Monday, June 30, 2008

Lecture in the OC: "The Three Teresas"

The Magis Institute presents, the fourth lecture in our 2008 lecture series:

Featuring Dr. Eric Hansen Magis Institute Resident Fellow

The Three Theresas: Avila, Lisieux, and Calcutta

July 8, 2008 7:30 - 9:00 PM
Pacific Club 4110 MacArthur Blvd, Newport Beach, CA 92660

Please RSVP by July 4, 2008

Space is limited, we ask that you register via email to or else via phone to Todd Inman at (949) 474 -7368, ext. 130 by July 4th.

"The Real Patron of the Arts"

Back in March I was interviewed for the online version of the magazine of Catholic United for the Faith, which is called "Lay Witness." In opening the stack of mail waiting for me back at the Act One offices, I just found a letter from the magazine telling me that the interview is posted here.

They enclosed a copy of the print version of the magazine with the letter. INterstingly, my interview didn't make the print version. But there was a one page essay from the president of CUF, explaining how and why he had thrown out his television. Ha! I love us. I have to... To be fair, Mike goes on to say that the Church needs to be engaged in media. Of course, whether we could do that without actually watching media is up for debate. (Not really.)

There was another essay in the magazine balancing out Mike's piece from Prof. Eugene Gan of Steubenville, making the case that perhaps we Catholics should try and engage the media, and quoting extensively from the last apostolic letter of JPII, "The Rapid Development."

Here's a snip from that great and timely letter:

"The Church is not only called upon to use the mass media to spread the Gospel, but, today more than ever, to integrate the message of salvation into the 'new culture' that these powerful means of communication create and amplify." (Letter of JOhn Paul II, The Rapid Development, January 24, 2005)

ANyway, the lonnnnnnnnnnnnng interview was over the phone, so I was walking back and forth across my apartment in my pajamas ranting, scaring my cat, and probably freaking out my neighbors. It's my usual shtick...only more so...and intended for an orthodox Catholic readership.

The first part of the interview was about broader issues concerning the Church and the arts. I find I always have to start here with more conservative Christians because they have almost lost all interest in and appreciation for the arts. They are basically living in a cultural void, and it is always an effort to try and convince them that that is a morbid choice. Here's a snip:

Tell us about the topic of your presentation tonight: “The Real Patron of the Arts: Hollywood or the Church?”

I was talking to my undergrads at a college in Los Angeles—Christian kids, there are 60 of them from colleges all over the country—and I mentioned the phrase “patron of the arts.” One of the kids in the front row raised his hand and said, “And who’s that?”

And I realized, looking at these 18-year-olds, that they didn’t know the phrase “patron of the arts.” So I said to them, “Well, who do you think the patron of the arts is? Talk about it among yourselves and then tell me what you think.” And so they came back five minutes later and they had two things that they had decided. One was Hugh Hefner of Playboy Magazine, and the other one was the Bravo channel.

And when I said to them, “No—the patron of the arts is the Church,” they looked at me and they were like, “What art, and what Church?”

And I have to say, they’re right. They’re right. Hugh Hefner spent more on the arts in the last month than the Church probably spent in the last year, and maybe even the last decade. He hired hundreds of actors and models and photographers and writers and designers and directors, etc. And we wonder why people like Hefner have cultural power, and we in the Church have been relegated to cultural irrelevance? Who is the real “leaven in the lump of the world” here? We’ve so lost the value of beauty and art and storytelling in the Church that we don’t deserve the moniker anymore—“patron of the arts.” We’re not.

Why is it important for the Church to regain that?

This is a huge question. Let me point to a couple things that would help. One thing to read is Pope John Paul II’s “Letter to Artists” that he issued in 1999, where he talks about the epiphanies of beauty through which God speaks to human hearts, and how the arts are a medium of revelation in the world, and how a sacred artist, or someone who’s prayerful, is absolutely a way for God to speak to the world today.

I read an essay that Pope Benedict XVI wrote before he was pope called The Beauty and the Truth of Christ in which he says that if the Church could have the knowledge that comes through beauty or the knowledge that comes through theological texts, She would prefer the knowledge that comes through beauty because the knowledge that comes through beauty brings to people the conviction of their own smallness and humility, and also the sense of the grandeur and order and intelligence of the cosmos. And that these two awarenesses are the beginning of real prayer.

So when people experience the beautiful, the problem of the Garden of Eden is fixed. You know, the Garden’s temptation in Genesis was “You will be like God.” And this is still the paramount temptation for human beings. Well, when you experience beauty, you know you’re not God and you also feel that that’s OK. You feel good about your life and your very “un-Godness” because you’re filled with awe and gratitude. So, Pope Benedict makes the case that you can know everything in a book of theology and make a prayer that is proud and cold. Or, you can know almost nothing of theology but respond to a sunset and feel God’s presence there and it can be a prayer that is holy and that will be heard.

So just briefly, there are many, many, many goods that come to the Church through the arts, but the idea of the beautiful is the main one.

The second part of the interview was about Act One. I loved that she put the word "whispers" in there! Is it wrong to be pleased with oneself so thoroughly at moments? I would like what follows after that whispers to be one of quotes for which I might be remembered.... Anyway, here's a snip:

What does it take? What kind of person are you looking for to participate in Act One?

