“It’s a film that is not easily boxed into what has now become known as ‘faith-based,’” Oyelowo said. “Often, [in] films that have a faith element to them, the writing is sometimes substandard; they’re very heavy-handed from a [proselytizing] point of view.”
At times, it seems like religious films have become an entitlement program for former A-list actors who are low on work. September’s 90 Minutes in Heavennabbed Kate Bosworth, of early-aughts Blue Crush fame, and Hayden Christensen, who hasn’t done many big projects since he played baby Darth Vader in the last Star Wars reboots. Nicolas Cage joined the beloved-by-teens star Chad Michael Murray in Left Behind last fall. Exodus: Gods and Kings crammed in wasted speaking roles for Sigourney Weaver and John Turturro, and Heaven Is for Real featured Thomas Haden Church from Sideways and George of the Jungle.
Captive, however, is no retirement scheme. The film features David Oyelowo and Kate Mara, two actors near the top of their game: In 2014, he was nominated for a Golden Globe, and she an Emmy. The movie definitely has religious themes; it’s based on the true story of Ashley Smith, a single mother from Georgia who was taken hostage by a convict, Brian Nichols, after he escaped from jail and went on a shooting rampage. The two spend a night locked in her apartment, sometimes in conflict, sometimes talking about the meaning of life. By the end of the film, she has sworn off her addiction to meth, and he has effectively decided to turn himself in. As the real-life Ashley Smith said in an interview, “I honestly, that night, gave God every bit of me … God wanted me to lay down my garbage before him so he could turn it into something beautiful.”
At first glance, this would seem like a perfect movie to make for Christian America. But in interviews, both Oyelowo and the film’s screenwriter, Brian Bird, swore off the term “faith-based film.”
“It’s a film that is not easily boxed into what has now become known as ‘faith-based,’” Oyelowo said. “Often, [in] films that have a faith element to them, the writing is sometimes substandard; they’re very heavy-handed from a [proselytizing] point of view.”
Bird agreed. “There is sort of a faith-based filmmaking ghetto—a lot of the films are not up to par,” he said. “But people are so hungry for them that they’ll go plunk down their $10 for them and watch them. Our goal with Captive was to make a real movie.”
Brian Bird first posted this piece on his blog three weeks ago and seemed to have stirred up a few hornets. It resulted in several national radio interviews and he was even invited to take his opinions on this topic to Washington, D.C., where he met with a dozen members of Congress and their staffs to search for some solutions. It also ‘outed’ him as a sort of industry whistleblower. He asked if we would repost his original comments here.
Nobody asks us what we want to watch on TV. A tiny cabal of people in Hollywood just decide what they are going to offer us and hope we get addicted.
by Brian Bird • TV Writer-Producer
I woke up this morning to find this Hollywood Reporter article in my in-box. I thought I had stumbled onto a porn site. I actually won’t even repeat the headline. You can read it for yourself. But suffice to say, it’s time to take my own industry to the woodshed.
Apparently some of the broadcast TV networks and writer-producers have so much HBO envy that there are no envelopes they aren’t willing to push anymore. At Emmy time, the pay-cable networks seem take home most of the hardware for their public taste-challenging content. Remember, HBO’s branding slogan: “It’s not TV, it’s HBO.” Well, for a lot of the executives, buyers and content creators on broadcast TV, the way to cure your Envy-Green is go to Blue.
“This season, broadcast TV isn’t for the prudish. Nearly two months into the fall, it’s clear that explicit jokes and boundary-pushing storylines are changing the definition of what sexual content is acceptable in primetime.”
– Tim Winter, President, Parents Television Council
This is happening on the networks (CBS, NBC, Disney-owed ABC, and FOX) that people use to receive for free on their rabbit ears over the public airwaves, the same networks that used to be regulated by the Federal Communications Commission. But now, because we pay a few cents or dollars for their feeds on our cable or satellite bills every month, they are now considered Pay-TV. Hence, virtually no FCC oversight. That’s the marketplace at work. These very same broadcasters used to have robust “Standards and Practices” departments, sort of public interest firewalls which would encourage restraint and discretion on the parts of the writers, producers and production companies so as not to ambush family sensibilities. Apparently, these S & P execs, right along with the feeble FCC, have now gone AWOL.
The Frog in the Beaker
Okay, call me a prude. I’ve worked on family-themed films and TV shows for most of my career, including such series as Touched By An Angel, Step By Step and Evening Shade, and Michael Landon Jr. and I have a family-friendly series called When Calls the Heart currently in production of Season 2. I’ll wear the prude tag like a badge of honor because what we’re producing is not vanilla or “soft” as some in the industry might call it. It’s actually radical, revolutionary, counter-programming because very few others are actually producing content like this these days. Not that many years ago, all of the big networks competed with each other to put family-themed programming on TV every day of the week, but that’s not the case anymore. In fact, most people I know can’t name 10 shows on TV any longer that they can actually, safely watch with their families.
“I have no intention of changing what’s happening on Scandal… I look forward to being censored.” -Shondra Rhimes, Executive Producer
Remember the high school biology experiment where you put a frog in a beaker of room temperature water and then slowly heat up the brew over a Bunsen burner? The frog splashes about as it acclimates to the rising temperature.
Until it boils to death.
As the networks seem to be chasing pay-cable over the cliff into dark, depraved and perverse, could it be that we’re all boiling to death and we don’t even realize it?
The Big Cop Out
I’ve had conversations with some of my peers who work on what used to be called “10 o’clock programming” but which now pretty much rules the airwaves at all times of the day and night. They say they are just reflecting culture when they drop language bombs or feature ever-increasing sexual explicitness in their programs.
In my opinion, that’s horse-(language bomb) and an extraordinary cop out. They are not just reflecting culture; they are shaping it and leading it… right over that cliff. Media occasionally reflects, but it mostly teaches. And if that’s not so, how come advertisers spend 20 bazillion dollars a year to try to teach us to buy their products? If media doesn’t teach, persuade, shape or influence our behavior, that money would never be spent. Media creates culture.
Nobody asks us what we want to watch on TV. A tiny cabal of people in Hollywood just decide what they are going to offer us and hope we get addicted. The only measurement is how many eyeballs they can attract and hold onto week after week. It’s completely utilitarian thinking. The bottom line is money, and people’s values be damned. The question of whether or not it is good for culture is no longer a concern because the audience gets to decide what it likes or doesn’t like. What’s the difference between that and handing out crack cocaine on a street corner and then saying it’s up to us to be responsible crack-users?
Don’t get me wrong. I have watched and enjoyed many programs that I would never purposely invite my kids to watch. Some of the story telling, production values and insights into the human condition are phenomenal and worthy of viewing.
But where is the balance? With wall-to-wall adult-oriented programming and nothing for families, I fear for the future of our culture. I fear for my kids and the next generation, which is facing an unprecedented tsunami of desensitizing, over-sexualized, violent content.
What can we do about it? You can watch my show, When Calls the Heart, and if you enjoy it, let the powers that be know you want more family programming.
And if nothing else, at least take my Family TV Challenge: Name 10 current “scripted” shows on TV you can watch with your entire family (real estate, gardening and cooking shows don’t count). If you can name 10, them I’ll concede I’m just tilting at windmills. But if you can’t, I urge you to share your strong feelings with the switchboards at the networks and the advertisers who are spending a great deal money trying to lure your eyeballs.
Reflections on the Relaunch of Two Handed Warriors
Dear Two Handed Warrior Community,
When Sue and I first launched Two Handed Warriors eight months ago we never could have imagined how many people would connect with our theme. All we had was a deep conviction that an unnecessary dichotomy between faith and culture has plagues both the quality of life and overall effectiveness of an entire generation of leaders.
Leaders adept at culture-making—whether in Hollywood or the Ivy League—are rarely trained in the disciplines of faith-building; whereas leaders with strengths in faith-building—whether in a local congregation or an international relief agency–are rarely trained in the art of culture-making.
It is a dichotomy that not only creates glaring blind spots in our leadership (and personal lives), it also robs us of a vibrant conversation with other leaders from whom we have the most to learn.
We launched Two Handed Warriors in hopes that it would inspire an ongoing conversation among educators, filmmakers, business and spiritual leaders devoted to gaining expertise in BOTH faith-building and culture-making. Our hope was that (in time) such a conversation might help birth a movement of intellectuals, artists, leaders, and philanthropists who could redefine faith and culture for an entire generation.
