I was asked by a group of Catholic business leaders recently, to give some ideas as to how the Church could make a more strategic impact on the culture. I think everybody expected me to say that the answer is in writing checks to fund movies. But that's not what I said. I don't think we need to get Catholic millionaires to write big checks to pay for movie budgets. I think we need to get Warner Bros., Paramount, Sony and the like to start financing movies that would have a Catholic worldview.
And how do you do that? It's so damn simple I can't believe it has to be said. Still not getting it? The secret to changing what is on the screen is mysteriously connected to the Church carrying out her perpetual mandate. Which is not to start production companies...
Here's a few notes I put together for the business leaders.
Proposed: Christian Center for the Arts and Media – Hollywood
Submitted by Barbara R. Nicolosi, February 28, 2007
Problem: Pope John Paul II noted with dismay many times, and in particular in his Letter to Artists (2000), that something must be done to “renew the fruitful dialogue that used to exist between the Church and the arts.” There is a great need for the Church to connect to the creative and business communities that are setting the global arts and entertainment agenda. Inspired by the success of The Passion of the Christ, the Lord of the Rings franchise, and the Narnia franchise, many young Catholics are finding their way into Hollywood careers. Programs like Act One, the Angelus Awards, and the Los Angeles Film Study Center exist to help them in their initial steps. There is currently very little to support Christians who are established in the business, who want to stay close to Christ, as well as grow in their professional achievements.
Goal: The Church needs to offer professionals in the entertainment arena:
- ethical guidance
- spiritual formation
- vocational and professional discernment counseling
- state of the art professional and artistic training and mentoring informed by a Catholic worldview
- RCIA geared specifically to media professionals
- A community of peers centered around Christ and the desire to do good
Models: We can look at two different paradigms as a starting point for a way to structure our approach to nurture the presence of the Church amidst the professional entertainment community.
1) The Catholic Information Center, Washington, DC – Located in the heart of the center of government, Opus Dei operates a Catholic bookstore, chapel and center for spiritual direction. The focus of the Center’s activities has been principally to serve the spiritual needs of those who work on Capitol Hill and in the various branches of the Federal government. The Center has an ongoing calendar of spiritual and formational conferences, days of recollections and retreats. The Center has brought in innumerable converts to the Church, including very high-profile converts including Judge Robert Bork and Sen. Sam Brownback.
2) The Church of Scientology – The largest landowner in the Hollywood region, Scientologists operate centers of outreach on every block of Hollywood Blvd from Mann’s Chinese theater to the Pantages Theater. They own screening rooms, conference facilities, celebrity retreat centers, boarding houses, and a myriad of informational centers open to the general public. The Church of Scientology has a monthly calendar of events geared to pull in people in the entertainment industry. Every night of the week they have seminars on subjects like “How to go to an audition,” “Writing a Script that Will Sell,” “Staying Centered in the Frenzied World of Filmmaking,” “Networking for Success;” Their genius is to offer programming that is of professional interest to the Hollywood community, at which they acquire good will and then draw people in more and more.
The Center's Mission: To foster a Christ-centered community in the heart of the entertainment industry in Hollywood to be a source of light and connection for the People of God who are called to be missionary/apostles to the culture.
1) An Artists Chapel that would become a place of pilgrimage for everyone who is setting out on a new entertainment/media/arts project. A place of real artistic beauty, the Chapel would be dedicated to God the Creator, the Holy Spirit as the Author of new Epiphanies of Beauty, and to the Angels who are the Patrons of Communications and of the City of Los Angeles. We would decorate it with all the artist saints of the Church: St. Gregory the Great, Bl. Fra Angelico, Ven. Hildegrard of Bingen, Bl. James Alberione, etc. The Chapel would be geared to minister specifically to people in the arts and media world. It would be staffed by priests and religious who spend their time praying for the media when they are not hearing confessions, giving spiritual direction and teaching RCIA to industry converts.
