This spring, Act One is offering its world-class screenwriting course online. Over the course of 10 weeks, writers can immerse themselves in 40 plus hours of video courses, Skype group writing sessions, and interactive one-on-one exercises with a skilled master teacher. Our goal: to launch you on the path of becoming a top-notch screenwriter.
The program kicks off February 19 with a 3-day intensive writing workshop in Hollywood, California. Students will sit with Hollywood screenwriters, producers, and executives and engage in high-level discussions on film, story, faith and contemporary culture. Lectures and workshops will focus on the vision and creativity needed to succeed in today’s Industry. Participants will leave spiritually challenged and refreshed, ready to dive into the 10-week video-based, online courses running the week of March 2 through the week of May 4.
We are seeing amazing things come out of our online program. Here is what one alum had to say:
“Here’s my story… I left in the personal parts because they’re true. I was truly, truly blessed this summer to be part of act one and welcomed into the family of this amazing program…You guys were a life saver for me in a difficult time where the grief of losing my mom could have easily brought me to a dark place where I gave up my passion and dreams of writing for television, for good. Getting accepted into act one and taking part of the writing program this summer gave me hope, took my writing to the next level, and allowed me to get a glimpse of Hollywood. It also brought wonderful new friends into my life…All through act one. God is doing so much more through this program, this beacon of light than just reaching Hollywood, He’s doing a deep work in the people He chooses to take part of the program. For that, I say: thank you.” – Joey C.
Right now, Act One is offering a discounted rate on the tuition. Apply by January 30, get accepted and pay the tuition in full by February 10, and you will get $250 off the current rate. On top of that, the registration fee is waived.
“If you were to walk into an Act One class, it wouldn’t feel any different than being at UCLA or USC. But from a Christian perspective, it’s a community where people can think out loud.” –Kurt Schemper, Emmy Award-winning Act One Alumnus
“Whoever tells the best story shapes the culture. Act One is training Christian writers and producers to be the very best.” –David McFadzean, Act One Faculty, Co-Creator, Home Improvement with Tim Allen
Troubling documentary to release online February 25, 2014
The amazing true story of how a visual special effects company can win an Oscar and go bankrupt in the same month.
“This is no small shop: Rhythm and Hues created VFX last year for effects-heavy teen fare including The Hunger Games and Snow White and The Huntsman, and employed 568 people across five nations on Life of Pi alone.”
Note: Ron Austin wrote for the original Mission: Impossible TV series, as well as many other successful shows and was a key intellectual architect in the shaping of the Act One screenwriting program in Hollywood. This article is a revised version of an address to an Act One conference held at Hollywood Presbyterian Church nearly a decade ago. His wisdom seems as timely now as it was then.
There has always been a Christian presence in Hollywood. In the so-called golden age, the thirties and forties, a Christian sensibility was clearly evident in the films of John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, and Frank Capra—to name only the most prominent examples. There were also stars whose professional personae reflected spiritual values, such as Irene Dunne and Loretta Young. I once had the pleasure of introducing my late friend, Father Ellwood “Bud” Kieser, to an audience as “the best known Catholic priest in Hollywood since Bing Crosby.” Bud liked that. Crosby and others such as Pat O’Brien had that kind of positive image.
Later, the countercultural generation of the late sixties and seventies evinced suspicion of all institutions, especially of organized (that is to say, traditional) religion. The dissatisfied and rebellious baby boomers eventually became, and to some extent remain, dominant in Hollywood. Though now they are the establishment, they retain much of their anti-authoritarian posture.
To speak, as many do, of an antagonism between Christianity and a Hollywood establishment is misleading. As I see it, the rift that emerged in those years reveals tensions between Christianity and much of popular culture itself. Hollywood has unquestionably played a role, but the roots of the conflict go deeper.
While Hollywood ‘s subculture has become more open to spiritual values during the last decade, it bears a residual suspicion of religion in general and of Christianity in particular. Many Christians working or trying to work in the entertainment industry encounter some degree of prejudice. Based on personal experience over a half-century in Hollywood, I have theories about the sources of this conflict. Since I’m not a historian or a sociologist, to explain, I must employ the skills I’ve acquired during my years in what we locals call, with revealing provinciality, “the industry.”
I’m going to frame this problem by recasting it as a dramatic conflict between two characters, a Christian and a Hollywood skeptic. Reverting to my previous roles, I’ll treat the conflict as if I were a screenwriting teacher or a producer helping a writer to develop a script.
Two Views of Story
At the outset, we must recognize a built-in tension not unrelated to the story itself. Since the age of classical Greek theater, there have been two tendencies in drama: the Platonic and the Aristotelian. (I call them tendencies because these are not strict categories.) The Platonic tendency, which is attractive to religious people, prefers drama to be a kind of model for behavior or guide to morals. As such, Platonic drama tends to be more ideal than real. Good is represented by the protagonist, and evil, or something akin to evil, by the antagonist. This useful, time-honored approach has produced some of Hollywood ‘s best films. Ford and Capra, for example, often presented idealized heroes who struggled against corrupt villains. The Western genre is rooted in such mythic characterizations.
The other tendency, dominant in modern drama since Ibsen, Shaw, and Chekhov, has a different goal. It may offer some moral instruction, but its primary aim is to achieve what Aristotle called catharsis, a purgation of emotions. This more subjective process leads us into our own inner conflicts. Such a drama allows us, through the relative safety of art, to explore our own fears and desires. Through our identification with the characters, this process purges our hidden, primal feelings, or at least brings them forth so that we might confront them. At its best, this purgation leads to insight, but it does not necessarily offer a clear moral message.
Christians have tended to be more comfortable with Platonic dramas. You often hear religious commentators criticize what seem to them excesses of the Aristotelian tendency: “Why do you want us to see such ugly things?” they ask. Or, “Why do you have to use such bad language?” They are asking, not unreasonably, for a story that presents a model of good behavior, particularly for a young audience. What they don’t understand is that Aristotelian drama needs to confront us with the ugly and unpleasant if it is to take us to those dark places requiring purgation.
