||A school for screenwriters
Teaching Christians to write for the movies
Barbara Nicolosi wants Christian writers to tell moving, dramatic,
mainstream storiesand to tell them well.
Nicolosi visited Chicago recently to look into holding a session
of Act One: Writing for Hollywood, a screenwriting school for
The idea, she said, is to bring Christian perspectives into a
popular culture that for years has reflected a godless worldview.
And to do it with material that will sell at the local multiplex.
The starting point is a person who sees God as a factor in their
lives, Nicolosi said. When an artist has no faith, hes only
sure of one side of the human experience and thats darkness.
Thats kind of the worldview weve been seeing for the last 25
years, and its getting tired.
Nicolosi, a former Daughter of St. Paul who worked as director
of project development for Paulist Productions and has a film
degree from Northwestern University, wants Act One to provide
an entrée for Christian writers. The three-year-old project is
the brainchild of InterMission, a group of mostly evangelical
Christians in the entertainment business, and its month-long classes
are open to students of all Christian traditions.
To bring the program to Chicago, Nicolosi would need to find a
place to hold it and about $125,000 in sponsorships.
Don Woznicki, who recently completed his third year at Mundelein
Seminary, would love to see Act One come to Chicago.
Woznicki spent summers working on the California set of the soap
opera Sunset Beach, and has long enjoyed movies. But as he grew
up, he began to question the messages the movies carried.
Seeing The Crow, with Brandon Lee opened his eyes, he said.
I saw such a powerful impact the media had, and how shallow sometimes
the themes would be, he said. I went to see the movie with my
friends, and they thought it was great, but the whole theme of
the movie was revenge.
Seeing the way movies and television treat the Catholic Church
helped persuade him that more people of faith must be involved
in the entertainment business, to educate their colleagues as
well as to produce work from a faith-filled perspective.
We have a tendency to look at it like Hollywoods evil, Woznicki
said. The people arent necessarily evil. Theyre misinformed,
and they have this misconception of the church.
Railing against the culture wont change it, Woznicki said.
Were hitting Hollywood over the head saying no, no, no, no,
he said. The church has such a wealth of wisdom. Its a matter
of having a positive approach. We could bring Hollywood around
and help invite that.
When he worked on Sunset Beach, he said, the desire of the producers
and actors to do right surprised him. He spent about 20 minutes
one day with an actor who played a priest on the show, and who
was having problems with his character.
I was surprised to learn that he was very much concerned about
the sanctity of his character, said Woznicki, who hopes to serve
as a liaison between the church and entertainment media.
To have the voices of faith make it to the big or small screen,
they must presented professionally and competently, Nicolosi said.
Christian screenwriters must present the work in the same format
as any other professional writer, and must obey all the precepts
of structure and plot that conventional screenwriters follow.
They must not expect points for being nice.
I worked with a Christian production company on a project once,
and it was awful, said Nicolosi. They were not very professional,
but they were very nice, and it seemed like they thought that
should be good enough.
Its ludicrous and insulting because its
so naïve. We have to stop celebrating mediocrity in the Christian
community, even in our churches. If you cant sing, dont stand
by the microphone.
One of the first lessons Act One screenwriters learn is how high
their standards must be.
People send screenplays with no plot, bordering on a sinful lack
of respect for human beings, Nicolosi said. That makes so many
of us in Hollywood want to scream. There are no standards, no
sense of professionalism. Imagine if we did that in our Catholic
hospitals. Media is that important. It has to do with the health
of our souls and spirit. We cant be fooling around with this.
You dont send something when its good enough, Nicolosi tells
her students. You send it when its great.
So far, Act One has held its month-long screenwriting schools
in New York and Los Angeles. About half the people involved now
are working in the entertainment business and the other half are
working on their screenplays.
To help students learn what producers are looking for, she has
them screen about 20 films and read three or four screenplays
before the sessions start. Then students spend the first week
studying the the beauty and the power of the art form, Nicolosi
said. This is a medium that should be ours, because its the
word made flesh.
The second week, students work on the basics of story and structure;
the third week, they discuss various genres; and the fourth week,
they look at the business side of things, such as how to get an
Each student gets to work on his or her own screenplay during
the session, and they all get their own mentors. The mentorspeople
who are already in the entertainment businessspend at least an
hour a week with the students, and help the students develop contacts
once they finish.
Based on the results of the first Act One class held in Hollywood
in 1999, the program seems to take two or three years off the
process of breaking in as a writer, Nicolosi said.
Are they going to set their face into the wind and persevere?
she said. The one thing we cant provide is that perseverance.
For more information, visit www.actoneprogram.com
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