Category: Hollywood Outreach

‘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.

Catholic Actor Neal McDonough on Keeping the Faith in Hollywood

neal_mcdonough_2015_2In my former life as a syndicated entertainment journalist, I got to know actor Neal McDonough, whose TV work includes HBO’s “Band of Brothers,” NBC’s “Boomtown,” FX’s “Justified” and TNT’s “Mob City” and “Public Morals.”

Currently located with wife Ruve and their five children in Vancouver, Canada, Massachusetts native McDonough has been working on such Canada-based shows as USA Network’s “Suits,” and The CW’s “Legends of Tomrrow,” “Arrow” and “The Flash” (all produced by Greg Berlanti), in which he plays Damien Darhk.

He also recently co-starred in, and was a producer for, the faith-based film “Greater.” We talked over the summer. Click here to read what he had to say about “Greater,” and more from our conversation is below.

comptonWith his bleached-blond hair (first acquired to play World War II hero Buck Compton in “Band”) 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:

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.

Image: Wikimedia Commons, HBO

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.

Youth Bring Hope to Los Angeles and the Church

rally-crowdThere are plenty of reasons to despair in the modern world — especially in Hollywood — but every now and then, there’s a burst of truth, beauty and goodness.

This morning, Oct. 25, at the USC Galen Center in Los Angeles, thousands of teenagers and schoolchildren gathered for the 4th Annual Christian Service 4LIFE Rally. The program featured Catholic musician Joe Melendrez, warming up the crowd with dancing and religious rap; media evangelist and head of the Word on Fire apostolate, Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop bishop-barronRobert Barron (“Catholicism” and the new “Catholicism: The Pivotal Players”); a shadow play of Jesus’ life; Eucharistic Adoration; a homily from Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez; and a play written and directed by Catholic actor Matthew Marsden, staring Kelly Mohun and Don Forte, on “The Life and Works of Mother Teresa.”

Acting as host was Patrick Coffin, the former host of “Catholic Answers Live” on Immaculate Heart Radio (who’s in the process of launching a new podcast).

The enthusiasm and joy of the schoolchildren was beautiful and filled me with hope. In a world that is increasingly divided and disunified, this morning’s event showcased the beauty of community.

The play about Mother Teresa’s life reminded all of us about the simple call to do small things with great love. Mother Teresa was canonized by the Catholic Church last month and now joins the communion of saints in a special way, interceding on our behalf. She is an example of how we are called to love one another regardless of race, creed or beliefs.

Bishop Barron spoke about one of the newest saints to be canonized – Mexican Saint Jose Sanchez del Rio – who was 14 when he was tortured and martyred for not renouncing Christ. Bishop Barron asked the kids in the audience which ones were 14 years old. Many of them raised their hands in enthusiasm, and you could feel the energy in the room. “What if Christ could harness all of this energy, we would set the world on fire!” Bishop Barron exclaimed.

Dan Selmezcy of Saint Monica Academy in Pasadena choreographed the shadow dance. These images started with theshadowplay2
Annunciation and moved through the life of Jesus and Mary through the Crucifixion, Resurrection and coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven. The dancers beautifully showed the connection between Christ and the dignity of every human person.

In the middle of the program, Archbishop Gomez entered, holding a Monstrance, carrying the Blessed Sacrament for a time of prayer called Adoration, ending with Benediction. The monstrance is what holds the Host, the circular disk that is made into the body of Christ during Mass. Adoration is a time to stop and adore God, to acknowledge that God is, and to ask for His love and mercy. The loud and wild auditorium full of enthusiastic 7th-12th graders quieted down and entered into this time of prayer.

“Prayer is simply a conversation with God — just talking to him,” said Archbishop Gomez. During the Latin chant, “O Salutaris Hostia,” sung by Genevieve Grimm and her choir, there was a palpable prayerfulness that transcended the room. These children experienced something very natural – the desire to pray and be close to God. And yet, something very unusual in the daily life of a student – encountering God with thousands of other young people.

