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Links for Learners

by Lynn and Bob Gillen

January 2001

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Links for Learning

Finding Curriculum Connections for High School Teachers and Students

This month’s Links for Learners will support high school curriculum in:

    • Christian lifestyles—moral values; discerning right and wrong; developing conscience
    • Media/Communications—understanding the entertainment media and film/television production
Finding Links for Discussion Group Leaders and Participants

Look for connections for use in programs outside the classroom, such as:

  • Parish sacramental preparation programs and CCD classes; young adult discussion programs; seasonal discussion groups; RCIA programs.
  • Parents will also find this material useful in initiating discussion around the dinner table, in home study, at family activities.

Understanding Basic Terms in This Month’s Article

Look for the key words and terms below as you read the article. Definitions or explanations can be researched from the article itself or from the resource materials cited throughout the Links for Learners. You can also find a list of terms on the glossary page of AmericanCatholicYouth.org.

Production company

Moral values

Rating service

 

Producer

Commerical film

 

Entertainment media

Ethics

 

Who Influences Film and Television Content?

There are few of us who don't watch television regularly, or attend a movie at least a few times a year. Certainly we have our ideas about what we like and don't like, what's tasteful or displeasing, what's acceptable or offensive. But no matter what our opinions and tastes, we're all on the viewing end of the process. This month we get a glimpse of someone who helps create the movies we see: Steve McEveety, a Catholic who tries to bring his personal values to movie production.

Movies and television are first and foremost business ventures. Production companies and independent filmmakers compete for a chance to win development money, and then for the backing of national film distributors. As McEveety says, developers are not thinking much about values, only about what will sell.

Do you know who controls the film production process? Do you know who is responsible for the content of television programming? The process starts with a compelling story. See the November 1999 Links for Learners for a discussion of storytelling and how an idea gets to be developed into a film or television show.

Once a script is written, the writer needs to find a producer who will believe in the project and back it all the way through to filming and distribution. That's where producers like Steve McEveety come in. To appreciate the complexity of a producer's job, see "What Producers Do," the list of responsibilities put together by the Producers Guild of America. Whether the project is theatrical motion picture or television, each project involves development/pre-production, production and post-production. These steps are part of any production, from today's blockbuster movies to even amateur classroom and family video projects.

To appreciate the long and difficult process of getting a script or concept from the page to the screen, begin by drawing up a chart based on the three steps (pre-production, production and post-production) offered by the Producers Guild. Use as an example any current movie such as McEveety's What Women Want, or select one of the American Film Institute's top 10 films for the year 2000 (to be announced early January 2001). Look at the newspaper movie ads, visit the movie or studio's Web site to find the names of the writer, producer and director, or try the Internet Movie Database Web site. Research each of these at the Writers Guild of America, the Producers Guild of America and the Directors Guild of America.

Write—in the appropriate steps on the chart—the names and roles of the individuals or companies involved with the movie. Look at the other project credits for each role: How do you think the writer's/producer's/director's other work has influenced her/his present project? Can you find any biographical data on them? What other influences contribute to their work? Can you see, for example, where a strong family background may have given the writer values that come through in their writing? Jot a few notes on the chart.

Looking at the film's credits, take note of all the companies and services involved in the movie's production. Research the movie studios online. What kinds of films have they supported in the past? Are they solely commercially successful, with no apparent concern for moral and human values in their work? Have they distributed thought-provoking works, projects that examine the worth of human life?

How do you think the editors influenced the look of the film? How about the music? Did the sound designers use songs with appropriate lyrics?

Research the actors attached to the project. What's their film history? Are they known for their willingness to do anything for fame and popularity, or do they have to their credit films portraying dignity and value? Steve McEveety has worked with Mel Gibson. What can you say about Gibson's filmography? Or research Martin Sheen, presently with The West Wing, and recently featured in St. Anthony Messenger magazine.

When you complete your chart, discuss the influence that each role has in the process. In your opinion, where can value be added? Who adds value? How strong is the role of a producer like McEveety? Is there anyone who simply executes what others dictate?

You can develop your chart based on a favorite television show, if you wish. The steps are the same. When you examine the companies behind the shows, realize that the major television networks are all owned by very large corporations. For example, CBS is owned by Viacom, and ABC by the Disney Company. Examine what influence this may have on television programming content.

Deciding What to Watch

Catholic organizations, like the U.S. Catholic Conference, and other services such as CARA (the Classification and Rating Administration) will provide reviews for films and sometimes television shows. Where do you start when you want to see a movie? How can you be sure a movie or television show is appropriate for your children or students?

Start with the films recommended by groups who share your values. Several groups encourage value-driven film and television by awarding writers and producers. The annual Humanitas Prize is awarded by the Paulists to films and shows that promote human dignity. Catholics in Media Associates (CIMA) holds an annual award breakfast to honor films and television shows displaying strong Judeo-Christian values. (For the year 2000 CIMA recognized Return to Me and The West Wing.) Family Theater Productions of Hollywood presents the Angelus Awards at their annual student film festival to celebrate quality filmmaking.

Rating services and awards for value also help us identify films with Christian and moral values. But how do we learn to determine value on our own? How do we teach our children to develop conscience? How can we teach analytical skills, reflection, perception of value?

Being a discerning viewer will be increasingly important as technology further develops and movies are available through other media sources such as the Internet. Small Internet-based entertainment companies such as GalaxyOnline are already putting video movie clips and "webisodes" online. These sites offer unknown directors and actors, as well as out-of-work veteran actors, exposure they would never receive through the usual channels. Some commentators estimate that in five years this kind of entertainment will be mainstream. Only about five million homes can access such entertainment now, as compared with 98 million with television.

But the wider distribution opportunities will make entertainment content more difficult to monitor and rate. We will need to help our young people make their own informed decisions about what to view. In addition to formation done in the home and the classroom, the California-based CHARACTER COUNTS! Coalition is a good example of a group offering guidelines and training seminars in ethics development. The non-partisan, non-sectarian group works to advance character education among our young people.

Related Web Resources

Loyola Marymount University Film School

George Lucas' Star Wars

Mel Gibson's Icon Productions

Culver Studios

Research Resources
Try accessing some of these Internet sources for further reference. Be aware, however, that some of these sites may charge for downloading articles contained within the site’s archives.
Pathfinder - Access site to a number of online news publications
People magazine
The Close Up FoundationWashington, D.C.-based organization

The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church

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