Well, the first thing we’re looking for on the writing side is people who can spell! I wish I was kidding! I get people all the time that come to me and they want to be writers but they can barely write two sentences that are clear. It’s very rare to find somebody who actually has a good writing style.

And then we need people who have been reasonably well educated in storytelling. We give our writers a list of the hundred most influential novels ever written. And we ask them to check off how many they’ve read—not how many they’ve seen in the movies, but how many they’ve read. The young people coming to us on the average have read only seven of the hundred most influential stories ever written. And these people are top of their classes! We’re not talking obscure stuff here. I’m talking Hemingway and Hawthorne and Austen and the Greeks. So we have a huge problem. This a particular challenge for these two up-and-coming generations—the Gen-Xers and the Millennials—they’ve been completely cut off from their cultural heritage.

And then they need to be somewhat culturally savvy. They ought to have a sense of what is the best work that is out there and why. Often, the real conservative Christian kids that come to us have seen every movie done in the Golden Age but they haven’t seen anything since Star Wars. And it’s the same problem because if you haven’t seen The Matrix, you don’t know your audience today.

On the executive side, we want people from top schools, top undergraduate programs, and even grad programs, who are primarily law and finance oriented. So we want lawyers, law students, MBAs, people with finance degrees and any other people with corporate or business experience. We’re preparing people there for the executive suites of Hollywood, and that’s the talent pool the industry draws from.

I would say the next thing we want is committed Christians. We have all denominations. I’m very sad that we have had so few Catholics go through the program. I have gone to these schools—the Catholic schools, the special Catholic schools—I’ve gone to them all several times and spoken there and pleaded, and what I find there is that kids do not have any apostolic drive. After getting these great Great Books educations, what they want to be is maybe a DRE in a small country parish in the backwoods where nobody will notice them and they can just shut the world down and out. You know, there’s nothing apostolic in that. St. Paul could’ve done that—the Church would be nothing if we had done that. We have not received a mandate to head for the hills.

There is something wrong in a Church in which we are preparing kids to only play in the Catholic subculture. [whispers] There was never supposed to be a Catholic subculture! You know what disciples do in the Catholic subculture? They have personality fights and power struggles. Well, I’d rather be martyred by the world and the devil than be killed by a fellow Catholic because they don’t like the way I say the Rosary or something.

The Standard Script from Walden

Here is a snip from Daily Variety's review today of Journey to the Center of the Earth the latest classic work to apparently be rendered banal by Walden Media.

"What Journey to the Center of the Earth emphasizes is how technology ends up dictating content: Helmer Brevig [note from Barb: "helmer" is Tinseltown speak for d"director"] seems compelled to remind us again and again, that we're in 3-D, so something flies at our faces for no apparent reason except to justify the ad budget. It's ornamental, gimmicky, and wholly unnecessary where the narrative and 2-D effects would have been absorbing enough on their own.

A more unavoidable obstacle here is that there's not much in the way of plot..."

One would think that eventually, somebody at Walden is going to get sick of this kind of review and start to look at the way they develop scripts.

I'm picking on Walden because so many of us had such high hopes for the company when it got started. They had some Christians at the helm, and a Christian billionaire paying the bills. It seemed like a dream come true for those of us Christians who have been in the business for years. But they didn't understand scripts. Christians didn't get that "the word" was important. It just strikes me as an inexcusable oversight.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

An Upcoming Event in Hollywood

Saturday, July 19, 2008

A one-day Seminar
for those in the Entertainment Industry

Presented by


Seminar topics include:

• Cultural and religious influences shaping Hollywood today
• Biblical foundations & the Jewish people
• Different branches of Judaism
• Christian misconceptions of Jewish People and their faith
• How Jews perceive Christians
• Breaking down cultural barriers to the Gospel

DATE: Saturday, July 19, 2008
TIME: 1:00-6:00 PM (check-in starts at 12:30 PM)
LOCATION: 4193 Keystone Ave., Culver City, CA 90232
RSVP: OR 818- 506-1987
(Must RSVP)-limited seating)
COST: No admission charge. A free-will offering will be taken

Seminar will be taught by Nikki H., a Jewish believer in Messiah, who lives and works in Hollywood as a director / producer, missionary, and educator within the entertainment community. Nikki's service has included work with a number of Jewish ministries as well as director of evangelism and discipleship on pastoral staff with Church of the Open Door. Nikki's ministry P.R.I.S.M. is currently under the umbrella of ACT International, through which she works in the entertainment industry to impact the media and people in it for the Kingdom of Messiah. She holds a BA in Theology & Biblical Literature from Simpson College and an MFA in Directing from USC.

Nikki produced and directed an award– winning documentary "Joined Together?" on inter-faith marriages. It will be screened today from 5:00 – 6:00 PM.



"A thorough and thoughtful presentation of what to consider
when sharing one's faith with those who come from a Jewish
background. I found Nikki's seminar to be dynamic
and informative--a 'must-attend' event!"
-- Rebecca F. (TV Producer)

".... those who care about them and who really want the best for
the Jewish people will tell them about Jesus."
-- Derrick W. (writer / director)

"I was enlightened, and given real tools to understand
the Jewish community ... I learned what to say and what to avoid
to introduce a Jewish person to Messiah"
-- Judi D. (performer)

Fatima Movie Possibly in the Works

Origin Entertainment is working to bring the story of the apparitions of the Mother of God at Fatima Portugal to the big screen. The story was made into a movie once before in the 1950's, but recent events, like the assassination attempt on John Paul II, the revelation of the 3rd secret, and the recently published recollections of Sr. Lucia are all good reasons to tell a more complete version of the story today. Also, today's CGI can render events like the miracle of the sun and the vision of hell much more impressively.

