Faith, Media & Culture

Here are today’s dispatches from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

1. Eight‘s Odyssey. The other film currently in the works about Hanukkah hero Judah Maccabee (the one not involving Mel Gibson) has an interesting story of its own. I sat down with Odyssey Network’s EVP and Chief Content Officer Maura Dunbar to talk about the project’s current journey to fruition. Odyssey, which is producing in association with Nash Entertainment, is looking for a TV home for the planned four-hour miniseries.

JWK: Can you tell me something about where you are in developing Eight?

MAURA DUNBAR: Yes, I’m glad you’ve asked…We have a fully-written script. We started back in February of 2007…We were approached by Bruce Nash and his producing partner Bob Kosberg…They had this idea with Scott Abbott.

 JWK: So the idea for producing Eight actually arose before the announcement of Mel Gibson’s planned movie?

MAURA DUNBAR:  Oh, yes. We made a deal. They came to us with this idea and as an interfaith company we realized that there was an opportunity to tell one of the great stories of battles for faith that had not been explored, not really been told. It’s an amazing battle story and a story of human triumph and a battle for belief that hasn’t really been depicted in film. So, we contracted and we hired Scott Abbot to write the script. We partnered with Bruce and Bob to produce. We have taken this around town.

Scott unfortunately went through a very difficult illness and was hospitalized and to be honest with you he was on the transplant list for a new kidney. He was that sick. I look back on it and it’s one of the things I appreciate about being able to work with this company…I had the ability, because of who we are as a company, to live out (the value of) compassion in business and I stuck with Scott. I did not take this project away from him. I did not go to another writer. If I was at the network, my pressure would have been to ditch out of that writer. I could have well gotten out of that deal. No agent would have fought me on it. I could have settled and I could have gone on to another writer. But Scott so loved this project…He was so connected (to it). It was like the thing he lived for to write because he loves to write. And I have to say I think it’s one of his best scripts.

JWK: Is he okay now?

MAURA DUNBAR: Yes. It ended up being, believe it or not, a heart virus. A virus that settled in his heart and which then had all these other consequences, shutting organs down and so forth. He’s fine. He is vibrant. In fact, he’s writing. He’s publishing a book.

In the whole (media) huff-puff with Mel Gibson, there’s a story of belief and faith that’s sort of getting lost in the shuffle…Scott developed this story based on sacred texts. We’ve had a rabbinical scholar…review it…And, of course, on our board we have Jewish, Christian and Islamic (scholars). So we really have come to this story to tell a great story of faith, as opposed to a story with an agenda. In any case, miniseries are very difficult to mount

JWK: So, this is planned as a miniseries. For which network?

MAURA DUNBAR: We are trying to find a network. We have a fully written part one and a very detailed 30-40 page treatment (of part two).

In the world of TV movies, you have to put a deal together in order to get your movie made…So, you have to find international money. There’s not a lot happening internationally right now. The EU is suffering…We had a brief glimmer of hope where it looked like we had interest from Spain, Germany, Italy (and) South Africa for a miniseries. If we were able to bring that money to the table, I would have then gone to a US broadcast network and said “Look there’s a great opportunity to do this story much in the way that The 10 Commandments was done. You could air this around the holidays where it will be a perennial.

There’s this wonderful great story behind the Hanukkah celebration that nobody really knows. But the European market has fallen flat…International buyers at this last MIP (TV buyers convention) at Cannes said “We’re not doing miniseries . We only do two hours.”  So, now I have to sort of reconfigure.

It’s not (like) Starz doing Spartacus or even Pillars of the Earth, where as a premium pay cable network their viewers expect a greater graphic depiction of sex and violence which unfortunately doesn’t suit out faith-based constituency. We do have a certain level of broadcast network standards that we think about being a multi-faith company. We don’t want to be in a gratuitous situation. It’s not that we don’t have battles. It’s not that we don’t have a great love story but it’s how we would depict it. We are at a crossroads.  We are trying to find investment and financing and find the funding that will be able to make this project come to life.

Comment: Maura actually generously gave me the script for Eight to read which I hope to do by Hanukkah (which, this year, begins on Tuesday, December 20th).  I will say that, from the portion I’ve read so far,  it strikes me as just the sort of big miniseries the broadcast networks would be wise to embrace again. Remember when they actually programmed big-budget high-quality miniseries like Jesus of Nazareth, Roots, Holocaust and Shogun. Now, a network’s idea of event programming is a two-hour Bachelor. I would think that in an age of DVRs miniseries would actually thrive. After all, today’s technology allows for viewing at one’s own pace (the same way you read a book) rather than having to commit to being home to watch at a certain hour for several nights in a row.

Anyway, I’m rooting for Eight and hope that next year at this time I’m writing a review just prior to its highly-publicized airing.

2. Get your (sorta) free Snowmen here! I received this consumer info via a press release in my “in” box and thought I’d share it with you.

Movie to Movement’s parent organization, H.E.R.O. will offer the SNOWMEN DVD, which releases today, November 29, 2011, to anyone who makes a charitable donation to the work of the relief organization, which mobilizes whole-life multi-platform campaigns, dedicated to defending the dignity of the human person.  The mission of the H.E.R.O. Whole Life initiative is to promote a respect for the intrinsic dignity of the human person regardless of ability, age, status, ethnicity or sex.  The organization hopes to encourage generosity and share a gift which echoes what their organization stands for.   For more information, visit:

I will add that I thoroughly enjoyed Snowmen when it first arrived in theaters in October.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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