You can’t force a creative breakthrough, but we were fortunate to experience several one July weekend this summer, when my wife and I hosted a small team of screenwriters and consultants at our Poway, Calif., home. Of all the editorial endeavors I’ve been a part of – as an author, a radio host, a screenwriter and a columnist – I’ve never been more excited about a project. We’re bringing the story of Our Lady of Fatima, the Blessed Mother’s six appearances to three shepherd children, to the silver screen, and we’re presenting it in 3D.
But first, a little background.
Barbara Nicolosi is a quick-witted East Coaster with a dynamic Catholic faith and a talent for screenwriting. We met at a 2001 conference, before Barbara had served as a theological consultant to the box-office hit “The Passion of the Christ.” Her account of the power of film to change culture struck me. It’s when we turn off the lights in a darkened movie theater or living room that our minds and hearts tune in to the pathos of a movie, ready to be awakened.
The messy art of film making – from dreaming up a plot to raising funds to casting – drew me in. I became a founding board member of Act One, a premiere training program for aspiring Christian screenwriters and producers, and helped develop its executive program. Three of our graduates were working for the production company behind “The Blind Side” when their superiors decided to terminate the project. Our grads protested, insisting the film would resonate with regular Americans, and managed to salvage it. A week before its 2009 release, their superiors predicted a box-office belly flop – and were stunned to see the movie gross more than $300 million and earn an Academy Award nomination for “Best Picture.”
Indeed, there is a widely underserved audience of movie goers, Catholics like you and me who want to see first-rate story telling that doesn’t require a trip to confession, grandparents who remember the day there were multiple rated-G offerings at the local theater. That’s why I’m so proud to be chief executive officer of Origin Entertainment, a production company focused on transformative entertainment – masterfully crafted tales underlined by timeless Catholic themes and animated by the newest technology.
We’re currently putting the finishing touches on a script written by Barbara about the Blessed Mother’s 1917 appearances in Fatima, Portugal, where she issued a call for renewal and salvation through three illiterate shepherd children: 10-year-old Lucia, 8-year-old Francisco and 7-year-old Jacinta.
It’s a story of unparalleled heroism, kids who withstood persecution few adults could handle. Their own priest urged them not to repeat their Marian encounters and, at one point, a prison warden threatened to kill them if they didn’t retract their story. Not one buckled.
It’s also a story that has eerie relevance today, nearly a century later, when the Catholic Church is under attack right here in America, as it was then in Marxist Europe.
And it’s a story that absolutely begs to be told in 3D, more than any other script out there. Sure, it was fun watching Princess Merida’s three-dimensional arrows fly in Pixar’s “Brave,” but most 3D experiences are like rollercoaster rides: They thrill you, then you walk out, toss your glasses and move on.
But to see the Blessed Mother appear before you, just as she did on the dusty hills of Fatima? That’s an experience you won’t soon forget.
Which brings me to that long weekend in late July when Barbara and the Origin team gathered at our house to dissect her 106-page script. We worked at the wrought-iron table on the patio, flanked by our laptops and my wife’s famous potato salad, gazing at the mountain-top view, a statue of Our Lady of Fatima perched beside us. We began and ended every session in prayer, and at night we sipped wine and took a dip in the pool, never veering far from the script.
“Here’s what I was I trying to convey,” Barbara would say. “Did I hit it or miss it? Did we establish Arturo’s character early enough to give us a vested interest in him at this point?”
In our thoroughness we still managed to land on sparks of inspiration. We reworked the opening scene to reflect confrontations happening between ordinary citizens, not just soldiers. We analyzed Lucia’s position and what she represents. We held it all up to Church teaching on Our Lady’s apparitions. And early Saturday morning, as she lounged in the Jacuzzi, Barbara came up with the movie’s name, “For Sinners,” an apt summary of Fatima’s meaning and message.
By the end of the year, we plan to complete the film’s development and get commitment from the A-list stars we’re currently considering. We expect production to begin mid-way through 2013 with a 2014 release.
If you’re looking to make a real difference, to restore the fabric of American culture, I can’t think of a more worthy cause than a tax-deductible year-end gift to a film that is going to change lives. This is what the New Evangelization heralded by Blessed John Paul II and advanced by Pope Benedict XVI looks like – and this is your invitation to get involved. Please spread the word! We’re asking for financial and prayerful support; it’s a chance to engage your kids in the fascinating world of film production, journeying with us every step of the way.
As my wife and I celebrate the birth of our seventh grandchild, we can’t help but think about the troubled world he has entered. It’s up to us to make this a better place.