Friday, September 28, 2007


HA HA, New York! Thou dost sucketh.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

See Barb in San Diego

I'll be here this weekend. It's always a wonderful conference and they have an amazing track record of succesful writers coming out of their programs and small groups. It's an honor to me that they keep having me back year after year, and I always value the opportunity to try out on the assembly whatever new idea is starting to come together in my brain.

This year, my keynote will be on the paradox of writers who are Christians trying to create heroes. The problem comes in with figuring out how to make somebody bigger and more virtuous in order to be inspiring, and yet not slipping into sentimentalism, which as Flannery said is inexcusable for a Christian as an over-emphasis on innocence.

I am going to talk about why having heroes is important, especially in children, and how our heroes should evolve as adults. Also, what makes someone/a character truly heroic? Then, we're going to talk about how many of the lead characters in our post-Sexual Revolution cynicism movies aren't complex or tragic heroes (ie. people oriented toward the good but with a fatal flaw), but anti-heroes (people confused about the good).

I really don't know where it is going to resolve, but I do have some good clips and quotes to share, so it will minimally be fun for the writers.

The War Bogs Down

My comments here are going to seem too strident mostly because of Let Down Syndrome. For months, I have been eagerly anticipating Ken Burns' new doc on WWII, The War. I was thrilling that the experience of watching the piece would bring me back to the really perspective changing wonder that I experienced in Burns' classic The Civil War.

The first two episodes of The War had a huge audience of other people like me who were hoping and longing for something great again from Burns.

But what a disappointment.

In The War, Burns has made the mystifying mistake of trying to make the problems of four little people (in this case, four little American towns) matter more than a hill of beans in the face of the century-defining struggle unfolding in Europe and in the Pacific. The cool thing about The Civil War was how wonderfully educational it was about the War. (The "smart" factor as Jan "The Maven" would say.) The series was made charming by the personalities of the historians, and the characters they were channeling in their anecdotes. In this new piece, The War I'm not learning anything historical. Burns missed the lesson of the first season of The West Wing which was that the audience only gives a hoot about the offices in the West Wing because of their proximity to the Oval Office. Somebody over at Liberty Film Festival agrees with me, so I must be right!

We’re 21 months into the war and I don’t think General Omar Bradley’s been mentioned even once. What made Burns’ Civil War doc so compelling were the personalities of the players: Sherman, Grant, Lincoln, Lee, and McClellean. Normal people are just that: Normal. Normal isn’t interesting. Where are the historians? Where’s The War’s Shelby Foote?

All the drama and personality of WWII is being ignored for the dit-dit of those who stayed home, dealt with rationing, went to the movies, and got jobs as welders? It’s like watching Burns doc on Baseball but it’s all about the people in the bleachers. I may not make the whole 15 hours.

I don't think I will either. Rats. And the new Bionic Woman is lame too. So I guess I'll have more time to read this Fall.

Valerie's in a Show

Valerie Nicolosi stars in The Italian Lesson
A one woman opera by Lee Hoiby
Produced by Opera Providence
Conducted by Timothy Steele
Directer By Peter Sampieri

Friday October 26, 2007 8pm
Sunday October 28, 2007 3pm

At the Columbus Theater
270 Broadway / Providence, RI

Hoiby’s "The Italian Lesson" turns one of the most popular of Ruth Draper's character sketches into a one woman operatic monologue and feat of vocal and theatrical brilliance. It offers a brief window into the hectic life of a New York society matron. Written in 1925, when Draper was 40 and at the height of her creative abilities, the monologue was originally referred to in letters as "The Busy Mother." "Busy" is something of an understatement. While studying The Inferno, the matron, among much else and with the assistance of a long line of servants, plans a dinner menu, gossips with friends, quells disturbances by her passel of troublesome children, arranges for riding lessons, dentist's appointments, dancing classes and gymnasium visits for said troublesome children, greets a new puppy, sends her husband's golf clubs and clothes to meet him at the train station, arranges a care package for the injured son of the night watchman, reviews appointment schedules with her secretary, finds guests for a box at the opera, instructs a painter in changes to a child's portrait, gives away concert tickets, tells a schoolteacher to drop mathematics from her son's curriculum, flirts with her lover, orders a new lampshade cover and has a manicure. The matron notes that Dante, like Shakespeare, "seemed to know the things that always would be true." So did Draper, and like the work of those writers, her monologues are "filled with quotations and great general truths."

