With the success of “The Bible” TV series, and “Finding Jesus” on CNN, I’ve been getting plenty of inquires from people who want to get other Christian ideas picked up by a secular network. In many cases, they’re starting from the wrong perspective. The first step isn’t getting your show idea on a network. The first step is finding out what the network is interested in programming. With that in mind, here’s a few critical principles about how to get a secular network to look at your Christian program idea:
1) Start by looking for cultural events that would make networks more open to a Christian influenced program. For instance, a number of years ago, I realized the anniversary of William Wilberforce abolishing the slave trade in the British empire was about to happen. Since he was driven by his Christian faith, I pitched PBS on a one hour documentary on Wilberforce’s life. They loved the idea and not only did it get a national broadcast on PBS, but it was privately screened at the White House. So – what’s trending in the news right now that would make a network interested in your idea?
2) Think ahead. My friend, movie producer Ralph Winter says that making a big budget movie isn’t about what’s popular now. It’s about what will be popular 5 years from now, because that’s how long it takes to make a major movie. It’s really not much different with TV projects. So look into the future. Once “The Bible” series was successful, I received a ton of proposals to do something similar. Likewise, once Noah hit theaters, I had a bunch of Noah projects pitched to me. But they’d already been done and networks weren’t interested. The question is – What’s next?
An internationally known writer and speaker, Phil Cooke has actually produced media programming in nearly 50 countries around the world. In the process, has been shot at, survived two military coups, fallen out of a helicopter, and in Africa, been threatened with prison. And during that time – through his company Cooke Pictures in Burbank, California – he’s helped some of the largest nonprofit organizations and leaders in the world use the media to tell their story in a changing, disrupted culture.
Last year, a writer approached me with a screenplay, asking me to help him get his film made. Fair enough. But I made it clear that our company, Cooke Pictures is not a funding company in a position to finance films. He said fine. Then I read the screenplay and realized pretty quickly it wasn’t something I was interested in, so I kindly told him thanks, but we weren’t interested at this time.
At that point, he unleashed some pretty nasty things, and followed up with an email. He wrote that if I was a REAL Christian, I’d get off my duff and help him get the movie made. He said I was obviously shallow, and couldn’t recognize great writing – or God’s hand on the project – plus, I was a hypocrite (among a few other choice things.)
It was a very interesting email to say the least, but I chose not to respond.
Now – a year or so later, I get a call from a friend who happens to be a significant film producer. This guy has the clout and money to get films made. He tells me he has an appointment set up with this writer I’d met a year ago and is curious if I know him or have an opinion about his project.
I didn’t have to say a thing.
All I did was pull out the guy’s email and share it with the producer and that pretty much said everything. My producer friend immediately cancelled the meeting, and has no interest in this writer or his projects.
Note what nailed this writer: It wasn’t me or my opinion, it was his own words. Remember that the moment you hit “send” on an email, you’ve lost control of it. In that moment of frustration or anger, what you write will live on – and it will be in someone else’s hands.
Don’t let your email trail come back to haunt you.
Ever had a similar experience?
Phil Cooke has produced media programming in more than 50 countries around the world, and in the process, been shot at, survived two military coups, fell out of a helicopter, and in Africa, been threatened with prison.
And during that time, he’s helped some of the largest non-profit organizations in the world navigate periods of dramatic disruption and change.
Poor Mario, it’s a good thing he’s so super, because he has the worst luck. If it’s not his girl getting kidnapped, it’s his castle being overrun or his brother disappearing. And as any child given any variation of a Nintendo gaming system in the last thirty years knows, he’s going to have to fight through Goombas, Koopas and Chomps before taking on Kammy Koopa and then finally, his arch-nemesis Bowser.
A good action film is set up very much like a good videogame. The larger and more varied the force of villains arrayed against your hero, the more he has to overcome, the stronger both your hero and your story will grow.
Three Categories of Villainy
In videogames villainy is broken down into three categories: henchmen, villains and uber villains.
