The Church of the Masses
My boss said, "You know, it's a good idea. Find a way to get rid of her, and see if we can't retool the idea."
She didn't know anything about the business, and he felt that she'd be more trouble than she was worth. I was horrified at the idea of stealing someone's idea. So I had to look him in the eye and say that I would not be the person to do that for him. He got irate. He said, "This is just how this town functions. You're naïve. If we don't do this, someone else will!"
All of that may have been true. But I had to stick to my principles. For a day, I wasn't sure whether I was going to have a job. As it turns out, he didn't fire me.
Then I had an experience where a movie that I had written was taken into production by a major studio. I won't say which one. They said, "This is a nice little art-house movie, but it doesn't take enough risks. If we change the protagonist to a lesbian, then it will make another $5 million at the box office and it will better satisfy the art-house crowd."
But it was based on the true story of an American icon. So I said, "Well, this person was not a lesbian." They looked at me and said, "We're not making a documentary here, and if you're not willing to go there, we'll bring in someone else who will."
In their mind, it wasn't that big a deal. They were just trying to raise their profit margin and help the promotional people by putting some controversy into the film. They weren't trying to spit Christian America in the eye. I think a lot of times, Christians think that's what's going on here. It wasn't; it was just a very pragmatic business decision on their part.
I had to tell them that I wouldn't do it, because it wasn't true. My agent gave me a lecture. In the end, the studio said they didn't like the movie enough to do it without me. But the parting comment from the executive was, "When you're ready to go there, give us a call." They were absolutely sure that after I had been in Hollywood for another couple of years, my integrity would be on the table.
So those are not typical stories, but they happened to me.
Is there any underground circle of support for people who come to Hollywood and wish to remain faithful to their Christian values?
This is going on all the time, frankly. I've been here since 1996, and I'm always meeting with people who just got off the bus, and they want to have a truly Christian production company, or they really want to make a masterpiece. This is ongoing. The problem really is that we as a group don't understand the game well enough.
I'm always meeting with Christians who are telling me that it's time that Christians start making quality projects. People call my agent, wanting to hire me. I'll take the meeting, but when they're told that they need to pay me $100,000 to write the screenplay, then people flip. They say, "We were thinking about $20,000." Well, that's not even legal. I'm in the writer's guild, and the minimum is $108,000. So I can't even legally work for that amount.
You'd be shocked at how many people find that sum ridiculous. But if you were building a $20 million building, how much would you pay the architect? There's a complete unreality among religious people about playing the mass media game. If you want teenagers in Brazil to be watching your movie and eating popcorn -- and Japan and Germany and Spain and Omaha -- how much does that cost?
We are always saying that we want to play to win the World Series, but we finance our efforts as though we're playing PeeWee Baseball.
You're involved with a program called Act One that nurtures Christian talent. What can Christians do to support a Christian voice in Hollywood?
I do think everyone should take out a checkbook and write a check to Act One. I don't say this just as the emeritus Chair of the Board. Act One is doing the thing the Church should be doing, in that it's focused on people, not projects. Act One is about training the next generation of writers, executives, buyers, producers. It's giving them a responsible meter to evaluate projects and assess whether they will be good for people, or do harm.
So, Act One is about helping the next generation of artists understand what their responsibility is, and what the Beautiful is and means, and to aspire to that. If you train a writer, then you can impact a hundred projects. That's where our focus should be, in training people to be our voice in the business.