Category: News & Trends

‘Maya the Bee’ Controversy: A Question of Trust Between Animator and Audience

Every day, parents sit their children down in front of entertainment that presents itself as child-friendly and child-safe — and the majority of it is — but there’s a catch. Not everyone who works on these shows may have children’s best interests in mind.

Recently, “Maya the Bee,” a popular European cartoon offered on Netflix, became the center of a controversy when a mom noticed a very inappropriate drawing of a male body part etched in the background of a scene, and posted about it on Facebook. She wasn’t dreaming or mistaken — it was there.

Here’s the reaction from the studio, as published in The Hollywood Reporter:

“An absolutely inappropriate image has been discovered in a four-second fly-by scene in one episode of the total of 78 episodes of the series,” said production group Studio 100 in a statement on Friday. “The origin of this image obviously results from a very bad joke from one of the 150 artists working on the production.”

And from Netflix (which pulled the episode):

“This is indeed unacceptable to the Studio 100 Group as owner of the brand and all its partners and doesn’t reflect the quality of its work and its values,” the company’s statement continues. “Legal action has already been started. Studio 100 very much regrets this incident and would like to offer its sincere apologies to all Maya the Bee fans. At the same time the company is taking all suitable technical measures to remedy the situation.”

It’s a little hard to imagine the mindset of an artist who would think it was funny to put such an image in a show intended for small children. But, different sorts of people work on these shows, especially animated ones, and they all have their own sensibilities. I remember doing an interview with a producer turning out animated shows for kids on Nickelodeon. He said that he and his fellow 20-something animators basically did the shows primarily to amuse each other, and delighted in slipping in little jokes.

I don’t know that he or his pals did anything like the “Maya the Bee” animation artist (but it wouldn’t surprise me if they did). But this was before the rise of social media, so if they did, it wouldn’t have gotten the immediate response that the parents who took “Maya” to task on social media did.

In a perfect world, parents would pre-screen every bit of TV that their children watch — but we don’t live in a perfect world. We do, however, live in a world saturated with media. While the producers of “Maya the Bee” may not have had any ill intent, things slip through. This might be a good teaching moments for parents to explain how entertainment comes to be, how it’s made up of writers and animators, voice actors and producers, studios and networks.

The more kids know about the process, the less godlike and mysterious it seems, and the more they realize that people who make TV are flawed human beings like the rest of us. In our world today, there’s far too much hero-worship of those in showbiz, rather than a grounded realization that it’s a business like any other.

And if you see something in a show that caters to children that offends you or your values, speak out. Enough parents doing so caught the attention of both the “Maya the Bee” studio and Netflix, and action was taken.

In this highly competitive media environment, viewers matter. Every producer and network knows that people rely heavily on word-of-mouth, often through social media, to choose programming for their children. Never forget the power you have — and don’t be afraid to use it.

As Ronald Reagan used to say, “Trust, but verify.”

Image: Courtesy Netflix

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.

Bishop Robert Barron Launches New Streaming Platform, Talks Faith at Facebook

Bishop Barron’s Word on Fire apostolate has gone digital with a new streaming platform.

From the bishop’s message that landed in my inbox today:

We are offering a new way to view our content on this cutting-edge streaming site, and you’ll be able to watch any of my programs on any device and at any time.

With a Word on Fire Digital subscription, you will instantly have access to ALL of my video programs.

You’ll also be the first to gain access to new releases, as well as other content that will be added throughout the year.

Here’s how it works…

You can pay a low monthly price to access everything, or you can purchase programs individually, rent them for a limited time, or effortlessly send them as a gift.

I am confident that Word on Fire Digital will be another new way to reach souls with the Gospel via the new media.

Click this link to learn more and watch the new video trailer: http://WOFDigital.org

Click here for the trailer; and here to sign up for a free trial.

Now, you can have Bishop Barron all the time, and share him more easily with friends, family and faithful seekers.

This appears to be part of a new digital outreach by Bishop Barron, who headed to Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California, on Sept. 18, to talk about how to discuss faith on social media.

From Catholic News Agency:

Bishop Barron said authentic faith is not opposed to reason; it does not accept simply anything on the basis of no evidence.

He compared faith to the process of coming to know another human person. While one can begin to come to know someone by reason, or through a Google search or a background check, when a relationship deepens, other questions arise.

“When she reveals her heart, the question becomes: Do I believe her or not? Do I trust her or not?” he said.

“The claim, at least of the great biblical religions, is that God has not become a great distant object that we examine philosophically,” the bishop said. “Rather, the claims is that God has spoken, that God has decided to reveal his heart to his people.”

Click here to watch the full Facebook video.

Word on Fire Digital is not the only place to find great Catholic content online. Of course, there’s always the Vatican Website, but that’s just the beginning.

