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.

Notre Dame’s Father Ted Hesburgh, C.S.C., Gets a Postage Stamp

Sure, it’s a priest on a stamp, but look closer. Behind him, see the Golden Dome, the heart of the Notre Dame campus. Atop it is a statue of the Virgin Mary, the “Our Lady” (Notre Dame in French) that lent her name to the iconic Indiana-based university. Aside from her — and perhaps football coach Knute Rockne — few embody Notre Dame University more than Father Ted Hesburgh, C.S.C.

It’s not a Hollywood story, but it’s one close to our hearts, and close to the hearts of all those touched by the Fighting Irish spirit of Notre Dame.

Family Theater Productions is an apostolate of Holy Cross Family Ministries, which is part of the Congregation of Holy Cross. Our founder, Father Patrick Peyton, C.S.C., was a Holy Cross priest, as is our current head, Father David Guffey, C.S.C.

Notre Dame University is a Holy Cross school. Father Guffey is a graduate, as is Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., who just joined our staff (and was an instructor at Notre Dame).

So, big Notre Dame news is big news to Family Theater. Today, Sept. 1, the U.S. Postal Service unveils a new stamp honoring one of the Indiana-based University’s most towering figures.

From Notre Dame News:

The legendary career of the late Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., the University of Notre Dame’s president from 1952 to 1987, will be celebrated Sept. 1 when the U.S. Postal Service unveils a 49-cent Forever stamp in his honor at a ceremony on campus. All are welcome to attend.

After the unveiling, the stamp featuring Father Hesburgh with a first-day-of-issue postmark will be available at the Notre Dame Post Office and Purcell Pavilion. Stamps also will be available for purchase at the Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore.

In addition to his 35-year tenure as Notre Dame’s president, Father Hesburgh’s other notable achievements and accolades included:

  • 16 presidential appointments — from Presidents Dwight Eisenhower to George W. Bush — in which he was involved in most major social issues including civil rights, peaceful uses of atomic energy, campus unrest, Third World development and immigration reform. In addition to the civil rights commission, other notable appointments were to the Presidential Clemency Board, charged with deciding the fate of various groups of Vietnam offenders; the National Science Board; Commission on the Holocaust; and Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy.
  • Service to four popes, three as permanent Vatican City representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna from 1956 to 1970.
  • Service as chair of the International Federation of Catholic Universities.
  • Election to the Board of Overseers at Harvard University, including two years as board president, the first priest in either position.
  • Service as co-chair of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.
  • The honor of being the first person from higher education to be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, presented in 2000, and receipt in 1964 of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
  • Reception of 150 honorary degrees, the most ever awarded to one person.

Father Hesburgh was born May 25, 1917, and raised in Syracuse, New York. He was educated at Notre Dame and the Gregorian University in Rome, from which he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1939. He was ordained a priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross, Notre Dame’s founding order, in 1943.

Following his ordination, Father Hesburgh continued his study of sacred theology at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., earning his doctorate in 1945. He joined the Notre Dame faculty the same year and served as chaplain to World War II veterans on campus in addition to his teaching duties in the Religion Department. He was appointed the head of that department in 1948, and the following year was appointed executive vice president in the administration of Rev. John J. Cavanaugh, C.S.C. At the age of 35 in June 1952, he was named the 15th president of Notre Dame.

FTP also produced a documentary on Hesburgh, called “Father Ted Hesburgh, C.S.C.: God, Country, Notre Dame.” Click here for a playlist of video excerpts. Below is the first one:

Image: Courtesy Notre Dame University

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.


Amen! FTP’s ‘Down From the Mountaintop’ Wins Two 2017 Telly Awards

Since 1979, the Telly Awards have honored outstanding productions, whether they’re on broadcast TV, cable or, now, digital and streaming platforms. Family Theater Productions is honored to have taken home two Telly Awards for 2017, for our short film, “Down From the Mountaintop.”

More than 500 industry professionals judged from over 13,000 entries from all 50 U.S. states and other countries.

“Down from the Mountaintop” received two Bronze Awards, one for Religious/Spiritual TV Show, and the other for Charitable Non-Profit TV Show.

Based on scripture, “Down from the Mountaintop” tells the story of Adam, shy teen who hears God’s call but is disappointed when others don’t share his enthusiasm for his newfound spirituality. The faith film relates to The Transfiguration, when the Disciples witnessed Christ’s transformation into radiant glory and wanted to bask in that glow forever.