Valerie Nicolosi, who will be portraying The Busy Mother/Ruth Draper, began her music and acting studies at the Walnut Hill School for the Arts in Natick, MA. She received her Bachelor’s in Vocal Performance from the Eastman School of Music, and her Masters in Vocal Performance from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, TN. Mezzo Soprano Valerie Nicolosi has enjoyed a dynamic operatic career around the country and the globe. She has received critical acclaim for leading operatic roles with a variety of regional opera companies around the country including Lake George Opera, Des Moines Metro Opera, Shreveport Opera, Ashlawn Opera, St. Petersburg Opera, Raylynmore Opera, Commonwealth Opera, Augusta Opera, Cape Cod Opera and Opera Theater of Connecticut. In September 2002, Miss Nicolosi debuted in the title role of Rossini’s La Cenerentola with Opera Providence. A favorite for pants roles, she has sung the role of Cherubino in Le Nozze Di Figaro with Abilene Opera, Knoxville Opera, and Dayton Opera. She continues to sing leading and supporting roles with various opera companies around the United States. Roles include Dorabella in Cosi Fan Tutte, Rosina in Barber of Seville, Angelina in La Cenerentola, Hermia and Oberon in Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hansel in Hansel and Gretel, Olga in Eugene Onegin, Zerlina in Don Giovanni, Suzuki in Madame Butterfly, Stephano in Roméo et Juliette, La Ciesca and Zita in Gianni Schicchi, and Cupid in Orpheus and the Underworld. This past Fall Miss Nicolosi sang the title role in Gustav Holst’s Savitri with Lexington Symphony. Miss Nicolosi is a Liederkranz Competition finalist and prize winner, and was awarded the Richard F. Gold Career Grant for Young Singers. She has appeared as a soloist with the Indian Hill Symphony, Knoxville Symphony, Chattanooga Symphony, Rhode Island Civic Chorale and Orchestra, Hartford Festival Orchestra, St. Alban's Symphonia, and the Boston Ballet. She is also well-known for her inventive song recital programs which make the classical song repertoire more accessible to contemporary audiences and are popular on a wide variety of venues around the United States

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Performances at the Columbus Theatre
270 Broadway, Providence, RI

2007-08 Season Prices

Subscription packages - 10% discount:
Golden Circle Premium Seating in orchestra or mezzanine: $162.00
Orchestra front sides or middle: $94.50
Orchestra rear or general mezzanine: $54.00
on sale as of Thursday, July 12th

Single Tickets:
Golden Circle Premium Seating in orchestra or mezzanine: $60.00
Orchestra front sides or middle: $35.00
Orchestra rear or general mezzanine: $20.00
on sale as of Monday Oct 1st, 2007

Student Rush tickets: 50% off 1/2 hour before curtain
Senior: 10% off single tickets
Groups: 20% off groups of 10 or more

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Jesse James Scores a Bulls Eye

This is a really great film. And the more you know about cinematic storytelling the greater you will think it is. From the aspect of craft, Assassination is beautiful in all of the aspects that matter: writing, direction, performance, score, cinematography, production design, sound design. (That is, each of its parts its whole, harmonious and radiant (ie. communicative), and then the amalgamation of the parts is harmonious.) And then from the aspect of world-view, the film radiates a powerful and universal truth. Even more rare, the film manages to integrate theme into the method of storytelling, most notably in the style of dialogue and cinematography. And it has lyrical imagery! And it even uses ambient sound to highlight the theme! Watching this film, my critic cup ranneth over.

The subtextual title of the film could be: "Living in Sin." The film illustrates the destruction wreaked in human lives from habitually living in a state of spiritual a really funny way sometimes. My friend and I were laughing very loud at times at the absurdity that becomes the life of the person who, as St. Bernadette says, "loves their sin." But way beyond just showing the banality of living in a committed relationship to evil, Assassination does a cool thing in making the point - particularly through the style of dialogue - that human beings trying to live out the Genesis lie "you shall be like God," end up as transparent and ridiculous phonies. It was really cool. BTW, the film is based the book of the same name written by the very smart and committed Catholic writer, Ron Hansen. Of course, I came home and ordered the book immediately as I'm sure one out of every two viewers will too.

Where to start? Okay, how about the cinematography....

Beautiful frames all the way through. The pallet is frequently colorless...just like the fruits of sin. And then, several times, they did this really cool thing of showing landscapes through a narrowed lens that was clear in the middle but fuzzy all around. It seemed to me that living in sin similarly distorts a person's moral, spiritual and even intellectual vision.

There were several breathtaking images - the bucket (of iniquity) running over, the fades to the blackest of darkness, the Darkened doorways - but my favorite was "the wheat and the tares." I say no more! Just love it when you see it.