Our hunch was that such a movement of experts in such diverse fields could be unified by developing a common “school of thought” centered on a deeper understanding of “the stories we live by” at the deepest level of our societal and personal worldviews. Or at least that story was one place where filmmakers and college professors, musicians and CEOs, scientists and pastors could meet as equals and develop a common language for tackling the reintegration of faith and culture in their own lives and in the organizations they lead.
On the one hand, THW has exceeded our wildest dreams. Readership has outstripped anything Sue and I could have imagined. On the other hand, THW still has a long way to go in fostering the kind of conversation we envisioned.
Toward that end we are going to try a few new strategies in this next year.
First, we’ll be hosting a series of face-to-face conversations among key leaders in variety of settings–Entertainment, Education, Ministry, etc.–to help better understand the unique issues facing leaders in each setting and (Lord willing) foster the kind of relationships required for a deeper ongoing conversation. (The next step will be cross-pollination meetings between leaders in different contexts.)
Second, we are going to accept some graciously offered help in upping our social media game. These experts tell us that we are seriously under utilizing Twitter and Facebook and have a very time-consuming email system. Please be patient with us as we try new things and let us now if they are helpful (or not). The goal is to build community, not annoy people.
Third, we are officially asking for help. We need to solidify our team of writers, editors, photographers, graphic designers, event planners, administrators, etc. If you have the time and talent we have the need. We’ve got some exciting new pieces and projects in the works, but with my sabbatical coming to an end, we need HELP bringing the website to print and peer group gatherings to reality!
Finally, we want to say thank you to everyone who helped get us this far. We never would have made it without the generous help of so many dear friends. We’d like to give special thanks to Margaret Feinberg, Scot McKnight, Mike Friesen, Dale Kuehne, Dave Schmelzer, Lem Usita, Cheryl McKay Price, Cathleen Falsani, Lauren Hunter, Dean Batali, Sheryl Anderson, Phil and Kathleen Cooke, Erik Lokkesmoe, Jessica Rieder, Michael Warren, Monica Macer, Kurt Schemper, Kevin Chesley, Korey Scott Pollard, John David Ware, Jenn Gotzon, Chris Armstrong, Ashley Arielle, Adam Caress, Dennis Ingolfsland, David Kinnaman, Jay Barnes, Ralph Enloe, McCoy Tyner, Chris Fletcher, Neal and Laurie Barton, Todd Burns, Chris Easterly, Jeremy Story, Bret McCracken, Brian Bird, Ken Minkema, Rich Gathro, Peter Kapsner, Ray and Wendy Hanson, Craig Case, David McFadzean, Dallas Willard, Chuck Swindoll, John Ortberg, Tim and Char Savaloja, Lisa Whittle, Michael Hyatt, Randy Elrod, Ian Collings, Ken Stewart, Dale Schlafer, Dave Warn, Jeremy Story, Mark Russell, Amy Larson, Ben and Rochelle, Jake and Erin, Mario and Kathy, Bill Diggins, Brent Kanyok, Carol Shell Harris, Dave Warn, Doug Clark, Kelly Erickson, Drason Anderson, Keri Lowe, Scott Smith, Steve and Diane Dunkle , John and Laurie Bruns, Wes Wilmer, Wesley Tullis, William Bergeron, René Delgado, Stanley D. Williams, Shun Lee Fong, Jaeson Ma, Jim and Karen Covell, Rodney Stark, Dean Smith, Amanda Llewellyn, Bren and Melissa Smith, Kait Stratton, Ron Jesberg, Brent Kanyok, Randy Elrod, Deborah Arca Mooney, Libby Slate, Jack Gilbert, David Medders, Gabe Lyons and the entire Q Ideas team.
May your tribe increase!
Please let us know if you’re sensing a calling to pitch in.
Jenn and her husband producer/director husband Chris Armstrong (Crossroads, and ‘Crash the Superbowl’ Doritos finalist The Chase) have actually served as the “face” of NAB on billboards, magazines, and print items. (Photo below.)
The opportunity grew out the new power couple’s commitment to the value of NAB. This year marked the 5th year Chris and Jenn have joined the more than 90,000 registrants in attendance.
Jenn related how “I started attending NAB with Chris in order to support him as a filmmaker. Now, after five years, I’ve learned so much about the world of production, post and technology, that it’s been extremely helpful for my acting adventures.”
