CNN PEOPLE IN THE NEWS
[NOTE FROM BARB: Here are parts of the transcript of a show that was on CNN two weeks ago. I'm quoted in it, as are several of my friends. I'm editing it, so you should go to CNN's transcript archive for the whole thing if you are interested.]
Religion in Entertainment
Aired March 26, 2005 - 17:00 ET
ANNOUCNER: Next on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, Hollywood and religion. First, Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" stirred controversy and made millions at the box office. But after its success, is Hollywood born again?... A look at the often conflicting worlds of Hollywood and religion, now on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.
ZAHN: Hi. Welcome to this special edition of PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. I'm Paula Zahn. If there's a gospel rule in Hollywood, it is success begets sequels, knockoffs and re releases. So, just in time for the Easter holiday comes Mel Gibson's newly recut version of "The Passion of the Christ."
But in the years since Gibson's controversial movie first debutted, has
Hollywood really found religion? Over the next hour, a look at faith and entertainment, past, present, and future.
MARK PINSKY, RELIGION WRITER, ORLAND SENTINEL: Mel Gibson is not the Messiah but he did make huge changes, I think in the attitudes of Hollywood toward religious films.
ZAHN: A personal expression of fate, which turned Hollywood on its head.
GIBSON: That's what making art is about. It's about sort of throwing it all out there. I think -- and if the fur is not flying, you ain't doing nothing.
ZAHN: Gibson's quest to make the Passion was rooted in his own religious convictions. As a young man he considered joing the priesthood and was raised as a conservative Catholic out of the main stream.
GIBSON: I probably sound like some egotist, you know, saying the Roman Church is wrong, but I believe it is at the moment, since Vatican II.
JESS CAGLE, SENIOR EDITOR PEOPLE MAGAZINE: Mel in his life has been heavily influenced by his father. His father was very unhappy with what he considered the modernization of the Catholic Church in the 1960s. So Mel has now, after a few wild years, embraced the same kind of very, very conservative Catholicism that his father believed in.
ZAHN: In fact, Gibson has even build his own church in California where Mass is performed in traditional Latin as it was before Vatican II.
LARRY KING, HOST: You don't like the new church? The mass in English?
KING: Why not?
GIBSON: It's missing some stuff.
GIBSON: It's missing some very important things. I don't believe transubstantiation occurs anymore. I mean if there's not rules, if there's not an absolute, then it's not worth much.
ZAHN: Gibson has said he went through a spiritual crisis of his own about 14 years ago. In an interview with the Roman Catholic Network, Eternal Word Television, he described how he turned to the story of Christ's crucifixion for help.
GIBSON: Like most of us, I mean you get to a point in your life where you're pretty wounded by everything that goes on around you, by your own transgressions, by other people's -- you know, I mean just life as a -- it's kind of a scarring thing. So, I used "The Passion" as a meditation of healing myself.
ZAHN: But Gibson's decision to make a film of the passion received the cold shoulder from Hollywood. Even with his Oscar- winning resume, and box office clout and nearly $1 billion, studios were skeptical of a film about Jesus that Gibson wanted to make in Latin and Aramaeic. Gibson decided to finance the $30 million film himself.
TIM LAHAYE, CO-AUTHOR: He said then that he knew that he could lose $35 million of production costs of that movie, but he said, and with passion, he put his fist on the table, he said, I don't care if I lose every cent.This is something I have to do.
BARBARA NICOLOSI, FILM AND TELEVISION CONSULTANT: He's making something that profoundly reflected his own deepest beliefs. He was making a movie, I think, as an act of repentance, the sign of his own repentance to God. That's one of the things that give the passion its power, is that he actually believes this stuff.
ZAHN: But Gibson's beliefs would come under attack. Charges of
anti-semitism were leveled against the film, which Gibson strongly denied.
PAUL LAUER, MOTIVE MARKETING: There was like this outbreak of fire, this incredible energy, and controversy, and the smoke went up and everybody wanted to know what was going on.
ZAHN: The result? A film which has grossed more than $600 million worldwide, and left Gibson thankful to his public.
GIBSON: Because I circumvented the system in a sense, their participation and their support was extremely necessary. I'm very aware of that. Millions of people got behind it and made it what it was.
CRAIG DETWEILER, BIOLA UNIVERSITY: Bottom line is, whatever is the newest hit, they will tend to duplicate. Hollywood will always follow success with a chance to try to duplicate that success. That's just good business.
ZAHN: As for Gibson's next movie choice, he's being tight- lipped.
GIBSON: I'm going to direct something else. I wrote it, yes.
ZAHN: It's rumored to be another religious-based film. But for now, Gibson's next passion remains a secret.
There are a number of upcoming films with spiritual overtones, including the "Chronicles of Narnia." Author C.S. Lewis's much beloved fantasy series is steeped in religion, with its hero a symbol of Jesus Christ.
Religion isn't only going mainstream on the big screen, it's also become more prevalent on the small screen as well. Fueled by the success of shows like "Joan of Arcadia." Joan Gerardi is the typical TV teenager. She lives with her parents and two brothers. She goes to high school. But that teenage boy she's talking with is God.
AMBER TAMBLYN, ACTRESS (show clip): Are you been snip snippy with me? God is snippy.
TAMBLYN: Joan sort of treats God like her friend. Sometimes she hates him. She makes fun of him. Actually makes fun of God a lot. It's a love/hate relationship but it's cool.