As we can see, the two tendencies are often in conflict.
Two Views of Story
In the story I’m sketching now—of the rise of antipathy between the Christian and the secularist in Hollywood —the approach I propose is Aristotelian. I’m not going to offer a tale in which the Christian embodies virtue and the secularist corruption. I want real characters who will provoke us to explore our own inner lives. If we were to develop our story fully, these characters might each make good decisions and bad ones, behave honorably and deplorably. But we won’t get that far, at least not here.
In the initial stage of character development, our task is to allow the characters to grow, and so we must proceed without too much prior judgment. We don’t know where these characters are going to lead us.
As a producer or teacher, I try to guide scriptwriters toward the deepest levels of conflict in their stories, which means probing the unresolved tensions within each character. Writers know this process to be long, difficult, and painful, and I’ll abbreviate it here. In developing a character, a writer must first ask what the character wants, which usually has to do with what the writer wants. Much here depends on the writer’s capacity for self awareness. The process should eventually reach the point where the writer courageously addresses the deepest fears of the characters, which are closely related to his or her own concerns.
In a well-written script that deals with two characters in conflict, the story will explore more than the clash between the goals and desires of the characters, but will offer a more profound confrontation. A mature scriptwriter will look more deeply, working to figure out what each character finds in the other that is somehow missing in himself, what weakness or uncertainty. Usually it’s an unresolved inner conflict that, when triggered, is then projected onto the adversary. I call this mirroring.
Mirroring forms the basis of many classic genres. Take romantic comedy, for example (not farce, mind you, but comedy involving real character conflict). Our hero, though attracted to the heroine, finds himself troubled when faced with feminine traits like tenderness and sensitivity that are missing, or at least repressed, in himself. The man, confounded by having to grapple with this mirror of his missing traits, asks himself in ultimate frustration, “What does she want?” Or sometimes, “What do women want?” That he never fully grasps this provides the basis for comedy. Conversely, the woman, also sensing something missing, usually asks at some point, “Why doesn’t he understand how I feel?” because the man in a romantic comedy seldom does. These gender conflicts may be stereotypical, but they illustrate the process by which each character projects his or her inner conflict onto the other. This mirrored “battle of the sexes” has had audiences laughing since Aristophanes’ day, if not before.
Two Main Characters
I want to use the idea of mirroring to explore our two characters, the Christian and the Hollywood secularist. By a secularist, I mean someone who has not grown up in a religious tradition or (as is quite common in Hollywood) has rejected religion. I do not mean someone of another religious faith. In present-day Hollywood, the secularist is unlikely to hold an opposing ideology or even a fully coherent philosophy. Rather than creating a debate, I want to understand the source of the hostility between these characters. To do so, I must first explore the inner conflicts of each, which the characters project onto each other.
The Christian, I suspect from personal experience, will have at least two largely unresolved conflicts. From a historical point of view, these conflicts come out of the confrontation between Christianity and the Enlightenment that produced modern culture. Hollywood , in many ways, is the embodiment of the best and worst of modernity, both its freedom and its irresponsibility. I seldom defend Hollywood , but I will do so here on the basis of two of its ideals, personal freedom and inclusion, which I consider the gifts of modernity. These two principles, valued to the point of being absolute goods by the secularist, produce inescapable inner conflicts for the Christian. This is ironic since, however misapplied, these two ideals arise from the Christian gospel.
The concept of personal freedom is largely derived from the Judeo-Christian ideas of free will and the God-given dignity of the individual. For Christians, the Incarnation gives us our ultimate dignity, revealing the human as created in the image of God. Nonetheless, freedom presents us with a conflict. Our idea of freedom and its legitimate use differs from the secularist’s. For the Christian, freedom is not an absolute good in itself. Rather, freedom of intellect and conscience is a means of coming to the truth, a truth embodied by Jesus and expounded in the Gospels. As Christians, once we encounter that truth, we see that it has requirements, even commandments. It makes demands on us that may in fact limit the use of our freedom. We don’t have the liberty to create our own world. We discover truth; we don’t invent it. And once we discover it, we are bound by the limits it reveals.
This produces conflict, inwardly and in society. I’m not speaking abstractly: I often see this conflict acted out by aspiring Christian writers. Many feel restricted and inhibited, even afraid of their own freedom. They fear that freedom will lead them to areas that they would rather not explore, or possibly even to condemnation by their church. This anxiety prevents them from exploring those places that involve risk. As a result, there is, in our Christian character, a button to be pushed. We have a fear of misusing our freedom, and perhaps a deeper fear of exploring the dark places in ourselves. We know that we can use our faith as a defense against the harsher aspects of reality to which we feel vulnerable. All this plays into the secularist’s stereotype of believers as repressed, provincial, and inhibited people, afraid to confront the whole of life and hiding inside the church. As unfair as this caricature is, it hits a sore spot, touching on our inner fear and producing defensiveness and antagonism.
The Christian’s other unresolved inner conflict relates to the question of inclusion. In the West, the ideal of inclusion has been enshrined as an absolute good nearly as reverently as freedom. At the contemporary table, everyone is invited, and any hint of elitism or segregation is anathema. Society is hardly consistent in achieving this goal, but the effort is persistent. Again ironically, the compassionate inclusion of outsiders, of strangers and sinners, has its foundation in the scriptures and is at the heart of Christianity.
But this passionate secularist stance brings another Christian inner conflict to the surface. In the first place, we’re not moral relativists. To us, inclusion doesn’t mean condoning every behavior. For that matter, we don’t even believe that all religions or moral views are equal. We are capable of great respect for other faith traditions, but we don’t weigh them equal with the truth we receive from Christ. This is the hard truth of the matter, and we have to face it. Our necessary stubbornness on this question puts a high wall between secularists and ourselves.
