Skip to site content

‘Behind the Screen: Hollywood Insiders on Faith, Film, and Culture’

Christians work in Hollywood. No, that’s not a misprint—that’s a fact. It’s also the subject of an important new book that lets some of these Hollywood Christians speak for themselves about working in the business and trying to improve its output.

Spencer Lewerenz and Barbara Nicolosi, directors at the nonprofit, spiritually oriented Act One program (which trains Hollywood writers and executives), have collected essays from almost 20 writers, producers and directors who honestly offer their experiences in the industry, noting how Christians have and have not played a part in it.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
“Written by Act One faculty, edited by Act One staff, and developed from the Act One curriculum, this book is the fruit of the prayer, discernment and discussions that have come out of this new community,” write Lewerenz and Nicolosi.
 
The essays are brief (about 10 pages) and direct. Some offer suggestions for Christians contemplating a future in the industry, while others make cases for how Christian audiences can get more of the kinds of films they want to see.
 
The essays as a whole emphasize that quality and excellence—not conversion scenes and preachy dialogue—must be what Christian audiences and filmmakers expect from their movies and shows, even ones they want to label “Christian.”
 
For too long, Christians have adopted sub-standard media products as their own, thinking that such projects will be successful simply because of good intentions or “God’s blessing.” That thinking must end, the authors argue.
 
At least in one respect, Christians must think like <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Hollywood executives, these authors say. Christians must understand that money rules in Hollywood.
 
“Money is the altar at which Hollywood worships,” writes Jonathan Bock, founder of a public relations firm that helps studios market their products to religious America. “It’s the Alpha and Omega, the holiest of the holy.”
 
Bock’s refreshingly honest essay gets at the practicalities of the film industry. He is joined in this regard by Charles Slocum, assistant executive director of the Writers Guild of America, whose chapter dissects trends in Hollywood economics and media consolidation—and what these trends mean for Christians trying to change Hollywood.
 
Other noteworthy chapters come from Craig Detweiler, Ralph Winter, Karen Covell, Sheryl Anderson and Scott Derrickson.
 
Writer and professor Detweiler delivers an excellent overview of Hollywood’s history that helps explain the current state of affairs, saying at one point, “Christians must gain a better grasp of history, particularly Hollywood’s prickly experience with American politics.”
 
Ralph Winter, producer of “X-Men,” “Planet of the Apes” and other blockbusters, also contributes a lovely chapter—”A Hollywood Survival Guide”—in which he candidly relays the tolls the business can take on a family, and how one prepares for it. He tells of taking producing jobs and turning them down—and the result each kind of decision had on both on his family and his work.
 
Winter’s kind of story and experience is heard all too little. Getting to read it here helps make the book a gem.
 
Karen Covell writes about her experience as associate producer on “Headliners and Legends with Matt Lauer.” One of her assignments involved a show on Playboy founder Hugh Hefner. Her reaction to the assignment and what eventually happened encapsulate much of what the book’s contributors are trying to say.
 
Writer Sheryl Anderson also tells a remarkable story about her experiences writing for “Charmed,” a TV drama about three sisters who were witches. Anderson had qualms about working on the show, and, as it turns out, her identity as a Christian on the show’s staff turned out to have a fascinating effect.
 
One of the most engaging chapters is by Scott Derrickson, co-writer and director of the recent “The Exorcism of Emily Rose.” The essay was originally presented at a 2003 Act One conference, and one can immediately see why it appears here.
 
Told a la The Pilgrim’s Progress, Derrickson says he went on a quest after leaving film school to answer the question, “What is the duty of a Christian in Hollywood?” Derrickson says he encountered several groups of Christians on that journey: the Village of Passive Consumers, the Batallion of Value Changers, the Content Assassins, and on and on.
 
It’s both hilarious and dead-on. Incidentally, Derrickson says he did eventually answer his question, and the answer is beautifully simple.
 
Behind the Screen is an important book because it lets Christian filmmakers speak to their fellow believers and potential audiences. These Hollywood Christians do so with concision, humor, grace and honesty.
 
The book would make an excellent gift for film buffs, for people wanting to understand Hollywood and morality, or for those who simply need to be reminded of (or tipped off to) the fact that some Christians already do work in Hollywood.
 
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.

Buy this book now from Amazon.com.
 
Also read:
Get Real About Religion and Entertainment
‘Christian Film Industry’ Can’t Thrive Like Music Industry Counterpart
Movies Aren’t for Proselytizing: An Interview with Linda Seger
The Crisis of Craft in “Christian Cinema”