Saturday, September 27, 2003

WHAT KIND OF A SUPER-HERO DOES IT TAKE... run an interdenominational screenwriting program to teach Christians artistry, professionalism, creative ethics and the keynotes of a vocational media spirituality? Click here to see who I came out to be [humble cough].

Friday, September 26, 2003


So, the word is, Mel and crew are back in Italy shooting some more scenes for The Passion. I imagine this is in response to all the feedback he got during the test-screenings. It's odd, for a film of the scope of The Passion. Very hard to reassemble all the people involved, for continuity's sake, I imagine. Could be the studio distributor wanted some changes. But the fact that they are still shooting could be keeping the distribution deal on hold.

Curiouser and curiouser.

The Sox made it to the play-offs! This could be the year!!! I believe! I believe!

Sunday, September 21, 2003


Did I say a few weeks back that my schedule would be getting back to normal in September? I guess it has, only "normal" now seems to mean plain old inconceivably hectic. Life is leaving very little time for blogging...which is unfortunate, because, in being so busy, life is giving me lots of cool things to blog about. Tonight is also one of the high holy days here in L.A. - Emmy night - and as my friend Rob King's project Door to Door is nominated in 11 categories, I can only type in between his categories.

So, I'm going to be pithy and just throw random news down here.

.....I went to a screening of the new feature film Luther. ... And Luther said there is no such thing as purgatory.... The film stars Joseph Fiennes, Alfred Molina and Peter Ustinov. The production values are good - certainly not epic level, but solid, and the cast is very talented. The actors do the the best they can with a script that is really draggy and episodic. There is no arc for the main character, Luther, who is written as, uh, well, the holiest, brilliantist, deepest, sincerest, articulatest, goodest damn guy on the planet. His principle flaws are his consuming passion for crippled children, his blinking-eyed fervor for the good, and his zeal for God. Bad film. Luther is, however, a huge leap forward for Evangelical film-making if Left Behind and Omega Code were the previous standard. But there are no pretensions to art here. Unless revisionist history and anti-Catholic bigotry is an artform. My main quandry is, where are all the people who are so enflamed about subtle anti-Semitism in The Passion? The historical Luther was a fire-breathing anti-Semite if ever there was one. Where is the outrage that a bigot is being portrayed in this film in a favorable light? Where is the outrage?....

....I quit my job as the monthly Media Matters columnist for Liguorian magazine. They refused to print my review of The Passion because they are afraid of siding with a film that some people are saying is anti-Semitic. They wanted to me rewrite my review to be less of a rave and "more balanced" - whatever that is in a movie review. My sense is the anti-Semitism thing is just a blind for the real issue - if Mel was a liberal, they would have no problem with the film. The magazine is setting itself on the wrong side of this whole question...and I do not choose to be on the wrong side with them.

P.S. The Vatican apparently released an official statement this week that The Passion is just fine theologically and Scripturally, thank you. I'd say, "Nah-nah nah-nah-nah", except that I feel sure that the approval of the Vatican will not matter at all to the folks who are against this film. "Even if a man came back from the grave, it wouldn't be enough for them."

.....I got hired as a monthly media columnist for the National Catholic Register. I'll start sometime in January. Oh, and my first column is a review of The Passion.

....On October 4th, philanthropist Tom Monaghan is generously hosting a gala fundraiser for Act One at his home in Ann Arbor, MI. I will be giving a speech and we will have clips from The Passion and Radio (an upcoming release - very sweet film). If anyone wants to attend, email for an invitation.

...The Fighting Temptations is not intelligent, but fun for pre-teens. At least the ones in the screening I attended were practically throwing themselves on the floor in sheer glee and mirth. Maybe they were paid to impress us press? That's too cynical. The film has nothing objectionable and has a sweet little redemption story, but the music is really the only thing excellent thing here. The film comes from MTV productions, so hopefully if it does well, they'll pass on the next feature-length sado-masochistic gangsta rap music video, and do another sweet movie about Gospel choirs. Yeah right.

...I was interviewed by a reporter for Daily Variety last week. They are doing a story on Act One and other Christian initiatives in Hollywood. Roles reversed for a moment during the interview, and I asked the reporter why he thought Christians get so much bigotry and intolerance in this town. He didn't even think for a second. "It's because of abortion. If you all were on the other side of that issue, I don't think anybody would care about you at all." Shockingly refreshing bit of truth. I think that it is amazing that with all of our problems in the Church, we can still manage to earn some martyr points for a legitimate reason. "What further need do we have of witnesses?..."

