, parents and grandparents.  Part of the fun of the film was hearing the giggles and responses of the kids in some parts, but their absolute silence in other scenes of the film.  The film had their attention and deserves it.

It is a family movie, not just in the sense that it has kid actors, animals and “lunge free” viewing (parents do not have to lunge to cover their children’s eyes or ears), the film is about the importance of family and friendships, of letting go and of remaining committed.

The first Dolphin Tale film tells the story of the rescue of Winter, a female dolphin whose tale fin had been cut off after being caught in a crab trap.  Dr. Clay Haskell, played by Harry Connick, Jr., takes the wounded creature to Clearwater Aquarium assisted by his daughter Hazel, Cozy Zuehlsdorff, and her friend, Sawyer, Nathan Gamble.   They pair an older dolphin named Panama with Winter and ultimately fit her with a prosthetic fin invented by Dr. Cameron McCarthy, played by Morgan Freeman.   All based on a true story.

The real Winter is a celebrity at the Clearwater Aquarium drawing many visitors, among them many disabled people.  Her ability to adapt to the prosthetic fin has inspired humans living with loss of limb or faced with physical challenges.

In Dolphin Tale 2, Winter’s dolphin friend Panama dies.  In spite of efforts by Cozy, Sawyer and the staff, Winter is depressed.  They must find a companion dolphin for her or risk her health and also the loss of the aquarium under pressure from the USAD.

Nathan Gamble star of Dolphin Tale 2 interviewed at Family Theater by Fr. Ed Benioff.

Nathan Gamble star of Dolphin Tale 2 interviewed at Family Theater by Fr. Ed Benioff.

Every character in the film seems called to clarity dedication to a purpose greater than themselves and must wrestle with what that means in terms of their life decisions. The staff at the Clearwater Aquarium rescue animals with the idea to return them to the wild as soon as possible.  Though they come to love the sea creatures in their care: they must be able to release them back to the wild.   The staff, including young Sawyer and Hazel, live the struggle of sacrificial love.

At the same time, Sawyer is offered a scholarship to a semester at sea program based in Boston.  Nathan Gamble says about his character, “The last three years at the Aquarium have been so great for him; it’s given him purpose and many friends, so he struggles with whether or not he should go.”  Can he let them go?  Can they let him go off to school so that he can become the person he is called to be?

The cast includes other greats like Ashley Judd and Chris Kristofferson, not to mention a scene stealing pelican and other beautiful sea animals.

All ages can see and enjoy Dolphin Tale 2.  It is wonderfully escapist in the sense that it has little of the cynicism and darkness of so many films today, but it still points to significant life issues that are worth a little reflection with touching moments, beautiful scenes and fun along the way.