Family Theater Productions’ Catholic Central aims to boil down the history, theology and practices of a 2,000-year-old church into a series of online videos that all clock in at less than 10 minutes, while still keeping it fresh, fun, engaging to younger viewers … and accurate.
Here’s a taste:
How Is Catholic Central Created?
This Herculean task requires a team of professional writers, directors and crew people, two outrageously talented hosts, along with editors and animators, and a backup squad of researchers and theologians. There are many talking-head YouTube videos out there, and many of them are quite good (such as those by Father Mike Schmitz, a fan of our show), but Catholic Central wanted to be something different.
“Catholic Central plays a much-needed role on the Internet. Not only are Kai and Libby great at communicating the truths of the Catholic faith in a clear and understandable way, but their presentation is also incredibly entertaining and the production value very high. We need more resources like this!”
Fr. Mike Schmitz, Catholic priest and media evangelist
Shot in FTP’s own studio on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, the episodes focus on a wide variety of Catholic topics, from big ones, like recent episode “What’s Catholic?”, to short explorations of holiday traditions, hot-button issues like “Creation and Evolution,” and more esoteric subjects, like “Praying With the Bible: Ignatian Meditation.”
Inspired by John Green’s info-and-graphics-heavy, but still quick and entertaining, Crash Course videos, the episodes feature striking visuals and computer-generated animation, like this dramatic comic-book-flavored take on the papal conclave:
The goal is always to come at the topic from a broad view, then narrowing down to the most essential elements. After that, it’s deciding how the information can be conveyed through spoken text (leaning toward non-theological language, with precise terms added when necessary), comedy and images. The Catholic Central style makes use of traditional Catholic imagery, mixed with striking photos and pop-culture-inspired takes (like the cardinal “Bat Signal” in the video above).
Who’s in Catholic Central?
Live hosts Kai (Kaiser Johnson) and Libby (Libby Slater) anchor from the Catholic Central desk and also portray a dizzying array of original characters, those inspired by pop culture, and figures from history in quick comedy takes.
Like this clip from “Mary” featuring Slater as the Mother of God:
All of these are then cut together into fast-paced videos that are still sensitive to the topics, never going for laughs or speed at the expense of facts and reverence.
After a long casting search, Johnson and Slater were chosen for their on-screen chemistry, poise and appealing personalities. As time has gone on, they’ve demonstrated impeccable comedic timing, an ability to be serious when the topic demands (and say some mighty big words). They’re also good sports, rapidly switching costumes, wigs, makeup and personas — sometimes several times in one shooting day.
Kai and Libby also write for the show — and they have improv chops, as demonstrated in this short episode for Lent, which begins with a script and then goes into Johnson’s improvised rant:
Where Can You Watch Catholic Central?
Available on its own YouTube channel, the show is also found at CatholicCentral.com, where each episode page features links, Going Deeper questions and such downloadable resources as an episode transcript, and activity guides for individuals and small/large groups. The guides and questions are developed with input from the show’s own Catholic staff, in consultation with educators and theologians.
While the classic YouTube format of one or two people just talking directly to the camera can be very effective, Catholic Central takes it up a notch, producing videos that are not only suitable for the ordinary seeker who may stumble across them on YouTube but also for families and the classroom. The style is intended to be visually interesting and entertaining, emphasizing sound doctrine and history while keeping it sharp, funny and relevant.
The show even now has a Millennial showrunner, Mary Ashley Burton. A talented writer, she also directs episodes, and manages the writing team and the physical production.
There are several new episodes up at CatholicCentral.com — take a look!
Image: Family Theater Productions
Kate O’Hare is a longtime entertainment journalist and the Social Media Manager for Family Theater Productions.