We ask ourselves regretfully whether we must always be walled off from others. Or worse, we wonder if we are using our religious identity to keep a wall between ourselves and others. We’re not always sure, and at times we have to make difficult decisions. Again we find ourselves vulnerable to stereotype, this time of the small-minded, judgmental Christian. We may protest that this is unfair, but there is some truth in it. We Christians are, in too many ways, a divided people. We are also inclined to divide others into categories: good and bad, saved and damned. Within my own denomination, I often hear the question, “Well, what kind of a Catholic is he?” To be accepted, you need to perform a kind of ideological lodge handshake.
We have to be truthful. From the secular point of view, we are often a spectacle of division. This perception makes many of us uneasy, and it should, because we are called to be healers more than judges. We fear, however, that there is some truth in this perception, and again it makes us defensive. The walls that we would like to tear down become higher.
A Skeptical P.O.V.
Now that I have sketched the Christian character, let me turn to the Hollywood skeptic. Our secularist has his personal reasons for being critical of Christianity, still the most influential and hence intrusive religion in our society. But what are his unresolved conflicts? I’m going to explore just two.
To understand the first requires some historical perspective. When I was a young man in Hollywood some fifty years ago, religion in general and Christianity in particular weren’t so much denigrated as ignored. They were considered intellectually obsolete. I was a devout nonbeliever then and didn’t convert until my middle years. I was very much an adherent of the “progressive” culture of Hollywood in the forties, a time when strong ideological convictions about the direction of history were prevalent. There were, in other words, powerful rivals of Christianity that offered hope and even claimed some prophetic insight as to the future of humanity.
Left-wing politics were popular in Hollywood , including some undigested Marxism and other more benign forms of utopianism. The engine of history was to be driven by science and technology, and a perfected world was just around the corner. It may seem strange to the younger generation that such transparently naïve beliefs were once so prevalent, but they were. They’re not prevalent anymore. Nor does the promise of sexual liberation hold its previous appeal. In the 1940s, wealthy and successful people in Hollywood might go to their psychoanalysts almost daily, convinced that the Freudian liberation of the ego from the id would solve their problems. Later, in the sixties, a conviction prevailed that if we could just rid ourselves of sexual inhibitions, a new utopia would emerge.
Today, these rival pseudo-religions have failed, and Hollywood is at the center of the crisis of modernity. That is to say, a crisis of disbelief. This is not simply a turning away from traditional religion. That happened a generation ago. The modern crisis comes from the loss of belief in the alternatives to religious faith. There is a lot of noise in Hollywood about politics, particularly of the ultra-liberal variety, but what I hear in that noise is the clamor of those who would drown out their despair. With a handful of idealistic exceptions, few in Hollywood believe any longer that politics can answer the frailties of the human condition. The less the belief, the more the noise.
And this is the secularist’s first unresolved conflict. It is revealed whenever he confronts anyone with a strong belief system. Any person who has a passionate faith that endows him or her with confidence or hope in the future will push this button. This secular character is needled by an ongoing crisis of disbelief in the same way that the Christian is needled by an unresolved ambivalence toward personal freedom. The secularist’s problem is what to do with the freedom that he’s made an absolute good. Does freedom point to anything beyond itself? Does it mean anything? Does it lead anywhere? Simply to encounter a person who has a confident and coherent belief in a reality beyond individual will triggers a great deal of anxiety and antagonism in the modern skeptic.
The other emotional trigger for the secular character goes to his most crucial conflict: the cross. The belief that suffering has meaning, whether or not we comprehend it, is for the nonbeliever the most objectionable of Christian tenets. Chateaubriand said that the genius of Christianity was in its use and transformation of suffering. The path of Jesus requires faith that there is redemption in suffering. It is the path we must take if we are to follow Jesus through Good Friday to the Easter Resurrection. Suffering is at the heart of our Christian identity. For the secularist, deprived of the structure of belief, suffering is something to be avoided at all costs.
At times, however, the secularist senses that all this running from suffering is futile. Worse still, he fears that he may be running from a path of salvation. If only he could stop running and turn around. Even a momentary consideration of this possibility can produce great anxiety and confusion. It’s terrible to fear that the thing you’ve spent your life running from, once confronted, could have answered your life’s most important questions. This unresolved fear produces antagonism toward the Christian, and in reaction, the secularist paints the Christian as a masochist, even a sadist, clearly no fun at all.
The Beginning of an Ending
In an Aristotelian work, these mutual provocations, arising from the unreconciled conflicts within two characters, point us toward a possible story. I would hope that this particular story might reach a level where the conflicts could be better understood and might even induce compassion. I’m not sure where our story is going to go, but maybe this character analysis suggests an ending, or the beginning of an ending.
If this script is to have any significance, it needs to move toward mutual acceptance. One of the characters must move the story forward by taking the initiative and reaching out to the other, and I think it must be the Christian. The secularist, even with the best of intentions, lacks a strong motivation to do so. The confident humanist of the past, simply out of good will, might have made a move toward reconciliation. He might have felt that the Christian could be liberated by the historical forces in which the humanist had such strong faith. But given today’s prevailing skepticism, there’s little in the present-day secularist’s outlook to motivate him to act beyond self interest or self defense. It will be up to the Christian to risk lowering his defenses, admitting his uncertainties, and opening himself to the secularist’s mirrored fears. He must do this without an agenda, without preaching, and without trying to win. If he can truly make himself one with his secular adversary, he will necessarily begin to face his own inner struggles.
Some interesting drama might result. Roles might be reversed, and both characters might be illuminated. The best realized ending would be when the Christian begins to see Jesus in the other, the Jesus in both of them—the same Jesus who is suffering within each of us. This ending might provide real hope for both characters.
