UNIV and FILM // El cine y el UNIV
One of the many materials you find on the official UNIV website (http://univforum.org/) is the text of the interview done with Barbara Nicolosi, a Hollywood film industry professional. You’ll find it here:
En la entrevista, que le hicieron Diego Contreras & Enrique Fuster durante su paso por Roma, habla del proyecto ACT.ONE, de algunas tendencias en el mundo del cine y de la presencia de los cristianos en Hollywood.
Barbara Nicolosi decided to go to Hollywood and, in 1999, founded Act One (http://www.actoneprogram.com/) as a means of helping Christian scriptwriters hone their craft and find their way in the entertainment jungle. “Act One, Inc. was founded… by a group of Christian entertainment industry professionals who hoped that by training future screenwriters and executives who are dedicated to artistic excellence, meaning and a spirit of love and service, they might transform the content of Hollywood entertainment and the culture that produces it.”
UNIV and FILM // El cine y el UNIV
Possible Paper Topics // Posibles cuestiones de estudio
— Transforming Movie Culture: History and Description of Christian Initiatives
— Taking Advantage of Film to Evangelize: Opportunities and Challenges
— The YouTube Phenomenon: Instances of Christian Witnessing
— Film and Religion in the Christian World: A Descriptive Study
— Film and Religion in the Non-Christian World: The Case of XXX.
— Valuing and Evaluating Film in a Pluralistic Culture: Some Basic Guidelines.
🙂 🙂 🙂
Una cristiana en la corte de Hollywood
Another interesting resource you find on the official UNIV website is that very interesting interview (in Spanish) with Nicolosi. When I emailed Act One to ask if there was a translation to English of such interview, I was told there was unfortunately none. So I thought of doing a provisional translation of it to English. And here goes…
🙂 🙂 🙂
Una cristiana en la corte de Hollywood
[‘A Christian in the Halls of Hollywood’]
An interview with Barbara Nicolosi
by: Diego Contreras & Enrique Fuster
[15 December 2004]
After reading scores of movie guides, written by “good people” who have more goodwill than quality, Barbara Nicolosi decided that the way to improve Hollywood content was to focus on persons. It was with this end in mind that Act One was born, a Program for training young people in mainstream film & TV without having to renounce their Christian faith. In the following interview, done while she was passing by Rome, Barbara speaks of the said project, of some tendencies in the world of cinema, and of the presence of Christians in Hollywood.
In a little more than six years, Barbara Nicolosi has turned into a point of reference for those who love cinema and wish to contribute towards improving it from within. Her point of view is explicitly Christian: there are no films that are technically good but with a negative message. Yes, there do exist films that are true or false. Following Aristotle, she affirms that beauty is a dimension of truth, wonderfully crafted. Thus, it is not enough that a film’s message be excellent: it must also be good technically.
Q: Just a curiosity, to begin with: You have a heavily-visited weblog, dealing with film issues, that’s called “Church of the Masses”. Why is it so-called?
A: It is a phrase that came from a critic from New York. I don’t remember his name, but he said —that was in 1930— that cinema was “the new Church of the masses”, a place where people go to, sit in the dark, and listen to preaching. If this was so even then, how much more now, when people no longer go to Church but go to the movies or watch TV with the same attitude with which people of that time went to the temple. This isn’t exactly something negative. We will always need the Church, but the means of mass communication can fulfill a great role of educating people. In any case, it is a sign of the times; that’s why I call my blog that way.
Q: So, is that also why you’ve insisted so much that parents ought to educate their children in the culture of the mass media?
A: Obviously. Kids need to be prepared to live in the society of our time, not the society of the 19th century. The mission of parents is not only to protect: it is above all to prepare. They should teach the kids to move about amongst a myriad of messages which they bump into daily, but knowing how to appreciate what is good, and avoid what is harmful. One needs plenty of energy in order to introduce this discernment of the messages of mass media into family life. But there is no alternative.
There’s a nice idea from the Pope about the means of social communication and their ability to create a community for the whole human family. At a time when technology seems to isolate us from one another, God gifts us with film and television which we can all enjoy together. The problem is that many people working in the world of the mass media don’t seem to be concerned about the good of the audience, so that a majority of what they produce nowadays are harmful. But if only there were better people working there, the opposite could occur. We live in a difficult society. The pornography industry, for instance, is massive, and it keeps on growing everyday. On the other hand, films like The Passion have been produced: a sign that people want beauty, truth, and goodness. We shall see how events unfold, but there is no alternative: we ought to work in the mass media. Although it may seem too late to turn back this culture, there still are many people whom we can help.
The impact of “The Passion”
Q: Since you’ve mentioned it, what has been the impact of “The Passion” in the industry of Hollywood?
