Monday, January 23, 2006

Christian Writers in LaLaLand: ACT ONE

Let's face it. When most evangelicals (and other "orthodox" Christians) think of Hollywood, we probably think "Modern Day Babylon" or "Contemporary Sodom" or "What a moral wasteland" or "They are anti-Christian freakasoids!" or just plain "Stay away!"

Well, considering how important film and television is to our culture--and don't think minds and souls aren't captured and changed by what's on the wee or not-so-wee screen in your home and those DVDs you buy and those films you let your family go watch--that is one place true believers need to be.

What's more, it's a career area where many believers want to be, perhaps are even divinely CALLED to be.

If that's you, if you're a believer driven by a desire to labor over stories, scripts, teleplays, or to produce or direct Hollywood flicks or tv shows, then you need to be aware of ACT ONE.

Don't believe me? Well, then let this fella's recommendation sway you. He's the guy who brought you X-Men (oooohieeee!) and Fantastic Four (less oooohie, but okay):

"Every great production starts with the writer. Writers who are interested in the craft of writing should start with Act One!"
-- Ralph Winter, Executive Producer

See? He's got CRED!

"Act One, Inc., is a Los Angeles-based training program for writers and other film industry professionals," say Barbara Nicolosi, the Executive Director of the program.

Their purpose:

"A small group of Christian writers and producers in Hollywood formed Act One in 1999. They shared the vision that change must come from within. Protests, letter campaigns and finger-pointing were ineffective. They sought to transform the industry by being ambassadors and artists. They would devote themselves to truth and beauty, while being examples of Christ's love and truth."
Michael Dalton, of the Phantom Tollbooth website

So here I am, a Christian gal who loves film, who is, like many Americans, pretty much addicted to television, whose frame of visual references are culled from the cinema and the boob tube, whose childhood pals included Jeannie and Samantha, who suffered sleepless nights because of Rod Serling, and who had a mad crush on Mr. Spock. I like to write, too. And, well, the idea of working on a film script has its appeal.

And that's why I was up bright and early (an aberration for me) Friday the 13th (ack) and Saturday the 14th to attend the ACT ONE SCREENWRITING WEEKEND in Fort Lauderdale's Calvary Chapel--which is so misnamed it's not funny. Think "Calvary University-like Campus Complete With Restaurant." I'm guessing they're doing a-okay, God bless 'em.

Here's the orientation quote about why they exist: "To prepare and mentor Christians to be salt and light in the entertainment industry."

The cheerful and smart industry veterans who taught the workshops are serious about that "Hollywood as a mission field" mentality. They're just as serious about wanting us to change our Hollywood Bashing mindset to one that seeks to "love them into the kingdom." They're not kidding about being examples of Jesus' love and mercy, and they're really up-front about the need to stop mixing sermons with art.

The ACT ONE folks want us to do QUALITY WORK, work so darn good that someone will pay millions to produce it. Work that includes truth without thumping Bibles, grace without Christianese, mercy without a Sunday School lesson.

If you attend one of their weekend workshops, expect an orientation session Friday evening, and try to rest that night, 'cause Saturday goes fast and makes demands on your brain. Even the noon meal is a "working lunch," where you have to work tv-writing-team style on producing a "pitch." (I had to leave most of my lunch untouched, cause I was the presenter.)

You walk in, you get a binder with handouts and the day's schedule and some blank pages for note-taking. I recommend you take your fave pen, cause you'll be using it! And take your fave Moleskine notebook, as I did, cause you may need more writing space.

This is what you'll learn, in overview, in this day of crash learning: Some basics about imagery and dialogue, about formatting, about the types of film genres (thriller, sci-fi, drama, family, romantic comedy, etc), about "redemptive storytelling", about developing your own credo. You'll watch film clips to illustrate points. You'll learn what constitutes a hero and what story structure looks like in a movie. You'll learn about loglines, outlines, and beat sheets. You'll be given assignments.

And you can ask questions. These are very nice folks who want to fire you up.

The handy binder includes a list of recommended films for viewing, books for further self-instruction, and organizations that help you on this journey.

At the particular event I attended, two books were for sale. (I provide links below.) The main presenters either wrote or contributed to these works. If you want a taste of one of the books, BEHIND THE SCREEN, you can go here to read Dr. Thom Parham's essay. (He was one of my instructors--a funny, energetic, "trekker" guy.)

If any of this is reaching out to you, if you've got "the call" to work in this industry, please check out ACT ONE. These folks have a heart for God AND a love for this industry and its creative work, and they want to be a good example in Hollywood of what "true believers" are.

I am planning to join in the prayers for Hollywood. I've got my calendar marked up every Friday, 3pm Eastern, to coincide with the regular noon prayer walks that take place on a Hollywood studio lot(s). If you aren't interested in writing, acting, directing or producing, or any other entertainment industry work, but you DO care what comes out of Hollywood, then join with me, pray along with them. Find out what local time in your area matches Los Angeles noon, and pray that God protects believers in this industry, opens doors for them, inspires them to create, and sparks and awakening of Biblical proportions in Hollywood, so that the films and programs we watch will reflect His truth.

You do believe God can be glorified even in Tinsel Town, right? :)


Kristina Jensen said...

I think Mir's bog feature on Act One is well thought out. Christians need to understand that Hollywood is a mission field. Until we accept it as such, our attempts to effect change are useless. Lets put down our picket signs, quit our whining about the latest sinful offering, and approach the situation prayfully with humility and love. Oh, and supporting great movies like Hoodwinked, Narnia and the like are a good start also.

Paula said...

Great post. Thanks for the info. I'm sending it to a friend who does play writing.

Lori Pieper said...

Mirtika, Barb Nicolosi of Act One sent me over here to thank you for the shout-out. I'm only semi-kidding. . . I'm an Act One major month-long program alum, and they are the greatest! I think the best thing about them is the sense of fellowship and community they provide. It lets us Christians who are or who want to be in the industry know we aren't alone. Good luck with your own writing.

Camy Tang said...

You rock, girlfriend! Thanks for the post on your ACT ONE weekend. I totally want to attend one at some time, although I don't feel called to write for film or stage. I've heard it was a terrific workshop.


Bonnie Calhoun said...

don't have the desire for working in the industry. I'm trying to be a published writer.

but I do have a desire for Moleskine, love, love them. I have them in all shapes and sizes!

Puddleglum said...

Well i feel called...almost sick to my stomach...I've got a burning desire to be a working writer in Hollywood making films that truly entertain and touch people with God's message. I've just signed up for the New York weekend, and I applied for the summer program as soon as the applications came out! I reeeeeaaaaalllly want to get in, and I've already decided to move to Los Angeles. And God keeps giving me these amazing, well-crafted ideas for mainstream films that have His message hidden deeep deeep within. When I read that you pray for filmmakers, I took it if you're praying for me, because I've never gotten so many high-concept, marketable, GOOD ideas as I have in the last few weeks...i mean I've been tooling around and filling notebooks since I was 12 (eleven years ago) but the ideas I get these days are just exceptional...and I never toot my own horn this much! I feel like God's really getting me ready! Sorry for the rant...that's what you get for writing such an encouraging post!