For many readers of this journal, the character I’ve been calling the Christian is we ourselves. And if this story has worked, it will provoke some questions for us. For one, are we free and courageous enough to open ourselves to the suffering of our non-believing adversary? Doing so requires confronting our own unresolved inner conflicts, and perhaps much more.
I think the creative process requires that we do this if we are to write honest scripts and make good films. But, whether or not we’re making films, this is what Jesus and the Gospels ask of us.
Ron Austin, a Hollywood writer and producer for over fifty years, is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science, and the Directors Guild. A former member of the board of directors of the Writers Guild of America, he is the recipient of a Guild award for lifetime achievement award. He is a founding member of Catholics in Media as well as the Chairman of the Windhover Forum, a non-profit Catholic educational foundation. Ron is a Fellow at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology and author of “In a New Light: Spirituality and the Media Arts” (2006) and “Peregrino: A Pilgrim Journey into Catholic Mexico” (2010). His essays on the relationship of faith and the media arts are in the anthologies Behind the Screen and Things of Heaven and Earth, and his autobiographical account of Christian-Jewish relationships in Hollywood, Star Crossed, will be published by Eerdmans early next year. (Source: DSPT website.)
The premier training program for filmmakers of faith pursuing careers in mainstream Hollywood
“Act One’s Producing Program understands that apprenticeship is vital in Hollywood. Students are exposed to working producers and executives not only in the classroom, but through hands-on internships as well. If you’re looking for an immersive learning experience, go through the Producing Program!”
– Dan Lin, Act One Faculty and Producer of Sherlock Holmes, Terminator Salvation andThe Gangster Squad
Are you serious about becoming a better filmmaker? A better writer or producer? Then spend this summer with the premier training program for Christians pursuing a career in mainstream Hollywood.
Located in the heart of Hollywood, Act One offers a variety of programs and services designed to develop artistry, professionalism, meaning and Christian Spirituality — all while fostering connection to, and fellowship with, a vibrant community within the entertainment industry.
Through mentoring and workshops, Act One provides writers with a strong foundational understanding of the entertainment industry, the art and ethics of storytelling, and the realities of living a life of faith in Hollywood. A mentored spiritual formation group experience galvanizes a life of faith while students master the business and craft of storytelling for the global audience. Courses range from 1 week to 14 months and are taught by industry professionals who literally step off studio lots to teach.
This June, Act One is launching their first online screenwriting program, as well as their summer writing workshop.
2012 SUMMER WRITING WORKSHOP
The Workshop is a series of intensive lectures and workshops focused on the craft of screenwriting, coupled with rigorous writing exercises and individualized weekly feedback on your work from a Hollywood professional. The Workshop kicks off with an allinclusive retreat in the beautiful hills of Malibu, CA, setting you in the midst of Hollywood screenwriters, producers, and executives who will engage you in high-level discussions on film, story, faith and contemporary culture. Classes then move to Hollywood and are taught by top-level, working writers and producers who often step off the studio lots to come teach at Act One. Curriculum includes classes and assignments on structure, character, dialogue, writing for television, the spiritual journey of a writer, screenings, Q&A sessions with filmmakers, and much more.
Kick-Off Retreat: June 11th – June 15th, 2012 (Monday through Friday, 9am to 9pm. All-inclusive and overnight)
Saturday Workshops: June 16th – August 25th, 2012 (Classes are held on Saturdays from 9am to 5pm)
Act One provides a strong foundational understanding of the entertainment industry and real-world experience through interships, workshops, and networking. A mentored spiritual formation group experience galvanizes a life of faith while students master the business and craft of filmmaking for the global audience. Courses range from 2 weeks to 14 months and are taught by industry professionals who literally step off studio lots to teach.
This June, Act One offers a summer long program complete with an industry internship.
SUMMER WORKSHOP & INTERNSHIP
Dip your toe in the water or dive right in, as this summer program is the foundation for launching your career.
The Workshop is a series of intensive lectures, discussions and Q&As designed to offer a comprehensive overview of everything a producer or executive needs to know to fast track their career. We kick things off in the beautiful hills of Malibu, CA with an all inclusive, 5-day Retreat that is filled with foundational classes on story, the intersection of faith & film, and the spiritual journey of a Christian in the entertainment industry. For the rest of the summer, classes are held on Saturdays in Hollywood and are taught by top producers and executives working in the industry. Curriculum includes film-finance, creative development, production, marketing, distribution and exhibition.
The Workshop is supplemented with an entertainment-industry Internship at a production company, agency, marketing firm, television network or film studio. Internships are tailored to your career goals and can range from five days a week to just one.
Kick-Off Retreat: June 11th – June 15th, 2012 (Monday through Friday, 9am to 9pm. All-inclusive and overnight)
Saturday Workshops: June 16th – August 25th, 2012 (Classes are held on Saturdays from 9am to 5pm)
Internship: Throughout the summer – anywhere from 1 to 5 days a week, depending on student’s availability
“Every great production starts with the writer. Writers who are interested in the craft of writing should start with Act One!”
– Ralph Winter, Act One Faculty, Executive Producer, Wolverine, X-Men, and Fantastic Four
What happens when you mix Hollywood, the local church and academia? Few would imagine such a concoction, but that amazing mix of influences is what makes up Gary Stratton’s world. As university professor turned Hollywood mentor and consummate advocate for the local church in Hollywood, Gary is On Call in Culture in a fascinating place. When we asked him what he would say if someone at a party asked him what he does, he laughed and gave a humorous response, “I am a college professor that uses the academy to support my Hollywood habit.”
Gary first moved to Hollywood to serve as Executive Director of Act One, a nonprofit that trains Christians to be On Call in Culture in the world of Hollywood. He described Act One’s role this way, “It is a dynamic community of filmmakers who are serious about four things; becoming great artists, and excellent professionals, while creating meaningful film and television by the power of the Holy Spirit!”
While at Act One, Gary and his wife Sue (also a college professor) realized that too many filmmakers of faith were failing to make it in Hollywood, not because they didn’t have the talent, character and calling required for the industry, but because they didn’t have the spiritual and financial support they needed to make the lengthy and arduous transition from amateur filmmakers to professionals who can support themselves in the industry.
Gary and Sue are now helping foster three new projects to help meet these needs: First, to help young artists and intellectuals interact and find the counsel they need to “re-imagine” faith and culture for a new generation, they created an online community TwoHandedWarriors.com.
Third, Gary and Sue helped establish the Hollywood “Bezalel Initiative.” Named after the first Holy Spirit anointed artist and teacher in the Bible (Exodus 35:30-34), Bezalel is a think tank of filmmakers, educators, and philanthropists, seeking new ways to identify, train, mentor, and fund young filmmakers of faith at younger and younger ages. Stratton says, “We want to help find, train, and fund high school filmmakers to get into the best film schools in the world, as well as help college and twenty-something filmmakers get the mentoring and patronage they need to create their first projects.”
For instance, a group of Act One graduates won this years’ Doritos one million dollar prize for the best commercial Super Bowl (Sling Baby). Gary gave the church a challenge:
“While it is exciting they won, the Frito Lay corporation shouldn’t be the only place young Christian filmmakers can go to get a million dollars to support their development as artists. We should be able to find that patronage in the church. Some of the best art in history was created when the church was serious about patronage—so that artists will have the time and resources to make art instead of working at Starbucks and pursuing their calling in their spare time.”
Stratton says, “We are trying to identify what it looks like to grow from an amateur, to a professional, to an industry leader in Hollywood; find the barriers that people face when going from step to step; and then create infrastructure to help people make those transitions.”
Gary shared how many Christians are now acting, directing or participating in the creation of the television and movies that we consume. But that doesn’t mean we will have more Christian movies and television shows. Instead Gary talked about how Christians make a difference in subtle ways in the mainstream entertainment industry. For instance, Act One graduates are now winning Emmy Awards and writing for some of the top television shows, and were involved in helping bring The Blind Side, The Book of Eli, and 2012 Academy Award winner, The Artist, to the big screen. Stratton exhorts, “There is nothing wrong with making ‘Christian Films,’ for the church community, we just need to be realistic that such efforts won’t help us be salt and light in a secular society. We can’t sell ourselves short in our belief that the Holy Spirit can empower us to make some of the greatest films, television shows, web series, and video games in the world, and be good citizens and loving neighbors in the industry in the process.”
We asked Gary to share about what being On Call in Culture meant to him. He focused on the idea of connections,
“Being On Call means connecting things that sadly have not been connected for at least a generation. The church has been very insular. Training in the church has focused on training people to serve in the church. A leader in the church is defined as someone who is investing in church programs.
If you are in a culture war mentality then you build the walls high. The world is every bit as much in the Church as it is in the culture. We need a more Jeremiah 29 approach, where people are functioning for the Shalom, common good and prosperity of the cities where we have been carried into exile. Christians either ignore or curse Hollywood. But God wants us to bless it. Like Joseph in Egypt, Esther in Susa, and Daniel in Babylon, God is calling us to be faithfully present, and pray for the welfare of our city.”
Dr. James Hunter describes that faithful presence in To Change the World and it is a powerful way to define being On Call in Culture. Gary believes that our daily actions should create culture rather than react to it. He spoke about the Christian’s role in forming culture, “The best part of Andy Crouch’s book [Culture-Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling] is that we need to be about making culture rather than transforming culture. Transforming culture can become derivative rather than original.”
Gary uses the example of Bezalel in the Old Testament (Exodus 31) to illustrate. Bezalel was filled with the Spirit for artistic craftsmanship and for creating a teaching community. Gary explains, “Your heroes control your culture. We have not celebrated that the Spirit of God was in the artist who worked on the temple. Bezalel and the guys working under him were culture makers. They weren’t trying to redeem Egyptian culture or the culture of Canaan. They were making culture. They were starting with the theological premise and creating things with goodness, beauty and truth and bringing the presence of God into that broader community.”
He explains how the root of the word culture is “cult” worship and that anthropologists realized that what a given society worshiped is what shaped the entire society. The foundational stories (i.e. their creation myth) are what shape the culture. “The church just abdicated that; arguably since the Reformation. Kuyper was a good example of someone trying to push back against that.”
So are you open to being On Call in Culture in places like Hollywood? How are you and your faith community supporting artists who have the gifts and talents to make quality TV and movies? Maybe a good place to start is by connecting with Act One!
One of Hollywood’s greatest ‘stars’ is promoted to the heavens
“Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the heavens as you hold out the word of life—in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing.
by Gary David Stratton • Senior Editor
Jack Gilbert, beloved Act One Faculty Member and legendary Young Life leader went into the presence of the Lord this evening. A virulent pneumonia attack seriously damaged his lungs resulting in irreparably low blood oxygen levels.
Jack devoted his entire life to mentoring and teaching the next generation. As a Young Life leader in Ohio, Jack helped lead innumerable high school students to faith. Best-selling author Kelly Monroe Kullberg (Finding God at Harvard) writes:
“Jack was one of the Ohio youth group leaders who led me to Christ. Many can say the same thing of him. We love him dearly.”
In Hollywood, Jack served as the Director of the Warner Bros. Writers Workshop, perhaps the entertainment industry’s most prestigious writing program, and taught screenwriting at numerous colleges, including: Regent University (VA), Azusa Pacific University (CA), Columbia College (IL), and The Los Angeles Film Study Center. Jack was instrumental in establishing the Premise prayer gatherings, and Act One’s TV Track Writing Program that placed many writers in network writing workshops and television shows.
