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Peter T Chattaway

There Be Dragons

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Founder of Catholic Opus Dei group focus of movie

Joffe originally intended to turn down a project which, owing to its religious theme and Opus Dei's controversial profile, promises to draw closer scrutiny than the average film.

In The Da Vinci Code, Opus Dei was cast as a secretive cult that resorted to murder to defend a fictional, 2,000-year-old Catholic cover-up. It has also been criticised by church liberals suspicious of its power and reach and by estranged members telling of coercion and corporal mortification.

But when he saw a video of Escriva addressing a large crowd, Joffe changed his mind.

The priest, who was made a saint in 2002, was asked by a Jewish girl if she should convert to Catholicism. Knowing it would upset her parents, Escriva told her that she should not.

"One of the things that impressed me a lot about Jose Maria was the fact that he saw that saintliness didn't require that you withdraw into a religious order, it didn't require that you become a priest," Joffe said on a recent conference call.

"But actually saintliness, saintly acts, could be performed by perfectly ordinary people in their everyday lives, which at the time was a very radical idea." . . .

Rather than making a biopic of Escriva, Joffe wrote a script that surrounded the priest with fictional characters and dealt with universal themes of love, betrayal and redemption.

The film's $30 million (18.2 million pound) budget came from a mixture of a media company and some 100 investors led by producer Ignacio Sancha, a Spanish financier and Opus Dei member. Sancha also provided Joffe with a leading Opus Dei member to advise him on set.

But despite his clear sympathies with Escriva's teachings, and the financial and logistical backing by members of the organisation, Joffe rejected concerns that There Be Dragons will become a propaganda piece for Opus Dei.

"When I wrote it (letter of acceptance) I said to the producers, one of whom is an Opus Dei member, 'Will I be free to write what I want?' He said the only reason we're coming to you is so that you're free to write what you want."

Sancha agreed. "Roland would never get involved in propaganda, left wing or right wing," he told Reuters. . . .

Reuters, November 5

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Opus Dei Braces for Another Film

Paul Lauer is credited with some very successful marketing campaigns to promote The Passion of the Christ, Narnia and other films among faith-based audiences.

He plans to bring similar methods to the new Roland Joffé film There Be Dragons. . . .

National Catholic Register, March 30

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Saints and sinners for 'Dragons'

After church groups helped buoy "The Passion of the Christ" to one of the top-earning films of all time, marketing gurus began devising strategies to reach the faithful.

Few have cracked the formula better than Paul Lauer and his Motive Entertainment, the niche marketing firm that spearheaded "Passion's" faith-based efforts as well as those for "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" and "The Polar Express."

Now, the 7-year-old Santa Monica-based outfit faces one of its biggest challenges: launching a grass-roots campaign that targets religious and secular audiences for Roland Joffe's "There Be Dragons." Motive's drive, which includes a trailer and key art tailored for both demos, kicks off this month in anticipation of what filmmakers hope to be an Easter 2011 bow.

The $37 million "Dragons," which focuses on the founder of Opus Dei, faces a number of hurdles, especially recent PR hits taken by both Opus Dei and the Catholic Church. Further complicating the picture, the film doesn't yet have a domestic distributor, though that isn't uncommon for films made outside the studio system like "Passion." What is unusual is the amount of resources being dedicated to drum up buzz even before the film has landed a release date. . . .

For Lauer, the job is simple -- spread the holy and universal themes explored in the film via a technique called replicasting. The method, which Motive exploited successfully with "Passion" and "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," calls for Lauer's team to identify and sell the film to so-called channel partners.

"We target pastors, teachers, youth leaders, speakers, authors, influencers, heads of organizations or even a really on-fire mom," explained Lauer, who is working with a budget of $1 million-$2 million, comparable to "Passion's" early campaign. "We create that bond with these channel partners, and we then equip them to narrow-cast to their group. They then become receivers and transmitters."

Lauer, who heads up Motive's 10-employee operation, only takes on a couple of films per year so as not to inundate his go-to channel partners.

"You can't keep coming to them asking favors. That gets old," he says. "You have to come offering things that benefit them whatever their agenda is, whatever their motives are."

For "Dragons," that means exploring the theme of healing family divisions -- a popular motif within houses of worship. For the film's secular campaign, Lauer's team will highlight the more universal themes of love, hatred, betrayal, redemption, triumph, tragedy and civil war. . . .

No one is expecting "Dragons" to perform like "Passion," which earned $612 million worldwide. But if Lauer's team can counteract negative perceptions about Opus Dei, the film could entice general filmgoers -- an audience in which "Passion" fell short.

"It's definitely a tightrope walk," said Lauer. "Like 'The Mission,' one could say it's a religious film. But also like 'The Mission,' one could describe it in a number of other ways."

Variety, July 28

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Tim Drake @ National Catholic Register interviews director Roland Joffé -- and the article gets a comment from one Barb Nicolosi:

Joffe actually didn’t “create” the characters. He signed on to direct a screenplay that I wrote and then he rewrote it. Since then, he has spent more than a year pretending that the original screenplay and writer never existed. It has been a gross power-play that makes a mockery, in many ways, of the particular nature of this story which is about a saint. In truth, Joffe kept many of the characters that I had chosen from history, or had made up for dramatic purposes. He kept the time period, genre and many of the same events that I had in my screenplay. He did screw up the Catholic spirituality and neutered the real causes of the persecution of the Church that were present in the original screenplay. He is clearly not a writer, and it shows in what he ended up producing.