As I looked around, I found such hopefulness. Amidst the temptations to pessimism and the pervasiveness of cynicism, there was such hope in this event. From the young adults leading the events to the schoolchildren who attended, our Church is ever growing and ever full of hope!

The program ended with Thomas Quackenbush, a teacher from St. Monica Academy, leading the crowd in singing O Happy Day!

You may remember the song from the movie “Sister Act”:

What a fitting ending!

Images: Courtesy Laura Zambrana

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 Horror: What Good Can Come Out of Being Scared?

The-Exorcist-William-Peter-BlattyIt’s an irony that some of the most positive portrayals of the Catholic Church — whose major mission is to spread Christ’s Gospel of peace, love and sacrifice — is in the horror genre, especially when the Church is going up against ultimate evil.

I always joke, when Satan and his minions are threatening to sweep over the face of the Earth, Hollywood always goes for a priest.

All of this could be just a case of visual shorthand, since we have the Latin, the outfits, the rituals, etc., that make for good visual storytelling. But it’s also a kind of compliment, even if it’s a backhanded one, in that Hollywood takes our connection to God seriously enough to portray us as the last bastion against supernatural evil. In an entertainment world where true faith is often treated as a superstition or a joke, the power of the Cross against demons still has great appeal for the audience.

Los Angeles’ own Bishop Barron discusses it here …

Of course, not all horror movies have Catholic priests as protagonists, and Catholics enjoy scary movies as much as anyone. So, how should we think about them? How far is too far?

content_tonyFamily Theater Productions’ own Senior Producer, Tony Sands recently took part in a panel discussion sponsored by Bel-Air Presbyterian, a Protestant megachurch in the L.A. area. The wide-ranging discussions cover many aspects of the horror genre and how it relates to faith.

Click here to watch the talk in segments.

But back on the topic of exorcism, here’s an excerpt of what Bishop Barron has to say about the 1973 film version of “The Exorcist” in his video, which is as much about the Catholic priesthood as anything:

The film is meditating on two great truths. First, it shows how the young priest moved, slowly and painfully, from a cramped rationalism to a keen sense of a dimension that transcends our ordinary experience. It demonstrates how he came to appreciate the properly supernatural and to understand how his priesthood relates him precisely to that realm. I believe, by the way, that the persistent popularity of the genre of the exorcism film is largely a function of this clear communication of the reality of the transcendent realm, especially during our time when an ideological secularism holds sway. In our guts, we know that there is something “more,” and stories about demonic possession give that intuition vivid confirmation. Secondly, “The Exorcist” shows that the mission of a priest finds its fullest expression in the willingness to sacrifice one’s life for the good of the other. Both priests died in battle, defending a little girl whom they barely knew but who had been entrusted to their care. The very last scene of the film is arresting. As Regan and her mother are pulling away in a car, happily leaving the place where they had endured so much suffering, the girl spots a priest in a Roman collar. She asks the driver to stop, and she runs out, throws her arms around the priest and kisses him. It was her tribute to the men who had saved her.

Like any other movie genre, nobody likes everything. Personally, I don’t enjoy slasher films or overly gory films, preferring to stay with psychological thrillers and, of course, the “Catholic horror” genre, if you will, including “The Omen” movies, “Stigmata,” “The Exorcist” and the like. Everyone should know what he or she can tolerate, and if there’s doubt about the spiritual impact of a movie, either leave it alone or discuss it with a priest or spiritual director.

The argument can be made, as is discussed in the videos, that the glamour of Satan and of evil in general can be overdone in horror films. That is certainly true and must be guarded against. But when you see a priest, pushed to the limits of his mental, physical, psychological and spiritual abilities, standing with nothing but the Cross and his faith against the demonic — well, there’s hardly a better advertisement for the Truth of the Faith than that.

Image: “The Exorcist,” courtesy Warner Bros.

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.