Category: Hollywood Outreach

Bishop Barron’s Word on Fire Interviews Our Own Kaiser Johnson

This fall, actor and Spartan racer Kaiser Johnson (“Vampire Diaries,” “Sleepy Hollow,” “Team Spartan”) makes his co-hosting debut, with Libby Slater, in Family Theater Productions’ YouTube series, “Catholic Central.”

Intended for teens and young adults, the short (less than 10 minutes) episodes explore all aspects of the Faith. Here’s how it’s described on the official Website (where you can sign up for the latest information and watch a trailer):

“Catholic Central” offers entertaining and authoritative answers to your questions about Catholic thought, spirituality and practice. To do that, we’ve assembled a team of witty writers, appealing hosts and learned theologians to produce a collection of videos that entertain, enlighten and inspire.

Here’s a shot of Johnson and Slater on set, during production of an early episode:

 

This isn’t the first Catholic project that Johnson has done. A few years ago, he appeared in “Young Catholic Minute” on EWTN, and most recently, he returned to that network, playing Friedrich Nietzche on “Saints vs. Scoundrels.”

He’s also the head of the Hollywood Chesterton Society, an offshoot of the American Chesterton Society — a group dedicated to the life, works and sainthood campaign of Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton — and the co-creator, with Slater, of an upcoming online sketch-comedy show called “Butch Duotang.”

On May 8, the blog of Los Angeles Bishop Robert Barron’s Word on Fire published an interview with Johnson, who discusses his love of obstacle-course racing (click here for our Facebook video page, where we feature a couple short videos with him on the same subject), G.K. Chesterton and acting.

Check out some excerpts:

I think all the lessons one learns in physical fitness tie into faith. I’ve learned self-discipline, the importance of a daily practice, the constant need to grow and adapt, the value of enduring suffering and deprivation of consolation… heck, in analyzing what is going well or needs to change in my training, I almost go through a type of examination of conscience!

I began acting in 6th grade, in school plays and the like, but it’s really only in recent years that I’ve gotten to do it professionally. My first piece of advice would be: don’t do it. My second piece of advice would be: don’t do it. My third piece of advice is: okay, if you are willing to have the very smallest part of your career as an actor actually be acting, are an absolute glutton for hard work with little discernable payoff, have an actual talent that others consistently mention, and are willing to do whatever you can to grow and foster that talent, then start considering it. I’m sure that sounds harsh, but the fact of it is, many people try to break into acting for the wrong reasons (or at least unsustainable ones), and they only realize it a ways down the road, when they could have been spending their time more profitably.

[Chesterton] has a beautiful way of reminding me all the things I’ve forgotten I’ve always believed, and sharing them in a beautiful way that makes me grateful for all the small things in life.

Click here to read the whole thing.

Images: Family Theater Productions

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

Should Christians Even Try to Break into Hollywood?

Christian-Catholic-filmmaking-cinemaSo you’re a screenwriter, director, actor or producer, and you’re a serious Christian. Is working outside the Hollywood system the only way to find success?

It’s one way — but it’s definitely not the only one.

After all, Christ teaches us that everything is possible, if we’re oriented properly.

In the first daily Mass reading for today, April 28, from the Acts of the Apostles, regarding the failure of movements that rose up against nascent Christianity, we hear (emphasis mine):

So now I tell you,
have nothing to do with these men, and let them go.
For if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin,
it will destroy itself.
But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them;
you may even find yourselves fighting against God.”

So, what is a Christian Hollywood hopeful to make of this? Will Jesus descend from the Heavens with an army of angels and help you storm showbiz?

Probably not, but that doesn’t mean we should necessarily abandon the entertainment industry to rampant secularism and the dictatorship of relativism. If you really want to influence the culture and evangelize for Truth, Beauty and Goodness, why not use the megaphone that already exists?

Is Indie Film the Only Way to Go for Christians?

Not at all. You can work within the system, but first, you’ve got to identify your strengths and your niche, and become great at what you do. That’s the advice Catholic screenwriter Jennifer Dornbush gives in this video.

It’s not easy for anybody to break into the TV and movie studio system. But it can be done, as seen with the success of Sony Pictures’ faith-based Affirm Films division.

From a November 2016 piece in Deadline.comhere’s a selection from an internal memo by Steven Bersch, president of Sony Worldwide Acquisitions, who oversees the label. The occasion was the promotions of two executives to work under Rich Peluso, who has run Affirm since 2007, and who was also promoted to Executive Vice President.

These well-deserved promotions come at an auspicious moment for AFFIRM Films. In the past few years, our studio has become the industry leader in films for audiences of faith; by forging powerful connections with incredible reach, AFFIRM has no peer in reaching the core audience for these films. Behind films like War Room, which hit #1 on the domestic box office chart on the way to $68M and RISEN, and as the faith-based marketing partner for the Columbia Pictures Miracles from Heaven and Heaven is for Real, which became the #2 faith-based film of all time, the studio has now notched seven of the top 10 faith-based domestic openings of all time and is currently the most profitable faith-based studio, delivering over $420 million in domestic box office.

And, by the way, according to his LinkedIn profile, Peluso is based in Nashville, so not all of Hollywood is in Los Angeles.

OK, But are Big Studios My Only Alternative to Independent Film?

No. All big studios were once small studios, or even other businesses that grew studio arms. That process is still happening. In the digital space, look at how streaming content suppliers like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime have quickly become major players in production.

Netflix has just leased Hollywood studio space; Hulu is making strategic partnerships, such as this one with A&E Studios for an Afghanistan War drama; and Amazon Prime’s latest pilot slate even includes a Christian-themed science-fiction drama called “Oasis.” 

At the same time, faith-based service PureFlix has become a substantial studio itself, including its recent $3M “The Case for Christ,” which has a 79% rating at secular site Rotten Tomatoes.

Hollywood Hasn’t Given Up on Faith-Friendly and Family Fare, So Don’t Give Up on Hollywood

By all means, if you want to make a film on your own, go for it.

Successful TV producer Chris Brancato even endorses the idea:

But just because the existing entertainment industry seems hostile to Christians, remember, in one way or another, it’s hostile to everyone.

If you are talented, excellent, persistent and determined — and you’re lucky enough to have Christ on your side — you can find your voice, and you can find your place.

Just look at Father Patrick Peyton’s Family Theater Productions — we’ve been on Sunset Boulevard since the 1950s, and we’re still here.

It won’t be easy, but nothing’s ever easy in the TV and movie business. You may fail spectacularly and wind up taking another road, but the only absolute guarantee of failure is not to try.

To further your education in the Hollywood area — with a Christian influence — try programs offered by Act One, John Paul the Great University, the School of Film and Television at Loyola Marymount University, the Cinema and Media Arts Program at Biola University, or the Cinematic Arts department at Asuza Pacific University.

Image: Adobe Stock

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

‘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.

Signed-Sealed-Delivered-Higher-Ground

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.

Martha-Higher-Ground

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

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

 

 

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.

terry-crews-4

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.