Faith, Media & Culture

Faith, Media & Culture


Roma Downey on “Son of God” success, future projects + “Alone Yet Not Alone” a genuine family project

posted by John W. Kennedy

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

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Doing good while enjoying what you do. Otherwise known as being blessed while being a blessing. And Roma Downey certainly appears to be achieving that dream. The former star of Touched by an Angel is now spreading her wings as a powerhouse producer. Along with her husband, Mark Burnett (the reality TV powerhouse behind such hits as Shark Tank, The Voice, The Apprentice and Survivor), she produced the mega-hit History Channel miniseries The Bible which led to the recent big screen success of Son of God which has just recently been release on DVD and Blu-ray. Now, it’s full-speed ahead with a slew of inspirational big and small-screen projects the couple are moving forward with under their LightWorkers Media production banner.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with Roma about her busy plate. Here’s some of what she had to say:

On Son of God DVD/Blu-Ray extras: I think it’s such good value. It comes with a beautiful booklet of over 25 gorgeous stills from the film. There’s a really interesting and moving documentary showing the making of the film, interviewing the actors, interviewing many of the creative folks involved. (Composer) Hans Zimmer for example (and) also speaking to a number of the faith leaders who worked with us in support of the film (such as) rick Warren and Joel Osteen, Cardinal Wuerl…to name but a few. So, I think it’s a very interesting piece that really shows how cool it is to be Christian…There’s also a piece (showing) behind-the-scenes in Spanish. You may know, John, that when the film released it released not just in English. We released a Spanish-speaking version. We had created a dub led by the wonderful Eduardo Verástegui in the role of Jesus to create a really top-notch dub. 25% of our total box office in the United States was in the Spanish-speaking market…In the same package (as the English version of the film) is the Spanish version. It has the English behind-the-scenes (feature) but it also has a Spanish behind-the-scenes feature where Eduardo takes the camera down to meet all the actors who do the Spanish voice over work and (they talk about) how exciting it was for them to bring the voice to these great iconic Biblical characters.

On the endorsement of Son of God film by Jewish Anti-Defamation League National Director Abe Foxman: Everything begins with intention and our intention on Son of God and The Bible series has always been to create a project that would focus on the things that connect us, not the things that divide us.  We wanted to bring to the screen the beauty of the love story that is Jesus’ life. He came for us. He loved us each deeply and personally. He came to bring us home. I think that that was something that we call could come together on. Abe Foxman and the ADL had met with us early on the process. They wanted to ensure Son of God wouldn’t in any way create any anti-Semitism. We assured them that nothing could be further from our intention. We worked with them in adjusting a few things in the script. We had such a good partnership with them that recently at an event in Beverly Hills — their annual gala — Mark and I were honored. I think that was unprecedented, perhaps, that the ADL would (choose) two Christian filmmakers to honor at their annual event. We were very encouraged by our relationship with them…Using Son of God to bring people together. It is a love story…Everyone was invited to the table.

On the upcoming CBS miniseries The Dovekeepers: It’s a beautiful story of the triumph of the human spirit. The Dovekeepers is based on a bestselling novel written by Alice Hoffman. It tells the story of Masada but it’s unique because it tells the story through the hearts and the eyes of four extraordinary and courageous women. We begin filming it later this year. It will air on the CBS network in the spring of 2015.

On the upcoming NBC series A.D.: We’re thrilled that have A.D. which NBC has already announced will launch on Easter Sunday. It’s gonna be a fantastic new series. We’re heading down to Morocco in September to begin filming. What’s so amazing is (how) in the last few years — from the success of The Bible series — how mainstream stories from our Bible are becoming. To have a network — a big, huge, successful network like NBC — ready to launch A.D. is very exciting. Nothing launches quite as big as a network show…We think that there’s certainly an appetite for it. I think people are hungry for stories of hope. Their hungry for connection to God. We’re delighted that we will be able to bring A.D. to the screen.