“Down from the Mountaintop” stars Alex Miller as Adam, and Paulina Cerrilla as Cristina, a recurring role in Family Theater Productions movies for the young actress. She also sings lead vocals in the Christian rock song “You’re the Author of My Life,” which is featured in the new film.

Available on DVD (click here), “Down from the Mountaintop” is produced in English, dubbed in Spanish, and subtitled in French and Portuguese on one DVD, and includes a multi-lingual study guide.

Asked for comment, writer/director Father David Guffey, C.S.C. — also Family Theater’s head of production, said:

I am so grateful for the Telly Award for the short film I wrote and directed, “Down from the Mountaintop.”

Over my years as a Holy Cross priest I have witnessed so many people return home after a powerful retreat experience only to find that their family and friends do not understand. This is the story we tell in the film. What do you do the Monday after a spiritual high?

It was a great pleasure to work with Alex Miller, a brilliant young actor who plays Adam the main character, along with the incredible Paulina Cerrilla, who acts and also sings an original song.

My colleague Tony Sands [at right below] produced the film and Jeff Clark, our director of photography, captured some beautiful shots.

With this film, Family Theater proved ourselves as a team and helped us launch our new digital series, “Catholic Central,” and set in motion the development of feature films.

At Family Theater, we believe in story as entertainment but also as a way to look deeper into life.  To look deeper into life is eventually to find God.

Miller and Cerilla joined us at the Religious Education Congress in Anaheim, California, earlier this year, and were a big hit with the parents and young people who’ve enjoyed the film.

As soon as news hit Twitter, FTP’s former head, Father Willy Raymond — promoted to president of Holy Cross Family Ministries, our parent organization — sent congratulations.


As Father Guffey mentioned, we have a Web series, “Catholic Central,” coming out this fall. Go to CatholicCentral.com to see a trailer and sign up for updates; click here to learn more about this fun, fast-paced series about the Faith.

Image: Courtesy Family Theater Productions/Kate O’Hare

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.


‘Leap’: A Girl-Power Animated Movie That Keeps the Boy in the Picture

In an effort to make girls heroes in animated films, the pendulum has swung so far that boys — who make up half the kid audience — may have trouble finding new characters to look up to. Or, girls have to be endowed with magically acquired superhuman powers. “Leap” doesn’t do either of those things.

Released nationwide on Friday, Aug. 25, the Canadian/French production follows two French teens in the 1880s — aspiring dancer Felicie (Elle Fanning) and aspiring inventor Victor (Nat Wolff) — who dodge the overseer (Mel Brooks) of their rural orphanage and head to Paris to pursue their dreams.

Felicie winds up taken in by Odette (Carly Rae Jepsen) the caretaker of the Opera Ballet School — who suffers from a painful limp — while Victor is apprenticed to Gustave Eiffel, creator of the Eiffel Tower.

Mistaken for a haughty wealthy woman’s daughter (Maddie Ziegler), Felicie is able to take instruction at the school, where her natural talent runs up against tough competition. But, with Odette’s help and work ethic, she gradually blossoms into a top ballerina — but the deception can’t last forever.

Meanwhile, Victor makes his own way in Eiffel’s workshop, while still laboring over his own designs, including a hang-glider/wings contraption. He realizes his own blossoming feelings for Felicie, but is dismayed to see that a suave young ballet dancer (Tamir Kapelian) also has his eye on her.

Along the way, the brilliantly colored, detailed animation weaves classical ballet with Irish dance (reminiscent of a similar scene in “Titanic”) and modern moves.

It’s definitely a girl-power movie, but a few things set it apart. First of all, Felicie doesn’t have superpowers, so she succeeds on her own God-given human talents, augmented with a lot of hard work and grit. She also doesn’t want to break into an arena reserved for boys — instead, she wants to succeed in ballet, where women have long been stars.

While Felicie is pursuing her dream, Victor is also seen pursuing his. He never gives up on being an inventor, while still cheerleading Felicie’s quest.

In the end, it’s a combination of both of their talents and hard work that wins the day.

“Leap” is charming, fast without being frenetic — as too many kids’ animated movies are these days — beautifully rendered, blessedly free of questionable morality, and a paean to the power of aspiration paired with determination, effort and persistence.

Here’s the trailer:

And click here for USA Today’s premiere of another trailer featuring the song “Cut to the Feeling,” by Carly Rae Jepsen.

Image: Courtesy The Weinstein Company

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.