Skip to comments.Christian Boot Camp for the Silver Screen
Posted on 12/04/2003 1:52:43 PM PST by nickcarraway
Barbara Nicolosi's Act One Prepares Writers to Work in Hollywood
HOLLYWOOD, California, DEC. 3, 2003 (Zenit.org).- The program director for a Christ-centered film school has been in show business long enough to know that she can't fix Hollywood.
Instead, Barbara Nicolosi and a growing group of Christian artists are dedicated to representing their worldview in the mainstream and making the kinds of movies they themselves want to see.
In less than five years, more than 200 aspiring writers have gone through Act One's boot camp and emerged with the training and tools they need to be competitive for mainstream jobs -- and the friendships they need to create a Christian community in Hollywood.
Nicolosi shared with ZENIT how the film school tries to show that holiness of life is not incompatible with excellence of craft and depth of content.
Q: Why was Act One established?
Nicolosi: Act One was founded on January 25, 1999 -- coincidentally the feast of the conversion of St. Paul -- by a group of Hollywood screenwriters from a variety of Christian backgrounds.
The program was a response to the overall dreadful dramatic writing that we were seeing coming in to the industry from godly people. It was clear that people of faith were failing in their attempts to find inroads into the entertainment industry. Act One was founded to be a bridge for people who want to come to Hollywood to do good and not harm to the global audience.
We identified four principle problems in Christian writers starting out in the entertainment industry that invariably stop them from ever getting a legitimate hearing for their work: a lack of artistry and a failure to understand the real power of the medium; a lack of respect for the industry and its professional standards; the absence of a network of like-minded professionals to form, mentor and hire the next generation; and the lack of a specific Christian spirituality and ethics to address the particular challenges of the artist's vocation.
Act One is designed to address these four problems.
Q: How do you help prepare Christians for jobs in mainstream Hollywood?
Nicolosi: The keynote program of Act One is a four-week boot camp experience that focuses on mastery of craft, entertainment, ethics and spirituality. The program is the initiation into the community of Act One writers and producers, and is followed up by continuous mentoring and ongoing formation.
When a writer has achieved a certain level of proficiency -- and if they are a good ambassador of the Gospel -- we are very happy to help them obtain entry-level jobs in the business as well as writing assignments from our network of production companies.
Act One also operates the APEX Script Critique Service for writers who may not be able to attend Act One, but who would like the principles of the program applied to their work.
Q: How does faith relate to the artist and the writer?
Nicolosi: As Pope John Paul II noted in his 1999 letter to artists, creative people have a special relationship with God as beauty.
As they pursue beauty, they instinctively move into solitude and seek to connect with the transcendent as the source of their creativity. This is why everybody in Hollywood describes himself or herself as "spiritual." Of course, they are also quick to say they are not religious. Part of Act One's message to the industry is to try and reveal how being spiritual but not religious is an absurd and futile effort.
Q: What has been Act One's growth trend? What are the reasons for its growth?
Nicolosi: Act One has grown from a faculty of four professional screen and television writers to about 80. We have trained more than 200 young writers, about half of whom are working in the entertainment industry in all different levels.
They form a wonderful new community of thoughtful, prayerful artists who are all passionate about Jesus and the power of the screen art form, and who support and encourage each other to produce work that will be good for the world.
We have grown because God is responding to the collective cry of his people, which has been rising up in groans about the terrible state of the arts in the last century. Act One is a smart, effective and long-term strategy that emphasizes the training of people over the production of projects.
We are attracting attention because we are seeking to engage the culture as our own -- instead of rejecting it and cursing it, which has been the strategy of many Christians towards media since at least the sexual revolution.
We aren't trying to fix Hollywood. We are just a group of artists who want to represent our worldview in the mainstream. We want to make the movies we want to see, and we will. We are attracting attention because we are pretty much the Church's only game in town that is trying to do what we are doing.
Q: What advice do you have for Christian artists and writers who are seeking mainstream jobs in and outside of Hollywood?
Nicolosi: For the writers, the best advice I can give is to apply to Act One. It is a very competitive program and if you get in, it will be a sign that you have talent and potential. For those who want to be actors, producers and directors, I would encourage them to aspire to mastery of their particular craft.
Too many people come to Hollywood and focus prematurely on getting an agent and breaking in. The first step to breaking in is to have something to market that people will want. It has to be more than just talent -- although minimally you have to have talent to work in this field.
It is unfortunate we don't have any film schools in the Church that are competitive with the best secular schools. Going to one of the top film schools is a tremendous advantage, but they also tend to be bastions of Marxism and the most radical left-wing agendas. It's a hard call as to whether it is worth it to go to learn your craft at a place where everything you believe will be fodder for professorial ridicule.
On another level, anyone who comes to Hollywood should have their spiritual act together. This is a very difficult place to make your living, primarily because it is so dependent on being an entrepreneur. Everyone who is working is thinking of the next thing they will have to sell. Everyone who isnt working is trying to get somebody to buy from them.
This turns every relationship into some kind of transaction. It adds a rejection factor to the everyday life here that most people outside of the business dont experience in a decade of work. Finally, this is a thoroughly secular environment in which many of the operative values -- power, celebrity, Mammon -- are completely antithetical to the Gospel. You have to have a close personal relationship with Jesus and a strong sense of vocation to weather this mission field.
Q: In what ways have you seen Christians influence Hollywood?
Nicolosi: There aren't a lot of happy, committed Christians in places of real power in Hollywood who can green light or approve what goes on the screen. But there are a lot of people on the front lines who go to work every day and find clever and creative ways to keep damaging content off the screen. These are victories known only to God.