I debated The Passion on NPR last week with Michael Medved with me on the "Yeah, rah, great film!" side vs. arch-Biblical deconstructionist Paula Fredricksen and The New Yorker's oh, so earnest Peter Boyer on the "this is a Jew baiting, pogrom in celluloid" side. It is, of course, interesting to "debate" a movie's merits with Fredricksen, as she has not even seen the film -- but clearly she makes up in gaul and fury what she lacks in perspective. Michael and I didn't even get to speak until 35 minutes into the hour-long show. They kept us on mute, while the NPR host and the other two guests did tag-team character assassination of Mel, using as responsorial psalm the mantras, "The Passion is not Biblical and is anti-Semitic," and, "Oh, yeah, the New Testament is anti-Semitic too." I think it is curious that Fredricksen takes issue with Gibson for not being truly, truly Scriptural, and hence anti-Semitic, and at the same time takes issue with the Scriptures for being truly, truly anti-Semitic. In the end, we "Yeah, rah" people only got to talk in about 15 minutes of the hour. Unfair, but, as always, tolerance and consistency are only ever required of people on the right.

...I'll be giving a day-long presentation on screenwriting in Jacksonville, FL this coming Friday, the 26th of September. There are still openings if anybody out there wants to come. Email for more information.

...And the Red Sox are 1.5 games ahead of Seattle in the Wild Card race. As my sister noted to me on the phone, "They can still blow it, Barb." Yes, the Sox can and probably will still blow it. But I do take comfort in the fundamental odds of the universe: You can't lose 'em all. Maybe this year. Oremus....

Friday, September 19, 2003

act one: writing for hollywood and reel spirituality present,


A two-day seminar,
Oct. 23 and 24, 2003,

in conjunction with the Tenth Annual CITY of the ANGELS FILM FESTIVAL

and featuring:

John Tinker (Writer, St. Elsewhere, Executive Producer The Practice)
William Romanowski(Author, Pop Culture Wars, Eyes Wide Open)
Steve McEveety (Producer, The Passion, Braveheart)
Todd Komarnicki (Producer, Elf, The Flash)

...And many more!

Within the church, there is a divide between those who study film and television and those who create it. Many pastors and educators teach and minister about entertainment without any first-hand knowledge of the industry that creates it. Many writers, filmmakers and executives fail to contemplate the larger ethical and aesthetic issues that surround their work.

Oct. 23rd and 24th, theory and practice come together for an intense, two-day conference sponsored by act one: writing for hollywood and reel spirituality. Held in conjunction with the City of the Angels Film Festival, “Mere Entertainment” will bring together pastors, thinkers, and industry veterans to share practical experiences and consider the deeper issues at stake in Hollywood.

The ultimate goal of the conference will be to employ both theory and practice in drafting an aesthetic credo: a positive statement to which Christians can assent that articulates how to use the medium of cinema to create enduring works of beauty.



Thursday, October 23

8:30 a.m Registration / Continental Breakfast

9:15 a.m. Opening Prayer and Greeting - Barbara Nicolosi

10:00 a.m. The Hollywood Divide - Ron Austin

11:30 a.m. A Filmmaker’s Progress - Scott Derrickson

12:45 p.m. Lunch Break

1:45 p.m. Writing for TV in the Real World - John Tinker, Dean Batali, Sheryl Anderson

3:30 p.m. Pop Culture and the Classroom- William Romanowski, Read Mercer Schuchardt, Barry Taylor, Scott Young

5:00 p.m. Dinner Break

7:00 p.m. Screening and Discussion: D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance

Friday, October 24

8:30 a.m.Continental Breakfast

9:00 a.m. The Post-Modern Shift: Beyond Body Parts and the “F” Word - Craig Detweiler

10:30 a.m. The Bottom Line: Art and the Executive - Panel of Creative Executives TBA

1:15 p.m. A Credo for Christian Filmmakers - Barbara Nicolosi

3:00 p.m. Imagining The Passion - Steve McEveety (schedule pending)

7:00 p.m. L.A. Premiere of Resistance, starring Bill Paxton and Julia Ormond, plus a discussion afterward with writer/director Todd Komarnicki.



The Mears Center
First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood
1760 N. Gower Street
Hollywood, CA 90028


The Directors Guild of America
Sunset Blvd. at Fairfax
Hollywood, CA



Sheryl Anderson has been a television studio executive, a half-hour writer (Parker Lewis Can't Lose and Dave's World), and an hour writer (Charmed).

Ron Austin, most recently of USC School of Cinema, is a writer and producer with over one-hundred primetime television credits, including Mission: Impossible, Charlie's Angels, Hawaii Five-O, Matlock, and The Father Dowling Mysteries. Ron has authored numerous articles on film and culture and serves on the editorial board of Image Quarterly: A Journal of Art and Religion.

Dean Batali is Co-Executive Producer of FOX's That 70's Show. He wrote for the initial two seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (WB), and served as co-producer on ABC's recent remake of Fantasy Island.

Scott Derrickson was the co-writer of Urban Legends and the co-writer/director of Hellraiser: Inferno(Miramax). He has written films for Disney, Dimension Films, Artists Production Group, and Jerry Bruckheimer. He is currently writing films for Martin Scorsese and Firm films.

Craig Detweiler is Associate Professor of Mass Communication at Biola University. He made the award-winning short Williams Syndrome: A Highly Musical Species. His feature credits include The Duke and ExtremeDays. With Barry Taylor, he is author of A Matrix of Meanings: Finding God in Pop Culture.

Todd Komarnicki is Producer of the upcoming holiday comedy Elf, starring Will Ferrell, and Executive Producer of The Flash television series, based on the popular comic book, for the WB. He is writer/director of the feature Resistance as well as a novelist and playwright.

Steve McEveety is a producer and one of the principles at Icon Productions. He executive produced Braveheart and What Women Want and produced We Were Soldiers and the upcoming The Passion.

Barbara Nicolosi a Los Angeles area screenwriter, is Director of Act One: Writing for Hollywood. She has been a director of development, a member of Gabriel Award, CIMA and the Angelus Award film juries, and a consultant on many film and television projects.

William Romanowski is Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences at Calvin College. He has been published in numerous books, journals, and popular magazines. He is author of the acclaimed books Pop Culture Wars: Religion and the Role of Entertainment in American Life and, most recently, Eyes Wide Open: Looking for God in Popular Culture.

Read Mercer Schuchardt is assistant professor of media studies at Marymount Manhattan College in New York City. He is the contributing editor on media and culture for Regeneration Quarterly magazine, founder of CLEAVE: The Counter Agency and the publisher of Metaphilm (, a film interpretation website. This year and next, Spence Publishing will release his first two books, Metaphilm: Seers of the Silver Screen and The Disappearance of Women: Technology, Pornography, and the Obsolescence of Gender.

Barry Taylor teaches pop culture, cultural change and faith as an adjunct professor at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. With Craig Detweiler, he is author of A Matrix of Meanings: Finding God in Pop Culture.

John Tinker started in television as a staff writer on St. Elsewhere. He went on to co-executive producing jobs for L.A. Law, Home Fires, and The Road Home. He wrote for the short-lived yet well-received Tattinger’s, and since then has been an executive producer on Chicago Hope, The Practice, Snoops, and HRT.

Scott Young is an instructor at Fuller Theological Seminary and the 2003 Chair and Co-Founder of the City of the Angels Film Festival.



For the conference (including the two screenings and meals), the price is $150. For the conference plus admission to The City of the Angels Film Festival, the price is $200. (For Act One alumni, the prices are $85/$135.)

To register by phone, call 323-462-1348.

To register by mail, send your name, address, phone number or email address, check or credit card number and expiration date to:

Mere Entertainment Conference
Act One: Writing for Hollywood
1763 N. Gower St.
Hollywood, CA 90028

or, you mail email the information to

The registration deadline is Oct. 17, 2003.

Act One: Writing for Hollywood is a month-long comprehensive training program for screenwriters from the Christian community. Its goal is to foster and instill artistry, professionalism, substance and concern for moral content in entertainment writers. For more information, visit

Reel Spirituality is a creative encounter between the church and Hollywood, bringing together leading filmmakers, emerging pastors, and rising scholars around our image driven culture’s primary texts – film and television.

The City of the Angels Film Festival grew out of a dialogue between filmmakers and theologians who believe that spiritual perspectives are indispensable to the filmmaking process. It is dedicated to screening quality works that not only celebrate film as art but also raise vital religious and social issues. For more information, visit



Call Act One at 323-462-1348 or email aplatipodis@fpch.or

Saturday, September 13, 2003


There's a lot to like in Matchstick Men, but it is really all in the performances. This film is essentially a star vehicle for Nicholas Cage and company and they certainly deliver, but, in the end, I wanted to stand up and yell at the screen, "Okay, you've all had fun, can we play too?"