Early in 2007, I spent a month in Australia with a young crew from England and Ireland working on a script for a new Fatima movie. It was some of the best writing I have ever done, and the whole time was an amazing experience of grace, and also the scarily "just over there" presence of Satan being spiteful. We crafted the script as a coming of age story with Lucia as the main character. There were truly some inspired elements that had all of us feeling like we were very much instruments. At that time, Origin Entertainment had an investor who had stepped forward who had promised to cover the entire budget of the film, so we were very excited that we would go into production during the 90th anniversary of the Fatima events.

But it didn't happen. For some unknown reason, the money never came together, and so the script never got finished, and eventually the little international coalition we had joined with to tell the story dissolved.

And then, a few months ago, a whole different group of people called me up and proclaimed, "We think there needs to be a feature film on Fatima." I listened to them wearily, "Yeah. I thought so too, but God seems undecided." Honestly, I am starting to feel like getting together a movie package and financing makes the miracle of the sun look almost banal.

But, things do seem to be happening this time around. So, Origin Entertainment will be holding some informational nights for potential investors on what it will take to get a commercial, mainstream movie on Fatima into productin and then into cineplexes. Our first of these will be in Minneapolis on July 10th. I will be there, as will the CEO of Origin Entertainment, Dick Lyles. If you are interested in attending, or know someone who might be, please send me an email.

All the rest of you can help out by praying. It would be so great to get this project done.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

In Memoriam

Sr. Joyce Amaral, ssd
January 10, 1956 - June 26, 1978

"Carry on..."

The Fault Lies Not in Your Television, But in Yourselves

I just have to ask. Why, oh why, America, did so many of you watch ABS'c latest summer entertainment for the brain dead, the idiocy-fest Wipeout? It was the biggest summer premiere for the network in the last three years.

Which means we will now see many similarly themed, but probably not as stunningly produced and intellectually stimulating, knockoffs on the other networks, and certainly a rash of super-extended, extreme degradation Wipeouts on ABC.

All I hear as I travel around the country is how all of you out there want better entertainment on television. So, why, why did someone in your house vote for Wipeout this week?

Just asking.

WGA is Looking Out For You

From Today's Variety:

"The Writers Guild of America wants the FCC to write the script on product integration disclosure.

In a letter to Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin, WGAW President Patrick Verrone urged the agency "to establish guidelines requiring on screen, real time disclosure on TV programming where product integration occurs to make viewers aware of the range of products they are overtly - and more often covertly - being sold."

...Verrone described product integration as "the embedding of commercial products within the storyline of a program so as to subliminally advertise to viewers...This practice exploits the emotional connection viewers have with shows and their characters in order to sell a product."
The WGA has expressed a preference that there be a complete ban on product integration, but pretty much everybody agrees that the practice is so rampant now, that it is probably too late to achieve that. Still, it would be a step forward if there was a mandated page somewhere at the end of a production listing all the ads that had been embedded in the show.

Of course, the studios and Madison Avenue ad agencies have chosen coy and disingenuous as the response to the WGA's request. Again, Variety sites one anonymous industry source as remarking, "There's no huge hue and cry we get from audiences about this."

So, audience, please to make a hue and cry. Let the FCC know how you feel.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

"I find most people know what a good story is
- until they sit down to write one."
Flannery O'Connor

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Act One Job Opportunity

Sent: Tue, 24 Jun 2008 2:18 pm
Subject: Act One Job Opportunity

Act One, Inc., a non-denominational Christian organization founded to train Christians of all denominations for careers in the mainstream entertainment industry, is currently seeking exceptional candidates for Director of the Act One Writing Program. Ideal applicants are available to begin work by September 2008, and will demonstrate professionalism, integrity, and a genuine desire to work as part of a ministry team. We offer a creative and stimulating work environment and numerous professional development opportunities. Interested candidates should email a cover letter and resume to

Resumes and cover letters may also be faxed to 323-468-0315. No phone calls, please.

act one, inc.
2690 N. Beachwood Dr., Lower Floor
Hollywood, CA 90068
323-464-0815; 323-468-0315 fax


Background for this Position and Organizational Overview:

This position description has been created for the position of Director of Act One: Writing Program. It serves as a framework for defining the duties and responsibilities, lines of authority, criteria, characteristics and related information about the position. There are many other aspects of the duties and responsibilities of this position, which will be developed during the course of the employment relationship or which are covered in the Act One Employee Handbook.

Classification and Accountability:

Classification: This is a full time (minimum 40 hour) “exempt” position under the Act One Compensation and Classification program. The person in this position will be an employee “at will” as described in the Employee Handbook.

Accountability: This position, which is filled by the Personnel Committee of the Act One Board of Directors, reports to the Executive Director of Act One, Inc. and works closely with the Act One, Inc. Board of Directors. The position will be evaluated annually in February before the annual Board of Directors meeting.

