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Authors opt not to bash Hollywood in ‘Behind the Screen’

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP)–Generally speaking, when a book on Hollywood appears in the religion section of a bookstore, its theme is accusatory of the entertainment community. Spencer Lewerenz and Barbara Nicolosi have taken a decidedly different approach in their book, “Behind the Screen: Hollywood Insiders On Faith, Film, and Culture.”

Lewerenz, a Hollywood writer and editor, and Nicolosi, founder of Act One, a nonprofit organization to train “artist-apostles” for positions within the industry, have gathered the thoughts of Christian writers, producers and executives who are living out their faith on movie sets, in studio offices and at TV networks.

Their aim: to help those who want to be in the movies — and those who just like going to them. The book is both a cautionary guidepost for those coming to L.A. in order to seek their fortunes or witness to the lost as well as a source of insight for how those outside the industry can impact those on the inside.

Lewerenz and Nicolosi’s volume spans 18 essays by various media professionals, including Ralph Winter, executive producer of “Fantastic Four,” “X-Men” and “I, Robot”; Barbara Hall, executive producer of “Joan of Arcadia,” “Judging Amy” and “Chicago Hope”; Scott Derrickson, director of “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”; Ron Austin, writer for the original “Mission: Impossible” and “ Matlock”; and Thom Parham, writer for “Jag” and “Touched by an Angel.”

In a chapter titled, “Love the Cinema, Hate the Sin,” Jonathan Bock, president of the Grace Hill Media public relations firm that focuses on entertainment that shares the beliefs of religious Americans, writes of the need to support Hollywood’s good, not just reject its bad.

“We as Christians have basically abandoned mainstream arts and entertainment over the last several decades…. We of the linage of Michelangelo, Raphael, Shakespeare, Lewis, Tolkien, and Caravaggio. There was a time when Christians were the undisputed masters of art and literature…. Instead of slogging it out in the rough and tumble environment of pop culture, we Christians have instead created our own subculture of Christian radio, books, television, and film. Mainstream culture has moved on without us, and the world of entertainment has coarsened in our absence.”

Bock notes, “Changing Hollywood will require two virtues Christians habitually lack –- patience and persistence. We’ll need to set our eyes on the long-term prize of righting the ship of mainstream culture by bailing it out one bucket at a time. But we’ll get there, and one day in our lifetimes, the world will marvel at our great works once more.”

The title of the chapter by Karen and Jim Covell — she a television producer, he a composer -– emphasizes the need for Christians to see Hollywood as “The World’s Most Influential Mission Field.”

“Only about 2 percent of media professionals go to church or synagogue,” the Covells write. “Hollywood is an isolated society, ignorant of –- and often hostile to -– Christianity.”

The husband and wife team nevertheless remind, “The media shapes the hearts and minds of people around the world…. If we minister to Hollywood, we will be ministering to the whole world.”

TV writer and media professor Thom Parham, author of a chapter on “Why Do Heathens Make the Best Christian Films?” writes that “Christian filmmakers seem to believe that they do not have to compete in the mainstream market. Thus, storytelling and production values end up taking a backseat to the movie’s message. The films are merely bait to lure viewers to a homily or altar call, and this only ensures their failure.”

Parham utilizes the film “Places in the Heart” as an example of how a secular filmmaker used subtlety, artistry and depth to reveal characters affected by their religious stance. “Though Places in the Heart is a metaphor for the kingdom of heaven,” he writes, “nowhere is this notion communicated overtly. It is suggested through the film’s system of metaphors and reinforced by its enigmatic ending.

“This is yet another reason non-Christians make the best Christian films: they understand that cinema is an art form of symbol and metaphor.”

Parham points out that Jesus used parables to help his audience understand heavenly principles, whereas Christian filmmakers “are more concerned with messages than metaphors” and thus are “doomed to make bad films.”

And novelist and screenwriting teacher James Scott Bell defends Christians who go to movies in a chapter titled, “In Defense of the Christian Movie Buff.”

“Like all great art, great movies can be a healing balm for us as individuals and as a society,” Bell writes. “God is the author of beauty, and when we experience beauty in the form of art, a doorway opens through which God can enter into our lives. Movies can inspire.”
“Behind the Screen: Hollywood Insiders on Faith, Film, and Culture,” published by Baker Books, is available at most major book outlets. For more information concerning Act One, go to their website at actoneprogram.com. Phil Boatwright reviews films from a Christian perspective and writes about Hollywood’s influence on the American culture. For more information, check out his website at moviereporter.com.

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  • Phil Boatwright