2) A Think-Tank Center of Study on the Church and the Arts – With state of the art conference facilities, a production library and screening rooms, this center would offer the broader entertainment industry a continuous program of topical conferences and seminars on topics like “Human Development and Entertainment,” “The Nature and Power of Beauty,” “Good Comedy and Bad Comedy,” “Marrying Truth-telling and Creative License,” etc. In addition, the center would be a place for scholars in residence who will come from ecclesiastical and other places of higher learning in the Church, to brood, write and think on the theology, spirituality and ethics of man as a creative being.
This Center would also be a source for the secular media which is looking for informed statements from the Church on cultural topics. This Center would have been the one to be on all the networks discussing The Da Vinci Code, and why James Cameron’s documentary is only significant as a sign of the spiritual bankruptcy of our times.
3) A large Theater/Screening Facility – to rival the coolest ones in the city (ie. The TV Academy, the WGA Theater, the DGA theater). From here, the Church can hold film festivals that look at the intersection of cinema and spirituality. We can give prestigious screenings to secular industry projects that are worthy of praise or discussion.
4) A State of the Art Graduate Level Cinema School. Act One is already doing this, but with rented facilities and without the resources to expand the program to offer training and mentoring to actors, directors, and technical professionals. Act One needs a building. It needs a long term financial structure that will allow it to expand without the insane trying to pay the bills month-to-month.
5) A center of ministry - To give a home to the myriad Christian ministries that operate in Los Angeles that are beggars and renters without a permanent home. Ministries that could be brought together under the Center's roof include, LAFSC, the City of Angels Film Festival, Open Call, Catholics in Media Associates, Inter-Mission, the Hollywood Prayer Network, Hollywood Connect, the Actors Co-op, etc.
6) Community Housing – There is a great need for housing for young Christians just arriving in Hollywood, and those who are already here, but who want to live in an environment of prayer and Christ-like fellowship. We need an apartment building with quiet, orderly places for the students to work on scripts, storyboards, audition prep, etc. It will need a Chapel, and quarters for a chaplain. There should be some common areas and maybe a coffee shop operated by the young people who live there, which would be open to the general public. It could be a first place to land and work for young people just arriving in Hollywood.
- Gather a core team to support this right now. Find somebody who is spiritually mature, philosophically trained, experienced in non-profit management and conencted in Hollywood to run it. (Not me...and not anybody who is a religious or priest either. The religious and priests will work at the place but this is innately a LAY initiative. The media is absolutely the temporal sphere. Besides, we don't want to pin our fortunes here on the weird inner workings of a religious community in which people too often get power because they don't rock the boat.) Write the person a big check, and then trust. Over sight yes, but trust. Because most of us orthodox Catholics have no idea of what beautiful art is. We only know what we like. Not what we are talking about, as a rule.)
- The above visions should be phased in gradually over a period of the next five to ten years. The first step would probably be #5 Community Housing, so that we can continue to build a core community to support and utilize the center. #4 Act One/Cinema School is already in place. It just needs a more solid funding base and campus for the future. The Artist’s Chapel and Conference Center would be extensions off the Cinema School Campus, followed by the Screening room.
Question everybody is wondering: Why does this thing have to be interdenominational? Can't it be just Catholic?
This Center has to be interdenominational, because that is how God is working to renew the entertainment industry. It has been an interdenominational effort for the last twenty years. And it is wonderful and working. So, let's all just get over ourselves and let God be God and send His spirit and inspirations through whom he will.
Question: So why do we need a Chapel and priests and religious? Because the Catholic contribution to the fruitfulness of this Center will be in the sacraments. I have seen Christianity from both sides now. And the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and the power of the Eucharist have irreplaceable undeniable power.
Interdenominalationism is not everybody trying to obscure their keynotes in a shakey, temporary alliance. It is a commitment to respect that God is working through whom He will. We all have to be who we are, and then come together in strength. The catholic thing in this Center will be the philosophical and theological depth of the tradition and scholarship, but also, absolutely the sacraments.