Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 01/04/21

Seal of approval. I like the idea of starting a new year of Faith, Media & Culture posts on a positive note. Toward that end, I’d like to introduce you to one of the most creative minds in Hollywood that I’ve had the pleasure to come across – though you’ve probably never heard of him.  Robert G. Seal (or R.G. Seal as he signs his work) is an author, screenwriter and producer who runs his fledgling Andretta Productions shop out of that out of Los Angeles. His truly original work combines his quirky sense of humor with a lot of heart and a refreshingly creative and kind point of view that actually respects traditional faith and American values. In one sense, he’s swimming upstream in today’s harshly woke cultural environment. At the same time though, I believe 2021 is that moment in time when audiences are hungrier than ever for entertainment that eschews judgmental virtue signaling in favor of storytelling that, perhaps, gently prods but is not out for blood.   

His web-based comic strip Jimmy O’Hair (animation above) follows the everyday adventures of a twenty-something idealist (a word you don’t actually hear much anymore) trying to find his path while attending college, looking for true love and working at Bookrazy, a surreal Hooterville-esque independent bookstore. It’s sort of a modern blend of Peanuts, Dilbert, Doonesbury and the afore-referenced Green Acres with the secret sauce being Seal’s own unique take on the world.

His screenplay (and children’s book) Three Wise Animals, retells the Nativity story through the eyes of three unlikely friends (Louis the sheep, Joshua the ferret and Mahmoud the bull) as they embark on an adventure to present their gifts to the baby Jesus was written and circulated around Hollywood prior to 2017’s similarly-themed The Star. IMHO, after having read the script, I believe Three Wise Animals is very worthy of production in its own right. Honestly, it has the heart of and suspense of The Lion King and is a Christmas family classic in-waiting.

Seal’s other projects in development include big tent live-action screenplays and TV shows (including a reality/competition series for kids and a scripted family-centered sci-fi dramedy).

When not developing original entertainment properties, Seal (a Houston native and sports fan) has been heard co-hosting the Houston Sports Talk podcast.

I recently spoke him about his experience as a rising independent producer/writer of faith in Hollywood.

JWK: What’s it like being a creative writer and producer with a traditional Judeo-Christian/faith point of view in Hollywood right now?

R.G. Seal: It is definitely a fascinating period in history right now, but my focus has always been on telling great stories that will entertain audiences while also maintaining a traditional Judeo-Christian point of view in my storytelling. I feel that the vast majority of audiences want fulfilling entertainment within the framework of shared Judeo-Christian values because the vast majority of the country (and around the world) are people of faith. If other filmmakers in Hollywood want to go in a more secular or adversarial Judeo-Christian direction they can do that because of artistic license, but I think when you look at the films that audiences yearn for and are successful they traditionally are within the framework of a faith point of view even if they don’t explicitly acknowledge it.

JWK: What do you think is the mark of good storytelling and what movies or TV shows have inspired you?

RGS: Most people know that stories must have a beginning, middle and end with a good plot and interesting characters. Good storytelling, however, is like cooking in that you must put together all the ingredients properly so that you end up with an excellent dish. Not only must there be an involving plot that hits the structural points, but there needs to be multi-layered characters and an overriding theme that keeps the emotional core of the story together. It’s not an easy balance and why movies and TV shows that can put together all of these things are so memorable. The movies that have inspired me are the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films (like a lot of people in my generation), as well as some classics of cinema such as The Godfather, Casablanca, and La Strada and more popular commercial fare like Back to the Future, Toy Story and Office Space. As for TV shows, (I) would have to include dramas like Game of Thrones, X-Files, The Twilight Zone and Star Trek (as well as) comedies like Seinfeld, Cheers and The Simpsons.

JWK: Tell me about Jimmy O’Hair and how the idea came to you?