A: To tell you the truth, not many people in Hollywood have gone to see the movie. Perhaps they have preferred to ignore it. In this sense, one can’t speak of a substantial impact. But, at the same time, many people in the industry are aware of the tremendous success of the film. I believe that the more intelligent ones are thinking how they could return to the cinemas the viewing public of The Passion, since many of those who actually went out to see it had not gone to the cinema in many years. The problem is that these film executives don’t know what Christians want to see. I wish the industry people would have the common sense to consult with Christians before doing any more movies.
Q: Is profitability the only language understood in Hollywood? At times, when reading some titles, one gets the impression that there’s also some sort of hidden agenda prevailing because of some ideological biases.
A: Neither of those two views is completely correct. Hollywood is a business, a “show-business”, not a “show-art”, but majority of the times it is not money that inspires the birth of a given project. Ordinarily, writers don’t begin writing with economic profits in mind. When studios take over the project, then they do ask: “how do we make money out of this?” That partly explains it, since the financial investment at stake is enormous. Just think: last year, the average budget for a Hollywood film was $46 million. As to hidden agenda, I’d say 10 percent of the cinema people would be found on the extreme left of Hollywood with specific ideologies, and another 10 percent on the other end. But in the middle, you’ve got this 80 percent of professionals who simply try to make a living out of their work. Artists need to make art, and they dedicate themselves completely to their task, without thinking of the risk or of the money. They possess a generous natural willingness. Thus, if you tell people in Hollywood: “This project will help children”, you could be sure they’ll support you. The problem is the confusion of ideas. For example, they think that “safe sex” is good, so they believe that they have to promote condoms… We are in need of professionals who know which is truly good.
Q: Can you discern any deep-seated tendencies in Hollywood?
A: I am following, with great interest, the work of the younger generation (those between 20 and 45 years of age), and I can see that they do reject the values of the sexual revolution. They are the children of the protagonists of that revolution and, therefore, have suffered greatly its consequences. They have lived life alone, in divorced families, with siblings who’d been aborted…and all in the name of self-fulfillment of their parents. It is a generation of confused artists. They don’t want to judge their parents, because they love them, but at the same time they feel they’ve been deprived of something they ought to have had, but they don’t even know what it is… They’ve got nothing to compare with…
A friend of mine, Craig Detweiler, director and author of the book “A Matrix of Meanings”, tells us that the music and film of this generation remind them of the “Jews intoning sad songs before the rivers of Babylon”. That people never knew of their history of being uprooted, but they knew that it was their home. The Art of this moment is sad. I believe that the next generation will be one of repentance and joy. We ought to be patient with the sadness of this generation. Movies such as Eternal Sunshine (Olvídate de mí) or Lost in Translation reflect very well this kind of situation. Today, good comedies end up in drama.
Without creating groups that are ‘set apart’
Q: During the Renaissance, it was the Christians, particularly Catholics, who were doing Art and Culture. Where are they now? Why aren’t there Catholics in Hollywood?
A: I think the situation in Hollywood is a reflection of the situation of society in general. There are many who are baptized, but are non-practicing. Many are those who are culturally Catholic (of Italian origin, for example) but have lost their faith along the way, incapable of integrating it into their career. In any case, among the younger generation, artists are beginning to turn up, even in Hollywood, who want to live an authentic Catholicism. They go to Mass, they appreciate the Liturgy, they attend spiritual retreats… The question is: Isn’t it too late? Isn’t this but a drop in the ocean? In my opinion, reasoning from the Faith, it is an issue that should not worry us; it is up to God. We ought to do what we ought to do.
Q: You’re usually critical of certain film projects that are done only by Catholics, independent of the film industry, is this right?
A: The only thing I’d like in this aspect is that Catholics don’t form a ‘special treatment’ group, a group ‘set apart’. I don’t think that’s what God wants of us. It’s all right coming together to recover energies, but afterward people will have to go back to the community where each one came from and that’s where he/she ought to work, even if only a couple of Catholics are found among 20 or 30 pagans. We have to overcome the temptation of staying in the comfort of our own homes. The problem with working only with people who share your same faith is thinking that the only thing that matters is the final result, what comes out on screen. But it doesn’t work that way: what is truly important is the very process of your work, the opportunity to share your life and your beliefs with the other creative persons of the industry. Hollywood is in need of people giving witness to the truth of the Gospel through their lives and with the quality of their work. For this reason, we badly need people who know what is expected of them and who have a spiritual strategy for confronting these difficulties.
In my opinion, doing isolated projects is a bad idea even from the commercial point of view. In general, in the entertainment industry, you should be ready to do 10 projects before making any money. In addition, we can say what we expect from Hollywood, but it is undeniable that they know their trade. They know to tell entire histories, and how to make them reach the entire world! So doing stuff with them makes you benefit by way of improving the quality of your work.
“In ‘Act One’, we focus on the persons…”
Q: Act One is an explicitly Christian program, promoted by Catholics and Protestants. What is it really?
A: It is a community of young writers, and from recently also of film executives, to whom we impart formation and the necessary spiritual and creative support. We’re simply a group of artists who want to represent our [Christian] vision of the world through film. We like to do movies that we would want to see. Our aim is to form a community of talented artists, whose chief witness is directed toward showing their colleagues that the effort to lead holy lives is not incompatible with excellence in one’s trade and depth of content.
Q: How do you carry out such preparation?
A: Our model is as follows: Workshop format, Medieval Arts style, where a teacher would teach the trade to 4 or 5 apprentices. This balances out the isolation that an artist might suffer from. In addition, the teacher has the freedom to tell a student: “You’re no good for this”, something you can’t do in the university. In the future, if we get more funding, I’d like to bring it to producers, directors, and actors as well.
We began the project 6 years ago , in Hollywood, with film and television writers. Now we’re 80! By now we would’ve prepared more than 200 young writers, some of whom are already working at different levels of the industry. But it’s really a long-term investment. The core idea at Act One is to focus on the persons, not on the projects. Thus, we don’t seek funding to do movies, but rather we put our attention on the artists, giving them a sound formation. It will be them who will carry out many projects. That’s the best investment.
The script is the key
Q: Why this emphasis on the writers?
A: Nothing happens without the script. Thus, we begin with the scriptwriters, since they’re the first and essential link in every project. Writing is difficult, very difficult. It is a solitary task that demands hours and hours of practice. And the process is long. But at the same time, a good script in Hollywood is an unstoppable force. If you have a great script, you can produce a good film. If you have a bad one, you’d never get a good film out.
Q: What would you advise the young idealistic ones who might say, after feeling the impact of “The Passion” , that they’d like to do a similar film, they’d like to be the next Mel Gibson?
A: I’ve actually bumped into those types. Specifically, I remember a lad who came to see me after a conference in Washington and told me exactly that. Then I said: “Very good; now you can leave everything behind, all that you’re doing, and learn the trade of a movie director. Go to a film school for 5 years, but to a real good one, eh? Paying up US$8,000. When you finish, move on to Hollywood and do all the projects you can get your hands on, even the most insignificant ones, until you get contracts and till you become famous. Once you’re there, dedicate the next 20 years so you’d get to be a world-renowned star! Get into your head the idea that you’re gonna do a film like “The Passion” and work at it for the following 10 years. Meanwhile, do another movie, and win an Oscar. Once you’ve gotten there, then create your own “The Passion” movie… then you shall be a Mel Gibson. Ah, and at some point of that process, get a profound interior conversion toward God. This is the problem. “The Passion” has come from a man who’d been at it for 25 years, learning and maturing in the entertainment industry.
Religion on the screen
Q: What do you think of those explicitly religious films?
A: Over time, I’ve learned to change my opinion in this aspect. At the start, I used to say ‘we don’t want them in Act One’ because they’re extremely difficult, coz you’ve got to present an interior journey, a spiritual one, without falling into sentimentalism. It’s true that, in the past, there’d been great achievements in this, for example, “Man for Eternity”, but they’ve been rather complicated. So, I’ve thought that way, UNTIL “The Passion” came, which has shown us that this kind of project CAN be done with the highest artistic quality and can be, moreover, a commercial success. Now, I think this way: let artists do their thing… I’m hoping that our students will produce all sorts of things…
Q: Is it possible to call a film a ‘Christian film’?
A: I wouldn’t call ‘Christian’ those movies which simply present human values. In the U.S., for example, a beautiful movie with human values ―and therefore Christian values― can be at the same time culturally pagan. What I recognize as specifically Christian values are those that contain a sense of sacramentality, the conviction that good and evil are not equal, that we all have constant opportunities for grace… And there are always those Catholic values, as for example, the meaning of chastity… But since there abound, unfortunately, those ‘infrahuman’ films, as soon as we see a movie that shows a little bit of human values ―for instance, the defense of LIFE―, then we tend to call it Christian.
🙂 🙂 🙂
“Artistry. Professionalism. Substance. Prayer.”
“Act One trains and mentors Christians of all denominations for careers in mainstream film and television. We prepare our students to produce film and TV projects that combine mastery of craft with great depth and meaning. As a non-profit organization, we are wholly devoted to the professional and spiritual development of our students.”
Blog of Barbara Nicolosi: http://churchofthemasses.blogspot.com/.
[There’s an “ACT ONE” Fan Page on Facebook.] 😉