In the last five years, the landscape has really started to change -- probably mostly because people in the arts seem to have exhausted themselves with unbelief. Also, Christians are approaching the industry with a much more patient and effective strategy. Act One is part of that. Our students and faculty members are a wonderful new network that will only continue to grow in influence in the future.
Our goal is to form a community of talented artists whose first witness will be to their fellow artists in showing that holiness of life is not incompatible with excellence of craft and depth of content.
Many Christians believe that if you are popular with the culture at large (or even worse if the art elite love your work) then you must not be doing God's will. It used to be that the best artists were sponsered by the Church and their masterpieces ornamented the great sites of worship. Now if you hang a Kinkaid painting in the lobby your church is "artsy".
Movies are probably the most extreme example of this. There are some really talented Christian actors, but much fewer talented Christian directors, producers, and crew members of major studio quality.
My big hope is that Gibson's Icon Productions and Jackson's new Weta shop can be open areas outside of the Hollywood machine where Christians can ply their trade. I don't think a movie a month about some biblical figure needs to be made, but there are many, many more screenplays that are better and more uplifting than half the movies that lose money for the studio nowadays.
Seems that Mel Gibson has done something excellent as explained below.
Listen to an expert and then you be the judge.
Keith A Fournier is a constitutional lawyer and a graduate of the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University, Franciscan University and the University of Pittsburgh. He holds degrees in philosophy, theology and law. He has been a champion of religious liberty and appeared as co-counsel in major cases at the United States Supreme Court.
He is the author of seven books and, along with his law practice, serves as the president of both the "Your Catholic Voice Foundation" and "Common Good." Here is what he had to say after viewing Mel Gibson's movie "The Passion".
I really did not know what to expect. I was thrilled to have been invited to a private viewing of Mel Gibson's film "The Passion," but I had also read all the cautious articles and spin. I grew up in a Jewish town and owe much of my own faith journey to the influence. I have a life long, deeply held aversion to anything that might even indirectly encourage any form of anti-Semitic thought, language or actions.
I arrived at the private viewing for "The Passion", held in Washington D.C., and greeted some familiar faces. The environment was typically Washingtonian, with people greeting you with a smile but seeming to look beyond you, having an agenda beyond the words. The film was very briefly introduced, without fanfare, and then the Room darkened. From the gripping opening scene in the Garden of Gethsemane, to the very human and tender portrayal of the earthly ministry of Jesus, through the betrayal, the arrest, the scourging, the way of the cross, the encounter with the thieves, the surrender on the Cross, until the final scene in the empty tomb, this was not simply a movie; it was an encounter, unlike anything I have ever experienced.
In addition to being a masterpiece of film-making and an artistic triumph, "The Passion" evoked more deep reflection, sorrow and emotional reaction within me than anything since my wedding, my ordination or the birth of my children. Frankly, I will never be the same.
When the film concluded, this "invitation only" gathering of "movers and shakers" in Washington,D.C. were shaking indeed, but this time from sobbing. I am not sure there was a dry eye in the place. The crowd that had been glad-handing before the film was now eerily silent. No one could speak, because words were woefully inadequate. We had experienced a kind of art that is a rarity in life, the kind that makes heaven touch earth.
One scene in the film has now been forever etched in my mind. A brutalized, wounded Jesus was soon to fall again, under the weight of the cross. His mother had made her way along the Via Della Rosa. As she ran to him, she flashed back to a memory of Jesus as a child, falling in the dirt road outside of their home. Just as she reached, to protect him from the fall, she was now reaching to touch his wounded adult face. Jesus looked at her with intensely probing and passionately loving eyes (and at all of us through the screen) and said, "Behold, I make all things new." These are words taken from the last book of the New Testament, the Book Of Revelations. Suddenly, the purpose of the pain was so clear and the wounds, that earlier in the film had been so difficult to see in His face, His back, indeed all over His body, became intensely beautiful. They had been borne, voluntarily, for love.
At the end of the film, after we had all had a chance to recover, a Question and answer period ensued. The unanimous praise for the film, from a rather diverse crowd, was as astounding as the compliments were effusive. The questions included the one question that seems to follow this film, even though it has not yet even been released: "Why is this film considered by some to be "anti-Semitic?" Frankly, having now experienced (you do not "view" this film) "The Passion," it is a question that is impossible to answer. A law professor whom I admire sat in front of me. He raised his hand and responded, "After watching this film, I do not understand how anyone can insinuate that it even remotely presents that the Jews killed Jesus. It doesn't." He continued, "It made me realize that my sins killed Jesus." I agree. There is not a scintilla of anti-Semitism to be found anywhere in this powerful film. If there were, I would be among the first to decry it. It faithfully tells the Gospel story in a dramatically beautiful, sensitive and profoundly engaging way. Those who are alleging otherwise have either not seen the film or have another agenda behind their protestations. This is not a "Christian" film, in the sense that it will appeal only to those who identify themselves as followers of Jesus Christ. It is a deeply human, beautiful story that will deeply touch all men and women. It is a profound work of art. Yes, its producer is a Catholic Christian and thankfully has remained faithful to the Gospel text; if that is no longer acceptable behavior, then we are all in trouble. History demands that we remain faithful to the story, and Christians have a right to tell it. After all, we believe that it is the greatest story ever told and that its message is for all men and women. The greatest right is the right to hear the truth.
We would all be well advised to remember that the Gospel narratives, to which "The Passion" is so faithful, were written by Jewish men who followed a Jewish rabbi, whose life and teaching have forever changed the history of the world. The problem is not the message, but those who have distorted it and used it for hate, rather than love. The solution is not to censor the message, but rather, to promote the kind of gift of love that is Mel Gibson's film making masterpiece, "The Passion". It should be seen by as many people as possible. I intend to do everything I can to make sure that is the case. I am passionate about "the Passion." You will be, as well. Don't miss it!
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