RGS: Jimmy O’Hair is a webcomic about a young man, with a memorable red coiffure, attending school and trying to find his place in the world while working that “in-between-job” in retail. I think many people can relate to this comic strip because of times in their lives, either now or in the past, when they were attending school or pursuing a career goal and had to make ends meet with a low-wage customer service job. I used to work at a bookstore and there were a lot of fun and interesting co-workers, as well as crazy customer service stories and a never-ending supply of topics since books can cover anything imaginable.

Though I am a very rudimentary artist, I felt it made fertile ground for a comic strip and that’s how the idea was born. The strip also covers Jimmy at school, his relationships, and his life around town, which again, are things people can relate to, especially in today’s world. Jimmy has to navigate through life in the classroom, social media, financial struggles, relationships with friends and family, the dating game, and many other things we all have to face on a daily basis, but with a humorous spin. (Note: You can find all the comic strips at www.jimmyohair.com.)

JWK:  What I like about it is it’s funny and relevant without actually attacking anyone. So much of today’s comedy seems to mistake venom for humor. How do you see Jimmy O’Hair? What do you hope the audience takes from it?

RGS: I grew up on Peanuts, the gold standard for comic strips, and while Peanuts poked fun at characters – who can forget Lucy calling Charlie Brown a “blockhead” – it always had a good heart and was never mean-spirited. Charlie Brown was a likable character and audiences could relate to him, as well as the other characters in Peanuts. I’ve tried to do that with Jimmy O’Hair and find humor in the funny characters, their eccentricities and the absurdity of the world around us. Jimmy in many ways is the comedy “straight man” in this strip and we see his reaction to things happening around him, although he has his zany moments as well. In addition to the webcomic, I have been developing it as an animated cartoon. I hope the audience finds a connection to the characters and situations Jimmy finds himself in and most of all laughs … that is the objective of comedy!

JWK: I know you have a very impressive script for an animated film called Three Wise Animals that I personally read and was very impressed by that you submitted around Hollywood for a few years – and even published a book version of it. It has – for whatever reason – been difficult to get the movie made. How frustrating is that for an artist? 

RGS: It is definitely frustrating to feel you have a story that unique yet universal (story) that has failed to be made into a film for one reason or another. As for the story itself, Three Wise Animals is a spin on a traditional Biblical story (of) the Three Wise Men) but told from the point of view of animals making their own journey with gifts to the new King of Bethlehem. I have been trying to get it developed into a movie for the last decade and even had a book version published, but it is all a matter of timing. There are a myriad of reasons for a project like this not getting made, including the ups and downs of making faith-based animated content, having some financing but not all of it, having similar competing projects debut during the same period, etc. It can be maddening to see similar projects get the greenlight and your project get stalled, but it is not uncommon in this business.

JWK: I still think someone should buy that script, by the way. What are your current plans with it?

RGS: The good news is that there remains interest in Three Wise Animals and I am still working to get it developed into an animated holiday film. It is still a timeless universal story and studios are always on the lookout for Christmas holiday content that can play year after year. People in the industry understand that sometimes it takes years for a story to get made, especially with the extra time needed for an animated project from pre-production through post-production.

JWK: In any event, I know you to be very prolific – with scripts and concepts in several genres. Without giving away too much here, what sort of things are you working on now?

RGS: Besides Jimmy O’Hair and Three Wise Animals, I will have a children’s picture book published in Italy later this year about a Renaissance cat detective pursuing an elusive “Cat Burglar” in Renaissance Florence – I Gatti Rinascimentali in Italian and The Florentine Cats in English. I am also developing a couple kids’ TV shows.  One involves kids embracing the simple joys found in cooking  and cultures from around the world. The other is a family-oriented time-travel scripted series.  In addition, I am working to get a family film made from a previously optioned script that explores a boy’s bond to his father through the game of baseball and a shocking discovery that leads him on an incredible journey.

JWK: Where do you see yourself in five or ten years?

RGS: Hopefully happy with these projects produced and others in production!

POSTSCRIPT: I don’t know whether to describe R.G. Seal’s style as more Walt Disney or Charles Schulz. Maybe he’s refreshing combination of both. Keep an eye on him.

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

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