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

Edited by Spencer Lewerenz and Barbara Nicolosi
Baker Books, 2005

review by Kevin Miller

After a spate of books about Hollywood written by Christians who are observing the industry from a distance, it’s refreshing to see a book by a group of individuals whose day jobs place them at the heart of the most influential cultural enterprise on the planet.

Behind the Screen was produced by the faculty and staff of Act One, a non-profit organization founded to train people of faith for careers in mainstream film and television. The list of contributors includes writers like Janet Scott Batchler (Batman Forever), directors like Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose), producers like Ralph Winter (the X-Men franchise, Fantastic Four) and Dean Batali (That ‘70s Show), story consultants like Linda Seger (Making a Good Script Great), and many others. Their essays cover topics such as why Christians should be involved in the entertainment industry, how to know if you’re called to the industry, how to survive in Hollywood once you get there, and even practical advice on how to break into Hollywood on both artistic and financial levels. (On this latter approach, check out Charles B. Slocum’s fascinating essay “The $10 Billion Solution,” wherein he argues that if Christians really want to make a lasting impact in Hollywood, they should put their money where their mouth is and buy up one of the major studios.)

Some of my favorite contributions include “A Filmmaker’s Progress” by Scott Derrickson, where he uses Pilgrim’s Progress as a rough outline for his own spiritual and artistic journey; “Changing the Channels” by Dean Batali, in which he instructs Christians on how to communicate effectively with people of influence in Hollywood; and Linda Seger’s essay “What Kind of Stories Should We Tell?” which issues a call for Christians to abandon overtly prescriptive stories in favor of those that take a more subtle, descriptive approach.

Apart from their association with Act One, I quickly got the sense that the contributors also share something else in common: strong feelings of frustration with Christians outside Hollywood who: a) treat Hollywood as if it were the whore of Babylon, b) assume there are no Christians working there, c) are shocked and appalled when they find out there are Christians in Hollywood or d) attempt to “take over the entertainment industry for Christ” without having the slightest idea about how the industry works, what audiences want or how to create a compelling, theologically significant piece of cinematic art. Clearly, this book was written to head such people off at the pass, and it definitely accomplishes that goal.

One thing I do want to take issue with in this regard is Lewerenz and Nicolosi’s opening remark about how Christians don’t like Hollywood. If they had prefaced the word “Christian” with the word “evangelical” or “fundamentalist,” and if they had written these words even five years ago, they may have been closer to the truth. However, today these and other Christian groups are embracing Hollywood like never before. (Remember that spate of books I mentioned earlier? Box-office attendance also bears this out. )

As it stands, such negative statements merely create a false picture of conflict—much like the one that has maligned the relationship between Christianity and science for the last few centuries—and ultimately work against the spirit of reconciliation this book is striving to create. Nevertheless, if I had to deal with as many sincere but ultimately ignorant Christian zealots as they have over the years, I would probably share their pessimistic view.

Part how-to manual, part meditation on what role Christians should play in the entertainment industry—and what role the entertainment industry should play in the lives of Christians—Behind the Screen is must reading if you’ve ever cast a stone at Hollywood, wondered how we can span the gap between Christianity and culture or considered getting involved in the entertainment business yourself.

Copyright ©2005 Kevin Miller

Behind the Screen
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