General / Primary Duties and Responsibilities:

As a member of the Act One team, the Director of the Writing Program will work with the other members of the staff and community in support of the over-riding mission and vision of Act One. The mission statement of Act One is as follows:

“Act One, Inc. exists to prepare Christian professionals for the entertainment industry who are committed to excellence, artistry and personal holiness, so that through their lives and work they may be witnesses of Christ to their fellow artists and to the global culture.”
Particular duties of the Director of the Act One Writing Program include:

  • Ongoing development of the Writing Program curriculum and other educational, formational and community building initiatives at Act One to support the goal of identifying, training, and mentoring candidates to become professional writers for the entertainment industry.
  • Supervises the Writing Program staff and direction of the corporate staff as it relates to Writing program matters.
  • Oversees entrepreneurial opportunities to expand and promote the writing program, to recruit students, faculty, and financial support.
  • Prepares of an annual budget every December, and ongoing oversight of the program’s expenditures within it’s budget, including Act Two, TV Track, Script Critique Service, Screenwriting Weekends, Speaker Series, and Alumni Ongoing Formation.
  • Acts as liaison to any other church groups, media ministry groups, universities, and industry organizations so as to promote Act One’s mission and to recruit students, faculty, and donors.

Compensation and Benefits:

Salary: Negotiable, based on experience.

Insurance: Medical and Dental Insurance benefits are provided as defined in the Employee Handbook. The benefits will begin after an initial three month probationary period.

Vacation: There are three weeks of paid vacation annually for this position, including one week at Christmas, which become available after six months of employment.

Sick Leave: There are two weeks of annual paid sick leave for this position which become available after the three month probationary period.

Personal Days: One half day each week is allowed for creative work.

Skills, Experience, and Other Characteristics:

The ideal candidate will possess the following desirable qualities:

  • Christian Commitment: It is imperative that this person is a committed Christian and can articulate a Statement of Faith and personal testimonial to that commitment. The candidate should be a person of prayer who is an active memberof a Christian church. The candidate must ascribe to the norms of a Christian moral life, understanding that the witness of life is a constituent element of our service to the Act One community.
  • Professional Experience: The Director should be well aware of the executive and creative climate in the entertainment industry, and should make every effort to deepen and solidify relationships with working professionals. This will ensure that the program truly serves the industry by providing training that meets the real needs of the marketplace. The Director should also possess the qualities and experience necessary to develop curriculum, particularly that meets the diverse needs of students at all levels of achievement.
  • Communications, Attitude, and Behavioral Skills: The Director should have excellent communication skills, and be comfortable in public speaking, press interviews, and formal meetings. Because of the interdenominational nature of the program, the Director should be a person who respects the goods present in different denominations so as to be comfortable speaking with media, faculty, students, and donors from a broad spectrum of Christian traditions.
  • Leadership and Administrative Abilities: Attention to detail in everything is vital. A self-motivated sense of urgency and follow through to completion of tasks and projects must be displayed at all times and in every aspect of the operations. Ours is a very positive, “can-do” environment with a special emphasis on service and stewardship of resources.
Position Start Date:
September 2008

Monday, June 23, 2008

A Truly Incredible Hulk of a Movie

So, we can take for granted that somewhere out there in Tinseltown, some Machiavellian studio executive has a collection of really rare original Incredible Hulk comic books. He had his people buy them up back in the early 90's when the comic book movie thing had hit really big, and he was sure that cornering the market in Hulking memorabilia had him sitting on a gold mine when the big green guy finally made it to the cineplexes.

And then Ang Lee took the story and sensitively created his own hybrid - Sense and Sensibility/Ice Storm/Brokeback meets Shazam/Wonder Twins, which audiences promptly rejected as an irreconcilable merger of tone and arena. Comic book geeks tell me with verbal renting of garments that Ang Lee ruined the Hulk. So, maybe our green-lighting studio exec is really a closet comic geek who just had to give the pure mythic potential of Bruce Bannon's struggle not to let his pulse rate get too high one more hundred million dollar shot at silver screen immortality.

One would think, then, that in getting a second chance to tell the story, so soon after the recent blunder, that the folks behind this new version would have had a genius story idea or something. You know, some kind of brilliant element in their pitch that would justify doing this again. It somehow needed to be substantially better than the Ang Lee failure, otherwise, what the %$#! are we doing coaxing audiences out to see it again?

(This image - of underutilized and anyways, badly miscast, Hulk star, Edward Norton, reminds me of moviegoers everywhere meditating on this latest movie, trying to figure out what the pitch was like that got Universal to try this one again.)

There isn't anything in this latest telling to shame Ang Lee. In fact, Lee's attempt is arguably better, because t least one had some degree of empathy for the main characters in that piece. There wasn't a lot, but at least the whole father-son thing made him somewhat sympathetic. Also, Lee's movie had good acting, which this one does not. And Lee's movie made sense - arguably too much sense for the genre - whereas this one is ridiculous in all the wrong places for a comic book piece.

The only answer I could come up with as to why they remade this piece is as an answer to the question, "What will the 13 year old boys watch at the movies this week?" And the corollary, "How can we get the 13 year old boys to by a video game if we don't do a feature film launch of it?"

A true hulking bore of a loud, tedious movie. Pass.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Talking Smart About Storytelling

I attended a two-day seminar on story with a group of Christians back East not long ago, and came away really underwhelmed. I have been thinking about it since and how superficial the discussion was compared to the ongoing discussion about the same topic in which the Christians in Hollywood have been engaged. You could pop in to a beginner session at any Act One event and hear much more profound, and ground-breaking ideas than anything I hear out there in Christian circles outside of Hollywood. I attended the event hoping to get some insight and move my understanding forward a bit in this most crucial area, but all I left with was the itch to try and do better. The problem is, the artists/storytellers and the Christian community are talking past one another, in different dimensions.

So, from a pastoral aspect, it seems time to try and get a conversation going. But a high-level one. And by that I don't necessarily mean academic. I mean, lets listen to people who have experience and chops as storytellers, and let's seriously see if there is any guidance for them in their creative task to be had from thinkers in the Church today. We are going to hold our own conference which has the working title "A Conversation on Storytelling in the 21st Century."

Also, Act One will be celebrating its tenth anniversary year in 2009. We see this conference as kicking off the celebrations for the year by a moment of reflection on what we have learned and on what we still need to brood.

So, in collaboration with the Magis Institute, Act One will soon be hosting "A Conversation on Storytelling in the 21st Century." We're looking at this event to go off sometime in late September or early October here in Hollywood.

I am going to share the notes of our initial planning discussion for this event, because I am looking for several things from folks out there who might want to be part. Specifically we are looking for the following:

- suggestions of thinkers and storytellers whom we should consider as panelists
- co-sponsoring organizations for the event
- a publisher to turn it into a book
- someone to do a web page for the event as a means to promote but also to continue the discussion possibly afterward
- people who want to get dibs in early to be one of the lucky fifty people who will get to be an audience to the discussion

Fall 2008

Hosted by Act One: Hollywood and The Magis Institute

Our point is to respond to the call of John Paul II in his Letter to Artists to "renew that fruitful dialogue between the Church and the arts." Most of us in who will be part of the conversation have seats on both sides of the dialogue table as members of the Church, and also members of the art/entertainment world, which should make this conversation completely unique in the panoply of media conferences, which are exclusively either religious or secular. Act One's special vocation is to be both/and.

I. Fruits of the conference will be:
- our attendees, many of whom are storytellers will get some new ideas/goals to bring to their efforts in the culture
- we'll transcribe the talks and discussion and produce a book
- the discussion will be recorded to be distuted via podcasting and CD's

II. Format

2 days. Eight topics to be engaged in hour-long discussions. The topics will be introduced with twenty minutes of brilliant thoughts by invited panelists.

III. Who Can Attend? How much?

It depends. If we get a surge of interest, we could hold it at a large venue like the WGA or DGA theaters. But this could be a lot of hassle. For now, we will plan to hold it in a cozier space - and open up a gallery for a limited number of audience members who might want to observe the discussion and who may be invited to participate with questions.

Maybe charge attendees $100 (no meals included)?

IV. Dream list of panelists/discussion leaders to invite:

- Dana Goia, Chairman, Nat'l Endowment for the Arts
- Dallas Willard, USC School of Religion, author The Divine Conspiracy
- Representative from the Pontifical Council for Culture, Vatican
- Dr. Peter Kreeft, Boston College, author of 874 great books
- Somebody from the story department at Pixar
- Any of the amazing panoply of Act One faculty members including: Bobette Buster, Chris & Kathy Riley, Barbara Hall, Karen Hall, Ron Austin, Scott Derrickson, Dean Batali, John Tinker, David McFadzean, Chuck Slocum, Linda Seger, Sean Gaffney, Barbara Nicolosi, Charlie Carner, Spencer Lewerenz
- Rev. Tim Kelleher, Pastor, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, NYC
- Dr. Tom Dillon, President, Thomas Aquinas College
- Todd Field, director In the Bedroom, Little Children

Who else are we missing? Who would have something deep to say about the nature of narrative, its goals, power and ethics? I'm looking for ideas.

V. Possible Questions for "A Conversation on Storytelling in the 21st Century"

- Can a story offer healing to a person/a society and how?

- Ethical questions - What are people reaching for when they show up to get a story? What do we owe them? What does the world need for people to be getting from stories?

- What is a hero in 21st Century storytelling?

- Looking at character choices - irrevocable, visual, active, high stakes - what do these mean and why does the audience need them?

- The Great One: What Did Flannery O'Connor know about paradox in storytelling that we have all forgotten?

- Theme: What do we mean when we say a story needs to be universal? What does structure have to do with theme?

- A brief history of storytelling and where are we know (in terms of structure/theme/method/ dsitribution)? What is coming next?

- What makes a for a brilliant/healing ending in a story? (Resolution, Satisfaction, leave work for the audience to do - what do these mean?)

- Considering Developmental needs in stories - what do little kids, adolescents, gen x, boomers each need in their stories?

- Is Aristotle's Poetics still relevant? What is a "cathartic experiene of fear? of pity?" What is a "beautiful" story according to the smart Dead Greeks.

- What process do great storytellers use? (Pixar)

- In the Church: Sermon on the Mount (for the disciples) vs. Parable (for the unfriendly crowds). Is there a role for storytelling in the church?

- Darkness & Story- how dark can you go? When have you gone too far?

- Marketability for Christian content- transcendent in storytelling. What has happened since The Passion wave, and what have we learned about shopping a story with transcendant themes?

- Why does bad work like "Bella" and "Facing the Giants" attract so many Christians? (ONLY KIDDING!...We won't try and answer this last question until the debrief party in a bar with plenty of alcohol around!)

