There have been movies and TV specials about Our Lady of Guadalupe before, as we outlined here in December — but none of them was a big Hollywood feature. Now, that’s about to change.
As reported by Deadline.com, veteran screenwriter Joe Eszterhas (“Basic Instinct,” “Nowhere to Run,” “Flashdance”), a Hungarian-born Catholic, has penned a new script about Juan Diego’s vision of the Madonna in 1571 Mexico, and taken it to LightWorkers Media, run by Roma Downey and Mark Burnett. Through Lightworkers, the movie will go to MGM, where Burnett is also president of television and digital media.
Here’s some of what Deadline had to say (the article also tells the whole story of Juan Diego, which is a bit of surprise for a secular entertainment-news outlet):
Eszterhas had been working on the script long before the faith-based push became popular at Hollywood studios.
The thought about writing a screenplay about Our Lady of Guadalupe came to him 14 years ago during what he calls his life-changing “Christian conversion.” The screenwriter would later write a book entitled Crossbearer to share his story about that moment sitting on the curb in his cul-de-sac in 2001 at his wits end after battling cancer and addiction. A man who was once the highest-paid screenwriter in Hollywood with a wild lifestyle was now feeling defeated, and found himself begging God for help. That’s when something other-worldly happened.
When he regained his health, Eszterhas traveled to Mexico City to do research and to pray to Our Lady of Guadalupe to help him become a messenger for God. The end result is the spec script that Lightworkers just picked up.
Eszterhas told Deadline that his wife, Naomi, inspired to write the script about the Blessed Mother as she herself, felt a closeness to her. Downey herself played the Blessed Virgin Mary in both Son of God and the TV mini-series The Bible.
As soon as we get an idea of casting or a release date, we’ll let you know.
From the beginning of the time, one thing holds true — everyone’s got a story.
For Catholics, some of us are cradle Catholics, others are converts, and others are reverts (baptized Catholics who left the Faith but came back). These stories have been the backbone of EWTN’s “The Journey Home” for many years.
In our “Faith and Media” series, we’ve been talking to Catholic media figures about media evangelization, the importance of family prayer and so on. But we also asked them about their own faith journeys.
Or in the case of podcaster, author, speaker and radio host Patrick Coffin, how he wound up at the 2016 Religious Education Congress in Anaheim, where we recorded this first round of interviews.
Two other subjects more directly address their personal story of faith.
Sister Nancy Usselmann, national director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies talks about what brought her — a pop-music and movie fan — into the Daughters of Saint Paul, which lets her talk about Christ through media, as a “cultural mystic.”
Joseph Nesta, the senior community relations officer for Immaculate Heart Radio speaks from the heart about how Catholic media brought him into greater knowledge and practice of the Faith.
We just finished a new round of “Faith in Media” interviews, so keep your eye out for future installments with “Catholic Answers Live” host Cy Kellett, blogger and former CBS News journalist Deacon Greg Kandra, moral theologian Pia de Solenni of the Augustine Institute, “Papal Ninja” Sean Bryan of “American Ninja Warrior,” and Bishop Kevin Vann of the Diocese of Orange.
Image: Courtesy Family Theater Productions/Sister Nancy Usselmann/Patrick Coffin
Coming out this weekend, “The Shack,” based on best-selling book by William Paul Young, explores what happens when a grieving father (Sam Worthington) has an encounter with all three Persons of the Trinity, played by different actors — including “Hidden Figures” star Octavia Spencer as God the Father, or “Papa.”
Personifying the Trinity, and other aspects of the book’s theology, have caused some concerns.
With its sparkly spin on the New Testament, the film will be too New Agey for those who hew closely to doctrine (some conservative Christians have criticized the novel as a work of misguided heresy). But beyond theological debates, the feature is a leaden, belabored affair. However universal the perennial questions and struggles that The Shack illuminates, under Stuart Hazeldine’s plodding direction, its faith-based brand of self-help feels like being trapped in someone else’s spiritual retreat — in real time.
Like many popular sensations, from Titanic to Twilight, from Dan Brown to Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels, The Shack is easy to rip apart if one has a mind to. It’s too didactic for drama, too literal for allegory, too artless for poetry, and too fuzzy for theology. The writing is folksy and florid; when Mack falls in his driveway, he doesn’t just get a bump on his head: The lump emerges “like a humpbacked whale breaching the wild waves of his thinning hair.”
Although an enthusiastic cover blurb from Eugene Peterson compares The Shack to Pilgrim’s Progress, generically and thematically it’s somewhat closer to C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce. Lewis’ brilliant book, however, focuses on familiar foibles of human nature; Young attempts a portrait of sorts of the divine nature.
The Shack is essentially an imaginative exploration of theodicy, of the problem of evil, experienced not in the abstract, but as an existential crisis of faith. More broadly, it could be called a response to disappointment with God and disillusionment with religion.
Also concerned, CatholicMom.com founder Lisa Hendey turned to our own Head of Production, Father David Guffey, C.S.C., to get his take. Here’s some of what he had to say:
The film is not a religious teaching on the doctrine of Trinity, any more than the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is a study of physical appearance of God. Each of these use artistic license to point to great truths of faith. Film is an art form and as art, evokes the imagination to discover mystery of life and the workings of God’s grace within it. I would not use this film to talk about Trinity, but instead as an opening to discuss the many ways that God is close to us and the ways that God actively tries to be part of our lives in the best of times and especially in the hardest of times.
I would encourage you to see this film with someone you can talk about it with afterwards. You will want to. It would be a great family movie night film the weekend of March 3, 2017.
After watching the film, invite family members to talk about the times in their life when they feel closest to God. Is it in nature or in a church or at a family gathering? How do we recognize the hand of God at work I the people around us and the events of our lives? Second, and perhaps more difficult, I would encourage a conversation on how the Phillips family coped with loss and grief.
Today — Wednesday, March 1 — is Ash Wednesday, the official beginning of the Lenten season. In case you were wondering what Lent is all about, here’s Family Theater’s new video explaining it:
One thing all Catholic families can do better is praying together, and Lent may be a perfect time to jump-start that in your home. As part of our ongoing “Faith in Media” series, we talked to Catholic mcdia professionals about the importance of family prayer.
To start with, podcaster, author, speaker and radio host Patrick Coffin gave us his own family prayer:
Coffin also offered us a longer take on family prayer, emphasizing that family prayer is the “great untried solution” to many of the ills besetting the modern family, including divorce and the splintering of family members.
Father Tony Ricard, a priest, speaker, author and evangelist from the Archdiocese of New Orleans discussed the importance of not only talking but listening in prayer, and how we, as a people, have to be “about the business of God.”
Then, Joseph Nesta, senior community-relations officer for Immaculate Heart Radio, told us about how saying a family rosary can create beautiful memories.
Finally, Sister Nancy Usselmann, F.S.P., of the Daughters of Saint Paul, the national director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies, explains how family prayer nourished her own vocation, that of her priest brother, and of her married sister and single sister.
On 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.
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.”
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 installment — 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.
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” …
During 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.
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.