Jack worked for me while I was Executive Director at Act One, but he is the one who has mentored me over the past four years. In our ongoing long lunches at Sharky’s Mexican Grill at Hollywood and Cahuenga (Jack is on a first name basis with everyone there) he never ceased to amaze me with insight into life in Christ, and what it takes to make it as a Christian in the entertainment industry.
While he was never shy when it came to complaining about a poorly written script, Jack was a true peacemaker at heart. In a Hollywood community that seems to relish dishing on one another at will, I never heard Jack say a negative word about anyone… ever! His faith and faithfulness have been an inspiration to everyone who knew him.
In a very dark town, Jack blazed like a star as he held forth the word of life.
Janet Batchler, who was with Jack nearly this entire week gave this loving tribute our Casablanca-loving friend:
“There is a hole in the universe tonight.
RIP, Jack Arthur Gilbert. March 6, 1950 – March 26, 2012.
Well done, good and faithful servant.
Jack was our best friend, he was our best man, he was our children’s godfather. I cannot imagine a world without him.
Here’s looking at you, kid.”
Hollywood weeps tonight, but the angels in heaven are rejoicing for the life of this truly remarkable man.
“Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of one of his saints.” -Psalms 116:15
UPDATE: Jack’s Memorial Service. is scheduled for Saturday, May 12, 11:00 a.m., at Bel Air Presbyterian Church, 16221 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles 90049. All are invited.
One of Hollywood’s Brightest Lights Needs Your Prayers
“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.”
Beloved Act One Resident Faculty Member and Two Handed Warrior contributor, Jack Gilbert is fighting for his life tonight. A virulent pneumonia attack has seriously damaged his lungs resulting in dangerously low blood oxygen levels.
Jack has devoted his entire life to mentoring and teaching the next generation. As a Young Life leader in Ohio, Jack helped lead innumerable high school students to faith. Best-selling author Kelly Monroe Kullberg (Finding God at Harvard) writes: “Jack was one of the Ohio youth group leaders who led me to Christ. Many can say the same thing of him. We’re praying in Ohio and around the nation. We love him dearly.”
In Hollywood, Jack served as the Director of the Warner Bros. Writers Workshop, the entertainment industries most prestigious writing program, and now teaches screenwriting at colleges such as Regent University (VA), Azusa Pacific University (CA), and Columbia College (IL). Jack was instrumental in establishing Act One’s TV Track Writing Program that has placed many writers in network writing workshops and television shows.
Jack worked for me while I was Executive Director at Act One, but he is the one who has mentored me. In our still ongoing long lunches at Sharky’s Mexican Grill (Jack is on a first name basis with everyone there), Jack never ceases to amaze me with insight into life in Christ, and what it takes to make it as a Christian in the entertainment industry. In a Hollywood community that seems to relish dishing on one another at will, I have never heard Jack say a negative word about anyone. His faith and faithfulness have been an inspiration to everyone who knows him.
Now, we are in danger of losing this beloved man of God. As of this afternoon, Jack’s condition continues to deteriorate. Janet Scott Batchler, who first insisted Jack go to the hospital and has overseen his care ever since, reports: “Jack’s oxygen numbers continue to drop, even since this morning, even after they went to the next level of extreme measures. Without a miracle turnaround in his oxygen levels, there is little hope of his surviving much longer.” While Jack wins if he departs into the presence of his Savior, it is more necessary for the Hollywood community that he remains in the body. We don’t know how we could make it without him.
So please pray for Jack’s comfort and healing.
Update: Act One TV Writing Program Alum Mollie Bickley St John has organized a Facebook Prayer Group for Jack at 7PM this evening. Visit Pray for Jack Gilbert
Act One’s Latest Writing Program Promotional Video Features Jack
(Note: This interview was conducted before Hard Times‘ cancellation.)
I can only hope that Randy Elrod‘s posts on edgy artists helped prepare you for today’s interview with Kevin Chesley, screen and television writer extraordinaire. Kevin’s current assignment is writing for MTV’s hit series The Hard Times of RJ Berger, whose Season 2 Premier is TONIGHT at 11pm.
MTV.com describes The Hard Times of RJ Berger as orbiting the “hilariously-hellish lives of a deeply unpopular fifteen year-old (Paul Iacono) and his scheming, sex-obsessed best friend, Miles Jenner (Jareb Dauplaise).
Other than pining after the girl of his dreams, Jenny Swanson (Amber Lancaster), receiving daily beatings from the meanest jock in school, Max Owens (Jayson Blair), …there really isn’t much excitement in RJ’s life. That is, until his anatomical gift is accidentally exposed to the entire school.”
Yes, that is the show’s gimmick — the ultimate revenge of the nerds on the jock value system — and if your goal is to create a morality tale that reaches the youth demographic, then you have to say it works.
Warning: If you loved Rob and Laura Petrie’s twin beds in the The Dick Van Dyke Show, or thought Happy Days was racy, then you’re probably NOT part of the target audience for RJ Berger. (Uh… it follows MTV’s reality sensation Jersey Shore, so what does that tell you?)
Before getting his first staff writer position at MTV, Kevin sold short-form pieces to The Onion, Showtime, and National Lampoon and performed sketch comedy on stages like the UCB, Comedy Central Stage, and The Viper Room. He also directs The Apple Sisters – a live 1940’s radio show spoof currently in residency at Largo in Los Angeles.
Oh, and he’s also a new dad to the beautiful Lucy Chesley, thanks completely to his long-suffering and gorgeous wife, Heather. (Please pray for her.)
I asked Kevin if he would answer a few questions in honor of the season premier of RJ Berger tonight. He graciously agreed.
Voices from the Edge of Culture: Interview with Kevin Chesley
THW: What is the edgiest thing you’ve ever written, I mean besides RJ Berger?
KC: Just last year, the LA Times hired me to write a false cover for their newspaper featuring a hoax headline that described a city-wide attack by King Kong. (See story.)
THW:How did that go?