Will A.D. be “edgy” enough to NBC? We’re going to be telling (the story of the early Church) in an edgy way. These were the darkest, most dangerous of times. The series will begin after the Crucifixion of Jesus. These disciples are in hiding. They might be next. So, we follow these early days with the fear and the paranoia and the trepidation. It will be played out like a political thriller because you’ve got this sort of three-pronged triangle with the temple authority on the one hand, the ruthless Pontius Pilate and the occupying Romans on the other hand and then these remaining disciples. It’s gonna play out very dramatically.  I don’t it’s a detour for (NBC) at all. I think they see the potential. They know that we have a good track record in this time frame. They know that we’re committed to bringing this story to the screen in a way that will satisfy a faith audience because we will treat the text with respect and yet we will it in a way that’s fresh, exciting and appealing to a young audience…It will (be) very relevant and accessible.  (Note: Downey says she and her husband are again reaching out to faith leaders, including Abe Foxman of the ADL, to ensure that A.D. tells its story in a way that satisfies their concerns.)

Is A.D. planned a long-running series? From you lips to God’s ear, John, we hope that it will run a decade or more. We’ll be doing 12 hours this first season and I hope that that will just be the first of many.

On the big-screen feature Ben-Hur: We’ve teamed up with MGM and Paramount to create a retelling of the epic feature film Ben-Hur. We expect that will be ready for the big screen (for) Easter 2016. You may recall the original book is called Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. Yes, it will be action driven. Yes, there will be an amazing chariot sequence. But it also will be a story of forgiveness and, ultimately, of redemption.

On the steep box office decline of Darren Aronofky’s Noah following its big opening weekend: I still haven’t had a chance to see it. I’ll be waiting on the DVD. I do know that it sounds like they diverged from Scripture and I think that for the faith audience that just wasn’t acceptable. I do know, however, that probably more people turned to their Bible (to) read the story of Noah than ever before. So, that’s encouraging…It sounds like it was dark and that it just strayed too far from the text.

On the future of LightWorkers Media: LightWorkers Media is committed to creating content that is inspirational and uplifting…LightWorkers Media was born…because we were tired of cursing the darkness and we wanted to be able to light a candle…I don’t know that (future projects) will always be specifically faith lined. We have other projects currently in development that have an overall upliftment. I think that we are growing as a production company. It’s been such a pleasure for us — as a husband and wife team — to be able to what we love to do, to combine it with what we believe and to get to do it together. (I’m) really grateful.

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Tracing the family Leininger. After a brief limited run last year (that qualified it for its controversial revoked Best Song Oscar nomination), Alone Yet Not Alone is releasing nationwide in theaters this Friday (6/13). The film tells the true of sisters Barbara and Regina Leininger who, during the French & Indian war in 1755, were sustained by their faith in God after being captured in their home by the Delaware Indians and transported over 300 miles to the wilderness to Ohio.

That story is a very personal one for Dr. Jim Leininger and his daughter Tracy Leininger Craven. At the age of nine, Tracy was so captivated by the epic saga of her ancestors that she wrote the first draft of what would some years later become the popular historical novel on which the movie based. As her father, Jim, a Christian businessman and philanthropist, was so impressed by the book that became a major force in getting the Enthuse Entertainment production made. It’s clear to me that the Leininger’s personal journey of seeing such an epic story of faith  from their family history turned into a movie based on Tracy’s book  has been one that has made their already close relationship even closer.

I’ll bring you my conversation with the Leiningers next week. In the meantime, as I did when I reviewed the film when it previewed last year, I’d strongly recommend that you check out Alone Yet Not Alone in theaters this weekend.

Here, BTW, is the song Alone Yet Not Alone, performed by Joni Eareckson Tada:

Me on the radio. I had the pleasure of being on Simon Applebaum’s Tomorrow Will Be Televised on BlogTalkRadio. Simon had me on to talk about the Variety Family and Faith-based Summit being held this Thursday in LA (which I will be attending) and my recent post listing 38 great TV series with positive themes that you won’t be seeing this fall. I followed a very interesting interview with Sean Smith, the executive producer of ABC Family’s Chasing Life which debuts tonight (6/10) and, though I haven’t seen it, actually sounds like a good show. At the end of our conversation, Simon mentioned a vintage faith-themed TV series that he’d like to see revived. I have to say I agree with him. You can listen to the program here.

Speaking of the Variety Family and Faith-based Summit, I’ll be at the event gathering interviews and information that I hope to begin sharing with you all next week. Till then…

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



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