Faith, Media & Culture

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

Shout out for The Hollars. The family dramedy (currently in limited release before a larger rollout next week) stars The Office‘s John Krasinski (who also directs), Margo Martindale (Justified), Sharlto Copley (Powers), Richard Jenkins (Berlin Station), Anna Kendrick (The Accountant), singer/actor Josh Groban and  Charlie Day in James C. Strouse’s screenplay about a dysfunctional but loving family’s struggle with various crises, not the least of which is the matriarch’s brain tumor diagnosis. It’s funny with heart to spare. Recommended.

5 Questions for: Producer Tom Rice 

Tom Rice has previously produced the Sundance hit The Way, Way Back (starring Steve Carell), as well as the Academy Award-nominated live-action short Kavi. Other credits include Mississippi Grind (starring Ryan Reynolds) and his just-completed production of Speech & Debate (based on Stephen Karam’s hit play).

JWK: What attracted to you to The Hollars?

TOM RICE: Well, I read the script on an airplane headed back to Los Angeles from Jackson, Mississippi, where I’m from and where my family still lives. I was laughing out loud and crying at the same time…And that’s always a good sign — when you’re reading something and your body is involuntarily reacting like that.

I’m drawn to stories that have some semblance of redemption, reconciliation or social justice…I like making movies that are touching and show that we’re all in this together and we’ll get through it. Those kinds of stories are what I respond to.

And on a personal  level, a year before reading this script, I went through a similar (diagnosis as faced by Margo Martindale in The Hollars) with my dad. So, it really struck a special chord with me. And while it was something that I had gone through myself — I also had a more universal connection to it. The family dynamic — the highs and the lows — is all just so relatable. It’s humorous in the right places and touching in the right places.

JWK: How important are you own faith values in choosing the projects you go forward with?

TR: Well, my own faith values are the core of who I am. Every ounce of my world view — through that faith lens — is what I use when choosing a story, when making a film. You can’t get away from that. When something is the core of who you are, it’s going to permeate into everything you do. 

A lot of people ask me “Are you a Christian filmmaker?” No, I’m not a Christian filmmaker. I’m a man of faith who goes to work each day and I do the best job I can. I’m not a Christian filmmaker any more than a man of faith is a Christian bartender or a Christian waiter or a Christian lawyer.

There is something unique to this industry in that we have the ability to tell stories — but all truth is God’s truth. If I tell a story — and I’m telling it truthfully — Christians will know where to find God in it. I don’t think that a film has to be over-the-top Evangelical in order for Christians to appreciate it.

I also don’t make movies just for Christians. I make movies that I hope will have a positive impact on everyone who sees it… I think that God can work through the very overt Christian movies and I feel that there’s a place for those. But I also think my gift is making films that are more subtle. I’m not at all interested in preaching to the choir.

The goal of The Hollars is not to convert people to Christianity by any means. The goal is for both the faith-based and non faith-based audience…to leave the theater and go “I need to call my mom” (or) “I need to reconnect with my brother” (or) “There’s something in my life that I need to fix.”

God is still in that too. God is not just in altar calls at the end of movies.

JWK: How did you land Josh Groban for the role of the pastor?

TR: Josh had done a couple of episodes of The Office. John Krasinski was a star of The Office and directed a couple of episodes…Josh was in one of the episodes that he directed. So, we had a discussion about who to put in that role. A few names came up and, when Josh Groban was added to the list, John fell in love with the idea. Josh loved John, and the script, and he was in.

JWK: Speaking of John Krasinski, he both acts in and directs The Hollars. How did that come about?

TR: John was attached to act in it with Margo Martindale and Richard Jenkins. That iteration never came to be, but it was just one of those scripts that never left John’s mind.

So…time passed and John still wanted to do it. So, he struck a deal with the original producer, got the rights to the script, and then decided that he wanted to direct it.

JWK: Margo Martindale from Justified gives a particularly powerful performance in the film. How did she end up coming aboard?

TR: The part was written for her. She was part of the original team in the previous incarnation so when it came back around, there was just nobody else to consider because she’s so brilliant.

JWK: Bonus question. What do you hope people take from this movie?

TRI hope people see themselves and their families in this movie. I hope it inspires people to forgive and redeem. This movie is a real allegory to grace in action.

Faith & Culture Briefs

More Signed, Sealed, Delivered is on the way.

Lost Without You, the newest installment of Martha Williamson’s charming Hallmark Movies & Mysteries series about postal detectives charged with connecting lost letters to the rightful recipients is slated for delivery on Sunday, Sept. 25 at 9:00 PM (ET).  The episode finds the team racing against time to deliver a damaged letter from a veteran suffering from PTSD sent to his lost love. Meanwhile, team leader Oliver (Eric Mabius) and his father (Gregory Harrison) must find their way home from a camping trip that has put their lives in danger. 

Meanwhile, HM&M has announced that another Signed, Sealed, Delivered movie will begin production in October. Good news!

September is Gospel Music Heritage Month. The Gospel Music Heritage Month Foundation’s eighth Evolution of Gospel (commemorating Gospel Music Heritage Month will be held on Monday, September 12, 2016 at 7 PM (ET) at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

This year’s honorees include: composer/producer/vocalist Edwin Hawkins, Grammy Award-winning singer/composer Bishop Hezekiah Walker and philanthropist and Kennedy Center Board of Trustee Reginald Van Lee.  In addition, The Gospel Music Heritage Foundation will pay tribute to Congressman G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.

The awards event will be hosted by GrammyAward-winning gospel music singer and television host Dr. Bobby Jones and Stellar Award winning musical artist Lonnie Hunter. 

The Art of Giving. Famed artist Anne Neilson will release her highly anticipated new book Angels: The Collector’s Edition via a special national philanthropic campaign launching in New York City & Los Angeles on October 10, to recognize World Homeless Day. The campaign, a reflection of Neilson’s “Painting with a Purpose” philosophy, will include “Help for the Homeless” events in November & December and throughout 2017. Neilson is donating proceeds from her sales to homeless organizations, including the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions which educates and supports those who serve on the frontline at nearly 300 rescue missions across North America.

The 2016 Justice Film Festival has announced their official selection of feature films. The festival will take place September 30 – October 1 at the Sheen Center for Thought & Culture in their newly restored 274-seat Loreto Theater on the lower east side of Manhattan.
The Festival kicks off with a screening of The Innocents, a story set in 1945 in a Polish nunnery directed by Anne Fontaine (Coco Before Chanel). Other features include Homeless, the story of an 18-year old boy who bounces between shelters; 3801 Lancaster: American Tragedy, a documentary about late-term abortionist Dr. Kermit Gosnell; Save My Seoul which documents on sex trafficking in South Korea; Mama Rwanda, about two mothers journey to build peace through prosperity creation in post-genocide Rwanda; and Mully which tells the story of Charles Mully, the founder of the Mully Children’s Family in Africa.
Festival passes and individual screening tickets are now available for purchase

And theaters this weekend – Hillsong: Let Hope Rise

John W. Kennedy is a writer/development consultant specializing in teleplays, screenplays and novelizations. He can be reached at

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

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