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Giving thanks with Joe Eszterhas

"Giving thanks with Joe Eszterhas" Continued...

Issue: "'To stay is to be killed'," Nov. 29, 2008

Q: If you had a vague sense of God, would that be OK in Hollywood, as opposed to believing specifically in Christ? Is the cross the major offense?

Both are violations, but the fact that Christ is so deeply in my life, and Christ is a figure I live with as a brother and as someone who inhabits my heart-in terms of Hollywood thinking, that's a special offense.

Q: The reason your story makes sense to me, beyond a general sense of this is what happens to Christians, is that I did a lot of messing up of my own and then also had through God's grace an experience of light. That seems to happen.

Yes, it is an experience of light, and that light not only suffuses my heart but makes such a difference in the way I assess people and the world, and the things I would like to write from here on out.

Q: So what would you like to write from here on out? Your idea for a "Saviors" TV series was shot down?

We went through both network and cable, and I think they're wrong-it could have been a really interesting, cutting-edge series that would flex my faith. And I tried to get involved in a project about St. Paul, and that didn't go anywhere either. Speaking in terms of film, there is no doubt that there is a deep anti-Christian prejudice in Hollywood. I've worked there, I've written 16-some movies, I've been a screenwriter in town for 30 years, I've produced a lot of my movies, and I always thought and I said in my books that Hollywood runs on greed. If someone thought the phone book would make money, they would film it. Well, the truth is that The Passion of the Christ has made an incredible amount of money. Narnia has made an incredible amount of money.

If you put it in the crassest Hollywood terms, there is a market there. There are millions and millions of people who feel they're not getting faith-based entertainment. I'm not talking about hitting people over the head with a baseball bat and proselytizing and being a missionary-I'm talking about telling real, good stories about people. Not even gigantic budget stories, but looking at the kind of heroism that people show in everyday life. They are moving and poignant, they can even be funny and poignant. I think the only way to get them made is to go around the system and get independent financing, and I think that is possible to do.

Q: Is there a market for stories that show both light and darkness? Can you make stuff that's real and still suffused with light?

I am fairly confident that I don't do saccharine. I think I'm too based in edgy reality. To do the kind of commercially successful filmmaking that I'm talking about, it can't be saccharine, and it can't be proselytizing. They have to be stories that move people, not because you're beating them over the head but because the message inherently comes out in the story that you tell.

Look at a movie like Rocky: There are lots of stories like that, that are uplifting, moving stories set in a gritty reality, and you can do those stories with Christian values. Look at the Johnny Cash movie, Walk the Line. The most important element of Johnny Cash's life was his faith. He wrote a novel about St. Paul, he financed a movie about Jesus-it was at the core of the man. Walk the Line doesn't mention it. It's a story about a guy who does drugs and has bad behavior. In the process they belie the man, because that's a false picture of who Johnny Cash was. But you could tell that same story-assume that movie hadn't been made-if I wrote that movie and did it, that element would certainly be there, and I think it would have been a better movie.

Q: So, besides The Passion of the Christ and Narnia, is there any movie from the last few years that you like?

Really liked anything? I can't think of anything. We're trapped in a world of endless remakes of Batman or Iron Man or whoever the next man is.

Q: What have you read recently that you like?

Recently, I've read mostly what some would call devotional literature. I've read a lot of Thomas Merton-The Seven Story Mountain and the other stuff, the notebooks, the poetry-I find it very strong. Also Walter Wangerin, I'm a big fan. Henri Nouwen fascinates me in terms of broken people and broken ministries. I love Graham Greene-I've always loved Greene, but I've read him even more in the past six years. I think The Power and the Glory is very powerful, A Burnt-Out Case I love .

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