Henchmen are on the lowest level they generally don’t have names, are terrible shots and rack up body counts like no other. These are the stormtroopers in Star Wars, the orcs in The Lord of the Ringsand the Nazis in… well most any movie involving Nazis.
Villains are usually the hired muscle of the big bad; they do have names and can get personal with the hero, but are not the main event. Think Count Rugen (aka the six-fingered man) in The Princess Bride, Frederick Sykes (aka the one-armed man) in The Fugitive and Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi. They are usually defeated in a prolonged physical struggle that weakens the hero before his battle with his ultimate nemesis: the uber villain.
The uber villain is an entirely different kettle of fish. He is the puppet master, the perpetrator of some great evil against the world at large and (hopefully) the hero in particular. He is smart and cunning and usually his confrontation with the hero involves some sort of chicanery. Theirs can be a physical fight, but it can also be a battle of wits and not infrequently the hero is, at the last minute, saved by some kind of outside help or piece of hidden knowledge. Entering at stage right we have Commodus from Gladiator, Agent Smith from The Matrix and The Joker in The Dark Knight.
Die Hard with a Villain
One film that utilizes all three categories with verve and panache is Die Hard. Die Hard is the story of our hero, John McClane, who is in the wrong place, at the wrong time, who faces one of the great villains in action film history. The stage is set, Christmas Eve, an unhappy couple, a mostly empty skyscraper and a truckload of villains intent on robbery and mayhem.
Our henchmen are the nameless and numerous bank robbers, these are the ones toting machine guns and looking tough, but not doing much else. Karl moves from nameless tough to the role of villain when McClane kills his brother, Tony making the conflict quite personal. Their fight rages throughout the film, Karl becoming further and further enraged by McClane’s antics. The final conflict between Karl and McClane is an epic, bare-knuckled brawl from which, McClane barely escapes; whereupon he goes after Hans Gruber, who is of course, the uber villain.
The relationship between McClane and Gruber in this film is truly marvelous…
If Shapiro’s videos in the Hollywood Reporter (below) are any indication of the tone of his book, then his message is going to be a tough sell in tinsel town. Given the overreaction of many to Rob Bell’s promotional videos, I certainly want to extend him the benefit of the doubt. However, sensationalizing the painful truth (and it is true) concerning the historically rough relationship between Hollywood and anyone not ascribing to politically correct dogma might not be the best way to begin a nuanced conversation.
Fear-based, ‘Us versus Them’ rhetoric is the last thing we need just when the conversation between Hollywood and filmmakers of faith is finally getting started. (See, If you Live it, They will Come.. to the Theater.) Fair treatment of faith themes is growing on the big screen–The Blind Side, Soul Surfer–and even on television. ‘The Good Wife’ (CBS), ‘Justified’ (FX), ‘Friday Night Lights’ (NBC), and Mamet’s own ‘The Unit’ (CBS) have each featured Christian conversions by major characters in recent seasons. Even more socially ‘liberal’ shows such as ‘Glee’ (Fox), and ‘Modern Family’ (ABC) have handled themes of faith, church, and eternal life with sensitivity and sometimes tremendous power. (See, Glee’s Faith Episode.)
The need for reasoned discourse searching for common ground for the common good has never been more critical. Two Handed Warriors was started in hopes of fostering an ongoing, respectful, and nuanced conversation between culture makers and faith builders. I sure hope this conversation doesn’t screw things up.
Furthermore, the assumed notion that ‘Christian Spirituality’ = ‘Conservative Politics’ is as dangerous as it is wrong-headed. While nearly all Christians are socially conservative by Hollywood standards, we can be found at all points of the political spectrum. There are things that some conservatives swear by that I just want to swear at. Part of me fears that even mentioning these books in Two Handed Warriors will only add to presupposition that a website devoted to faith and culture is automatically ‘right-wing.’
Still, I can’t help noting that even some of the most ‘liberal’ Christians in Hollywood have expressed many of the same concerns raised by Shapiro and to some extent Mamet. In both direct attacks and indirect snubs, Hollywood has expressed a relatively consistent message that–conservative or not–faith perspectives are generally not welcome. In fact, I can’t help but notice that a significant number of industry conservatives who were willing to speak on the record with Shapiro are in fact dynamic Christians. (See Shapiro’s post Hollywood Hates Conservatives.)
As a number of other historically under-represented groups in Hollywood can tell you, it takes courage to speak up when you are being discriminated against. It’s easier to not rock the boat for fear of retaliation. (Mamet thinks he is already experiencing discrimination in the reviews of his work.) I applaud the courage of those who spoke to Shapiro even if not his overall sensationalist tone.
So while I have neither read Shapiro and Mamet’s books yet, nor am I certain I will endorse their politics once I do, I believe they will end up shaping the conversation of faith and culture in Hollywood for years come. (Reading group anyone?) I am putting them out there for your consideration in hopes that they will inspire Two Handed Warriors seeking to reimagine faith and culture one story at a time.
TV Executives Admit in Taped Interviews That Hollywood Pushes a Liberal Agenda (Exclusive Video)
In clips that will hit the Internet to promote a new book, producers including “Friends” co-creator Marta Kauffman and “House” creator David Shore say Hollywood discriminates against and belittles conservatives.
Some of TV’s top executives from the past four decades may have gotten more than they bargained for when they agreed to be interviewed for a politically charged book that was released Tuesday, because video of their controversial remarks will soon be hitting the Internet.
The book makes the case that TV industry executives, writers and producers use their clout to advance a liberal political agenda. The author bases his thesis on, among other things, 39 taped interviews that he’ll roll out piecemeal during the next three weeks. (See also Shapiro’s post, Hollywood Hates Conservatives.)
The Hollywood Reporter obtained several of the not-yet-released clips, embedded below. Each contains a snippet of an interview, usually some historical footage of the TV shows the interviewee was responsible for and, naturally, a plea to purchase the book, “Primetime Propaganda” by Ben Shapiro and published by Broad Side, an imprint of HarperCollins.
In one video, Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman says that when she cast Candace Gingrich-Jones, half-sister of Republican former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, as the minister of a lesbian wedding,
“There was a bit of ‘f*ck you’ in it to the right wing.”
Kauffman also acknowledges she “put together a staff of mostly liberal people,” which is another major point of Shapiro’s book: that conservatives aren’t welcome in Hollywood…
In a celebrated 2008 essay for the Village Voice, David Mamet made the startling announcement that he was “no longer a brain-dead liberal.” I think it only fair to mention here that I rejoiced. Mr. Mamet is a terrific playwright, maybe even a great one (“American Buffalo,” “Glengarry Glen Ross”) and a screenwriter of the first rank (“The Verdict,” “The Untouchables”). That a writer of such talent and stature had become a conservative seemed to me to promise some relief from the soporific political conformity of the American arts.
So I rejoiced—and I also sympathized. Breaking free of leftism while working in show business is like escaping from “The Matrix” only to find oneself in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” You wake to a risky but bracing new reality of individual liberty, limited government and free markets and are instantly beset by zombified statist dreamers determined either to make you rejoin their ranks or to destroy you.
Mr. Mamet reports that a certain prominent left-leaning newspaper actually panned his first openly conservative play not once but twice for good measure. (Libertarian humorist Greg Gutfeld has introduced a “Mamet Attack Clock” on his late-night cable show to measure just how fast critics will now downgrade their opinions of the playwright’s work.)
Under such circumstances, it is natural that Mr. Mamet would develop the urge to cry out, like Kevin McCarthy in the famous last scene of “Body Snatchers”: “Listen to me! Please listen!” From that urge, no doubt, arises Mr. Mamet’s new work of nonfiction, “The Secret Knowledge.” It is his attempt to explain and disseminate the thinking behind his conversion to the right.
“Liberalism is a religion,” he writes. “It affords a feeling of spiritual rectitude at little or no cost. Central to this religion is the assertion that evil does not exist, all conflict being attributed to a lack of understanding between the opposed. Well and good, but this does not accord with the experience of anyone…”
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: