Friday, August 21, 2009

Generals and Bureaucrates

For those of you following the drama of the MAKING of our movie TIGER'S HOPE, here's the latest. Truly, the making of it is more significant than the movie. But you have to read to the end. What follows is an email I sent out to the staff and crew earlier today. (sw)


Dear Tiger's Hope Cast, Crew, Staff, and Volunteers:

1. September Production is Canceled.
2. God’s Designs at Work
2. Feature Film Development Planned
3. This is Just the Beginning
4. Appreciation and Vision Dinner Coming
5. Surprise Ending


Some of you know we've been dealing the last couple of weeks with an apparent crisis: The seed funding from the Diocese of Lansing for our production was suddenly rescinded after four months of enthusiastic support by the bishop and the Department of Life Justice Director, who wrote the initial grant and was the inspiration behind our attempt to save marriages and thousands of lives. But when the formal agreements were presented the bureaucrats appeared, the bishop was silenced, and the money yanked from the life justice director. I was informed two days ago by the head of Catholic Charities for the diocese, that "the diocese will not be joining" SWC Films in the production effort of Tiger's Hope, and neither will they make available the $55,000 grant awarded by Our Sunday Visitor Institute. Bummer… or so we thought.


Events like this can be maddening to those of us who want to believe in the Church and its teachings. But the reality of bureaucratic problems within institutions is part of human nature. They existed at the time of Christ within the Synagogue, they exist today in all organizations, and for storytellers such problems always provide fodder for drama. As Philip Carrel, our production designer remarked, it’s ironic how “the bureaucracies set up to help people, often times obstruct the help from getting out.” In this case, interoffice politics seems to have prevented the creation of a project that could save thousands of lives and marriages. But there are plenty of reminders to the contrary. I go to confession at St. Bonaventure in Detroit. There, on Venerable Solanus Casey’s tomb are carved these words: “Blessed be God in all his designs. I sense that is what’s at work here.


My partner, Alex Davis, and I talked of the possibillity of losing the DOL’s financial support over a month ago and roughly figured that the two of us could fund the project alone, especially since we could count on the Michigan Film Incentives. But when the $55,000 actually went away we spent some time with cash flow estimates, and decided that taking on the financial risk endangered not only our families’ stability but the project’s quality. Now, as investors, with serious money involved (for us) we looked at our roles differently. First, rather than thinking as filmmakers and how we can make the movie better, we started to cut costs. And second, we kept putting on our marketing hats and trying to figure out how we could sell more DVDs to recover our investment. That kind of thinking was bound to hurt the project’s quality and clarity of message. Bad.


Then it occurred to us that when I wrote the treatment and script for TIGER'S HOPE, which sold the bishop and others on doing the drama instead of the documentary, I was careful to pull my dramatic punches and attempted to please the bishop and Christian cable channels like EWTN and TBN. That is why, if you've read the script, Stacey TELLS us about in vitro and all the dangers, but we never SEE or experience in vitro. Movies are about SHOWING and not TELLING. Stacey’s lines were more appropriate to a play where about all a director has to work with are words. A second thing that always bugged me was Tiger was the only character that had a developed arc. We never investigated Jake, her husband, and in procreative practices the husband is suppose to be an equal partner in all this. Hello! Finally, and third, is something I write and lecture about but in Tiger's Hope was nearly absence—an antagonist that seemed larger and more powerful than the protagonist. Great stories have great antagonists that drive the protagonist to change in ways they would never have done otherwise. That failing I dismissed because I didn't want to reveal the underbelly of the church and it's internal dissidents, nor did I have the time in the shorter production planned to develop such a character.

Then the bishop went away, literally (sounds like a plot point). We lamented his disappearance at first, but then our eyes began to open. WE DIDN'T HAVE TO APPEASE THE BISHOP, or the diocesan bureaucrats, or the censors at Christian networks. We could tell a REAL story, and include what we needed to communicate the full drama of the subject. THAT WAS LIBERATING!

Coupled with that was some dramatic elements to the longer story that we were introduced to by the real life experiences of a Catholic couple who recently went through in vitro with their priest’s blessing. When I first heard their tale I literally came out of my seat in shock, and wanted to totally rewrite Tigers Hope, but realized I'd need a feature length project to tell the story properly.

In another script I analyzed for someone in Hollywood the Chinese concept of Wei Ji was explained. Together the figures Wei and Ji mean "Crisis". The Wei equates with "danger" but the "Ji" equates with opportunity. That's similar to the Christian teaching that every bad thing that enters our life has with it a bigger grace. Romans 8:28 says "All things work together for good to those that are called according to His purpose."

Or, in the words of our project Chaplin Fr. Mike: FEATURE LENGTH Movie. YEAH ! AMEN! ALLELUIA! Thanks be to God going Mainstream YES!


Now a lot of very good work has been done on this project to date, and we do not intend to lose it. The work we've all done has not been wasted, but will all contribute to the next phrase… although for now we will take a pause to regroup and refocus.... even as the story development process has already begun. So, please save your work, and please send me a back-up copy. We will continue, I hope, with the music production as that is almost done, and it’s on-going life can be an inspiration for where we go next.


One member of the team mentioned the advantages of also having a study guide that would accompany the movie, so groups could further study the Bible and Church moral teaching related to marriage. That was always the intent, and it still is. Such guides give the entire film effort on-going meaning and purpose, as well as act as a cross marketing tool. We have study guides for a number of our other best selling DVDs; they are downloaded for free off our websites in the thousands.


Now, we haven't set a date, but we want to invite you and your significant other to a banquet at Mama Mia's in Walled Lake where we will treat you to their great food, and let the producer's of Tiger's Hope share with you our appreciation for all of your work, and our excitement and vision for where we're going next on this journey And maybe we can persuade Angela Maiz (Tiger), Al Jacquez (Jake), and songwriters Janet Pound, and James Stonehouse to share with us the great songs they've created, which I still hope to record in the next couple weeks.

No date for the dinner is set yet, but stay tuned.

Alex Davis sends this along from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (chapter 6 verses 11-20 Contemporary English Version): Let the mighty strength of the Lord make you strong. Put on all armor that God gives, so you defend yourself against the devil's tricks. We are not fighting against humans. We are fighting against forces and authorities and against rulers of darkness and powers in the spiritual world. So put on all the arms that God gives. Then when that evil day comes, you will be able to defend yourself. And when the battle is over, you will be standing firm.

Stanley D. Williams, PhD.
Executive Producer - Director
Office 248-344-4423

P.S. This just in, moments after this was posted: The Director of Life Justice has been fired.