Everything they are saying about Casey Affleck stealing this movie from Brad Pitt is true. ("Wow," I thought, "Someone in the Affleck family has genuine talent." It's so nice when something in the hype of contemporary life turns out to be authentic.) Casey is great in this movie. I was wondering if being in the shadow of the lesser talented big brother Ben contributed to Casey so ably fleshing out a resentful man in another man's shadow. But anyway, he perfectly inhabits the idol-worshipper who alternately is facinated by and hates his idol. It's delightful to watch him because he is so good.

Brad too is great here, spot on in fleshing out a person who has chosen to begin his hell on earth. He is paranoid, perpetually exhausted, emotionally unstable, and frighteningly unpredictable in his rages and cruelty. He is definitely a human being though, who yearns to love and be loved, but he is a human being caught on the underside of a large snowball rolling down a mountain. He can't stop the momentum of his own evil choices.

The supporting players are also wonderful, most notably the guy who plays Liddel. He was fabulous as the mysogynist who rolls out pretentious dialogue.

But a discussion of casting and supporting players leads to one of the two missteps in the film, this one being a huge misstep. Did I say huge? Because I meant HUGE!!!!!!!!!!!!!. Who had the unbelievably inappropriate idea to cast fire-breathing Democratic partisan James Carville as the Governor of Missouri? As my friend said, "They just demolished the fourth wall with a nuclear weapon." Terrible, stupid, distracting call. In a tableau of wonderful performances, Carville was stiff and weird, regurgitating lines that sounded like they were being read off a tele-prompter. And this was particularly egregious because the governor's character has a key line in the film that underscores the narrative's essential theme. I think "casting James Carville" is going to replace "jumping the shark" as a new euphemism for doing a stupid thing just because you can.

The other misstep in the film had to do in almost everything in the movie after Jesse James gets killed. They were rushing around trying to do to much and ended up splashing the subtext all over the page. The filmmakers needed to lose about fifteen minutes of this film, and it should have been all the moments in which they made Robert Ford have to tell us how he felt about killing Jesse. It was so much better in the rest of the film in which we could wonderously find the clues and put them together.

But overall, this is an Academy Award worthy piece in many categories - acting, directing, cinematography and writing minimally. It's the first really Oscar-worthy project I've seen this year.

(But I'm wondering why we aren't seeing more raves about it everywhere. And I haven't seen one TV ad. It can't be that because next year is an election year, the attention and the Oscars just have to go to the crop of anti-war propaganda films, can it? I hope not, because that would be an injustice to this piece that deserves plaudits.)

Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford is a must see for movie-loving grown ups. (The violence here is harsh without being voyeuristic. There really isn't a lot of it, but it might be too much for kids. There is no sex, but there is some lewd talk appropriate to the theme.)

P.S. Go here for a much more thorough review of the technical elements of the film.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A Severe Mercy - The Movie Website

Origin Entertainment has just launched an official web site for our feature project of A Severe Mercy. It has lots of neat pictures of Van and Davy, and also the settings of the story that give a sense of the what the look of the movie will be - (from the web site:)

"A Severe Mercy is the kind of project entertainment executives dream of. Based on an international bestseller, it also carries the tremendous name-recognition of C.S. Lewis, who plays a major role in the story. It is an epic love story and highly cinematic, taking the audience from the rolling hills of Virginia to the attack on Pearl Harbor, to the blue waters of the Caribbean, to the ivy-covered arches of post-War Oxford."

If you have read the book, you know that the most compelling thing about the story is not the visual arenas in which it unfolds, but the interior world of the love stories between Van and Davy and then, each of them with the Christian God. (A treat for those who have read the book....that picture on the top left is Davy's "sin picture".)

We are off to the East coast this weekend to tell people who can help about our hopes for this project. Please do keep us in your prayers.

Monday, September 10, 2007

A Severe Mercy Nights in DC and Philly

This coming week, Origin Entertainment will be holding two informational nights about our plans for the development of the feature adaptation of Sheldon Van Auken's A Severe Mercy.

The nights will be in:

Saturday, September 15 - McLean, VA

Monday, September 17 - Philadelphia, PA

The evenings will be about 90 minutes long, and will feature two parts. The first part will deal with general information about the process of financing, developing and distributing a feature film in Hollywood. The second part will be about Origin Entertainment and A Severe Mercy.

If you would like to attend either evening, please send an email to

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Announcing: Hollywood RCIA

We are in the process of organizing our annual RCIA (that's Rite of Christian Initiation, but the bulk of our attendees are already Christians and are on their way to becoming Catholics) program for entertainment industry people, and we need help to make the program known to anyone you might know in the business whom God might be calling into the Catholic Church.