At this time, the Writers Guild of America is conducting an arbitration to determine the appropriate credits on the film. Joffe, whose main work was as a rewriter is completely ineligible, according to the Guild norms, to receive the “Written By” credit that he is assuming all over in these interviews and promotional screenings. All parties have been asked by the WGA to refrain from publicizing their desired credits on the movie until the arbitration committee has completed its work. The promotional efforts in support of this film are in violation of standard Guild policy. But, in a hyper-irony, the whole history of this story has been riddled with actions that have begged professionalism and ethics. I think St. Josemaria stopped fighting for this project a long time ago, and now, he and heaven may be fighting against it.

Far from being “wonderful,” this is really a terrible movie now. It is a mess in terms of spirituality and theme, but also in terms of structure, character arcs and story. People I have spoken to have found it confusing, unnecessarily brutal and completely unsatisfying. Honestly, publications like The Register have got to stop promoting bad or mediocre projects JUST BECAUSE they are coming from other Catholics. It manifests minimally an ignorance of the cinematic art form, or in a darker light, a failure of integrity.

I am hardly objective as the original screenwriter, but my feeling is the whole progress of this project would be a great case study in how religious people tend to do mass media efforts wrongly. Joffe, who has long been past his prime in Hollywood - no one will work with him in the business because of his diva reputation - saw the clueless Catholics coming and ate them and their money all up. Now, we have basically an ego project, for Joffe and for the group who can say they financed him. But we have very little else. This movie won’t last. It may not even get distribution.

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FWIW, various sites reported today that this film has been picked up by Samuel Goldwyn, the outfit that distributed Fireproof, etc. It comes out May 6, in the States at least.

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I saw a rough cut and liked it, though it did have a few flaws. I like Barb a lot and think she's doing some valuable work, but she and I hardly ever agree about films these days! (Of course, as she says, it's hard for her to be unbiased in this case.)

Edited by Gina

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It comes out May 6, in the States at least.

I'm looking forward to it, as well as his upcoming SINGULARITY, which is also supposed to come out next year. Joffe is not, by any stretch, one of my favorite filmmakers, but he has a sense of scale/grandeur/ambition that appeals to me, and, judging by the trailer, it's intact here.

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Peter, Peter, Peter ...

You leave out the best line in the NYT piece about Ms. Nicolosi's script, and even doing so while quoting the other clause in the very same sentence.

Mr. Schoeffer said that he showed the script to Hugh Hudson, the director of “Chariots of Fire,” who thought the screenplay “smelled pro-Franco, so he didn’t want to do it,” and then brought it to Alejandro González Iñárritu, the Mexican director whose films include “Babel” and “21 Grams,” who found it too complicated.

I dunno about you, but I can hardly read that without laughing. What next -- Gregg Araki turning down a script as too smutty, Marisa Tomei refusing to play a character who's slutty, or Stallone walking away from a project that was too violent?

Edited by vjmorton

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:)

I must admit, I don't even remember that bit. But my eye caught the Hugh Hudson reference because he, like Joffe, directed a film about Christian missionaries that made waves among churchgoers back in the '80s. (And both films had famous soundtracks, too! Which just gave evangelicals who wanted to "engage the culture" that much more to chew on.)

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My review ... and 30 second review.

In that vignette is There Be Dragons in a nutshell (or a cacao bean).

Josemaría has been chosen; Manolo has not — and there’s nothing he can do about it. Joffé, who wrote and directed, sympathizes with Manolo’s plight, which he seems to feel is really his own. A self-professed “wobbly agnostic,” the director of The Mission is clearly fascinated by God and the people who know him, but he considers himself to have no taste for the divine — though he is determined not to scoff, like Manolo, at those who experience what he can’t.

Alas, the scene is also typical of the film’s problems. The small-screen triteness and obviousness of the dialogue, for one thing. For another, the problem of Manolo: a fictional character futilely charged with carrying the dramatic burden of a film he is patently unable to carry, while a far more charismatic and intriguing historical figure stands off to one side, like young David glowing with promise and purpose while King Saul flails impotently, drowning in his own deficiency.

The difference is that where Saul eventually quits the stage, leaving David to assume the spotlight, Manolo staggers to the end of There Be Dragons with the weight of the narrative firmly on his shoulders. Josemaría stays on the sidelines and eventually slips away, almost unaware of the drama not quite intersecting his story.

You wouldn’t guess any of this from the opening shot, a portentous time-freezing tracking shot (if that’s the right term here) of the moment of Josemaría Escrivá’s death in Rome. Pushing through an open window into Escrivá’s office, the camera contemplates a rosary suspended in midair, along with sheets of paper and other paraphernalia scattered in the air by their owner’s collapse to the floor.

It’s like an angel’s-eye view of the death of a saint — and it seems to belong to a completely different movie than the one that follows. Nothing in There Be Dragons earns the importance with which that opening shot invests Josemaría’s death, or connects with it in any way.

The story — we’re told in the opening scenes, set more or less in the present day — is that of a man “who went looking for a saint ... and found my father instead.” Does that sound like a story that’s more or less interesting than the one about the saint?

Just how bad a father Manolo was even Robert doesn’t fully understand. It’s in connection with the dark secrets of his own past that Manolo warns his son, “There be dragons”— a reference to the legend marking terra incognita on medieval maps. Yet while Manolo may have been a monster, he was hardly a dragon. Even his father was no more than an ogre. As for Manolo, he is, at most, a troll — a creature of the banality of evil, dull, brutish, insipid. He’s the sort of paltry sinner that inspired the devil’s lament in C. S. Lewis’ “Screwtape Proposes a Toast.”

Edited by SDG

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