We started Act One-Hollywood today. Thirty more writers from 10 states and even Australia. So far, they seem like a good group. We'll all do our part and then it will be up to them.
As this is the fifth anniversary year of Act One, I gave the keynote address for the program's Opening Luncheon. Here are a few notes from my talk. (Sorry they are a bit sketchy. It's all I've got.)
(Started with the Scripture story from Luke of the multiplication of the loaves and fish. The pattern in the story is the pattern of every work of God: Invitation. Sacrifice/Offering. getting blessed and broken. Feeding of the multitudes.)
I. The Invitation
Back in 1998, I wrote the following in my retreat journal. It was the first mention of Act One in my journal, and I write it here to show how far God has taken us from our first concept of what the program was going to be...
“Protestant guy in Hollywood asked me to come up with an event to help Christian screenwriters. Yeah…. It will be two weeks sometime next year.”
“Can you ‘train’ writers? It would be neat to try and do a graduate program where God is a bigger influence than Karl Marx….What would be the main things Christians need: an appreciation for the limits and possibilities of the art form! A commitment to professionalism as an act of charity! …David thinks the point is to partner up new writers with experienced ones. Me thinks there aren’t enough Christian writers in Hollywood to go around.”
The "invitation from God" phase in any new thing seems to be identified by the recognition of new problems. So, for the apostles, the invitation brought with it the problem: “You go and feed them yourselves.”
a) Biggest problem I envisioned back in 1998 was whether we would find enough professionals in Hollywood to teach. The original meeting for the program on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul in 1999, four of us writers went through a list of Inter-mission's rolls and came up with thirty names of writers. None of us thought that we would coax more than ten of the professional writers out of the Christian closet back then… (We have utilized over 100 professionals in the last five years and have now taken to rotating faculty between our various programs. In that first year, twenty-nine of the writers wanted to be part. We ended up lengthening the program to fit the number of writers who wanted to be part. Twenty-nine writers, thirty days.)
b) The second problem was in finding writers worth training. One of our initial consultant thought the program should be limited to only four or five writers a year. When we got 75 applications in that first year, we kept expanding the size of the class to “as many people as could comfortably sit around a table. We figured that number was 24…so we ended up taking 30 students that first year.
c) The one problem I wasn’t conscious of in 1998 was how to raise money. It wasn’t my problem. It wasn’t something I had any experience in. It wasn’t necessary anyway. We had enough money to do our one time event.
II. The Blessings and the Brokenness
Every blessing has, in a sense, come alongside some kind of brokenness. The principal brokenness of these first five years has been in the intense labor and commitment to the establishment of starting this new thing. There has pretty much only been Actc One in my life. But I have seen the same kind of sacrifice in our faculty and mentors, staff, volunteers, donors and alumni.
But the principal blessings have come as insights. These were not things we started knowing back in 1998, but one by one, they have come to define this program. They have almost all come after a being broken, in that we found them generally by banging our head up against doors providentially closed by the Divine Will, or else by being yanked kicking and screaming through other doors opened providentially by that same Will.
I want to go through a few of them here to offer to you all to brood over in the valuable way that the study of history offers. I think this is also valuable for the new students and all of us who are writers, because each of these pretty much applies to every particular work of God with which you might be engaged.
b) A sign of growth is that you always have new problems.
c) Success in ministry, is in finding a way to give your clients more than they asked for or think they need.
d) There is no decision that can not be adjusted. The only thing that can not be harnassed and redirected is inertia.
e) Commerciality is found in the intersection of a wound of the world and the passion of my heart.
f) There is no joy without commitment. The sign of commitment is sacrifice. Sacrifice must hurt or it isn’t sacrifice. (Something has to die in a sacrifice.)
g) The best fundraiser is to do what you do anyway and see if you can get paid for it.
h) Never bridle the Spirit. If anyone in the community has a passion to start something, get out of their way and let them do what they feel called to do.
i) The community that seeks to survive for itself will founder. It is the community that seeks to survive for a need outside itself that is sustained.
j) Christian community is not in the absence of sin. It is proved in the way it reacts to sin. Accountability. Compunction. Repentance. Forgiveness.
III. The Future
a) The obvious dreams: a building. Several more programs. Recognition. The writers fellowship. The actual impact on culture. More money than we can even dream of spending.
b) A sign of the action of God is always that several people see the same light at the same time. The “light” that has been getting progressively harder for us core faculty to ignore, is the need to establish the Act One program as a facilitator of spiritual growth and maturity to our community. A chaplain? Spiritual counseling? Training in theology? Coordinated community prayer?
c) We must internalize the Act One brand: To give the audience more than it asks for. (Projects that haunt them as they walk away and enter into their framework. Scripts that are a saving line to people out in the storm. Giving the audience a seat at the table.)
d) I have to direct myself to the program alumni... (This is not for all of you. But for those for whom it applies…) We need you to be much more ugent and focussed on the task that you have been prepared for. When the Pope went to France, he said, “France, eldest daughter of the Church, what have you done with your baptism?!” Dear alumni, you can sell a few scripts and have a career, or by your determination to add to and pass on what you have learned, you can enter into the history of Hollywood. You can produce work that will feed your family. Or you can produce work that will feed a multitude. You can be a single sign post, or you can be a link in a powerful chain.
I would say to all of us in this unique and wonderful new community, we all need to do more. Being part of Act One isn’t just a nice thing. It is a grace. You either believe in this work of God, or you don’t. It will only continue and thrive, if some of you step forward to die a little, to take it to the next level.
e) Renewing the Model for Creative Christian Community. In five years, we want to see holy cells of masters and apprentices out of which great and beautiful things will come. Art doesn’t come out of classrooms. It comes out of studios. Artistic craft isn’t taught. It is handed on. The artist’s life is one of continual sacrifice: the demands of excellence; the pouring out of personal insights; the brooding over the next generation. The future is to restore artists to their place in the heart of society. To free them from the misery of their proud isolation and navel gazing, and turn their eyes outward in pastoral love.