Storytelling: a Dying Art? Talking with Screenwriter Barbara Nicolosi

On a psychological level, Christians today have a hard time depicting human sin in drama because we don't want to make the world look too dark. As if showing sin in the world makes God look like He's not really on the job, so to speak. This is absurd. Again, Flannery O'Connor said the Resurrection is rendered void unless there is a real need for it in the world in which we live. We have to learn how to show sin without it being an occasion of sin. It takes some creativity, but it's eminently possible. I answer this question constantly from Christians, which is a huge sign of the problems in Church preaching and catechesis today. I just can't see Dostoevsky and Tolstoy and Dante getting caught up in this concern. But, of course, they were immensely talented and hardworking artists who were more concerned with saving their art then saving the world. It seems to me there's so much hubris regarding how much today's Christians worry about saving the world through art. I wish many more of us would brood about how to write a lovely paragraph now and then.

You've said over and over again that it's critical for movies to combine truth with a mastery of the craft. Could you elaborate?
A good movie is sacramental, a unity of matter and form. You have to have both. The matter here is the stuff of the story, the actors' performances, the directorial vision, production design, etc. The form is the meaning that radiates out of the project, its subtext. Christian producers tend to make the mistake of thinking that it's all in the form as in the message of the piece. Secular filmmakers tend to put all the emphasis on the matter.

Emily Dickinson said, "Nature is a haunted house. Art is a house that seeks to be haunted." Getting a work of art to be haunted is damn hard. Creating something beautiful is a mysterious and humbling process in which, as the poet Yeats said, on some day after you have practiced and practiced and practiced your art from, your subconscious takes over the direction of your mind and movements, and then beauty makes an appearance. I rarely meet producers who are willing to invest all the time and patience that a truly beautiful film would require. I never meet Christian producers who will. That's because in their hearts, Christians think that the real power is in the articulation of a bunch of words. They want to get to those words as fast and as overtly as they can. They don't have the faith or patience for imagery and subtext. So, their movies are doomed to be banal.

Can you share with us a favorite quote of yours, regarding writing and/or stories?
I love Flannery O'Connor's refusal to accept that a story could be reduced to a line or two of message. She understood that a great story is a journey for the reader. She said, "If I could say it in a sentence, I wouldn't have written the story."

I also love Benjamin Disraeli's line to the effect that, "We need stories of incredible heroism so that we can be kind to the annoying next door neighbor."

I love Tolkien saying that modern men live in a prison and that stories can help them escape. The escape here is the only legitimate escape. That is, stories help people escape into the full experience of their human nature.

I suppose I wouldn't mind if they put on my tombstone my favorite line to my students, "If it doesn't work as entertainment, it isn't going to get a chance to work as anything else."

Act One, which you founded in 1999, has been a huge success. Could you tell us a bit about that organization and its vision?
Act One is an organic ministry that has been all about correcting some of the dearths that we Hollywood Christians saw in ourselves fifteen years ago. I say it is organic because our faculty and mentors, our staff and most of our funders have come from within Hollywood. Not that we wouldn't welcome more funding support from the saints outside! Please see if you are inspired to help.

The mission of Act One is to create a Christ-centered community of apostles in the mainstream media and entertainment lump. Our hope is that together we can leaven this lump and the world beyond by our lives, prayer and projects. Our keynotes are artistry, professionalism, meaning and spirituality, and pretty much every class and program that we offer touches on all four of those.

We started out in 1999 training writers. We created additional tracks specifically to hone the skills of television writers. About five years ago, we created a new branch of Act One to train producers and executives. Eventually, if we can ever raise the funds, we'd like to train actors and directors.

There is so much more I could say about Act One and why it has worked but probably if people are interested they should peruse the web site. We are always looking for talented writers and professionals to train for our business. We will give them mentors, a network and a great start in a very demanding business. It's an amazing program and I am very proud to have played a part in getting it started.

8/4/2011 4:00:00 AM
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