KC: Well, Universal Studios (who purchased the ad space) likened me to a 2010 Orson Welles.
KC: Yeah, but most readers dubbed me, “The End of Print Media”… which is probably why you’re writing this piece on the Internet.
THW:So that was your fault, huh?
THW:So, then, what is it like working on ‘The Hard Times of RJ Berger?’
KC: It wasn’t lost on me how apropos it was to be working my first staff job on a show about the travails of high school. While scripting the struggles of teens navigating the murky waters of early adulthood, sexuality, and identity – I was also getting my first taste of catering to network notes, plotting episodes, and just all around trying to not look like an idiot.
THW: How did that part go? I mean, not looking like an idiot?
KC: Not so well.
THW:Tonight is the Season Two premier. What was it like getting ready for a second season?
KC: Some of the work I did on Season Two was literally performed in a real high school cafeteria, breaking stories beneath paper banners announcing the theme of the next big school dance. It couldn’t have been a better setting to display the excitement and fears of dipping my toe into professional screenwriting for the first time.
KC: I haven’t been this psyched and bewildered since Freshman Year. Which, to beat an analogy to a bloody pulp, is almost exactly what I’m experiencing all over again.
THW:So who are the cultural influencers we should blame… uh, I mean, credit for making you the writer you are today?
KC: Wow! Let me think about that.
THW:Actually, I’m only giving you fifteen minutes to answer.
KC: That’s not a lot of time…
THW:The clock is running…
KC: (A look of deep concentration fills Kevin’s face, kinda like when Yoda raises Luke’s ship out of the swamp.) Ghostbusters, Roald Dahl, Pink Floyd’s “The Wall,” C.S. Lewis, The Goonies, Chris Claremont, Anne Lamott, Neil Gaiman, Star Wars (Episodes 4,5,6 only!), Led Zeppelin…
THW: Five minutes…
KC:(Sweat beings to trickle down Kevin’s brow.) Mary Poppins, Alan Moore, Monty Python, J.J. Abrams, H.P. Lovecraft!
KC: Wow! That happened really fast…
KC: There’s almost NO TV on there!
THW:How does that make you feel?
THW:Anything you want to retract?
KC: Looking back on it… No, that’s kind of right… that’s pretty much me… I’d better let you publish that before I start second-guessing everything.
THW:Wouldn’t want that now, would we?
Please join me in praying for Kevin and other two-handed warriors seeking to make a difference in a culture desperately in need of salt and light.
 The Hard Times of RJ Berger regular time slot is 10pm Monday nights.
“Rosario’s been shot!” Act One alum Chris Dyball cried into his phone as I struggled to take in his words. It was past midnight on my the midwest fundraising trip and my groggy mind could barely wrap my mind around the tragedy back in L.A.
Beloved Act One staff member Rosario Rodriguez had been shot in the chest at point blank range in an apparent gang initiation robbery gone wrong. As I frantically organized a response from 1500 miles away, I began to plead with God for Rosario’s life. Soon thousands more would join in intercession for Rosario.
At the time, none of us could have imagined the kind of miracle we were asking for.The survival rate for a victims of esophageal gunshot wounds is normally 0%.
Tonight, I am full of gratitude that the Lord so graciously answered the prayers of everyone calling out to Him on Rosarios’s behalf. As the full details of the shooting became known, we all began to fully appreciate what a miracle Jesus had performed.
I also vividly remember the night when the Act One staff accompanied Rosario as she went to the place of her shooting for the first time. I cannot fully explain why, but our prayer time together was one of the most sacred experiences of my life.
We all sensed that the enemy had tried to take Rosario’s life to prevent her from fulfilling her life calling. Yet we also saw so clearly that the Lord has spared her life because her calling was too crucial to the kingdom of God to bring her home just yet. Ironically, as Rosario continues her recovery, the shooting has opened avenues to fulfill her calling that none of us could have imagined.
Rosario is one of the most beautiful and courageous women of God I have ever met. Please read Rosario’s story and her sister’s two year anniversary memorial on Rosario’s blog The Shield About Me.
I can’t wait to see all that God will do in and through her in the years to come.
On June 29th, 2009 I was a victim of a robbery and was shot in the chest.
The doctors are calling me a miracle as the bullet missed my heart by 1 cm. My esophagus was hit by the bullet and severely damaged while fragments of the bullet hit both of my lungs.
It took 8 hours of intense surgery to repair my esophagus. The doctors placed two tubes in my right lung and one in my left to drain them after they collapsed.
My doctors and surgeons said I would spend at least two months in the hospital but thanks to the prayers from many around the world and by the Grace of God I was released only 10 days after the incident. I spent a month and a half recovering in LA where I had been living and my friends took very good care of me.
I have now flown home to west Michigan to stay with my family and am working my way to a full recovery, which will take about two years.
This blog follows my journey of recovery, the trial, whatever is going on in my life and whatever is on my mind. I hope you enjoy!
Thank you for all of your prayers and support… they are greatly needed & appreciated!
God is Sovereign!
A Day of Thanksgiving
Today is a day of thanksgiving, as well as reminiscing and contemplation. Today we remember how our lives, especially Rosario’s, changed for the better two years ago. Why for the better? Well, the outcome of the shooting on June 29, 2009 could have easily been for the worse. I don’t often think about how close we came to losing Rosario that day – it’s too heart-wrenching to dwell on – but the truth is Rosario could have died. But she didn’t. She didn’t. God, in his infinite mercy and wisdom, wasn’t quite finished with his beautiful vessel named Rosario. So He intervened and thus we find ourselves two years later celebrating the anniversary of Rosario’s second chance at life.
As many of you are aware, it has not been an easy life. Rosario’s physical recovery…
25% of prospective college students decide NOT TO APPLY to a given school simply because of a bad experience on the college’s Website. Is your school, non-profit, business, church, or blog facing the same issues?