We start October 6th at Family Theater and will continue meeting on Saturday mornings until Pentecost. The program is specially geared to people in the business. We are trying to fill a gap that exists in current parish programs, by creating a program that constantly references the discipleship demands of being an artist and professional in Hollywood. (If candidates decide to become Catholic at the conclusion of the program, we work with their local parish to have them formally enter the Church.) The program, styled as more seminar/discussion than lecture, utilizes the Catechism of the Catholic Church and ecclesial documents, but also literary works like Brideshead Revisited, The Power and the Glory, and Silence (Shushaka Endo). We already have five candidates for the Fall, but would like three or four more so we have a good discussion group.

Who is right for the program? Basically, the first part of the program (from October to February) would be enriching for anyone with some spiritual curiosity and desire to deepen their understanding of theology. We find that many folks from non-Catholic Christian backgrounds, while knowing parts of Scripture very well, have not really studied any theology, so this first part of the program fills a void for them. From February to Pentecost, we focus more explicitly on the sacraments, liturgy and specifics of the Catholic theology and culture.

So, the ideal person to invite would be anyone who is seeking a spiritual home and a deeper understanding of Christianity and the Church. Others would be people in the business who are in the process of marrying - or, well, falling in love - with a Catholic. Also, we always have Catholic observers in the class who benefit from attending the classes as a refresher (or introduction...sigh...) for their faith.

Here's what we need from you:

1) Pray about your circle of contacts, gulp deeply, and then mention the program to whomever has been kind of asking you questions about God for the last few years. Give them my email: and we'll take it from there.

2) Forward this on to other Catholics in the business.

3) We need some financial help for the program. Those of you who have attended the program in the past know that we take the class on retreat every year at Serra in Malibu. We provide them Bibles, catechisms, some other texts and prayerbooks. The program requires quite a bit of coordination, and we would like to offer some one of our helpers a small stipend for their service. We need about three thousand dollars basically. If you would like to help with the expenses, send a donation to Family Theater, with "For Hollywood RCIA" in the memo line:

Family Theater Productions
Attn: Hollywood RCIA Program
7201 Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90046

4) Our wonderfully generous Clayton Emmer, who has been coordinating the program for several years, is having to step down this year. If any of you would like to help us out - fulfilling many spiritual works of mercy! - please do send me a message.

5) Please take a moment right now to pray for everyone receiving this message, and for those who will be part of our RCIA program this year.

Thanks so much. God bless you, and all your works for the Kingdom.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Act One in Grand Rapids

--------------- FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE ---------------


Each year, hundreds of aspiring screenwriters flock to Hollywood with scripts in their hands and stars in their eyes. This year, Hollywood is coming to them. Next stop? Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Act One, Inc., a Los Angeles-based training program for writers and other film industry professionals, is partnering with Compass Film Academy of Grand Rapids to present the Act One Screenwriting Weekend, a conference for professional and aspiring screenwriters. The workshop, slated for October 19-20, 2007 at Trinity Christian Reformed Church, is an intense, practical overview of screenwriting basics, the current film market, and the Christian’s responsibility to engage popular culture.

Participants will study the craft of screenwriting – from story development and structure to character, dialogue and screenplay format – with a group of accomplished Hollywood professionals, including screenwriter, producer, and Azusa Pacific University Associate Professor Dr. Thomas Parham (JAG, Touched By An Angel), and screenwriter/author Chris Riley (After The Truth, The Hollywood Standard).

“Grand Rapids has a rich history as a center of Christian art and thought,” says Conference Coordinator Lauri Evans Deason. “And we’re thrilled to join the Compass Film Academy in providing new inspiration for local writers who share our common goals of artistry, professionalism, and spirituality.”

The seminar begins at 1:00 p.m. Friday with a session for registered participants, and continues all day Saturday. Friday evening features the Hollywood Insiders Event, a keynote address and panel discussion with the faculty, open to anyone interested in film and its influence on popular culture. The registration fee, which includes study materials and lunch on Saturday, is $175 for anyone registering before October 1, 2007. After October 1, the cost to attend is $195. Discounts are available for students and groups of ten or more. Tickets for the Hollywood Insiders Event (which begins Friday at 7:00 p.m.) are $10.

Further information and online registration is available through the Act One website at HYPERLINK "" or by calling 323-464-0815. Space is limited, and early registration is encouraged.

Act One, Inc. is a non-profit, interdenominational training and mentorship program designed to train people of faith for careers in mainstream film and television. The organization is endorsed by the Catholic Communications Commission, Catholics In Media Associates, Premise, The Hollywood Prayer Network, MasterMedia International, and several colleges and universities.

323-464-0815 x14