The problem with this film is the lack of any delightful pay-off for the audience. We get set-up for a great twist, but then when the twist comes, it just feels dreadful and creepy. The movie then goes on for another fifteen minutes of meandering, trying to convince us that this creepy ending is really the best thing for all...but I didn't like it. It's a sanctimonious Hollywood ending that makes the case that love and being a carpet salesman is better than being rich and clever -- but does anybody REALLY believe that? I guess if I see Nicholas Cage giving away all his money and fame and settling down in a lower middle class domicile with a grocery store check out girl...and that's surely going to happen any day.

I found the dark and disturbing last act of the film to be completely irreconciliable in tone to the first two acts which were funny and humane. I walked away no better than I was when I started, except for the fact that now I'm wondering if my parents are actually really my parents or if maybe they've been conning me all these decades...if that's being better.

If you have nothing else to do, Matchstick Men won't make you sick. It won't make you well though either.
"I write the way I do because and only because I am a Catholic. I feel that if I were not a Catholic, I would have no reason to write, no reason to see, no reason to fell horrified or even to enjoy anything."
Flannery O'Connor

Monday, September 08, 2003


The new film Secondhand Lions was written and directed by Tim McCanlies (The Iron Giant, Dancer Texas; Pop 101). I liked The Iron Giant, and Dancer was surprisingly good, but this film suffers from the problem of having one (non-genius) person write and direct. There are story problems here that a director would normally have caught in the writer's script -- but when the director IS the writer, there is no one around to say, "Hey, there is no real tension in the whole second act!" and other stuff like that.

The ensemble here is talented enough, however, to almost make us overlook the project's conceptual flaws. Robert Duvall (The Apostle), Michael Caine (The Quiet American) and Haley Joel Osment (The Sixth Sense) do the best they can -- although all of them need to fire their people for letting them sign onto this project while it was still three or four drafts away from being shot.

But maybe I've just lost the ability to enjoy a movie like a normal person any more?

When I was leaving the screening, an ebullient woman ahead of me in the parking validation line couldn't wait to share her enjoyment. "What did you think of the film?"

I hesitated. "You mean, really?"

She hesitated. "Well, yeah..."

I sighed. "Okay. There was no conflict in the first act. There should have been a lot more struggle before the main protagonists bonded. The director/writer was in a big rush because of the set-up that the story needed to unfold in one summer, so he ended up rushing the primary relationships and just asking the audience to believe him. Hence, the characters - especially the old men - are completely inconsistent. Then, you have to ask, 'Whose movie is this?' The young boy is presumably the main character, but he is passive through the whole film. HJ Osment is great, but even he got tired of standing around looking freaked out and, so he ended up settling into a posture of staring and pouting. There is no natural climactic conflict in the story, so they had to resort to importing a villain for the last ten pages. Finally, the film suffers from absolute genre-schizophrenia. It morphs from Heidi with a boy to Born Free meets Old Yeller to Aladdin in live-action meets Rocky V. I have no idea how they are going to market this movie."

I suddenly realized the woman was listening to me mouth agape. She mumbled. "I thought it was cute."

And so it was.

Parents, feel safe to take your kids if you get rained in and can't come up with anything else for them to do. For those who don;'t have kids, stay home and read a book.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003


Seabiscuit is a good film - particularly for those peope who say they don't go to the movies anymore because, "it's all garbage." This is a film which - except for two or three profanities - has no garbage. It is good storytelling about a group of beings (three men and a horse) who each need healing and who find it through working together for a common goal. It is very well-produced with beautiful cinematography, solid performances and a well-written script. This is the rare film that I am going to recommend to my parents...enough said?

From a storytelling standpoint my primary quibble is the use of the narrator, and still photos periodically throughout the film. It feels as though the filmmakers think people are too stupid to know about the ravages of the Depression, and so have to keep interrrupting the story to give us a history lesson. I found this particular voice over artist, David McCullough, particularly distracting as it is the same fellow who was the voice of the Civil War series by Ken Burns. I kept expecting a shot of Gettysburg in between all the dustbowl remembrances.

And then, I wish the film had given us more horse time. The storylines belong almost entirely to the three fellas, with the horse losing screen time by a few lengths. I wanted more shots like one finds in Black Beauty and Black Stallion where the horse gets the close-up.

But those are just quibbles. This is a lovely, entertaining film and is a good place to land in the vast sea of cinematic medicroty which has been the summer of 2003.