The Chronicle of Higher Education recently noted Bethel University (where I teach) for our exemplary work in bringing our website into the 21st Century. Bethel’s Director of Web services, Michael Vedders, was instrumental in transforming our site from something, well, “horrible,” to “state-of-the-art,” and is quoted extensively in the article.
Having overseen the overhaul of Act One’s Website, I know this process is critical for the success of any organization. Great content is not enough. Without eye-catching visuals, and crystal clear organization users can’t find what they want quickly enough to stick around. Yet, I also knew how difficult and time-consuming it is to overhaul your site. Unless you’re convinced that it is worth the work-hours, technology costs, and consulting fees, you will never pay the price.
Josh Keller’s article in the Chronicle does a great job of spelling out what a life-or-death issue a Website overhaul can be. Noel-Levitz enrollment consulting firm discovered that “A quarter of prospective students decide not to apply to a college because of a bad experience on the college’s Website.” As Bethel’s Michael Vedders discovered in overhauling our website, “We spend a huge amount of time in higher ed maintaining content that has little return on investment.”
This is exactly what we discovered at Act One. We had AMAZING content—after all, we were founded as a screen writing organization—but no one was taking the time to read it. Web surfers hit our bewildering and, well, visually boring, front page and moved on.
I clearly remember the day we sat down as a staff and filled our white board with our “admissions funnel.” It was the beginning of a year-long redesign of our process of moving prospective students from curiosity to application.
It led to profound changes in our website. Thanks to the work of CNN En Espanol Anchor AnaMaria Montero, consultant Dorsey Dunn, Act One staffers Melissa Smith, and especially Genevieve Parker, we were able to greatly increase our Web presence and site effectiveness. We even had Madison Avenue execs calling to congratulate us! (Okay, they were also Act One alumni, but it still felt good.)
Whether you are leading a college, a nonprofit, a business, or a blog seeking greater web presence, odds are that you NEED to go through this painful Website overhaul process! The Chronicle of Higher Education article, and Video Interview with Bethel’s Michael Vedders below, do an excellent job of describing the “funneling” philosophy behind a website overhaul process. I highly recommend them!
Colleges Rehab Their Web Sites for Major Payoffs
Analytics tools, some colleges find, can transform ineffective pages into winners
By Josh Keller in The Chronicle of Higher Education
Colleges spend dearly to maintain vast, ever-expanding Web sites. They tweet. They blog. They podcast.
But most colleges have no idea just how much bad Web design can cost. Kafkaesque online forms and pages that nobody visits, for instance, can have disastrous effects: A quarter of prospective students decide not to apply to a college because of a bad experience on the college’s Web site.
That loss (documented in a survey of 1,000 high-school seniors conducted last year by Noel-Levitz, an enrollment consulting firm) can add up to a lot of money. “Generally, higher education hasn’t ever had to think about that before,” says Shelby Thayer, a Web strategist at Pennsylvania State University’s main campus. “How much does bad design cost us, and how much does good design save us?” As colleges do more crucial business online, “that’s kind of my burning question.”
For answers, a number of institutions, including Penn State, are now turning to Web analytics. Going far beyond superficial measures like counting visitors or hits on their Web sites, they track who their visitors are, what they are looking for, why they fail to find it, and—a crucial measure to gauge advertising spending—how much a successful Web visit is worth.
Many of the techniques, such as closely monitoring prospects, are standard practice on e-commerce Web sites and among for-profit colleges, but they are just gaining a foothold in most of higher education.
The Chronicle talked to officials at several colleges that have set up sophisticated analytics operations in admissions, audience tracking, and public relations. They warned that data can be misused, and collecting them can be hard because responsibility for college Web sites is often spread among departments. Plus, many goals in higher education—such as improving reputation—are not easily measured.
But the officials also said analyzing their Web data to drive online decisions brings enormous rewards. “We spend a huge amount of time in higher ed maintaining content that has little return on investment,” says Michael Vedders, director of Web services at Bethel University in Minnesota. Analytics has helped Bethel spend money in the right places, he says.
Mr. Vedders is blunt about Bethel’s old Web site: It looked horrible. But more important, the site for the liberal-arts college, in St. Paul, made it difficult for prospective students to find information that would encourage them to apply.
Many private universities spend upward of $2,000 to recruit each student who enrolls, and their Web sites often form prospective students’ first impressions. The critical path leading from prospect to applicant to paying student is known as the “admissions funnel,” and Mr. Vedders’s goal is to optimize it.
An analysis of Bethel’s Web data, drawn from Google Analytics, showed Mr. Vedders that the college’s funnel had some problem areas.
Emmy® and Golden Globe Award Nominee Sherry Stringfield and Danielle Panabaker Star in the Hallmark Channel Original Movie Chris adapted from Beverly Lewis’ best-selling novel.The Shunning is the retelling of some of the heartbreaking experiences of Lewis’ maternal grandmother in the Amish Community of the Old Order Mennonite Church.
In celebration of tomorrow night’s premiere of Beverly Lewis’ ‘The Shunning’ I asked Chris a few questions about the film and about the greatest influences on his life and his writing.
An Interview with TV and screenwriter Chris Easterly
THW: Yesterday Brian Bird told us how he specifically selected you to write the screenplay so he could keep his promise to his mentor, Michael Warren, to open doors for future writers. What was that like?
Chris Easterly: It was a great experiencing working for both Brian and director Michael Landon, Jr. They are pros at developing story, so I learned a lot from them.
THW: Like what?
CE: I remember they suggested one scene in particular, and in my naïveté, I thought it might not work. But after putting it in the script and seeing how it worked in the context of the whole movie, it really packed a strong emotional punch.
THW: What did you take away from that?
CE: (Laughs) It taught me I don’t know as much as I thought, or at least that my instincts aren’t always right!
THW: Okay, other than Brian and Michael, who are the people who have really influenced you? Let’s start with books.