Barbara Nicolosi on Hollywood for Christians

[Ancient Faith Radio; June 15, 2007]

Frederica: Here we are. I’m at a beautiful outdoor café, what was the name of this place? I’ve forgotten already. Tre, something, Italiano, I think. [Laughs] I’m looking around, trying to see if there’s a sign— Anyway, I’m in Malibu Village in Malibu, California on an overcast day. It’s pleasantly cool; it’s just perfect here, as it so often is. June gloom, I’m told. I’m sitting here with my friend, Barbara Nicolosi, who is a screenwriter, who is a teacher of screenwriting and has a number of other talents, and one of the things that frustrates her is Christians that think they’re going to write a screenplay and convert the world to Christianity with a script that is pretty unprofessional. But let me let you speak for yourself. Just start in anywhere. Hit it, Barbara. They can’t see you moving your hands and making faces; you’ve actually got to – [laughs]

Barbara: Yeah, I guess I could say that when I came to Hollywood in 1996, I thought that my main work was going to be kind of taking on the pagans and engaging them, and you have this image of Hollywood attacking Christianity and having all this animus toward Christianity. What you realize when you get here is that most people don’t have an animus against Christianity; they are just completely secular. And so they resent the authoritativeness of Christianity, ‘How dare you say something would be applicable to everyone, you know, either wrong or right? How dare you make that statement?’ But what I’ve found, working out here, is that in the end, I ended up spending much more of my time working with the church. Working with people of faith who were trying to make a go of a career in Hollywood, but had no real preparation for the business. And mainly I find two reasons. One is that people come here and think that movies must be easy to make because they are easy to watch, and that they’re so ridiculously kind of stupid—television and so many movies. Christians sometimes have a tremendous disdain for entertainment, and they don’t really have any idea how hard it is to make even something really stupid for the screen. [Laughter]

Frederica: Even to achieve stupidity, you’ve gotta have a certain level of talent!

Barbara: Oh my goodness, yeah. And it really takes an artist to get something on the screen, period. So you approach something like—I use the example of building buildings all the time. This is one of the few industries where Christians will just show up with a handful of cash and say, ‘I’m here to do it.’ And it’s like, the people will give them money. Christians will give them money. Imagine if you went to someone and said, ‘I’ve never built a skyscraper before, but just give me 4 million dollars, because I’m gonna do it.”

Frederica: “Because my heart is pure.”

Barbara: Yeah, and then you waste your 4 million dollars. These things always end in acrimony. So Christians tend to have no artistry in their work, because of a lack or respect and a real understanding of the art form.

Frederica: Would you be willing to name any movies you think fall into that category, where Christians have spent a lot of money on something that really was substandard, in the end?

Barbara: All of them. [Laughter]

Frederica: You mean like ‘Left Behind’, for example?

Barbara: ‘Left Behind’, ‘The Omega Code’, on the Catholic side, you have ‘Therese’, and ‘Gospa’, you have, um –

Frederica: ‘Therese’ and ‘Gospa’—

Barbara: There was one recently: ‘One Night with the King’.

Frederica: Oh yeah! About Esther.

Barbara: Right.

Frederica: Kind of a lurid title.

Barbara: Yes. Exactly. You know, ‘The End of the Spear’.

Frederica: Even ‘The End of the Spear’? I didn’t see that, but I thought from reviews that it was pretty good, and it isn’t pretty good, huh?

Barbara: You didn’t see it? No, no, no. They messed up what was a really good story. The biggest one that I thought was the biggest investment that was wasted, well, there was ‘Luther’, there was, I’m sorry it’s slipping my mind.

Frederica: Well, ‘The Gospel of John’ came out about the same time as –

Barbara: Was that made by believers, though? I don’t think it was.

Frederica: No, I don’t know.

Barbara: I think usually you can count, if it’s anything good about it, most of the time there’s just no believers connected. The most recent one was ‘Facing the Giants’, that was of course picked up by Sony and made, you know, 5 million dollars at the box office. It was horrible.

Frederica: The reviews were cautious about it. The reviews tried to be kind; they said, ‘Oh, it’s so sincere,’ but –

Barbara: Well, I think the message that being anti-Christian is bigotry has really penetrated the industry. So nobody wants to be that right now.

Frederica: Didn’t you say recently somebody wanted to interview you, and you were surprised that they would, and they said to you, ‘Christian is the new gay.’

Barbara: Yeah, that was actually a couple of years ago when there were 14 pilots up for consideration by the networks, that had made it all the way through to the upfronts, and they all had spiritual themes. Kind of overt, God-is-a-character themes. So ‘Inside Edition’ came and interviewed me, and said, ‘What do you think of this, and what do you think of “The Book of Daniel”, what do you think of “Revelations”?’ But when he was miking me up, I said, ‘I have to admit that I never thought that I would be on “Inside Edition”.’ And he said, ‘Well, Christian is the new gay.’ [Laughter] And I was like, okay! But I want to say, we don’t do ourselves any good at all, coming in here and not having respect for the industry, not knowing what we’re doing. Basically there are a lot of unscrupulous people here (what a shock), who will just take these handfuls of cash from you and be fine with giving you nothing in return. But as bad as that is for Christianity, and kind of ruining the Holy Spirit’s reputation as an inspirer of creativity, the much more alarming thing is that Christians come to Hollywood too often, thinking that they’re coming to Sodom and Gomorrah. And, see, you don’t need to have your ethics in Sodom and Gomorrah, do you? All you need is your sword and shield out, ready to lop off anybody who comes your way. So what we find is that Christians come here and they have less ethics –

Frederica: Really?

Barbara: Yes, than the worst pagans. I have been treated worse by Christians who are just all about, ‘I’m not gonna look like a fool, I’m not gonna be taken.’ And also, ‘These people here don’t deserve my grace.’

Frederica: Sort of like ‘the dwarves are for the dwarves’ in Lewis’ ‘The Last Battle.’ That they assume that everybody they’re going to meet is going to cheat them, so they cheat first. Oh, here comes a lovely pizza. Well, say something concluding and we’ll dig in, and maybe we’ll turn it on again later.

Barbara: I think that despite of all of this, there is a tremendous renaissance going on right now, and there’s many reasons for it. ‘The Passion of the Christ’, and ‘The Lord of the Rings’, and the Narnia franchise, but even beyond that, I think that the aging out of the Boomers, and now the openness of Gen X and the Millennials to hear a new song about human life and meaning, is making people much more open in this area. The Church has certainly appreciated now, how powerful this is. So we are seeing the beginnings of a renaissance; the thing that’s going to hold it up is that we don’t have the masters of arts in our stable. So what we have to do is pray for conversions, and bring over people like Barbara Streisand and Bruce Springsteen and Tarantino, and then we’ll save an awful lot of time and see their talent applied to making beautiful movies for the future.

Frederica: That sounds awful good. All right, well, we’re going to dig in. Thanks, Barbara.

Barbara Nicolosi is a screenwriter. She attends St Charles Borromeo Roman Catholic Church in North Hollywood. She’s the editor of the book ‘Behind the Screen: Hollywood Insiders on Faith and Culture’, a very interesting book of essays by people who are writers, directors, producers, all kinds of things in Hollywood, and what it’s like to be a Christian in that context. So I recommend to you Barbara Nicolosi and especially the book she edited, ‘Behind the Screen’.

About Frederica Mathewes-Green

Frederica Mathewes-Green is a wide-ranging author who has published 10 books and 800 essays, in such diverse publications as the Washington Post, Christianity Today, Smithsonian, and the Wall Street Journal. She has been a regular commentator for National Public Radio (NPR), a columnist for the Religion News Service,, and Christianity Today, and a podcaster for Ancient Faith Radio. (She was also a consultant for Veggie Tales.) She has published 10 books, and has appeared as a speaker over 600 times, at places like Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Wellesley, Cornell, Calvin, Baylor, and Westmont, and received a Doctor of Letters (honorary) from King University. She has been interviewed over 700 times, on venues like PrimeTime Live, the 700 Club, NPR, PBS, Time, Newsweek, and the New York Times. She lives with her husband, the Rev. Gregory Mathewes-Green, in Johnson City, TN. Their three children are grown and married, and they have fourteen grandchildren.

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