ZAHN: Joan is the creation of Barbara Hall, a veteran TV writer and producer, with "Moonlighting," "Northern Exposure" and "Judging Amy" on her resume. Her inspiration for the show came from a long time interest in Joan of Arc and her own preteen daughter.
BARBARA HALL, TV WRITER: Just sort of looking at her and wondering what it would look like if she had, you know, had a calling like that. If any teenager would be able to answer a calling like that.
And then it led into imagining what that would look like if God tried to talk to a teenager today, which I think would have to be more profound than voices, because you know, I always say that first my daughter would have to take her iPod off to be able to hear anything.
ZAHN: Hall was raised a strict Methodist, but studied other faiths before converting to Catholicism. Her show gives her the opportunity to raise plenty of questions she has about God.
HALL: God is a subject that almost no one is indifferent to. Everyone has an opinion on it. Everybody wants to be in the discussion. The original plan for coming up with Joan of Arcadia" was to engage people in the discussion.
MARY STEENBURGEN, ACTRESS: The show doesn't try to preach to anyone. It doesn't try to pretend to have really any of the answers, not just all the answers, but even any of the answers, but it is a show that's not afraid to ask people to ask questions.
ZAHN: While Joan sees and hears God talking with her, so does the audience.
Hall made the potentially controversial decision to make God a character on
TAMBLYN: I can't hear you.
GOD: But you can see me.
TAMBLYN: I'm ignoring you.
GOD: I'm used to that.
PINSKY: I think that was part of the initial appeal. It was so shocking in its conception that people said, whoa! What is this, exactly? Is this sacreligious maybe? But it becomes very clear as you watch the show, that it's not sacreligious. That it's really reverent in a way. The presentation is irreverrent, but the content is very reverent.
ZAHN: When creating the show, Hall established a list of rules of what her God can and can't do. She calls them her ten commandments.
HALL: Like the very first rule is God can't interfere with free will. He can't directly intervene. And you know, everyone's allows to say no to god, including Joan. And God can never identify as one religion as being right on my show.
PINSKY: You don't hear the name Jesus or Christ, for example. It's kind of generic religion with a low threshold of acceptance.
ZAHN: Hall's God also doesn't fix things. Joan's brother is in a wheelchair, and he's not getting out.
HALL: That's everyone's biggest question about God. You know, if he designed the universe and has control of it, why doesn't he take care of some things that need taken care of? And that is a very deep theological question. And it can't be answered in a television show. And it can't be answered in a book. And it's just an ongoing question that we have to grapple with.
ZAHN: With 60 million copies sold, a devoted fan base and a biblically-based storyline which features plenty of action and adventure Left Behind would seem to have the potential to follow in the steps of The Passion of the Christ and become a box office hit.
LAHAYE: Right from the beginning I saw movie. Somehow there has to be a movie. Because to me, movies are the most powerful vehicle to the human mind ever invented.
ZAHN: In fact, there have already been two Left Behind movies, released before The Passion.
PETER LALONDE, PRODUCER, "LEFT BEHIND": The Left Behind film franchise has been enormously successful and part of the whole boom of Christian filmmaking we see taking place thousand.
ZAHN: Made outside of Hollywood by Christian filmmakers the cast head lined by Kirk Cameron of Growing Pains fame. With budgets that pale in comparison to the special effects specaculars Hollywood turns out, the films took in $4 million to theaters and were essentially direct to video productions.
PINSKY: I think with the Left Behind Series, they basically dropped the ball. They tried to make the movie on the cheap. And the movie was not of the same quality as a movie, as the novels were as books.
NICOLOSI: Yeah, if you put Left Behind up in front of the industry and say this is a Christian movie, this is embarrassingly bad, schlock on every level.
ZAHN: The authors who sold the film rights to their books before their series became a smash hit have also been disappointed.
JENKINS: We sort of wish we could get the rights back and do it ourselves again. We wanted a big budget Hollywood theatrical release and we felt like we sort of got a church video.
ZAHN: In fact, co-author LaHaye filed a suit against the filmmakers alleging they had promised to make a blockbuster film and failed to deliver.
LAHAYE: Our intent was to get into the theater and expose our message to thousands of people that never go to church or don't understand Bible prophecy.
ZAHN: LaHaye lost. The suit was dismissed in favor of the filmmakers.
LALONDE: They sort of say you're a real film company when you get involved in your first lawsuit. That means you've made it somewhere.
ZAHN: The Left Behind producer also defends the quality of his movies, noting they received excellent reviews from the Christian community.
LALONDE: I think, for Christian films, I think they were a great step in the right direction. Could they have better and had bigger budgets? I think so. Had the market demonstrated that the marketplace could bear a bigger budget movie at that point in time? No. We had not had the Passion at that point in time. So, they were sort of boxed in to what they were.
ZAHN: Lalonde hopes his latest film Left Behind: "World War III" will be more like a home run. Currently in production, he says it has a bigger budget than the previous two films and comes with higher expectations.
LALONDE: I think this movie is going to knock the socks off both of them. We have upped everything to such a level. I think that absolutely each one of the films in the Left Behind Series, and we intend to make several more, will reach a wider and wider audience as we move along.
ZAHN: While it's unclear if that audience will materialize, the authors of the Left Behind Series continue to have a hit on their hands. Their latest novel debutted at No. 2 on the New York Times Bestseller List.