Try the Augustine Institute’s Formed streaming service, which aims to be “Catholic Netflix.” It features hundreds of Catholic videos, movies, audio content and ebooks. You can try a seven-day free trial or subscribe as a parish. Click here.

Catholic TV can be seen on several platforms, including Roku, Samsung Smart TV, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, or on your iPhone or Android phone. But it’s also available online, just click here.

Of course, premier Catholic network EWTN is available on cable and satellite TV, but it also posts many of its shows on its Website and YouTube channel, and streams online live, right here.

So, if you can’t find anything good to watch, you can always find something to watch that celebrates truth, beauty and goodness.

And, as you see at the bottom of the post, you can also visit our YouTube and Ustream channels, and coming soon, we’re adding our catechetical Web series “Catholic Central” to the mix. For a preview and to learn more about our great young hosts, Kai (Kaiser Johnson) and Libby (Elizabeth Slater), visit CatholicCentral.com.

Image: Courtesy Word on Fire

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.

‘The Emmys’ 2017: ‘This Is Us’ Carries the Flag for Family Drama

Did family viewing score any wins at the 69th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards last night? Not much, and what there was, came from NBC’s megahit “This Is Us.”

In an honor handed out the previous weekend at the Creative Arts Emmys, veteran actor Gerald McRaney (“Simon & Simon,” “Major Dad,” “Deadwood”) scored his first (?!) Emmy win, for outstanding guest actor, playing kindly OB/GYN Dr. Nathan Katowski, a k a Dr. K, on “This Is Us.”

The kind widower Dr. K delivered the two of the “Big Three,” the triplets (one died at birth, and another was adopted into the trio) that form the core of the hit multigenerational family drama, which returns for its second season on Sept. 29.

Here’s what McRaney told the Los Angeles Times:

“Big, tough guys approach me,” McRaney said when he stopped by The Times’ video studio recently for an Emmy Contenders chat with Times television reporter Yvonne Villarreal. “You know, ‘You made me cry,’” they say. Fans, he says, often “go into depth and share some personal thing that relates directly to the show.”

The outpouring, he says, is a reflection of how good the writing is. The writers have captured a true human connection, tapped into a common humanity. They don’t need superheroes or even villains to make their stories compelling.

They’re just writing about decent people who have problems and find ways to solve them. “Good people in extraordinary circumstances,” he says.

When it got to the actual top Primetime Emmy Awards, Hulu’s dystopian fable “The Handmaid’s Tale” — which, despite appearances to the contrary, the producers have said is not an attack on actual Christianity — was the big winner. It took outstanding drama series, outstanding lead actress for Elisabeth Moss, outstanding supporting actress for Ann Dowd, outstanding writing for a drama series, and outstanding directing for a drama series.

The next big winner was HBO’s political comedy “Veep,” including outstanding comedy series, and outstanding lead actress in a comedy for Julia Louis-Dreyfus; and HBO’s “Big Little Lies,” about three upper-class moms in a swanky beachside community whose lives and marriages conceal deceit, betrayal and even murder. Both Nicole Kidman and Laura Dern took home awards, for outstanding lead actress and supporting actress in a limited series, respectively.

Are these shows family-friendly, pro-family, pro-marriage or pro-faith? No. Not at all.

Of all the things it was nominated for, including drama series, the only major honor “This Is Us” took home was a well-earned outstanding lead actor in a drama for Sterling K. Brown, whose acceptance speech was cut short, and his microphone was turned off. He then finished his speech backstage.

That included thanking the writers, producers, directors and series creator Dan Fogelman, or, as Brown called him, “the Hebrew hammer with which our house is built.”

Oh, and Brown also thanked his wife.

″Ryan Michelle Bathe, you’re everything,” Brown said. “You make my life worth living and you gave me two of the most beautiful things that God has ever put on this planet ― my sons Andrew Jason Sterling Brown, Amaré Michael Ryan Christian Brown. Your daddy loves you with the strength of 1,000 suns. I’ll see you Monday after work.”

So, the warmhearted family drama beloved of America — and at least one Emmy voter — lost out to a sci-fi dystopia beloved of TV critics and entertainment-industry types. A chance to change the trajectory of TV was lost or outright avoided. While the audience doesn’t much care about Emmys, they do impact the fate of shows and the future of writers.

It’s a shame.

But, the viewers have made “This Is Us” such a hit that not even Hollywood can ignore the deep desire of ordinary Americans to see such extraordinary, ordinary lives onscreen.

Let’s hope someone is listening.

Oh, BTW, fewer people are listening to the Emmys, since the overnight ratings cratered.

With 11.38 million viewers tuning into the 69th annual Primetime Emmy Awards is even with last year’s show on ABC, which was the all-time low. The 2016 show was down 5% from the 2015 show, which was the previous low. Among adults 18-49, last night’s Emmys snagged a 2.5 rating. That’s down 10% from the Jimmy Kimmel hosted show of last year, the previous demo low.

Image: Courtesy NBC

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.

Hollywood’s Battle Over ‘Clean’ Entertainment

Who owns a movie? The filmmaker? The studio? Distributor? The person who buys the DVD? It’s a sticky question, especially when it comes to altering films for different audiences and outlets.

Anyone who watches feature films on commercial TV or on an airplane is familiar with the following disclaimer:

Usually that means removing or altering foul language, adult situations or violence. For a lot of people, that edited version may be the only one they’ve seen.

That upsets a lot of filmmakers.

On Sept. 6, website Vox posted an extensive history of a quarter-century of skirmishes among various companies, studio executives and filmmakers concerning re-editing films after the fact.

(Click here for the whole thing.)

Why do they do it? It’s often because of you, the “family,” “values” or “conservative” audience.

From Vox:

There’s plenty of evidence that Americans have an appetite for “cleaned-up” movies. Mainstream films with minimum levels of objectionable content are often impressive box office performers; Beauty and the Beast is still the No. 1 highest grossing film in America so far this year by a healthy margin (and the relatively tame Wonder Woman is in the second spot). The Hallmark Movie Channel, which airs boilerplate clean films, often posts very high ratings, especially around the holidays, when families spend time together. And the faith-based movie market — of which the most marked indicator is a lack of any “objectionable” content — continues to grow, often raking in huge numbers at the box office despite tepid critical reception.

Understandably, both movie studios and entrepreneurs want to capitalize on this appetite, since it might expand the market for a particular film to those with more sensitive or conservative taste in movies. But satisfying that demand means essentially creating alternate versions of existing movies. That can take the form of consumers purchasing the “regular” version of the movie and editing it themselves or paying to have it edited; paying for technology that edits films on the fly; or watching an already-existing cleaned-up version, like those made for airplane or television airings.

The Directors Guild of America, along with many individual directors, have repeatedly spoken out against the practice of modifying existing films for content.

Earlier this year, Sony Pictures announced Sony Clean Versions, an initiative to allow customers who purchased certain films in their original form to also obtain the edited-for-TV or edited-for-airline versions, which aren’t normally available to consumers. That set off a firestorm of complaints from filmmakers. Sony offered to back off if directors objected, but in the end, the initiative pretty much disappeared.

The issue touched on artistic sensibilities, but also copyright law and entertainment-union contracts.

Back in VHS days, some parents edited films themselves, or there were companies or video stores that helped them do it. In modern times, other companies have offered more technologically advanced ways of altering films, running into a variety of legal problems.

One company, VidAngel, based in Provo, Utah, wound up in federal court facing complaints from Disney, 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros., which argued its service violated copyright law. Now, VidAngel is changing direction, offering to “clean” content from streaming services.

Ultimately, filmmakers argue that that uncontrolled editing of films not only violates the law but could fundamentally alter the content and intent of the movie. On the other side are consumers demanding movies and TV shows that don’t offend their sensibilities or are suitable for family viewing.

It’s likely a dispute that will continue for quite some time.

Asked for comment by email, Matthew Faraci, president of Inspire Buzz, and an expert on marketing to the faith and values audience, wrote:

Clean entertainment that the whole family can enjoy together has historically been and continues to be in high demand, and is nearly always a moneymaker. Fifty-two million American adults, fully one-third of the entertainment market, are actively looking for family-friendly options. Yet, incredibly, Hollywood continues to undervalue this huge market.

For example, a recent study by the Parents Television Council found that the major streaming platforms are largely unsafe for kids, and lack both suitable family content and parental controls.

Is it any wonder that, for decades, numerous services have been created in an attempt to address this? And can someone please explain why, when cleaning up content expands the audience for any movie or TV series, that so many in the industry continue to do everything they can to oppose such efforts, robbing a key audience of options they’re asking for in the marketplace?

Of course, Hollywood could make “clean” content in the first place, but that doesn’t seem a popular option among most modern filmmakers. But if anyone wants to do it, and can get the financing and distribution, there appears to a large and grateful audience eager to watch.

UPDATE 9/13: A comment from Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., a filmmaker who just joined the staff here at Family Theater Productions. Frequently, when films are sent to other countries, they’re re-edited to accommodate those cultures.

As Father Kuna points out:

I don’t see the same righteous indignation from Hollywood filmmakers when their films are regularly censored for global distribution.

Image: Courtesy Sony Pictures

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.

Jim Caviezel Plays Luke in Apostle Paul Drama from Sony’s Affirm Films

Affirm Films, a Sony Pictures Entertainment Company focusing on faith-based films — it was behind last year’s “Risen” — has started principal photography in Malta on “Paul, Apostle of Christ.”

Andrew Hyatt (“Full of Grace”) wrote and is directing; David Zelon (“Soul Surfer”) and T.J. Berden (“Full of Grace”) are producers.

Starring are James Faulkner (“Game of Thrones,” “Da Vinci’s Demons”), Caviezel, Olivier Martinez (“Mars,” “Texas Rising”), Joanne Whalley and John Lynch.

From Variety, which broke the story:

The story covers Paul, portrayed by Faulkner, going from the most infamous persecutor of Christians to Jesus Christ’s most influential apostle. The movie will follow his last days awaiting execution by Emperor Nero in Rome under the watchful eye of Mauritius, Mamertine Prison’s ambitious prefect, who seeks to understand how this broken old man can pose such a threat.

Martinez is portraying the prefect. As his days grow shorter, Paul works from prison to further the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and embolden his followers to stand strong in their faith against Roman persecution.

“Next to Jesus, no one played a more central role in the growth of early church than the Apostle Paul,” said Affirm Films executive vice president Rich Peluso. “He wrote a vast swath of the New Testament and traveled more than 10,000 miles by foot to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

From Deadline.com:

“Paul changed from murdering Christians to becoming their unlikely leader. His life personifies ‘forgiveness’, a concept that seems almost impossible today- but desperately needed,” says Berden. “We at ODB Films are overjoyed to be working alongside Sony Affirm to share this much needed story with the world.”

ODB Films is a Catholic ministry devoted to spiritual movies.

Set to film through the end of September for a 2018 release, “Paul, Apostle of Christ” is Caviezel’s first Bible role since “The Passion of the Christ” in 2004. He previously worked with Zelon on “When the Game Stands Tall,” a football drama from Affirm.

Image: Courtesy Affirm Films

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.

‘The Stray’: One Dog Movie Worth Finding

If you love dogs, or just want a movie for the whole family, “The Stray” may be for you.

I have been noticing that the family film doesn’t really exist in theaters anymore. Now, I’m not talking about animated motion pictures from Pixar, Disney, Dreamworks and others. No, I’m referring to live-action films, with actual people in them, made for families.

If parents have kids that are too young to watch superhero films – and I’m a firm believer that the PG-13 rating that most of these film receive is a warning parents should believe – then there is almost nothing for families to watch together other than cartoons and the occasional gem like Dolphin Tale.

I think we have another such gem launching nationwide on Friday, Oct. 6 — The Stray. Going back to the basics, this is the story of a man and his dog, or in this case, Mitch Davis (Michael Cassidy), who is trying to live his Hollywood dreams while supporting his wife and three kids, and the stray dog that literally wanders into their lives.

Trying to make it in the movie business has increasingly taken Mitch away from being a husband and father. He suggests getting a dog to be an emotional four-legged crutch, to provide the companionship he can’t, as he works nearly 24/7 at a major studio. Before Mitch can go buy a dog, his son, Christian Davis (an older Connor Corum, who played the adorable five-year-old from Heaven is for Real), finds a dog – or it finds him – when he’s facing bullies on the playground.

This canine from nowhere comes to the boy’s rescue and follows Christian home. Since Mitch already announced the family would have a dog, he can’t see how he can say “no” to this one.

The stray, however, comes into a family in turmoil. The mom, Michelle (played by Sarah Lancaster), informs Mitch that his absence has effectively estranged his son and is putting a strain on everyone. As Mitch works to save his family, he finds an ally in their new pet. This wandering mutt stands with the Davis family, ultimately showing that sometimes a dog can save the day.

Ostensibly, The Stray is as story about a loyal pet, but it’s really a story about family. On an even deeper level, it is a metaphor about love and how true love is sacrifice, with the one who loves us the most being God. Yep, there is a healthy dose of faith in this film, but not in an over-the-top kind of way, but from the fact that the Davises are people of faith.

To be clear, The Stray is not a religious fairy tale or holy parable, since the movie is based on a true story. But, like many of the big events in our own lives, this family’s story points to a bigger truth. I know it sounds there is a lot going on in what seems like a small movie. Also, I know this is the kind of film that I think many parents may be tempted wait to watch until it reaches Redbox or Netflix. However, I would argue that if families do that, they will miss a rare treat in a moviegoing experience.

First of all, the film features beautiful footage of landscapes and vistas that just won’t have the same impact on your TV or iPad, and there are some epic moments that will definitely lose something on a small screen.

Second, we are so busy as people, that it’s rare we all get to experience something together. It’s about as rare as getting a live-action movie that a whole family can see as one.

I would take the opportunity provided by The Stray for families to spend some time together and see this in a theater, especially since it is a film that should spark some good discussion afterward.

Click here to learn more about The Stray and how your faith community, business or civic group could have a private screening on Oct. 5.

Image: Courtesy Struck Films LLC

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.