Saint Judas

After seeing this story out of Buffalo, New York in yesterday’s news, it seems to me that I need to get my novel and screenplay about seminary life (Saint Judas) written at the first opportunity. As it turns out, life is sometimes more salacious than fiction.

What I learned from my seminary experience was basically this:

1) it was an institution riddled with people who didn’t know who they were

2) since they didn’t know who they were, they were insecure and shifty; in a word: they lacked integrity

3) these people would say one thing and do another, thus fostering a climate of distrust

4) at that point, Satan could schedule a long vacation… he had other people to carry out his charism of sowing division

In shorthand: identity issues led to integrity issues, and integrity issues led to trust issues. It’s as old as Genesis 3.

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requesting prayers for a writing project

This summer, I am at long last drafting a novel that I have been brooding over for seventeen years, since I completed the 2002 Act One writing program in Chicago. Once I have the story in novel form, I hope to adapt it into a screenplay.

The screenplay is set in an arena I know intimately – namely, an American Catholic seminary in the 1990s. Given recent developments in the scandals in the Church, the story seems especially timely. This is not a documentary, or a scandal script, per se, but really intended as a theological thriller in the vein of Charles Williams’s novel Descent Into Hell.

As you might imagine, this is rather highly charged material, that has to stare squarely into the face of some very uncomfortable realities. As Flannery O’Connor once wrote in an essay entitled The Church and the Fiction Writer:

A belief in fixed dogma cannot fix what goes on in life or blind the believer to it…. If the Catholic writer hopes to reveal mysteries, he will have to do it by describing truthfully what he sees from where he is. An affirmative vision cannot be demanded of him without limiting his freedom to observe what man has done with the things of God….

It is when the individual’s faith is weak, not when it is strong, that he will be afraid of an honest fictional representation of life; and when there is a tendency to compartmentalize the spiritual and make it resident in a certain type of life only, the supernatural is apt gradually to be lost. Fiction, made according to its own laws, is an antidote to such a tendency, for it renews our knowledge that we live in the mystery from which we draw our abstractions. The Catholic fiction writer, as fiction writer, will look for the will of God first in the laws and limitations of his art and will hope that if he obeys these, other blessings will be added to his work. The happiest of these, and the one he may at present least expect, will be the satisfied Catholic reader.

I’ve hesitated for a long time to move forward with the project. Only recently have I felt ready (personally) to address this subject in a way that I hope will be redemptive for the audience. At least I know that the story, as it is unfolding, has been redemptive for me.

I plan to first draft the project as a novel, and then work on its adaptation for the screen. (I understand that Graham Greene took this approach with The Third Man).

I’d be grateful if you’d consider keeping this in your prayers. The operative title for the project is Saint Judas.

Pre-work reading includes:

The Third Man – Graham Greene
Goodbye, Good Men – Michael Rose
Ungodly Rage – Donna Steichen
Trojan Horse in the City of God – Dietrich von Hildebrand
Descent into Hell – Charles Williams
The Chocolate War – Robert Cormier
The Power and the Glory – Graham Greene
Story – Robert McKee

epiphanies and propaganda

I’ve just uploaded a talk from Act One’s October 2008 Story Symposium:

“Story as Epiphany” by Chris Riley

After Chris spends about 20 minutes unpacking the notion of epiphanies in movie storytelling, and asking questions about the difference between epiphanies and moments of propaganda, he opened the discussion to the panel.

As a teaser, here’s what panelist Dr. Peter Kreeft had to offer to the conversation:

In an epiphany, you see something new. You don’t just get soothed by something you’ve known before, and you don’t just get argued into something which grates on you. In an epiphany, you see something new and yet it’s old. You always knew it, but you didn’t know that you knew it until this moment, so it’s coming from inside you…. If you’re inside your art, instead of manipulating it from outside, however gently, you can appeal to that inner force in the audience: deep calls unto deep. Because in some mysterious way, your heart and the audience’s heart are much closer than anything else in you to the audience, including the mind.

You can listen to the entire presentation below.

the big idea in cinema storytelling

In October of 2008, Act One: Training for Hollywood held a two-day symposium on storytelling.

The format — a presentation followed by a roundtable discussion with a group of panelists — was a great way to percolate and explore ideas. The panelists and presenters included:

  • Dean Batali, Executive Producer, That 70’s Show, writer, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Bobette Buster, Creative Executive and International Story Consultant
  • Karen Hall, writer on several shows, including M*A*S*H, Judging Amy, Hill Street Blues, and Moonlighting
  • Dr. Peter Kreeft, renowned philosopher and author of over 50 titles, including Socrates Meets Jesus
  • Bill Marsilii, Screenwriter, Deja Vu
  • David Mc Fadezean, Executive Producer, Home Improvement, What Women Want
  • Barbara Nicolosi, Act One Founder, Screenwriter, VP Development, Origin Entertainment
  • Chris Riley, Screenwriter and Author, The Hollywood Standard
  • Chuck Slocum, Assistant Executive Director, Writer’s Guild of America

I helped to audio record the entire event. The first podcast is now available; it’s a presentation by Bobette Buster on “The Big Idea.” (Note: The slides that accompanied the presentation may be viewed here).