Faith ‘n Film Summit
This year the pre-NAB Show ‘Faith ‘n Film Summit’ provided Jenn and Chris with an even more intense experience. NAB partnered with the 168 Film Project–a Hollywood incubator for filmmakers of faith–to create a unique opportunity for Christian filmmakers, artists, pastors, youth leaders attending NAV seeking to grow in their filmmaking and social media expertise.
Panel discussions with Christian industry insiders, specialized workshops, an inter-denominational worship service, and special screenings made for a powerful day. There was a near universal sense that the time had come for Christian filmmakers to go to the next level so that the quality of productions matches the quality of the ideas presented.
Jenn reported: “Chris and I learned so much from the extraordinarily talented panel of pro’s in Hollywood. Their wisdom, expertise, and insight helped us grow in both our understanding of story and in the next stages in innovative distribution outlets.”
Today’s NAB Virtual View: A FREE Chance to See What You Missed in Las Vegas!
Filmmakers who couldn’t make it to Las Vegas, can take part in a special NAB online event premiering today—NAB Virtual View.
Virtual View is part of NAB’s commitment to capture the “most desired content from the show”–the exhibitor demonstrations–and surround them with live sessions, live expert chats, and real-time buyer-seller interaction:
“While nothing replaces the face to face interaction of the show, we believe digital media professionals will garner a lot from these online demonstrations coupled with the availability of company representatives for online Q&A.”
Plus, organizers are also confident that the 90,000 professionals who DID make it to Las Vegas, will find Virtual View “a great way to revisit and reconsider products and services of interest.”
Sessions start a 10am EDT TODAY and will be available on-demand for the next 90 days.
Register here to join the day’s proceedings. It’s FREE!
ORIGINAL NAB KEYNOTE ADDRESSES
One-on-One with Creator and Executive Producer of the “CSI” Franchise, Anthony E. Zuiker
Interviewed by Stuart Levine, Assistant Managing Editor of Features at Variety
You’ll just have to tune in for this one to find out what it is about. We’ll hear Anthony will talk about one of his latest ventures in digital distribution of great content, and how he is taking advantage of technology’s capabilities to deliver some classic content via new mediums.
Anthony E. Zuiker
Stuart Levine Variety
Variety‘s David Cohen interviews Chris Cookson, President, Sony Technologies, and Alec Shapiro, SVP, Sony Broadcast and Production
3D production, its influence on the 3D experience, and the adoption of 3D are the primary topics of this dynamic exchange with leading experts from Sony. This group discusses 4K, 24 frames, and the impact of them on the value proposition for 3D. Their thoughts around 3D in the home and broadcast 3D, as well as lowering 3D production costs, future proofing 3D content, motion flow, how new technologies should not take away from the art of production, and Sony’s goals to create digital products that can do everything a 35mm can do.
David Cohen Variety
Sony Broadcast and Production
Creative Cow – Steve Schklair, CEO/Founder, 3ality Digital
Join Creative Cow’s Debra Kaufman as she checks in with 3ALITY on their NAB Show and what trail they will be blazing moving forward.
One-on-One with John Welch, VP & General Manager, Making Fun
Game industry veteran John Welch, General Manager of Making Fun, which was recently acquired by News Corp., chats with DMW CEO Ned Sherman about opportunities in the fast-growing social gaming market, including where he sees the areas for growth, how to compete with Zynga and the future of gaming for Facebook and other social networks as well as smart phones and tablet computers. According to Welch: “It’s pretty clear that Zynga won the first inning of the ball game and has a healthy lead going into the second and third innings…I think that the hallmark of the next few years in social gaming is that we are all making better games now and competing to innovate and better engage users for a long time.”
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.
Prolific writer-producer Brian Bird is co-founder of Believe Pictures(with Michael Landon, Jr.) with the mission of developing and producing “high quality, entertaining, and life-and-faith-affirming, films and television depicting positive images and compelling moral stories.” Bird and Landon wrote and produced two novel inspired films for Fox and they are currently writing and/or producing three films: When Calls the Heart, Deep in the Heart, and The Shunning (Premiering this Saturday, April 16, on the Hallmark Channel at 9pm/8pm Central).
Brian also writing a separate screenplay for the Fox Searchlight film, Captive, the true story of Ashley Smith and the Atlanta hostage crisis from 2005. He will also produce the film along with Ken Wales and Ralph Winter.