VI. How to be a part?

1. Send donations to support the event to here. Or by mail to: Act One, Inc., Conversation on Story Conference, 2690 N. Beachwood Dr., Los Angeles, CA 90068

Donations to the event are tax deductible as Act One, Inc. is a 501c3 non-profit.

2. If you have ideas about any of the above, know of an organization that might be interested in sponsoring the event, or a magazine/publisher that might want to publish it, or would like to participate as a panelist or audience member, please send an email to Conference Co-odinator, Vicki Peterson at

Dirty Harry On the Move

Cyber-friend and frequently sympatico movie critic Dirty Harry (formerly of Libertas) has a new blog all his own here. You have to love a guy whose mission statement is the following:

To what extent this site can, we will promote, aid, and encourage those in the entertainment community doing right by liberty and America.

To what extent this site can, we will shame those in the entertainment community still capable of feeling shame into doing right by liberty and America.

To what extent this site can, we will expose and ridicule the shameless who seek to do harm to liberty and America.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Those Sick Fans!

Remember that great scene from Casablanca in which Louis the police chief closes down Rick's Cafe with the exclamation, "I'm shocked, SHOCKED, to discover that there is gambling going on here!" And then he pockets his roulette winnings?

That's what I thought of when I read this recent disingenuous snip from actress (who identifies as Christian), Katee Sackhoff (BSG, Nip/Tuck):

"IGN: A show like yours has such a huge online fandom. Do you ever pay attention to their speculation...?

Sackhoff: Yeah, in a sense. I mean they have online porn about us! Which is weird… That's weird....and terrifying.
(Got it from here.)

She's right. It is weird.

Those perverted, sick, and twisted fans! Where do they get that stuff from!?!?!

And there are some other images of her out there in cyberspace that are much worse than the ones I have here.

I get that having a sense of modesty and shame might be too much to ask these days, even for Christian actors. But how about just a sense of irony? Good grief, sister of mine in the Lord, take some responsibility! You're showing up everywhere with your breasts hanging out looking like a whore, and then you're horrified that people are objectifying you?! Why is fan fiction porn bad, but soft-porn images like the above okay? Somebody help me out here.

I know. I AM picking on Katee here. She is certainly not the only Christian actress who has allowed herself to be packaged and sold like a piece of meat. But I feel a lot of solicitude for this kid. Also, Katee seems to know she is playing with fire in this kind of sexploitive stuff. In several interviews, I've heard her distance herself from her sexy image and manifest embarrassment about the sex scenes she has been in. So, I'm wondering, Katee, if they fill you with that much angst, why do them? We all know the answer, huh? Everybody around you is telling you you won't work unless you prostitute yourself. But can that really be true? And is just "working" worth this kind of personal degradation? By the time you are a big success, what will be left of you to look back in the mirror?

I'm asking because it's a question that eventually confronts every young actor who comes to Hollywood, and really, it has broader ramifications for all of us who work in the entertainment business. Where does our responsibility end in the images we create, and where does the audience's begin? better think the whole question through ahead of time. People who think it through on the fly end up with big regrets.

Let's pray for Katee. And all the other young actors walking around Hollywood today, trying to make themselves do things for their career that make them feel icky.

Monday, June 16, 2008

We'll miss you, Tim.

I've been very sad ever since hearing the news about Tim Russert's death. I've been a political junkie since I was very young, and Tim has always been there in the background. We used to watch Meet the Press in my family every Sunday morning. It felt like Tim was part of the family.

He seemed to me to be a very fair man. And in a media environment in which the polarization in the main networks was so often achingly and insultingly consistent, I never felt like Tim Russert was part of that. We never knew from the way he questioned his guests if he agreed with them or not. He wasn't at all like Chris Matthrews or Larry King or Bob Schiefer in that way. I was always relieved to see him behind the desk in debates or interviews, because I felt like he was on the side of America as a whole -- not just the left.

Here's a shot of Tim getting an award from one of our great Hollywood priests, Fr. Willy Raymond, the Director of Family Theater. Not sure what the award was for, but it was cool of Tim to show up to get it. He was a gracious man.

We're all going to miss him. IMagine that. An entire nation of 300 million people missing one man. That is quite a tribute.

Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord,
And let perpetual light shine upon him.
May he rest in peace. Amen.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Doing the BSG Fan Thing

So, Wednesday night I attended the ultimate BSG nerddom event with my friends Vicki and Mark (the foolish advocate of lost cause animated panda movies...) It was the Emmy voters screening of Battlestar Galactica's "For your consideration" episode - which happens to be the mid-season finale airing tonight, "Revelations." The showrunner, Ron Moore, actually had us raise our hands in the air and swore us to secrecy upon pain of spoiler hell, so I won't say anything about the episode here, except... It is one of the best episodes of television I've ever seen. Riveting. Really exciting. Beautiful CGI and cinematography. Haunting music. And the last three minutes manages the almost inconceivable achievement of taking the viewer from the height of exaltation, to the guts-just-got-kicked-out depths of desolation and shock. Amazing entertainment that.

This guy was brought in to protect the cast and crew from sneering and clueless non-believers in the wonder of BSG.

Here is everybody waiting outside to get in. The room was almost full at about 800 seats.

They had these giant posters of the whole cast hanging off the dome outside. Very cool.

The bloggers over at have recorded a minute by minute account of the evening here, that I can't add much more too.

We were sitting up in the plebian seats, so I couldn't get much good with my camera in the dark. But here are a few shots of the panel after the screening. From left to right that is Katee Sackhoff ("Starbuck"), Mary McDonnell ("President Roslin"), Tricia Helfer ("Caprica #6"), and Executive Producer, Ron Moore.

Under the "Actors Should Never Speak Without a Script File" was Tricia Helfer responding to a question about the religious faith depicted on BSG. She noted with a mystical lilt in her voice, "I am very spiritual. But truly an agnostic." I could almost hear all the writers' (sitting in the first three rows) eyeballs smack into the back of their heads. Um. Agnosticism is the deep commitment to being ambivalent. And the ambivalence is entirely about the realm of the spirit. So, you can't really be a spiritual agnostic, can you now? It's like saying you are a tall short person. What is it about the air out here?... We also had to endure Mary McDonnel making a coy pitch for Hillary Clinton. Sackhoff thankfully didn't stray into trying to preach or politicize - just sat there looking slightly uncomfortable at these two comments. She strikes me as being basically well-bred. Or maybe it's her serious commitment to Christianity that makes her gracious. Anyway, she didn't say anything particularly smart or worth hearing, but she wasn't embarrassing.

If there is any righteousness in Hollywood, Mary McDonnell will get an Emmy nom for her work on Battlestar Galactica especially this season. She made a lovely point about the way that her character's slow death from cancer during this season, has been accompanied by her spirit/inner person being slowly saved. I agree. Thematically, Season 4 has mainly been about Laura Roslin's movement into grace. It's been wonderful.

(I lifted the first three pictures from here.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Distinguished Democrat Nominee for Deity

Can't resist straying into political waters here, but this made me laugh as much as the drunk horse joke I posted yesterday.

This is from an interview that the Chicago Sun Times did with Sen. Barack Obama:

GG:What do you believe?

OBAMA: I am a Christian. So, I have a deep faith. So I draw from the Christian faith.

GG: Do you believe in sin?


GG: What is sin?

OBAMA: Being out of alignment with my values.

Ha! And as the Senator's values include the strident and aggressive advocacy of the legal right of grown up humans to slaughter defenseless baby humans, I guess that makes me a pretty unaligned sinner.

Good frakking grief. Beam us up, Jesus. Any time now.

(hat tip to Creative Minority Report

(P.S. Sorry to rain on all the Christians for Obama parade-goers. It's so uncomfortably uncivil of me to bring up the whole nasty abortion thing, isn't it? I mean, there are such more important issues we can talk about, like decreasing carbon emissions and gas prices.)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Cleverness Appreciation Award

This made me laugh today.

And I really needed it. Thanks CMR!

Monday, June 09, 2008

See Barb in Baltimore

I will be a keynote speaker Friday, July 25th at this event. Also on the speaker roster for the weekend are Archbishop O'Brien of Baltimore, Peter Kreeft, Matt Pinto and a bunch of other cool folks. So sign up to hear them, and get me as a pleasant extra.

Maybe this time we can have that DC area get together of the "Really Smart and Cool Devotees of BSG," which I couldn't manage to bring off last visit.

I beg your pardon?!

blog readability test

TV Reviews

It only took four years of a Great Books undergrad, nine years of theology and a Masters from a top school, but I have achieved intelligibility by 12 year olds.

Phew. Now, on to the next thing...


(Sorry, but you have to give me a couple stars for just how clever that heading is.)

I saw this film on its opening Friday a couple weeks ago, and have been wanting to blog about it ever since. I was going to post a mostly positive blog, but then I started reading a lot of what other Christians are writing about the movie and I chickened out.

Barb shrugs.

I thought it was fun. I went into it as someone who has enjoyed the sanitized version of the series on TBS. I thought about the movie, what I have always thought about the TV show: Sex and the City is not so much about sex as it is about female friendship. And more particularly, how female friendship allows women to survive their relationships with men.

I am also always fascinated by how episode after episode of the source material TV show here - and to a lesser extent the movie - seems to be a Genesis mystery play built around God, rubbing the Divine eyes in the Garden and grimly forecasting to the Woman, "Your desire will be for your husband, and he will Lord it over you." SATC is nothing if isn't watching women desperately trying to obtain and then maintain the male focus.

Everybody is talking about rampant materialism in SATC as manifested by Carrie's and her friends' 800 or so costume changes (yes, I'm exaggerating, but it really seems like there are that many fashion moments in the movie). Really, this didn't bother me, and in fact, this was one of the "cinema of attractions" elements that I really enjoyed in the film. The clothes in Sex and the City are like the CGI special effects of a planet getting nuked in a male-oriented action flick. I mean really, why are shots of a super dress with great accessories more ominously bad for the culture than a bunch of dudes whooping it up at a visually clever rendering of an 18 wheeler bursting into flames? From one standpoint, I was enjoying the fashion moments as just appreciation of the art form of women's couture. I never felt that Carrie's love of fashion was about showing up other women or making herself feel compete. She's just really attracted to the beautiful as it presents in silk, satin and heels. Nothing wrong with that.

SATC is largely the stuff of female fantasy, although the real fantasy here is not about clothes and swinging in NYC. The fantasy strikes me much more as being the desire for the kind of friendship that the four main characters have in each other. Imagine if you could actually have three friends who would drop everything and just fly off with you to mourn in Mexico for a week or two. Despite her struggles, Carrie has something most of us want, a few caring somebodies that she can always call, who always accepts her no matter how big she screws up. That's the fantasy behind the show's success. And it isn't an altogether bad thing for people to want for themselves.

And yes, there are two or three brief but certainly over the top, sexually graphic moments in this film. But they aren't prolonged and I almost felt like they were there almost apologetically, like the audience didn't leave the production company a lot of choice, seeing how the rep of the show is that it is unabashed about sex. I also don't think they undermined the whole good of the film for its almost exclusively Gen X female audience, which needs to hear the producers' underlying assertion here. Because, in the end, the explicit message of the film is a good one, and it is laid out very strongly and reinforced in all the sub-plots.

Contrary to the bad rap the film is getting from a lot of conservatives, the real theme of SATC is not, "be shamelessly promiscuous and materialistic", but somewhat shockingly, "If you don't forgive, you will never have a happily ever after." All of the main story lines in the movie are about the need for mature relationships to move into forgiveness. And reaffirming that the film is really most about the female friendships, the most poignant moments in the film come around the falling out between Miranda and Carrie that comes towards the end of the third act. When Miranda demands that Carrie forgive her, and Carrie throws back at her friend her own refusal to forgive poor hapless Steve. The movie wants to tell its audience in no uncertain terms, that loving without forgiving will leave you shallow and after a few rounds with different relationships, very cynical. Everybody has to learn to say, "I'm sorry, " and then to accept others back into their lives who are trying to say the same. So, what's not to like about that?

Barb gulps.

I liked it. So hit me.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Val Classing Up YouTube

Here's my sister Valerie singing with The Alpha Omega Ensemble in New York. (Recorded live at Gustavus Adolphus Church (New York, NY) on May 20th, 2008.)

Sunday, June 01, 2008


About thirty minutes into the new feature Kung Fu Panda from Dreamworks animation, I found myself thinking, "Wow, Pixar really IS amazing." This non-Pixar film has lots of beautiful CGI, but after the added meaning we're used to from the Nemo/Incredibles/Toy Story people, this movie feels empty - like a Prada suit on a hanger. If we've learned anything from Pixar, it's that even kids movies can have, and indeed, deserve, a meaning. But it is certainly tough to do - as Dreamworks proves by this latest inadequate attempt at kids' entertainment.

And in the interests of full-disclosure, I have a bet riding on what I predict to be the ultimate box-office failure of this project. Mark, a friend of mine from Paramount is going to take me to a really, really nice dinner at Citrus at the old Hollywood Athletic Club, when Kung Fu Panda does NOT make $250 million at the box office. He thinks it will. Confucious say, "He who make bets against Sicilians spend great deal on dinner."

Now, Kung Fu Panda isn't mind-numbingly embarrassing, like, you know, a Walden kids' movie. The animation here is gorgeous. Lots of lovely images of a fairylandish China of long ago. It just doesn't amount to much. At a party yesterday, I expressed this thought to a friend who works over at Paramount and he shrugged, "Well, they went ahead without a script. They just had an idea about doing something in China because of the Olympics this year, and then they set on it having Kung Fu because it is so popular, and then animal characters because it's for kids. But they had no story, when the animators just started drawing animal characters in Kung Fu fights. The story really got pieced together by the story editors." Eggzackly. And it shows. Pixar, takes fourteen months working out their stories. Ahem. Oh well.

There are a myriad of disjointed themes here. For the first hour, the movie seems to be arguing that fat pandas have no reason to live. Then, in the second hour, when the fat panda saves the day, the message seems to be that fat pandas have all the advantages as Kung Fu fighters over disciplined, well-trained, hard-working and committed Tigers, Monkeys, Snakes and Praying Mantis-es (what is the plural of that last word anyway?). And, of course, I don't agree with that. There is also a mostly incoherent message about relying on yourself and not looking for external helps ("there is no secret ingredient"), which I also didn't agree with.

I never really bonded with the main character here. A kind of dumb, fat panda who is a big fan of Kung Fu while making noodles in his family's shop, Po gets accidentally recruited to save the world from a bad, bad cat (I think -- maybe a lion, except he was kind of bluish) who is the greatest Kung Fu fighter of all time. I was never really on Po's side just because he was set up for us to be amiably resilient (-- that is until he decides to quit and has to be talked into staying at the cause by the talking turtle who spent half the movie channeling Yoda). It felt like he was the product of a bunch of animators reaching for cliched character elements as opposed to a cogent, fresh personality. I think little kids might be okay with Po's weaknesses as a hero, but older ones - like 8 year olds and above - are going to be disengaged.

And there's a problem with that because this project is quite brutal. Granted, it's animated brutality, but fully half the film is spent in characters getting the sh*t kicked out of them in visually creative ways. And I'm not sure I would want my six year old to sit there digesting all those kicks, slams, grunts, crashes, stompings, and falls from impossibly high altitudes. Somebody with an expertise in child development help me out here. Do six year olds distinguish that readily between CGI violence and the real thing?

I am not going to pan the panda here, but I am not going to give it the coveted two karate chops straight up either. It's got some cute stuff in it, but, well, they really all can't be Pixar movies.