Cover Story

Salting Hollywood

Can a Christian serve God in the secular film industry? Many are trying, and learning to survive by working together

Issue: "Salting Hollywood," Sept. 3, 2005

Karen Covell, director of the Hollywood Prayer Network-which consists of some 3,500 Christians in the industry who pray for each other and for their non-Christian colleagues-finally got her big break in Hollywood: a job as associate producer on Headliners and Legends with Matt Lauer. She was thrilled. But then came her first assignment: a one-hour profile of Playboy mogul Hugh Hefner.

As a Christian who opposed everything Mr. Hefner stood for, Ms. Covell was appalled. "When I complained to Jim [her husband] about the assignment, he reminded me that working with Hugh Hefner is exactly why we are here. He suggested that we start praying and that I talk to my producer, Rick, to see if we could approach the project from a different perspective."

To her surprise, she discovered that Rick too was a Christian who did not want to do this story and had talked to his pastor about it. "His pastor told him he couldn't turn down this assignment," Ms. Covell said. "Someone was going to do the story, the pastor had said, and if Rick turned it down, it would likely be done as a standard puff piece. This was an opportunity to really dig deeper into why Hugh Hefner became the man he is."

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The story delved into Mr. Hefner's early life and spiritual background. It culminated with an interview in which the icon of sexual promiscuity told about being raised by harsh, distant parents who never told him they loved him. "His mother never hugged or kissed him, he said, because of her fear of germs." In the opulent Playboy Mansion, surrounded by Playboy bunnies, the interviewers brought Mr. Hefner, clad in his black pajamas, to confess that "he's still just a little boy trying to find love." They exposed his futile attempt to substitute sex for love and the pain behind the Playboy façade, the God-shaped vacuum in Mr. Hefner's heart.

The biblical doctrine of vocation teaches that God equips Christians with specific talents and gifts and calls them to serve as salt and light in the world. But Hollywood? With its star-studded temptations, zero job security, minus-zero family values, and vicious social scene, who can work in Hollywood successfully and be a successful Christian?

I will never be home for dinner at 5:30 p.m.," says one of the most successful Christians in Hollywood, Ralph Winter. "In Hollywood, 5:30 is when things are just getting started."

Mr. Winter produced X-Men, Planet of the Apes, Star Trek IV, and this summer's hit, Fantastic Four. But behind the blockbusters are family separation and heartaches. A shoot in Puerto Rico meant being away from his teenage sons for six months. A filming in London coincided with news that his wife's father had died, tragically. He did not go home. "I cannot believe how selfish I was," he said, "how unfeeling I was about her ongoing grief and depression. I was caught up in the excitement of Hollywood and the possibilities of my own career."

Soon after, Mr. Winter was offered a career plum: the chance to direct a new James Bond movie. But production was going to be in England. He realized what his career was doing to his family. He turned down what seemed like the career opportunity of a lifetime-the chance to play with Mr. Bond's weaponized sportscar, exotic locales, and special-effects-driven chase scenes-to devote his time to his wife and kids.

That decision meant he was out of work for six months. Mr. Winter learned that doing the right thing doesn't mean you won't suffer for it. But he was angry at God. Today he sees that God was at work all along. He finally got a chance to work close to home-and with Steven Spielberg, an opportunity he never would have had if he had been filming James Bond in London.

Today, Mr. Winter zealously sets aside time for his family. He also stresses the importance of his church, Bible study, and accountability partners. Without them, he could not remain spiritually and mentally grounded.

Mr. Winter also takes time to mentor other Christians trying to succeed in Hollywood by teaching in a program called Act One. Founded in 1999 by a small group of Christians in the movie industry, Act One goes beyond offering spiritual support and fellowship. Act One puts on intensive, multi-week courses to train Christians in the craft of screenwriting and the work of studio executives. Programs to teach Christians how to be producers and directors are in the works. Act One is also a mentoring network, offering critiques and guidance for would-be screenwriters and helping novice filmmakers break into entry-level jobs.

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