Previously, Bird served as Co-Executive Producer and senior writer for four seasons on the series Touched By An Angeland his TV writing/producing credits include more than 250 episodes of Touched By an Angel, Evening Shade, Step by Step, and The Family Man, as well as numerous TV and feature films. His script Call Me Claus was the highest rated cable film of 2002. Brian also wrote and co-produced Tri-Star’s 2009 film Not Easily Broken.
On a more personal note, I have met few Hollywood filmmakers with as great a commitment to personal mentoring as Brian. As an official mentor in the Act One program and the Visual Story Network, as well as an unofficial mentor throughout the industry, Brian has distinguished himself in his willingness to invest in the lives of young writers and producers.
In celebration of the premier of The Shunning this Saturday (Hallmark, 9pm/ 8pm CDT), I asked Brian a few questions about the film, about the greatest influencers in his life, and about origin of his incredible commitment to mentoring.
Interview with Writer-Producer Brian Bird
GDS: What excites you most about the film?
Brian Bird: One reason is because I think we have very faithfully recreated both the world of the Amish, and one of Beverly Lewis‘ most important novels.
GDS: Do you think people will relate to a film set in such an “other” world?
BB: Absolutely, even though the storytelling is set among the Amish, I think it’s a very universal tale that all families can relate to because it deals with how we try to pass along our values to our children, and how they have to choose the values they are going to live with.
GDS: Any personal stake in the film?
BB: Well, The Shunning makes a very important statement about the theme of adoption — which is very significant to me as an adoptive father of two daughters. That statement is this: love is thicker than blood when it comes to our family relationships.
GDS: Let’s talk about people who have influenced who you are and your career as a filmmaker. First, an easy one, what films have influenced you most?
BB: Let’s see, Horton Foote (To Kill a Mockingbird)—whose screenplays taught me that plot and character are intertwined and always default to character if you have a choice. William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid)—whose body of work as a screenwriter taught me that you have to know the rules in order to break them.
Also, Robert Bolt (A Man for All Seasons)—whose screenplay taught me about striving to be epic in my writing. And then there’s Tony Gilroy (The Bourne Identity series)—whose screenplays taught me to strive to be taut in my writing.
GDS: Any other kinds of writers influence you?
BB: Well, C.S. Lewis was formidable in shaping my worldview, and Francis Schaeffer formidable in shaping my ideas about art and its influence on culture. Oh, and also Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, who helped me understand that great literature should take the reader’s breath away. Of course, there is also the Bible, which has been an uber-influencer for me.
GDS: Any others?
BB: I’ve had some very significant mentors.
GDS: Like who?
BB: Well, in no particular order, there is Ted Smythe, Mass Media Professor Cal State University, Fullerton, who told me not to be afraid of ideas outside my worldview because in the marketplace of ideas, truth always rises to the top.
Don Ingalls, legendary TV writer-producer, great-uncle, who gave me my first network TV writing assignment and told me nepotism can open a door, but skills have to keep it open.
Morgan Freeman, legendary actor who directed my first feature film (Bopha), told me that there is only one race of people — the human race — and two kinds of people: good ones and bad ones.
Rick Warren, my pastor, who told me not to preach in my writing, but just to ask great questions.
GDS: Did any of them influence how you approached The Shunning?
BB: (Laughs) All of them, but maybe especially Michael Warren, because of what I just mentioned. When he gave me one of my first opportunities in show business he made me promise to leave the door open for others behind me.
GDS: How did you do that in The Shunning?
BB: I chose to give a newer, younger writer an opportunity to write this film rather than writing it myself. We hired Chris Easterly—a graduate of Act One’s screenwriting program who had served faithfully as a writer’s assistant on Touched By An Angel—to write the teleplay for this film, and he knocked it out of the park.
GDS: Isn’t that taking quite a risk on behalf of a younger “unproven” writer?
BB: It wasn’t charity on our part. We needed somebody with some real writing chops to do this work, and Chris showed himself approved. I left the door open for a very gifted young man in the same way Michael Warren left the door open for me in 1990.
GDS: So you’re leaving a legacy?
BB: That is certainly my intention. And I know that Chris will do the same thing for somebody else when he comes into his Showbiz kingdom.
Don’t miss The Shunning: Saturday (April 16): The Hallmark Channel at 9pm (8pm Central).
Follow Brian: On his blog: BrianBird.net: The Art of Story, The Craft of Screenwriting and More, or on Twitter: @brbird.
Other Two Handed Warrior TV Writer and Filmmakers: